Bluebells on a rainy day…

May 29th, 2009 Comments Off

Hyacinthoides hispanica,’Excelsior’, (Spanish Bluebell), shown here with Pulmunaria saccharata, (Bethlehem sage), and emerging hosta.

Native to Spain and Portugal, this blue-beauty is perfect for naturalizing and for planting between late-emerging perennials and beneath trees and shrubs in the garden.  Bluebell bulbs are planted in autumn. A woodland flower by nature, the Spanish bluebell prefers a bit of shade and moist, hummus-rich earth. When content, this bulb will self-seed, forming beautiful colonies.  Larger-flowered than it’s cousin, the English bluebell, (Scillia non-scripta), Spanish bluebells reach a height of 16″.

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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At Ferncliff this week: The wildflower walk and other highlights of late spring…

May 27th, 2009 Comments Off

wildflower-walk-may-juneThe wildflower walk, very late May…

Although there is a more formal entry to my home, at this time of year I usually take the ‘wildflower’ path through the garden. This seeded walkway was not designed for utility, (there is a much wider walkway along a retaining wall), but as more of a whimsical, meandering route to the secret garden below. In early spring, the path is blooming with unusual narcissus and species tulips. Then, as the last of the double daffodils fade out, the lupine begin to bloom. Closely following this show is one of my favorite informal-garden plants, the free-seeding adenophora confusa, (blue-violet lady-bells). A walkway like this may look carefree, but in reality it is not low-maintenance. In order for the lupine and adenophora to seed freely in and along this route, as they would in nature, I do not apply the same thick compost mulch used in the other garden areas. This means that weeding is a constant chore here. There is a very fine line between utter chaos and controlled, wild beauty in this garden. My mother is very good at wild-style flower gardening, and since she and my father sold their home, I have been trying to recreate the effect here at Ferncliff. Before they moved, my parents collected a bag of flower seed from their garden to pass on to mine, and although it has taken a few years, the path is beginning to fill out as planned…

lupine-close-up

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Other photos from Ferncliff this week…

tree-peony-high-noonPaeonia moutan x lutea, ‘High Noon’, an  American hybrid of the Chinese tree peony (1952)

phlox-divericata-heuchera-seedling-of-dales-strain-leucojum-aestivum-sanguinariaPhlox divaricata, Heuchera americana ‘Green Spice’, Leucojum aestevium, Sanguinaria, and Athyrium x filix-femina, ‘Lady in Red’

cimicifugaHeuchera americana ‘Caramel’, and Cimicifuga racemosa, ‘Hillside Black Beauty’

paeonia-suffriticosa-nishikiPaeonia x suffruticosa,(Chinese tree peony), ‘Black Dragon’

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Article and Photographs © Michaela at TGE

The Art & Science of Designing a Vegetable Garden…

May 25th, 2009 § 3

potager-furnitureCreating a beautiful and bountiful potager

harvest-basket

A vegetable garden can be an incredible source of pleasure.  Every sunny morning, my four-legged companions and I take a walk to the potager where we enjoy each other’s company while I sip my morning coffee.  I like to start my day listening to the mocking bird and watching the butterflies flutter about the herbs and vegetables from the comfort of my old wicker chair. Although my potager is relatively small, it provides me with enough vegetables for myself, and extra to share with friends and family.  For a modest plot, the garden is quite productive.

The renewed interest in vegetable gardening this year is exciting to observe. Jack Manix of Walker Farm presented a seminar on vegetable gardening earlier this May, and the turn-out was so overwhelming that he and his wife Karen decided to add a second session.  For those of you unable to attend the talk, this article will pass along some of Jack’s tips, as well as some of my own creative ideas and experiences for designing and planting a beautiful, productive and welcoming potager.

Bountiful harvests in the vegetable garden are usually the result of good planning. Full sun, attentiveness, regular deep-watering, disciplined weeding, and most importantly, good earth, make for success. Vegetable plants generally prefer deep, loose, well-drained soil. And the most delicious crops tend to grow in mineral rich earth with plenty of organic material worked in. Dark, fertile soil is home to aerating, fertilizing earth worms and microscopic life invisible to the naked eye. But the soil’s texture and quality is only one part of the good-dirt equation. Just as important to your plants is the soil’s fertility, provided by the nutrients in the earth. Natural, organic soil chemistry is what makes for fertile soil. Good garden soil provides balanced nitrogen, potash, and phosphorus.

Green, healthy, steady growing leaves are the result of proper nitrogen, (N). Nitrogen provides plants with nutrition, and its presence results in deep green foliage and balanced growth. Too little nitrogen and plants will be yellowish and stunted; too much nitrogen and plants will become jolly-green-giants, growing an over-abundance of lush foliage but little produce.  An excess of nitrogen can also result in poor quality fruit and plant disease. Overly fertile conditions and rapid growth also tend to attract pests like aphids. In addition to nitrogen, plants also require potash, (K), for strong, healthy growth.  Soil rich in potash will produce colorful, flavor-rich vegetables and fruit.  A lack of potash will result in poor root systems, curled and spotted leaves, and low yields. Phosphorus, (P), is another key nutrient in the garden. Like potash, phosphorus plays an important role in healthy, vigorous plant development. Cold, heat and disease resistant plants are the product of adequate phosphorus. Conversely, stunted growth and slow maturity are often signs of phosphorus deficiency.

It is important to check garden soil fertility at least once or twice a year.  As soon as the soil dries out in spring, pick up a soil testing kit for N, P, K and pH to test your soil.  The process is quick and easy with a kit from your local farmer’s supply store. Or if you prefer, you can send a soil sample to your local university extension service.  Test in early spring and amend your soil according to the kit’s instructions. It also makes sense to test your garden again in fall, and amend the soil before mulching the vegetable beds for winter.

Balancing plant-diet is as important to garden health as it is to our own.  But no matter how nutrient-rich the soil, plants need to be able to make use of what is available to them in order to grow. Checking both the soil pH, and the preferred pH of plants within the garden, will let the gardener know if the plants are able to absorb the nutrients in the soil. Correcting pH is best done in fall or early spring, but if you are building your garden at a different time, this is the first step to take no matter when you plan to begin, or what you plan to plant.  Even the most optimally textured, fertile soil can not help plants if the nutrients can not be absorbed.  Soil may look dark, rich and moist as chocolate cake, and it may contain a wealth of nutrients, but the improper pH will keep those nutrients out of the reach of the plant system. Incorrect pH will cause poor seed germination, and a weak, disappointing garden.

Building great garden soil is an ongoing process. Regularly adding compost to the soil helps to retain moisture, improves air circulation, and attracts earthworms and microscopic organisms. Another great addition to garden soil is green sand, which loosens clay soil, binds sandy soil, supplies potassium and helps soil hold water. Green sand is a great soil conditioner containing loads of minerals. It can be added directly to the soil, or sprinkled into compost.  Mined from ancient ocean floors, green sand is a little-known garden secret to building great soil.  Once I began using green sand, I was amazed at the difference in my garden.

At his vegetable gardening seminar, Jack Manix stressed the importance of waiting for proper temperatures to plant out your vegetable garden.  This is very important. Working wet soil too early can lead to compaction, and seeds planted in cold earth will fail to germinate.  If you must get a jump on the season, start plants on your windowsill or in a cold frame, and wait until the recommended planting dates for your area to sow seed. The Farmer’s Almanac is a great online source for planting dates. All you have to do is enter your zip code. Following the garden calendar and measuring soil temperature is an easy way to avoid disappointment and crop failure.

Planting the right plants for your area is also key to your success. Ask long-time residents about favorite crops, and buy your plants from a local grower. When buying seeds, Jack Manix recommends buying from companies testing in the Northeast, (or wherever you live). Some of these companies are listed under the seeds section on the links bar to the right of this post. I buy my vegetable starts from Walker Farm because they grow what they sell, so I can be certain that what I am buying has been tested and proven on the farm. I also care that my crops are raised organically, and it is important to me to support my local organic farm, and the people employed there. Why gamble money on a pretty picture in a catalog when I can see, touch and smell a plant at my local farm before I buy it ?

When planning your garden, try to make notes in your calendar as a reminder to rotate your crops each year.  Planting vegetables in the same location makes it too easy for insects playing hide and seek in your garden.  Make things more challenging for pests by moving crops around, and by using companion plants like calendula, (marigold), nasturtium, thyme, sage, chamomile, and other herbs and flowers. Beneficial insects are attracted to companion plants, and this helps to naturally protect your veggies from not-so-desirable creatures.  Organic gardening starts with good planning.

Regular weeding and thinning in the vegetable garden are so important, that I make them part of my daily routine. Every morning, I spend a half hour or so gently thinning extra seedlings, and removing tiny little weeds with my hand cultivator. Removing competition from weeds and excess seedlings is essential to a plant’s success. The paths between my mounded vegetable beds are lined with straw. This makes a comfortable, dry place to sit while tending to my plants. The straw paths also retain moisture and keep down weeds.  Weeds: the not-so-glamorous secret to successful gardening is weeding. Learning to love weeding, and making it a relaxing, meditative process, will help both you and your garden.  In this respect the old advice, “the best fertilizer for plants is the gardener’s shadow”, couldn’t be more true. I do some of my best thinking and problem solving while weeding.  And on my favorite days, I leave the garden thinking about nothing at all.

With this in mind, why not make your potager a truly desirable destination? Properly siting your vegetable garden is the first place to start. Almost all vegetables require full sun from dawn to dusk. This also makes the garden a pleasant place for people. An artful, winding path leading toward the potager is attractive to the eye. Make the path wide enough to easily transport plants and soil supplements via wheelbarrow. It is often true in life that the more pleasant the journey, the more frequent the trip. Adding a couple of chairs and an old table will make for a warm gardener’s welcome in a vegetable plot. Nestled amongst the fragrant herbs and flowers, a table and chairs set in the garden can be a place to read, talk on the phone, or share a glass of wine with a friend. One afternoon as I was driving home from a visit with family, I spied some cast-off wicker furniture wearing a “free’ sign, sitting on the side of the road . Now that I have found a new home for that furniture in my vegetable garden, I find that I spend much more time there. Adding annual flowers, particularly those attracting butterflies and hummingbirds, will also make a potager more inviting. My rustic fence also looks much more attractive to me with sweet peas and morning glories scrambling up the wire and winding round the saplings. A few old wicker baskets scattered about the garden are helpful for collecting weeds and spent vegetable plants for compost. And when my baskets show too much wear and tear for carrying debris, I often position them in corners to be filled with soil and trailing annuals until they decompose. This year and next, adding berry bushes and fruiting trees to the potager  are on my list. I love having a fresh pantry right outside the kitchen door, and I find the more time I spend in my garden, the happier and healthier my summer.

potager-big-viewThe potager, June 2008…

potagerRaised beds (earthen mounds) of vegetables.  Here, last year’s radish, lettuce, bunching onions and hot peppers happily mingle.

teepee-in-potagerCopper-wire teepee with pole beans

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Potager and fence design : Michaela M

Fence construction : William B / Michaela M

All vegetables starts : Walker Farm or grown from seed

Article and photos ⓒ 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Shopping locally for garden plants supports your community

May 22nd, 2009 Comments Off

walker-farm-stand

WALKER FARM

Route 5, Dummerston, Vermont – (photo: road-side display and entry)

Well here it is again – Memorial Day Weekend. And for many of us, this weekend means it is finally time to shop for warm weather vegetable starts and flowering annuals. What better place to go for plants and free advice than your local grower ? Here in southern Vermont, Walker Farm in Dummerston is the source for organically grown vegetable plants, including all my favorite classics like “sungold”cherry tomatoes, “raider” cucumbers, bell peppers, walla walla onions, and every other potager plant you can imagine. But more than that, at Walker Farm I can find hard-to-locate heirloom tomatoes, herbs, old-garden nasturtiums and even berry-patch additions like strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.  At this time of the year, a visit to a local grower can inspire the green-thumb in anyone.

Over the years Walker Farm has made a name for itself with unusual specialty annuals and beautiful hanging baskets as well as hard-to-find perennials and rare trees and shrubs. Jack (Walker) Manix and Karen Manix have been operating their farm for more than 35 years now, and it has been in their family for more than 200 years.  Their daughter Kristin and son Dusty are also part of their farm-business, which has grown from a classic Vermont dairy operation to an organic fruit, vegetable and flower farm.  The picturesque farm-stand on Route 5, heading north out of Brattleboro, Vermont, belies the complex, modern nursery sprawling down below the bank and into their fertile fields.  Gorgeous greenhouses, filled with every unusual flowering annual and exotic plant you can imagine, have been steadily added to the property.  Charming potting sheds dot the farm, overflowing with classic and novelty seeds, beautiful ceramic pots, watering cans, hand-forged tools and other gardening supplies and necessities. Specialty plant connoisseurs  from hours away make the drive to Walker Farm to buy plants that will fill garden beds, urns, clay pots and window boxes in such far-away places as New York and Boston. Many of my garden design clients request Walker Farm plants by name. Among the note-worthy mentions too numerous to list, Walker Farm has been written up by Ann Raver in her garden column for the New York Times, and the farm was also mentioned in Ruah Donnelly’s, The Adventurous Gardener, as a favorite plant-shopping destination. Authors Wayne Winterowd and Joe Eck, long-time customers and friends of the Manix family, credit Walker Farm in their beautiful books on gardening and designing with rare and unusual annuals. (Winterowd and Eck will be at the farm for a book signing this Sunday, May 24th, from 11 am to 1 pm). But to understand what all the fuss is about at Walker Farm, you really must see for yourself.

Walker Farm is staffed by real-gardeners, and knowledgeable employees, and they are always ready to help out with plant selections and helpful advice.  Like many organic farms throughout this country, Walker Farm is an important part of the local economy and community.  It is important to remember that buying local is not only a healthy thing to do for yourself, but it is also a socially organic thing to do for your friends and neighbors. Farms and nurseries provide jobs and experience for the young and the not-so-young; helping college students get a start in agriculture, horticulture or science, and helping part-time workers like parents and retirees make a living in a healthy, positive way. Businesses like Walker Farm also support other farmers, by buying and selling locally grown produce and products as well as their own. I buy whatever I can at my local organic grower, Walker Farm, and I hope that you will do the same… wherever home is.

Visit the Walker Farm Website HERE.

walker-farm-pergola

Rows and Rows of Gorgeous annual bedding plants and hanging baskets…

walker-farm-greenhouse

The Grand Central Greenhouse at Walker Farm, filled to the brim with unusual specialty annuals, exotic plants and herbs…

walker-farm-entry-to-perennial-garden-sales1

walker-farm-perennials

wf-trees-and-shrubs

From top: entry to perennial display and sale area, trees and shrubs in front of Grand Central…

staff-walker-farm1

Smiles at the Stand

HAPPY PLANTING !

*****

Copyright Michaela H. 2009

Beauty in the Shadows

May 21st, 2009 Comments Off

glaucidium-palmatum

Glaucidium Palmatum

glaucidium-palmatum-2

Native to Japan, this beautiful perennial prefers light shade and rich, moist earth.  Glaucidium Palmatum is hardy to zone 4 and can reach 16-24″ in height.

 

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“That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”….. Shakespeare

May 18th, 2009 Comments Off

wild-rose

Selecting and Siting Roses in Cold Climates

Damask, Moss, or Gallica?  Modern, Old or English? Call them what you will, many gardeners fall in love with roses early on, and the infatuation never ends. The moist, velvety petals and heady fragrance of this fabled flower are powerfully seductive.  It is easy to to understand the allure of roses. A garden in June, with roses climbing walls, tumbling over fences and nestled into perennial borders, is a beautiful sight. During the long, dark months of winter, many northern gardeners curl up with spring catalogues, fantasizing about the vast array of rose offerings.  I too have been tempted by this fragrant queen of flowers, and having succeeded in my first garden with a luxurious climbing-beauty named “Constance Spry”, I know the sweet rewards of success. But as a professional gardener, I also know that growing roses can be a real challenge in cold climates. And unless the rose-lover takes as much care in the planning and planting phase as he/she does in the dreaming stage, there will often be great disappointment. Healthy, vigorous roses of almost all types can be grown in New England with a bit of research and proper care. The first steps in successful cold-climate rose culture are choosing the right location for the rose within the garden itself, and of course, selection of the best plants for hardiness

Choosing and siting a rose with it’s individual lifetime requirements in mind is wise for many reasons.  A rose planted in a proper site will receive ample sun, water, nutrients and protection.  The site should also allow the rose enough space to reach its full size and shape, and provide ample air movement for healthy foliage and adequate drainage of soil for healthy roots. Focusing on the process of gardening, by providing a proper environment, is key to success no matter what the gardener wishes to grow.

Soil is important to all plant life, of course.  And roses, like most plants, have preferences about the soil in which they grow.  It is wise to test your soil pH level, as well as nitrogen, phosphorus and potash levels, and adjust your soil chemistry accordingly. Roses prefer soil rich in minerals, nutrients and organic matter.  Like most garden plants, roses prefer a slightly acid soil with a pH between 6 and 7. When soil pH becomes too low or too high, nutrients become less available to plants. A pH test is easy to do, and takes just a few minutes. Soil testing kits are readily available at most garden centers and through online vendors and more extensive soil tests can often be done through your local university extension service. Getting pH and nutrient levels right is the first step toward making sure that your roses are receiving what they need from the soil in order to grow and thrive.

Soil texture is also very important to roses. And while it is true that roses prefer mineral-rich soil, it is also critical that they receive proper drainage and air circulation at their roots.  For these reasons, it is often helpful to closely examine your garden soil, and modify the texture if necessary, before planting roses.  Clay rich soils provide the minerals roses prefer, but unless organic matter, (such as compost and peat moss or other fiber), is added to the soil,the rose will rot and suffocate in water-logged, poorly aerated root conditions. Conversely, sandy soil will provide the rose with the drainage and dry roots it prefers, but the plant will suffer as minerals and nutrients wash away from the roots in quickly draining sand. Organic matter such as compost and other fibrous materials will hold moisture, minerals and nutrients in the soil, allowing the plant time to absorb them into it’s root system.  Adding compost and other organic material will improve your soil, be it clay-like or sandy.

Protecting the root zone of roses in climates like New England,where wildly fluctuating temperatures are common, will help prevent many problems. Compost-mulch shields roots and soil from heat and cold, weeds and insects, wind and erosion.  Bare soil is not natural, and stresses plants. Caring for the parts of the rose beneath the ground is as important as the attention we give to the plant we see. The rewards of good soil-science are strong, healthy root systems and roses with access to good nutrition. a few inches of compost mulch, and perhaps the addition of herbal companion plants such as thyme and lavender, (herbs provide some natural insect resistance, and attract beneficial insects), will go a long way toward giving your rose ideal growing conditions.

Of course, what goes on above soil level is equally important to rose-culture. Full sun is an absolute requirement for healthy roses. The plant should receive bright light from sunrise to sunset. Without full sun, a rose can not properly photosynthesize, and the result is a weak and spindly plant with few blossoms. Sunlight is also critical for dry foliage, and dry foliage is key to preventing fungal infections and disease. Although some rose varieties will tolerate less than a full day of sun, no rose is truly happy in shade. Sunny-sited roses will always be stronger and healthier than their shadowed neighbors. Give the rose what it needs, and it will return the favor of what you want: blossoms.

Considering air circulation and flow is advantageous for plant health, and longevity.  Siting your rose for unobstructed growth and air movement is important for disease prevention and cold protection.  Roses protected from prevailing winds by taller trees and shrubs will grow stronger and avoid the damage of winter desiccation.  So long as neighboring plants do not obstruct sunlight, roses will benefit from the back-up provided by neighboring hedges or groups of shrubs.  It is also beneficial to plant roses on a slightly elevated portion of a site.  Cold air flows downhill, and frost settles in lower parts of the land first.  Siting roses in a raised position will help with both airflow and drainage, giving roses another advantage in a cold climate.

Providing roses with the correct growing conditions is clearly important. However, no amount of care and consideration can substitute for proper selection of the rose itself.  When selecting roses for any garden, it is important to first consider the uniqueness of the plant. Every rose has an individual habit, mature size, shape and texture.  Some roses are vigorous and shrubby, some are politely contained bushes. Certain roses are open-shaped, others are dense. A few roses may be grown as climbers or tall shrubs, others remain petite. Knowing the form of the plant will help the gardener decide if it is right for the garden’s design. Rugosa roses have very different requirements from English roses.  And of course, any rose grown in a climate with cold winters must be fully compatible with the garden’s USDA hardiness zone.

As most gardeners quickly become aware, even individual gardens can have micro-climates with enough temperature variation to make a major difference in cold-hardiness. Spots protected from prevailing winds and freeze-thaw conditions on an individual site may allow for some zone-flexibility.  However, given the temperature variations in New England, it is safest to stick with a conservative attitude toward cold-hardiness, unless the gardener is willing to take extra precautions by mounding rose-root zones with compost each fall, and in some cases providing protection for the entire shrub.  New rose varieties will be more variable than the tried and true, and for the beginning gardener, hardy and time-tested varieties are a good place to start.  USDA zone 4/5 roses are a safe bet for most gardeners in New England, and zone 2/3 varieties will be safest for very cold, windy or exposed sites.

Most rugosa roses, modern landscape roses, and many antique shrub roses are extremely cold hardy. Rosa rugosa “Sarah Van Fleet”, “Belle Poitevine” and “Blanc double de Coubert” and hybrid “Therese Bugnet” are beautiful, exceptional performers.  Rugosas are a good choice for fences, hedges and groupings in the landscape. David Austin English roses are a nice choice for mixed borders, and provided the bud-union, (point of graft), is planted at least 4 inches beneath the soil-surface, a well sited Austin rose will perform well in New England.  Tried and true landscape roses, such as “Carefree Wonder”,( and for small-bloom lovers, “The Fairy”), are excellent selections for a wide variety of perennial garden designs, including designs with stone and along walkways. For old rose lovers, the hardy gallica, alba, moss and damask hybrids are good bets. “Charles de Mills”, “Konigin Von Denmark”, “Karl Forster”, “Maiden’s Blush”, “Striped Moss” and “Stanwell Perpetual” bring some old European-style to northern rose gardens. In addition to the shrub and landscape roses mentioned above, some climbers such as  ”William Baffin”, “New Dawn” and “John Cabot” are tough enough to weather the cold winds and blistering sub- zero temperatures New England dishes out. Extra care must be taken when siting more marginal climbing roses, such as “Constance Spry”, in a cold climate.  It is important to protect the exposed canes of more delicate climbing roses from desiccating winter winds. And always remember to position your rose to avoid damage from snow loads sliding off a steep roof.

When purchasing potted roses, try to buy from a local nursery, where the growers know your zone hardiness and purchase or propagate roses with cold conditions in mind. Take the time to ask the garden center staff about the roses you buy, and research the variety online to learn its habits and preferences. Knowing your rose and giving it what it needs are key to success no matter the garden climate, however this advice holds particularly true for gardeners in the north, where roses named “cold hardy” will continue to smell sweet for many years.

( coming soon…. part two roses: planting, pruning and maintenance )

Copyright 2009 Michaela H

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May at Ferncliff …

May 14th, 2009 Comments Off

Ferncliff- Secret Garden -this week

Blooming in the garden this week… woodland phlox, daphne, sweet woodruff…     and more bulbs.  Fragrance fills the air …

Garden design and installation: Michaela H

Stonework by Dan Snow

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Designing a Quiet Vignette for a Shady Garden…

May 7th, 2009 § 3

shade-gardenImage ⓒ Michaela at TGE – No usage without permission

Perhaps because I grew up in a bright, sunny home with the bold and colorful flowers my mother chose for her garden, I have always been intrigued by the opposite.  The allure of the shady nook on a hot summer afternoon is very seductive to me. While bright light and full sun allow for abundant plantings of riotous colored flowers and vegetables, the shelter and cool moisture of dappled shade provide opportunities for complex foliage and delicate textures. Velvety moss carpets, lacy ferns, silky hosta, and shimmering ivy, whisper and sooth the senses on a hot, humid day. What better place for an intimate July tete-a-tete than a shadowy secret garden?

My office-cum-guest-room is situated on the north east corner of the studio, on the first floor.  It is a glorified basement entry really, but to me it is paradise on earth when I  return from work at the end of a long summer day. This little oasis was created when Dan Snow built a stone courtyard in front of my walkout cellar. Before his arrival, the approach to the studio was a mess of construction debris and rubble. Together, we gathered stone from defunct walls on the border of my property. Then while he assembled the gorgeous retaining walls and courtyard entry, I set about planning the rest of the enclosure, entryway and shade garden.

secret-garden-through-doorEarly spring in the Secret Garden – Narcissus and Emerging Ferns at Center Stage ⓒ Michaela at TGE

In designing my secret garden entry, I took my inspiration from one of my favorite cities: New Orleans. I topped the courtyard walls with steel beams and balcony, echoing the romantic perches I admired in the French Quarter, but with a more modern twist.  Because of the steel grate, my garden is visible from above as well as below. In summer, the grid-like platform provides dappled shade, and a place for pots to rest.  This situation creates endless opportunities for annual displays, some trailing like curtains down into the secret garden. The walk-out basement was framed for French doors, in order to allow all available light into the office, and the walls were clad with copper sheeting. A pea-stone walk-way winds through the garden, leading from the side entry to the doors. Once this path was laid, I began to add compost and loam in and around the courtyard.

In choosing plants for a shady garden nook, structure is an oft-neglected, yet critical aspect to design success. I began my planting plan by first considering the stone doorway to my shady courtyard garden.  I wanted a tree to arch over the stone entry, emphasizing and yet softening the enclosure; important to set the secret-garden mood.  The tree needed to have an architectural presence, and four season interest. It also needed to tolerate light shade, and a bit of slope. Japanese maples are among my favorite trees, and using one here immediately came to mind. I quickly fell in love with a gorgeous Acer palmatum x dissectum, known as Seiryu, or The Blue Green Dragon. To the right of the entry, with a bit more available light, I planted a shrub for fragrance: Viburnum bodnantense, ‘Dawn‘.

rogersiaRodgersia aesculifolia and Matteccia pensylvanica ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Once inside the protected courtyard, the light shifts from bright to near total shade at the French Doors. I came up with a list of appropriate plants, and then narrowed the choices to a few. When designing for small spaces, especially in shade,  I believe it is important to create a calm rhythm with bold sweeps in a limited palette, accented by a few well-chosen stand-out plants. As with a small room inside a house, a tiny garden can become visually cluttered and chaotic with too much variety.  The skeleton of this design’s structure was formed by three things: a well chosen tree, (Stewartia pseudocamilla), a shrub, (Fothergilla gardenii), and an urn to hold still water for a sense of calm.  I also allowed Schizophragma h. ‘moonlight’ and ‘roseum’, (Japanese hydrangea vine), to creep up at the corners of the copper-clad wall.

hahohach-grass-cimicifugaHakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ with Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ and Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ ⓒ Michaela at TGE

With the structural, woody plants in place, I began to add shade perennials to my plan… emphasizing those with dramatic foliage, texture and season-long interest over flowers.  Of course in spring, the light in the space is more abundant, and the year does begin with the blooms of Fothergilla gardenii, Narcissus, Muscari, Leucojum, (snowflake) and Helleborus. And although subtle blossom continues throughout the season, it is foliage that takes center stage as the chartreuse tips of hosta and fuzzy fiddle head ferns explode into dramatic green, gold, and multi-colored fronds and leaves. Throughout the growing season the constant presence of these plants, (as well as Heuchera, Rodgersia, Cimicifugia, and other perennials chosen primarily for their foliage), makes for a calm but luxuriant tapestry of color in the shady secret garden.  Ground cover at the edges is also important.  Here, I chose budget-friendly Lamium ‘White Nancy’ to compliment some ghostly white ferns and to add light to the dark corners. Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ (Japanese woodland grass) and Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’, (golden pearlwort), were chosen as a bold contrast to the burgundy hues of my Heuchera,(coral bells), and Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, (bugbane).

euphorbia-close-up-of-textures-and-colorsHeuchera ‘Stormy Seas’ amid Euphorbia foliage ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Once the permanent  planting plan was set, and my trees, shrubs and perennials were settled in with a thick compost-mulch, I thought about my final garden accents. I had already placed the urn at the corner. Once filled with water, this design element provides a cool, dark reflection upon entering the garden room, (and a nice home for a local frog).  I decided that beside the French doors, I would gather a group of pots, (some clay and others coated with a deep maroon glaze), and fill them with tender perennial plants like Asparagus densiflorus,(asparagus fern), and Agapanthus, (African blue lily). Come fall, I pull the tender plants into my office where they spend the winter. For the final touches of my vignette each summer, I choose a few shade tolerant annual plants for pots, and I change these arrangements each spring.  After the last spring frost, I set these pots out on iron chairs near the door, where I also hang lanterns and candles.  And although the chairs serve only as seats for plants, they too lend a restful air to the room just before entering the door.

waterbowl-through-screenWater Bowl  ⓒ Michaela at TGE

By keeping the palette and variety of plants limited, a gardener can create a calming oasis in a shady corner of the garden. A back entry to a house or side porch covered in vines will often provide the perfect opportunity for a quiet garden space . When planning a shady vignette of your own, remember to focus on structure first, and then paint a calm space with colored and textured plant foliage.  Think about quiet, calm accents, like water bowls, candles and restful chairs as ways to add to the mood. Here in the shade, investing in a few high quality plants is a simple way to make a lasting impression. Luxuriant potted ferns and violets thrive in the dappled light of a shady garden. A well designed, subtle shade garden is incredibly soothing on a hot day, and a welcome, dark seductress amid the riotous, bright colors of summer.

courtyardInside the Garden Room Office, Looking Out at The Secret Garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Photographs ⓒ Michaela at TGE – No usage without permission

Garden design and installation by Michaela at TGE

All stonework by Dan Snow

For more Secret Garden images, see Ferncliff/Photos page on the navigation bar to the left on the home page of this journal.

Article and photos copyright 2009 Michaela at The Gardner’s Eden

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Pruning Trees and Shrubs in the Garden: A Guide for Beginners…

May 3rd, 2009 § 4

 

ubc-botanical-garden

 

When I think about the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen, my mind’s eye goes not to the flowers or the foliage in these spaces, but to the sculptural shapes of the trees and shrubs.  I can recall many such stand-outs; a magnificent wisteria, masterfully pruned against a stone wall in Positano, Italy; a spectacular, dark skeleton of a Japanese maple silhouetted against blazing vermillion foliage on an October afternoon;  a curvaceous stand of kalmia latifolia worked into a haunting arch. So much of what makes a garden memorable is structure. Pruning, when done with artful and surgical precision, can transform an otherwise cookie-cutter garden into magical and memorable architecture.

But beyond aesthetics, why do gardeners prune? And how is it done correctly?  I have seen otherwise confident gardeners run in the opposite direction when confronted with a pair of Felco 8 pruners. And is it any wonder?  After years of observation, I can understand the fear created by the horrific end-results of ill-considered, suburban hack-jobs with loppers and shears, (strange yellow balls of forsythia and mutilated yew spring to mind). Many gardeners would sooner allow their shrubs to become tangled masses of neglect and ruin than subject them to such hideous fate.  However, both approaches are as unhealthy, incorrect and unsightly as they are unnecessary.

It is important to know that proper pruning not only creates beautiful specimen trees and shrubs, but it is also important to the health and longevity of our garden plants. Broken limbs, rodent or deer gnawed twigs, and crossed, rubbing branches are an invitation for disease, deformity and death. Untended shrubs can block windows and doorways, crowd out other plants, and ruin property. Larger trees with damage can be truly hazardous. Properly pruned trees and shrubs in the garden will be healthier, and produce more abundant foliage, flowers and fruit.

Any gardener, with practice and determination, can learn to prune and prune well. The basic principals of cutting are quite simple, and with practice comes confidence.  The second part of pruning, the art of this skill, comes with time, observation and discipline.

The first step in pruning is to have the proper tools on hand, and to know how to care for those tools.  Most gardens can be maintained with four basic pruning tools. Always purchase the best tools you can afford. The most important of the four is the bypass pruner. I prefer Felco #8′s. Cared for with a whetstone and oil, Felco pruners will last a lifetime. Most pruning tasks involving twigs, stems and small branches are best handled by this device. The next tool on my beginner’s list is the Grecian saw. Invaluable for its ability to cut in tight spaces and fold away in a pocket, this saw will quickly and cleanly cut through most branches and small limbs, particularly those in tight spaces. Larger limbs are best tackled with a bow-saw. Purchase a good bow saw; one with a replaceable blade. A good, sharp pair of pruning shears is the final tool on my basic list. Even if a gardener has no use for hedges or cone shaped conifers, pruning shears are a great tool for cutting back perennials, ornamental grasses, and for shearing woody plants such as spirea, caryopteris and buddleja davidii. All pruning tools should be kept good and sharp with an oiled whetstone, and well cleaned, (after cutting each specimen), with a rag soaked in rubbing alcohol. Your tools should always be dried, oiled and stored in a moisture-free environment after use.

Once you have assembled your basic tool kit, it is important to consider the plants you will be pruning. Learning to correctly identify trees and shrubs and researching their growth habits, bloom times, forms and preferences, is key to knowing how to get the most from the larger plants in your garden. Some trees and shrubs will require little pruning, and others will require regular and aggressive attention from the gardener. Begin by studying the difference between opposite and alternate bud patterns on branches, as this will allow you to correctly decide when to make shallow angled or straight pruning cuts. Understanding how the plant will respond to your pruning will help you decide on where to cut branches to direct new growth, or how to check growth on the plant. And knowing when to do your cutting will give you the results you hope for.

I recommend that gardeners buy a good tree and shrub identification book or two. George Symonds, The Shrub Identification Book, and Michael Dirr’s encyclopedic, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, are certainly good starts. A book with good photographs, such as Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs, by Michael Dirr, is also helpful. And a good instructional book, especially Lee Reich’s The Pruning Book, from Taunton Press, is key for the beginner. Haunting local nurseries and arboretums may also help with memorization and enhanced visual recognition.  A great arboretum will offer a gardener the opportunity to see mature tree and shrub specimens properly planted and pruned. Research combined with experience is the best teacher. Working with an experienced pruner, if you can find or hire one, is ideal.

Once armed with the proper tools, and with a bit of research, it is time to practice cutting.  This process will be less stressful if the gardener begins on less-desirable plants, or scrub brush in the corner of the yard.

Understanding bud types is critical to knowing how to cut woody stems. Alternating bud patterns have buds staggered up and down the stem.  Opposite buds, as the name implies, have buds opposite one another on the stem. Look for these patterns and study them. When pruning, the first key is cutting to just above a healthy bud on a strong, healthy stem. It is important to make the cut close enough to avoid leaving a stub of wood above the bud, (with few exceptions, this will die back and rot), and it is always important to avoid cutting too closely, (injuring or killing the new bud, resulting in die back and rot).  Ideally the cut is made just slightly above the bud.  Alternate buds will require a slightly angled cut, directed away from the bud.  When outward growth is desired on an alternate budding specimen, (in most cases), the cut is made directly above, (but not touching), an outward facing bud. The new growth will be in this direction.  With opposite buds, (buds directly opposite each other on the woody stem), a straight cut is made directly above, (but once again, not touching), the buds.  When making a thinning cut of a branch, or limb, always make the cut just beyond the branch collar, (the rough ridge between the branch and the trunk), and at a slight angle.  With larger limbs, first remove some of the heavy, excess branches. This is advisable both for safety and ease.  It is also good practice to make three cuts on limbs of significant size. First, a few inches away from the collar, make a short undercut to prevent a tear to the bark, followed by a top cut through the branch.  The stub may be pruned off last, in a clean line with the collar. It is important here to avoid leaving a stub of branch, and equally important to avoid a flush cut to the trunk, removing the collar.   This is why controlling the removal of the branch with at least three cuts is the best practice.

There are three main types of pruning cuts: pinching, heading and thinning. Pinching stem tips will stimulate hormones directed toward the remaining side shoots.  This type of pruning is frequently used on perennials such as mums, for bushy-growth, plants such as tomatoes for fruit, and for flower or foliage production. Pinching directs energy to branching, flowers and fruit, and makes lanky shrubs fuller. Heading cuts shorten branches.  The more you head cut a branch, the more vigorous the new growth will be below the cut. Hormones quickly kick into gear to insure the plant’s survival. This is important to keep in mind when trying to keep an unruly plant in check, as certain plants are stimulated by severe pruning, and will become shrubbier faster. If you do not desire this sort of growth, aggressive heading cuts are counter productive. Dramatic heading cuts are important in creating hedges, for example, or to stimulate leaf production on plants grown for foliage and stems, (such as ornamental sambucus, salix and red twig dogwood). The third type of cut is the thinning cut. This type of pruning eliminates a branch entirely at the ground, or by removal just past the branch collar. As the name implies, this cut thins a tree or shrub, and is intended to lean out bushiness and undesirable growth.  Some examples of this cut’s use are for the removal of damaged limbs and crossing tree branches, suckers and water spouts or with shrubs, to provide air circulation inside a dense mass.

The seasonal timing of cuts will be a major factor with successful pruning. Removal of damaged and diseased wood can and should happen whenever a problem is noticed. Other pruning depends on the plant in question, and the desired result. For most deciduous trees, the best time for structural pruning and renovation is in late winter, (late January to mid February in New England for most species), when trees are dormant. Trees with heavy-running sap should never be pruned during the spring thaw in late February and March, (such as maple and birch trees, for example). Light aesthetic pruning and the thinning of undesirable new growth, such as waterspouts and suckers, can be done on most trees and shrubs during the summer. The thinning of waterspouts and suckers is easiest when this growth is new and soft, and thinning cuts to the trunk or main branches will prevent new growth.  This type of thinning is best done when those undesirable branches appear. Evergreen trees, and conifers in general, are pruned in spring before their flush of new growth. Some ornamental conifers may also be pinched to produce bushiness as new growth appears. In general, most ornamental shrubs are pruned in spring. Those shrubs blooming in spring are pruned immediately following bloom, (lilacs for example, must be pruned immediately after blooming, or the following year’s blossom may be sacrificed).  Late-blooming shrubs are pruned in early spring, before they set buds, (clethera for example, is pruned early in the season just before growth begins).  Always research your flowering shrub to understand when and how it blooms, on new wood or new growth on old wood. Some trees and shrubs require minimal pruning for best results, and others demand a more aggressive approach.

When making cuts, it is important to have very sharp, well cleaned, (with rubbing alcohol), pruners.  Any cut must be very even and smooth, with no jagged edges. When pruning, the gardener is creating a wound. The plant will respond by protecting itself, and forming a callus to seal the wood. A woody plant calluses fastest over the least surface.  It is always best to prune branches when they are still small, and to make clean cuts.  Clean cuts prevent trapped moisture and rot in crevices, and help discourage disease and insects.

After you prune, do absolutely nothing to seal pruned branches. A properly pruned tree or shrub will callus naturally.  A clean, dry cut will allow the plant to quickly callus.  Moisture and wraps are generally the enemy of the callus and the friend of disease. There are a very few exceptions, (such as elm), but in general, remember that a clean dry cut is the best course of action in pruning.

Practice of these basic principles and rules will prepare the gardener for beginning the necessary damage repair, renovation and aesthetic pruning of woody plants in the garden. Remember that engaging in the act of pruning will build your confidence. Study branches, research specimens, and practice on undesirable, broken or wasted wood and plant material.  Buy the best pruning tools you can afford, and care for them well. With practice any gardener can learn to approach a tree or shrub with pruners, and correctly cut a tree or shrub with care and confidence.  Remember that neglect will ruin a woody plant as surely as incorrect pruning.  Trees and shrubs are important and valuable assets in your garden, learning to correctly care for them with pruning will insure your success with these plants and the long term value of your investment.

f82Felco # 8 bypass pruner

grecian-pruning-sawGrecian pruning saws, folding type at bottom

bow-sawBow saw with replaceable blade

topiary-hedge-shearsTopiary/Hedge pruning shears

 

Photo Credit Top: Acer Palmatum, UBC Botanical Garden file photo credit: Folius

This essay is the basis of a detailed seminar on pruning at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont by Michaela

For seminar inquiries, please contact Walker Farm

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Article copyright 2009, 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 without express written consent. Inspired by something you see here? 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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