Embracing the Long, Hot Summer . . . Designing a Water Wise Garden

July 24th, 2013 § Comments Off on Embracing the Long, Hot Summer . . . Designing a Water Wise Garden § permalink

Golden Wildflower Walk - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Rudbeckia hirta, Blooming a Wild River of Gold in Morning Fog

Welcome to high summer! With temperatures soaring and scant rainfall last week, suddenly this gardener switched from wellies and rain ponchos to flip flops, sundresses and watering wands. New England —always known for its fast-changing weather— has been experiencing some atypical summer extremes. For the past three summers, it seems like it’s either raining non-stop for months —with severe flooding here in Vermont— or not at all. After weeks of downpours and washouts, I had quite a bit of hydrating to do last week —running here and there with hoses and timers for newly installed gardens— but my wildflower garden, pictured here, hasn’t cried out for a single drop. The vast majority of plants in this drought-tolerant design are North American natives —or hardy, non-native cousins— chosen for their willingness to not only survive, but thrive with Mother Nature’s wild mood swings. When I think ‘low maintenance’, I always look to heat and drought-tolerant plants for summer sun.

Maiden Grass and Rudbeckia - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Self Sown Rudbeckia hirta and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ Line the Secret Garden Path

Even in the Northeast, full sun gardens require perennials, shrubs and trees that can really take the heat. When designing gardens in hot, dry locations, I take my inspiration from the native prairies, meadows and even high desert regions of North America, where drought tolerance is essential to survival. Rudbeckia, Penstemon, Panicum, Agastache, Filipendula, Amsonia, Coreopsis, Asclepias, Echinacea, Liatris, Achillea, Pennisetum, Lupine, Heliopsis, Salvia and other wildflowers and grasses are all good, perennial choices for full sun and lean soil. I also look to the Mediterranean, where boney earth, sunny summer days and low rainfall place similar demands on plant life. Perennials and shrubs with narrow, fine. shiny, silvery, and/or sun-reflective foliage —Lavendula, Achillea, Tanacetum, Festuca, Perovskia, Nepeta, Artemisia, Stachys, Thymus, Echinops, Eryngium, Centranthus, Ceratsium, Salvia, Juniperus, Caryopteris, Calluna and Erica, to name a few— not only survive in full sun and fast-draining soil, but they actually require it in order to thrive. Hardy succulents and their close cousins —including many Sedum, Echeveria and Euphorbia— perform well during hot, dry spells and the many low-growing species fill empty nooks and crannies between stones and walkway pavers. Although all gardens require supplemental watering until established, by choosing drought-tolerant plants, mid-summer water-demand and garden labor is significantly decreased. And aren’t we all looking for just a bit more time in the hammock?

Light-Catching Textures in the Entry Garden - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Fine Textures & Transparant Colors Catch the Light & Slightest Breeze 

Cotinus coggygria with Miscanthus sinensis and wildflowers - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com A Drought-Tolerant Mix for Summer-Autumn Color: Rudbeckia hirta, Amsonia hubrichtii, Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, Callicarpa dichatoma ‘Issai’,  Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’

Welcoming Summer Garden - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com A Warm Welcome Home, Atop the Drive

Ladybells (Adenephora confusa) - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Although Non-Native, I Notice the Lady-Like Ladybells Keep Their Cool Charm on a Hot Summer Day (Adenephora confusa)

Daylilies in July - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comWhile Daylilies Match the Thermometer in Raging Hot Shades Along the Drive

Agastache and Rudbeckia - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comAgastache & Rudbeckia Lure in the Pollinators with Bold Color, and Stand Tall on Hot Summer Days

Daylilies and Sunlight in July - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com  Late Day Light on the Golden Daylilies Along the Drive: Though Hemerocallis are Often Shunned as ‘Common’, I Love their Long, Cheerful Show and Indestructible Ease. Many of Mine are from Olallie Daylily Gardens in South Newfane, Vermont.

Bumblebee in Daylily - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Bumble Bee Enjoying Hemerocallis in the Entry Garden

On My Bookshelf: Resources & Inspiration for Designing & Planting a Water-Wise Garden . . .

The American Meadow Garden The American Meadow Garden – John Greenlee and Saxon Holt – Click to view/purchase from Amazon.com

Gardening the Meiterranean Way Gardening the Mediterranean Way – Heidi Gildemeister – Click to view/purchase from Amazon.com

Sun-Drenched Gardens - Jane Smithen Sun-Drenched Gardens – Jan Smithen

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

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“Autumn Is A Second Spring, When Every Leaf Is A Flower” – Camus

September 22nd, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

Dwarf Witch Alder (Fothergilla gardenii) & Hosta ‘August Moon’

Wisps of cool, grey fog, softly greet color-tinged leaves on the first morning of a new season . . .

Welcome Autumn! 

Cranberrybush Viburnum (V. trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’)

Doublefile Viburnum (V. plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’), Cranberrybush Viburnum (V. trilobum ‘JN Select Red Wing’), Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens), Coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’) & Arkansas Blue Star (Amsonia hubrichtii) 

Doublefile Viburnum (V. plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’) with Hosta ‘Blue Angel’

Tea Viburnum (V. setigerum) with Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’)

Cut Leaf Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’)

Fragrant Abelia (A. mosanensis)

Garden Design & Installation: Michaela Medina Harlow

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

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Swing Season: Falling for September’s Slow, Sultry Color Shift . . .

September 14th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

Bits of Early Color: Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’ and Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens Glow Like Stained Glass in the Last Rays of Low Sunlight

The last days of summer: golden light, cricket chorus, scampering squirrels and vibrant colors. It seems Mother Nature —ready to rest from a long growing season— has decided to stretch out in a meadow of tall grass and soak in the warmth of September’s sun. This is the swing season. Nights are getting nippier and a star-filled blanket of inky darkness spills out across the sky earlier and earlier with each passing day. In her final transition from summer to fall, the garden is slowly shifting hues and textures. Once opaque green, even the forest canopy is showing signs of early color; tints of autumnal scarlet, saffron and bittersweet kiss leaf edges and margins.

Although I look forward to all of the seasons, It’s true that I enjoy autumn more than any other. Viburnum, Windflower, Fairy Candles, Flame Grass, Yellow Wax Bells, Asters, Toad Lilies, Monkshood and Glowing Moss; at this time of year, my favorite plants are just beginning to get gussied up for for their grand, garden soiree. And I’m ready to pour myself a glass of Sweet September Sangria and join Mother Nature for a moment in the late summer sun. Here, a few of my current, swing-season favorites in the garden . . .

A Floriferous Late Summer Favorite, Bush Clover (Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Edo Shibori’), is Popular with September Pollinators as Well. I Often Include This Blowzy Beauty in My Garden Designs, and Grow Several Cultivars Here at Home; Including the Glorious, Fuchsia-Colored ‘Gibraltar’.

Windflowers are Some of the Most Beautiful Late-Blooming Perennials. ‘September Charm’, ‘Party Dress’, ‘Robustissima’ and Silver-Tipped ‘Serenade’ are Among the Loveliest. Pictured Above: Anemone x hybrida ‘Serenade’

Ornamental Grasses are Truly the Queens of the Late Season Garden. Here, Mauve-Tinted Tips of Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’) Echo the Colors of a September Dawn

I Like to Position Ornamental Grasses Where Their Late-Season Tassels Catch the Low, Golden Light. Pictured Here is Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens)

Light Filters Through Maiden Grass Tassels in the Late Afternoon, Greeting Me Home

Late Summer Colors Grow Richer in the Shade as Well. On Cool, Still Evenings, Luminous White Fairy Candles (Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’) Fill the Secret Garden with Beautiful Fragrance; Reminiscent of Ripe Concord Grapes

Though the Golden Flowers are Stunning from Late August through September, Beautiful Kirengeshoma palmata (Yellow Wax Bells) Grace the Dappled-Shade Garden with Emerald Green Foliage Throughout the Year

With Their Exotic Looks and Late-Season Resilience, Toad Lilies Have Earned a Special Place Among My Favorite Flowers. Tricyrtis hirta is Particularly Hardy (tolerating extreme cold temperatures to -30 Degrees Fahrenheit – USDA zones 4-9). Though a Bit Less Sturdy, Tricyrtis formosana ‘Dark Beauty’ Has Always Stopped Me in My Tracks

With Late Winter to Early Spring Blossoms, Leathery Green Leaves, Ornamental Berries and Vibrant Fall Foliage, Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’ is a Four Season, Garden Beauty. But to Me, the Autumn is When She Always Shines Her Brightest

Garden Design & Installation: Michaela Medina Harlow

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

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Welcome Home! Johnson’s Garden: Revisiting a Renovation, One Year Later

July 24th, 2012 § 5 comments § permalink

A Welcoming Garden of Color: A Hedge of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine is Fronted by Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’, Perovskia antriplicifolia, Rudbeckia  fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ and Sedum telephium ‘Munstead Red’, Among Other Plantings Facing the Residential Street

After taking an early morning stroll through a garden I designed and installed last summer, I decided the visit was simply too delicious to keep all to myself. When Geri and Stan Johnson invited me to create a colorful and welcoming garden for the entryway to their riverside home, I leapt at the opportunity. The Johnsons gave me complete creative freedom throughout the process —allowing me to choose the plants best suited to their site and budget, without any restrictions in terms of color or form— and I enjoyed every moment. You may recall this garden renovation featured here last year (click to view the post). One year after planting —thanks to Stan’s excellent site prep and both Johnsons’ diligent maintenance and tender-loving-care during dry-spells— the garden is already full, lush and vibrant. Come have a look, and see how things have grown (click images to enlarge)…

A Hedge of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ Makes a Fine Backdrop for Perennial Plantings on Either Side of the Road, Providing both Privacy and Beauty to the Residence (Interior Perennial Border Plantings Include: Sedum Spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’, Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’, Penstemon digitalis ‘Huskers Red’ & Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’. In the Background, an Gorgeous Hedge of Tsuga canadensis Towers in a Cool Shade of Forest Green)

Two Sunny Borders Skirt the Entryway Walk, Providing Non-Stop Color from Spring to Late Fall with Vibrant Foliage and Bloom (For Plant Details, See Lists Above and Below). Solar Lanterns are from BJs (See similar solar lanterns here at Amazon.com)

Euphorbia polychroma ‘Bonfire’ & Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ Along the Hot, Sunny Walkway 

Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) & Wild Blue Indigo (Baptisia australis) 

A Quiet Place to Read the Morning Paper (Plantings Left to Right: Liatris ‘Kobold’, Asclepias tuberosa, Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, Baptisia australis, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’, Backed by Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’). Geri and Stan Love Color in a Garden, and I Couldn’t Agree with Them More! Wine and Chocolate Play Against Citrus and Berry Hues in this Bold Garden; Saturating the Verdant Backdrop with Colors so Ripe You Can Almost Taste Them!

Veronica spicata ‘Purpleicious’ Backed by Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’

The Long Border, Leading to the Maroon-Painted Arch and Retaining Wall Gardens, is Filled with Classic Perennials; Including Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’, Ligularia dentata ‘Britt Marie Crawford’, Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’ and various other cvs, Geranium x gerwat ‘Rozanne’, various Astilbe and Blooming Shrubs

At the Far End of the Garden, Ornamental Grass, Sage and Rudbeckia Fill a Retaining Wall Garden in Full Sun (Plantings Front to Back: Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’, Perovskia antriplicifolia, Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’ and to the right, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’)

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine is Fronted by Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’, Perovskia antriplicifolia, Rudbeckia  fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ and Sedum telephium ‘Munstead Red’

Thank You to Geri and Stan Johnson for Your Support, and for Sharing Your Garden with The Gardener’s Eden!

Garden Design & Installation, Michaela Medina Harlow – For Inquiries See Contact at Left

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

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Slip Beyond the Misty Walls & Linger Within My Secret Garden…

June 16th, 2012 § 9 comments § permalink

Weigela florida ‘Red Prince’ Tumbling Over the Secret Garden Wall. Stonework by Vermont Artist Dan Snow. Read More About W. florida  by Clicking Here.

It’s mid-June —showtime for some of the season’s prettiest perennials, flowering trees and shrubs— and the garden is always dressed to the nines. Even within the shady depths of my Secret Garden walls, blossoms appear and scent the balmy air. As a garden designer, June is also my busiest month, and finding leisure time to tend my garden —let alone enjoy it— can be a challenge. Still, Mother Nature is kind enough to keep extending the daylight hours, allowing me a few stolen moments in the early and latter part of my day to snap a few photos and pull a few weeds.

Would you like to go for a little stroll with me, before the sun sinks low? It’s almost summertime, and this weekend seems a fine prelude. I’ll pour you a glass of rose-scented prosecco. Remember how we celebrated with a vintage cocktail at the other side of the season? Come, the rain has finally stopped, and sunlight is playing with a kaleidoscope of color; bouncing off shimmering foliage and mossy rocks…

A Kaleidoscope of Hues Accent Dan Snow’s Walls with An Ebony-Glazed Crow by Vermont Artist Virginia Wyoming (Plantings, Clockwise from Lower Left: Hosta ‘August Moon’, Umbrella Plant (Darmera peltata), Fairy Candles (Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’), Moonlight Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’), Heuchera villosa ‘Caramel’, Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’ & Alchemilla mollis)

Deep Within the Secret Garden, Golden Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’) Illuminates the Mossy Path (Also planted here: Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’, Single Japanese ‘Le Charme’ Peonies (Paeonia lactiflora ‘Le Charme’), Rodgersia aesculifolia & Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia pensylvanica) surround a Young Stewartia pseudocamellia)

Much as I Adore the Over-the-Top Voluptuousness of Double and Bomb Type Peonies, the Delicate Beauty of Japanese Singles —Such as the Exquisite Paeonia lactiflora ‘Le Charme’ in the Secret Garden— Appeal to My Deep Attraction to Asian Simplicity

Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’) Planted in the Secret Garden with Coral Bells (Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’), Spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Fens Ruby’) and Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum ‘Orchid Frost’)

On Sunny Evenings, Prince Pickerel Often Sits at the Edge of His Throne, Awaiting A Kiss at the Secret Garden Door

And on Rainy Days, Prince Pickerel Disappears within the Secret Garden’s  Mossy Stone Walls

A Tall Urn Accents a Shady Corner of the Entry Wall Along the Secret Garden Path (Surrounding Plants include: Heuchera ‘Caramel’, Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, Hosta ‘August Moon’). All Stonework by Vermont Artist Dan Snow.

Meanwhile, Just Outside the High Stone Walls, June Flowers Reign Supreme along the Petite Lawn. I’ve Nicknamed this Beauty ‘Veronica Lake’. Stunning in Blue Isn’t She? This Veronica Truly is a Wispy & Ephemeral Flower, With a Short but Unforgettable Showing. In Spite of this Peek-a-Boo Quality, Veronica austriaca subsp. teucrium ‘Crater Lake Blue’ Will Always Have A Place in My Garden. Once Finished Blooming, I Simply Cut Her Droopy Foliage Back to a Tidy Mound.

Prelude to Summer: A Garden of White in Lingering Light. Valerian officinalis, Aruncus dioicus & Hydrangea petiolaris in Evening Sun

One of My June Garden Favorites, North American Native Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia cutivar ‘Pink Charm’), is Blooming Her Pretty Head Off in the Entry Garden Along the Ledges; Attracting Dozens of Swallowtail Butterflies with Her Sweet Nectar and Bright Color (Also in this Garden: Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’, and in the Background, Miscanthus sinensis cultivars)

Wild, Rambling Roses & Horizontal Juniper Along the Ledges (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’ and an Unidentified Old Rose Cultivar). Every Year, I’m Asked About the Fragrant, Rambling Rose Along My Secret Garden’s Entry Garden Walk. This ‘Wild’ Rose was Discovered in the Ruins of an Old, Crumbling Stone Foundation, Located on the Property Where I Grew Up. I’ve Taken A Slip With Me Each Time I’ve Moved, and It Seems Particularly Happy Here Along the Ledges, Growing in Harmony with the Blue-Green Juniper. Can You Spot the Floating Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly?

The Pretty June Bloom of this Geranium ‘Brookside’ is Often Followed by a Second Showing in Autumn —Particularly When Clipped Back Hard to a Tidy Mound— When Her Foliage Turns Brilliant Orange and Scarlet

The Smoldering Glow of Sunlit Foliage on this Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’) in the Entry Garden is Radiant as Stained Glass in the Long Daylight. Also Illuminated in the Background is Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’

Pretty Blue Flowers from Chance Seedlings of Perennial Bachelor Buttons (Centaurea montana) Sparkle Against the Deep Maroon Foliage of Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’)

Back Inside My Studio, Double and Bomb Type Peonies Fill the Room with Heavenly Fragrance from the Garden: Paeonia lactiflora ‘Sarah Berhardt’, P. lactiflora ‘Raspberry Sundae’ & P. lactiflora ‘Duchesse de Nemours’

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

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A Misty Morning Stroll Through the Moody, Late Autumn Garden …

November 11th, 2011 § 8 comments § permalink

Still Shining Brightly After the Unseasonable Snow Storm: Abelia mosanensis and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’ with a Carpet of Juniper in the Entry Garden

Resilience. Sometimes I am astonished by nature’s ability to bounce back after trauma. In spite of a historic, tropical storm in August and record-breaking two feet of snow in October, the garden is doing remarkably well and is on the re-bound. I’m happy to report there was little damage to the vast majority of woody plants, and even the ornamental grasses are perking back up. My Stewartia pseudocamellia did suffer a nasty break on a particularly poetic lower branch and sadly, it’s throwing off the artful asymmetry. I did a quick pruning job to clean up the wound, but I will have to make a few tough decisions —including whether or not to keep or replace this tree— come spring.

And so a quick tour of the misty, November garden highlights; a bit less vibrant this year, perhaps, but seductive and enchanting nonetheless …

The Young Blackhaw Viburnum Still Holds Colorful Foliage and Fruit (Viburnum prunifolium)

Thanks to a Night of Gentle Shaking Throughout the Snow Storm, Not a Hair Was Harmed on Her Glorious Crown: The Blue Green Dragon (Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’) Continues to Blaze in Full Color at the Secret Garden Door

The Coral Stems of the Nannyberry Viburnum (V. lentago) Look Even More Fantastical When Laced With Dewy Cobwebs

I’m Not Sure of How the Bluestar Amsonia (Amsonia hubrichtii) and Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) Survived Two Feet of Heavy Snow, but I’m Oh-So Pleased They Both Did!

Blooming Past the Snow: Native Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) ‘Raydon’s Favorite’

Through Snow, Sleet and Rain: This Border of Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens, Fothergilla major ‘Mt. Airy’, Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’ and Cornus alba ‘Siberica’ Still Glows Bright as Hot Coals

Cotoneaster  dammeri ‘Eichholz’and Juniperus Horizontalis 

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

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

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Musings On A September Morning …

September 1st, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

A Lovely September Sunrise (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ with Rudbeckia hirta seed pods and Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’)

September, October and November are my favorite months in the gardening year. Late summer and early autumn —as well as that magical, indescribable, post-frost warm-spell known as ‘Indian Summer’— are spectacular seasons here in New England. This morning —before heading back to work via a newly cut four-wheel drive road— I took a walk through my garden, counting my blessings. I’m so fortunate to live and work in this beautiful state, surrounded by so much natural beauty. I love Vermont, and although we will face many challenges in the coming months —fixing bridges, roads and homes before winter— we are headed into what is perhaps our most inspirational season. I draw strength from wild beauty every day. And though nature has recently humbled us with her raw power, more often she leaves us in awe of her majesty …

Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’ Begins Blooming in Early September and Continues Through Early October (In the Background: Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’ and Heuchera villosa ‘Palace Purple’)

The Soft, New Inflorescences on the Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens) and Leather-Like Leaves of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ Catch an Early Glow 

Creamy Hydrangea Blossoms (H. paniculata ‘Limelight’) with a Backdrop of Glowing Heather  (Calluna vulgaris ‘Silver Knight)

The Delightfully Hombre-Hued Fruits of Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’

Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’ with Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’

I Find Fingerleaf Rodgersia’s (R. aesculifolia) Blossoms, Foliage and Dried Flower Heads Gorgeous From Spring Through Winter

At the Moment I’m Too Busy to Tend to Garden Chores Like Deadheading, But the Secret Garden Stairs Feel Welcoming Each Morning, if Just a Wee-Bit Unkempt

And There’s Always the South-Easterly View to Distract from Imperfections

Which I Enjoyed Thoroughly This Morning While Setting My Annual Pots & Other Things Back in Their Rightful Places

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

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

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The Magic of Morning Light …

August 20th, 2011 § Comments Off on The Magic of Morning Light … § permalink

A Web of Diamond Dewdrops, Left Dangling on the Balcony …

Early morning light is magical in the late summer garden. Soft and warm, the gentle rays illuminate fine textures and shimmering dew drops. I love to stroll the garden paths at this time of day. Sometimes my best design ideas come in the early hours, and when I observe a sunlit spot —an opportunity for backlighting texture— I make note of it in my journal. Later, when I spy a delicate, near-transparent colored flower or cloud-like plant —and I’m particularly fond of ornamental grasses— I will pick it up to accent the luminous space. Later in autumn and especially in winter (click here for photos of January light in my garden), the textures of the garden become even more pronounced as color fades back and detail takes center stage …

The Tips of This Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) Sway and Glow as the Sun Rises Behind Cranberry Bush Viburnum (Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’)

This Aptly Named Maiden Grass, ‘Morning Light’, Shimmers and Shines Like Spun Gold at Sunrise (Here with Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’ and fading blossoms of Rudbeckia hirta)

When Backlit by Early Sunlight, the Golden Bands of Porcupine Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’) Stand Out in Bold Contrast to the Deep Wine Color of the Ninebark Beyond (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’)

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

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

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Strolling Along the Wildflower Walk …

July 6th, 2011 § Comments Off on Strolling Along the Wildflower Walk … § permalink

A Stroll Through the Wildflower Walk in Late Afternoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Misty Mountain Top: Painted Ledges & Secret Garden in Summertime Fog …

June 27th, 2011 § Comments Off on Misty Mountain Top: Painted Ledges & Secret Garden in Summertime Fog … § permalink

The Entry Garden on a Misty, Late June Morning (Left to right foreground:Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ & Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’- see descriptions below for other plantings)

Sunny summer days are glorious; filled with shimmering, gold fields and blue, shadowed valleys. I love long strolls through garden paths with the sun’s warmth on my skin. We’ve had quite a bit of rain lately, and grumbling about the weather —that favorite New England pastime— has reached a fever pitch. But secretly —I must confess— I love the moodier weather. There’s just something about the painterly quality of soft morning mist, and the way the garden’s colors sing against grey skies…

Entry Garden Ledges Viewed from the Opposite Side (Kalmia latifolia ‘Pink Charm’, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’, Miscanthus sinensis variegatus with a rambling rose of unknown provenance)

The Secret Garden’s Late June Beauty

Cornus kousa in foreground, backed up by Weigela florida ‘Red Prince’ spilling over the wall

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

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

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Autumn Light…

October 19th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Edge of daylight…

Autumn light, like golden honey dripping from branches, sweetens the chill of mid-October days. A stroll through the garden reveals a sunlit patch of earth —still empty. My eye follows the low rays, looking for opportunities to play with light and texture; a potential spot for a luminous shrub, feathery grass or sculptural group of silhouetted seed pods. Could this be the place for a new player in my garden’s late show? Morning and evening, I ask: where is the light? Where is the magic?

Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’ (Shasta viburnum) lights up like stained glass in the western corner of the garden at sunset

Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ (Switch Grass) is positioned to catch the light of both sunrise and sunset

Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’ catches early morning light in the eastern corner of the garden

Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens on the western edge of the garden, bathed in afternoon light

Halesia tetraptera Leaf in Water Bowl (Carolina silverbell)

This Cornus kousa (Korean dogwood), positioned on the east side of the terrace,  glows in the morning light

Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’ and Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’ at the eastern, side-entrance to the Secret Garden

Another look at the glowing foliage of Cornus kousa

Miscanthus sinensis tufts in early morning light

Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey compact’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning light’ Shimmer and Sparkle at Dawn

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Article and photographs ⓒ 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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Singin’ and Dancin’ in the Rain….. Vibrant Colors on a Late September Day

September 28th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Raindrops on Birch – Late September at Ferncliff

Grey skies and fog… Are those downpours drumming on my roof? Why yes! At long last, the heavens have opened up; two days and a forecast filled with showers! Suddenly saturated, the colors of early autumn seem to be singin’ and dancin’ in the rain. Chinese orange and plum, cherry red and dusty violet, saffron and rust; a rainbow of beauty without a trace of sun. So now, pull on your rain boots and pop on a bright yellow jacket. Come join me beneath my big umbrella and let’s go for a stroll ’round the September garden. It couldn’t be prettier outside. Why not splash in the puddles and have some fun…

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ and Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’

Rodgersia aesculifolia and Stewartia pseudocamillia in the Secret Garden

Miscanthus purpurascens (Flame Grass) with Viburnum trilobum ‘J.N. Select – Redwing’

Viburnum setigerum with berries, planted with Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ and Rudbeckia hirta {remnant seed pods on view}

In the Entry Garden: Amsonia illustris and Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug’

Raindrops on the coral twigs and multicolored foliage of a young Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’ beside the wall

The golden timothy meadow (Phleum pratense) and beyond, hayscented fern (Dennstaedtia puctilobula) edge the woodland

A half-lit sugar maple (Acer saccharum) glows in front of the native forest to the south

Purple-red ash (Fraxinus americana) and tangerine-tipped sugar maple (Acer saccharum) line the gateway to the native forest

A red maple (Acer rubrum) is all aflame on my hilltop, standing before the native forest to the north

Miscanthus purpurascens and Amsonia illustris (planted with Fothergilla gardenii, Rudbeckia, Sedum and in the background Cornus alba)

Hayscented Fern (Dennstaedtia puctilobula)

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’ and Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ and Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’

Raindrops on Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ (Fountain Grass)

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’, Sedum, and Eupatorium ‘Chocolate’

Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ (detail)

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ and Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’

Clethra alnifolia (Summersweet) and Miscanthus purpurascens with Weigela florida ‘Red Prince’

Early Autumn Colors in Vermont

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf hydrangea), Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ (Holgers Juniper) and Solidago (Goldenrod)

Inspiration…

Singin’ in the Rain…

In Pretty Red Wellies !

Article and photographs (with last two exceptions) ⓒ 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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Penstemon, Rudbeckia and Veronica: An Easy, Breezy, Flowering Combination for Mid-Summer Meadow Gardens…

June 29th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

A Sunny Combination of Meadow Flowers for a Long-Blooming, Informal Summer Garden. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Bees buzzing in the garden, sun-tea brewing on the terrace, and books piled high beside the hammock; sweet summertime is here at last. I love waking up to early morning sunshine playing upon the warm, summery colors in my garden. Right now I am particularly smitten with the entry garden, where cool shades of blue and violet are sparked to life with bright flecks of yellow and orange. “Hello, and welcome home again”, they seem to say, as I pull my work totes from the car at the end of a long, hot day.

Bright and cheerful black-eyed Susan, (Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’), sky-blue speedwell, (Vernonica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’), and season-spanning beard’s tongue, (Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’), perform beautifully together in a pretty trio that lasts throughout July and well into August, with little effort on my part. Bee, butterfly and hummingbird magnets, all three; these flowers delight the eye as they sparkle in the sunshine and sway in the warm summer breeze. What genius thought of this combination? Well, I wish I could take the credit, but only Mother Nature could come up with such a sensational mix. Although the grouping featured here blends three selected cultivars, these are all North American native plants. Meadow flowers tend to be drought-tolerant by nature, and once established, they need little care. Rudbeckia and Penstemon will self-seed with abandon, making them the perfect choice for a wildflower walk or naturalized planting. And delightful Veronica provides this low-maintenace group with a heavenly dose of mid-season blue…

Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’ plays in poetic, harmony with bees – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’  with Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’, backed by Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’- Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’ provides both blossom and stunning, purple-hued foliage to the meadow garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Hardy to at least zone 4 (Penstemon digitalis and Veronica spicata are cold tolerant to zone 2 and 3, respectively) all three plants pictured here are mid-sized perennials, with Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ reaching a variable 8- 24″, while Penstemon digitalis and Veronica spicata mature to a consistent 2′-2 1/2′ size.  I like this trio backed by all varieties of Miscanthus, but particularly the shimmering, light-catching cultivar ‘Morning light’. And as an added bonus with this group –  no matter the heat and blazing sunshine, there is nary a droopy bloom in sight. This trio of top summertime performers is a true dog-day’s delight…

A sunny, summertime entry garden at Ferncliff – Design and Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

A bee visits Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’ ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Autumn Brilliance: Plants for Spectacular Fall Color, Part One …

October 5th, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’ with Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’

What an impossibly beautiful morning. The sky is a scraped palette of blue-grey-violet, and the world all around me is a swirling kaleidoscope of orange and chartreuse, scarlet and vermillion, saffron and violet. I began my day with an early walk through the garden – savoring the ephemeral beauty of windflower and monkshood, and the delicate tufts of fountain grass.

My favorite woody plants, autumn’s radiant viburnum, shine against the moody sky as if lit from within. Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey compact’ and V. nudum ‘Winterthur’ are particularly beautiful in early October. In fact, Bailey reminds me a bit of those rainbow colored confections found in old-fashioned candy stores. Do you know the ones I mean… the long, translucent cone with the stick? I can’t recall their name. The spice bush, (Lindera benzoin), has turned lemon-drop yellow, and her neighbor, the Bodnant viburnum, (V. bodnantense ‘Dawn’), is slowly shifting from maraschino to dark-cherry-fizz. But at the moment, the real stand-out in the garden is the flame-grass, (Miscanthus purpurascens). This glorious plant is a giant swirl of orange, yellow and grape hued ribbon, ready to be wound into a psychedelic lolly-pop. Delicious. Perhaps Willy Wonka collected plants in the fields beyond his factory?

And speaking of candy-shops – it seems my garden has turned into a feathered-foodie mecca. Every bird in the forest, from cedar wax-wings and cardinals to finches of every hue, has turned up to feast upon seeds and berries. The tea and nannyberry viburnum, (V. setigerum and V. lentago), are a beautiful sight with their brilliantly colored berries and stems, and the American cranberrybush viburnum, (V. trilobum ‘J.N. Select’ and ‘Baily compact’), is loaded with shimmering red fruit – all bright as gum-drops.

Oh dear. All of this talk about candy is making me hungry. But before I slip away to rustle up some breakfast, I will leave you with some ideas for autumn planting. This month I will be focusing on ornamental trees and shrubs, grasses and perennials for brilliant fall color. Take a peek at some of the colorful plants and combinations here. The key to successful late-season garden design is anticipating the color-shifts of autumn and winter. So let’s have a little fun with garden alchemy, shall we? I’ll meet you back here in just  a bit…

flame grass at edge of north garden : meadow edge 2Miscanthus purpurascens (Flame grass), and Viburnum trilobum, edge the meadow

amsonia, close upAmsonia illustris (Ozark Blue Star), glows against blue-green, ground-hugging juniper

viburnum setigerum, tea viburnumViburnum setigerum, (Tea viburnum), fruit in September

Anemone ‘Serenade’ (Japanese Wind Flower), harmonizes with golden hosta

Berry and stem coloration of North American native Viburnum lentago, (Nannyberry viburnum)

witch hazel 2Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ (Witch Hazel), color variation

witch hazelHamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ (Witch hazel ), color variation

Lespedeza thunbergii bicolor bush cloverLespedeza thunbergii bicolor, (bush clover), provides late-season bloom

autumn color lindera bLindera benzoin (Spice bush), turns lemon yellow in early October

Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn' autumn color, companion Lindera benzoinViburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’, shines cherry red against Lindera’s gold

Rosa rugosa hipRosa rugosa’s (Rugosa rose) fruit is a knock-out in September

Viburnum plicatum var tomentosum 'Shasta' begins to colorViburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’ (Doublefile viburnum)

Lindera b. fall color close upNorth American native Lindera benzoin, (Spice bush)

Viburnum trilobum J.N. Select RedwingViburnum trilobum ‘J.N. Select’ Redwing – American Cranberry Viburnum fruits

Viburnum trilobum JN Select 'Redwing' and Miscanthus purpurascensViburnum trilobum ‘J.N. Select’ Redwing, (American Cranberrybush viburnum), with Miscanthus purpurascens, a radiant combination on a misty morning

amsonia hubrichtiiAmsonia hubrichtii (Thread-leaf Blue Star), a glowing North American native plant

Cornus kousa fruitsCornus kousa, (Korean dogwood), fruit in September, slowly turns from green to scarlet

Humulus lupulus, "aureus'Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’ (Golden hops), is bright all season long

Viburnum nudum 'Winterthur'Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur’ turns a knock-out red with bright blue fruit

Dryopteris erythrosora autumn fern  'Brilliance'Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’, (Autumn fern), is one of the stars of late-season shade

entry walk, viburnum, miscanthus, lindera b, viburnum b, autumn perennialsEntry garden: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’, Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact, groundcover ajuga reptans,’Brocade’Background: Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, Fothergilla gardenii, (still green), Lindera benzoin,(gold), Cornus kousa. Background perennials: Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Rudbeckia hirta.

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For more on ornamental grass, see ‘Autumn and Everything After‘…

Article and Photographs 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 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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Autumn and Everything After……. Designing Beautiful Late Season Gardens with Ornamental Grass…

September 3rd, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

Autumn is a Second Spring, When Every Leaf is a Flower” – Camus

A Grouping of Miscanthus sinensis, ‘Morning Light’, ‘Variegatus’, and Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’ in Mid-October at Ferncliff

Pennisetum alopecuroides, (fountain grass), with sedum and juniper in the entry garden at Ferncliff  in early September, just before the inflorescence appear.

Much as I would like summer to drag her feet a bit when departing this year, I find myself looking forward to the brilliant beauty of fall. Living in New England has its benefits, and the months of September, October and November are three of them. Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year, and in no place is my seasonal preference more evident than the garden. As the writer Camus once said, “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”. Indeed. I truly savor this second spring, for although I do love the early buds and bulbs of April, pastel hues don’t really excite me. Dark red is my favorite color, and bitter orange, rust, deep violet and burgundy aren’t far behind. The cerulean skies and stained-glass forest canopies of autumn bring a touch of heaven straight to my little paradise on earth. In September and October I feel as if I am living in a paint box, surrounded by a palette of colors so brilliant that simply going for a walk is all the inspiration any artist could hope for.

I cherish the fall gardening season. Some of my most treasured trees, shrubs and perennials reach their peak beauty in autumn. Of the many late-season plants in my garden, the ornamental grasses are high on my list of favorites. Grasses are useful though out the gardening season, of course. Beginning in mid-summer and continuing throughout winter, ornamental grasses provide dramatic foliage, texture and form to my gardens. But come autumn, the shifting hues of foliage and beautifully textured spikes, racemes and panicles of ornamental grass create the potential for a spectacular garden show that can not be beat. By early September, when many perennials and annuals have petered out in the garden, my ornamental grasses are just warming up for their crescendo. As the days shorten and nights cool, chemical changes are triggered in many deciduous trees, shrubs and other plants in the northern areas of the United States. Ornamental grasses also respond to these changes, and many begin to take on subtle tints and vivid hues as dramatic as the trees.

Miscanthus purpurascens, (close up), early fall color, (click to enlarge)

When I design a garden, I try to keep this spectacular late-show in mind. September blooming pepper bush, (Clethera alnifolia, a native shrub I featured here last month), sculptural spice bush, (Lindera benzoin), and and the lovely native paper birch, (Betula papyrifera), all turn brilliant yellow in autumn. I like to combine fall’s seasonal gold foliage with the purple-burgundy-red kaleidoscope-like hues of flame grass, (Miscanthus purpurascens), the brilliant orange of Japanese forest grass, (Hakonechloa macra, cvs. ‘Nicolas’, or burgundy tipped, ‘Beni Kaze’), for example. Witch alder, (Fothergilla gardenii), and many viburnum species, including the arrow wood, (V. dentatum), the American cranberrybush, (V. trilobum), and the European cranberrybush, (V. opulus), turn brilliant shades of red and orange in autumn. This makes them great companions for a wide variety of grasses including switch grass, (Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy metal’, (a blue grass in summer, turning gold in fall), wild oats, (Chasmanthium latifolium), green in summer and red-bronze in fall), and again, flame grass, (Miscanthus pupurascens). Late blooming perennials, such as asters, rudbeckia, mums, sedum and monkshood  all make great companion plants for ornamental grasses.

Hakonechloa NicolasThe summer color of Hakonechloa macra ‘Nicolas’,above, intensifies further in autumn

Unless you are a more experienced gardener, companion planting for autumn interest can be a bit difficult. How can you predict color-shifts and texture changes? Nursery tags are often stingy with clues. A good encyclopedia is useful for learning about ornamental grasses and their seasonal changes. And if you know the name of a cultivar, you can easily research information on a web-site such as Dave’s Garden. But for the true ornamental grass aficionado, Rick Darke’s The Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses (see library) is a great asset. This book will help you to identify more unusual cultivars of sedge, rush, restios, cat-tails and bamboo as well as the gorgeous grasses native to North America and beyond.

Miscanthus purpurascens, (Flame grass) in late September

When I want to add texture and movement in a garden design, no matter the season, I often look to ornamental grass. The larger garden grasses, such as miscanthus, panicum, and calmagrostis, bring important vertical interest and essential structure to perennial gardens. From the fine, delicate foliage and sensual lines of maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ to the bold geometric presence of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’, can make a dramatic, sculptural statement in a garden. Grasses can be used to soften modern buildings and camouflage unattractive architecture. A natural choice beside lakes, ponds, streams and pools, grasses also bring a relaxed line to hard-edged water features. Many species of grass are drought tolerant, and a number will survive roadside conditions in even the most inhospitable environments. Alone or as a group, settled into a garden or spilling over a pot, placed at a juncture or to mark a final destination, ornamental grass can provide great focal points in many garden design situations. Ornamental grasses planted en mass can blur the edges of a garden, helping to ease the transition between formal and informal areas. Because of the dramatic stature reached by many large ornamental grasses, they are also very useful as living screens, helping to conceal unsightly necessities such as fuel tanks and air conditioning units. It is easy to understand the growing popularity of this diverse group of plants.

North American native, Bouteloua curtipendula (side-oats grasss), backed by taller Pennisetum alopecuroides in the entry garden at Ferncliff, early September

striped grass and juniperMiscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’, here used as a specimen and below, a different cultivar used in a large grouping at the eastern-edge of the garden.


karl f. backed up by viburnumCalamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, backed by Viburnum trilobum

Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’ grouped at the edge of the northwest meadow in August…

And again, in late September…

miscanthus morning light back lit from the eastThis two year old grass specimen, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning light’, catches the early sun as it rises to the east at the edge of the wildflower walk in early September

Although ornamental grasses have become quite common in sunny perennial gardens, they are still surprisingly overlooked in shade garden designs. This surprises me because grass exists naturally in all but the darkest of shady woodlands, and they can add tremendously to the subtle beauty of low-light gardens. In the shade, I often add fine textured ornamental grass to contrast with larger, broad leafed foliage, such as the leathery, smooth surfaced leaves of hosta. I also like to include bright colored grasses to shade gardens in order to illuminate dark corners and shadowy areas beneath trees. Japanese woodland grass, (Hakonechloa macra), is one of my favorite plants. The golden cultivars, ‘Aureola’ and ‘All-Gold’ are very useful in low light areas, and in contrast to violent-tinted foliage. Newer cultivars, such as ‘Nicolas’ and ‘Ben Kaze’,(mentioned above), are rich in bitter orange and burgundy hues. These are truly spectacular plants with enormous design potential. Sedges are also useful in partial shade. I count orange-hook sedge, (Ucinia egmontiana), among my favorite low-light grasses, although it is marginally hardy in New England, (I usually place it in pots for summer and move them inside for winter).  Sedges will also tolerate more sunlight, provided they are given ample moisture, and I like to use them in brighter locations as well, (see pots on deck below).

A close-up of Hakonecholoa macra ‘All Gold’ in the shady Secret Garden at Ferncliff

hakonechloa in morning lightHakonecholoa macra ‘All-Gold’, (Japanese forest grass), catching the morning light in the Secret Garden at Ferncliff

hakonechloa macra 'aureola' with cimicifuga r. 'hillside black beauty'The golden color of this Japanese forest grass brings out the violet hues in the companion plantings of Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside black beauty’ and the young foliage of euphorbia on the left

Many ornamental grasses also make great potted plants. I particularly like sedge and stipa in massive groupings on decks and terraces, where they catch the slightest breeze. A sedge commonly known as fiber-optic plant, (Isolepis cernua), looks very dramatic in a pot. I like to allow this mop-like grass to spill over the edge of a planter, emphasizing its pendent form. Whenever I set a fiber-optic plant out on a pedestal, it becomes the focus of attention and conversation, like living sculpture. Personally, I have grown a bit tired of cleverly designed, over-planted pots. I prefer simplicity. Over the past few years, I have been limiting my planter-compositions to a few species of plants, and ornamental grasses are often featured in my current designs.

Stipa tenuissima, (Mexican Feather Grass)

Orange Hook Sedge, (Uncinia egmontiana)

Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ and Stipa tenuissima Catching the Breeze and Afternoon Light

Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ up close

Like many cold-climate gardeners, I try to enjoy my garden for as long as possible. And I consider ornamental grass and important part of the winter garden as well. Although some people prefer their gardens to be tidy, cut, and thoroughly mulched come winter, I like to leave my hardier grasses standing until spring thaw. Frost, ice and light snow emphasize the delicate patterns of ornamental grass, and for this reason I consider them a four season plant. I continue to enjoy the tassels and the rust, buff and wheat hues of bleached out grass well into winter. By December, when little color remains in the garden, ornamental grass continues to add subtle, creamy tones. I particularly like the way wheat colored pennisetum draws attention to the red berries remaining on my winterberry, (Ilex verticillata ‘Red sprite’. Because texture and color are so important in the winter garden, I prefer to cut many ornamental grasses back in spring. Why not enjoy all the beauty nature has to offer us, autumn and beyond?

Grasses remain beautiful well into winter. Above, pictured in the entry garden at Ferncliff, fountain grass and side oats look particularly magical in December when coated with ice or snow. Below, the tassels of Miscanthus sinensis, frozen with ice, catch the January light…

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Woo in the native meadow garden with rudbeckia and Deschampsia flexuosa, (hair grass)

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Article and all other photographs ⓒ 2009 Michaela at TGE

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