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Report From An Opinionated Gardener – September 4

Gilda Radner’s character Roseanne Roseannadanna was right: “It’s always something.”  You try your best and put thought into what you’re cultivating, but despite all of that planning and careful planting, things run amuck.

I’ve been slowly building a shade garden along the side of the driveway, mostly, I admit, making it up as I go along. I’d like the plants in this area to be thick enough to choke out most weeds, so I’ve planted them a bit on the close side.

Two years ago I put in a large drift of Heuchera ‘Autumn Bride’, knowing that this perennial might be serviceable but unexciting early in the summer. In early fall, however, the spires of white flowers appear and all is forgiven.

Except this summer my ‘Autumn Bride’ started to die, one by one. The leaves on one plant would begin to droop, even though they’d been watered recently, and soon that plant would be dead. When I pulled on one of these wilting plants, it would break right off at ground level.

Weevils? Voles? No sign of either. Today it finally dawned on me: I’ve seen this before. Years ago I watched several purple Heuchera die off in just the same manner, and when I sent samples in for testing it turned out that they had Rhizoctonia crown rot.

It hasn’t been a wet summer, but these plants are so close as to kill all air circulation, and it was a humid summer. Heuchera is particularly susceptible to this fungus.

Knowing that “It’s always something” isn’t much comfort when your plants are dying one by one, but it does help keep it all in perspective. Things will go wrong… we need to suck it up and move on.

Out of a swath of around 14 plants, I have about 6 Autumn Brides left. They no longer create the ideal "puddle" or "drift" of a single variety, but are a group of 3 and a random sprinkling. Work is needed here, once I determine if any are going to live.

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