The spring has been unnaturally dry, which accounts for the failure of my larkspurs, I think, since they were planted outdoors in good time, but before I realized it the soil became dry as a bone. A couple of timely sprinklings would have saved the day. (So now you tell me.)
I was in the garden at Monticello last week and noticed larkspurs several inches high, the picture of health, in a crack at the bottom of some brick steps. They were seeded last summer, of course, and sprouted before the dry spell this spring. Another thing, you will notice how often plants do well in cracks of the pavement or at the edge of a paved walk -- this is partly because competition is cut down, and partly because root systems like the equable temperature and moisture conditions of paving.
For some years I have been smitten with "Lady Betty Balfour," a dark purple clematis that starts blooming about June 10, some weeks later than others. Several years ago she developed a virus, her leaves all gold-striped, then this year she seemed to be dead, with no growth at all on the grand old main stem. I did nothing (so often the wise course) and now, weeks after other clematis are in full leaf, she has sent up a couple of shoots from below ground, none of them showing the gold variegation associated with the virus.
Last fall I dipped out the goldfish from a small pool and put them in my biggest, hoping to spare them the rigors of rapidly changing temperatures incident to small tanks. Everything fine. Last week, dipping a few goldfish back into the smaller pool, I was surprised to see several youngsters. It seems to me odd that tiny fish, hatched out after Labor Day, should grow steadily all winter under ice.
And this may be the place to say that once, years ago, when I drained a pool using the garden hose as a siphoning tube, I noticed the next day some sparkle in the mud where the water had sunk in. They were tiny goldfishes. They had been out of the water maybe 20 hours. I spent some time scooping them up and once returned to the pool they flourished. It never hurts to cast the eye around any pool to see if any of the fish have been washed out, or have jumped out. Even if they seem motionless and dead, they may often revive if returned to water. Gars have wonderful recuperative powers, too, though few would want them in a garden pool, I suppose.
Another complaint, this one from New Jersey, from a man whose pool filters do not satisfy him. Over the years people keep complaining to me about pool filters. They should speak to the manufacturers, not me, since I do not use filters and see no need of them. I suspect that often the directions are not followed. If they are to be set at a certain depth, or if they are to be used with a certain volume of water, then naturally they will not work if those conditions are ignored. Knowing gardeners as I do, I know we often say, "Well, this will do just as well," and of course it doesn't.
This time of year the water in some pools, not all, becomes turbid like whirled coffee. This always happens in my big pool, partly because I am dipping out fish for other pools and greatly disturb the seaweed, or Elodea, which grows below the surface. These underwater aquatics have much to do with crystal water, and if you roil them about in the spring, as I do, the water quality suffers.
The recent freeze, down to the mid-20s, accounted for small but notable damage. A patch of lilies, "Black Beauty," which has deep rose flowers, was decimated. Of 25 fat shoots six inches long, no more than four escaped unharmed. The bigger ones pulled through, the ones three and four inches turned to black mush. Possibly this is where the name comes from. On the other hand, a clump of auratum lily hybrids that I raised from seed a few years ago was not touched at all.
Almost all the buds of the lovely wild Rhododendron schlippenbachii were turned brown and withered. So were most of the colored buds of another pink azalea, "Coral Bells." The rich scarlet of "Stewartstonian," however, were not damaged at all. Most daffodils were unhurt, though a few buds blasted and will not open. None of the tulips suffered. I should mention again "Jewel of Spring," a soft yellow tulip of large size that has the blood of the wild Tulipa fosteriana in it. I have a few from bulbs planted 10 years ago and not disturbed. They are still of large size. This is a great tulip for garden purposes, a soft ivory yellow, not bright, a color that blends well with any other. Of a dozen or so varieties of these "Darwin Hybrids" that I have grown, "Jewel of Spring" has been by far the best; the others have died out.
Of the fosteriana tulips (variations on the wild scarlet form), the white one called "Purissima" behaves extremely well in the garden, coming up year by year, better than "Red Emperor" or the others. It is not a pure sparkling white, but a soft off-white that looks fine in shady places with small old-fashioned white short-cupped daffodils.
Among trout lilies, the only one I have grown without curses is "White Beauty," not a very inspired name, but a good doer. My clump is now a little overhung by an azalea branch that I shall whack off if I ever get round to it. These nodding white flowers lasted only four days this year; but if you think about it you can recall memorable dinners or musics even briefer, but which seemed extremely worthwhile.
Many people fail with the checkered fritillaries, F. meleagris. They like the water meadows of Oxford, you may read in many books. I always gave them a damp position and they always died. The best one I have, rather spectacular in vigor, is in a quite dry shady place hung with dogwoods and sapped, on the other side, by the greedy roots of boxwood. I would plant this bulb (in the fall) in a sort of open woodland and not worry about the "water meadows." I am almost sure it does not like soggy places. I do, but fritillaries don't.