In Concert: Fall’s Brilliant Fantasia …

October 18th, 2011 Comments Off

Flames of the Apprentice: Cotinus coggygria (Smokebush) Turns up the Volume on the Mid-October Music

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between color and sound. My mom had a fairly eclectic record collection —from classical to kitsch— and as a child, I loved listening to music while playing with crayons; creating wild works of art in response to the high and low notes I was hearing. I still listen to music while working in my studio, and the auditory language of color seems instinctive to me. When I hear the sound of an oboe —an instrument I love— I’m swept away by rivers of dark indigo and waves of velvety violet. I also adore cello, and while not as dark as oboe, it still conjures deeper hues, like chocolaty maroon and port wine. Some instruments, like guitar and piano, can cover the entire range of the rainbow, while others, like the bagpipes and the penny whistle, seem to stick to one end of the spectrum or the other. Individually, these sounds are all quite interesting, but when you put them all together … Well, we all know that’s when the fun really begins. Colors, like music, stir moods and feelings …

Viburnum lentago’s Dark Indigo Berries Sing a Streak of Rainy-Day Blues Against a Jazzy Backdrop of Red and Orange (Backup Singers, From Left to Right: Viburum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’)

The colors of autumn seem particularly euphonious, bringing to mind one of my favorite animated, musical films, Fantasia. And as we move toward the end of October, I’m inevitably reminded of the best part of that Disney Classic, The Sorceress’ Apprentice (click here to watch it on YouTube). Although I remember being terrified by parts of the film when I was very young (leaping flames, hooded monks, yikes!), the contrast between the light and the dark is exactly what made it fascinating as I grew older. I still relate to the apprentice’s experimental nature, as I play with my own color magic in the garden. As with art and music, contrasts are what make autumn garden design compositions beautiful …

Meanwhile the Garden’s Head Sorceress —That Wild-Colored Child, Witch Hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’)— Hits an Electric Chord Beside Deep and Sultry Summer Wine Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’) with Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’ chiming in with a bit of the blues. Note the Background Chorus: Harmonious, Honey-Hued Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’, and the Screaming Red Notes of Cornus alba ‘Siberica’. Read More About the Witch Hazel ‘Diane’ by Clicking Here.

Purple Percussive Profusion: Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Issai’ (In Truth, the Candy-Colored Fruits & Golden Wrapping of Beautyberry Always Remind Me of Another Film: Something Fizzy and Slightly Naughty from Willy Wonka’s Factory) Read More About the Aptly Named Beautyberry by Clicking Here.

Dahlias Dark Delight: This ‘Karma Choc’ Brings to Mind a Raspberry-Infused, Chocolate Cordial Cello

Early Halloween Costume Drama? Even the Insects Get in on the Act: This American Dagger Moth Caterpillar Shows off a Fuzzy, Mustard-Hued, Fantasy Cloak (Click Here to Read More About Autumn Caterpillars)

Abelia mosanensis (Fragrant Abelia) Puts on a Spectacular Show, Starting with Seductive Orange Heat, and Working Up to Fever-Pitch Red; Bouncing off Viburnum lantana ‘Variegatum’s (Wayfaring Viburnum) Yellow-Green, Percussive Notes. Meanwhile, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’ (Blue Rug Juniper) Plays it Cool with a Hint of Blues to Steady the Two Drama Queens (Read More About Fragrant Abelia by Clicking Here).

Hakonchloa macra ‘Beni-Kaze’ (Japanese Forest Grass ‘Red Wind’) gets Jazzy on Improv with Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’ and P. ‘Mrs. Moon’. Hosta and Heuchera Playing Backup for This Dynamic Duo (Read About the Springtime Beauty of Bethlehem Sage —And Pulmonaria ‘Mrs. Moon’ in Particular— by Clicking Here)

Inspiration: Walt Disney’s Fantasia: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Film Still ⓒ 1940 Walt Disney Productions

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!

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A Bolder Shade of Summertime … Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’

July 5th, 2011 § 3

 Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Golden’ with Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ in the Entry Garden

Some like it hot. And, some wither and fade in the mid-day sun. Blossoms come and go quickly at this time of year, but beautiful foliage lasts all season long. Does your garden go through awkward phases throughout the summer; gaps between flowering, when things look a little ‘blah’? Consider experimenting with colorful leaves to add a bit of season-spanning interest in your garden. A verdant backdrop is always lovely, of course. But there’s more than one hue in your box of Crayolas, so why not pull out a few and play around?

Like most gardeners, when I began planting perennials in my first garden, I was very flower-centric. Of course, flowers have evolved to seduce us —as well as birds, bees and butterflies— so it’s hard not to focus on all of those gorgeous blossoms. Peonies, roses, iris; I adore them all. Trouble is, even when employing various cultivars for staggered bloom time, the flowering season of most perennials is really quite short. Now, when designing gardens for myself and for my clients, I am quite ruthless when selecting plants. “What’s in it for me ?” I ask. “What’s in it for me all season long?” Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Golden(aka ‘Gold’), answers at the top of her lungs: “Look at me … Over here in the flamboyant chartreuse gown!” Brilliant as a sunlit lime, from spring until frost, this gorgeous European Red Elder has become one of my favorite plants for dappled shade and mixed borders. Just look at her glowing, cut leaves…

Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Golden’s Lovely, Tropical-Looking Leaves are Saturated in Luminous Chartreuse

There are several interesting Sambucus racemosa cultivars available; including dark beauties like ‘Black Lace’. I’m attracted to them all, and after experimenting with several in my own garden (which always serves as a testing ground for my garden design work), I’ve found that S. racemosa, ‘Sutherland Golden’ is the best of the yellow-chartreuse cultivars. I love playing the striking foliage of ‘Sutherland Golden’ against coppery and maroon hued plants like Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ and Cotinus coggygria ‘Grace’ (or for more intensity, C. coggygria ‘Royal Purple’). Chartreuse foliaged plants like this one also work beautifully against dark green hedges (or dark sided houses), and blue-tinted conifers. And just imagine the perennial possibilities! Deep blue and purple flowers, like Geranium ‘Brookside’ or late-blooming Aconitum sing against the golden backdrop of ‘Sutherland Golden’. And orange flowering plants —like butterflyweed and brilliant daylilies— are stunning against this shrubs feathery, bold backdrop. Always luminous, even casual, happenstance pairings with ‘Sutherland Gold’ can be striking. Take a look at the photo below, for example. Notice how the chartreuse color of the Sambucus leaves brings out the brilliant green moss on the ledge in the background. Color works such magic in a garden design …

Treated as a Woody, Perennial Plant (cut back hard in early spring), The Fresh, Vibrant Foliage of this European Red Elder Emerges Rusty, Copper-Orange Before Shifting to a Hue Bright as the Summer Sun…

Hardy in USDA zones 3-8, this fast growing shrub can quickly reach 10′ tall and 12′ wide. However, I almost always treat this ornamental Sambucus as I do woody perennials like Russian Sage and Butterflybush; cutting them back hard and early each spring to encourage low, bushy, new growth. Managed in this way, Sambucus can fit into very small spaces; making it the perfect plant for semi-shaded courtyard spaces and even larger container gardens. The golden foliage can burn out in full sun, so some protection at mid-day will give best coloration. And although flowering, fruiting and golden coloration are diminished in full shade, this lovely shrub thrives in dappled light conditions. Even moisture and a pH of 6-6.5 are her soil preferences; adding woodsy leaf mold and/or good compost will encourage healthy, rapid growth. Attractive to bees, butterflies and birds, Sambucus offers the garden fragrant flowers and fruit for wildlife (beware all parts of S. racemosa –including green and red berrries– are mildly toxic when ingested; particularly in great quantities. Avoid this shrub if you have grazing pets or small children. Take care not confuse this species with our native, S. canadensis, as the black fruits of our native elderberry are commonly used for jam).

Words & Photographs ⓒ 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 reused, reposted or reproduced in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Lovely Lenten Rose: The Secret Garden’s First Blossom of Springtime …

April 19th, 2010 § 4

Helleborus x hybridus © Michaela at TGE

Delicate, feminine, mysterious and shy; while it’s true that these words perfectly describe the beautiful Lenten Rose, there is so much more to this gorgeous harbinger of springtime. I could just as easily describe her -much less romantically- as strong, reliable and tenacious. Helleborus x hybridus, known more often as the Lenten Rose, or the Christmas Rose in warmer climates, is the first plant to bloom in my Secret Garden in early spring. Throughout winter, her starry, leatherette-like foliage remains deep green, catching frost and snow in a most delightful way. Then, just as the Glory of the Snow and Narcissus reach their peak, the silky, speckled blossoms of Lenten Rose begin to unfurl in shades ranging from deep violet and mauve to blush pink and peachy cream…

Helleborus x hybridus © Michaela at TGE

This isn’t a bold or obvious flower, so often it can take awhile before a gardener discovers the subtle charms Lady Hellebore. This plant seems to demand a more discerning eye; a mature sensibility, if you will. However, once introduced to Helleborus, many a plant collector has developed a full-blown obsession with the genus. Easy to cultivate given the proper conditions, the Lenten Rose prefers dappled shade and  moist -but never water-logged- humus-rich, fertile soil. Special points? Deer and rodent resistance certainly top the list of her fine qualities, and she also tends to be long-lived, producing beautiful colonies beneath trees and shrubs. Although slugs and aphids can cause a bit of damage, with vigilance on the part of the gardener, these troubles are easily controlled. And although Helleborus x hybridus is sometimes listed as hardy from USDA zone 6 – 9, I have had no trouble overwintering this species here in the protected Secret Garden of my zone 4/5 garden…

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’ © Michaela at TGE – Just look at that alluring blush…

Falling in love? Tempted to add this shy beauty to your springtime collection? I know I will be including more Helleborus x hybridus cultivars to my Secret Garden collection, including a few delightful plum, black and other dark-flowered specimens. Yes, her petals may be chilly and frost covered, nipping at my finger tips as I cup them. But you know what they say: cold hands, warm heart…

Starry foliage of Helleborus x hybridus, dusted in snow, © Michaela at TGE

For further exploration of this lovely genus, I recommend Burrell and Tyler’s Hellebores: A Comprehensive Guide

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Photographs and article copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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A Garden for Cutting – Part One: Planning for Fresh Cut Flowers in the Kitchen Garden…

April 14th, 2010 § 16

Zinnia and Dahlia © 2009 Tim Geiss

Some of my gardening friends never cut flowers. I have one friend who grows very few blooming plants, and she prefers to keep her limited flowers on display in the landscape. Other friends have told me that the constant snipping of stems and changing of water becomes a tedious chore with fresh flowers, so they have houseplants instead. Me? Oh, I am a hopeless romantic with an unabashed love of cut flowers. I grow as many blossoming plants as possible; everything from Queen Anne’s Lace and sweet peas, to heady Damask Roses and French lilacs. In fact I grow some flowers exclusively for cutting. My house is always decorated with something harvested fresh from the garden, even if it’s only dried grass, bare branches and pinecones in the coldest months. Now that spring has arrived my home is filled with flowers; in the kitchen, on the dining table and beside my bed and in my studio. I can not imagine living in a home without bringing a bit of nature inside with me, and I simply love big, bold blossoms.

But to be honest, some of my favorite cut flowers, such as dinnerplate dahlias and bold colored sunflowers, can be a bit over-the-top in a landscape. I love fuchsia gladiolas in a simple vase on my kitchen table, but I prefer not to look at them screaming at me from the perennial border. So my solution is to grow flowers for cutting along side the vegetables in my potager. This sort of arrangement is hardly new. In fact, many flowers have long been grown as beneficial companion plants for vegetables; attracting bees and other pollinators to the garden, and in some cases even repelling less desirable insect guests, (click here to read last year’s post on companion planting in the vegetable garden)

Cleome, harvested from last year’s cutting garden, on my vanity table

Sunflowers lined up against the sapling fence in my potager

Dahlia and Calendula bouquet, last summer on my kitchen windowsill

Climbing flowers, such as sweet peas, can be grown up a vegetable garden fence. Sunflowers, cleome, and other tall beauties can also be set against a shed wall or other garden boundary. Some lower growing flowers, including French marigold and dwarf dahlias, make good edging plants for mounded or raised beds. Of course if you have more space, an entire flower garden comprised of multiple beds can become an endless source of blossoms for summertime bouquets to give or keep. If you have pets or small children, always be sure that the flowers planted in vegetable plots are non-poisonous.

This year, after the last frost date here in Vermont, I will be planting shocking quantities of dahlias. I have always loved dahlias, but this year I truly don’t know what came over me. An obsession with their origami-like folded petals? Perhaps the midwinter blahs brought on an urge to fill my house with color? I can’t really explain it, maybe it was just plain old greed, but I ordered oodles of dahlia tubers. While browsing several sites this year, I stumbled upon a dahlia called ‘Ferncliff Illusion’. How could I resist such a gorgeous flower with creamy petals with lavender tips when my own garden is named Ferncliff? This discovery was just too poetic to let pass! And of course, I can’t keep this to myself. I must share it with at least one of you…

Presenting The Gardener’s Eden Anniversary Give-Away # 2

Dahlia ‘Ferncliff Illusion’ from, and image copyright to, Arrowhead Dahlias

And at the end of this month, one reader will receive a package containing four large size tubers of Dahlia ‘Ferncliff Illusion’ from The Gardener’s Eden! Today and every Wednesday thoughout the month of April, in honor of our first anniversary, The Gardener’s Eden will be giving away a special gift. In order to enter, correctly answer the question below in the comment section of this article. Be sure to post your answer prior to the 12:00 pm Eastern Time cut-off. Only one entry per reader, per give-away, please. The winner will be chosen at random from all of the correct entries received, and will be notified by email. Gift recipients will also be announced both here in the blog comments and on our Facebook Page. So now…

The question is just a wee bit harder this week: What is the name of the Japanese maple tree standing at the entrance to my Secret Garden room here at Ferncliff? You may use the latin or the very intriguing common name. Hint: The answer can be found in the photo-captions within the page marked ‘Ferncliff’, (where it is photographed in all seasons). In order to enter the contest, please post your answer in the comments here on this blog post, (not on the Facebook page). All email addresses will remain unpublished and kept in complete confidence. Your email will only be used to notify you if you have won. Good Luck!

* In order to provide each reader with an equal chance to win, your comment/ entry will not appear until 4/15*

Entry Deadline is Midnight, Eastern Time, 4/14/10

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All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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A Heart of Darkness…

February 12th, 2010 § 5

Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’, available online at, (and image via):  White Flower Farm

Some gardeners adore bright colors, and other plant collectors crave pastels. There are those who prefer dramatic plants painted silver and gold and a few indecisive types who seek out green tonal shifts and mottled white variegation. These hues are all quite lovely, and they occasionally catch my eye, but I fully admit that I have more shadowy desires. The truth is that deep within me, hidden from the light of day, beats a heart of pure darkness – I confess that I have a passion for black plants. Rich, dark purple and velvety red; bitter chocolate and silky maroon; ruby wine and exotic ebony: these are the colors I covet. And wouldn’t you agree that on a hot summer day, it’s easy to be seduced by a mysterious garden filled with shadows?

Cryptotaenia japonica atropurpurea backs up Athyrium niponicum var. pictum in my Secret Garden…

I love the cool, quiet of my shady, Secret Garden - but even in full sun, I like to paint shadows with dark foliage and black plants. While stunning on their own, when used in artful combination, these raven-hued beauties of the plant world can make the other flowers and foliage in a garden truly sing. Beside maroon and deep purple, sky blue blossoms sparkle, and when paired with orange and yellow, wine toned foliage is a bold and dramatic choice. Variegated plants, as well as the dusty, marbled whites and soft silver tones, all appear more striking when positioned beside darker colors. Imagine ghostly white ferns floating in a sea of dark foliage, or icy silver-tipped ivy winding about the base of black snake root, (Cimicifugia/Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ or ‘Brunette’). Dark beauty shyly beckons in the shade…

Streptocarpus ‘Black Panther’, seduces from the shadows of my garden on a hot day..

As for the dark blossoms – oh my, but how I’ve fallen; hopelessly deep, and madly in love, with all of their seductive charms. Ruby red, tipping toward blackness, the deep colored dahlias delight me, and the ink-stained petals of iris can drive me truly wild. But pair the velvety allure of maroon roses with a subtle, spicy fragrance, and I will begin to truly swoon. Yes, I know it is an obsession – but you must know my passion for plants by now. I simply can not help it. In fact , as some of you may recall, I have revealed my personal weakness for dark flowers, when I wrote about the mysterious Black Panther Streptocarpus last summer, (pictured above). So, come along with me, won’t you ? Let’s wander away on a tour of the dark-blossoming underworld. Others may only be charmed by bold birds-of-paradise or delicate little, fluttering flowers. As for me, I will always prefer the slightly sinister beauties, like the dark temptress Odile, a shadow drifting silently across Swan Lake

Ipomoea ‘Sweet Heart Purple’,(image via): White Flower Farm

Aquilegia ‘Black Barlow’, available online at, (and image via):White Flower Farm

Colocasia esculenta ‘Black magic’, (image/avail. via): White Flower Farm

Heuchera ‘Obsidian’, available online at, (and image via): White Flower Farm

Angelica gigas, available online at, (and image via): White Flower Farm

Sambucus ‘Black Lace’, available online at, (and image via): White Flower Farm

Ricinus communis ‘Carmencita bright red’, available online at, (and image via): White Flower Farm

Begonia Rex ‘Fireworks’, available online at, (and image via): White Flower Farm

Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie’, available online at (and photo via): White Flower Farm

Iris chrysographes, available online at (and image via): Wayside Gardens

Ophiopogon ‘Nigrescens’ (Black Mondo Grass), available online at: (and image via) Wayside Gardens

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Odile, the black swan, as portrayed by Julie Kent. Photo by Roy Rounds via Thought Patterns.

For further exploring the shadowy side of your gardening personality, I recommend both of these dark, delicious titles…

Karen Platt’s Black Magic and Purple Passion

Paul Bonine’s Black Plants

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Article and photographs (except where noted and linked to external websites and products) are copyright 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved.

All content on this site is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent.

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