Summer garden party starts up this week

Landscaping in Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, June 21, 2000

The summer garden party starts this week. Days are as long as they're going to get, everything that's going to leaf out has done so and fruit is beginning to show up in the landscape. Tiny crabapples have formed where the abundant blossoms lay just a couple of weeks ago, little blueberries and cute baby Serviceberries are bobbing on the springy branches. The vast daisy family is poised for their opening day, even though a few nervous jumpers have already crossed the starting line.

Summer in Juneau means canopies of green closing over private pleasures, the outdoors becomes full of places, small localized spots that were part of much larger leafless areas just a month ago. Bowers, nooks, glens, call them what you like, they become dramatically different as summer draws the veil over vistas and closes off views. Traveling out the road becomes a series of views, some only a brief moment of orientation between leafy corridor walls.

Domestic landscapes too are filling in. Spring's eruption of isolated blooms has become the fuller, thicker sensation as Pom Pom Primroses give way to Bleeding Hearts and Astilbe. Groundcovers are welcoming the sagging leaves of daffodils and tulips as they sink earthwards, soon to be seen no more while bloom spikes of Delphiniums are rising as counterpoints. Huge dramatic Ligularia foliage swells below the spruces, preparing to astound with those shining, man high wands of gold.

Rhododendrons fill the floral conversations with their basso opinions, big pink and lavender globes on the Roseums exchange phrases with deep red Nova Zemblas. They repeat stories unheard since the last summer party; maybe these same stories have been told summer after summer for thousands of years. Their jewelry and formal wear brought out annually for the first summer parties, these magnificent plants have traveled the world to get here and their reminiscences fascinate as always.

Azaleas arrive, chiming in with their lighter patter, golden and pink, floating along above their just emerging leaves. Their aroma swirling fruitily about the room, sweet and light, but unmistakably heralding their arrival. Willowy and light in comparison to their more prestigious cousins, and less sure of their ability to occupy some harsher places, it has taken them longer to become accepted, but they contribute a sense of fun and youth to the gathering.

Azalea blossoms peeking flirtatiously around the garden encourages their being planted in sets. They have eyes for each other and these newer Northern Lights types from the University of Minnesota can carry on their titillation in yards that were too cold for the earlier strains.

A Japanese princess, the coral-colored Enkianthus arrives in full flower right now, subtle and abundantly enchanting, her thousands of tiny downcast eyes are alive with the buzzing bumbles of summer. The bees are so thrilled that they spend all day crawling over the thick tufts of peach and pink, muttering satisfied little grunts. Humm - Just one more piece of this delicious cake, and maybe some - buzzz - thick cream to cover it.

Foliage glistens; aristocrats wherever the are, the dark-leafed Beeches and their brighter green-leafed kin nod and speak to each other. Endurance, hardiness and an unhurried sense of their dominance emanates from their presence. Even as youths they exude majesty and attract followers. They will still be here hundreds of years later, long after their caretakers, nannies, nursemaids and tutors have passed away, and the slow, careful enunciation of each syllable will be carried on among these trees. The stories they are telling each other are ancient ones, full of heroic deeds in long gone days. Beech Speech must be as formal as Iambic Pentameter, and as robust as Odysseus' voyages.

More numerous, and of much more rapid growth, the vast Maple Family serve the world well with their stalwart workman-like pride. In their conversations trade, politics and endeavor are spoken of with attention to detail and much insider knowledge. Maples fill the world; there are dozens of types that thrive here. Big strong Norwegians in green, gold, or the wind whipped red of the Crimson King or Crimson Sentry, pliant Siberians from the Amur Region, bending before the irresistible forces and popping back with only a couple of small branches injured, are ready to dance again as soon as the oppressor is gone. Northwest natives like the lovely Vine Maple are now seen all over the borough, blocks from the glacier or out on the breezy coast. Their lovely leaves making a perfect foil for the deeper tones of the dark Norways.

The summer garden party is starting, but don't worry: it will be going on for weeks, so plan on having a good time.

David Lendrum is a master gardener and, along with Margaret Tharp, owns Landscape Alaska. Any responses or questions can be sent to .

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