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

May 9th, 2011 § 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jewel Box Garden – Thomas Hobbs

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

Succulent Container Gardens – Debra Lee Baldwin

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

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

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here (including Amazon.com book links and Terrain Garden & Home). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Dusting Off, Cleaning Out, Taking Stock & Getting Ready for Gardening Season… Plus Another Giveaway!

April 18th, 2011 § 33

The bright gold of Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is a cheerful welcome in a chair beside my front door. I like using natural baskets as decorative covers for inexpensive, recycled plastic flower pots. I do a similar thing with plants placed outside in summer, using everything from wooden crates and baskets to tin cans and flea market finds to add color, texture and interest to plants with less-than-attractive interior containers.

Ah, fog, mist, sunshine and April showers. What a mixed jumble the forecast is this week! My schedule seems to be at the mercy of the elements lately. But, undaunted by the moody weather, I’ve decided to take advantage of the unpredictable situation and use any rainy days or hours this week to sort through and give a spring cleaning to the growing collection of baskets and pots in my Secret Garden Room.

I love accenting my garden with colorful pots and overflowing baskets, but moving containers in and out every season results in a bit of wear and tear. Each year a few woven baskets are retired to the compost pile, and I lose one or two clay pots to a ‘whoopsie’. For the most part, I’ll replace those containers with new ones found at flea markets, tag sales, curb-side freebies and recycling centers. But sometimes a special handmade vessel catches my eye and I will add to my collection of beautiful clay pots, ceramic urns and stoneware containers. Right now I am admiring a few gorgeous pots I spotted at the lovely online garden store, Terrain, and last fall I also spied a bunch of fabulous pieces at Virginia Wyoming’s pottery studio in Westminster, Vermont. There are so many wonderful handmade pots on Etsy and local craft fairs. I like supporting independent artists when I can, and I always encourage others to do so as well…

Sometimes an Empty Vessel is as Lovely as a Container Filled with Plants. Here, a Cracked, Old, Clay Pot Adds Character to a Shady Nook Filled with Perennials (Including Kiregeshoma palmata and Astilbe) in My Garden

I Like to Create New Container Garden Vignettes Every Year. Here in Front of My Painting Studio, a Collection of Pots, Urns and Vessels Brings Color and Life to the Stone Terrace and Tobacco-Stained Barn Siding. All of these pots came from local, Vermont sources like Walker Farm and A Candle in the Night

Here’s Another Empty Vessel in the Walled Garden. I Love Contrasting a Smooth Surfaced Pot with Intricately Textured Foliage. Here, Indian Rhubarb (Darmera peltata) Provides a Lacy Skirt on this Beautiful Piece of Pottery.

Like many gardeners, I’ve recently become enamored with succulent container gardening. And why not? Succulents –and their close relatives, cacti– are so easy to care for. Last year, my studio’s steel balcony was filled with all sorts of dramatic pots (including the one pictured below), crammed with outlandish, colorful beauties and textural curiosities. Like ornamental grasses, succulents make great container plants for hot, dry spaces; think stone terraces, decks and windy balconies. Of course not all succulents are cold-climate hardy, so they must come inside if you live in a wintry region. But some cacti and succulents –including many sedum, sempervivum and others– are quite tough, and can be overwintered outdoors. Most of these fleshy, shallow-rooted plants are easy to propagate, and in cold climates, cuttings can be taken indoors before the frost in autumn and saved for next year’s container display. If you live in New England, I recommend signing up for Walker Farm’s free, succulent container gardening seminar on May 7th (click here for details). Daisy Unsicker, who will be leading the seminar with owner Karen Manix, propagates some incredible succulents at Walker Farm. Daisy creates gorgeous and inspirational succulent containers. Click here —or on the photo below— to see my previous post on “Un-Flower Pots”, for more unconventional, lower-maintenance, container gardening ideas.

A Collection of Plants (including Sempervivum and Haworthia) From Last Year’s Succulent Container Garden – Click Here for Post with More Details, Photos and Plants

A few years back, The Jewel Box Garden, one of my now-favorite container gardening books by Thomas Hobbs (author of the also gorgeous garden book, Shocking Beauty), inspired me to look at unconventional ways to use pots and vessels in my landscape. And more recently, I’ve found some fabulous ideas in Debra Lee Baldwin’s book Succulent Container Gardens from Timber Press. If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you may remember that I’ve mentioned this title before; both here and over at Barnes & Noble’s now-archived Garden Variety. This is a fabulous book, and a real must-have for any cacti/succulent lover or container gardening enthusiast.

Order Succulent Container Gardens by Debra Lee Baldwin from Amazon.com image courtesy of fabulous publisher, Timber Press

Because I love this book so much, I’ve decided to purchase one to give away as part of this blog’s second anniversary celebration. To enter, simply leave a comment on today’s post, and in your comment, tell me what you like to grow in containers: ornamental plants, vegetables/herbs, or both. 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 22nd. A winner will be randomly chosen from the entries received in comments, and announced 4/25 here, on this site’s Facebook page, and also on Twitter. Due to shipping restrictions, this giveaway is open to readers in the United States and Canada only.

Good Luck! xo Michaela

The Winner of Debra Lee Miller’s Succulent Container Gardens is Lisa N. Congratulations Lisa!

Thank you to everyone for playing. If you didn’t win, please stay tuned for another chance this month!

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Article and Photographs (with noted exception) ⓒ 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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A Warm Welcome to Spring: Blossoming Beauty at the Smith College Bulb Show…

March 20th, 2011 § 2

Tulipa ‘Blue Spectacle’

Narcissus, tulips, hyacinth, freesia, iris and clivia; from the brash and bold to the delicate and ethereal, all of spring’s finest ladies were on display this week at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. The Bulb Show at Smith College’s Lyman Conservatory —where thousands of bulbs are carefully arranged and artfully displayed with flowering trees, shrubs and exotic plants— is an annual rite of spring for this gardener. Never one for crowds, I notice that somehow I always convince myself to brave the sea of curious characters, enthusiastic gardeners and focused shutterbugs in order to take in this annual floral exhibit. The Vernal Equinox marks the beginning of spring today —March 20th at 7:21 pm ET (23:21 UT)— and in honor of her arrival, I thought it fitting to share some highlights from The Bulb Show at Smith College. Enjoy… Soon the bulbs will be in full bloom outdoors and I can hardly wait!

Welcome Sweet Springtime. We Greet You with Open Arms and Unfolding Petals!

Delicate Charm: Narcissus ‘Hawera’ (one of my favorite garden bulbs)

Wild Color: Red Hot Tulips and Violet-Colored Anemone

Exotic Beauty: Veltheimia bracteata (South African Forest Lily, Sandui)

A Stunning Combination: Iris ‘Blue Magic’, paired with Tulipa ‘Jackpot’ (must remember to try this one)

Always Elegant: Clivia miniata ‘Grandiflora’

A Rhapsody in Blue: Hyacinth, Muscari, Anemone, Ipheon and Tulipa

Color-Saturated Flamboyance: Tulipa ‘Sensual Touch’ (I love growing the more outrageous tulips, particularly the parrots, for cutting)

Dark Drama: Tulipa ‘Queen of the Night’ (one of my all-time favorites)

Exquisite Edging: Tulipa ‘Lucky Strike’ in a sea of pink, rose and purple

Delicate and Lacy: Tulipa ‘Cool Crystal’ (so girlish)

Thank you to the faculty and staff of Smith College for such a beautiful and inspirational show.

Wishing You All a Very Beautiful Spring!

xo Michaela

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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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On Magic Wings: A Visit to the Beautiful Butterfly Conservatory & Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden…

March 4th, 2011 § 6

Postman (Heliconius melpomene) – Native to Central and South America

Spring may be fast approaching, but yesterday’s cold and wintry temperatures left me craving a bit of warmth, moisture and color. I love visiting conservatories at this time of year, and fortunately, I live near several, wonderful gardens-beneath-glass. One of my favorite wintertime ‘vacation’ spots is the nearby Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in Deerfield, Massachusetts. The 8,000 foot greenhouse contains hundreds of blooming, tropical plants, a koi pond, birds, reptiles and of course, beautiful and exotic butterflies from all over the world.

Gardeners often ask me what they can do to attract beneficial insects —especially butterflies— to their gardens. Providing a constant source of nectar from cluster-blooming flowers —particularly Buddleia (butterfly bush), Asclepias (both native and tropical milkweed and butterfly weed), Verbena bonariensis, Monarda (bee balm), Phlox, Heliotrope, Aster, Scabiosa, Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s Lace), Clethra alnifolia (sweet pepperbush), Viburnum, Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed), Liatris (gayflower) and Sedum (stonecrop)is one of the keys to drawing butterflies into your garden. And although the plants mentioned here are favorites, remember that most flowering plants will attract butterflies. Try to fill your garden with blossoms from spring through fall (when migrating butterflies need to gather strength for their journey south), supplementing flowering perennials and shrubs with free-blooming annuals. And remember, many plants attractive to butterflies are also fantastic sources of food for other pollinators; including bees and hummingbirds. Native plants and grasses supply not only food for local caterpillar and butterfly populations, but also create and provide habitat for butterflies throughout their lifecycle and metamorphosis. Butterflies prefer protected spots —enclosed by nearby fences, shrubs/hedges, trees or other tall plants— where they may light on flowers without being blown away by wind. Creating a still oasis will help you to spot these beautiful creatures on calm-wind days.

Beyond design and planting, there is another critical thing to consider when gardening with butterflies in mind. Most gardeners reading this blog have adopted organic practices, but it’s important to note that even the use of organic pesticides can be harmful to butterflies and other beneficial insects. Butterflies of course begin their lives in tiny, vulnerable egg-clusters. As their life cycle progresses —and they become voracious caterpillars— many butterflies are inadvertently killed when they consume pesticide-laden foliage on host-plants; including leaves treated with organic substances like insecticidal soap and Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki). Use organic pesticides sparingly —only when absolutely necessary— and in a targeted manner. To avoid unintentionally killing butterfly caterpillars and other beneficial larvae, become familiar with garden insects, and their various stages of development. Learning about butterflies —and watching their metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to mature butterfly— is a great activity to share with children. If you live in New England, I highly recommend a visit to Magic Wings Conservatory & Garden at any time of the year.

Cattleheart (Parides iphidamus) – Native to Central and South America

Glasswing (Greta oto) – Native to Central and South America

Yet-to-be Identified.

Female Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) – Native to Asia (see male below)

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonia) – Native to Central and South America

Rice Paper (Idea leuconoe) – Native to Asia

Male Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) – Native to Asia

Owl Butterfly (Caligo eurilochus) – Native to Central and South America

Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) – Native to Central and South America

All of the butterflies pictured here —from Central/South America and Asia— were taken at Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory. I will be writing more about North American butterflies in spring and summer. My favorite butterflies from my visit to the conservatory were the Glasswing and Blue Morpho, and in my own yard, I am partial to Monarch butterflies. What are your favorites? Do you try to draw butterflies to your garden oasis?

Special Thanks to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in Deerfield Massachusetts for Information, Resources and a Lovely Afternoon!

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Article and Butterfly/Botanical Photos are ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All photographs, articles and 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.

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Beautiful Gardens Beneath Glass: Terrarium Care and Maintenance…

January 7th, 2011 § 7

The Allure of Moisture – Mist and Water Droplets Inside a Garden Beneath Glass. Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’ and Begonia ‘Trade Winds’ with Sphagnum moss and Ceramic Ornament in an Apothecary Jar.

We are expecting a bit of snow this afternoon in Vermont. Nothing major is predicted by way of accumulation, but there will likely be a blanket of white covering the ground tomorrow morning. I love snow, but there’s a long, cold season ahead of us, and I know that soon I will begin pining for the smell of moist, fresh earth. Already my skin and hair are crying out for lotions and potions. Of course, I’m not the only one craving moisture. Many of my houseplants prefer humid conditions, and in a dry house heated with a wood-burning stove, it’s difficult to meet their requirements.

I count Orchids (like this gorgeous Paphiopedilum hybrid) among my most favorite plants!

One of my favorite winter activities is terrarium making. I love to create and maintain beautiful gardens beneath glass. Many plants love the humid micro-climate provided by an enclosed terrarium, including some of my favorites: begonias, ferns, ivy, moss, orchids, and violets. And because they are relatively easy to care for, I often give terrariums as gifts. Over all, a simple Wardian case or glass jar terrarium is the perfect indoor container garden for someone new to horticulture. Of course most living things have needs, and a bit of care is required in order to keep all plants, including those enclosed inside a terrarium, healthy and beautiful. However, if you carefully construct your garden-beneath-glass —click here for a tutorial— you can avoid many of the more common pitfalls (stagnation, rot, fungal/bacterial infections and/or insect infestations).

Peperomia make excellent terrarium plants. This Peperomia griseo-argentea (Ivy Peperomia) would provides a lovely color-contrast amongst darker leaved species, in a larger-sized terrarium. It can be found and purchased at Glasshouse Works online here.

Choose your plants carefully. Be sure to consider the mature size of each species and cultivar you place in your terrarium; especially if you are working within a small apothecary jar or glass cloche. Look up plants online, or consult a knowledgable greenhouse grower to be sure you have the correct information about your plants’ requirements and mature size. Always purchase terrarium plants from a reputable grower. If you aren’t certain of your plants’ history, it’s best to quarantine new specimens and monitor them for pests and disease before introducing them to a terrarium.

Visiting greenhouses —like the Lyman Conservatory at Smith College, a tiny section of which is pictured here— is a great way to learn more about horticulture. It’s also a fantastic place to get ideas and information about growing plants beneath glass!

If the soil in your terrarium is properly watered at the time of planting, and specimens are housed in a fully enclosed container —such as a Wardian case or apothecary jar—  then your terrarium may not need additional moisture for months. But if your terrarium is partially open, you will need to monitor the soil’s moisture level more carefully. Gardens surrounded by glass should be checked regularly to insure that the soil remains moist, but never soggy. The riskiest season for terrariums tends to be summer, when it tends to be hotter and brighter indoors.

Some plants prefer low-light rooms. For more information about this open-terrarium, click here.

The best location for most terrariums is a warm, indoor spot with indirect light. If you choose to fill your terrarium with plants that require bright light, then your terrarium may be situated closer to windows. But keep in mind that containers located in bright, sunny spots or near heat-sources should be checked regularly for proper moisture. Most enclosed-terrarium plants prefer low-light conditions. Cases and jars containing ferns, moss, and other forest-floor plants can be located in dimly lit rooms (see an example of a low-light terrarium here). If the container receives uneven light, occasionally rotate your terrarium in order to prevent lopsided growth.

Think of your terrarium as a tiny conservatory, and tend to its maintenance with as much love as you would any other garden in your care.

Although fertilizing most terrarium plants is unnecessary, it’s important that you groom and maintain your plants as you would in any other garden. Keep things tidy inside and out by cleaning the glass and picking out debris. Remove spent flowers and yellow, withered leaves with scissors or tweezers, and prune plants when necessary to maintain attractive shape. If one or more of the plants becomes too large for a small terrarium, remove it and place it in a larger case or container. And if a plant should begin to fail, or die, extract it immediately to avoid the spread of disease. Not sure of how to identify insects or what to look for in terms of disease? The books I mentioned in my previous post (below) can help with the general care of houseplants the very-useful, What’s Wrong With My Plant? will provide even more help with troubleshooting horticultural problems indoors and out.

Theoretically, enclosing a garden should eliminate most horticultural pests and diseases. But this is only true if the plants are pest and disease free upon entry! If you follow the yellow arrow in the photo above, you will note a stow-away I discovered on this Begonia. See the tiny white dot? Hard to notice, isn’t it? That is a mealy bug! (you can click to enlarge the photo, and look at the image below for more detail)

Of course, even the most cautious gardener occasionally runs into terrarium troubles. Sometimes, tiny insect eggs, microscopic bacteria and mold spores will escape detection and —unless you monitor the plants on a regular basis— develop into serious problems. At the first sign of trouble, attack insects and diseases by either treating or carefully removing the infected specimen. If your terrarium is large enough, insecticidal soap, horticultural oils and other treatments may be applied directly to the plants contained within, but in most cases, the safest and best course of action is to remove the plant.

Here’s a closer look at the mealy bug on my Begonia. So long, pal. It’s time to say goodbye with a good hit of insecticidal soap! I’ll be back to treat your kin to another soapy bath later!

I will be writing more about terrariums and indoor container gardening —including design, planting and care— over the coming weeks. For more ideas, posts, resources, links and information, visit the Indoor Eden page. In addition, Tovah Martin’s The New Terrarium is both an inspirational and useful resource for terrarium design, construction and maintenance. I own and highly recommend this beautifully photographed, well-written book.

Ferns and Moss in a Wardian Case at Smith College Lyman Conservatory’s Fern House

Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’ and Begonia ‘Trade Winds’ with Sphagnum moss and Ceramic Ornament in an Apothecary Jar.

Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’ and Begonia ‘Trade Winds’ with Sphagnum moss and Ceramic Ornament in an Apothecary Jar

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Terrain is a great online source for terrarium supplies and beautiful, artistic containers.Click here or their image above to visit their website.

Find more indoor garden and terrarium ideas on the Indoor Eden page. Or visit the retailers linked below – all are known for fine garden products and terrariums.

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

All content on this site (with noted exceptions) is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and may not be reproduced without written consent. Thank you!

VivaTerra - Eco Living With Style

shopterrain.com

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Garden Structure & Seasonal Texture: White Lace and Sparkling Silver Tulle Dance and Flirt in a Prelude to Winter…

December 11th, 2010 § 4

The Entry Garden at First Light on December 11th

I often wonder why I bother to mourn the end of autumn when there’s so much magic and beauty to be found in the garden during this quiet time of the year. As we near the winter solstice, I find myself every bit as enchanted by the garden as I am during the spring and summer months. My morning walks are cold —no doubt— and my finger tips burn a bit as I run them over the frosty stone walls. But the rich, visual rewards of those nippy strolls at first light make every shiver worthwhile.

Some gardeners prefer to cut back the perennials in their beds and borders in late autumn and early winter. And there is an argument to made for this approach. Certainly, there are places within the garden where I fuss over tender plants; protecting them from cold with mounds of compost or blankets of evergreen boughs. But by and large, I prefer to leave perennials standing throughout winter; that I might enjoy both the bold and delicate textures and how they sparkle with snow and ice after storms. Vertical lines, relief and pattern, both in the garden’s hardscape as well as in the more ephemeral plantings, are key to creating structure and beauty in a winter garden.

Seed Pods Provide Food for Birds and Beauty for Human Eyes: Rudbeckia hirta and Solidago with Sparkling Frost and Snow

Textural Grass Catches Light, Snow and Ice in the Quiet Season. Switch Grass (Panicum virginicum ‘Heavy Metal’) with A Light Morning Glaze…

Climbing Hydrangea (H. petiolaris) Adds Texture and Color to A Grouping of Boulders, and Provides Nooks and Crannies for a Dusting of Fresh Snow…

I often talk about the “bones” of a garden when I discuss design with my clients. This framework, or skeleton, is what gives the landscape shape throughout the year. Walls, fences and arbors, trellises and obelisks, benches and chairs, sculpture and boulders are all examples of objects that add to a garden’s hardscape and structure. Living plants, particularly dramatically shaped trees and shrubs are also helpful in creating a season-spanning garden design. In terms of defining outdoor space, hedges —both formal and informal— alles, espalier fences, and other features are useful in building permanent trans-seasonal walls.

Sculpture and Lichen-Covered Stone Catch Snow: Here, the Guardian Stands Sentry at the Edge of the Forest

The Rusty Color and Grid-Patterned Seat Make this Bench a Valuable Winter-Garden Object

Perennials May Fade at Autumn’s End, but Dan Snow’s Stone Seat and Evergreen Conifers Remain (Young hemlock: Tsuga canadensis)

Here in New England, field stone has long been a popular material for dividing garden spaces, and it will always be my personal favorite. From retaining walls and steps, to formal and free-form sculpture, I am most fond of this natural and versatile material. Throughout the seasons —but especially during the quiet season of winter— Dan Snow’s stonework is the central architectural feature and design element in my garden. Because Dan’s walls are comprised of subtly colored and textured rock —often softened by blueish lichen and emerald moss— they seem quite alive, even though they are technically inorganic. Whats more, the arrangement of the stonework itself —whether stacked horizontally, vertically, or arranged in dramatic and shifting pattern— adds artistry to the garden’s bare architecture in winter.

Steps and stairs —though they can be constructed from a wide variety of materials— must safely function and enhance a garden throughout the seasons. What we call “hallways” in our homes are the “pathways” in our gardens. These frequently-traveled spaces are as important outdoors as they are inside the house. Stepping stones, pea stones and gravel all add texture to the garden throughout the year. And in winter, walls, pathways, steps and other architectural features become highly exposed design elements. As crazy as I am about plants (and we all know that’s pretty crazy) my primary focus when designing a garden is always on the underlying structure. Build your garden before you decorate it with plants –and build it well, for it will hold, protect and exhibit your botanical treasures as your house contains, shelters and displays all of your worldly possessions! In winter, outdoor rooms are as stark as an empty house. And usually, the more attractive the garden’s architecture, the more beautiful the winter garden…

Stone Wall and Juniper Line the Winter Garden Walkway. Dan Snow Added both Candle Niches and Seats within the Wall, Creating Opportunities for Rest and Display Throughout the Seasons…

Stone Steps by Dan Snow Look Beautiful with a Dusting of Snow, and the Varied Height of the Sloped Setting Makes a Lovely Display for Frost-Proof Pots and Evergreen Plants…

Winter is a Fine Time to Enjoy Works of Art —Both Large and Small— in the Garden. Dan Snow’s Fire Sculpture Looks Particularly Beautiful in the Snow…

Structural elements and textural interest provide nature with a three-dimensional canvas for wintery works of art. And although it’s possible to spend a fortune on architectural details and plants, keep in mind that even the humblest cast-aways —flea market benches, unwanted boulders, simple fences and wire cables, twig teepees and homemade works of art— are just as effective when it comes to creating spaces and adding tactile elements in the garden. The rusty surfaces and cracked edges of second hand and found objects often enhance a snowy landscape. Set things out in the garden and move them around until you find a spot that feels right. Begin by using what you have on hand and playfully experiment with the beauty of the winter garden…

The honey-colored remnants of Golden Hops Vine (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’) add beautiful texture to a simple cable rail along a deck in winter. Be on the look-out for perennials and vines with persistent papery, dried flowers and seed heads -these textural elements are key to winter garden detail…

A Mass Planting of  Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’ ) Forms a Season-Spanning ‘Screen'; Adding Texture and Color to the Garden Throughout the Seasons, in Addition to Providing Enclosure and  Natural Transition to the Meadow and Mountain Tops Beyond

Old wire chairs, even if they are no longer functional, provide endless interest in the garden throughout the seasons. In winter, this ivy-patterend chair casts a gorgeous shadow in the snow…

At the Garden Entryway, the Texture of Juniperus horizontalis and the Natural Stone Ledge Both Stand Out with a Dusting of Snow and Create a Backdrop for Other Plantings Throughout the Seasons…

Boulders —Remnants from Site Excavation— Make a Pretty Vine-Covered Grouping at Garden’s Edge (Hydrangea petiolaris)

Dan Snow’s Stone Steps Dusted in Snow

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All Stonework Featured Here is by Vermont Artist Dan Snow

Article and Photographs 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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Have Yourself a Merry Little Terrarium…

December 6th, 2010 § 7

Nutcracker Suite Terrarium: An H. Potter Holds a Moon Rise and a Collection of Christmas Toys Gathered Beneath the Tree (Lycopodium obscurum aka Ground Pine Club Moss). Designed and created by Michaela at TGE

Nutcracker Suite Terrarium: H. Potter Wardian Case Filled with Lycopodium obscurum “Tree”, Sheet Moss “Carpet” and Miniatures. Terrarium vignette designed and created by Michaela at TGE.

When it comes to holiday presents, I think there’s nothing quite as memorable and meaningful as a beautiful homemade gift. And a living gift, like a terrarium, keeps giving all year long. Terrariums are a great way to introduce children to the magic of horticulture, and they also make great gifts for city-dwellers –particularly plant-lovers residing in tiny apartments or working in sterile-looking cubicles. These gorgeous, easy-care gardens-beneath-glass are also wonderful gifts for those with physical limitations, disabilities or limited time.

Beautiful terrariums can be crafted on any budget, and containers and plants can be easily found online or in garden centers. If you like, you can even put together a kit of materials and box them up as a project to share with the recipient (or send one off by mail with a gift certificate to a local garden center or online plant retailer). A holiday terrarium can be decorated with miniatures —like the one above— before giving, or to celebrate the season and add a bit of humor or beauty to your home. Handblown glass orbs, tiny figurines or holiday ornaments all make fascinating additions to terrariums. For basic instructions on how to create a terrarium, click here to visit a tutorial post from last year. If you are constructing a permanent terrarium, be sure to use horticultural charcoal (available through many garden centers or online shops – see links below). If you are creating a temporary holiday display terrarium (particularly if the plants are pre-potted), you can skip this step. Horticultural charcoal will help to keep your terrarium fresh. Below are some of my recent terrarium projects and some great online resources. You will also find more ideas by visiting the Indoor Eden page linked here, and on the left-hand side bar.

Glass Jar with Begonia ‘Tangalooma’ and Glass Ornaments. Designed and Created by Michaela at TGE

Glass Jar with Begonia ‘Tangalooma’, Sheet Moss and Colorful Glass Fruit Ornaments and Bird. Designed and created by Michaela at TGE.

Begonia ‘Trade Winds’ with Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’ (Lemon button fern/Pigmy sword fern) Sphagnum moss and Ceramic Ornament. Designed and created by Michaela at TGE.

Begonia ‘Tangalooma’ and Ornaments. Designed and created by Michaela at TGE.

Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’ and Begonia ‘Trade Winds’ with Sphagnum moss and Ceramic Ornament in an Apothecary Jar. Designed and created by Michaela at TGE.

Online Terrarium Resource List:

Terrain has some of the most beautiful and imaginative terrarium containers (and supplies) I have ever seen. This beautiful orchid house terrarium ($118), is made of wood and glass, with a liftable lid, and would make a dream gift for any gardener. I really want this one, and I am sitting on my fingers. It’s definitely on my Christmas list (hear that Santa?).

The gorgeous wardian case at the top of this post is from H. Potter. The company also has a great blog with terrarium-growing tips from author Tovah Martin. If you love terrariums as much as I do, I highly recommend checking it out.

VivaTerra has gorgeous terrarium containers, including this hanging apple and pear shaped set made from glass. They also sell pre-filled terrarium containers for gift-giving (great if you are mailing a gift to someone far away).

Terrain’s Terrarium Hanging Glass Orb $24, Would Make a Beautiful Container for Plants, and a Great Homemade Gift. See How They Have Filled One Below (Photos From Terrain Online).

Terrain Terrarium Hanging Glass Orb Can Be Filled Any Way You Like. A Supply Kit Like the One Below will Provide Enough Material for Several Small Containers.

Terrarium Supply Kit $32 from Terrain

Anchor Hocking 1 Gallon Jar with Lid ($9.99 from Amazon.com): This is the jar I most frequently use for beginner terrarium projects. It’s inexpensive, reusable and perfect for kids. Although it is glass, it’s heavy and not fragile. The gorgeous cloche below is more appropriate for a teenager or adult.

Glass Cloche with Base $58 from Terrain: This is an elegant choice for an orchid or a container of taller terrarium plants.

Amazon.com has an amazing variety of apothecary jars and glass containers. You can find almost anything you are looking for, from the budget-conscious to the extravagant.

Tovah Martin’s book The New Terrarium ($16.50 at Amazon.com) contains both inspirational projects and practical advice on how to create and care for a terrarium.

H. Potter Wardian Case with Begonia ‘Tangalooma’ and Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’. Designed and created by Michaela at TGE.

 

Find more sophisticated and advanced terrarium ideas on the Indoor Eden page at left. Or, visit retailers linked below – all known for fine garden products and terrariums…

VivaTerra - Eco Living With Style

shopterrain.com

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All terrarium plants (with product-links excepted) are from The Old Schoolhouse Plantery.

Article and Photographs (excepting product links) ⓒ 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…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Inspiration Provence: Romantic Gardens, Casual, Country-Style Furnishings & Candlelit Dinners Beneath the Stars…

July 29th, 2010 Comments Off

Michel Klein’s Garden – Image ⓒ Provence Interiors by Lisa Lovatt-Smith

Provence… What an incredibly evocative word. Even the sound of the letters, rolling sensuously across the tongue, seems to magically slow time. The Mediterranean landscape seduces with golden light; teasing as it flickers through massive plane trees. My memories of southern France are bound by sun-warmed fragrance; lavender, rosemary, ripe olives and red earth. And in this romantic setting — seated at a cloth draped table, surrounded by shadowy gardens at the end of the day— the taste of fruity rosé and peasant bread dipped in tapenade has never been more delightful. A meal shared in a beautiful outdoor room is one of life’s richest pleasures.

Currently, I am working on two projects involving plein air dining spaces. The first is a new garden planned to enhance the outdoor seating area of a lovely local restaurant. This project is in its early stages, and at the moment I am gathering inspirational ideas from favorite books, travel journals, photo albums and scrapbooks.  I absolutely adore enclosed garden spaces, and this particular location —surrounded by brick and stone on three sides— is the perfect spot for festive family gatherings, intimate tête-à-têtes and romantic dinners for two. The second project on my agenda is a private dining terrace; an open space in need of a bit more privacy and transportive mood. Both places are calling out for softening elements — vine clad pergolas and trees to filter light, as well as plants with dramatic foliage to add sensual movement and color.  Both in the courtyard and on the terrace, I long for living canopies —  filter for the sun and frame for the stars.

Over the years —since finding them in my favorite book shop— Lisa Lovatt-Smith’s Provence Interiors and Barbara & René Stoeltie’s Country Houses Of France have provided me with more inspiration for outdoor rooms than many of my garden design books. Beautifully photographed and richly detailed, both books are excellent, stylish resources for casual, elegant living. I highly recommend either title for further study and inspiration. Why not take a cue from these authors and blur the boundaries between inside and out in your home and garden? It seems quite natural to me (perhaps it’s just my European roots) to think of the outdoor spaces surrounding a home in much the same way you might think of an open-plan dining room and kitchen inside the house. Potted plants and shade trees help relax outside architecture, of course. But by adding casual cafe-style or flea-market furniture —movable tables and chairs, comfortable weather-proof pillows, twinkling chandeliers, lanterns and/or strings of tiny lights— the space becomes infinitely more inviting. In this way, a garden or back terrace becomes a three or even a four season extension of your home; a part of your living space as opposed to merely your ‘backyard’. Can you envision such an outdoor room in your own garden? A shadowy nook for quiet lunchtime conversation, or later in the evening, a place for candlelit rendezvous; filled with the sounds of music and secrets shared beneath the stars?

Jacques Grange Garden – Image  ⓒ Provence Interiors by Lisa Lovatt-Smith

Christiane &  Serge Cagnolari’s Beautiful Garden Dining Room – Image ⓒ Provence Interiors by Lisa Lovatt-Smith

Antique French Iron Chair with Twisted Metal Detail $298 from Terrain

Antique French Metal Chair with Scrolling Detail $228 from Terrain

Antique French Folding Chair $198 from Terrain

The French Country Garden of Jean-Marie & Jennifer Rocchia – Image ⓒ Provence Interiors by Lisa Lovatt-Smith

Foundry Style Candleholder with Teardrop Shaped Votive Lamps $68.40 via Amazon

Marrakesh Wrought Iron Pillar Candle Chandelier – $155 at HomArt via Amazon

La Buissaie, France – Image ⓒ Country Houses Of France by Barbara & René Stoeltie

3 Piece White Metal Bistro Set, only $79 at Amazon.com

The Garden of Siki de Somalie, Provence, France – Image ⓒ Country Houses Of France by Barbara & René Stoeltie

3 Piece Red Metal Bistro Set – $79 at Amazon.com

The Garden of Siki de Somalie, Provence, France – Image ⓒ Country Houses Of France by Barbara & René Stoeltie

Pretty Metal Bistro Set in Blue – $79 at Amazon.com

Tiered Plant Stand in Blue Metal – $129 from Gardener’s Supply Company

Beautiful Blue 3-Piece Bistro Set – $179 from Gardener’s Supply Company

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Image excerpts from reviewed publications and/or products are copyright as noted and linked. To purchase reviewed books via Amzon.com, click on the image or text link below.

Article © 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…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Dreaming of a Horticultural Harem Overflowing with Hot House Hotties…

March 13th, 2010 § 2

Hot, Hot Hibiscus © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Earlier this week in my post, “Ode to the Oscars”, comparing Oscar gowns to hot house flowers, I briefly mentioned that I am “conservatory sitting” for friends.  The owners of this small commercial greenhouse/nursery will be returning from the UK early next week, and sadly, my daily trips to their tropical oasis will come to an end. Most of my professional gardening work takes place outdoors, or at a drafting table. At this time of year, I am always rushing about, finishing up last minute pruning jobs and preparing for next month’s garden clean-ups and annual spring workshops, (TBA). I haven’t had the opportunity to log many greenhouse hours since my college days, so working in a conservatory this week has been a real treat for me. Unfortunately, it has stirred-up my passion for those hot house hotties, the exotic plants. This week’s exposure to the steamier-side of cold climate gardening has awakened my dormant lust for a glassed-in-paradise, where I can enjoy the pleasures of my own horticultural-harem all winter long.

Now that I have sampled a bit of Vieques in Vermont, I can’t help but picture myself overwintering in a giant, mist-covered terrarium, growing my own Meyer lemons and sweet oranges and enjoying the scent of nicotiana while the snow falls softly outside, (You may recall my terrarium obsession from this post, or this crazy post or say, this earlier post). Oh this is a very, very dangerous fantasy. I see lounge chairs surrounded by hibiscus and pots filled with calathea; lilies floating in a giant reflecting bowl, and verdant ivy scrambling up the window casings. How can I make this dream come true, without greedily gulping down hundreds of gallons of fossil fuel and driving myself into financial ruin? Surely I must be clever enough to figure it out? The building itself would be relatively simple to construct. I need to thin the trees along my drive, so I could easily harvest some timber for the frame, and perhaps I could find some recycled glass and reclaimed steel. I am a very good scavenger. Certainly the foundation could be built from my own never-ending supply of stone. But how to make the greenhouse truly green? Environmentally friendly heating, now that is the real challenge…

Buy Conservatory Style from Amazon / Buy Conservatory Style from B&N.COM

I know this is a dangerous move, but I am going to have to have a look at  Jackum Brown’s book Conservatory Style, (above). See that picture on the cover? That is close to the glassed-in Eden I have in mind, but my version goes a bit more gothic. Sigh. Then there is Diana Yakley’s book Conservatories, (pictured and linked below). Of course, for practicalities, there is the  how-to manual of choice from Roger Marshall, (also below). And just because I want to torture myself a bit more, next week I am going to spend an afternoon at the Smith College Bulb Show, in Northampton, Massachusetts. That ought to push me right over the edge. You will read about it soon… no doubt…

Zantadeschia aethiopica ‘Spotted White Giant’, © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Kalanchoe ‘Mangini’, © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Agapanthus, © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Fragrant Nicotiana alata (unconfirmed cultivar), © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Kalanchoe ‘Tessa’, © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Buy Conservatories from Barnes & Noble / Buy Conservatories from Amazon

Buy How to Build Your Own Greenhouse from Amazon

Buy How to Build Your Own Greenhouse from Barnes & Noble

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Article and photographs copyright 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 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…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? Please tell your friends. You can also support this site, through no additional cost to you, by shopping through the affiliate links here. A small percentage of the sale will be paid back to The Gardener’s Eden, and will help to cover costs associated with running this site. Thank you so much for your support!

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Taking Better Photos of Your Garden: Guest Post by Ted Dillard…

February 1st, 2010 § 4

Photo ⓒ Ted Dillard

Of all the questions and comments I receive via this blog, email and through this site’s Facebook Page, the most common by far are related to photography. I am a new, amateur photographer, (that is a nice way of saying that I have no idea of what I am doing), and when I have questions about how to take better photographs or what equipment to buy, or how to use it, I usually consult with my professional photographer friends. And, I am very lucky, because one of my dearest friends just so happens to be the brilliant photographer Ted Dillard. Accomplished artist, teacher, and author, Ted is also remarkably generous with his time and talents.

Taking a good photograph is not only a pure pleasure, but it is also a valuable skill – and it needn’t be difficult. So, here to provide us with a few expert tips is the multi-talented Ted Dillard. For further reading, I highly recommend Ted’s series of books for the digital photographer.

Thank you Ted Dillard !

Ted’s Top Ten Twelve Tips for better (Garden!) Photographs

It’s funny, for all the times I’ve been asked what the best camera is to buy, I think I can count on one hand the times someone as asked, “How can I take better pictures?”  For one thing, it’s not a simple answer, it depends so much on so many intangible things.  The funny thing is, though, the impact of the photographs ultimately has very little to do with the choice of camera.

That said, there are some pretty universal tips that almost any photographer should keep in mind, and even the most experienced of us occasionally overlook.  Whether you’re taking photographs of your kids, your vacation, or your cherished gardens, or a commercial assignment, these are some basic suggestions you should always keep in mind.  After we cover the basics, I’ve added a few especially for the gardeners.

 

1. It takes light to make a photograph.

Back in the days of film, we were always trying to “push” the ISO- overdeveloping the film to compensate for underexposing it.  It dawned on me one day that you do, in fact, have to have some light hit the film, or the sensor, to make a photograph.  Photograph means, from the Latin, “picture from light” after all…

Add light, wait for light, turn the lights on, whatever you need to do to avoid shooting in the dark.  Even with cameras rated at ISO 3200+, you still need some light to make the photograph.  Without going into the technical details of it, even new cameras with astronomical ISO settings are essentially starting with very little information, or image data, and stretching it out, making “holes” as they go. Think “pizza dough” here.

2. Hold the camera steady.

You can have the best optics ever made, but if the camera is moving then the image is moving on the sensor, even just a little bit.  Get a good tripod, and by that I mean a good BIG tripod.  Tripods need mass to fight vibration and movement, if your tripod is too light and too small it’s just going to blow in the wind.  Literally.  The closer you shoot to your subject, the more important this is, and if you’re shooting blossoms that’s pretty darned close.

3. Put your money into the lens.

For the most part, whatever is catching the image, whether it’s film or a sensor, it is designed to capture what the absolute best lens made for it can produce.  You want to see what your camera can do?  Give it the best lens you can afford, and it will thank you.  A great lens on a cheaper sensor is like running a car at it’s optimum tuning- you won’t be able to see what it can do until you set it up right. A great sensor with a cheap lens is like driving your car dragging a piano.  For shooting close-up, or macro, there’s nothing in the world so sweet as a true “macro” lens- a lens designed to focus at inches away from the subject.

4. Clean your lens.

The biggest enemy of clarity, sharpness and contrast in a photograph is lens flare.  Fingerprints, dirt, dust on a lens is the single best way to make lens flare happen.  Seen the iPhone “Vaseline effect”?  That’s what happens when you try to take a picture through a lens with a big smudgy peanut butter fingerprint, and that’s what I’m talking about. It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting with your phone or the most expensive digital camera.  The lens has to be clean.

5. Shade your lens.

One more time- the biggest enemy of clarity, sharpness and contrast in a photograph is lens flare.  Light hitting the lens glass directly, whether it’s the sun, or just reflections of bright objects nearby, are the second best way to create lens flare.  Almost every technological development in lens design in the past 50 years had been to combat and minimize lens flare, and the single most effective way to eliminate it is to use the most basic tool.  A lens shade.

I can’t overstate this simple point.  I see it constantly, people even shooting with a built-in lens shade and not using it.  For some reason it seems like it doesn’t matter, and people just don’t bother with it.  It does matter.  If the sun is hitting your glass, or even any bright light source- the sky, snow, reflections from other objects- it will degrade the quality of your photograph.  Shade that lens.

6. Look at the light.  Wait for the light.  Control the light.

A good photographer sees and controls the light, many novice photographers seem to think they’re at the mercy of “available” light.  Even if it means waiting an hour for the sun to go down, moving a reflector in to open up some shadows, or bringing in an entire studio of artificial lighting equipment, you’re always either in control if the light, or at the mercy of it.  “Photographers are painters who paint with light.” (Richard Brautigan)

Learning to work with available light, and control artificial light is probably one of the most challenging yet rewarding things you can work with to improve your photographs…  and it’s a lifelong challenge, but one of the most rewarding in all of photography.

7. Background.  It’s all about the background.

When you’re taking pictures you often see your subject with tunnel vision.  You focus on, and just see what you’re looking at and not what’s behind it.  Slow down and look for a few of the typical big distractions- strong shapes, bright colors, things that don’t separate from the subject.  (Hint: using a large aperture -lens wide open, f2.0 for example- makes things in the background go out of focus, blurring backgrounds and diminishing distractions, but more on that later.)  Once you have your subject framed, and you’re ready to snap the picture, stop yourself and look at the background.

8. Compose the photograph.

Again, with the tunnel vision.  When most people look through a viewfinder they’re seeing what they want to take pictures of.  You need to see the picture, instead of what you’re taking the picture of.  The whole picture.  You know how you always see shots of the baby, the dog, Grammy, and they’re smack in the middle of the picture, I mean dead center?  That’s what I’m talking about.

Look at the whole frame, look at what you can include and what you can eliminate to make an interesting composition.  Control the viewer’s eye.

9. If in doubt, take more pictures.

My Dad used to say, out of all the money you’ve spent on everything, film is cheap. There’s no excuse for not shooting enough film.  Now that we’re shooting pixels, there’s even more truth to that.  Try different angles, different distances, even just try shots that you don’t think work.  If you think you have the shot, that’s the time to force out a few more frames.  I can’t tell you how many times the best shots were in those last few, after you think you’ve got the shot, but just want to try some options to “see what happens”.

10. Take more pictures anyway.

See above.

My Grandfather was speaking once, showing his photographs to a Boston Camera Club group.  He got the question, “How did you know that would make a great photograph, and how did you know how to shoot it so you’d capture it so beautifully?”  His answer- from taking shot after shot after shot, for years and years… experience.  Nothing can make up for taking the pictures.  And he was shooting with a big old view camera with film that came in sheets.  One shot at a time.

Take more pictures.  If nothing more than to give yourself more experience, more of a foundation to work with.

That’s the basic list, but here are a few more tips just for you gardeners…

One of the secrets to making great photographs of blossoms and blooms is in controlling your “depth of field”.  This is a photography term simply referring to how much of your image is in focus.  Typically, flower and plant close-up shots have a shallow depth of field, or, simply, not much other than the subject itself is in crisp focus.  This is something that you control with your lens opening, (also called f-stop or aperture).  The smaller the lens opening, f22, for example, the more depth of field, and most of the frame will be in focus.  The larger the opening, f3.5, for example, (and yes, bigger openings are smaller f numbers), the shallower the focus. Take a look at this post, linking to a great Wikipedia explanation and demonstration of the effects of different lens openings.

It’s a great start to beginning to visualize what happens when you control the aperture.  Keep in mind, you have to balance the lens opening and the shutter speed to get a perfect exposure.  Open up the lens, you have to shorten the shutter speed, and vice-versa.  Using the Auto Exposure setting “A”, for aperture priority, you can select a large aperture and let the camera adjust the shutter speed accordingly.   Probably the simplest way to start to understand this is simply to put the camera on a tripod, focus on your favorite blossom, and switch the camera to “A” mode.  Set the aperture from one extreme (wide open, probably f2 or 3.5) to the other (full stop, f16 or 22) and look at the results on your computer.  It’ll be pretty obvious what’s happening.

The other bit of advice- use a camera that has these controls.  I know I said that the camera doesn’t matter so much, and that’s true, but if you are running a camera that allows you this kind of control- selection of exposure modes, and even manual focus and exposure, then it makes things a lot easier.  I’d recommend almost any Digital SLR, or “DSLR”.  The good news is, you can get into a system like that for little over $500, and we have several reviews of cameras like this at our Head-2-Head Reviews site. One of my favorite matchups is the Nikon D5000 and the Canon T1i- (I ended up with the Nikon for myself…  LOVE that camera, and it uses all my old Nikon lenses.)

A little side note, and a step down the notorious (digital) primrose path…  If you do go with a camera like any of these DSLRs, chances are you’ll have the option to shoot “RAW” files instead of JPEG format.  If you’re interested in getting the absolute most out of your camera, RAW files take you to the next level of image quality.  You need to use a program like Adobe’s Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, or Lightroom to take full advantage of the RAW file, but it will make a world of difference it the end result.  My book RAW Pipeline is a great overview of getting started with shooting and processing RAW.

Ted Dillard – RAW Pipeline

There you have it. It’s a start, and hopefully these little tips will help you make better photographs.  Don’t for a second think that almost every pro photographer who’s reading this isn’t, at one point or another saying to themselves, jeesh, I know, I should try harder to do that all the time…

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Article and Photographs in this feature are © Ted Dillard, all rights reserved.

For further information about photographer and teacher Ted Dillard, please visit his website:

Ted Dillard – Support for the Digital Photographer

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Thank you Ted, for all of your generous help, support and advice !

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is © The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved.

All Site Photography Is Taken With Canon Powershot G Series Cameras from Amazon.com

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Design Inspiration: A lesson in planning, editing and restraint… my visit to the private garden of Phyllis Odessey and Peter Mauss.

July 24th, 2009 Comments Off

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~ The Stone Garden House sculpture, by artist Dan Snow, at the  Mauss~Odessey Garden

Beautiful, isn’t it? Visiting this magical garden last weekend, created by my friends Phyllis and Peter, was truly inspirational. Phyllis Odessey is an incredibly talented garden designer with a knack for making large open spaces seem both intimate and calm. Her beautiful garden seduces with serpentine, alluring paths, dramatic sculpture, unusual specimen trees and shrubs, and sweeping plantings in a serene palette. Over the course of many years, Phyllis and Peter have created a living work of art on their property. This is my favorite kind of garden; designed with a singular vision, and developed patiently over time. It seems that each time I visit, a new area has been developed or refined, and yet the garden always retains its overall harmony. This garden is a perfect example of how to grow a space slowly, while maintaining an overall sense of garden style.

Even for professional gardeners and designers, it is difficult to practice restraint with plantings. Phyllis is an excellent editor, and this is one of the reasons her garden is such a success. While strolling down her newly laid stone path, (yes, she did it herself), I was impressed with the artistry of the flowing line, and the way the new walkway was planned to separate and edge a sweep of bearberry, (arctostaphylos uva-ursi), from the rest of the garden. Overall, this garden is large, and yet it is never overwhelming to the eye. Why is this? Careful observation reveals one of the keys to success is mass plantings of carefully chosen perennials in a limited palette. The Mauss-Odessey garden is a perfect example of how to successfully manage a large space.

I visit many private gardens as a consultant, and the most common design dilemma I encounter is a lack of over-all structure and flow. Many gardeners have a habit of visiting nurseries and plant sales on impulse, falling in love with a half dozen or more plants, and bringing them all home. Once back in the garden, things are hastily planted without a plan and quickly forgotten. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The end result of this compulsive shopping is often a patchwork quilt carved out of lawn; a chaotic hodge-podge rather than a soothing garden. Sometimes, a gardener is lucky enough to have an intuitive sense of space. When this happens, (and it is rare), the plant collecting becomes a whimsical but orderly garden. For most people however, it is essential to plan out a space before planting gardens, in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed and disappointed later on.

When trying to create a sense of calm in your garden, it is wise to take a cue from successful designers like Phyllis Odessey. Look at your space carefully before you head out to the garden center. Are you in the habit of buying one of this or two of that on impulse? The next time you are tempted by a plant sale, try to remind yourself of the photographs pictured here. When shopping for plants, instead of buying 14 different perennials, try buying at least seven of one kind. In order to do this, of course, you will need to do a bit of planning first. Know the size of your space. Take measurements and sketch an outline of your garden. Check your soil condition and sunlight.  Make a rough plan to help guide you in your purchases and keep it in your wallet. This will be the first step in training yourself to practice the kind of restraint you need to in order to create a garden like the one pictured here.

Considering vertical space is another important aspect of successful garden design. In a garden of any size, it is critical to think beyond ground level. Shrubs, trees, vines and structures are essential to three dimensional garden space. Many works of art are included in Phyllis and Peter’s garden. Some of the artistic structures were created by the gardeners themselves, and other pieces were created by friends. There are hydrangea-wound pergolas and kiwi vine-clad-huts throughout the garden to stroll through and pause beneath. Living works of art, such as a weeping larch and pendulous beech, are used as dramatic focal points, drawing the eye up and out. Weight and substance are given to this garden with the addition of stonework. A large sculpture, pictured above, was created as a major garden feature by artist Dan Snow.  The mass of this dark and mysterious shelter is softened by airy cat mint (nepeta), sage and delicate meadow rue (thalictrum). Climbing hydrangea, (h. petiolaris), planted on the reverse of the structure, is slowly winding its way over the top, lending an organic touch to the stone.

When I returned home from this spectacular garden I was filled with a sense of calm, (I am sure the champagne helped with this as well), and a determination to practice more restraint in my own space through careful editing. I have resolved to look around with a critical eye. Is something weak or dying? Time to get ruthless. And what about that long, chaotic border/holding tank? Time for some editing this fall.  Visiting a well-designed garden is always an inspiration, and a great-way to jump-start new plans for your own space.

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~ Masses of perennials in rich colors make for a dynamic, yet soothing garden experience ~

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~  One of the softly curving paths winding through the Mauss-Odessey garden ~

phyllis garden, upside down leaf

~ Turned~Leaf Sculpture by artist Dan Snow ~

For more information about Phyllis Odessey, and her design process, visit her website and blog at www.phyllisodessey.com. Peter Mauss and Dan Snow have collaborated on two beautiful and inspirational books, In the Company of Stone, and Listening to Stone. Both of these books are available through independent book sellers, and Amazon online. Interested in reading more about stone work? I hope to feature an article on the subject later this year. Stay tuned.

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~ Article and photographs copyright Michaela H. 2009 ~

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Finding Inspiration in Public Gardens … The Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts…

June 25th, 2009 § 2

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Above, The Bridge of Flowers viewed from the bank of the Deerfield River.  Below, a gravel path leads through The Bridge of Flowers in June…

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Visiting public gardens has become something of a luxury for me over the past few years. I am a professional gardener and designer, and the busiest season in my line of work tends to be in the spring and early summer. Like most gardeners, any spare hours I have at this time of year tend to be spent in my own backyard. Sometime over the course of this past winter, as I was pouring over gardening books and magazines, I realized how much I miss visiting public gardens. How did I forget what a pleasure it is to take in a garden for which I am not responsible?  This year, I resolved that visits to both public and private gardens would become part of my weekly schedule. By stepping away from my own garden, and the gardens under my care, I am able to return to the places I create with fresh eyes. Whether you are just starting your first garden, or editing one you have tended for years, visiting other gardens is a great way to stir up your creativity and continue your horticultural education.

My first garden visit this spring was to  The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. This one-of-a-kind design was conceived by Antoinette and Walter Burnham in 1929 when they envisioned a public garden crossing an abandoned, 400-foot trolley bridge built in 1908. The Shelburne Falls Woman’s Club took on the bridge of flowers project, and remains the steward of this beautiful garden to this day.  The Bridge of Flowers spans the Deerfield river and connects the towns of Buckland and Shelburne. Over 500 different varieties of annuals, perennials, shrubs, vines and trees are included in this unusual and beloved public landmark.

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roses

This was not my first visit to this special place. I have been enjoying The Bridge of Flowers on and off since I was a little girl, and I have watched as both this garden and the village of Shelburne Falls have evolved over time. Through the years the garden has grown more beautiful and sophisticated, and yet it has never lost its calm, relaxing simplicity. The Bridge of Flowers is home to some spectacular plants; including trees, shrubs and vines. Among the stand-out woody specimens on the bridge is a cascading hemlock (tsuga canadensis, pendula), (spectacular when viewed from the Buckland side riverbank), a lovely Japanese snowbell, (styrax japonica), a pair of gnarly-trunked wisteria floribunda, a very fragrant butterfly bush, (buddleia alternifolia), an enviable climbing hydrangea,(hydrangea petiolaris), and a number of glorious rambling and climbing roses ranging in hue from red to purest white.

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buddleia-alternifolia

The mixed borders on either side of the walkway crossing The Bridge of Flowers are in continual bloom from early spring through fall. The gardens are beautifully designed and meticulously tended by a professional head gardener, assistant gardeners and volunteers. Modern additions, such as ornamental grass and exotic Asian introductions are creatively combined with old-time cottage garden favorites and ecologically minded native-plants. Shrub roses are interspersed throughout the design, adding a bit of  classic beauty and fragrance to the early summer display. On my recent visit, the beautiful David Austin rose, ‘Ambridge’, was all aglow in a luminous peachy-wash of color; it’s alluring, near-intoxicating fragrance filling the damp air and leading me down the path.

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The color harmonies and textural combinations seem particularly beautiful this year on the bridge. I admire the creativity of these gardeners, working with a limited budget raised by donations and gifts. They have created such simple, dynamic vignettes; playing with focal points of saturated color and repeating the rhythm with subtle echos running through neighboring selections. Stunning, yet un-forced combinations abound along the walkway. Golden hued petals of baptisia playing off yellow edged ornamental grass, and deep rose-traced peonies enhanced by a blooming backdrop of spirea ‘Anthony Waterer’, are some examples of their thoughtful garden design.

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As my stroll though the garden concluded on the Shelburne side of the bridge, I was pleased to discover the development of the shade garden. A wide variety of plants now thrive in the dappled light at this tree lined end of walkway. Gorgeous perennials, including many with dramatic foliage color and varied texture, create a quiet conclusion to the garden along the water’s edge. Delicate ferns, bold hosta, feathery goat’s beard, (aruncus), and shimmering, smooth leaved ginger, (asarum), are among the inspired plantings.

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The Bridge of Flowers is wonderful inspiration for gardeners of all ages. According to the website, the bridge receives over 20,000 visitors each year from all over the world. This beautiful garden will always have a special place in my heart, and clearly I am not alone in my infatuation. Although the garden is at it’s peak now, it is worth keeping in mind that come autumn, the vibrant fall foliage reflected in this river setting is truly spectacular. The village of Shelburne Falls has much to offer visitors, including natural sites, such as the glacial potholes, artisan shops and galleries, (from glass blowing and pottery to candle making), fine restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops and more. A visit to The Bridge of Flowers and the village of Shelburne Falls is a great day trip from Boston, MA, Keene NH, or Hartford, CT.  What a great place to start my summer garden tours this year!  A great, big thank you goes out  to the gardeners at the bridge and to all of the kind donors and visitors supporting The Bridge of Flowers with generous financial contributions.

For further information about The Bridge of Flowers, please visit the website HERE, and for infomation about other attractions in the village of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, visit their website HERE.

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View up the river…

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View down the path on the bridge…

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A last look at the beautiful bridge of flowers setting…

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Know of a special garden you would like to see featured on The Gardener’s Eden?

Please email your suggestion to michaela @ the gardeners eden dot com

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Article and photos copyright 2009 Michaela H.

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