- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2003

The plants took a beating in our recent snowy winter, but a little miracle has happened during the welcome spring with its refreshing rains.

In the laboratory that is my garden, I was all but certain I had one significant casualty and maybe two. The American holly (Ilex opaca, “Greenleaf”) I planted 18 months ago looked deader than a doornail. The crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) I planted almost two years ago clearly was struggling.

The holly was important to me because the deer don’t bother it, it is evergreen, and it survives drought once it is established. I had looked long and hard for this plant and kept it well watered through its first year and the drought. Of course, now that I have it, I see them available much more often, but the last thing I want to do is to spend another 18 months getting a new one established.

Three tree and landscape professionals said that although the holly appeared dead, I should give it a chance to come back — at least until May or June — before giving up. Two of the three predicted it would come back. The third looked at the brown, dead foliage and was dubious.

Well, by the beginning of May, just about the whole garden was looking lush and green. The daffodils and English wood hyacinths put on their display. The nandinas, which the winter had left bare, sent out lots of new foliage, as did the winter-weary evergreen Prague viburnums. The early perennials and wildflowers were in bloom, nestled in the new fronds of fresh green ferns. Especially rewarding was the new bed of purple-flowering epimedium planted under a large maple last spring to replace an invasion of English ivy we had yanked out.

The holly, though, was still a dismal sight.

The crape myrtle was budding out a bit, but nothing compared to other crape myrtles in the neighborhood. This plant I chose for its bounty of summertime flowers and its height, which is generally above the reach of the deer. I didn’t choose the deep pink crape myrtle that is so popular because I have an orange trumpet vine on an arbor over the patio nearby. I chose a pastel violet one, and it flowered beautifully last summer.

Some of its branches, or their tips, clearly were dead, and it was crying out to be pruned. This we did gently, waiting to see what happened next.

As I write this, during the last week of May, the holly is leafing out, the new green leaves are pushing the dead, brown ones to the ground. The crape myrtle is doing a little better. I think it needs a large dose of sunshine after many gray, rainy days.

I recently received an e-mail newsletter from Carroll Gardens nursery (www.carrollgardens.com) in Westminster, Md., summing up the situation nicely. Here, in part, is what it says:

“In the mid-Atlantic region, this spring has been unseasonably cool and cloudy. Last year’s drought and hard winter also stressed many plants. For all these reasons, plants are breaking dormancy late. People are … abandoning for dead perennials that are alive but still dormant.

“Existing shrubs are being cut to the ground as dead because they are late in leafing out. Newly planted roses and shrubs are being pulled up because they haven’t leafed out yet. [We] encourage patience and caution.”

By the time you read this, virtually everything should be showing some sign of life, but it can’t hurt to wait until the end of June before giving up.

On the schedule at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton Regional Park:

• Annual Indoor Sculpture Show, under way now through July 6.

• Wings of Fancy Live Butterfly Show, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Sept. 21; admission is $4 for adults, $3 for children 3 through 12.

• Friends of Brookside Gardens Herb Fair, June 14.

• Potomac Lily Society Show, June 21 and 22.

• National Capital Daylily Society Show, July 6.

Brookside Gardens is open every day except Dec. 25. Admission is free except for certain exhibits as noted. The gardens are open from sunrise to sunset. The visitors center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the conservatories are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information, visit the Web site www.brooksidegardens. org or call 301/962-1400.

If you have an herb garden worthy of being on television, get out your camera and take a picture.

The PBS program “The Victory Garden” has a contest going to find America’s most beautiful herb garden. Two finalists will appear on the program with their winning gardens.

Whether the herb garden is indoors or out, potted on a patio or planted in a patch, it is eligible. Deadline for submissions is July 25.

Visit www.pbs.org/ victorygarden for more information on contest rules and prizes. “The Victory Garden” airs at different times on PBS stations. Check local listings.

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