Sparkling Texture & Dramatic Structure: Creating A Beautiful Winter Garden …

December 18th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

The Entry Garden at First Light in Early December, After a Dusting of Snow

I often wonder why I bother to mourn the end of autumn when there’s so much magic and beauty to be found in the garden during this quiet time of the year. As we near the winter solstice, I find myself every bit as enchanted by the garden as I am during the spring and summer months. My morning walks are cold —no doubt— and my finger tips burn a bit as I run them over the frosty stone walls. But the rich, visual rewards of those nippy strolls at first light make every shiver worthwhile.

Frosted Viburnum setigerum (Tea Viburnum) Fruits

Some gardeners prefer to cut back the perennials in their beds and borders in late autumn and early winter. And there is an argument to made for this approach. Certainly, there are places within the garden where I fuss over tender plants; protecting them from cold with mounds of compost or blankets of evergreen boughs. But by and large, I prefer to leave perennials standing throughout winter; that I might enjoy both the bold and delicate textures and how they sparkle with snow and ice after storms. Vertical lines, relief and pattern, both in the garden’s hardscape as well as in the more ephemeral plantings, are key to creating structure and beauty in a winter garden.

Seed Pods Provide Food for Birds and Beauty for Human Eyes: Rudbeckia hirta and Solidago with Sparkling Frost and Snow

Textural Grass Catches Light, Snow and Ice in the Quiet Season. Switch Grass (Panicum virginicum ‘Heavy Metal’) with A Light Morning Glaze…

Climbing Hydrangea (H. petiolaris) Adds Texture and Color to A Grouping of Boulders, and Provides Nooks and Crannies for a Dusting of Fresh Snow…

I often talk about the “bones” of a garden when I discuss design with my clients. This framework, or skeleton, is what gives the landscape shape throughout the year. Walls, fences and arbors, trellises and obelisks, benches and chairs, sculpture and boulders are all examples of objects that add to a garden’s hardscape and structure. Living plants, particularly dramatically shaped trees and shrubs are also helpful in creating a season-spanning garden design. In terms of defining outdoor space, hedges —both formal and informal— alles, espalier fences, and other features are useful in building permanent trans-seasonal walls.

Sculpture and Lichen-Covered Stone Catch Snow: Here, the Guardian Stands Sentry at the Edge of the Forest

The Rusty Color and Grid-Patterned Seat Make this Bench a Valuable Winter-Garden Object

Perennials May Fade at Autumn’s End, but Dan Snow’s Stone Seat and Evergreen Conifers Remain (Young hemlock: Tsuga canadensis)

Here in New England, field stone has long been a popular material for dividing garden spaces, and it will always be my personal favorite. From retaining walls and steps, to formal and free-form sculpture, I am most fond of this natural and versatile material. Throughout the seasons —but especially during the quiet season of winter— Dan Snow’s stonework is the central architectural feature and design element in my garden. Because Dan’s walls are comprised of subtly colored and textured rock —often softened by blueish lichen and emerald moss— they seem quite alive, even though they are technically inorganic. Whats more, the arrangement of the stonework itself —whether stacked horizontally, vertically, or arranged in dramatic and shifting pattern— adds artistry to the garden’s bare architecture in winter.

Steps and stairs —though they can be constructed from a wide variety of materials— must safely function and enhance a garden throughout the seasons. What we call “hallways” in our homes are the “pathways” in our gardens. These frequently-traveled spaces are as important outdoors as they are inside the house. Stepping stones, pea stones and gravel all add texture to the garden throughout the year. And in winter, walls, pathways, steps and other architectural features become highly exposed design elements. As crazy as I am about plants (and we all know that’s pretty crazy) my primary focus when designing a garden is always on the underlying structure. Build your garden before you decorate it with plants –and build it well, for it will hold, protect and exhibit your botanical treasures as your house contains, shelters and displays all of your worldly possessions! In winter, outdoor rooms are as stark as an empty house. And usually, the more attractive the garden’s architecture, the more beautiful the winter garden…

Stone Wall and Juniper Line the Winter Garden Walkway. Dan Snow Added both Candle Niches and Seats within the Wall, Creating Opportunities for Rest and Display Throughout the Seasons…

Stone Steps by Dan Snow Look Beautiful with a Dusting of Snow, and the Varied Height of the Sloped Setting Makes a Lovely Display for Frost-Proof Pots and Evergreen Plants…

Winter is a Fine Time to Enjoy Works of Art —Both Large and Small— in the Garden. Dan Snow’s Fire Sculpture Looks Particularly Beautiful in the Snow…

Structural elements and textural interest provide nature with a three-dimensional canvas for wintery works of art. And although it’s possible to spend a fortune on architectural details and plants, keep in mind that even the humblest cast-aways —flea market benches, unwanted boulders, simple fences and wire cables, twig teepees and homemade works of art— are just as effective when it comes to creating spaces and adding tactile elements in the garden. The rusty surfaces and cracked edges of second hand and found objects often enhance a snowy landscape. Set things out in the garden and move them around until you find a spot that feels right. Begin by using what you have on hand and playfully experiment with the beauty of the winter garden…

The honey-colored remnants of Golden Hops Vine (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’) add beautiful texture to a simple cable rail along a deck in winter. Be on the look-out for perennials and vines with persistent papery, dried flowers and seed heads -these textural elements are key to winter garden detail…

A Mass Planting of  Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’ ) Forms a Season-Spanning ‘Screen’; Adding Texture and Color to the Garden Throughout the Seasons, in Addition to Providing Enclosure and  Natural Transition to the Meadow and Mountain Tops Beyond

Old wire chairs, even if they are no longer functional, provide endless interest in the garden throughout the seasons. In winter, this ivy-patterend chair casts a gorgeous shadow in the snow…

At the Garden Entryway, the Texture of Juniperus horizontalis and the Natural Stone Ledge Both Stand Out with a Dusting of Snow and Create a Backdrop for Other Plantings Throughout the Seasons…

Boulders —Remnants from Site Excavation— Make a Pretty Vine-Covered Grouping at Garden’s Edge (Hydrangea petiolaris)

Dan Snow’s Stone Steps Dusted in Snow

This design article was adapted from a previously published post which appeared on The Gardener’s Eden 12/2010

All Stonework Featured Here is by Vermont Artist Dan Snow

Garden Design by Michaela Medina

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Pretty as a Pumpkin …

October 25th, 2011 § 7 comments § permalink

Things that Grow Bumps in the Night: White, Cream and Shadow Blue, I Love Growing Pumpkins, Squash & Gourds, Warts & All (Front and Center to Back: Baby Boo Pumpkin, Gourds & Jarrahdale Pumpkin)

Could There be a More Charming Chariot than Cinderella’s Pumpkin (Rouge Vif d’Etampes)

Tiny, Ghostly Gourds & Jarrahdale Pumpkin

One of my favorite fall traditions is gathering gourds, squash and pumpkins from the garden and scattering them around my front door. Of course, I can never stop at the stoop. I always arrange groups of gourds atop the dining table, kitchen counter and here and there all about the house. Blue Hubbard Squash, Cinderella or “Rouge Vif D’Etampes” pumpkins, lumpy-bumpy green, orange and ghostly white gourds, as well as phantom-white “Spooktacular’ and “Baby Boo”, and “Mini Jack” pumpkins always delight my tiniest studio visitors. Some other dramatic-looking favorites include ghoulish-grey “Jarrahdale”, warty “Marina di Chioggia”, “Musque de Provence” and froggy-skinned “Bliss”.  For All Hallow’s Eve, who can resist a traditional, bright-orange or freakishly white-skinned, glowing Jack-o-Lantern? 

Favorite Fall Traditions: Pumpkins & Squash, Gathered from the Garden and Scattered Around the Front Door. This year’s cast of lumpy, bumpy pumpkins, scary squash and ghastly gourds were grown from  Renee’s Garden Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds

For Jack-o-Lantern carving, I’m still partial to traditional orange pumpkin varieties, though I do have a soft spot for small, white “Spooktacular” (Photo from last year’s Halloween Special: click here, if you dare!)

The Gardener’s Eden is not an affiliate of Renee’s Garden Seeds or Johnny’s Selected Seeds, but Michaela is a long time, happy customer of both companies.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Gathering Beauty Before the Storm …

August 27th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Riding the Storm Out: Fragile Pots & Plants Gathered Safely Inside {plants, clockwise from bottom left: Verbena canadensis with Stobilanthes dyerianus (Persian Shield), Asclepias curassavica ‘Silky Red’ (Butterfly Weed), Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ with Lysmachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny) and repeat}

Sunlight & Calm Before the Storm {Asclepias curassavica ‘Silky Red’ and Verbena canadensis. Campo de’Fiori pots available at Verde Garden & Home and Walker Farm in VT and online at Terrain.}

Lovely Lavender Haze: Verbena speciosa ‘Sterling Star’ Beside the Door

With voluptuous hydrangea blossoms gathered by the armful, and fragile pots all collected safely inside, there’s little left to do but wait out the storm. It feels a bit eerie, looking out at the summertime terrace –dining table and chairs folded neatly away–  the empty expanse of grey stone, naked without its bright riot of floral color. But here inside –nestled in every nook and cranny– potted plants and freshly cut blossoms fill the house with beauty and fragrance. At the moment, I feel like a guest in an extravagant hotel conservatory, which gives me all sorts of delightfully outrageous ideas…

Freshly Cut Hydrangea from the Garden (H. paniculata ‘Limelight’)

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links (including Amazon book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Renovate! How the Garden Next Door Went from Just Grass to Just Gorgeous …

August 23rd, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink

A Prim & Proper Arbor Goes Drop-Dead Gorgeous in a Sexy New Shade of Sangria

It’s been awhile since I last featured one of my residential garden design projects on The Gardener’s Eden. And to be completely honest, I’ve been too busy planning and installing gardens to do much writing these days. But over the next couple of weeks, I hope to showcase more real, residential gardens which I designed or redesigned and helped to revamp this summer; all located in everyday, suburban neighborhoods. I love planning and planting all kinds of gardens, but my most rewarding projects usually involve collaborations with do-it-yourself homeowners —regular people with average gardening skills— ready and eager to roll up their sleeves and get to work. I get a great deal of pleasure from helping others by designing beautiful, low-maintenance gardens which make outdoor living more enjoyable …

Durable and Beautiful Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’) Catches the Late Afternoon Light at the Edge of the Driveway

A Garden of Mostly-Native, Lower Maintenance Plants, This Section Features a Screen of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summerwine’, Liatris ‘Floristan Violet’, Asclepias tuberosa, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’ and Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’

Ornamental Grasses are Great Problem-Solvers for Hot, Dry, Sunny Locations. Fountain Grass Softens Hard Edges and Works with the Riverside Setting of the Property

The front entry garden featured in this post —home of Geri and Stan Johnson in Western Massachusetts— was a particularly fun project this summer.  The couple recently renovated the interior of their sweet, riverside ranch home, and this year they decided it was time to take action on the outside. When I first met with them to discuss revamping their front landscape, I asked them about project scope, goals, style and budget. Geri is a successful real estate professional and she clearly understands the value of a well designed landscape, but a home is more than just an investment; it’s a place for family, friends and relaxation. Geri and Stan took the time to think about what they wanted from this landscape renovation before calling me for a consultation, making my job much easier! But even more important, working with open-minded clients like the Johnsons —who were willing trust my design recommendations and guidance, and take imaginative leaps at every turn— makes designing gardens fun and rewarding …

Front Entry Before, and After …

After coming up with  a master plan, I broke this front yard landscape renovation into three distinct areas for ease of installation: the entry garden, main walkway/foundation border (I’ll talk about this section in a future post) and retaining wall/arbor garden. Geri and Stan wanted several things from their new landscape. Because both homeowners are busy people, low-maintenance design was right at the top of their list. Creating a buffer from the road, and adding a bit of privacy was also important to them, but they wanted the first impression to be welcoming and attractive as well. Thoughtful neighbors, they requested that the new plantings not block the view of the river from the rest of the community. An existing, mature hedge of hemlock directly in front of Geri and Stan’s house provides protection from radiant road heat and the sound of passing cars, as well as a safe-haven and nesting space for local birds. I’m quite fond of our native hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) —a great choice for creating a soft, feathery garden backdrop and living privacy fence (click here for more info about my favorite conifer)— and used it as a jump-off point for a new garden design featuring mostly native plants. The backbone of the new entry garden is formed by a relaxed grouping of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’, which extends the line of the existing hedge with a soft curve. To this anchor, a low-maintenance grouping of pollinator-friendly, long-flowering perennials and ornamental grass was added …

Welcoming but Protected: The New Garden Provides a Pretty and Durable Screen from the Road without Blocking the View to the River Beyond (Natives like Rudbeckia, Veronica and Sedum combine with Perovskia atriplicifolia and ornamental grasses to support local bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators and seed-seekers throughout the seasons)

With a Meadow of Wild Bluestem Grass and Oaks Across the Street, It Seemed Right to Use Mostly Native Plants When Designing this Welcoming Garden

Viewed from Inside, this Garden of Mostly-Native Plants is Soft, Cool and Colorful (Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’, Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ and Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ provide food for pollinators at different times of the year)

Once the Plantings Fill-In (most designs take about three years before they begin to hit their stride) This Garden Will Provide a Soothing Drift of Low-Maintenance, Season-Long Color

Stan (who, among other things, owns and operates Songline Emu Farm with his wife Geri and her sister, Dee Dee Mares) was such an enthusiastic and hard worker (with the muscle and speed of three twenty year olds and far more attention to detail), I wish I could take him along on every landscaping project! Work began about one week after I marked out new beds with spray paint, cut English-style edges, and applied two doses of Nature’s Avenger (a non-toxic, organic herbicide used to kill crab and turf grass). Once the soon-to-be replace lawn turned orangey-brown, Stanley, his brother and nephew spread 6″ of loam/compost mix on top of the dead turf to build up raised planting beds; feathering the borders to meet the edges I’d pre-cut. I find this method of creating new garden beds to be both easier and less disruptive than manually removing sod and tilling soil.

While I went about the work of selecting and shopping for new, low-maintenance, native plants and installing the first garden, Stanley and his nephew removed an undesirable grouping of scraggly Spirea from the retaining wall garden and prepared the other beds for planting by moving existing plants, weeding and spreading fresh loam/compost. Once planted, the guys came back through and spread a 2″ thick layer of natural (un-dyed) hemlock bark mulch. The end result was a complete transformation of the front yard. But perhaps the most dramatic change in the garden happened near the very end, when Stanley brought up the refinished garden arbor from his garage. Although the original white color of the arch was perfect for niece Meagan’s wedding, this romantic landscape feature went bold and sophisticated in a fresh, vibrant shade of deep maroon; a much better match for this colorful, contemporary new garden. Amazing what a difference a few cans of spray paint can make!

Left-Over from Their Niece’s Wedding, This Garden Arbor Makes a Great Argument for Spray Paint Makeovers in This Dramatic Before (above) and After (below) …

Without Hesitating at My Suggestion, Stan Painted the Garden Arch a Deep Maroon (Which Seems to Change Hue with the Light) to Better Blend with the House and Enhance the Colors of Their New Garden. It’s a Real Knock-Out …

Plantings Surrounding the Maroon Arbor Flatter in Similar Hues and bold Pops of Color (Including this Liatris ‘Floristan Violet’and  Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’)

Fine textured maiden grass shimmers in the afternoon sunlight, accenting either side of the arbor and leading the eye down the garden path (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’). Nice work on that paint job, Stanley!

A Bold, Mass Planting of Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’) Glows on the Opposite Side of the Richly-Colored Arch

Between the two mirroring sides of this long, road-side screen is a sunny to semi-shady walkway garden running the length of the house. I filled this last section of the garden —which I will cover in an upcoming post— with bold new perennials and a few colorful, season-spanning shrubs. I’ve many more projects to share, but in meantime, if you have any questions about the how-to end of this project, please feel free to post them in comments!

By working with a garden designer —who can help you create a site plan and shop for and perhaps place or even install plants— but doing the bulk of the physical labor/hardscaping yourself, you can save a tremendous amount of money on landscaping projects. Before you call in a professional, take the time to think about a few things; including your goals (how you hope to use your outdoor space, and your project time frame/deadline), your personal as well as your home’s style (formal, informal or somewhere between), your budget (remember that professional landscaping can add 10-20% to your home’s value, and immeasurable curb-appeal), and how much of the work you are willing and able to do yourself (experience and muscle matter here, so be brutally honest with yourself). Many landscape designers and garden coaches enjoy working with do-yourselfers. Need help finding a garden designer? Word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to find a landscaping professional (if see a garden you love, send or leave a note for the owner asking the designer’s name), but local garden centers/greenhouses, building contractors, stoneworkers, realtors and garden clubs are great sources of information as well.

A Big Thank You to Geri and Stan Johnson for All of Your Enthusiasm, Support and Hard Work! I Hope You are Enjoying Your New Garden!

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links (including Amazon book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Un-Flower Pots: Designing & Caring for Spectacular Succulent Container Gardens

May 9th, 2011 § 12 comments § permalink

Beautiful Container Gardens are all about Color, Form and Texture. Great Designers Work with both Contrasts and Harmonies to Create Stunning Results. Hanging basket available at Walker Farm.

Saturday morning I spent the better part of an hour and a half listening to enthusiastic oohs and ahhs at Walker Farm’s Succulent Container Gardening & Hanging Basket Design seminar. I had so much fun watching Karen Manix demonstrate how to create a container garden of succulents and listening to Daisy Unsicker talk about how to care for these gorgeous plants, that I just had to share a bit of my experience with all of you here today…

Pretty, dark-violet hued Aeonium arboreum and orange-tipped, chartreuse leaved Sedum nussbaumerianum (opposites in the spectrum of colors) make a stunning color combination

Last week I mentioned how much I’ve come to love succulent container gardening. My new-found obsession started innocently enough a few years ago, while expanding my indoor gardening pursuits during the cold winter months. Because I am so busy with gardening during the growing season, I’ve traditionally kept houseplants to a minimum; with only windowsill herbs, and a few tough ferns to satisfy my horticultural-urges from December through March. Then, after creating a Secret Garden Room, and experiencing much joy and success with my expanded indoor garden pursuits —and a passion for epiphytes and terrariums— I began to develop an interest in succulents…

Click on the photo above to read a previous post on indoor gardening with succulents

I’ve been teaching myself about cold-climate container gardening with succulents as I go along. And much to my delight, this expanding indoor-outdoor collection of tropic, sub-tropic and desert region plants has thrived and grown, thanks to a lot of research and a little help from my friends. I’ve discovered that succulents are remarkably easy, undemanding plants to grow —even for cold-climate gardeners— both indoors and out. But like all living things, succulents and cacti do have specific requirements and preferences all their own. Getting the container, potting mix and combinations right are the first step toward success with succulents. By learning about each plant, and continuing to provide these beauties with what they need —and never more— a gardener can achieve long term success and satisfaction from their investment.

And here are two of the plants pictured from the previous photo, now transferred to a larger pot which I’ve moved outdoors

Lucky gardeners in attendance at Walker Farm’s free seminar last Saturday got a real head-start on the subject by learning how to care for succulent containers from real pros! I’ve mentioned before that local Walker Farm is a world-class horticultural destination for rare plant connoisseurs throughout New England, New York and even further afield. Beyond the fact that their plants are unusual, healthy and beautiful, we hortimaniacs love Walker Farm because their staff is incredibly friendly, unpretentious and truly knowledgable about what they sell. The owners and staff at Walker Farm have a real passion and enthusiasm for what they do and generously share their experience without a trace of the dread ‘high brow’ attitude that so often tuns new gardeners away from horticulture. The excitement and creativity at Walker Farm is downright contagious, and it’s one of the many reasons why their loyal fans keep coming back for more.

Karen Manix began the talk by covering the basic principles of container garden design, with succulents in mind. Quickly covering the five most important aspects of composition —scale and proportion (finding correct sizes and structure for the container), balance (creating a sense of unity and point of view), contrast (using different colors, textures and forms to create interest), rhythm and flow (repeating color, form and texture plays) and fullness (giving a sense of lushness to satisfy the senses)— Karen immediately jumped into a wonderful demonstration from a dynamic display of containers and plants…

Karen Manix, owner of Walker Farm, demonstrates the basics of container garden design, using a variety of succulents in different sizes, shapes, textures and colors. Isn’t that clam-shell container gorgeous? Perfect for topping an outdoor living room table…

Succulent Container Design in Action. Isn’t this a beautiful pot?

While filling a gorgeous, clam-shell inspired planter with growing medium, Karen discussed the importance of proper planting mix for succulents. Because these fleshy, shallow-rooted plants need to dry out between waterings, it’s important to choose a light-weight, fast-draining container medium; such as cactus mix or a home-made equivalent. Regular potting soil is too dense and holds too much moisture to keep succulents and cacti happy. As a general rule, planting medium for succulents must contain 1/3 to 1/2 pumice or coarse sand —such as builders sand or poultry grit— for proper drainage. Some succulents prefer slightly more porous planting medium than others. Always read up on the plants you are growing and know their soil preferences prior to placing them in pots. Before you begin designing your succulent container, Karen recommends filling the pot 3/4 full of growing medium, and adding a small amount of time-release fertilizer (which you can mail order or pick up at most garden centers).

Just a few of the beautifully tempting terra cotta pots available at Walker Farm

And speaking of pots, getting settled in the right home, with a location you love,  is just as important for your plants as it is for you! Although terra cotta is the best choice for succulents and cacti, due to its porous nature, it’s equally important to choose a pot that suits your plant’s style, and satisfies your eye. Try playing the colors and textures of your chosen pot against the colors and textures of foliage, as well as your overall design and composition. Check to be sure that your chosen pot has a good drainage hole (although pots without holes can be modified with a base of pumice, but this is more advanced). Karen mentioned covering the drainage hole in pots with screening, rocks or broken pottery. Although this isn’t always necessary to prevent soil-loss, it can definitely come in handy when you are moving pots in and out of your home, or when you are dealing with large sized drainage holes.

This spiky, ice-blue Senecio serpens would be nice in combination with a terra cotta pot or another plant with peachy toned foliage or flowers. Red-orange and green-blue are opposite on the color wheel, and they make beautiful music together…

Once you have your container and growing medium ready, feel free to play around with individual plants while they are still in their nursery containers, until you find a combination you like. Perhaps you might combine a dramatic upright specimen with a mound shaped plant and a couple of trailers in colors chosen to contrast with your pot. Like a dusky-purple echeveria? Look for a chartreuse colored species to settle in next to it, and make that violet color sing. New to container design? Don’t be afraid to look at photos for ideas or imitate other gardeners until you get the hang of it. The process should be fun and relaxing. And remember, you can always move the plants around and try again if you aren’t quite happy.

Choose pots to bring out the best in your plants. Walker Farm has incredible selection in their potting shed, but if you live far from here, you can find some real beauties online in Etsy shops; such as those made by Vermont artist Virginia Wyoming (click here to visit her lovely shop). And there are plenty of gorgeous containers melting my heart at Terrain as well.

Satisfied with your arrangement? Karen advised us to tuck in all the plants; gently adding potting mix to fill in gaps, and bring soil level approximately 1″ below the container rim. Top dress the container with a decorative mulch to help keep soil stable during watering and conserve moisture. Some designers like to use glass pebbles or marbles, others prefer to use colored gravel or natural stone. Whatever you choose, when you are finished, brush growing medium away from leaves and gently water, rinsing dust and soil from the foliage as you go.

At this point in the seminar, focus shifted to long-term care of succulent containers. Both Karen and Daisy (pictured below) emphasized that over and under watering —particularly in tandem— are a recipe for plant woes. Keeping soil moist —but no wetter than a wrung-out sponge— and allowing the planting medium to dry out a bit between waterings is key to success. Keep in mind that these conditions mimic the natural environment of these semi-tropical and desert region plants. The foliage of plants like succulents and cacti has evolved to hold moisture, in much the same way as a camel stores its water in humps to provide hydration between stops at the oasis!

Daisy, head propagator at Walker Farm, discusses the maintenance and care of succulents and container gardens…

Daisy covered all of the keys to success with container garden maintenance. In addition to balanced watering and regular fertilizing —probably the two most important chores in gardening— one of the major points Daisy covered in her thorough over-view was container size as relative to plant size. It’s always important to educate yourself about the plants you are working with. How big is that cute little button going to get in a year? How long will that enchanting vine trail… Will it visit you in your bed at night? With scissors in hand and orders to clip away at plants for fullness and to promote flowering, Daisy declared: “You control your plant, your plant doesn’t control you”. Now there’s some advice worth taking! Potted plants looking scraggly or leggy? Then it’s time for a haircut. Prune and pinch plants frequently, she advised, to keep them looking great and in proportion with the container. There’s no reason to struggle with an unmanageable plant.

Keep hanging plants attractive and manageable with regular pruning. Manage growth in confined containers, such as wreaths or baskets, by limiting fertilizer.

Of course, Daisy emphasized the importance of knowing both yourself, your location, and the plants you choose. Are you away from home a great deal? Lower maintenance, drought-tolerant succulent species are the best choice for your containers! Sunny spot with six or more hours of direct sunlight? Choose plants that can tolerate such hot, dry conditions. Cacti and many succulents from the American desert regions are a good choice for full sun. Partially sunny location? Most container plants thrive in this situation; including many succulents from the tropics and subtropics. Shade? The vast majority of succulents do not like full shade, and with a few exceptions —such as sansevierias— plants other than succulents will be a better choice for containers in shady situations.

Aphids are sometimes a problem for succulents, particularly when they are brought inside to overwinter. A lack of natural predators allows outside pests to grow un-checked when carried indoors. Here, they cluster and feed on a Kalanchoe in my studio. Click on photo for details on how to deal with succulent garden pests….

Pests aren’t usually a big problem for succulent container plants outdoors, but aphids, scale and mealy bugs can occasionally trouble some plants; particularly during and just after over wintering. Daisy, Karen and I all strongly advise using organic methods to deal with pest problems, and always try the least aggressive method first. During summer, try removing aphids by spraying plants with a strong blast of water from a hose. Often this will knock back pests long enough for natural predators —like ladybug larvae— to take on the battle. For particularly troublesome container pests —like mealy bugs or spider mites— or serious infestations, try insecticidal soap with neem oil or hot pepper in the mix. See my previous post (click here) for more ideas.

The Jewel Box Garden – Thomas Hobbs

Looking for more design ideas and care tips for succulent containers? We’re all big fans of Thomas Hobbs’ gorgeous books. I especially love his colorful Jewel Box Garden (pictured above). And of course, as I recently mentioned, Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Container Gardens is a wonderful resource for the creative container gardener. Walker Farm’s seminars and the regular support of their friendly staff are a great resource for local gardeners here in southern Vermont. I’ll be reporting more from their wonderful gardening seminars in the coming weeks. And if you live in the area, I encourage you to take advantage of these fun and free events for gardeners of all ages and stages…

Succulent Container Gardens – Debra Lee Baldwin

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Gardening Seminars at Walker Farm are Free and Open to the Public. The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation, of any kind, for editorial mention of businesses or products in this post.

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