Sweetly Fragrant Lady of the Evening: Delighting in Angel’s Trumpet Datura

June 15th, 2013 Comments Off

Angels_Trumpet_Datura_in_Bloom_(Datura_meteloides)_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.com She Flies by Night Upon Perfumed Clouds: Angel’s Trumpet Datura (Datura meteloides ’Evening Fragrance’)

At nature’s golden hour —as the sun begins her daily, departing dance along my hilltop— evening creatures and shadow-spirits begin to stir. I love strolling through the garden with a glass of wine at this time of day; watching as backlit flower petals transform to brilliant stained glass. Lingering long in the deepening twilight, eventually I make my way back to the breezeway where I find evening drama unfolding beside the door.

Greeting me with a sweet, olfactory aperitif at sunset, Angel’s Trumpet Datura (Datura meteloides ‘Evening Fragrance’, aka D. inoxia), makes a show-stopping entrance and continues to enchant, late into the evening. With her enormous, silken, white petals and intoxicating perfume, delightfully fragrant Datura is my absolute favorite among the night-blooming flowers. Mysterious, exotic and dangerous —flowers, leaves and seed are all highly toxic— this hypnotic beauty resides in a protected spot beside my entryway door. A tender, sun-loving, summer-blooming shrub with a preference for evenly moist soil (3-4′ tall and wide at maturity, hardy in USDA zones 8-11), I often feature Angel’s Trumpet Datura ‘Evening Fragrance’ on patios, balconies and terraces as part of my annual, container arrangements. But beware: this show is an adults-only pleasure. Like all poisonous plants, Datura meteloides should not be included in gardens where children or pets wander unsupervised.

For more information about night blooming flowers and moon gardens, please click back to my previous post, here. Datura meteloides ‘Evening Fragrance’ seed may be purchased from Johnny’s Seed and Thompson and Morgan online.

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

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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Return of the Black Dragon…

May 21st, 2012 § 2

Paeonia suffruticosa ‘Wu Long Peng Sheng’  (Tree Peony, “Black Dragon Holds a Splendid Flower”)

The Black Dragon has returned to my garden, and this year he was generous, holding many splendid flowers. I have but a few tree peonies in my garden, and I hope to continue adding to the collection. The tree peonies bloom a couple of weeks earlier than the herbaceous peonies in my garden, and the Black Dragon is always the first to arrive.

Saturated with morning dew, the heavy, delicious fragrance of this peony fills the air with a rose-like scent. Peony blossoms are one of this gardener’s greatest pleasures. But the tree peony season is short; each flower to be savored for a few precious days. And with rain in tonight’s forecast, the petals will soon scatter to the ground. I wonder… Will the Black Dragon mind if I snip just a few of his splendid flowers, to place atop my desk?

Read more about Paeonia suffruticosa ‘Wu Long Peng Sheng’ in my previous profile post, by clicking here.

This year, The Black Dragon was Generous, and Holds Many Splendid Flowers (P. suffruticosa ‘Wu Long Peng Sheng’)

Paeonia suffruticosa ‘Wu Long Peng Sheng’  (Tree Peony, “Black Dragon Holds a Splendid Flower”)

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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Misty Mornings & Golden Afternoons: The Burnished Beauty of Indian Summer

October 23rd, 2011 § 4

Soft Light Through Morning Fog at Woodland Edge

Indian Summer —that deliciously warm, golden season between the first, light frost and the killing freeze— is like a sweet dessert after a perfect meal. Oh how I delight in these last, precious weeks of mild weather. Usually, I host an open studio and garden tour in autumn, but this year —with a washed out bridge that will remain closed until next year and a network of back roads badly damaged by tropical storm Irene— my house and garden are strangely quiet. Some days —when torrential rain pours down my patched up driveway in a river— I barely make it home myself. Still, I so enjoy the sensual beauty of October —with all her musky fragrance, shimmering, low light and brilliant color— that it  feels unfair to hoard it to myself. So a short, misty-morning tour of some of this week’s highlights in a garden just warming up for a grand and colorful season finale …

Waves of  Golden Amsonia Sway with the Lift of Morning Fog (Amsonia hubrichtii in the entry garden with Clethra alnifolia, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ and the seed heads of Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Sommersonne’. Beyond, Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’, Cornus kousa and Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’)

The Beautiful Color of Redvein Enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus ‘Red Bells’) Lights Up the Morning Fog

Where Forest Meets Clearing (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’, Miscanthus sinenensis ‘Morning Light’, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’, Rhus typhina, Solidago) 

My Favorite Autumn Hydrangea, H. paniculata ‘Limelight’, Is Putting on a Sensational Display This Year. In the Background You Can Catch Just a Glimpse of the Heath & Heather Ledges with a Sea Green Juniper at the Crest …

Here You Can Just Spot Her, Rising Beyond the Stone Wall and Secret Garden Door, the Scarlet Heuchera (H.villosa ‘Palace Purple’) and the Variegated Daphne (Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’)

In Spite of Last Week’s Battering Winds, the Paper Bark Maple (Acer griseum) at the Entry Garden Edge is Still Putting On a Good Show. Soon, the Leaves will Blaze a Glorious Scarlet

In the Entry Garden, Amsonia illustris Glows in a Mound of Lemon-Lime. At this Time of the Year, a Shot of Citrus is Always a Warm Welcome at the Edge of the Drive (Beyond: Symphotrichum oblongifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite’, Rudbeckia hirta, Lysmachia clethroides, Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’, Amsonia hubrichtii, and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ against a backdrop of Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’)

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ & ‘Variegatus’ are Really Putting on a Stellar Show Together this Season

Decked Out in a Sparkling, Tasseled Golden Gown that Would Turn Fappers Green with Envy, Seems This ‘Heavy Metal’ Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum) Is Adding Few Finishing Touches for the Fall Party (that dark and mysterious hedge in the background is a mass planting of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’, with a lacy slip of ferns peeking out at the bottom)

Just Warming Up: Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’, a young Callicarpa dichotoma (couldn’t resist adding another purple beautyberry to the garden ), Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ and the remnants of summertime Rudbeckia

This Younger Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’  is Already  Painting Her New Space in Bold Shades of Gold, Orange and Red (Planted here along a slope of Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’ and a carpet of Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’)

Hanging On to Indian Summer: My Hammock Still Swings Between Maple Trees, Surrounded by Bronzed Ferns

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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Seduced by Autumn’s Alluring Scent …

September 25th, 2011 Comments Off

Deep Within the Secret Garden, the Delightful Scent of Fairy Candles (Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ and ‘Brunette’ aka Cimicifuga racemosa) Perfumes the Air, Luring Me Down the Dim, Winding Path. (Other plants here: Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’, Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’, Viburum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, and beside the Actaea simplex: glowing, chartreuse Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’)

There are many things to love about Autumn, not the least of which is her enviable wardrobe of fine perfume. Earthy notes of musk, moss and damp leaves play against heady florals to create a most alluring bouquet. Just outside my studio door, Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis paniculata, aka C. terniflora) scents the damp morning breeze with a cloud of fragrant white blossoms. Nearby —along the edge of the stone terrace— swoon-inducing Damask Roses (Hardy Portland Damask cultivar, Rosa ‘De Rescht’) fill the air with their unmistakably rich scent as they come into a second wave of seasonal bloom; mingling with the nearby vanilla of Henry Eilers Sweet Coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa ’Henry Eilers’). Further down the garden path —luring me into the shadows— the slightly-fruity fragrance Fairy Candles (Actaea simplex cvs ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ and ‘Brunette’) swirls about, blending at the edge of the damp walls with base notes of moss and fern to balance the sweetness …

One of the lofty delights of fall, Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis paniculata, aka C. terniflora) twines about my studio entry door. Here in my zone 4/5 garden, this old-time favorite produces clouds of fragrant, white blossoms throughout the month of September and often into early October. Sweet Autumn Clematis is hardy in zones 4-8 and can reach a height of 30′ or more (easily contained and kept tidy by vigorous spring pruning, as this clematis blooms on new wood)

The old roses, particularly Damasks, are well known for their exquisite perfume. In early autumn —and often straight through the first frost— this Portland Damask Rose known as Rosa ‘De Rescht’ (the right rose, in German), is particularly sweet. Read more about this hardy cultivar and find a Vintage Rose Cocktail recipe by clicking here.

An unusually fragrant rudbeckia, Henry Eilers Sweet Coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’), lightly perfumes the air with the subtle scent of vanilla, when planted en masse

The Fruity Scent of Fairy Candles (Actaea simplex ‘Brunette’) Wafts Up from the Stone Walls Along the Secret Garden Path. Read more about this Autumn blooming beauty by clicking here.

Late-blooming flowers are not only attractive, but vitally important to the support of pollinators as well. As sunlight fades in the September garden, I often find drunken bees and butterflies lingering about the Fairy Candles and other blossoms, long past the sunset. And can you blame them? With all the voluptuous fragrances of fall —and many more yet to come— a stroll through the Autumn garden can be a deliciously intoxicating experience …

Find the recipe for this Vintage Rose Cocktail and read about my favorite Autumn Damask Rose, ‘Rosa De Rescht’ by clicking here

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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Gathering Bouquets Between Raindrops & Simple Tips for Fresh Cut Flower Care

June 12th, 2011 § 7

Peony blossoms are of course my favorite cut flower, and by growing many cultivars, it’s possible to extend the flowering season for a month or more

After two days of steady rain, I slipped outside this morning to wander around the garden between raindrops and gather fallen flowers for fresh bouquets. Poetic as drooping blossoms look when tumbling from perennial borders, I can’t imagine leaving them on the lawn to be devoured by snails. Oh no. In fact, the main reason I grow peonies is for cutting, and I’ve planted many other perennials, annuals, trees and shrubs with fresh flowers for bouquets in mind. False indigo (Baptisia australis), iris, columbine (Aquilegia), fox glove (Digitalis), old-fashioned roses and  poppies (Papavar orientale), are some late spring favorites for the vase. I love all colors, but I am particularly fond of deep violet, blue and cerise colored blossoms. I also cut foliage for flower arrangements, including entire branches from shrubs and trees. Of course fragrance trumps almost all other considerations when it comes to fresh cut flowers, so lilac (Syringa), fragrant abelia (Abelia mosanensis), roses, lily of the valley (Convularia majalis) and of course peonies, will always be planted in excess throughout my garden…

My studio desk with blue, false indigo (Baptisia australis) cut fresh from the garden

Whenever I see tiny bud vases at flea markets, I snap them up. I also use old spice jars, recycled perfume bottles and salvaged medicine bottles for tiny bouquets

Peonies are, of course, kept as close to nose-level as possible. With blossoms as pretty as these, it seems like gilding the lily to add anything extra to the simple blue-green, glass canning jar

Simple Tips for Fresh Cut Flower Care

Cut flowers when it’s cool in the garden. Morning or evening.

Use sharp, clean pruners or shears.

Carry a bucket with you while cutting and place flowers in tepid water.

Cut flowers in bud or just as they are beginning to open.

Cut stems long, but take care to remember the rules of pruning; particularly when cutting roses, lilacs & other shrubs (revisit this basic pruning post).

Strip off lower foliage and side branches as you go (anything below the waterline of the intended vase).

Sear sappy/milky stems with a flame or boiling water (poppies, hollyhocks, etc).

Hammer the bottom and strip bark from woody stems.

Arrange flowers in a clean vase, filled with tepid water.

Add a tiny bit of sugar and a few drops of bleach (hydrogen peroxide based is fine) to the vase when you arrange flowers.

Check and change the water in vases every other day.

A combination I love: Blue Siberian Iris with Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ (read more about Physocarpus opulifolius here)

Weigela florida ‘Red Prince’, and the branches of many other flowering shrubs are beautiful in arrangements

Beautiful Baptisia australis looks gorgeous atop a dark dresser or dining table

Weigela florida ‘Red Prince’ produces lovely cerise blossoms on strong branches (read more about this beautiful, tough shrub here)

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

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The Sweet Scent of Springtime: Bewitching Hamamelis Vernalis…

March 7th, 2011 Comments Off

Sweetly Fragrant Hamamelis Vernalis: North American Native Vernal Witch Hazel, Cut from My Garden and Forced Inside

Copper-Orange Tassels of Witch Hazel Glow in the Afternoon Light

March, much like November, is a different month every year in New England. Some seasons, March skies are grey and late winter winds are cold; heavy snow falling long past the vernal equinox. And then there are years when March is soft; weeks of misty skies, melty temperatures and warm sunshine dancing on snow banks as they slowly disappear. This morning, I awoke to yet another ice storm —a quarter inch glaze coating trees and threatening my electrical supply— and a firm reminder that the chilly season of winter yet reigns.

Still —in spite of the relentless cold, freezing rain and mountains of snow— I know that spring is slowly coming. And during this time of transition, my anticipation always reaches a fever-pitch. I stalk the woody plants in my garden, watching for hints of color and swollen buds. And this year —with so much snow on the ground— I am especially grateful for the maturing shrubs and trees in my garden, rising above the frozen terrain…

In warmer years, Hamamelis vernalis —vernal witch hazel— blooms in early to mid-March. In colder years, this harbinger of springtime may be delayed past the equinox

Many of my favorite garden plants have two stellar seasons: spring and fall. And among my favorites, the family of Hamamelidaceae (the witch hazels) ranks very high indeed. Hamamelis vernalis —sometimes called Ozark or spring witch hazel— is native to the south-central regions of the United States and hardy in USDA zones 4-8. This is a tough, colonizing shrub; tolerant of poor, scrappy soil and a wide range of moisture levels. Vernal witch hazel is a great native plant for informal hedging, naturalizing along a woodland boundary or even for something as mundane as stabilizing a steep bank. Although her flowers aren’t nearly as large and showy as those of her more flamboyant Asian and hybrid cousins (read my post on Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ here), the perfume of her early, coppery-orange blossoms is so sweet and delightful that their petite size is easy to overlook. She’s also a glorious sight in autumn, when her softly mounded form turns brilliant gold; shimmering against the blue autumn sky.

When warm temperatures arrive early in Vermont, the bloom of vernal witch hazel sometimes coincides with, or even precedes the spring equinox. But winter seems a bit tenacious this year; unwilling to loose her grip on the sleeping green mountains. Feeling a bit weary, I decided to give myself a spring prelude —as I often do— by forcing the branches of a few early blooming favorites. Late last winter, I pruned my Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ rather heavily; bringing a large armful of branches indoors for forcing. The scent was intoxicating. This year I allowed myself but a few wayward twigs from the delicious bodnant viburnum, and instead harvested a mass of Hamamelis vernalis (read more about how to force branches here)…

Freshly harvested branches of Hamamelis vernalis cut for forcing indoors

Once harvested and prepared, I placed the bundle of witch hazel branches in my cool cellar. Slowly, I am bringing branches upstairs to enjoy their honey-sweet fragrance —strong enough to scent an entire room— and delightful, sculptural form. By month’s end, various species of witch hazel will begin unfolding their blossoms outdoors, in my garden. But for now, I can enjoy a bit of spring here inside my home…

Wonderful warm color, festive form and intoxicating fragrance: who could ask for more than a visit from the good witch on a drab-grey day

Forced witch hazel branches fill my bedroom with the delicious honey-scented fragrance of springtime

***

Article and 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.

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First Hints of Spring…

February 21st, 2011 § 4

Last Year’s Nest Remains Intact, Decorated with the Pink-Tinted Buds of Viburnum Bodnantense ‘Dawn’

Spring is exactly one month away, and eagerly, the garden awaits her arrival. Already, swollen buds, glowing bark and the sing-song voices of chickadees calling “spring’s here”, fill trees and shrubs with new life…

On Warmer Days, Blushing Viburnum Buds Near the Stone Wall, Hint at Coming Spring

Click here to here listen to the ‘typical’ sweet, spring song of the Black-capped Chickadee {via Cornell Lab of Ornithology}.

{Forced branches give the house a prelude-to-spring. Click here for more information on forcing branches, and here for details about this lovely shrub: V. bodnantense ‘Dawn’}

***

Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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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!

***

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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A Warm Wash of Fragrance: Dreaming Of Lilies and Sultry Summer Evenings…

February 5th, 2011 § 6

Dreaming of Warm Summer Nights and a Garden Filled with Softly Blushing Lilies…

Asiatic, Oriental, Trumpet, Species or Hybrid: I’ve yet to meet a lily without falling in love. And while my weekend may be filled with practical matters —shoveling, clearing hoop-houses of snow, cleaning grow lights and sorting seed packets— there’s sure to be a certain amount of summer fantasy slipping in…

Soaking in Summer Fantasies…

Yes, I confess. Dozens of summer-blooming bulb catalogs drape the rim of my claw-foot tub, where —surrounded by bubbles and steam— I find myself lost for hours; conjuring sultry August evenings and heavy-scented-air, filled with the fragrance of Black Beauties, Brasilias, Casa Blancas and Salmon Stars. Oh, those deliciously intoxicating Oriental lilies… Could there be a more glamorous summer flower? I’ve found great prices on lilies (and other summer flowering bulbs & tubers, like Dahlias) at Dutch Gardens and a fantastic selection at Brent & Becky’s Bulbs online, and I will be ordering them early to get a jump on the crowd! For me, this will be a year of mass perennial and bulb planting. And I plan on adding great waves of lilies —both for cutting and enjoying in the garden— this year.

The Colors of a Summer Sunset (Lilium ‘Pretty in Pink’)

Cultural Notes for Lilies

When planning your springtime lily plantings, keep in mind that these perennial bulbs prefer to be planted deeply –in rich, well-drained soil. Most lilies require full sun, but like their roots cool. Companion planting with other lush, leafy perennials —and mulching with clean, fresh organic material— helps to shield roots from the heat of the sun’s mid-day rays. Lilies are fantastic flowers for attracting pollinators like hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. However, lily leaf beetles (bright red nemesis of this gorgeous plant, and other flowers) can be a problem in some areas (emerging in March-June from debris surrounding lily plantings). I treat lily leaf beetle infestations organically with neem (targeted to lily foliage every 5-7 days when new growth and beetle larvae both emerge in spring).

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A Warm, Sweet Welcome for February: Forcing Narcissus Indoors…

February 1st, 2011 § 6

Hello February – Golden Greetings in the Entryway {Forced Narcissus}

A Bit of Golden Color to Brighten Stormy, Grey Days…

Welcome February…

It’s the first day of February, and outside my front door, snow is falling steadily and the sky is a gloomy, powder grey. Overnight, a winter storm swirled in, and the forecast warns of a wintry mix with more than two feet of new snow. For those of us living in northern climes, this can be a long, tough month. Dingy snowbanks, endless shoveling and bitter, cold days can take a toll on even the sunniest of dispositions. And much as I love the spare landscape, winter sports and cozy nights by the fire, I always crave a bit of bright color at this time of year.

Every fall, while ordering and planting my bulbs, I plan a little indoor extravaganza to help me through the long winter months. Many spring flowering bulbs can be forced indoors, bringing a bit of April’s garden to my world in February. Most bulbs require a cool, dark period prior to blooming in spring (exceptions to this rule include paper white narcissus, which may be purchased, planted and forced right away). And with a bit of planning, it’s possible to mimic those natural conditions and enjoy a little prelude to spring. I pot up left-over bulbs in all sorts of containers, water them well and cover with black plastic and an elastic band. Store potted bulbs in a cool dark place (a garage, basement, root cellar, outbuilding, etc), and check on them in about a month, watering enough to keep bulb roots moist, but never soggy. After 8-10 weeks, you can begin bringing the bulbs into your living space (cooler rooms are best). I like to bring them out in waves, saving the bulk of the show for the dreariest New England months: late February and early March.

Pre-Chilled Narcissus Grand Soleil d’Or and a Glass Bowl filled with Decorative Stone/Charcoal for Drainage.

But even if you haven’t planned ahead, you can still enjoy the pleasure of forced bulbs. Pre-chilled bulbs and paper white narcissus —purchased and potted up now— will begin to bloom in a month or two; ushering in spring a little earlier! With prepared bulbs, the forcing process is foreshortened, but the first few steps are quite similar. Practice this way, and next year, write yourself a forcing reminder for late fall. This is a fun project to share with kids, and a great make-your-own gift for Valentines Day, Passover or Easter. A pretty container will make the arrangement extra special, and it can be recycled after the blooms are spent. Remember not to expect bulbs forced in gravel to grow and bloom the following year. Compost these plants and start again next year, as you would with annuals in your outdoor containers.

Many garden centers, florist shops and online retailers offer pre-chilled bulbs and paper whites. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs has a fantastic selection (click here for link). Think of these bulbs as you would annuals: meant for growing and enjoying for this season only. Some good choices (among many) for forcing in gravel, include: Paperwhites, Grand Soleil d’Or (pictured above: produces sweetly fragrant flowers with golden petals and bright orange trumpets 6-8 weeks after planting), Angels in Water, Craigford and Chinese Sacred Lilies. Keep in mind that some narcissus —including the delightful miniature Tete a Tete— perform best when potted up in soil as opposed to gravel. When in doubt about how to force a particular cultivar, check with the retailer for advice on proper growing mediums/procedure. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is a great online resource.

Pre-Chilled Grand Soleil d’Or Settled into a glass container filled about 1/3 full with a base of pea stone and a few pieces of horticultural charcoal (for freshness).

How to Force Narcissus in Containers Filled with Gravel

Materials:

Bulbs specifically prepared for forcing (pre-chilled in a dark place) or paperwhites

Horticultural charcoal

Decorative pea stone, gravel, rocks or glass

A bowl or other container without drainage holes (glass is lovely if you like to look at the stone). Size will depend upon the type of bulbs you have chosen to grow. Using a deep container can be helpful in supporting taller bulbs.

Green wire plant supports for taller bulbs (available at florist or craft supply stores)

Instructions:

Wash the container and stones thoroughly and dry. Fill the base of the container with a small amount of decorative stone. Add a handful of charcoal bits and then fill the container about 1/3 full. Make planting space for bulbs, and nestle them in; packing them tight together for support. Add more decorative stone or glass until the bulbs are about 2/3 concealed (leave the ‘shoulder’ and green tips free). You can use all one kind of stone, or get creative and mix it up.

Fill a jug with lukewarm water and fill the container about 1/3 of the way up. You want the water at the roots, but not soaking the bulb itself. Eventually, the roots will extend down toward the base of the container. Even prepared bulbs grow best when given a bit of darkness (exception: paperwhites). Place the container in a basement or cool closet for 2-3 weeks, checking the water level every few days as the roots extend. IMPORTANT: Never let the roots dry out.

When watering, rumor has it that adding a bit of vodka or gin to the mix can assist with stronger stem and leaf growth. But keeping the bulbs in a cool, dark place (for a 2-3 week period before forcing) seems to work just as well if you lack a stocked liquor cabinet.

Forced bulbs last longest in cooler rooms. I keep mine near the entry way door, where they provide a cheerful welcome and never mind the drafts. If the stems begin to flop, it can be helpful to hold them up with green florists stakes and tape (discreetly position the supports toward the center of the container and pull up slightly – a bit of droop looks natural and relaxed). Be sure to keep thirsty bulbs well-watered but never swamped.

Enjoy!

Forced Narcissus Tete a Tete, Beside the Entryway Door

A Prelude to Spring

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Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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November Garden: Late Autumn’s Sunny-Day Chores & Pleasures…

November 13th, 2010 § 2

Glowing Tufts of Ornamental Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)

My Trusty Old Garden Cart ( from Gardener’s Supply Company )

Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ (Switch Grass) – Golden Color Illuminated by November Sunlight

Days of beautifully warm, sunny weather, a free weekend, and a list of end-of-season garden chores = Michaela in Bliss. I’ve had a really busy week —filled with deadlines and end-of-season projects to finish up for my design clients— so I’m looking forward to a weekend’s worth of work and relaxation in my own garden. The fun began yesterday afternoon, when I planted 400 landscape-size Narcissus bulbs; 200 N. ‘Ice Follies’ in the long border and 200 premium mixed daffodils in the entry garden. Yes, I am still planting bulbs, and I will continue to do so until the snow flies. I did warn you that it’s compulsive. Plus, with all of the end-of-season sales, how can I help myself?

But Daffodils, Michaela? Aren’t they a bit… pedestrian? Bah. Don’t you believe that nonsense. The genus Narcissus is one of the most amazingly diverse groups of bulbs. If you don’t believe me, just have a look at Brent and Becky Heath’s incredible collection of Narcissus on their beautiful website. And not only are Narcissus long-lived and gorgeous, they are also tough as nails; resistant to mice, deer, insects and cold. I like to plant a cheerful mix of yellow shades where the entry garden meets the driveway to greet springtime guests. And in the long border — as well as the other flower beds near my studio and kitchen windows— I prefer to plant bulbs in single-color drifts for a calm, soothing effect. Yesterday, I added 200 landscape-size N. ‘Ice Follies’ (below) in the long perennial border, which I am currently renovating (pulling out old ‘holding tank’ plants and re-designing).

Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ (photo from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, where I bought mine)

Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ bulbs from Brent and Becky’s. If you have small children, planting daffodils is a great way to share the experience of gardening with them.

Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ with winter aconites (photo from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs)

Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ belong to the division 2 group (large cup daffodils). These long-lived perennial plants are perfect for beds and borders, as well as for naturalizing in large landscapes. Because division 2 daffodils are so popular, they tend to be less expensive -perfect if you have a large area to plant on a tight budget (yes, and yes). I believe that one of the keys to good landscape design is understanding the big picture -and I do mean the really big picture. Specialty bulbs are lovely indeed, but you needn’t spend a fortune in order to have a beautiful garden. What you do need is to develop your eye, and to train yourself to think creatively.

Budget only allow you a few bags of landscape daffodils? Work with what you’ve got. Plant those bulbs in clusters of 5, 7 or 9 —I like to dig oval or circular holes and plant in irregular patterns— between your perennials. Work with the timing and colors of other flowering plants (and foliage!) in your border to maximize impact. Have forsythia in your garden? Instead of planting solid yellow daffodils, why not try a subtle contrast instead. Plant white, two-tone, or a combination of darker, orangey-yellow daffodil bulbs beneath your yellow-flowering shrubs. Is there a white-flowering tree or shrub in your early to mid spring garden? Add a pool of lavender-blue grape hyacinth (Muscari ‘Valerie Finnis’ is particularly gorgeous) beneath the branches to create a soothing scene. Muscari (grape hyacinth) bulbs are very inexpensive, and they multiply freely over time. Look back at pictures of your garden from last spring. See spots that could use a little umpf or more color-play? Let those photos be your guide this fall during bulb planting.

Cluster’-planting Narcissus bulbs helps to create a full and natural look in the garden and landscape. Much better than wimpy little polka-dots of yellow! Be sure to mix a bit of bulb-booster into the top layer of back-filled soil for best results.

Have a daylily patch (or a neighbor with one in need of dividing)? Hemerocallis make great planting companions for Narcissus. As the foliage of your daffodils dies back, the daylily leaves and flowers will conceal the yellowing and dormant Narcissus (never braid or tie daffodil foliage after flowering, and until it has completely withered and turned yellow/brown before cutting back). And while it’s certainly true that the dividing and planting of perennials is best done a bit earlier in the season, most tough-nut daylilies can be divided and replanted late (oh how they take the abuse!). Other good and inexpensive daylily companions? In semi-shade areas, I like to combine Narcissus with native ferns —particularly cinnamon (Osmunda cinnamonea) and ostrich ferns (Matteuccia pensylvanica)— and other big-leaf beauties like Hosta. Daffodils prefer dryish soil during their dormant period, but they are fairly tolerant of less-than-ideal conditions. The daffodils in the drier sections of my shade gardens are all doing quite well.

Here in the Secret Garden, Muscari ‘Valerie Finnis’ (grape hyacinth) and Narcissus ‘Misty Glen’ (white daffodils) are well-timed spring companions

Also keep in mind that bulbs can make great companions for other bulbs. If you are new to gardening, it may not occur to you to plant bulbs in ‘layers’. Some bulbs, like most Narcissus, are large, and need deep planting holes. But other spring flowering beauties emerge from tiny bulbs, (like crocus, grape hyacinth and snowdrops) requiring minimal planting depth. Of course this creates an opportunity for a ‘bulb sandwich’, and I love this planting method! Simply plant your larger bulbs first, then backfill until you reach the depth required for medium-bulbs, then —if you have them— finish off with shallow-planted bulbs. Here’s an example….

Plant three big bulbs, like these daffodils, 7 inches deep, between a grouping between perennials (these are spaced a little tight in this photo, be sure to give bulbs enough room to grow). Then backfill with about 3 inches of soil, to just cover the bulbs. Next…

Plant Three Muscari 4 inches deep, staggering them between the daffodils (you can feel around for the tips of the Narcissus, but it’s OK if they overlap a little. Bulbs will find their way around one another)

Another example of bulb companions with spring blooming perennials (Narcissus ‘Misty Glen’ with Erythronium and Helleborus x hybridus)

As I plant my bulbs each fall, I sometimes unearth previously planted daffodils, grape hyacinth or other spring bloomers. If this happens to you, don’t worry —no harm has been done, unless you chop it up!— just replace the bulb and keep going. Do remember to water your bulbs thoroughly after planting, and continue to water until the ground freezes if nature doesn’t do so for you. OK. Back to the garden -there’s more work to be done! I’ll be back with bulb-a-rama II later! Don’t you just love this time of year? It’s so lovely out there…

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’ beside Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’

***

Article and photographs (exceptions noted an linked) ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

***The Gardener’s Eden is not an affiliate of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. But, Michaela is indeed a very happy customer!***

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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Fire and Ice: The Flaming Red Foliage of Abelia Mosanensis Sizzles Beside Cool Blue Juniper Horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’…

November 4th, 2010 § 3

Fragrant abelia (Abelia mosanensis) and Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’ (aka ‘The Blue Rug’)

They say opposites attract —think Bogie and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracy, Lady and the Tramp, Bert and Ernie— in passionate relationships.  And it’s certainly true that sparks tend to fly in nature, as well as on the silver screen, when something hot and fiery comes into contact with the cool, calm and steely. In the late autumn garden, such contrasts are particularly spectacular when blue-tinted conifers are played against orange and red-colored deciduous beauties. In October and early November, the magnetic charge between red-orange abelia and blue-green juniper produces some serious, show-stopping drama in my garden; especially on a moody, overcast day.

The Brilliant Autumn Color of Abelia mosanensis Holds Straight Into November

Fragrant, hardy abelia (Abelia mosanensis) possesses some of the most brilliant fall color in my late-season garden. Beginning in mid to late October, her lustrous foliage —medium green and glossy throughout the growing season— slowly shifts from glowing orangey-red to fiery scarlet. The color of her autumn leaves is so brilliant, it literally glows like a campfire on a foggy day. You may recall my affection for Abelia mosanensis from a post in late spring, when this delightful plant produces beautiful pink, intensely fragrant blossoms (beginning in late May here int VT) that rival the sweet scent of lilac and daphne. If you’ve never met Abelia mosanensis, you should know that this is not a beautifully shaped plant —requiring careful positioning and June pruning to maintain an acceptable presence in a more formal garden situation— but her sweet, springtime blossoms and glorious fall color more than make up for her rather scrappy form. Listed by most growers as hardy in zones 5 to 9, here on my windy, exposed hilltop (zone 4/5), she has performed very well for five seasons with no absolutely no effort on my part. When her modest requirements are met, (moist, well-drained, average garden soil) fragrant abelia can reach six feet high and wide in full sun -but she’ll also tolerate partial shade, where a gardener can expect the mature shrub to be of somewhat smaller stature.

Fragrant abelia, draped in May blossoms (Abelia mosanensis) with ‘Blue Rug’ at her feet (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug’)

And the perfect yang to fragrant abelia’s delightfully feminine yin? In both spring and fall, I adore the contrast of steely, blue-tipped conifers with Abelia mosanensis. In the entry garden, sprawling at fragrant abelia’s feet, the ‘Blue Rug’ (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’) looks particularly lovely to my eye. Tough as nails, this splendid ground-cover is extremely hardy (USDA zones 3-10) and tolerates many soil types as long as it is provided with full sun and excellent drainage. Although it may sprawl to 10 feet or more, like most juniper, the ‘Blue Rug’ is easily contained with regular pruning.

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug’ in November, with a Frosty Coat of Ice Crystals

When I’m pairing plants in my garden, I usually end up thinking about characters in a film.  To bring out the best qualities of one plant, it often helps to place it beside another with opposing charms. There’s nothing like watching the sparks fly between a feisty leading-lady and a cool and classic leading man. Why not follow suit in the garden, and watch your late-show sizzle to life.

Inspiration: Romantic Opposites…

Bogie and Bacall

***

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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Mellow Yellow: Lovely Lindera Benzoin, North American Native Spicebush…

September 27th, 2010 § 1

Lindera benzoin (Spicebush) in front of the Secret Garden wall at Ferncliff (see complete plant list below)

The question comes up every September in my garden. The meter-reader, oil delivery driver and countless guests have asked: “What’s that bright yellow shrub over there by the wall… The one covered with birds and red berries?” When I ask, “Have you heard of Lindera benzoin, North American spicebush?”, the answer is invariably ‘no’. And no matter how many times I make the introduction, it’s always surprising to me that this gorgeous shrub isn’t more widely known and used in the landscape. Spicebush’s season-spanning, informal beauty makes her the perfect choice for naturalizing along woodland boundaries and in countless other transitional situations. But as you can see from the photo above, this native plant also works beautifully in a mixed-border; with other trees, shrubs, bulbs and perennials.

Lindera benzoin, autumn leaf detail

The show begins in first weeks of April, when the spicebush’s lightly-fragrant, lemon-yellow blossoms begin to open on the dreariest of days. These early flowers are an important source of nectar to pollinating insects —including native and honey bees—and a welcome sight to my winter-weary eyes. The specimen pictured above — in front of the stone wall surrounding the Secret Garden— has developed a round, mounded shape in full sun (I prune very lightly after the early spring blossoms fade). Lindera benzoin will also tolerate light shade, and the groupings here at the edge of the native forest have developed a more open, but graceful habit. After the early flowers fade, attractive, blue-green foliage (the leaves have a delightfully spicy, masculine fragrance when crushed, and can be used to make tea, herbal sachets or potpourri) makes a fine backdrop for other players in front of the perennial border.

Lindera benzoin at Fercliff in late September (planted here with Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’ and Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’)

As pretty and uplifting as this shrub is when blossoming in April, come September, spicebush really turns things up a notch in the garden when its foliage shifts from cool green to brilliant, lemon-gold. The female plants (this species is dioecious and a male must be planted nearby for the female to produce fruit), with their bright red berries (edible/substitute for allspice), are especially fetching in autumn; attracting birds from the nearby forest by the dozen. Combinations with other showy, autumn shrubs and trees —such as bold red viburnum (particluarly V.bodnatense and V. trilobum), dogwood, witch hazel, and red vein enkianthus— are always gorgeous. And rich purple or deep-blue blossoms —including monkshood (Aconitum) and asters in autumn, and glory-of-the-snow (Chinodoxa), crocus and grape hyacinth (Muscari) in spring— make lovely, perennial and bulb pairings with spicebush on either end of the growing season as well. Conifers, particularly deep green hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and blue spruce cultivars (Picea pungens) also provide a striking contrast to luminous Lindera benzoin, both in texture and color. And keep in mind the design possibilities of deep violet foliage when choosing a spot for spicebush. Dark, burgundy shrubs, including Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’, P. opulifolius ’Summer Wine’ and Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’, really bring out the golden hues in Lindera benzoin; as do perennials like purple fountain grass (Pennisetum rubrum) and Sedum ‘Matrona’ or S. ‘Purple Emperor’. In a shadier situation, try spicebush in combination with the purple foliage of Heuchera cultiavars (like ‘Plum Pudding’ and ‘Palace Purple’) or perhaps Actaea racemosa (aka Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ or ‘Brunette’).

Lindera benzoin provides a luminous, gold backdrop for other autumn colors (here with Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’)

Hardy in zones 4-9, Lindera benzoin is a native of N. America from the north into Canada and on south to Florida; into midwestern Michigan and Kansas, and southwest to moderate climate zones of Texas. As a landscaping plant, spicebush is relatively trouble-free in the garden or naturalized settings; forming a mound-shaped shrub (6-12′ high and wide) when planted in a sunny location. In the shade the shrub tends to form a more open shape (a bit like Amelanchier); absolutely lovely, though subtle, when in bloom. Lindera benzoin prefers even soil-moisture (dry conditions make for a scruffy looking specimen) with cooling mulch about the root-zone (helpful to preserve even soil temperature and moisture)

Perhaps you’re already acquainted with lovely Lindera. If so, remember to pass on the good word. Mid to late fall is a great time to add shrubs to the landscape (see related post here). This native plant is an important part of our natural, North American habitat, and a significant source of food for insects (bees and butterfly larvae) and birds. But it seems to me that the spring blossoms, red fruit and glorious, golden, autumn color of Lindera benzoin provide all the promotional material any plant could ever need…

North American Native Spice Bush (Lindera benzoin) – Shown here at Ferncliff with Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ (and in the background Cornus kousa, Ilex verticillata and Juniperus chubebsus ‘Sargentii’, seed pod remnants of Rudbeckia. And to the left Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’ and various Sedum)

Lindera benzoin bloom  Photo is via PIWO (CreativeCommons license Flickr)

***

Article and photos (one exception as noted) 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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Fashionably Late & Dressed in Maroon: Sweetly-Scented, Autumn Fairy Candles Light Up the Shadowy, Secret Garden…

September 16th, 2010 § 6

Actaea simplex/Cimicifuga simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty {also known variously as Fairy Candles, Black Snake Root & Black Cohosh}

Actaea simlex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, here in the Secret Garden with Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, Lamium maculatum, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’, Paeonia mouton x lutea ‘High Noon’, Stewartia pseudocamilla, and a background of bronzing Matteuccia pensylvanica {native Ostrich fern}

True, there are those who say it’s rude to be tardy, but it seems to me that the more interesting characters always arrive a wee-bit late to the party. Of course, they are always gorgeous, a bit mysterious, and often wearing something dark and dramatic. Well, such is the case with Actaea simplex {aka Cimicifuga simplex} ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, in my Secret Garden. Clad in exquisitely-cut, deep, velvet-maroon, the Fairy Candles —as I like to call them— saunter into bloom in September; wearing their lilac-tinted, flower plumes the way an old-fashioned bombshell might drape her shoulders with an exotic, perfumed boa. Filling the cool, misty air of the Secret Garden with the most delightfully intoxicating scent, {noticed and adored by hungry bees and other early autumn pollinators} Actaea simplex arrives late on the garden-scene with the kind of laid-back elegance of which modern Hollywood starlets can only dream…

Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ in the Secret Garden {see companion plant listing above}

Known by various intriguing aliases —including Black Snake Root, Black Cohosh and (my favorite) Fairy Candles— Actaea simplex was formerly categorized in taxonomic circles as Cimicifuga simplex (sim-e- sih-few-gah sim-plex); a delightful tongue-twister that, once mastered, I actually came to adore (In fact, I still refer to her by the original botanical name – the Latin just seems to capture her… Je ne sais quoi). Native to the moist, cool woodlands of eastern North America, this statuesque beauty will easily reach 4-6′ tall — spikes in full bloom— when she’s given the conditions she prefers. Hardy in USDA zones 4-8, Actaea simplex ’Hillside Black Beauty’, and the similarly beautiful ‘Brunette’, require a consistently moist and amply shaded location to really strut their stuff. Too much sun will bleach and burn-out her gorgeous foliage , and dry soil will quickly do her in.

It’s a shame the fragrance of Actaea simplex’s blossoms can not be transmitted electronically. I wish you could sample the delicious scent…

A classy beauty like this demands fine company. And with her year-round, velvety, maroon attire, chartreuse and gold foliage make gorgeous music with her in the low-light. I like to combine the dark foliage of  A. simplex ’Hillside Black Beauty’ and ‘Brunette’ with low, spreading, golden Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ or ‘Aureola’), mound-shaped Hosta ‘August Moon’, and for serious drama, I play her against my favorite chartreuse -stunner, Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’ (European elder). Yes, Actaea simplex ’Hillside Black Beauty’ is a true garden bombshell – but of the dark variety, not the blonde— like Hedy Lamarr. She’s sultry, she’s elegant, and she really knows how to bring down the house in style….

Inspiration: Hedy Lamarr {image: still from ‘The Strange Woman’ United Artists 1946 (public domain)- via improbable research}

Hedy Lamarr {Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1938 – image via zimbio.com}

Hedy Lamarr {image via zimbio.com}

Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian-born actress popular in films of the 1930s and 40s. Read more about Hedy Lamarr on her IMDB page by clicking here.

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Article and photos (excepting portraits of Hedy Lamarr) are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Hydrangea Paniculata ‘Limelight’: Gorgeous Color & Fragrance in the Vase & Late Summer Beauty in the Garden…

August 27th, 2010 Comments Off

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ in the studio – Beautiful color and fragrance

When it comes to romance in the garden, Hydrangea paniculata is never wishy-washy about where she stands. Voluptuous, lacy and fragrant; members of the panicled hydrangea clan are unabashedly feminine. Sometimes blushing and always glowing —the air about her buzzing with busy-bee suitors— my beautiful, chartreuse-tinted Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ overflows her boundaries; spilling into the walkway in a delightful disarray. She’s an old-fashioned bombshell, and I think she knows it. I love to gather her blossoms by the armful… Filling vases for my studio and dining room table, and a great, big urn for beside the bed. Although it’s hard to resist cutting every last bloom, I leave plenty to enjoy in the garden later; watching as they tint toward rose at the edge of summer, and then slowly bleach to flaxen blond in mid-winter…

Leather and Lace – Panicle Hydrangea and Copper Beech

But wait… Who is Hydrangea paniculata’s handsome mate? Well, opposites attract, of course. The dark and masculine, leather-leafed fellow standing beside our lacy-lady in the entry garden is…  None other than Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’; a decidedly Gothic-looking, European copper beech. Both partners in this passionate marriage are hardy in USDA zones 4-8. And while Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ will quickly attain a modest 6-10′ mature size, Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’ will continue to slowly stretch to 40′ or more —tall of course, as well as dark and handsome! Both plants prefer a relatively neutral, moist but well-drained soil, rich in organic material. Combined with late blooming blue-violet flowers, such as monkshood and asters, and a few tawny, vertical grasses, they make quite a fashionable pair in autumn…

A Gothic Love Affair – Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ paired with Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’, here in the entry garden at Ferncliff…

Unabashedly Romantic – Masculine and Feminine Extremes in the Garden

Still beautiful in the quiet season – Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limlight’ in snow…

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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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Savoring Summer: Harvesting and Drying The Garden’s Finest Herbal Treasures…

August 19th, 2010 § 4

Drying Herbs in the Stairwell

One of the great pleasures of living in New England is, of course, the seasons. The natural world operates on a distinct schedule here, and all life flows along with it at a steady pace. On these late August days, the song of the hermit thrush —an ever-present twilight melody enjoyed throughout summer— begins to fade as flocks of songbirds gather for migration before the full moon. And the sun, shifting position and setting earlier each day on the horizon, glimmers low and gold in the trees now. Although the noontime hours of late summer can be quite hot, and evenings are still spent bare-shouldered, it won’t be long before downy quilts and lavender-scented sweaters are pulled from closet shelves.

August is a month of preserving; of putting up and setting things by. Jars of jam and pickled produce form neat rows in the cupboards, and my freezer is packed wall-to-wall with summertime’s bounty. This is the time of year when my voluptuous herb garden literally spills from its neatly-edged confines. Borders? Fiddle-dee-dee, the mint seems to say, as it runs wildly wherever it may. But I never mind a bit of excess in the garden -it’s so nice to have plenty to spare. Mint, rosemary, basil, thyme, lavender and lemon verbena; their scents perfume my fingers and fill the cellar stairwell with beautiful fragrance. …

Freshly-harvested basil – Tied with twine for drying…

Basil and Mint Bundles

With dry air and scant rain, August is a great month to begin harvesting and drying herbs for winter. In the coming months, I will be grateful for a hint of summertime’s pleasures in warm cups of tea and fragrant breakfast scones. Drying herbs is simple and economical; an easy way to trim your monthly grocery budget and add flavor to daily meals. Have a look at the price of dried, organic basil next time you visit a grocery store. If you need a bit of convincing before bundling up the harvest and making room in your rafters, that little bit of sticker-shock should do the trick.

I grow herbs in my potager amongst the vegetables, on my terrace in containers, and throughout the ornamental gardens as well. Once the morning dew has dried —usually by 10am— I head outside with harvest baskets to gather whatever tempts my eye. Some days, I focus on aromatic herbs for cooking; including basil, rosemary, thyme and mint. But I also keep other uses in mind; gathering lavender, bergamot and hyssop for scenting oils, soaps, and sachets. Dried bundles of artemisia, tansy, Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod and other herbs are also useful for wreaths, swags and dried flower arrangements. Once the cellar stairwell and loft are filled —mostly with herbs for teas and cooking— I string clothesline in my dry cellar to hang bunches of herbs, protecting them from dust with loose paper bag ‘hoods’…

Herbs in the Potager

Keep potted herbs attractive by frequently pruning. More than you need? Try drying bundles to use in recipes —including soup and salad dressing— throughout the winter…

Once I’ve collected herbs, I spread them out on the terrace and pick them over; stripping lower leaves and forming small bundles. I like to use natural twine to tie the herbs together, but I will use recycled rubber-bands as well; particularly for large bouquets of flowering herbs. Once bundled up, I hang the herbs in a dry, dark place. When they have completely dry-cured, I will strip the leaves from the stems and store the herbs in tightly sealed jars (clear is fine for closed cupboards – use dark glass if storing herbs in brightly-lit spaces). Although I try to harvest most culinary herbs before flowering —for best flavor— I do allow some herbs to blossom, in order to provide pollen for bees and other beneficial insects in my garden. Flowering herbs make great companion plants in the potager…

Bundles of herbs are picked over and thinned, then bound together with twine…

Harvesting Herbs in Late Morning, After the Dew Has Throughly Dried

Sorting and Bundling Herbs in My Kitchen

Some sage is left to flower in the potager. Other plants are kept tightly pruned through regular harvests…

Rosemary is a beautiful, as well as a useful herb. I like keeping aromatic herbs near my door, where I brush against them as I come and go. Here, I can quickly snip bits to flavor teas, salad dressings or garnish cocktails…

And as wonderful as dried herbs are in winter, there’s nothing quite like the flavor of fresh rosemary and basil —is there? I keep pots of herbs just outside my kitchen door all summer long, where I can easily access them if I need to add a sprig to a special sauce or evening cocktail. Come late autumn, I will bring the potted rosemary inside to my windowsill, and in late September, I will begin sowing flats of basil to grow indoors beneath lights.

Yes, I enjoy thinking ahead to the coming seasons, but I’ve never been much of a pleasure-delayer at heart. I believe that being prepared for the future should never detract from the importance of the present moment. From lemon-mint sun tea and caprese salad with fresh basil at lunchtime to ice-cold mojitos and herb-infused ice cream enjoyed by the light of the moon; savor the rich tastes and sweet smells of the season while you can…

Lemon-Mint Sun Tea (Click Here for Post and Recipe)

Mentha piperita (Peppermint flowering in the garden)

Cuban Mint Julep (aka the mojito) – Click here for recipe and story

Some great herb gardening resources to give as gifts, add to a wish-list or purchase for your own horticultural and culinary bookshelves…

Gardening with Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead

The Herbal Kitchen by Jerry Traunfeld

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

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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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Ruby-Red, Fragrant Fraises des Bois: Life’s Sweetest Little Luxuries…

July 2nd, 2010 § 5

Fraises des Bois, or alpine strawberries, offer a continuous supply of summertime fruit – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Oh the magic of Fraises des Bois! To me, they look as if they belong at the center of a tiny table in an enchanted forest; one set just for leprechauns, fairies, nymphs and elves. Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are fragrant, delicious and easy to grow. Sometimes called ‘the wood strawberry’, this rose-relative is a separate species from the common garden strawberry, (Fragaria x ananassa), and is native to North America, Europe, northern Africa and some parts of Asia. Unlike their runner-forming cousins, these lovely mounded plants produce fruit throughout the growing season – spring to fall. Many cultivars are available, including the delightful red ‘Alexandra’ and ‘Mignonette’, and for the more kaleidoscopic plate, there are even white and yellow alpine strawberries! Strawberries of all kinds are best planted out to the garden in early spring – but it is important to prepare the site well in advance (unless you are growing in containers). So if you would like to grow alpines in your potager next year – read on….

Alpine strawberries are herbaceous perennials (the foliage dies back in fall and then returns from hardy roots in spring). Many cultivars are very cold hardy (some to -30 degrees fahrenheit) and they can be grown directly in the garden, or in containers – especially strawberry planters – on decks, patios, steps and terraces (if grown in containers, the berry plants are best moved indoors for overwintering in cold climates). Alpine strawberries are easy-care perennials, and they are usually propagated from seed (collected or purchased),  or easier yet, by division of plants. All strawberries prefer slightly acidic (pH 6-6.5), hummus-rich, well-drained soil. Growing strawberries on a slight slope  –raised bed or in containers– helps to provide both drainage and air-circulation. When grown directly in the garden (as I grow mine), spacing plants at least 16″ apart will result in best fruit production. Mulch is important both to protect the shallow roots from dehydration and temperature fluctuations. In winter, I heap mounds of clean straw over alpine and common strawberry plants, and I try to protect them from late spring frosts with removable row covers (though as patches increase in size, this becomes much less feasible). Alpine strawberry plants can and should be divided every few years – in cold climates this is best done in early spring so that the root systems will have time to establish. Early fall division is also possible, though much riskier in zones north of USDA 6. When the task is undertaken early in the season, the easiest way to make more alpine strawberries is through division of the underground stolons (though collecting and drying seed for germinating indoors works too, if you are patient). I fertilize all strawberry plants with good compost, and I regularly test the soil in all of my garden beds to assure a proper balance of key nutrients (particularly phosphorus)…

The jewel-like color of the fruit, sensational fragrance and sweet flavor more than compensate for the tiny size of alpine strawberries. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Alpine strawberry blossoms ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Frais des Bois at harvest ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Competition for alpine strawberries comes in many forms; from weeds and insects to chipmunks, mice and birds. In my garden, the boisterous mocking bird clan living in the adjacent scrub seems particularly interested my strawberry crop this year. I do love their singing and bug catching, but I wish the mocking birds, robins and other winged-robbers would stay away from my strawberries! Now, don’t you feel too bad for my feathered friends – they have plenty of wild elderberries (Samubus canadensis), bramble berries and bugs to feast upon. If birds are snagging your berries, you can always cover them with safe Bird Netting, which allows air flow and pollinating bees to fly in and out. Alternately you could use insect pop-ups (such as those linked below) set in place when berries are close to harvest, and then removed at intervals for critical wind and bee pollination. Slugs can be a real problem during rainy periods (copper edged raised beds, beer traps and diatomaceous earth are some commonly used deterrents), and insects –particularly sap beetles, tarnished plant bugs and bud weevils — are always an issue with strawberries of all kinds. Never apply an insecticide, even an organic insecticide, during bloom periods, as you will kill beneficial insects (including our precious honeybees) along with the less desirable, ‘bad bugs’.  For backyard berry growers, I advise hand-picking insects and the limited use of row covers (see below) when berries are close to ripe.

For more on berry growing, check out my review of Barbara Bowlings excellent Berry Grower’s Companion (linked here) available through Barnes & Noble online. And say tuned… More berry growing tips will be coming soon!

Containers with pockets, like the one pictured from Amazon above, are a great way to grow alpine strawberries.

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Article and photographs, (excepting last four by affiliates), © 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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