Crystal-Coated & Sugar Plum Kissed . . . . Late Night Garden Party with Jack Frost

November 29th, 2012 Comments Off

The Entry Walk and Ledges, Sparkling in Sunlight After Jack Frost’s Midnight Ball

I love surprises. A life lived predictably seems terribly boring to me and a garden kept under tight control leaves little room for romance. For months now, I’ve been encouraging readers to leave seed pods and other garden remnants standing over winter for the sake of wildlife. But I have an ulterior motive of course . . . Beauty! Whenever I design a garden, I like to keep the work of the great artist, Mother Nature in mind.

Mountain Laurel and Maiden Grass, A Sparkling Duo on the Rocks (Kalmia latifolia & Miscanthus sinensis)

November is often a spectacular month for hoar frost, and this year has been exceptional so far. Why bother cutting back the garden and then decorating for the holidays, when Mother Nature and her seasonal assistants are more than happy to do the work for you? Have I been late to meet you this week? Well now you know why! I just can’t help but stop and admire the work of Mother Nature’s coolest apprentice, Jack Frost! At this time of year, Jack’s handiwork is simply a masterpiece in the early morning light. Care to sneak a peek at his beautiful surprise?

Beautiful Throughout the Garden Year, Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ adds a Spectacular bit of Neon to the Ground in November. Isn’t She Just the Definition of Fire & Ice?

Sugar Plum Kisses: Jack’s Lips Leave their Mark on Violet Leaves and Citrus Blades (Heuchera & Carex)

With Many Shrubs Already Stripped Bare by Hungry Birds and Rodents, the Frost-Coated Red Berries of This Cotoneaster Really Catch the Eye (C. horizontalis var. perpusillus)

The Gift of Beautiful Surprise: Why I Encourage Über-Tidy Gardeners to Leave Seedpods Standing! (Agastache & Rudbeckia)

Creeping Blue Rug Juniper and Fallen Oak Leaves Sparkle in Icy Blue and Rust (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’)

Spiked Remnants of Black-Eyed Susan and Fluffy Goldenrod Capture the Crystalline Spirit of Wintry Festivities (Rudbeckia hirta and Solidago)

Lupine Leaf: Green Star in a Sea of Sparkling Crystals 

Delicate, Sparkling Lace: Heath, Heather & Juniper on the Rocks (Erica carnea, Calluna vulgaris, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’ and Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’)

Native Labrador Violets with a Shimmering, Sugary Coat of Ice (Viola labradorica)

A Prelude to Winter: Siberian Cypress (Microbiota decussata), Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and Juniper (J.x pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green) 

Garden Design: Michaela Medina Harlow

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, 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. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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

December 18th, 2011 § 2

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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Heavenly as October Skies at Sunset: ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ Aromatic Aster Sparkles in My Autumn Garden …

October 12th, 2011 § 2

Raydon’s Favorite aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite’/ aka Aster oblongifolius) in the front entry garden in mid-October (Shining gold in the background here: Amsonia hubrichtii and Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’)

When it comes to North American native wildflowers, there’s just no way I could ever choose a favorite. My plant infatuations are many; varying by season, weather pattern and even time of day. But in autumn —when beautiful blue and violet flowers are so magnificent paired with gold— I simply can not resist heavenly-hued, ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite) …

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ (Other plants in this design are listed clockwise from bottom left: Rudbeckia hirta seed pods, Pennisetum alopecuroides, Amsonia hubrichtii, Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’, Solidago, and Betula papyrifera)

Although less well-known than some of the flashier species and cultivars, this North American native, aromatic aster (USDA zones 3-9), is a garden designer’s dream. Unlike many of her gangly cousins, this densely mounded, 16-36″ beauty keeps a neat profile in the border (though they don’t require snipping to promote bushy form, I like to shear the front-row plants back in early summer to create a two-tiered effect in the garden). Drought tolerance, deer resistance and late-season interest are but three of her many charms. Provided her modest requirements are met —full sun and well drained, average to lean garden soil— she’ll bloom her pretty head off from late summer straight through the early frosts. ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ combines so well with autumn colors, I’d be hard-pressed to find an unattractive fall pairing. I love this flower with rich golds, saffron and chartreuse (see photo above), but she’s equally stunning with eye-popping red and orange or deep maroon. Backed up by a dark Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’, fiery Viburnum plicatum (Doublefile Viburnum), lemony Lindera benzoin (Spicebush), or a technicolor explosion like Fothergilla major (Witch alder), she completely steals the show. And have I mentioned the birds, bees and butterflies? Why this is the most popular pollinator pit-stop in the October garden!

The best part of this lovely plant? Passing by ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ aromatic asters on my way to and from the studio is a true-blue mood lifter. Even on the greyest and cloudiest of autumn days, the delightful, lavender-blue flowers always bring a smile to my face!

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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Reining in the Tumbling Floral Chaos: Mid-Summer Garden Maintenance …

July 29th, 2011 § 6

Summer’s Wild, Tumbling Jumble (Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’, Hydrangea quercifolia, Amsonia hubrichtii, Adenophora confusa, Rudbeckia hirta, Sedum, Hosta and Adiantum pedatum)

While out enjoying a morning stroll around the garden, taking in a blissfully cool and misty start to my day, a few flower stalks and juniper branches caught my attention by snapping at my ankles and tickling my knees. Ah, the tumbling jumble of summertime garden chaos! I do love a lush and laid-back garden, but every year at about this time, I embark upon a bit of disciplinary activity in my flower beds and shrub borders. After all, there’s a fine line between beauty and beast in the garden!

I begin my annual, mid-season grooming by pulling out a pair of hand-shears and bypass pruners —giving them a quick once-over with a whetstone and oiled rag— and heading out to the garden with my mobile beauty-salon (a basket filled with rags, oil, rubbing alcohol, natural twine and a few bamboo stakes). Like many seasoned hairstylists, after years of experience, most of the tasks I perform are so instinctive to me, that I fall into a state of gardening-zen while giving late July haircuts. But now that I’m doing more teaching and garden coaching, I’ve started to actually think more about the how and why of this horticultural beauty routine, in order to communicate the process to others…

Agastache, a bird, bee and butterfly favorite, always benefits from a mid-summer haircut. Shearing the spent flower heads from this plant now encourages a second wave of bloom later in the summer. Because this is an aromatic plant, it’s quite a pleasant job. But try to do this very early in the day, in order to avoid disrupting foraging bees.

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ is still in full bloom on the Wildflower Walk. As the flowers fade, I will leave most of the seed heads standing for finches and other small birds, as well to enhance the winter-garden. But if flower stalks fall into the path, tripping or whacking passers by, I will cut them for vases to keep the walkway clear.

The ever-narrowing Secret Garden stairs! Time for some haircuts! Heuchera and Adenophora self sow, and cutting them back early will prevent their spread. Spent blossoms spilling into the stairs are snipped off at the base. However, I happen to like the excess, so I allow those flower heads to the sides of the steps to multiply as nature intended. Prickly new juniper growth is cut all the way back to the main branch. Remember to clean pruners with rubbing alcohol between specimens

If you are relatively new to gardening, probably the most important thing to remember is that getting to know the plants you care for —their identities, growth habits and blooming routines— is key to making them look their best in your garden. Think like Edward Scissorhands for a moment and imagine vegetative growth as hair. Ironing curly hair straight may be fun once in awhile, but when it comes to day to day style, the best looks work with nature. What’s true for people is also true for plants. If you need help identifying the plants in your care, a good encyclopedia —like this one from the American Horticultural Society— is a great garden-library investment.

Once you are familiar with your plants, it’s much easier to decide how and when to spruce them up. Some plants need very little tending. In fact, many perennials are best left to do their own thing until they finish blooming, or until they are cut back to the ground in early spring. For example, after Hosta finish blooming, I remove the spent flower stalks to keep the plants looking tidy. However, I leave the seed heads of most Echinacea and Rudbeckia standing, in order to provide food for birds. Actaea simplex is left to do her own thing in the garden, while Asters are Chrysanthemums are pinched back until mid-July in order to encourage fuller, more floriferous plants (but never later, in order to avoid nip by early autumn frost). Nepeta, Veronica, Agastache and Geranium are sheared back after blooming to encourage a second wave of blossoms, while Aruncus dioicus and Valerian are cut back simply to make the plants look tidier. Many annual flowers, particularly those in window boxes and hanging baskets, also look best when given a mid-season haircut (and remember to keep fertilizing weekly for best bloom). Miss any opportunities this season? Remember to make a note of it in your garden journal for next year…

Veronica spicata –a pollinator favorite– is a long-blooming perennial. Because of its front-and-center location in this border (backing up Rudbeckia hirta and dancing with the slender blades of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’) this plant is a very good candidate for mid-season maintenance. Shearing the top blooms off this cultivar, V. spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’, will help keep the plant tidy, and encourage another full wave of bloom in a couple of weeks.

I try to leave flower heads standing as long as possible in the garden, even if they seem a bit faded. Flower nectar and pollen still provides sustenance to garden guests —like this bumble bee— even though blooms may be past their prime. Later, seeds of this Echinacea, and many other flowers, provide late season food for finches and other small birds.

When cut back after flowering, Geranium ‘Brookside’ will look tidier and often produce a second, if slightly less lush, wave of bloom in autumn.

Learning to work with plants and maintain an attractive garden is a life-long process for all gardeners. Most experienced green thumbs are happy to share their knowledge, and many local garden clubs, botanical gardens, greenhouses and nurseries offer free or low-cost workshops and seminars on garden maintenance. When working with perennial gardeners at all experience levels, I often recommend two excellent books for further study and reference. First, The Well-Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust (pictured and linked below) is a classic how-to and when-to manual for every gardener’s bookshelf. And last year, while reviewing gardening titles for Barnes & Noble, I discovered Nancy Ondra’s The Perennial Care Manual (also pictured and linked below) which I now consider the definitive plant-by-plant guide (includes an encyclopedia with many of the more popular perennials) to perennial maintenance. The macro-photos in this book include pruning details, pest ID shots and clear pictorial guides to division, propagation and more. This book would make a great gift for new gardeners, mid-level perennial enthusiasts and experienced horticulturalists alike!

Garden looking a bit loose, shabby, blowzy? Pull out the shears and pruners, a tarp or wheelbarrow and channel your inner Edward Scissorhands! Have a quick question? Feel free to drop me a line in comments and I’ll pass along what I’ve learned. Have fun out there…

My top recommended how-to with great pictures: Nancy Ondra’s The Perennial Care Manual

A classic for every gardener’s bookshelf: Tracy DiSabato-Aust The Well-Tended Perennial 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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Strolling Along the Wildflower Walk …

July 6th, 2011 Comments Off

A Stroll Through the Wildflower Walk in Late Afternoon

The Wildflower Walk may have started as an accidental feature in my garden, but —second only to the Secret Garden— it always generates the most oohs and ahhs. And when the sunny drifts of Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) hit their crescendo in July, it’s easy to see what all the commotion is all about. The softening effect of randomly strewn, bold sweeps of wildflowers is truly magical in a landscape, and although my dog Oli is responsible for coming up with this design, I have not only run with the theme in my own garden, but used the idea in other designs as well (minus the method of installation, see previous post for that story). I’m sure that if he only knew how popular one of his ‘bads’ has become, Oli would be begging for bones every day when he passes through his wondrous Wildflower Walk.

Of course —not to take away from my dog’s true genius— but one of the things that makes all of this unplanned wildness work from a design standpoint, is the underlying structure of the garden. The hardscape and bones of the landscape —which includes the stonewalls, loose stone paths, and structural trees and shrubs— give shape to the space; allowing ever-changing elements to take center stage at any given time, while the constant ‘theater’ holds everything together. And though they stand in the background throughout the summer —steady and central— the structural features always take over the show in late autumn and winter…

Rudbeckia and Nepeta tumble in a colorful jumble along the Wildflower Walk. Bees, butterflies and other pollinators love Nepeta and Rudbeckia. And later in the season, finches will stop by to feast upon Rudbeckia seed (I leave many of the stalks standing for my feathered friends). Meanwhile, in the background: the spilling green Juniperus horizontalis provides bright blue berries for wildlife, as well as a pretty green foil for the wildflowers. And though it’s barely visible in high summer, Dan Snow’s retaining wall holds everything together —both figuratively and literally– throughout the year.

The walkway surface is 1″ natural round stone —slightly larger and more grey-blue than pea stone— which allows wildflower seed to germinate just beneath the surface. The walk does require some weeding, but it isn’t as labor intensive as you might think. Rounded, natural stone makes a great surface for seating areas and walkways; in both formal and informal spaces. I particularly love this look in lawn-less, Mediterranean gardens.

The main walkway —to and from my home/studio— is wider than the Secret Garden path and the rest of the Wildflower Walk. And though the Rudbeckia reigns supreme here in early summer, this wave of bloom is preceded by Lupine and succeeded by Adenophora. Other wildflowers and shrubs play supporting and cameo roles along the way… 

In reality, getting wildflowers to succeed in a garden over the long-haul usually requires a bit more planning than Oli put into his work. Many self-sown bi-annual and meadowy perennial flowers —such as Lupine, Poppies, Asters, Black-eyed Susans and the like— prefer fast-draining, thin soil in full-sun. These flowers thrive on natural, seasonal weather conditions. When it comes to sunny-meadow flowers, sites with poor soil often work better than sites with rich soil (take note of those wildflower drifts along the highway: talk about thriving on neglect!), but there are wildflowers adapted to wet, rich soil as well. Recognizing wildflower seedlings (to avoid accidental weeding or over-mulching) throughout the season, and allowing seed heads to remain standing until they mature, is absolutely critical to the maintenance of wildflower drifts (this is particularly important in true meadows, which must be mown after the flower heads have browned and are ready to release seed). All of these things tend to go against the grain of super-tidy gardeners, so in the beginning at least, a leisurely attitude toward maintenance may work to your advantage when it comes to wildflowers. However in long term, lazy Susans would not be successful here. I am the sole gardener on my property, and as ‘wild’ as this walkway may look, I can assure you that it does demand some weeding time; particularly in the early spring, after rainy periods. Clover, grass and other thin-soil-lovers germinate well between the loose stone, and rise up in competition with the wildflowers along the path. I simply keep them in check (often in the early morning hours while talking on the phone with a client or contractor, or late, late in the afternoon with a glass of cold lemonade or chilled wine).

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ will reach its summertime crescendo this month in the Wildflower Walk

A different perspective: looking down the Secret Garden path from the main walkway. This shot was taken on an overcast morning, when the bright yellow and orange of the just-opening Rudbeckia really stood out.That’s Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ on the right, backed up by Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’ (that dynamic duo really lights up in the autumn, see this post for photos).

Looking Through the Wildflower Walk and Into the Secret Garden Beyond (Foreground: Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’).

Tempted to give wildflower drifts a try in your own garden? Want to replace your front lawn with something less water/chemical dependent and more colorful? Would you like to support pollinator and bird populations with a natural food source? Well, you could ask a rambunctious dog like Oli to install a Wildflower Walk for you, or you could consult some inspirational books on the subject of Meadow Gardens. The one I am currently ogling, and constantly praising, is The American Meadow Garden, pictured and linked below. Beyond its obvious beauty, this book is also genuinely useful; offering meadow/wildflower planting suggestions by region, soil type and exposure. Self-sown wildflower drifts are lovely both in meadows and within designed gardens. Isn’t it amazing what your dog can teach you?

The American Meadow Garden (John Greenlee/Saxon Holt) from Timber Press

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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Dreaming of Springtime’s Sweet Veggies: Planning a Lush, Welcoming Potager…

February 16th, 2011 § 1

A tumbling jumble of nasturtiums creates a warm welcome for people and pollinators alike

Sweet seats! In June, the potager becomes my outdoor living/dining room

Wide pathways and mounded-earth beds give me plenty of room to work and maneuver about with carts and wheelbarrows

Winter is a wonderful season —I’m still having fun snowshoeing and enjoying quiet time indoors— but I have to admit that there’s one thing I’m really starting to miss about summer: leisure time in the vegetable garden. I love hanging out in my pretty little potager, and every morning —spring through fall— I head outside with a big cup of coffee to do a bit of weeding, watering and harvesting before work. My pets usually join me —rolling around in the warm, golden straw pathways— while I garden. Later on in the day, I often return to the potager and settle into my comfy wicker chair with a glass of wine to enjoy the sunset hour. On warm evenings, I sometimes eat my dinner in the garden; surrounded by the fragrance of sun-warmed herbs and the sound of summertime birds. Vegetable plots always grow best when they are frequently visited by the gardener’s shadow, and to me, this is no trouble at all —it’s pure bliss…

I like to try different varieties of vegetables and fruits every year. But some old-favorites make it into the potager every year. My favorite tomatoes include Early Girl, Orange Blossom, Lemon Boy, Brandywine, San Marzanos. I also love cherry tomatoes; particularly Sungold and Sweet 100s

Home grown hot peppers are both beautiful and tasty. I like to experiment with this crop too, but I always grow plenty of jalapeño, ancho and serrano chile peppers.

My diet is mainly vegetarian, and one of my favorite things about summer, is that I can completely avoid the grocery store for months (I buy my eggs and dairy products from a nearby farm stand). Growing basics, like potatoes, makes it easy to create impromptu, garden-fresh meals every day.

Now that I’ve begun sowing some early crops —herbs and onions indoors & arugula, spinach and lettuce in the unheated hoophouses— I’m really starting to get excited about the growing season ahead. I’ve ordered most of my vegetable seed —packages have already begun to arrive— and I just sent in my seed potato orders to Ronnigers and The Maine Potato Lady yesterday afternoon. Mid-late winter is a good time to begin planning and plotting out your vegetable garden on paper (1/4″ square grid paper works great for this purpose, with each standard box equalling one square foot of garden space), and to finish purchasing seed if you haven’t done so yet. Back in December, I mentioned that I enjoy the process of keeping an annual gardening journal and calendar. Not only is it fun to look back on my successes —and important to analyze failures— but my garden calendar & notes also remind me of things I want to plant (more potatoes and berries!), improvements I want to make (more vertical supports for peas, beans, melons and cucumbers, a new set of compost bins, and a garden shed!), and things I need to re-stock (like fish emulsion, twine and other supplies). Keeping a copy of what I planted —and where I planted it last year— is key to crop rotation (and avoiding pests and diseases). Drawing up a plan and listing everything out also prevents over-ordering or forgotten crops!

Building a pretty potager need not be expensive! My garden fence —pictured above— was built from saplings harvested on-site. And the wicker furniture in my garden was found —wearing a “free” sign— on the side of the road.

When laying out your garden, remember to include space for companion flowers and herbs. Although companion planting has become one of the more hotly debated horticultural topics —with some gardeners believing in its value, and others questioning the scientific proof of success— there is no doubt that flowering plants attract and support pollinating insects —like bees and butterflies— to your vegetable garden. And no matter where you stand on the companion planting issue, it’s pretty hard to argue with the horticultural value of pollinating insects and the beauty of flowers in the vegetable garden. Zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, shasta daisies, calendula (particularly the French marigold) and nasturtiums are easy-to-grow, and all make gorgeous vegetable garden additions. In addition to planting flowers in and around my vegetables, I grow extra blooms in my potager —just for cutting. Climbers are also pretty in the vegetable garden, especially if you have a rustic fence or trellis (vertical supports are particularly useful if you have limited space). Old-time, deliciously fragrant sweet peas are best sown directly outdoors as soon as the ground can be worked, but many flowers —including climbers like morning glories— can be started indoors for earlier bloom. And if you like to decorate with dried flowers in late summer and fall —or want to make wreaths— consider growing globe amaranth (Gomphrena), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis), statice (Limonium sinuatum), and other everlasting blooms in your cutting garden.

I love flowers in the vegetable garden, and fresh-cut bouquets in my house. So I grow plenty of beautiful bloomers in my potager.

I can’t imagine life without a vegetable garden. I grew up with horticulture —my family raised and sold organically grown strawberries and other produce— and teaching me how to grow my own food —and more importantly, the joy and value of gardening— is one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me. If you have children of your own, I encourage you to involve them in as much of the gardening process as possible. When planning your spring garden, order a few extra seed packets —both flowers and vegetables if you can make the room— just for your kids. Children will always remember early gardening experiences like sowing seed, and harvesting their first crop of peas. Even the smallest task —like carrying the harvest basket or looking for bugs— teaches children that their contributions matter to the family. With kids, it’s important to focus on the process of gardening —not so much the product— so that the entire experience is rewarding.

Sunflowers are a fun, easy-to-grow crop for children

Here, my friends Myriah and her daughter, Dharma, moisten seed their starting mix together

Make Gardening Come to Life: Sow Seeds, and Watch them Germinate

I plant my vegetable garden in 3′ x 8′, raised, earth-mounded beds. I try to keep enough space between the beds to comfortably maneuver around with a weeding basket and to pass through with a wheelbarrow or garden cart. This system works well for me, but I have seen many other successful vegetable growing methods. Urban gardeners may grow in pots or planters, and some suburban gardeners like to build wooden boxes to contain vegetables in the square-foot garden style, and many country gardeners simply till soil and hoe rows. There is no right or wrong way to set up your vegetable garden: experiment, do what works best for you, and enjoy the process. If you are new to gardening, it is a good idea to start small and grow your space as your confidence increases. Over the years, as I’ve become more interested in cooking and baking, my vegetable garden has doubled in size. It’s such a pleasure to create meals with beautiful, ripe, organic vegetables, grown and harvested fresh in my own backyard. This year, I plan on adding more hard-to-get, gourmet produce in my potager. I’ll be planting crops that store well in winter (like gourmet potatoes and onions, garlic, squash, carrots and beets), as well as seasonal, enjoy-at-the-moment produce like heirloom tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, and other unusual fruits and vegetables from around the world. I love eating fresh food all summer long, and by adding row-covers and unheated hoophouses to the garden, I’ve been able to extend my growing season; harvesting some produce —like root vegetables and leafy greens— year-round. I can’t wait to dig back in! This week, I’ll be posting more details about my spring garden plans, and I look forward to hearing about yours both here, and on Facebook and Twitter!

Remember fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes?

Helianthus annus ‘Autumn Beauty’ – Sunflower in my Potager

Remember the smell of the earth? It’s coming… Soon!

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Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his fantastic seed starting photos. Visit Tim’s site here.

Article and potager photos ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: Festive Autumn Centerpieces from Garden to Table…

November 20th, 2010 § 4

Curious Dinner Companions: Dried Leaves of Sago Palm Add a Light, Golden Touch to Traditional Gourds and White Pumpkins

At long last, it seems that the season of feasts and festivities is finally upon us. And like many of you, I am looking for ways to bring the garden’s bounty to my dinner table: pumpkins, squash, carrots and potatoes from the root cellar; peas and berries from the freezer; and fresh greens and alpine strawberries from the hoop houses in my potager. But the garden offers endless delights for the eye as well as the taste buds, and I always like to dress up the house, holiday buffet, and even everyday place settings, with arrangements from the natural world.

From bittersweet-twined jars and low bowls filled with floating candles and cranberries, to luminous hurricane lamps surrounded by pinecones, crabapples and seedpods, I continue to bring a bit of nature’s beauty indoors throughout the late fall and winter. And in creating a few new festive, table-top scenes, it occurred to me that I should pull up some of last year’s photos and decorating ideas from the blog archive. Though many of us are living on tight budgets these days, with a little creativity, a beautiful centerpiece for the dinner table is always within reach. Autumn walks along riverbanks, train tracks and woodland paths last week revealed tangles of bright orange bittersweet, resin-tipped pinecones, bright red hollyberries and a jumble of seedpods amongst the tawny meadow grasses. Bring a bag or basket along next time you take a stroll through the park or walk the dog through the wastelands. You may be surprised and delighted by the natural curiosities you will find. And while it’s possible to spend a fortune on holiday decorations, I often find that bits of twine, recycled jars and old wine bottles topped with candles are just as pretty as more expensive ornaments.

Here are some free and inexpensive ideas from the archive, and you can bet there will be more to come! After all, I always find that getting ready for the party is half the fun!

Bittersweet Vines Wrap Around a Glass Jar to Create a Floating Candle Centerpiece

A Minimalist Centerpiece: Floating Cranberries and Candles in a Low Bowl

Gathered Pinecones and Crabapples Make a Festive and Elegant Centerpiece, Indoors or Out (shown here on a table near the entry to my studio)

Golden Amsonia shimmers in a hand-blown glass vase I brought home one year from Italy

Winterberry Holly Branches Fill an Old Urn (Ilex verticillata)

Ornamental grasses (like this Deschampsia flexuosa) catch the light beautifully, indoors as well as out

A Homemade Terrarium Filled with Native Plants (See more terrarium ideas and step-by-step tutorials here)

A Vase Filled with Dry Hydrangea Paniculata Dresses Up a Stack of Books at the Foot of the Stairs

See More Garden Remnant Ideas from the Archive By Clicking Here and Here Too!

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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…

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The Gilded Table: Shimmering Gold Garden Remnants Make Holiday Dinner Settings a Little Bit Glamorous…

November 15th, 2010 § 2

The Gilded Table – Golden Sago Palm Leaves by Candlelight

Gilded Pine Cones

Golden Sago Palm Leaves Shimmer and Glow by Candlelight

Candle lit dinners, cocktails by the fire and evenings spent with good friends; it seems like I will be spending less time in wellingtons and more time in high heels this month! Yes, it’s getting to be that time of year again, and my dance card is really beginning to fill up. I do love the holidays, and one of my favorite parts —beyond spending more time with the special people in my life— is the extra bit of shimmer and glow added to special occasions.

I like decorating for the holidays, and because I have a big garden —filled with interesting bits of this and that— I like to use what I have on hand to add a special touch to my home and dinner table at this time of year. Before snow flies, I always gather up remnants from my garden while I am working outside. I like to collect pinecones, seedpods, dried flowers, twigs or branches and other odds and ends from the beds, borders and surrounding forest.  I also save things from my indoor garden. One of my favorite potted plants, the sago palm (Cycas revoluta), occasionally tosses off leaves in spring and fall when I move it from indoors to out, and vice versa. For the past year or so, I’ve been saving those pretty, fern-like leaves in a box. They remind me a bit of ostrich feathers, and they seemed like the perfect choice for a bit of gilding with metallic paint. After spraying a few of the beautiful leaves with a soft shade of gold, I tried arranging them simply with a candle for a glamorous, but understated table setting…

Dried and Gilded Leaves of Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta)

Isn’t it lovely? I think this would be pretty way to decorate a Thanksgiving dinner table, or for any occasion though out the winter holidays. At the moment, the sago palm leaves are definitely my gilded favorite -but I also like the look of gilded hydrangea, pinecones and many of the other dried bits and pieces I’ve tried. I used spray paint on my remnants (see tutorial below), but you could also brush the paint on by hand or dip cones into a pail or bucket…

How to Gild Garden Remnants

You will need: Dried garden remnants (see suggestions), pruners, newspaper, gloves, a mask, a well-ventilated work-space, spray paint (in gold, silver, bronze, copper, etc). Optional are: wire, wire cutters.

Start the project by collecting clean, dry remnants from outdoors or indoor garden spaces. Pinecones, palm leaves, dried leaves, seed pods, nuts, dried flower heads, shriveled berries and gourds all look beautiful when lightly gilded with gold paint.

Once you have collected a basket full of garden left-overs, bring them into a well-ventilated space. I work with paint in a studio equipped with a fan (and I also open doors and windows). You can use spray paint in a garage or cellar, or outdoors. Whatever you do, be sure to protect your clothes with an apron, your hands with gloves, your lungs with a mask and your floor or table with newspaper.

Spread everything out on newspaper and pick the remants over. Check your leaves over for spiders and bugs and send those little guys back where they came from. Be sure everything is completely dry and solid enough  to handle while painting and later, arranging. Clip off any wayward or unattractive pieces with pruning shears.

Select your spray paint (I like bronze, soft gold, copper, silver and pewter for gilding. I also like to use white spray paint on garden remnants and for even more drama, try black! Krylon manufactures acrylic spray paints which are a safer-health option, and more environmentally friendly. In the United States, CFCs are no longer used in aerosol spray paints of any kind). Shake the can well and test on a spot of paper. Then spray over the dried bits and pieces in a steady, fluid motion. It’s better to use several light layers of paint than one big, heavy, globby one.

Let the pieces dry for several minutes, then turn them over and do the other side. Some things —like pinecones for example— may need to be held up. Again, be sure your hands are protected with gloves, and grasp the cone with a bit of newspaper to hold temperamental bits steady. If you want to add more depth, use a couple of different shades of paint. white looks pretty with a light coat of silver, and brownish bronze looks nice with a bit of gold. I have seen “fuzzy” paints work well too. But keep in mind that just a touch of color often looks most elegant. You want to enhance the nooks and crannies on your garden remnants, but always let nature’s beauty stand out!

Once everything is well coated in paint, let your remnants dry out for an hour or until you can handle them without smudging paint on your hands. Then, gather things up and start playing with your table arrangements. You can wire things together or leave them loose. If you are going to add candles to the table setting, be sure they are always behind glass, (and, just as a reminder, of course open flames are never left untended -especially with small children and pets!).

Gilded leftovers from the garden make beautiful additions to wreaths, door swags, or in vases. In addition to all-gilded arrangements, try combining a bit of shimmer with evergreen boughs or fresh flowers, dried berries and fruit and/or vegetables. Fresh pumpkins, squash and gourds also look pretty with gilded items from the garden.

I like to reuse items from year to year, so I box them up and store them on shelves in my cellar. I have amassed quite a collection of pinecones, so I will be making a couple of gilded wreaths to give away as gifts. Because I’m always rearranging things, I like to leave my dried garden remnants loose when I store them in boxes, and I cushion the more fragile things with newspaper or bubble wrap.

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A Simple and Pretty Holiday Decoration from the Garden

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Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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…

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Golden Autumn Beauty & Springtime Silverbells: Our Native and Ever-Graceful Halesia tetraptera…

October 25th, 2010 § 8

The Golden Leaves and Rusty Drupes of North American Native Halesia tetraptera, (Carolina Silverbell or Mountain Silverbell)

Carolina silverbell. With a name like that, you’d invite her into your garden for the poetry alone, wouldn’t you? I did. Well, sort-of. Although I was familiar with the silverbell clan, I wasn’t really sure of which Halesia I was getting when I tied and bound the branches of two glorious specimens three years ago, and rolled them in back of my trailer. It was late autumn, the leaves had long-ago fallen, and summer sunlight had faded my nurseryman’s chicken-scratch Latin from the tag. Some silverbell species are hardier than others, and some grow larger than others, they are notoriously difficult to differentiate, and the nomenclature and taxonomy of this woody plant have been further confused by a recent name-change (Halesia carolina is now referred to as Halesia tetraptera). I wanted Carolina silverbell, which is a small, understory tree native to the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. Normally, I’m quite particular about confirming the identity of anything I plant in my garden. But, this was an end-of-season sale at a nursery an hour south of my home, and I only had the trailer for the day. I couldn’t resist…

The graceful form of Halesia tetraptera can be sculpted and enhanced with annual, late-spring pruning

As it turns out —in this case— my impulsive decision was a very good one! Three years on, two lovely Carolina silverbell trees are slowly filling out on either side my studio entryway; their rich, yellow-green foliage providing dappled shade for summertime lunches on the terrace. And now –in late October— the leaves are shifting from gorgeous chartreuse to brilliant gold. In addition to the beautiful autumn color, delightfully curious orange-tinted drupes (pictured above) decorate the Carolina silverbell in fall. Even after the foliage and seed pods have fallen, the striped bark (much like that of Moosewood, Acer pensylvanicum) remains an interesting feature…

Halesia tetraptera, striped bark and golden autumn foliage – both stunning against the dark siding of buildings or conifers (particularly Hemlock – Tsuga canadensis)

But as beautiful as Carolina silverbell is in autumn, I have to admit that the reason I sought this tree out had far more to do with her incredible springtime show. In mid-May (usually just before the dogwood flowers here in my VT garden) the entire tree is covered in glorious blush-tinted, white blossoms. The ‘Silver Sisters’, as I call them, are a most breathtaking sight -particularly on a rainy day (see close-up of blossoms photo below). Entering and exiting my studio when the Halesia tetraptera sisters are blooming, is like stepping through a poem…

It’s easy to see why this tree is commonly called the Silverbell. The beautiful blossoms of Halesia tetraptera emerge in mid-spring, usually just before flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)

Because of the variability in size and shape, some silverbell species are grown as multi-stemmed shrubs, and some are pruned and trained as single-trunk trees. In its true, native-range (West Virginia to Central Florida and west to Texas USDA zone 4/5-8/9) silverbell, particularly the ‘Mountain Silverbell’ (once known as Halesia monticola, now also grouped as H. tetraptera var. monticola) can become a medium-sized, understory tree reaching 30 to 40 feet (in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, some native, mountain silverbell trees have been recorded at up to 80′ tall). When grown in the northern-most range of its hardiness zone, (USDA 4/5) Halesia tetraptera will remain smaller. I expect the mature size of my silverbell sisters to reach no more than 25-30′ here in the Green Mountains of Vermont. All silverbells, large or small, prefer cool, moist, acidic soil and protected sites (I have my silverbells planted on the eastern side of the studio). If grown in the deep south, be sure to protect silverbell trees from the hot afternoon sun and mulch the root-zone to retain moisture.

Silver in springtime and gold in fall, Halesia tetraptera remains a rare and subtle jewel in gardens. She’s not flashy, like a common, hot-pink crabapple (Oh no, we are far too elegant for that!), and it does take a bit of  time for her to settle in. But as is often the case with native trees, patience pays dividends in the garden. To know her is to love her. Carolina silverbell… She’s a true, four-season beauty.

Article and photographs ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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…

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Flickering Like Flames: Scarlet Red, Brilliant Orange & Burnished Gold … Early Signs of Change in the Garden…

September 14th, 2010 § 3

The bold vermillion of late summer: Rosa rugosa’s bright and beautiful hips

Cobalt-Violet Annual Asters Fill Beds Planned for Cutting in the Potager…

This morning, I watched as a flock of sparrows splashed joyfully in a tiny pool on the stone terrace. Showers passed through the area yesterday afternoon and evening; refreshing the garden and leaving behind a temporary bird bath for my winged-guests. Every day now, when I look out the window, I notice more and more traces of red and gold in the meadow and along the distant hillside. Changes are evident in both the flora and the local fauna. The seasonal shift has started a bit early here; caused, perhaps, by unusually hot and dry conditions this summer. The natural world is changing rapidly now; heralding the arrival of a new season.

Trees and shrubs planted in shallow soil along the northwestern corner of the garden are already beginning to shift hues. Red leaves outnumber green this week on one ‘Shasta’ viburnum (V. plicatum var. tomentosum) in particular, and the tea viburnum (V. setigerum ) is loaded with Chinese-orange berries. The viburnum genus includes many species with fantastic autumn color —both in terms of foliage and fruit— and planting them in and amongst perennials is a great way to add late season pizazz to a garden.  It’s no secret that these are my favorite shrubs. Not only are common and rare species and cultivars of the genus planted everywhere in my garden —and in almost every garden I design for others— but I post viburnum photos on this blog and talk and write about them constantly. Two lovely swing-season plants, among the many possible options to use when designing a garden around viburnum, are asters and ornamental grass. ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ asters bloom here every September and October in the most exquisite shade of blue imaginable; like the sky itself on an early autumn day. These flowers are beloved by bees and butterflies, especially in the latter half of the year, as natural sources of food begin to grow more scarce. Beautiful in the vase as well as in the garden, annual asters —packets of seed sprinkled about the flower beds in early spring— are an easy way to add bold color and vary the seasonal tapestry in a mixed border. And I also like to use mound-shaped ornamental grasses, with their soft textures and varied hues —particularly the pennisetums— to add a softness and grace at the foot of leggier viburnums, such as the tea (V. setigerum) and bodnant (V. bodnantense)…

Viburnum plicatum tomentosum ‘Shasta’

Aster oblongifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ Pulls the September Sky Down to Earth…

The Gorgeous Chinese-Orange Berries of Tea Viburnum ( V. setigerum )

I find it impossible to pass by Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ without running my fingers through her downy tufts. They remind me a bit of another local resident…

Red Fox – Meadow’s Edge at Ferncliff

Wild Turkey – Forest Boundary at Ferncliff

Sparrows Splashing on a Terrace at Ferncliff

A Passing Shower Provides Temporary, Late Summer Bathing for Birds

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Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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…

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The Accidental Gardener: A Short Story About a Dog Named Oli and His Wondrous Wildflower Walk…

July 9th, 2010 § 7

The Wildflower Walk in July at Ferncliff ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

As a professional garden designer, I take a certain amount of pride in my work. My clients always seem quite pleased with the gardens I create, and I think I’m a pretty good designer. Yet every July I am served a very large dish of my favorite dessert – humble pie. In midsummer, visitors to my studio are invariably knocked-out by the entry garden, which I now call ‘The Wildflower Walk’. They ooh and they ah and they coo over the wide swaths of bright color and the natural feel of this welcoming, open space. “What a beautiful garden”, they exclaim. And yes, I have to admit, it certainly is quite stunning. But, thanks to the brilliant artist I live with, my ego remains fully in check. Why? Well, you see, I didn’t design this gorgeous wildflower garden – my dog Oli did.

I know. You’re probably wondering how this is possible. How can a Labrador Retriever design a wildflower garden? Perhaps you think I am exaggerating or maybe even making it up from thin air. Or worse, you might be wondering if I’ve gone quite mad, since clearly I am suffering from delusions. But I swear –on my Vegetable Gardener’s Bible – it is true. In fact, not only did my crazy canine design this garden, but he also planted it all by himself. Yes, I promise I will explain – but first, let me back up a little bit and tell you the story of my dog, Oli…

Midway Point on the Wildflower Walk at Ferncliff in July ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

It was late in the summer of 2002, and I’d just finished building the studio-barn I now call home. There were no gardens here back then. In fact, the land was quite raw and, like most construction sites, it was a mess. I knew it would be a year before I could begin work on my landscaping projects and –frustrated with the ugliness– I spent most of my free time elsewhere. I’m an avid kayaker, and throughout that first summer, I floated my evenings away on local lakes and rivers. Late one August afternoon –hot, sticky and harried– I loaded my kayak on the car and headed out to the Connecticut River. Distracted as usual, in my haste I forgot my backpack at home. I didn’t want to miss sunset on the water, so I stopped by a local farm stand to grab a snack and a drink to take along on my paddle. Fate however, had other plans for me  –and indeed she moves in mysterious ways– because that’s when I met “Old Yeller”, as he was then called; a dirty, flea-infested, one-year-old, retriever pup with sad eyes and a ‘toy’ beer can. “Yeller” was chained to a foundation post and his legs were all tangled up in rusty links. Immediately a large crack –likely audible throughout the valley– split straight through my ribcage and broke my heart. Of course I thought about the dog the entire time I was out on the river, and the next day I stopped by the stand once again. He was still there; same beer can, same sad eyes. By visit three, my weakness must have been plainly visible, for the farm hand –three sheets to the wind– announced that the “flea bag” was headed to the pound by the end of the week. “If  you want him, take him” he said, “for free“.  It seemed that the wild pup had already worked his way through three homes, and his current owner –recently disabled from a stroke– could no longer handle him…

My dog Oli, in the studio…

Well, you know how this part of the story goes. Of course, by Friday, the wiggling, slobbering “flea bag” –renamed Oli– was bouncing around the back of my car on the way to his new home. He was, to put it mildly, a terror. Have you seen the film “Marley and Me ? Well, good for you, because I can’t watch more than 20 minutes of it. It’s just too close for comfort. And besides, my dog Oli, makes that dog Marley look like a saint. I kid you not. During his first year in my formerly-peaceful life, Oli did more damage than an F1 tornado. Goodbye car interior (including all back seatbelts and cushions), so-long sexy shoes, see-ya-later kayak seat and farewell furniture. Left alone for more than five minutes, Oli would rip through and devour anything in sight. His ingested-item list even includes a Mikimoto pearl necklace (yes, in its box, pulled from the top of my dresser), and we made more visits to the veterinarian than I care to remember. I was told by dog-loving friends that this behavior would ease up within a year. I was promised this was merely a prolonged puppy phase. I was advised that he had separation anxiety and that training would help. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Oli continued his reign of terror straight through the following summer, when I began working on my new gardens. Unimpressed with my horticultural pursuits, Oli uprooted perennials as fast as I planted them and devoured several young shrubs. He even stripped the branches from a rare Japanese maple, defoliating and destroying it within minutes, while I unloaded groceries in the kitchen. Yes, I still love him, but I would be lying if I told you that I never had a dark thought about my dog.

A bag of collected Lupine seed…

Around this time, I started thinking about planting a wildflower meadow on the west side of my clearing. My parents had created an impressive, self-sustaining field of wildflowers on their property, which bloomed from spring to fall, and I wanted to replicate that here. My father collected seed from the garden, and gave me two bags to take home. One contained pouches of Lupine and Adenophora, and the other was filled with Rudbeckia hirta. When I got back to my place, I brought one bag of seed up to the house, let Oli out of his crate, and started to unload the rest of my car. Then, the phone rang. You would think that I would have learned my lesson after the Japanese maple fiasco – but no. Of course not. Finally, at some point during my telephone conversation, I looked out the window to see Oli running full boar down the walkway – brown paper bag held high, head shaking to-and-fro, black seed spewing out in all directions. My scream could have stopped a train dead in its tracks, but it didn’t even register with Oli. He only seemed to run faster. I tore down the pathway after my wild dog, chasing him in circles ’round the ledge at the top of the drive – but it was too late. The bag of Rudbeckia was scattered everywhere – all over the walkway and throughout my carefully designed entry garden…

Rudbeckia hirta, in a design by Oli, the accidental gardener…

Eight years have come and gone since Oli hopped into my car on that fateful, hot summer evening, and I have given in to his chaos on many levels. Hey, if you can’t beat them, join them I say. So, I added more wildflower seed to his design; sprinkling Lupine and Adenophora throughout the walkway and into the surrounding mixed borders. What can I say – it works. And yes, he’s a genius. But athough he may be talented, Oli –now growing fat and grizzled about the muzzle — can still never be left alone in the house…

Oli and Me

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Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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…

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Asclepias Tuberosa: Bold, Beautiful Butterfly Weed is the Life of the Midsummer Garden Party…

July 7th, 2010 § 1

Butterflyweed, North American native Asclepias tuberosa ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Oh to be a butterfly! Just imagine fluttering upon this delightful blossom; saturated in golden-orange color and loaded with sweet nectar. What a feast! Why I’d flit from flower to flower, happily sharing precious pollen with hovering hummingbirds and buzzing bees, from sunrise to sunset. Butterflyweed in the garden? Yes, yes – don’t let the ‘weed’ moniker fool you! North American native Asclepias tuberosa (aka Aesclepias tuberosa) is a wonderful garden plant, forming neat and tidy, mid-sized mounds in the perennial border, where it blooms its pretty little head off on even the hottest of summer days (and boy are we having those right now – 97 degrees in the shade yesterday).

Afraid of bold hues? Much like an acquaintance with a strong personality, many gardeners have an uneasy relationship with orange. Perhaps due to worries about dis-harmony and possible conflicts within the garden group, some might hesitate –or even flat-out refuse– to invite such a colorful character to the party. This is sad really, because when used creatively, a splash of orange can work wonders in a garden. Having trouble imagining it?  Well, just think about the allure of a bright tangerine on a dark-blue ceramic plate, or the intensity of Vincent Van Gogh’s golden Sunflowers and his swirly gobs of luminous orange in the Starry Night. Hard to argue with the beauty of orange, now isn’t it? Blue-violet hues are never more spectacular than they appear when combined with orangey saffron and brilliant vermillion. Whether in the form of leaf or blossom, I am always looking for ways to play with the hot-cool combination. But orange also looks spectacular in a simple sea of green, her natural, attractive opposite on the color wheel…

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed) begins to blossom in July

Of course, if you love butterflies, this plant really deserves a place in your mid-summer garden. Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed) provides long, summer sustenance to pollinators of all kinds, including, of course, the butterflies. Hardy in zones 4-10, butterflyweed prefers neutral to slightly acidic soil. This is a very drought tolerant plant; an excellent choice for hot, sunny spaces and naturalized areas, where it may be allowed to self-seed and form colorful drifts. At approximately 24-36″ high and 18″ wide, butterflyweed combines beautifully with other summer-fall blooming plants in rich colors; including speedwell (Veronica spicata), Russian Sage (Perovskia), gayfeather (Liatris), deep violet butterflybush (Buddleia cvs), monkshood (Aconitum), daylily (Hemerocallis), and many others…

And then, later on in the season –when the sun sinks low and tickles the garden with golden light– pretty dried-pods crack open on butterflyweed, releasing silky, parachute-like seeds into the air. It’s hard not to be charmed by such a sunny plant. She seems continually surrounded by a crowd of graceful movement; hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and drifting white tutus filling the air. Perhaps if you give her a chance, Asclepias tuberosa will add just the right touch of exuberance to your quiet beds and borders. Who knows, maybe you will even find her to be the life of your garden party…

Butterflyweed Seed Pods – Asclepias tuberosa – ⓒ Michaela at TGE

A single parachutist – Asclepias tuberosa ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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…

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Don’t Break My Heart: A Love Story Written in Old Fashioned Flowers…

February 13th, 2010 § 3

Sweet Peas, from Johnny’s Seeds

One fine day in early spring, a ravishing young lady named Poppy was out tending her flowers when, without warning, a smooth-talking fella named Sweet William appeared at the garden gate. Poppy was immediately smitten, and she leaned toward him as he drew nearer the fence. He was charming and handsome, and as he approached, Poppy detected an old-spicy scent, reminiscent of clove. Oh my – but he was flirtatious – and before Poppy knew what was happening, Cupid’s Dart struck her heart. Both of their cheeks flushed; hers crimson red and his Cupid Pink. Sweet Peas they soon were…

Crimson Poppies, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

Sweet William Seed, from Botanical Interests Seeds

Cupid’s Dart, from Botanical Interests Seeds

Cupid Pink Sweet Pea, from Botanical Interests Seeds

Love-in-a-Mist filled the air, and Poppy began to swoon. Before she knew quite what she was doing, she whispered Kiss-me-over-the-Garden-Gate into her lover’s ear. Sweet William was more than willing, and he smiled mischeviously , tossing his Bachelor Buttons to the ground….

Love-in-a-Mist, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Blue Boy, Bachelor Buttons, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

And so Poppy and Sweet William spent many hot summer days, intertwined in the Exotic Love Vine, with the birds and the bees. It was a heady affair, filled with dew-kissing and silky petals. They swore their summer love would never end. Poppy dropped her guard, and soon she confessed to Sweet William that she was dreaming of White Bishop’s Lace and Cathedral Bells…

Exotic Love Vine, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

White Bishop’s Lace, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

Cathedral Bells, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

But as some summer love stories go, autumn neared, and Sweet William began to fade away. (Well, OK, it’s also possible that he just wasn’t that into her, and that maybe he did run off with a certain Painted Lady – but I won’t tell if you won’t).

“Oh, my Sweet William, I know you must go”, Poppy sniffed. “But please, please promise to Forget-Me-Not“. And as the bright color faded from her cheeks, Sweet William disappeared. Poppy grew pale, and shadows appeared on the horizon. Poor Poppy - sometimes things don’t work out quite the way we plan, and our Love-Lies-Bleeding on the ground…

Painted Lady, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

Forget-Me-Not, from Johnny’s Seeds

Love-Lies-Bleeding, from Johnny’s Seeds

The months of late fall soon arrived, with Poppy all alone in the withering garden. But by the holidays, Poppy realized she wouldn’t be alone for long. Come spring there was a new arrival in the garden, and Poppy found, much to her great joy, that the warmth of her delicate new Baby’s Breath made up for her heartbreak all around…

Baby’s Breath, from Baker Creek Seeds

HAPPY  VALENTINE’S  DAY    XO    MICHAELA

** All names in this story have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent** ***Please spread your seed responsibly***

Article copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All images here come via the respective links. 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? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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