Garden Photo of the Day

Hazy, Hot and Humid in PA

By Alexandra Dittrich

Kevin Kelly's garden is always impressive, even during this challenging summer.

"We are well into summer in Harrisburg, PA, and the last few weeks have been tough. Temps in the 90’s and very humid. Just got our first thunderstorm with rain on Monday night. I have been running around rescuing plants with needed water. Much of my pain is self inflicted. As we all know, the best part of gardening is editing and redesigning. I added another 12 conifers, mostly dwarfs to my collection (which has now reached 130 conifers on my 0.44 acre property). Also added 5 Japanese maples and another 60 perennials, in addition to moving about 30 plants this spring. It was fun then, but now I dread the extra water duties until they fully root. Thought I would share some summer pictures. Hope you enjoy."

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Abies koreana ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’, Taxodium distichum ‘Peve Minaret'

Colocasia, Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’

Front yard, mixed perennials, Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Invincibelle’

Overview of the front yard. Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ in front of the house.

Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’

Vitex agnus-castus ‘Shoal Creek’, Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkum-sugi’

View Comments


  1. frankgreenhalgh 07/29/2016

    Crikey Kev - Enjoyment plus, mate! A fascinating and very interesting garden. Sounds like you have been very busy indeed. Never mind, the hot weather will pass and your new plants will get their roots down, and then you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of all your hard yakka. I see your wife is winning in the front yard, and it does add to the diversity of the garden. Love your house too Kev. Cheers, Frank

    1. user-7007498 07/29/2016

      Thanks, Frank. You may remember, my wife set a height limit on my plants in front of the house. Nothing above the porch railing. I was able to negotiate my way into having the 'Aconitifolium'. Other than that, I get to do whatever I want regarding garden design. Cutting my lawn takes 12 minutes, which is good, because I would much rather be with the "real plants".

      1. frankgreenhalgh 07/29/2016

        I remember Kev. - also remember, 'happy wife, happy life' comment!

  2. perenniallycrazy 07/29/2016

    WOWZER Kevin! Your garden is SIZZLING! If we were neighbors, I would definitely help you water your prized collection. I wouldn't consider it a chore at all since I get to enjoy the garden every single time. Keep those photos coming....

    1. user-7007498 07/29/2016

      Thanks, Cherry. Fortunately, I do have some wonderful neighbors who are there to help when I am away. As you, I love being in the garden every chance I get-but still would rather not be watering. As I am sitting here typing, I can here some rain falling (we are supposed to get rain for about 2 hours-I am smiling).

  3. user-3565112 07/29/2016

    Kevin,all of your gardens are terrific. I think your spouse's advice re: height limits in the front yard gardens is spot on because your home is a showcase & your designs compliment it. Your sambucus appears to be in an exposed area near the street& I am wondering if you need to give it winter protection. You've had a busy & productive spring for sure , Good luck, Joe

    1. user-7007498 07/29/2016

      Joe-thanks for your kind comments. The Sambucus is near the street on the northeast side of the property. I have not needed to give it any winter protection. The paving seems to create a warm microclimate. No dieback, but I prune it aggressively in April, and keep it in a vase shape so I can underplant it. I also am trying to train a clematis, type 3, growing up through it.

  4. diane_lasauce 07/29/2016

    Kevin, I feel your pain. The last two weeks here in central VA were with no rain, high humidity and 90's, I too drag the hose around early to water my nectaring plants, so the bees and butterflies can nectar. Your gardens look lovely. I admire your fortitude and creativity! Keep cool, Diane

    1. user-7007498 07/29/2016

      Thanks, Diane. I was spoiled the last few years as we have had fairly cool, moist summers. Each year, I tell myself I am not going to move many plants, and limit my purchasing of new thinks, but I am very weak when it comes to self restraint in the garden.?

  5. User avater
    user-7007816 07/29/2016

    Kevin, what a great job you are doing. I particularly like the conifers you are planting and integrating into your garden. I also enjoy the plantings in front of your house--you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

    1. user-7007498 07/29/2016

      Dale: Thanks for your compliments. I realized I needed to integrate conifers into my perennial beds about 10 years ago as I tried to create multi season interest. Since then, I have become so excited to collect them and find niches for them. They do great in my climate.

      1. User avater
        user-7007816 07/30/2016

        I have also mixed conifers into my gardens. My only problem has been that conifers, even those listed as dwarf, do grow and eventually some need to be thinned. Two that I now have are 20+ years old and need to go--its like cutting old friends.

        1. user-7007498 07/30/2016

          Dale, I feel your pain. I have realized over time that change is inevitable and actually is probably good for us and our gardens. I now like to think of opportunity rather than loss when I have to replace and established plants. Still hard, though.

  6. NCYarden 07/29/2016

    Everything looking great, Kevin, despite the 'torch'erous weather. I'm on fire right there with you. So glad to hear you picked up some more Japanese maples (which ones?), and one of things I love about your area is just how great the conifers do. I will be up there in December, so even though the perennials will be to rest, maybe I can have a look at your prized conifer collection, as they will be the champions of the winter garden. Do you prune your chaste to keep it small? Thanks for sharing, good man.

    1. user-7007498 07/29/2016

      Thanks David. Yes, I aggressively prune the Vitex in late April, once I see it start to bud (I do get a bit of winter dieback in my climate). I like to keep it about 6-8 feet in flower.

      Conifers do great here, as you have said. I often mail order them and start them in pots for 2-3 years before they find their way into the beds.

      Let me know when you come into the area. I would love to meet you and have you tour the garden. [email protected]

      Some of the Japanese maples I added this spring: 'Manyo no sato', Kamagata', and 'Shishigashira'. Those are the only ones I remember, as I am not home.

  7. user-4691082 07/29/2016

    Ooh, Kevin, I can't wait to get together in September! I have so many questions for you! I'm looking forward to seeing all of those conifers. Do you ever prune the vitex and use the branches to make anything? We had some great rain last night, and I too, am truly grateful. Great job!

    1. user-7007498 07/29/2016

      Rhonda: I am also looking forward to your visit and my chance to reciprocate your warm hospitality when I got to meet you and tour you beautiful garden in the spring. I prune the vitex hard in the spring, but have not pruned it once it flowers. It has a great fragrance.

  8. User avater
    treasuresmom 07/29/2016

    Love that porch! Would have my cup of coffee out there enjoying all the gorgeous blooms.

    1. user-7007498 07/29/2016

      Thanks. The porch is awesome. It winds around the north and east side of the house. Always shady and a great place to sit, but I must admit, I usually can only be found there when it is raining. I love to hear the rain striking the hosta leaves.

  9. User avater
    meander_michaele 07/29/2016

    Lots of heading nodding going on from your gpod family in understanding the irresistible urge to buy and plant more, more, more... and then dealing with the necessity of first year in the ground watering duties. I have sometimes joked that "hose dragging" should be an olympic event...I'd be a gold medal contender in the senior ladies' division. Is the ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ one of your new purchases? It is such an eye catching specimen evergreen and just gets better and better with age. I'm quite taken with the flowers of your Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’. How long does it stay in flower and if you cut it back, does it put out another flush? Your home looks quite content snuggled in amongst all the plantings and I'd say you and your wife have struck a lovely balance.

    1. frankgreenhalgh 07/29/2016

      Hello there Michaele, you de facto 'olympian' - There must be something in the water down here in Oz. I actually find watering to be very relaxing and it provides plenty of thinking time. Aussies are different hey? 'A kangaroo loose in the top paddock' some might say!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      1. User avater
        meander_michaele 07/29/2016

        'A kangaroo loose in the top paddock'...that's your best one yet!

    2. user-7007498 07/29/2016

      Hi Michaele. My wife laughs with my annual 'plant dance' as I move things around in the spring. She then groans when I kick the cars out of the garage to serve as a holding area for new purchases ( or the kitchen sink where I keep mail order plants for a day to let them recover from the trip).

      Yes, Silberlocke is new this year. I had an 'Emerald Green' thuja that died last year, so it opened up an opportunity for something new. I love it.

      'Hummelo' is a great groundcover. Related to Lambs Ears, but better. Stays evergreen in my 6b garden, and the leaves are glossy. Stays low, 3-4 inches, but then has those great bloom spikes for 3 weeks in late June to July (just fading now). Cutting back will not cause another flush.

      1. Luvfall 07/29/2016

        I like your 'plant dance' description. My kids say that I'm rearranging the furniture.

      2. User avater
        meander_michaele 07/29/2016

        Hmm. glossy leaves and stays evergreen in 6b 7a...sounds like a real winner just for the foliage alone. I will be keeping an eye open for it. Thanks for the info. Your "plant dance" imagery evoked a grin and a knowing nod...we all have our own version of it. I just imagined the herky jerky moves of Elaine in a classic Seinfeld episode as what I probably look like as I'm digging and moving things in the spring.

        1. frankgreenhalgh 07/29/2016

          I told you Michaele that you are 'Ginger Rogers' on your feet!

  10. Jay_Sifford 07/29/2016

    Always a pleasure to see your garden, Kevin, especially since you grow some of my favorite plants. I love the Silberlocke, but I can't grow it here. The sambucas with the coneflowers makes a great combination. I like the acontifolium where it is. And the stachys 'Hummelo' is a favorite of mine. Keep up the great work!

    1. NCYarden 07/29/2016

      Hi Jay, Are you sure you can't grow Silberlocke? Admittedly I did lose my first one, and certainly a good number of specialty conifers do struggle here. But I had to try again and fortunately doing great this time. Obviously placement is key, but I would encourage you to try once more (assuming you had already tried before). You're fantastic garden property seems diverse enough that I would think you could find an excellent location.

      1. Jay_Sifford 07/29/2016

        I've killed 5 of them... 3 here, 2 in clients' gardens, so yes, I'm pretty sure. I could grow them if they were grafted onto Abies firma, stock, but all the ones from OR that I've found are grafted onto balsam. Balsam doesn't like our soil and doesn't do well in our heat/humidity. I gave them some morning sun and all afternoon light shade, which is what I"d need to do here, but alas, after 3 weeks of Carolina summertime, they started to lose needles from the top downward. I have found a few grafted onto firma, but they're in gallon pots and are expensive. I don't want to wait 20 years to have a nice tree. Hopefully yours continues to do well!

        1. NCYarden 07/29/2016

          Ah, yeah, similar problem I have with the specialty white pines. I'm done. Lesson learned. Lost another one this season.
          I have to admire your persistence though. That crazy (and often stubborn) plant passion we all have.

          1. Luvfall 07/29/2016

            Thanks guys. Next time I'm wishing I could have a crepe myrtle I shall instead give my Silberlocke a big hug.

    2. user-7007498 07/29/2016

      Thanks, Jay. The Sambucus is a great backdrop for all sorts of plants. I prune if into a vase shape so I can underplant.

      I added the photo of 'Hummelo' because not too many people grow it, but it is an awesome groundcover.

  11. WhiskeyMike 07/29/2016

    Well done Kevin. Any chance you could pm me a few favorite nurseries in the area. I'm just a bit south in frederick, md. New and looking for nurseries.

    1. user-7007498 07/29/2016

      Thanks. Locally, my best sources for quality and interesting plants are Highland Gardens and Ashcombes. They are only about 10 minutes apart and would be worth the trip. Highland Gardens is great for conifers, japaneses maples and perennials..

  12. sheila_schultz 07/29/2016

    The vision you have for your gardens continues to be stunning, Kevin. If it's possible to design a garden so it's 'just right' for most gardeners with varying styles, then you have accomplished the near impossible! I'm so pleased you included the overview of your front yard... the flow of heights, textures and colors is so comfortable to the senses. It definitely shows your passion.
    In the overview shot, there appears to be a large, star shaped allium. Do you by any chance know the variety? I have two in one of my front beds and for the life of me, I can't find the name. Thanks!
    Have a 'not too hot' weekend with softly falling rain, my GPOD friends, our hoses need a bit of a respite!!!

    1. user-7007498 07/29/2016

      Sheila: thanks so much for your kind comments and praise. I have become quite passionate about textures and the way plants interact with each other. I edit frequently. This may sound strange, but I have made many of my design choices based on how the garden looks in the moonlight. Color tends to fool the eye, so seeing the garden at night helps me focus on form and texture. Anyway, it is an excuse to prolong my stay in the garden.

      Allium schubertii is what you asking about. I love it, and it holds up through the summer, creating an interesting form. More people walking past my garden ask me about that plant than any other. I have about 100 scattered throughout the property.

      We had about 2 hours of rain last night (1/3 inch), so it will give me a brief respite.

      1. sheila_schultz 07/29/2016

        With a property your size I can easily see having 100 of these gorgeous Allium's spread around. Thanks for the name, I have obviously been looking in the wrong places for correct ID!

        I also enjoy looking at my gardens during different light, but I admit to not looking at them in the moonlight. More white would definitely be needed! Texture is everything to me, but this year I am definitely lacking flowers in a couple of beds... our lot is very tiny and we have no grass, just in-ground and container gardens. Alas, we had 2 serious hail storms hit while we were on a family trip to Alaska 7/9-7/20 and I spent this morning continuing a heavy cut down of my focal garden in the front. Everything will grow back, but it is a tiche depressing since it is so late in our growing season it won't happen this year. The positive note is that I now have room to plant more so all can easily merge next season! Your gardens made me very happy today!!!

  13. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 07/29/2016

    Kevin, what a treat today to end the GPOD week with your garden. You grow so many of the plants that we also enjoy on our property and some that we just wish that we could grow but the cost of fencing 2.2 acres would mean that there was very little left over for those frequent trips to the nursery. I love that you check out your garden in the moonlight to make sure that all the plants are in the right spot:) Is your Sekkan Sugi in the shade? Ours look totally different but are in full sun. Also, do you grow your Colocasia as an annual or does it survive your winters? Hope you have some rainy nights in the near future. It's also very dry out here in coastal WA and like you, we spend most of our days keeping those new plants alive.

    1. user-7007498 07/29/2016

      Linda-thanks for your wonderful comments. We do not have a deer problem, too suburban, so no fencing is needed. My Sekkan Sugi is in full sun, but I took the photo late in the day and it was backlit.

      Colocasia does not overwinter. Start fresh each year. I really like it against the golden foliage of the Hakonechloa and 'Little Honey' hydrangea. I feel guilty complaining about the lack of rain when I know we get so much more than so many others.

  14. schatzi 07/29/2016

    Awesome, Kevin! I share your fascination with dwarf conifers - actually, all conifers, if there were room. Gorgeous pot with the petunias and NZ flax - even my husband noticed that one. You have created a beautiful property and I hope your wife enjoys it too. My husband lets me do whatever I want in the yard and is resigned to my plant buying habits. After 54 years, we are used to each others' foibles. I can definitely relate to plant lust. A friend of my husband once told him that he had seen me coming home "in my usual disguise" - car full of plants!

    1. user-7007498 07/29/2016

      Shirley-great story, thanks for the laugh. We are lucky to have spouses that support (or have given in) to our plant addiction.

  15. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 07/29/2016

    Busy day: late the party, but taking frequent short trips to look at the photos of your awesome collection. Really wonderful. Your Sambucus looks thick and awesome. Have had the Stachys on my list for a while, but you say 'ground cover'. Does it spread? Aggressively?
    What's the gorgeous dark pine, in the front to the left, in the front yard overview? P. thunbergii?
    Such a welcoming front entrance!
    Cheers and have a great weekend.

    1. user-7007498 07/29/2016

      Tim-thought you might be away. Glad to hear from you. Thanks for the praise, which I really appreciate because you have such an awesome collection of plants.

      I prune the Sambucus aggressively into a vase shape, then keep tip pruning in the spring until it gets thick and lush. Love it as a backdrop to so many plants.

      The Stachys is great and not aggressive. Takes full sun to partial shade, no pests, no mildew, stays evergreen. Slowly enlarges and easily divided and transplanted. Plus great spikes that bees love. Get it off your list and into your garden. Also, takes our heat and handles being dry.

      The pine is actually a parviflora. It is growing with only 3 hours of morning sun.

      Have a great weekend.

      1. User avater
        Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 07/29/2016

        Love Black Lace; huge or coppiced, it is a stellar performer.
        I have Clematis Rooguchi growing through mine: great in concept and poor in execution this year. I coppiced the elderberry and the leaves are so huge that the short growing clematis is barely visible. Subtle color combo, but a bit too subtle.
        What are you training through yours?
        I'll make sure that the Stachys doesn't get lost in my ever-growing list. Thanks for the info!
        Instead of blogging, I've started posting garden and plant photos on Instagram. It's got me looking at my plants and garden with fresh eyes and is low on the time-commitment scale because it is purely visual, and there aren't all of those interpersonal touchy friend-requests things......

        1. user-7007498 07/29/2016

          I don't remember which clematis. I am currently on a bus trip to Buffalo for the Buffalo Garden Walk this weekend, so I can't run out into the garden to check. I think I got the idea from one of your posts.

          Also disappointing so far, but my experience with clematis is that I am always disappointed until year 3-4 when there is sufficient root development, so I will stick with it for now.

          I haven't tried Instagram. I will have to look into it as well.

  16. wGardens 08/01/2016

    Hey, Kevin, late commenting! LOVE your photos... really fabulous. Especially like that "Little Honey" and Colocasia photo. Wow- quite a collection of conifers. Do you have any particular favorites? I recently purchased a weeping larch that I need to place yet. I've wanted one for years! Your home is gorgeous. An outstanding entryway, also!

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