Enkianthus campanulatas ‘Red Bells’ Rings with Rosy, Late Spring Blossoms & Glorious Beauty Beyond Bloom . . .

June 7th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Enkianthus_ campanulatas_Red_Bells_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.com Enkianthus campanulatas ‘Red Bells’ with Baptisia australis, blooming in the background

June is a fantastic month for flowers. Everywhere you look —from sunny meadows to shady nooks— something seems to be blooming. At this time of year, many gardeners spend their weekend hours strolling through nursery rows, choosing blooming plants based upon their flower color. This is a tried and true method for selecting optimal bloom-time combinations, however, because most gardeners shop exclusively in spring and early summer, many gardens look great in June, but then fizzle out by early July. I like to encourage my clients to look beyond the beauty of May-June flowers; planning monthly, inspirational visits to nurseries and botanical gardens, straight through October. Keep in mind that as beautiful as they are in bloom, the majority of trees and shrubs in a well-designed garden should offer more than a brief, 1-2 week flowering period. When I plan gardens for my clients, I look for trees, shrubs and perennial plants with beauty-beyond-bloom; offering form, foliage (especially those with dramatic fall foliage), and structure, as well as gorgeous flowers.

Enkianthus_campanulatus_'Red_Bells'_with_Baptisia_australis_in_June_Rain_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.com I love the way Red Bells Enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus ‘Red Bells’) catch raindrops and blend beautifully with the blue and violet springtime hues in gardens

Take Red Bells Enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatas ‘Red Bells’), for example. Native to Japan, the beautiful, red-pink blossoms of this lovely shrub —opening in late May here in Vermont—  attract pollinators —such as hummingbirds, butterflies and bees— and the tiny bell shaped flowers last well into the middle of June. Even after the flowers fade, Red Bells Enkianthus’ shiny, green leaves and its pleasing form offer a verdant backdrop for flowering perennials and foliage plants throughout the growing year. But the real bonus comes in autumn, when the leaves turn brilliant color; with hues ranging from red-orange to sizzling scarlet. Frosted with ice and fresh snow, the delicate twigs even look lovely in early winter.

Enkianthus_campanulatas-Red-Bells-leaf-ⓒ-michaela-medina-thegardenerseden1 Late October Enkianthus campanulatus ‘Red Bells’ foliage in my Vermont garden

Hardy in USDA zones 4a-7b, Red Bells Enkianthus is a medium-sized garden shrub; with a mature size of 6-8′ high and 4-6′ wide. This ericaceous plant prefers moist, woodsy, acidic soil and partially shady to mostly sunny locations. Great in combination with spring-flowering perennials and bulbs —particularly in blue-violet and clear yellow colors— I also like to position Red Bells Enkianthus near indigo, purple and blue fall bloomers and shrubs or perennial plants with maroon, burgundy or gold hued fall foliage. Used as a knock-out, solitary specimen or clustered in a group for an informal hedge, Enkianthus’ three-season beauty can bring bold color to a shady garden and lend a cooling hand to a sunny spot. It’s a great choice for extending beauty-beyond-bloom in your garden design.

Garden Design: Michaela Medina Harlow

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/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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Sweet Anticipation: April’s First Blush

April 1st, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Bodnant Viburnum (V. bondnantense 'Dawn') in Bloom ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden Anticipating the Intoxicating Scent of  Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’

It’s April first, and foolishly —thinking that surely we’ve seen the last of snow— we’re tempted to rush forward with our early season chores. And then —often without the slightest provocation or warning— Spring turns a cold cheek. Over the years, I’ve learned that in early April, a weather forecast calling for rain usually translates to snow-showers. Yes, Spring can be rather cruel, yet we always anticipate her kindness. Perhaps she will gift us pastel flower petals, dusted in powdered sugar . . .

Daffodil Blossoms in Snow ⓒ-michaela-thegardenerseden Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’, Dusted in Springtime Snow

Yes, it may still snow. But in meantime, there are plenty of seasonal garden tasks to fill April’s weekend hours on warmer days. While walking along the garden paths on these early spring days, I often notice broken branches on shrubbery —revealed by receding snow— in need of pruning (click here for spring pruning tips), and in a few days I’ll begin cutting back ornamental grasses and crushed flower stalks along the front entryway. As ice melts away from the terraces, I tidy up the bird feeding stations, rake and then sweep the surrounding stone walkways.

Spring Heath (Erica carnea) ⓒ michaela medina harlow - thegardenersedenSpring Heath (Erica carnea), is one of the earliest flowers to bloom in my garden; sometimes covering the ledges with a hazy blush before the snow fully departs. Click here to read my plant profile on this lovely, ground-cover for full sun. 

Of course, there’s plenty to do indoors as well. Now’s a good time to look over gardening gloves, bug nets, jackets, boots and other gear. Something need mending or replacing? This is the last chance to prepare. In late March and early April, I like to sharpen and oil my garden shears and other tools before the big spring clean up begins. And while I can still find a few free hours, I like to make time to organize and rearrange the garden/potting room. Culling unwanted items now means I’ll have less clutter to trip over later, when it’s time to move things back outdoors.
Oh, and speaking of moving things outside . . .  There’s that storage room packed with seasonal furnishing! It’s time to clean, sand and rub down those wooden tables and chairs with a fresh coat of teak oil. I’ll want them back on the terrace as soon as possible. After all, you never know when a warm evening might inspire a spontaneous, al fresco meal. And as the temperatures rise —and after I finish cutting back, cleaning up and rough raking the beds and borders— I’ll swish out my heavy, glazed containers and water bowls, returning them to their outdoor places. If only for a few moments here and there, it sure is great to get back into the garden!
Waterbowl in the Secret Garden ⓒ 2012 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden Almost Time to Replace the Water Bowl, Beside My Secret Garden’s Door

Shears-and-Cape-Cod-Weeder-in-Secret-Garden-Room- Pots and Tools, Waiting for Clean Up, in the Garden Room

Ozzy in Garden Boots ⓒ 2011 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden Time for a Sassy, New Pair of Gardening Boots? Ozzy Thinks So! Tretorn Sofiero Boots in Green, Gray & Black, Click Here

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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In Praise of the Poetic Papillon: Attracting Butterflies, Moths & Other Pollinators to the Garden…

June 4th, 2012 § Comments Off on In Praise of the Poetic Papillon: Attracting Butterflies, Moths & Other Pollinators to the Garden… § permalink

Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) in My Wildflower Meadow, Visiting Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio glaucus) on Lilac Blossoms (Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’ ) in My Garden- Read More About This Lovely Butterfly in My Previous Post by Clicking Here.

Fritillary on Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)Read More About This Native Butterfly Magnet by Clicking Here

Is there anything more magical than the first butterfly sighting of the year? Much as I delight in the beauty of horticulture, I must admit that even the most spectacular of flowers pales in comparison to the poetic papillon. And what gardener wouldn’t want to work surrounded by butterflies dancing on the wind? I can’t imagine a more delightful way to spend my days. Of course butterflies are more than just pretty, and while bees are recognized as the most effective pollinators of food crops, butterflies also perform an important role in the pollination of flowers. As this fascinating insect moves within each blossom —gathering nectar with its long, curled proboscis— the butterfly’s entire body —legs, head and wings— acts as magnet for dusty pollen, which is redistributed as it moves from one part of the flower to another; from blossom to blossom and plant to plant.

Watching beautiful butterflies and moths while they work their magic within flowers is easy, but for many gardeners it’s harder to appreciate these insects when they begin their lives as voracious caterpillars. Butterflies and moths undergo a complex life cycle from eggs to caterpillars, followed by metamorphosis to moths and butterflies. As gardeners, it’s important that we become familiar with the changing appearance of moths and butterflies in order to protect these insects in all of their life stages. Butterfly and moth caterpillars all eat plant foliage, and one of the keys to creating a healthy habitat for butterflies, is learning to accept less-than-perfect-looking plants. Avoid the indiscriminate use of all pesticides —including organic solutions like insecticidal soap and Btk— in order to protect young butterflies and moths. Spray only when you absolutely must, and be sure that you can properly identify an insect before pulling out the pesticide…

The Bold Pattern and Bright Colors of the Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar (Danus plexippus) Make it Easy to Recognize as It Feasts on the Leaves of Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Learning to Accept and Tolerate Less-than-Perfect-Looking Plants is Key to Creating Healthy Habitat for Pollinators. In Addition to Adopting a More Tolerant Attitude Toward Chew-Marks, Provide Habitat in the Form of Wildflower/Wild Plant Areas. By Studying the Preferences of Butterflies, Soon You Will Come to See “Scrubby” Understory and Meadow Areas as Beautiful…

Later in Summer, the Adult Monarch Butterfly (Danus plexippus) Emerges from It’s Cocoon and Lights on Potted Butterfly Weed (Asclepias curassavica ‘Silky Red’) in My garden.

Pretty Impersonator: The Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus) Lighting on Straw in My Potager Looks a Great Deal Like the Monarch Above, But It’s Actually a Different, Smaller Butterfly. Even the Viceroy Caterpillar Looks Quite Similar to the Monarch. Read More About and See More Photos of the Viceroy and other Species at the Incredible Butterflies and Moths Website by Clicking Here

As you begin to familiarize yourself with the caterpillars, butterflies and moths visiting your garden, you may notice that while they enjoy many plants and flowers, they are definitely more interested in certain species than others. Providing a continuous supply of food and fresh water —be sure to provide butterflies with a safe “island” such as a stick or other place to light to prevent drowning in water features— from early spring through late fall  —for both caterpillars, butterflies and moths— is the best way to attract and keep these lovely creatures in your garden. But it’s just as essential to consider the “big picture” of your landscape and neighborhood. Instead of viewing natural areas as “unkempt”, try thinking of them from the butterfly’s point of view. Understory shrubs, trees and wild grasses provide essential habitat for caterpillars and migratory butterflies. Wildflower meadows, swamps and emerging forests with tangled stands of birch and poplar trees are prime real estate for egg-laying butterflies. Consider the consequences before you mow in the name of “necessary” maintenance. Before you cut, ask yourself how much manicured space you really need.

Caterpillars rely upon the foliage of many native, deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs, as well as herbaceous plants for sustenance. In addition to protecting natural areas, try planting some caterpillar favorites in your landscape. While each species has its own preferences, some of the most important larval hosts for moths and butterflies include the following native trees and shrubs (this list is by no means complete and is limited to North American plants), many of which also provide beautiful and beneficial flowers and/or fruits: Amelanchier (Serviceberry), Asimina (Paw Paw), Betula (Birch), Carya (Hickory), Carpinus caroliniana (American Hornbeam), Cassiope (Mountain Heather), Castanea (Chestnut), Ceanothus (California Lilac), Celtis (Hackberry), Crataegus (Hawthorn), Fagus grandifolia (American Beech), Fraxinus (Ash), Juglans (Walnut), Juniperus (Juniper), Malus (Crabapple), Pinus (Pine), Populus (Poplar), Prunus (Cherry and Plum), Quercus (Oak), Sassafras albidium (Sassafras), Ulmus (Elm), Arctostaphylos (Bearberry), Lindera benzoin (Spicebush), Myrica (Bayberry), Potentilla fruiticosa (Cinquefoil), Rhus (Sumac), Ribes (Gooseberry/Current), Salix (Willow), Sambucus (Elderberry), Vaccinium (Blueberry) and Viburnum.

The Hummingbird Moth is a Member of the Sphingidae Family, Which Includes Hawk Moths, Sphinx Moths and Hornworms. The Hummingbird Hawk Moth, A Beautiful and Important Pollinator, Begins Life as Large, Green, Very-Hungry Caterpillar; Related to the Tomato Hornworm. If the Hummingbird Moth Appeals to You, Learn to Protect and Provide for Its Curious Caterpillar (Many Feed Upon the Leaves of Shrubs and Trees). The Hummingbird Moth Above (Hemaris thysbe ) was Photographed on Fragrant Abelia (Click Here for More on Abelia mosanensis). This Fantastic Flier Visits Many of the Same Flowers as Butterflies, Bees and True Hummingbirds. Learn More About the Hummingbird Moth by Clicking Here. 

North American, Native Amsonia illustris Attracts Hummingbird Moths, Butterflies and Bees. It’s Also A Beautiful Garden Plant, Offering Clear-Blue Blossoms in May, Fine-Textured Foliage Throughout Summer, and Clear, Golden Autumn Foliage. This Lovely Native —and Other Bluestar Species; Including Amsonia hubrichtii and A. tabernaemontana— are Frequently Featured Here as Fall Foliage Superstars.

Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris thysbe) Gathering Nectar from Amsonia Blossoms. Read More About Hummingbird Moths by Clicking Here.

As adults, butterflies and moths are most attracted to cluster-flowers. In my previous posts on butterflies —including a post on my visit to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory with tips for attracting butterflies to gardens and an article on the top three plants for butterflies— many of these annual and perennial flowers are included. Mosy butterfly flower lists include Asclepias (Milkweed/Butterflyweed family); one of the most important, cluster-flowered, native butterfly plants. In addition to the non-native species listed in my previous posts, linked above —such as Verbena bonariensis and Butterfly Bush* (Buddleia davidii, *which is considered an invasive plant in some areas of North America, and therefore restricted)— there are many more, beautiful North American wildflowers and native, garden-worthy plants for pollinators.

Some of the best perennial wildflower choices for attracting butterflies and moths include the following: Actaea simplex (Cimicifuga/Fairy Candles/Black Cohash), Agastache (Wild Hyssop), Allium (Wild Onion), Amsonia (Bluestar, pictured above), Aruncus dioicus (Goat’s Beard), Ascelepias (Milkweed/Butterflyweed), Asters, Baptisia (Wild Indigo), Boltonia (False Aster), Campanula (Harebell), Castilleja (Paintbrush), Chelone (Turtle Head), Coreopsis (Tickseed), Dicentra (Bleeding Heart), Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower), Epilobium (North Americn Native Fireweed), Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed), Filipendula rubra (Queen of the Prairie), Gaillardia (Blanket Flower), Gaura, Geranium (Wild Geranium and cultivars), Helenium autumnal (Sneezeweed), Helianthus (Sunflower), Heliopsis (Oxeye), Hibiscus, Liatris (Blazing Star), Lilium (Lily), Lobelia, Lupinus (Lupine), Monarda (Beebalm/Bergamot), Penstemon (Beard’s Tongue), Phlox, Physostegia virginiana (False Dragonhead), Polemonium (Jacob’s Ladder), Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal), Rudbeckia (Coneflower/Black-Eyed Susan), Salvia (Sage), Sedum (Stonecrop), Solidago (Goldenrod), Tiarella (Foam Flower), Verbena, Veronia (Ironweed), Viola (Violets), and Yucca (Soapweed).

In addition to providing perennial flowers, plant cluster-flowering annuals in garden beds and containers to maintain a steady supply of nectar for butterflies and moths…

Cluster Flowers are Particularly Attractive to Butterflies. Pictured Here is Asclepias tuberosa, Native, North American  Butterfly Weed. (Read More Here). Try Supplementing Perennial Cluster Flowers with Those of Annual Plants like Verbena bonariensis.

Plants Blooming at the Beginning of the Continuum —Very Early Spring, When Food Supplies are Limited— are of Great Importance to Returning PollinatorsNorth American Native Labrador Violet is a April/May-Blooming, Early Butterfly Favorite. Read More About this Fantastic, Ground-Cover for Shady Places by Clicking Here.

Later On in the Year, Mid-Late Season Flowers Provide and Important Source of Sustenance to Butterflies and Moths as They Emerge from Their Cocoons. Many Gardeners Shop for Plants in Late May and Early June, Purchasing Plants Like Peonies and Roses. Lovely as the May/June Bloomers are, to Attract and Keep Butterflies, the Gardener Must Provide Season-Spanning Bloom. Later-Season Flowers like the Rudbeckia hirta (Black-Eyed Susan) —pictured above in my wildflower walk above— as well as Echinacea, Sedum, Eupatorium, Actaea simplex, Solidago, Helenium and Asters are Key to Providing a Steady Supply of Nectar for Butterflies. Read More About Oli’s (My Dog) Accidental Wildflower Walk, by Clicking Here.

In addition to providing habitat and caterpillar forage, flowering trees and shrubs also provide sustenance to adult pollinators of all kinds. Again, butterflies and moths are particularly attracted to cluster-flowering species, including many fruit and berry producing plants. Some of the best North American natives, “nativars” and hybrids in this group include the following: Aesculus and A. parviflora (Buckeye Trees and Bottlebrush Buckeye shrub), Arctostaphylos (Bearberry), Callicarpa (Beautyberry), Castanea (Chestnut), Clethra (Sweet Pepperbush/Summersweet, pictured below), Cornus (Dogwood trees and shrubs), Crataegus (Hawthorn), Diervilla lonicera (Native Bush Honeysuckle), Diospyros (Persimmon), Gleditsia triacanthos (Honeylocust), Gymnocladus dioicus (Kentucky Coffeetree), Fothergilla (Witch Alder, pictured below), Halesia (Silverbell), Hamamelis (Witch Hazel), Hydrangea (Wild and Cultivated),  Hypericum (St. John’s Wort), Ilex (Holly), Itea virginica (Virginia Sweetspire), Kalmia (Mt. Laurel), Leucothoe, Lindera benzoin (Spicebush), Malus (Apple), Nyssa (Tupelo), Philadelphus (Mock Orange), Physocarpus opulifolius (Eastern Ninebark), Pieris (Andromeda), Potentilla fruiticosa (Cinquefoil), Prunus (Cherry and Plum), Rhododendron (Azalea), Rhus (Sumac), Rubus (Raspberry/Blackberry), Salix (Willow), Sassafras, Sambucus (Elderberry), Sorbus (Mountain Ash), Spirea alba (Meadowsweet), Stewartia, Styrax (Snowbell), Ulmus (Elm), Vaccinium (Blueberry/Cranberry), and my favorite, Viburnum…

Perfect for Early-Season Pollinators (April/May) and Late-Season Color (October/November), North American, Native Fothergilla (Pictured here: Fothergilla major ‘Mt. Airy’) is One of My Favorite Plants. Read More by Clicking Here. For Smaller Gardens, Consider Dwarf Witch Alder (Fothergilla gardenii and the Fabulous Blue-Leaf Cultivar F. g. ‘Blue Shadow’)

Horse Chestnut Blossoms are Popular with Butterflies, Moths, Hummingbirds and Bumblebees. Read More About this Gorgeous Cultivar ‘Ft. McNair’ by Clicking Here

Wonderfully Fragrant, Late-Season Bloom and Gorgeous, Golden Fall Foliage Make Clethra alnifolia (Summersweet/Sweet Pepperbush) a Favorite withBees, Hummingbirds, Moths, Late-Season Butterflies and Knowledgable Gardeners, Alike. Such Beauty in July/August Makes Up for Her Scruffy, Springtime Appearance. She’s a Bit of a Late Sleeper, That’s All! Read More About the Wonderful, Native Clethra alnifolia by Clicking Here

For more information about butterflies and moths, including ID keys, I suggest visiting the Butterflies and Moths website, butterfliesandmoths.org, by clicking here. For more information about wildflowers and other native plants, check out some of the resources in this post. And to learn more about gardening with butterflies in mind, check out some of the books below at your local library, bookstore, or linked online source.

Enjoy the beauty of the poetic papillon and help protect their future!

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’ in My Vermont Garden. Click Here for More Information on the Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly.

Sally Roth’s Attracting Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Backyard 

Allan Armitage’s Native Plants for North American Gardens

William Cullina’s Wildflowers

Watch the Complete Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly by Clicking the Link Above. A Duncan Scott Film Produced for the Chicago Nature Museum in Chicago, IL (If You Have Trouble Viewing the Video, Click on This Direct YouTube Link). Film Copyright Duncan Scott, All Rights Reserved.

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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Marching Forward to Springtime …

March 12th, 2012 § Comments Off on Marching Forward to Springtime … § permalink

Cerise-Flushed Bodnant Viburnum Buds, Swollen in Morning Sunshine (Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’)

The sleepy garden is slowly rousing now from her long winter slumber. And as she greets the warmth of each early March morning, I slip on my wellies, grab a few tools and a hot cup of coffee, eager to join in her blushing, dawn reverie. Springtime is coming, and the garden is swollen and glowing with annual anticipation …

Bright & Cheerful at Daybreak: Golden Witch Hazel Blossoms (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’)

With late winter pruning completed, my eye turns toward autumn garden remnants in need of removal. Ornamental grasses and withered perennial stalks are cut back with manual garden shears or —in the case of large, tough specimens— a power brush cutter. Where snow has receded and the soil has been dried by sun and wind, I lightly remove debris with a flexible rake and clear pathways with a stiff garden broom; dragging a brown tarp behind me and collecting a heap to be dumped and chopped up near the compost pile. Protective wire cages —set into place to thwart greedy rodents— are removed from young trees and shrubs and returned to storage in the Secret Garden Room …

Late Winter/Early Spring Garden Clean-Up Begins!

I Like to Cut Back Ornamental Grass in Late Winter or Early Spring. After Chopping Up the Grass, I Gradually Add It to My Compost Pile

As Snow Recedes, I Remove the Protective Wire Cages Placed Around Ornamental Trees & Shrubs Last Autumn, and Store Them in the Garden Room for Re-Use Next Year

Of course between garden clean-up and indoor-eden chores, there’s always a bit of time for spring dreaming. As I stroll through the melting pathways, I gather a few budding branches for forcing in vases and begin pulling out frost-hardy garden accents  —such as urns and flower pots— placing them here and there, in anticipation of early bulbs and pretty pansies…

An Annual Pleasure and Bi-Product of Late-Winter Pruning: Forced Branches of Fragrant, Bodnant Viburnum

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina for 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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Renovate! How the Garden Next Door Went from Just Grass to Just Gorgeous …

August 23rd, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

Front Entry Before, and After …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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