Musings on the Merry Month of May…

May 14th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

The Secret Garden Steps and Path, Yesterday Evening (Blooming Here and Below: Phlox divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume’, Muscari armeniacum, Ajuga reptans ‘Purple Brocade’, Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’, Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’, Viburnum lantana ‘Variegatum’, in a Sea of Emerging Wildflowers)

It’s a rainy Monday morning in May, and I’m at my desk catching up on all of the things that have fallen by the wayside during this garden designer’s spring rush. Overwhelmed with professional commitments, projects, and twelve-hour planting shifts, I find myself a stranger in my own garden these days. But yesterday evening, after hanging the hammock between trees at forest’s edge, I took a break from my chores to stroll around the garden; drinking in the delicate beauty of May…

Having self-sown along the wildflower walk, fragrant woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume’) fills the air with a ever-so-subtle, spicy scent, accented by sweet and fruity grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum). Bees buzz and bounce about the ajuga-lined stone path, gathering pollen from the rich, violet-blue carpet of blossoms. Nearby, hummingbirds —just recently returning from their winter travels— sip nectar from the throats of silverbells, dangling from twin Halesia trees (H. tetraptera). As I walked, I realized that my personal experience of spring is no different from all of nature; it’s quite simply a bustling, beautiful time of year…

Inside the Secret Garden, Emerging Tufts of Golden Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechola macra ‘All Gold’) Adds a Bit of Bright Chartreuse to the Woodsy Tapestry: Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia pensylvanica), Spurge (Euphorbia), Grape Hyacinth (Muscari ‘Valerie Finnis’), Coral Bells (Heuchera ‘Purple Palace’), Foam Flower (Tiarella Cordifolia), Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Tree Peony (Paeonia mouton x lutea ‘High Noon’, Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestevium) and various Narcissus

Silverbell Blossoms on a Rainy May Morning (Halesia tetraptera). Read About This North American Native Tree by Clicking Here and Following Hyperlinks Below the Photos & Within the Essay

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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A Carpet of Tiny, Jewel-Like Treasures: Hardy, Ground Covering Succulents …

July 21st, 2011 § 6 comments § permalink

Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’ Blooming on the Ledges

Nature hates a vacuum, and when she sees one, she usually fills it as quickly as possible. As gardeners, we often find ourselves at odds with Mother Nature’s plant choices, and when we really dislike them, we call them “weeds”. Spaces between stepping stones, pockets between rocks and ledges, cracks along walkways, and various other crevices at ground-level create wonderful planting opportunities. Rather than allow crab grass or white clover seed to take hold in these spots, I choose to get a jump on Mother Nature; filling them with plants of my own choosing. Low-growing, hardy succulents, like Sedum spurium and other species of stonecrop, are great for filling nooks and crannies; creating beautiful carpets of color throughout the seasons.

Although many gardeners think of succulents as desert plants —suitable only for warm, sunny climates— many species are actually very cold hardy and a great number will even tolerate dappled shade. Have some rocky spaces to fill? Pictured here are a few of the hardiest species growing in my garden; plants that can take a beating from snow, ice, cold, pets and people. And for more great design ideas —including ways to use sedum ground covers and other hardy, succulent plants— check out Debra Lee Baldwin’s Designing with Succulents and Hardy Succulents by Gwen Kelaidis and Saxon Holt. Crowd out weeds and create a tapestry of jewel-like color at your feet with beautiful, ground-covering sedum …

Sedum spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’ forms a brilliant, scarlet carpet; brightening the grey-stone walkway

Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ takes on an orange-cast in hot, dry, sun

Chartreuse-Gold Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ makes a pretty filler-plant along the edge of the Wildflower Walk

Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’ with Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’ and Ajuga reptans ‘Purple Brocade’ in a dry, sunny spot along the walkway

Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’, glows in the shadows; planted here in a semi-shade location with Ajuga reptans ‘Purple Brocade’

Designing with Succulents by Debra Lee Baldwin

Hardy Succulents from Gwen Kelaidis with photographs by Saxon Holt

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

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A Moody, Pale Lavender Haze … Heather-Covered Ledges Soothe the Eye In the Softest Shade of Summer …

July 18th, 2011 § Comments Off on A Moody, Pale Lavender Haze … Heather-Covered Ledges Soothe the Eye In the Softest Shade of Summer … § permalink

The Soft Beauty of Lavender-Colored Heather: Calluna vulgaris ‘Silver Knight’ 

Calluna vulgaris ‘Silver Knight’, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’ and Juniperus x pfizerianna ‘Sea Green’ Along the Ledgy Walkway

A Hazy Slope of Heather (Calluna vulgaris ‘Silver Knight’) in the Palest Shade of Lavender 

While much of my garden blooms in brilliant, sunny shades of gold, yellow and orange throughout the summer, there are many quiet, soothing spaces here as well. Along the exposed ledges —where water drains freely and sun heats thin pockets of soil— a wide swath of Heath (Erica carnea) and Heather (Calluna vulgaris) sprawls along the stoney slope. Throughout the wet and chilly month of April, Spring Heath (Erica carnea) blossoms here in a tender shade of pink (plant profile post/photos here and more photos here). Later, in mid-summer, Heather (Calluna vulgaris) —Heath’s natural companion— colors the outcrop in a hazy shade of lavender. 

Heath and Heather make wonderful, low, ground-covering plants —6″ -24″ high—  for dry, sunny slopes and rock gardens. I grow several cultivars of Erica and Calluna here in my zone 4/5 garden; using them in combination with blue-green junipers, sedum and other plants to paint a colorful carpet along the ledges. Native to Europe and Asia, Calluna vulgaris prefers acidic, sandy soil with excellent drainage and, unlike many garden plants, this tough little shrub actually prefers low soil fertility. Although cold-hardy to zone 4, Heather dislikes heavy soil and wet, humid conditions; making this plant a poor choice for gardeners with shady, wet sites and for those south of zone 6/7. The long-lasting, slender flowers are beautiful planted en masse in the garden or gathered up in fresh or dried arrangements. With so many cultivars to choose from, I am tempted to keep adding to my ledgy tapestry. Calluna vulgaris ‘Silver Knight’ is one of the finest, and my favorite of the pale-lavender heathers. Blooming long and late in the season —just coming into flower here now, in mid July— ‘Silver Knight’ continues to add beauty to the garden, even in early winter (click here to view photos of various heath and heather wearing a coat of ice.)

Heather-Covered Ledges: Calluna vulgaris ‘Silver Knight’

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

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A Peek Inside the Misty Moss Walls: Springtime in the Secret Garden …

May 22nd, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

By May, a cool tapestry of springtime color carpets the Secret Garden path…

This week my design studio and office began slowly migrating back down to the Secret Garden Room, where plants and paperwork happily mingle from late spring through early November. Each day on my way to and from appointments, I pass through the walled garden and along the plant-lined, stone path leading to the drive up and down my hillside. It only takes a few minutes here —engulfed by cool air and familiar fragrance— to shake off the cares of the outside world. This Secret Garden is my sanctuary and my muse. Care to step inside for a peek? Come follow me along the path and in through the moss-covered walls…

To the Right of the Walled Garden, An Old Chair Stands Ready to Support Emerging Rudbeckia Seedlings (other plants here include Muscari, Sedum ‘Angelina’, and Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’, and in back, Abelia mosanensis)

A Crow –from Virginia Wyoming’s Series by the same name– stands sentry, perched atop a wall along the Secret Garden path (click here to read more about the artist and her work)

A favorite old urn sits nestled at the foot of a Moonlight Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’), rising Fairy Candles (Actaea racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’), bright ‘Caramel’ Coral Bells (Heuchera americana ‘Caramel’) and sweet-scented Lily of the Valley (Convularia majalis), in a corner of the garden filled with with bulbs and emerging fiddleheads…

Brushing past the cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum ‘Baily Compact’), along a path filled with woodland phlox, grape hyacinth, stonecrop, ajuga, daphne and emerging rudbeckia seedlings, the glow of new Japanese forest grass and the nodding heads of jonquil within the Secret Garden beckon…

Between Raindrops, Sunlight Illuminates New Leaves and Coral-Colored Branch Tips on the Blue Green Dragon (Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’), Arching Over the Secret Garden Door…

Lady Ferns (Athyrium filix x femina ‘Lady in Red’) and glossy bergenia (Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’) line the damp, mossy threshold into the walled garden…

And the next step reveals the bottlebrush-blossom tips of dwarf witch alder (Fothergilla gardenii) to the right, chartreuse-colored spurge (Euphorbia, various cvs), the unfolding leaves of a yellow tree peony, (Paeonia mouton x lutea ‘High Noon’), ostrich fern (Metteuccia pensylvanica), Narcissus (N. ‘Sterling’) and Japanese forest grass’ green-gold glow…

Hard to See in the Larger Photos are Some of My Tiny Treasures, Like This Muscari ‘Valerie Finnis’ (click to image to enlarge)

Another View of the Center, Secret Garden Wall…

Stepping Inside, A Moment’s Pause to Gaze Upon the Reflecting Bowl Beside the Stone Wall

Deep Inside the Far Corners, Tender Plants Begin to Migrate, Mingling with the Secret Garden’s Full-Time, Outdoor Residents for the Summer Season. Plants from the left: Moonlight Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’), Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia pensylvanica), Hosta ‘Patriot’ and on the chair, a young Streptocarpus hardens off…

Japanese Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Roseum’) Creeps Along the Moss Covered Wall, Moving Slowly but Steadily Toward the Doorway and the Reflecting Bowl; Shimmering Beside the Prized Japanese Wood Poppy (Glaucidium palmatum, featured in last Friday’s post).

Looking back from within the Secret Garden Room, where my summer-season office is already overflowing with design plans and plant lists for landscaping clients…

And tender plants like this asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’) waiting ’til all danger of frost has passed to return to the outside world…

A Special May Pleasure Along the  Secret Garden Path: One of My Favorite Fragrances of Springtime, the Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume’)

Inside the Secret Garden, Peering Out Beyond the Threshold of the Stone Doorway

For a  Summertime Preview of the Secret Garden Click Here to Visit a Post from last Season.

All Stonework in the Secret Garden and throughout Ferncliff is by Vermont artist Dan Snow

Secret Garden Design & Installation: Michaela Medina. For design inquiries, see my professional services page at left.

Article and All Photographs ⓒ Michaela at 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 used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation for the editorial mention of any products or services mentioned in this post. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here (including Amazon.com book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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

May 9th, 2011 § 12 comments § permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jewel Box Garden – Thomas Hobbs

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

Succulent Container Gardens – Debra Lee Baldwin

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

Article and all photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here (including Amazon.com book links and Terrain Garden & Home). 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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