Beautiful, North American Native Plants: A Springtime Garden, Gone Wild . . .

May 3rd, 2013 Comments Off

Lindera_benzoin_North_American_Native_Spicebush_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.comGolden droplets of wild wonder: Lindera benzoin. Read about the sunny Spicebush here.

Although my garden contains a wide variety of plants from many different parts of the world, come springtime, native plants usually steal the spotlight. The earliest blooming shrubs and trees, as well as many of the flowering ground covers and springtime ephemerals, are North Americans. I believe that it’s important to create gardens in the spirit of place. This point of view is particularly relevant when gardening in rural locations; where the use of native plants not only helps to establish design context, but also helps to protect the native habitat by avoiding the inclusion of aggressive foreign, and potentially invasive species. When it comes to designing gardens, I think it’s lovely to go a little wild . . .

Viola-labradorica-ⓒ-michaela-thegardenerseden Lovely in flower and leaf, the Labrador Violet (Viola labradorica), is one of my favorite, native ground covers. Read more about this beauty here.

With so many gorgeous, North American plants to choose from, it’s possible to create a dynamic, four season design without using any foreign plants at all. However, a gardener needn’t be a purist to both protect and enjoy native plants and wild habitat. I like to combine both native and non-native (but of course non-invasive and non-aggressive), species in my garden designs. Pictured in this post are three of my favorite, early spring bloomers; all garden-worthy, North American natives: Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and Labrador Violet  (Viola labradorica). I’ve profiled the lovely, Labrador Violet, as well as the season-spanning Spicebush, our beautiful, North American Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), and other, native, spring-bloomers before. Click back to my previous post on ephemeral, woodland wildflowers (here), for more wild favorites and some great resources for planning a native garden of your own . . .

Sanguinaria_canadensis_North_American_Bloodroot_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.com White stars adrift on the garden floor: Sanguinaria canadensis. Beautiful Bloodroot. Click here for more information.

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

November 29th, 2012 Comments Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lupine Leaf: Green Star in a Sea of Sparkling Crystals 

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

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

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

Garden Design: Michaela Medina Harlow

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

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Wild Blue: The Beauty of Baptisia…

June 7th, 2012 § 3

The Beauty of North American Native Plants: Wild Blue Indigo (Baptisia australis) & Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus) in My Garden. This Flowering Combo is Backed Up by “Nativars” (Native Plant Cultivars): Juniperus virginiana ‘Grey Owl’ & Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’

In my work as garden designer, I often find myself doing overtime as PR agent for native plants. Many North American wildflowers make beautiful additions to the garden, and yet the natives continue to struggle with “weedy” and “seedy” reputations. Of course, not all wild things are suitable for domesticated gardens and perennial borders, but some are quite sensational. When I encounter resistance, I like to pull out a few show-stopping design combos —like the one pictured above— to convince my more dubious clients. Baptisia —sometimes called false indigo or wild indigo— is such a beautiful and well-known perennial that I frequently need to remind even experienced gardeners that it is actually a North American native plant.

Wild Blue Indio and Goat’s Beard Together Again, in Another Garden Room, with North American Native, Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

There are many beautiful species within the Baptisia genus; including some magnificent natural hybrids. The most familiar of the group, Baptisia australis (Wild Blue Indigo or Blue False Indigo), is a long-standing favorite among perennial gardeners. Hardy in USDA zones 4-9, Wild Indigo is an easy-to-please, long-lived beauty. Baptisia australis and cultivars (B. australis ‘Purple Smoke’ is one of my favorites) all prefer full to partial sun and deep, moist, well-drained soil. However, I’ve used Wild Blue Indigo in semi-shade and drier sites with great success. Although it isn’t a fast-growing plant, in ideal conditions, Baptisia australis will reach 3-4′ in height, with about a 3′ spread within 3 or 4 years. Do plan well and give it plenty of space; due to its deep root system, it resents transplanting (but is easily propagated, and freely self-sows from seed). The violet blue flowers bloom in June here in Vermont, and they combine well with many other garden plants; including perennial classics like herbaceous peonies (Paeonia lactiflora), fellow June-blooming natives like the Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus) pictured above, and woody plants such as dark-maroon-leafed Ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ (a “nativar”, or native plant cultivar). After blooming, the grey-green foliage adds both color and texture to the garden, and later in summer, blackened seed pods add autumn-garden interest.

In the garden, Baptisia australis —and other species within the genus— is an important native plant for pollinators; including butterflies, bumblebees and other native bees. Although I leave most of the flowers standing in my perennial borders, I grow more than enough to enjoy some spiky blue-violet blossoms indoors as well. Wild Blue Indigo is also one of my favorite cut-flowers; a long lasting, mood-beauty for the vase…

Read More About Fresh-Cut Flower Care by Clicking Here

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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From April Showers to May Flowers…

May 1st, 2012 Comments Off

Trout lily (Erythronium tuolumnense), Daffodils (Narcissus ‘Snipe’), Coral Bell Leaves (Heuchera americana) and Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume’). (Click here to read more about Erythronium)

Happy May Day! Here in Vermont, we begin the new month with a day of much-needed rain.

May is a busy month for gardeners. Thirty one days of planning, prepping, planting, weeding and harvesting early crops. Luckily, longer days make all of our harried, summer-time preparations possible. Temperatures in the northeast can still be quite chilly at this time of year and I always check the forecast on clear nights and protect tender plants when the mercury drops.

Still, as we steadily wind our way toward summer, the May nights grow warmer and sweeter. We shed our layers, kick off shoes and wiggle our bare toes in newly-mown grass. It’s May Day at last, and the gardener celebrates; dancing to the percussive beat of raindrops and the symphony of birds in springtime song…

Lovely, dark, Lenten Rose (Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’) Blooms Along the Mossy Stone Wall (Click here to read more about the Lenten Rose)

Trout Lilies Blossom Amongst Fragrant Blue Woodland Phlox (P. divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume)

With Clusters of Pale, Pinkish-Hued Sisters Nearby (Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’)

Pulmonaria saccharata ‘Raspberry Splash’ and Narcissus, Dance in the Wind-Driven Rain (Click here to read more about Pulmonaria)

The Return of Cooler Temps Extends the Bloom-Time of This Deliciously Fragrant Burkwood Viburnum (V. x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’)

Creamy-White Witch Alder Blossoms (Fothergilla major ‘Mt. Airy’) and Golden Spicebush Buds (Lindera benzoin) Add Scent to the Damp, Thick Air. (Click here, and also here, to read more about season-spanning beauty of North American native Witch Alder, and click here to read more about North American native Spicebush)

And at the Secret Garden Door, a Water Bowl Catches Raindrops as They Bounce from the Mossy Rock

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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Sticks, Stones & Magical Forest Mystery

December 28th, 2011 § 4

Sticks and Stones: A Forest of Mystery 

Winter has arrived —swirling snowflakes and glazed pools all around— and yet the earth remains open in much of New England. Patches of snow dot my Vermont hillside, but elsewhere —in fields and forested areas nearby— the ground has yet to freeze and there’s nary a trace of white stuff. Woodland walks through leaf-stewn paths reveal glowing green moss and shining, emerald-colored Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides).

With long shadows stretching out in winter light, this week of mild weather has provided a perfect opportunity to explore the quiet of nature. And what delights have I found? Along the woodland pathways of someone else’s forest, I discovered tiny surprises crafted from sticks, stones and seed pods. Inspired by the magic of this mystery forest, I found myself falling in love all over again with the simple, artistic power of sticks and stones …

More artistic inspiration —and beautiful, master works in stick and stone— may be found in these long-time, favorite books …

Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature

Dan Snow: Listening to Stone

Stone by Design: The Artistry of Lew French

Early Winter Reflections

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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Autumn’s Burning Beauty: Flame Grass Heats Up the Mid-October Garden …

October 16th, 2011 Comments Off

Showing Off Ribbon-Candy Colors in My Garden: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ (Planted with Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’/'Monlo’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ on Left. That’s Rhus typhina, Occurring in a Natural Stand Behind the Border)

If you’ve been following this journal for awhile, you are probably quite familiar with my passion for the sensual beauty of ornamental grass (see previous post here). When it comes to four season garden design, the versatility of these graceful perennials can’t be beat. There are ornamental grasses for sun, for shade, for dry places and even bogs. Some species of grass grow to become great giants –towering well over six feet— and others are diminutive as little leprechauns. I love them all, and use ornamental grasses in most every garden I design. Of course, to every thing there is a season, and for every time of year, I do have a favorite. In the autumn landscape, Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’) is my top choice…

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ Living Up to the ‘Flame Grass’ Moniker! Planted Here in My Meadow-Edge Garden with Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’, Viburnum trilobum ‘J.N. Select/Redwing’ and in the foreground, Juniperus x Pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’ 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ is a mid-sized ornamental grass; growing to a height of approximately four or five feet, with similar —or less—spread. Although this species will tolerate a bit of shade, best results are achieved by positioning Flame Grass in full sun and well-drained soil. Graceful and attractive throughout the growing season, Flame Grass really begins to strut her stuff in August, when the shimmering, silvery-plum inflorescences appear. As temperatures drop and light changes, the color of this grass heats up like an autumn bonfire.

Though beautiful on its own, I prefer to use Flame Grass in combination with other perennials, deciduous trees/shrubs and conifers to bring out her ribbon-candy-like colors (blue tinted Picea pungens and many Juniper species are particularly lovely conifer companions for this Maiden Grass). Backed up by deep maroon or red, this autumn stunner becomes nearly electric (Physocarpus opufolius ‘Diablo’ or ‘Summer Wine’ and Rhus typhina provide a stunning backdrop for ornamental grass). The fiery vermillion and scarlet shades found in many Viburnum species play equally well with Flame Grass, as do violet-purple flowers (think autumn blooming, blue asters, deep purple monkshood, and darker flowered, maroon-tinted mums).

Though Flame Grass (Miscanthus purpurascens) is Beautiful Planted Solo, Combining This Autumn Beauty with Perennials (like the Amsonia illustris, bright yellow on the left) Colorful Fall Shrubs (like the still-green Fothergilla gardenii in this grouping), as well as Evergreen Trees and Shrubs (like this Juniperus x Pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’) Makes for Truly Spectacular Fall Garden Design (Photo of My Front Entry Garden in Mid-October)

Given the stunning beauty of Flame Grass, I’m always surprised by how difficult it is to find at nurseries. In fact, I’ve had such a hard time locating this particular cultivar of Maiden Grass, that I’ve taken to growing my own from divisions, for use in my clients’ gardens. It should be noted that some cultivars within the species Miscanthus sinensis (commonly known as Eulalia Grass or Maiden Grass) can become aggressive in warmer climates, and although not restricted, a few are considered potentially invasive, in certain areas only, by the USDA. If you are gardening in the more southerly regions of North America, this is a situation for you to monitor and consider. However most forms of Maiden Grass are only marginally hardy in colder climates (most are USDA listed for zones 5-9), and are therefore unlikely to become weedy or invasive in northern areas. In my own Vermont garden, and in the New England gardens under my care, the Maiden Grass species —and M. sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ in particular— is well mannered and incredibly useful from a design standpoint.

Morphing to a Beautiful Burnt-Orange, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ Catches Frost, Ice and Snow, Remaining an Alluring Feature in the Winter Garden

Flame Grass –To the Front, Right and Center, of My Garden– with Early Snow. For More Winter Garden Design Images and Ideas, Click Back to This Post.

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

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

October 12th, 2011 § 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Notes on Nature’s Bold Artistry: Brilliant, Blooming Butterfly Weed & Her Colorfully Patterned, Wild Guests …

July 9th, 2011 § 4

Asclepias tuberosa – Our Beautiful, Native Butterfly Weed Catches the Golden Light of Summertime Along the Wildflower Walk

In search of inspiration for your next creative project; pattern, form or color play? Sometimes, you needn’t look further for fresh ideas than your own backyard! While out admiring the blooming butterfly weed in my Wildflower Walk yesterday, I happened to notice five examples of nature’s bold artistry on one garden plant. Asclepias tuberosa —as our North American, native butterfly weed is known in the botanical world— blooms in beautiful clusters of bright, citrus-punch orange. The tiny, nectar-loaded blossoms are popular with pollinators of all kinds; including bees, butterflies —like the fritillary pictured below— and hummingbirds. But other parts of this plant serve important purposes to wildlife as well. The leaves and stems of both butterfly weed and milkweed  —filled with sticky sap— provide sustenance to butterfly caterpillars; including the boldly striped larvae of the beautiful Monarch Butterfly. Asclepias sap is toxic to many of this caterpillar’s predators, providing the insect with natural defense. Small Milkweed Bugs —colored in bold red and black patterns— also look to Asclepias species for food; feeding upon the seed of this important native plant. Lady luck must have been walking with me yesterday as I strolled through the garden, because I happened upon not only eye-popping, orange blossoms, but wild black & yellow stripes and bold, modernist patterns all on one plant … talk about artistic inspiration!

A Bumble Bee and Fritillary Butterfly Share the Same Dining Table at Their Local Asclepias tuberosa

Last summer, I featured this beautiful, long-blooming summertime flower  —Asclepias tuberosa—  in a plant profile. You can view additonal photos of butterfly weed in flower, and find more about this wonderful garden-worthy member of the milkweed family, by clicking back to that profile post here.

A Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar (Danus plexippus) in my garden, munches on its favorite host-plant:  Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed). I am more than happy to plant plenty of flowers for both of us!

Yellow and Black on Orange: Another Beautiful & Colorful Guest, the North American Native Bumble Bee, Visits Asclepias tuberosa in Search of Sustenance 

And on the same plant, a Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmii) scurries about beneath the leaves. This brightly colored bug feeds upon the seeds of milkweed and butterfly weed. Because milkweed is considered an agricultural weed, this insect is often regarded as a beneficial

Fritillary Butterflies Flock to the Nectar in Asclepias tuberosa – No Wonder It’s Commonly Called Butterfly Weed!

Asclepias tuberosa makes a great garden plant: pictured here along the Wildflower Walk with Amsonia hubrichitii, Asters, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ and Clethra Alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’. Try it in combination with blue and violet flowers for a bold contrast. Or cool things off with a bit of silver, and white!

To read more about Asclepias tuberosa and its cultural preferences click here.

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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Native Pollinators: A Close Up Look at The Humble Bumble Bee …

July 7th, 2011 § 1

Bumble Bee on Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’ (Speedwell)

Now that summer is in full-swing, my garden is just buzzing; filled with pollinators of all kinds. And on warm, sunny mornings, the Wildflower Walk literally hums with the sound of bumble bees. This fuzzy, sweet-looking insect is rarely aggressive and only stings when it is threatened with harm. Like honeybees, bumble bees are very important pollinators of our agricultural crops and wild plants. But unlike the naturalized, European honeybee, our North American native bumble bee does not keep substantial quantities of honey in its hive. Because they only store enough food to support the colony for a couple of days, bumble bees must continuously forage when not in hibernation. All bees, including the bumble bee, are extremely sensitive to pesticides —including organic insecticides— and their health and welfare, so directly tied to our own, is critically dependent upon responsible garden and farm practices.

Bumble bees visit many kinds of flowers throughout the growing season. But like all pollinators, bumble bees do prefer some blossoms more than others. When certain plant species are blooming —particularly Ajuga reptans, Veronica, Salvia and Lespedeza— my garden is literally buzzing with activity. Like honeybees, bumble bees are very effective pollinators; gathering from one or two species at a time (this behavior is known as constancy, and it’s key to the pollination of fruits and vegetables we humans depend upon). Bumble bees and other bees communicate with one another in various ways. Ever wonder how a bee knows where to go for food? Bumble bees actually let one another know which flowers have already been visited by marking those blossoms with scent. These fascinating insects have a language all their own; one we are only just beginning to understand …

When I snapped the photo above —amused by the sight of a bumble bee raising one of its middle legs— I thought perhaps it was stretching. Surprise, surprise! I recently learned that this is a defensive behavior. The bumble bee was warning me to back off, because I (and my camera lens) got too close for comfort!

Recently, while out capturing images of early morning bumble bees visiting the blue Speedwell (Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’) along the Wildflower Walk, I noticed a bee raising one of its middle legs. It struck me as amusing, and as I came in closer for a shot, the bee extended its leg even further; looking a lot like a karate kick! After downloading the photos, curiosity got the better of me and —doing a bit of research on the fantastic bumblebee.org website— I discovered that by raising its leg, the bumble bee was actually trying tell me that I’d come a bit too close for its comfort. The bee wanted me to move away, but ignorant of its social cues, I came even closer! What I thought a fascinating experience was actually quite unpleasant for the bee, and it was striking a defensive pose. Sorry friend! I’ll pay much closer attention to your signals next time.

Do you enjoy listening to the hum of bumble bees on a summer day? Invite these native pollinators into your garden by providing a steady supply of blossoms throughout the growing season. Some early blooming spring flowers for bumble bees: Salix discolorHamamelis vernalis, Hamamelis x intermediaVacciniumViburnumCercisPierisEnkianthusAjuga reptans, CrocusRhododendron and spring blooming Erica and Calluna. And to attract bumble bees later in the season, try planting some of the following summer and fall blooming flowers for bumblers: Lupine, Aquilegia, Nepeta, Aesculus, CornusVeronica, Asclepias species, Perovskia, Lespedeza thunbergii, Clethera alnifolia, Hamamelis virginiana, Itea virginica, Sedum, Asteraceae, Monarda, Agastache, Penstemon, Lavendula, Mentha, Allium, Stachys, Althea (single flowered), Lavendula, Valeriana, Salvia, Thymus and most other herbs. Check out the links below for more flower lists and information on supporting bees of all kinds in your garden…

For more fascinating information about the humble bumble, visit the bumblebee.org website by clicking here.

And for information on the honeybee, and other bees —plus great tips and useful information for supporting all pollinators— visit thehoneybeeconservancy.org by clicking here.

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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Strolling Along the Wildflower Walk …

July 6th, 2011 Comments Off

A Stroll Through the Wildflower Walk in Late Afternoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Native Beauty of the Forest Understory: Our Graceful, Flowering Dogwood …

May 31st, 2011 § 2

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) Photograph ⓒ Tim Geiss

In my work as a garden designer, I am constantly singing the praises of native plants to my clients; encouraging them to soften the edges of their landscape by blurring the boundary between the wild and tame. As an unofficial PR agent for our beautiful  native trees and shrubs, I have to say that Cornus florida (our North American native, Flowering Dogwood), is one of the super-stars in my book. All I need do is show photos of this graceful beauty in blossom, and she’s in…

Horizontal Branching Pattern Gives this Native Tree a Graceful Presence in the Forest Understory or Garden Edge. Tim Geiss

Beautifully Formed, Delicate White Bracts. Tim Geiss

Dogwood Tim Geiss

Part of Cornus florida’s timeless appeal can be attributed to her poetic, horizontal branching pattern. When positioned in her preferred location —a semi-shaded spot with evenly moist, woodsy, acidic, well drained soil— Flowering Dogwood’s natural structure and springtime bloom is truly stunning. And in addition to her fine April/May show —which also provides sustenance to pollinators of all kinds— Flowing Dogwood shines again in autumn, when she produces colorful red fruits (attractive to many birds) and scarlet foliage. Once mature, the graceful, tiered branches of Flowering Dogwood catch snow and ice in winter, adding beauty to the barren landscape.

Native to the understory of moist, deciduous, North American forests from southern New England all the way down to Florida, and west to Ontario, Canada and the Texas/Mexico border (USDA zones 4/5-9), Cornus florida is a perfect landscape-sized tree; reaching an average height of 25-35′, with a 20′ spread. This isn’t the right species for hot, dry places in full-sun or windy, barren sites. When positioned in such a location Cornus florida will struggle and suffer; never achieving her full glory. When under stress, Flowering Dogwood is more susceptible to diseases; including borers, cankers, powdery mildew, anthracnose. In more exposed spots —or marginally hardy zones– I prefer to plant C. florida x C. kousa hybrids; including cultivars ‘Constellation’ and ‘Ruth Ellen’.  The more durable —and equally lovely, though non-native— Cornus kousa (Kousa Dogwood is native to Asia and hardy in USDA zones 4b-8) is an excellent choice for four-season landscape interest as well. Our other native, flowering dogwood, Cornus alternifolia, is also quite hardy (USDA zones 3-7), but with a distinctly different look.

Given the proper site —as pictured here at the shady edge of a clearing— Cornus florida is a stunning landscape tree. Photo ⓒ Tim Geiss

Special Thanks to Tim Geiss for All of the Beautiful Cornus Florida Photographs in This Post

Original Zone and Cultural Detail Resource: Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants

Article ⓒ 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!

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Please Forgive Me, If I Stop and Stare… But Your Beauty, In This Light, Just Takes My Breath Away…

May 3rd, 2011 § 6

Like Droplets of Gold: Honey-Scented Blossoms of Lindera benzoin

Lingering light and warm breezes… A sweet scent like honey fills the air. It’s springtime, and suddenly I’m falling in love all over again. Lindera, pardon me if I stop and stare… But your beauty, in this light, just takes my breath away.

Some evenings in the garden are perfection: the first blossoms of Lindera benzoin —glistening droplets of pure gold— the buzz of drunken bees, and the day’s radiant afterglow…

Forest Edge at Ferncliff

Lindera benzoin – North American Native Spice Bush. Golden in Spring and Again in Autumn…

Read more about the extraordinary, season-spanning beauty of North American native spicebush, in my plant profile post:

“Mellow Yellow: Lovely Lindera Benzoin, North American Native Spicebush” (click here)

Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Ephemeral Woodland Wildflowers & Return of the Ethereal Hermit Thrush…

April 25th, 2011 § 22

Red Trillium (Trillium erectum)

There’s no place quite like New England for experiencing three seasons in one day. Sunday morning I rose to find a chilly house and snow covered gardens. Soon –with the sun shining brightly outside– temperatures soared to 63°. Breakfast in the snowy garden … Well, why not? I threw open the entryway doors, soaked up the warm rays, and sipped my morning coffee.

As I sat gazing upon the blushing hillside, taking in the quiet still of morning air, I heard a sweet, long-anticipated sound in the distance. Rising and falling —a mystery in shadowy hemlock boughs— the ethereal song of the hermit thrush echoed through the trees. Flute-like and gently warbling, the sound of this bird’s melancholy voice always bring tears to my eyes. All thrushes have beautiful songs —I’m particularly fond of the twilight serenade of the veery and the haunting, melodic and supremely beautiful voice of the wood thrush— but the return of the hermit to my mountain top signals spring like nothing else. The hermit thrush is the sound of childhood memory —dusky riverbeds and humid, rainy mornings— and it will always be my favorite (click on name of bird to listen to its song at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology online).

Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot) takes its name from the bright red sap of its roots

This morning, seduced by woodland’s springtime song, I pulled on my raincoat and ventured into the damp darkness —filled with the musky scent of leaf mold and dewy moss— to find an explosion of life emerging on the forest floor. Busy bees hummed about in the mist and silver-tipped fiddleheads shimmered in the dim light. The first two flowers I spotted were Red Trillium (Trillium erectum, pictured at top of article) and Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, above). Sometimes called ‘Stinking Benjamin’ due to its odor (personally, I don’t find it all that offensive, even close-up), Trillium erectum blooms a beautiful, maroon-red color. Hardy in USDA zones 3-9, the trilliums —members of the lily family— prefer moist woodland soil and make lovely shade garden plants (be sure to purchase trillium from a reputable grower – never dig plants from the wild). Due to its summer-time dormancy, this perennial is best combined with other shade plants. Red and White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) are particularly lovely companions to lady fern (Athyrium filix feminina) and cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea).

The beautiful, starry flowers of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, pictured above) are among the earliest blossoms both in my garden and surrounding forest (USDA zone 3-9). Rich in pollen, early-flowering Bloodroot flowers are an important source of food for bees and pollinating flies. Although its white flowers are lovely in combination with many early-blooming bulbs and perennials, this is one springtime ephemeral that needs no leafly companion for summer-time camouflage. Bloodroot’s intricately-edged, long-lasting leaves make an excellent ground-cover in shady situations (particularly beneath shrubs and trees, in well-drained soil).

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) – one of the earliest blooming North American wildflowers in my forest

The last flower I spotted this morning was the charming Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria, pictured above). Dutchman’s Breeches —as well as fragrant Squirrel Corn (D. canadensis), Wild Bleeding Heart (D. eximia) and other members of this lovely group of wildflowers— are an important source of springtime nectar for pollinators like bumble bees, honeybees and other long tongued bees. Various dicentra species are native to moist woodlands throughout North America (most are hardy in zones 3-8), and these delicately textured native plants make fine additions to the shade garden. Like most springtime ephemerals, the foliage yellows and withers in dormancy, so it’s best to combine these perennials with large-leafed companions (ferns, astilbe, coral bells, etc).

Trillium erectum: So what if it doesn’t smell nice! I still think it’s one of the prettiest springtime flowers

Native forest flora and fauna have always fascinated me –a childhood interest nurtured by my knowledgable woodsman father– and while growing up here in New England, I learned to identify most native plant and animal species from my dad. My love of woodland wildflowers and native plants only grows deeper with each passing year, and I enjoy sharing my passion with others. The Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center and The New England Wildflower Society are two great, non-profit, online resources for native plant enthusiasts. Learning to identify, protect and grow native plants helps support wildlife; including bee, butterfly and bird populations.

William Cullina’s Wildflowers

I’ve mentioned favorite horticultural author, William Cullina’s books here many times, and his book, Wildflowers, with The New England Wildflower Society, is never far from reach during the growing season. An excellent native plant resource for North American gardeners —including those in the west— this book serves as both an encyclopedia of plants and growers guide-book to perennial wildflowers. In honor of The Gardener’s Eden’s anniversary this month, I will be giving away a copy of this beautiful book.*

To enter, simply leave a comment on today’s post, and in your comment, name your favorite wildflower and why you love it. Be sure to correctly enter your email address so that I can contact you if you win the giveaway (your email won’t be visible to others, nor will it be shared or sold). Your entry must be received by 11:59 pm Eastern Time, Friday, April 29th. A winner will be randomly chosen from all entries received in comments, and announced 4/30 here on this post, on The Gardener’s Eden Facebook page, and also on Twitter. Due to shipping constraints, this giveaway is open to readers in the United States and Canada only.

Good Luck! xo Michaela

*This is an unsponsored giveaway- book purchased by Michaela. All reviews are purely editorial, and are based on the personal experience and opinions of this author.

congratulations to wendy, winner of william cullina’s wildflowers!

Article and 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!

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Raindrops & Sunshowers

April 17th, 2011 § 2

Stepping Out Through the Raindrops…

Early spring is a busy season for gardeners, and it’s easy to get caught up in the many chores at hand. This morning, Mother Nature sent an unexpected gift —a rainbow wrapped up in a sunshower— reminding me to slow down a bit and enjoy the season as it unfolds…

To Find an Early Morning Sunshower Delivered Unexpected Gifts…

Fothergilla gardenii’s Silvery Buds Glowing in Morning Mist…

And the Delightful Contrast of Rippling Water Moving Through the Stark Reflection of Still Barren Trees…

And the Much Anticipated Pleasure of Viburnum Bodantense ‘Dawn’s Intoxicating Fragrance…

Slows Me Down to Enjoy a Moment Between Passing Showers…

To Reflect and Observe Seasonal Changes in the Garden, Forest and Ephemeral Vernal Pools

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Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Hazy Color Drifts Carpet the Garden: Tiny Gifts of Early Spring…

April 16th, 2011 § 4

Spring Heath (Erica carnea) Begins Blooming in Early April (click here to revisit my Erica carnea plant-profile post from last year). Here, Sprawling Across the Ledge  in the Entry Garden…

The Pink, Hazy Blur of Spring Heath is Particularly Lovely Against Grey Sky and Cool Stone. On a Blustery Day, I Can’t Help but Think of Katherine and Heathcliff, Wandering the Bluffs of Wuthering Heights.

In New England, sparkling blue skies and warm, sunny days are few and far between during the month of April. More often than not, the heavens are filled with dusty grey clouds, and the tawny, bare land lies chill and dormant, waiting for milder days. Such is the scene this weekend, with cold, raw air nudging me indoors every half hour or so, to huddle beside the warmth of a blazing fire.

Yet despite the blustery wind and cool temperatures, there are signs of spring here, and color has begun to return to my cold-climate garden. Tiny, early-flowering bulbs and ground-covering blossoms —mass planted in drifts for effect— carpet the walkways and ledgy outcrops. Spring heath (Erica carnea) is the earliest of the low-growing woody plants to blossom here. You may recall my post about spring heath, “Love on the Rocks”, from last April. Bold sweeps of spring heath and various heather ( including Calluna vulgaris ‘Multicolor’ & ‘Silver Knight’) were planted in the shallow pockets of soil between the stone; combined with ‘Sea Green’ juniper (Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’), and creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug) along the entry walk. These tough, resilient shrubs and ground-covering woody plants wake up from winter slumber looking every bit as beautiful as they did when they retired for their nap. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all roll out of bed looking so lovely?

Opening at About the Same Time as Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Crocus, Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa) Carpet the Shrub and Perennial Borders Along the Walkway in my Garden…

On the other side of the entry garden, where the soil is deep, moist and rich, a mixed border of shrubs and perennials springs to life from the ground up. Eager to greet the new season, the tiny blue blossoms of Chionodoxa —commonly known as ‘Glory of the Snow’— begin forcing their way through the frozen earth before it has had time to thaw. A welcome sight to these weary eyes after such a long winter, I note that honeybees and other pollinating insects happily greet my emerging drifts of early-blooming bulbs and ground covers as well.

Native to the alpine regions of Tukey, Cyprus and Crete, Chionodoxa (a member of the hyacinth family) is extremely cold tolerant, and tough (USDA zone 4a-9b). When mass planted in moist, well-drained soil in autumn, the blue, pink or white bulbs will slowly multiply, naturalizing beautifully beneath trees and shrubs (this bulb prefers neutral soil, but will tolerate slightly acidic to slightly alkaline conditions). In cool seasons, blossoms will last approximately 4 weeks, and when planted between later-emerging perennials, glory-of-the-snow’s foliage will fade and wither without drawing attention, as it slips into summertime dormancy. This low, ground-covering bulb (2-6 inches high, depending on species and cultivar) is one of my springtime favorites. For such a tiny flower, it sure makes a big impact. In particular, I find  blue Chionodoxa especially lovely when planted in great sweeps across lawns. Viewed from a distance, masses of these blue, starry flowers form a moody haze; ethereal, wistful and undeniably romantic in a rainy landscape…

They Remind Me of Fallen Stars, Scattered on the Garden Floor.

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Article and 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!

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Forever Violets: In Memory of Elizabeth

March 24th, 2011 § 2

Viola labradorica

Elizabeth Taylor Promotional Film Still ⓒ Wallace Seawell / MGM Archive

Viola labradorica

In memory of a beautiful, talented, kind and generous woman; a glamorous inspiration to generations and one of my favorite movie stars of all time. Goodbye Elizabeth. Sleep softly for all eternity in a bed perfumed with ethereal violets; luminous as your unforgettable eyes…

Read more about North America’s beautiful Labrador Violet, and an earlier horticultural tribute to Elizabeth Taylor here.

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Article and Photos (with noted exception) ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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The Living Garden: Crow Feasting Upon Staghorn Sumac Berries…

March 13th, 2011 Comments Off

Crows feasting upon native staghorn sumac berries (Rhus typhina) in my garden this morning…

This morning while lingering over my breakfast, I heard some loud caw-caw-cawing coming from the edge of the back garden, and then noticed a pair of American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) enjoying an early meal of fruit from staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina). With its velvety branches, brilliant fall color and bright red fruits, North American native Rhus typhina will always be high on my list of favorite four-season shrubs (read my detailed plant-profile post about this under-appreciated plant here). And beyond its value as a large-scale, landscape ornamental, sumac is an important source of food for birds and other wildlife. In late winter and early sping —when natural sources of sustenance are becoming depleted— sumac fruit and seed provides food for many returning and over-wintering birds; including crow, raven, robin, thrush, cardinals, vireos, catbirds, warblers, juncos, grouse and others.

Interested in learning more about how to attract birds to your yard with landscaping? Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great site called All About Birds, with all sorts of great tips and resources. I love their free and easy to use sound-library and identification guides. Living here in the wilds of Vermont (happily without television reception) bird and wildlife watching is one of my main forms of visual entertainment, and I am particularly fond of the dark, beautiful and intelligent crow and raven. Click here to listen to the call sounds of the American Crow and take a tour of the fantastic Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Staghorn sumac fruits (Rhus typhina) persist through winter, offering sustenance to hungry over-wintering and migratory birds.

Read more about Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) here.

***

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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

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