Six on Saturday: No Mercy

Not so long ago a seedling, and now a towering oak tree giving shade and sheltering wildlife

An oak takes a long time to grow from a sprout to a tree.  Or so we think.  This morning I’m standing below oak trees that I either planted, or spared, when they were just seedlings. 

We had been here a few years.  Oaks fell in a storm, taking understory trees with them, and leaving a wide, sunny patch in the upper garden.  The character of the garden had changed entirely, and eventually I took it in hand and planted the bones of what we have today. 

Two little ‘live oaks’ arrived from the Arbor Day Foundation, and I planted them across from one another on either side of the new, gaping hole of a full sun in what had been a shade garden.  Then the deer found them and grazed what little new growth they had.  I planted deterrent plants and supports around one of them, which has stretched to at least three times my height.  The other?  Well, It is in a shadier place, without as much protection, and the deer still find it from time to time.  It isn’t quite head high. 

Quercus virginiana still struggles in our garden

Oh, and those two ‘live oaks’ apparently weren’t.  The still small one has the traditional strappy leaves of a Quercus virginiana.  Live oaks are notoriously slow to grow.  The other, now tall one?  I’m still trying to figure it out.  It is a semi-evergreen red oak, but not our Virginia live oak.

The sapling sprouted within the drip line of our remaining double trunked swamp chestnut oak, Quercus michauxii.  I was curious about it, and just thrilled to have it after losing so many other trees.  I procrastinated on moving it, left it be, and now it stretches to nearly 30 feet tall in not quite 10 years.  And curiously, it’s a different oak species altogether.  It must have blown in on the wind, or come with a squirrel or a blue jay to rest among the roots of the huge mother tree that now dominates that part of our yard.

The mystery oak, sold as Southern Live Oak, has thrived. I’d love to know its species.

It has rained so much this month, and temperatures have remained cool.  While I’ve been indoors doing other things, the plants have been racing into summer.  Our ‘gardening’ time this week has been spent knocking over bamboo shoots trying to take over the lower 40, chopping back honeysuckle and Akebia vines reaching out to smother every shrub and perennial, giving the old ‘Chelsea Chop’ to Monarda and Solidago, and fiddling around with the Iris. 

I ordered two Iris lactea, an Iris species I’d not heard of before browsing the Quackin’ Grass Nursery website this spring.  They are one of my ‘go to’ mail order nurseries because they are family owned and operated, have a huge selection of great plants, and take great care with shipping healthy plants well.   After finally understanding that this species will bloom in partial shade, I planted both of them in the newest bed I’m working on under a Camellia shrub.

Yellow Flag Iris, overtaken by vines

The yellow flag Iris, so prolific when we first moved in, have been in decline in recent years.  I finally realized that Akebia vines have overtaken their pond liner and neighboring shrubs have overgrown it.  I did a bit of clean up earlier in the spring, and the whole area needs more, now.  But I have a single yellow flower promising that a bit more attention will allow the stand to regenerate.

Dwarf Iris ‘Little Pearl’ blooms in the gravel garden at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

Most of the bearded Iris have finished for the year.  Their season is so short.  But a new miniature that I planted at the botanical garden where I volunteer bloomed this week.  I was thrilled to find it on Wednesday morning, the only one of a half-dozen planted to bloom thus far.

It is raining again this morning, and today’s photos were all taken in the rain, spongy muddy ground beneath my feet.  There have been too many good reasons to procrastinate this spring.  And the plants are just jumping at a chance to grow.  I’d best pull on some gardening gloves, find some waterproof boots, and get on with it, don’t you think?

“The Lower 40,” where I’ve been working on a new bed beneath a Camellia shrub to smother some invasive perennials a friend gave me once upon a time. The new Iris lactea are in the center of the bed outlined with grey pavers.
With appreciation to The Propagator, who hosts Six on Saturday each week.

You might enjoy my new series of posts, Plants I Love That Deer Ignore. Thirteen plants are featured thus far, and the list will continue to grow.



  1. The oaks there are very different from the oaks here. I am unfamiliar with them. Nonetheless, the unidentified oak looks like a blackjack oak to me. If I look up blackjack oak now, it looks different from how I remember it. I sort of remember it looking like yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been studying Dirr again today, and blackjack oak is one of the choices on my ‘shortlist’ of possibilities. I really appreciate you confirming that. I figured that if anyone would recognize it, you would. I have wondered whether the tree might be too young to show its true form, yet. Does a blackjack oak hold some of its leaves through the winter?

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      • Unfortunately, I am unfamiliar with oaks of Eastern North America. I met blackjack oak in Oklahoma. It was still foliated while we were there during winter. By the time we left weeks later, late in December, much of their foliage was gone. I really do not know if they completely defoliate through winter. To me, the defoliation process seemed to resemble that of the valley oak, which, although deciduous, holds much of its foliage through milder winters until replaced by new foliage in spring. The same trees defoliate completely during winters with harsher weather, such as a sharp frost, followed by wind and rain.

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      • Thanks, Tony. Oaks are very, very hard for me to pin down, because there are SO many variations and so many species. We have a lot of different ones growing in the botanical garden, but many of the more unusual ones are still juvenile. Even with a shelf full of reference books and field guides, it is hard for me to ID some of them with 100% confidence. Lots of our oaks hold their leaves through the winter months, but they look brown and ready to fall at any time. This one keeps some living leaves through until early spring, when new ones begin to emerge. Always more to learn…

        Liked by 1 person

      • It seems to me that there are too many oaks to identify completely. Some publications describe species that other publications describe as varieties. Several oaks here are shrubbery in some situations, and small trees in others. Coast live oak is remarkably variable.

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