August: Seeking the Thrill of High Summer…

August 3rd, 2009 § Comments Off on August: Seeking the Thrill of High Summer… § permalink

honey bee / rudbeckia / late summer

~ A bee visits Rudbeckia hirta “Becky mixed” in the perennial garden ~

Is it just me or does it feels like summer is passing too quickly this year? Here we are at the full Sturgeon Moon, (rising tonight, August 5th,at 8:56 pm EST), and it seems like the warm weather is just getting started in New England. Many song birds begin to flock in August, and some of them even start their migrations south. I associate the Sturgeon Moon with the departure of my beloved wood thrush, and the final weeks of other ephemeral pleasures here in Vermont. Perhaps because we endured such a rainy June, (the rainiest on record in New England), I feel an urgency to soak up as much of this short season as possible, before it fades away.

Ordinarily I slow down a bit in August. Usually, I cut back on work hours during the dog-days, and allow myself long, lazy afternoons in the garden room; lounging about with tart, ice-cold lemonade, books and languid pleasures. Over the years, I developed a habit of slipping into my kayak at day’s end. I came to love spending long summer evenings on the water; paddling to catch the last rays of sunlight and aimlessly floating in the lavender mist. But this year it seems I can hardly catch my breath. There is so much to squeeze in and so little time. Competing demands and rain-delayed projects all seem to be clamoring for my attention at once. I feel like I am still coming into early July, and yet nature is telling me we are in high summer. The garden here at Ferncliff hit its mid-season crescendo this week. Liatris and Black-eyed Susan; Daylilies and Ox Eye; Russian Sage and Veronica; Bee balm and Phlox; the garden is exploding with primary colors, begging me to stop for a moment and to share it with you. And how can I resist? There is an opportunity here…

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~ Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’, (photo copyright 2009, Tim Geiss) ~

c. 2009 Tim Geiss Hemerocallis

~ Hemerocallis ‘Apple tart’ (daylily), (photo copyright 2009, Tim Geiss)~

By late summer, many gardeners begin to ask me how to breathe life into their tired perennial borders. What can I add to jazz up my lilies? Everything has passed by already, how do I add more color to my backyard? I start to hear these familiar questions in late July and early August; when flower beds have become neglected and weedy, wilted and lack-luster. Garden projects that began in May with a great deal of enthusiasm often fall to the wayside by July. Weekends fill up with family picnics, weddings, back to school shopping, days at the beach and vacations. It’s hot outside. No one really wants to think about digging in the garden, and it really isn’t the time for planting anyway.

No. Enjoy the summer while you can. But let me stir your imagination while you make some notes for the future. By the time the weather cools and your weekends loosen-up, garden centers will be advertising fire-sales, and many perennials will be available for a fraction of the cost. Look at your fading garden with a critical eye, and make a list. What you add to your garden in early September will reward you richly next summer.

Rudbeckia fulgida sullivantii,'Goldsturm' (Black-eyed Susan)

~ Rudbeckia fulgida x sullivantii, ‘Goldsturm’ (Black-eyed Susan) ~

rudbeckia 'becky mixed'

~ Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky mixed’, in full bloom on the wildflower walk ~

rudbeckia hirta late summer, (with lysimachia clethroides)

~ Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky mixed’ at the edge of the walkway with lysimachia clethroides~

Start by considering all the possibilities. Let’s begin with some late summer classics. By boldly pairing lavender Liatris, (gay feather), with orange-yellow daylilies, a gardener can reap the benefits of contrasting texture and opposing color. One year I received a generous White Flower Farm gift certificate, which I used to purchase several daylily collections, including their beautiful and reliable Woodside mix. The bold oranges, reds and bright yellows look stunning in combination with Veronica ‘Goodness grows’ or native obedient plant, (Physostegia). My gardens are also home to some spectacular named daylily cultivars from Olallie Daylily Gardens. Lavender-rose colored obedient plant, (Phystostegia ‘Bouquet Rose’), combines well with every lily hue, hot to cool. Similarly, North American native bee balm, (Monarda), strikes a harmonious chord when settled into the garden near Russian sage, (Perovskia atriplicifolia), where they are both frequented by butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Blues are much less common at this time of the year, but lady bells, (Adenophora confusa), and another bee and butterfly favorite, hyssop, (Agastache), also provide some violet-tinted blue to the garden. And then there is the beloved classic garden phlox. Without a doubt, fragrant phlox is a memorable scent to be enjoyed at its peak on still mornings and humid summer evenings. Variously colored and charmingly old-fashioned, garden phlox should be positioned where it receives ample moisture and airflow to avoid powdery mildew, making it an ideal partner for moisture-loving joe-pye weed, (Eupatorium). Some garden phlox boasts creamy white and green variegated foliage, beautiful when contrasted with Eupatorium rugosum, ‘brunette’. And no summer perennial garden seems quite complete without old-time favorite, black-eyed Susan, (Rudbeckia fulgida x sullivantii); a fail-safe performer in my garden every summer. With so many varieties to choose from, there is a rudbeckia to suit every garden. A stand out in borders, free-seeding Rudbeckia hirta, ‘Becky mixed’, adds a bit of whimsy along the wildflower walk here at my home. Every spring I have to smile as seedlings appear at random, planted here and there by the wind; emerging from the most unlikely locations, even straight from the gravel path. Rudbeckia and her cousin Echinacea, (commonly known as coneflower ), are important, natural food sources for honey bees. I am quite certain if they could ask us, the honey bees would request gardens overflowing with native plants. Personally, I am happy to oblige. Echinacea purpurea is a lovely garden plant. When viewed up-close in a vase, the flower is every bit as dramatic as a Georgia O’Keeffe abstraction. With a costume of orange, spiked cone center piece and bold fuchsia rays pointing out in all directions, it’s hard not to stare at this drama queen. And for cooler spots in the garden, Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ or ‘Fragrant Angel’ are perfect for lending a touch of elegance. This year I have also seen a new double-flowered white form of Echinacea named ‘Coconut Lime’. It is definitely on my list.

Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'

~  Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ (purple coneflower) ~

Adenophora

~ Free seeding Adenophora confusa, (Lady bells), with Heuchera ‘Palace purple’, (Coral bells) ~

Striped eulalia grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'variegatugatus')

~ Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’, paired with Rudbeckia hirta~

Although they have become more popular of late, ornamental grasses are still largely underutilized in perennial borders. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’ and ‘Morning Light’ are two of my all-time favorites, and the splotchy green and yellow stripes of Miscanthus ‘Zebrinus’ make a bold statement when paired with primary-colored coneflowers and violet phlox. The contrasting hues and narrow blades of variegated ornamental grass catch the light and play off many perennials and nearby shrubs. All tall grass has a lovely way of swaying in the breeze, but none quite so poetically as buff-tasseled Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’. Last year I positioned Karl along the edge of my wildflower walk, where he adds movement and a delicate shimmer to a solid grouping of Viburnum. Further along the path, fountain shaped Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ adds sculptural elegance where the casual meets the more formal entry to my home. Foliage plants such as ornamental grass, along with structural shrubs, help to create the framework for an entire garden. As spring and summer plantings fade and make way for mid-season and early fall perennials, the statuesque form, alluring texture and seductive movement provided by ornamental grass can be key to anchoring a great perennial garden design. Tall grass can also be used as a living screen, concealing unsightly necessities such as compost bins, plastic vents and air-conditioning units throughout the growing season, and into winter.

miscanthus morning light

~ Miscanthus sinensis “Morning Light” punctuates an intersection ~

Kalimeris

~ Kalimeris ‘Variegatus’, (Japanese aster) ~

kirengeshoma palmata (yellow wax-bells)

~ Kirengeshoma palmata, (yellow wax-bells) : swollen buds in golden yellow ~

More experienced gardeners may have already mastered the art season-spanning bloom in their perennial gardens. But even for the most versatile designer, there are always new ways to visually explore the far-end of the seasonal bloom-range. Filipendula ulmaria ‘Variegata’ as well as the lovely Kalimeris ‘Geisha’ and ‘Variegata’ are knock-out foliage plants throughout the garden season. And as an added bonus, these plants provide pale blossoms to cool some of the hotter-hues in the late season border. One of my new garden favorites, yellow wax-bells (Kirengeshoma palmata), adds a pale golden hue to the garden in August, contrasting with the burgundy-violet foliage of closely planted bugbane, (Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside black beauty’). Yellow wax-bells add interest to this spot before the wind-flower, (Anemone), and bugbane come into flower later this month. Other dark hued garden plants, including shrubs such as ninebark, (Physocarpus) varieties ‘Diablo’, ‘Summer wine’ and ‘Coppertinia’, are endlessly useful for bringing out the golden colors of late summer flowers. Eupatorium rugosum ‘chocolate’ and Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Sommersonne’ is a favorite contrasting, late season combination along my walkway.

filipendula variegata

~ Filipendula ulmaria ‘Variegata’ foliage ~

filipindula variegata flower

~ Filipendula ulmaria ‘Variegata’ flower ~

eupatorium rugosum and heliopsis helianthoides

~ Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, paired with Heliopsis ‘Sommersonne’ ~

Combining late season perennials with neutral-hued foliage plants such as Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver mound’ helps keep the August garden from becoming too riotous and loud. Spring and early summer blooming favorites, such as coral bells, (Heuchera), and lady’s mantle, (Alchemilla mollis), continue to play an important role in the garden by adding color and texture, holding a perennial bed together at the edge. Gardens designed to include foliage plants such as these rarely look tired, even during lulls in the bloom season.

rudbeckia, artemisia schmidtiana, kirengeshoma, sedum...

~ Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky mixed’, in a mixed planting with Artemisia schmidtiana,(silver mound),  Kirengeshoma palmata (yellow wax-bells) and Sedum ‘Ruby glow’ ~

While I am fairly certain that my schedule will not be be easing up any time soon, I will continue to seek out the pleasures of high summer this month. This week I promise to make time to stop and enjoy my late summer garden as I pass through the wildflower walk each morning, and stroll along the long perennial border on my way to the vegetable garden. I too will be making notes for fall planting this year. Perhaps this cool, wet season in New England will reward us with a warm and vibrant autumn. But for now summer reigns, if but for a few brief weeks, here in my garden home. Enjoy tonight’s full Sturgeon Moon. Happy Gardening.

physostegia, (obedient plant) 'Bouquet Rose'

~ Physostegia ‘Bouquet Rose’, (Obedient plant) ~

Hemerocallis, (daylily from WFF Woodside mix)

~ Hemerocallis, (Daylily), unnamed variety  from the White Flower Farm ‘Woodside Mix’ ~

perovskia atriplicifolia

~ Perovskia atriplicifolia, (Russian sage) ~

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~ Special thanks to  Tim Geiss at Poltergeiss.com for flower photos as noted ~

~ Article and other photographs copyright 2009 Michaela-The Gardener’s Eden~

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Ode to a Fiddlehead…

July 16th, 2009 § Comments Off on Ode to a Fiddlehead… § permalink

The woodland path at Ferncliff – Image ⓒ Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden

Call me a fiddle-head, it is true. I have a long standing love-affair with ferns. Ostrich and Cinnamon, Maidenhair and Lady, Autumn and Christmas; even their names delight me, and I can never seem to get enough of this delicate, feathery species. My affection can be traced back to the summers of my childhood; those long, hot afternoons and fading twilight hours spent exploring abandoned stone foundations and hidden brooks in the forest beyond my home. There, beneath the shade of tall trees, ferns became woven crowns and verdant skirts fit for imaginary forest royalty. To my eye, when it comes to beauty in the plant world, foliage truly equals flower. What could be more beautiful than the fern? Shimmering, silver fiddleheads unfurling from damp earth, luminous feather paths winding through dark tree-trunks, and lacy plumes softening rugged outcroppings of rock and ledge; ferns possess some of the most dramatic foliage in the forest.

Native to North America, the cinnamon fern, (Osmunda cinnamonea, pictured below), is a perfect example of the long-lasting beauty of this foliage plant. In very early spring, the fuzzy, silvery-white tipped fiddle-heads of cinnamon fern emerge from the forest floor. As the first tightly wrapped heads unfurl, (reaching upward 2-4 feet), they quickly transform into stunningly beautiful, rich cinnamon stalks, followed by rapidly emerging, bright green fronds. By midsummer, the foliage of the cinnamon fern deepens to a regal emerald hue. Later, in autumn, the bold foliage turns a brilliant gold that absolutely glows in the forest. As lovely as it is in a natural setting, the cinnamon fern is also a spectacular addition to the garden. This non-aggressive plant forms thick but contained clumps of growth. As a companion to spring flowering bulbs, and a contrast to the exfoliating bark of trees, (river birch, stewartia and paperbark maple spring to mind), the design possibilities of both the lush foliage and cinnamon-colored stalks make the cinnamon fern one of my favorites.

cinnamon-fern-stalksCinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamonea) – Image: Georgian Court University

Cinnamon fern’s close relative, the interrupted fern, (Osmunda claytonia), is another gorgeous native plant. As the fiddle-heads unfurl to a height of 2-3 feet, the foliage on this fern’s upright, fertile fronds is interrupted midway by sporing pinnae. This break gives the plant its common name, ‘interrupted’ fern. The non-sporing fronds arch away from the plant dramatically, creating an attractive, flowing green mound. Interrupted ferns prefer slightly damp conditions, where they forms natural groupings in the wild. As a garden plant, the interrupted fern is endlessly useful in dappled light and partly sunny conditions. Though large, the airy fronds of this fern combine well with many trees, shrubs and perennials.

interrupted-fernInterrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana)

The Christmas fern, (Polystichum acrostichoides), is an evergreen fern, and one of the most shade tolerant members of this species. Another North American native, this leathery-leafed plant can often be found carpeting steep banks in densely forested areas. As a garden plant, the soil-stabilizing qualities of Christmas fern make it an excellent choice for shady slopes and other places where erosion is a concern. In Northern woodlands, the beauty of this plant’s glossy, deep green foliage is well appreciated in late autumn and early winter, when most deciduous trees have shed their leaves and the forest floor has turned brown.

christmas-fernChristmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

It is easy to understand how the enormous, feathery plumes of Ostrich fern, (Matteuccia pensylvanica, pictured below), earned their name.  This gorgeous fern is also one of my favorites, and placed with care, it can be a fantastic garden plant. Ostrich fern spreads by aggressive rhizomes, making it useful as a ground cover in damp areas. If planted in a dry spot, (as it is in my secret garden), however, Ostrich fern is mild mannered and easily contained. In it’s ideal conditions, (moist, dappled shade), this fern can reach nearly six-feet in height. And although there is no autumn color, if the plant receives ample moisture, it will remain attractive and green through late autumn.

naturally-occuring-ostrich-fern-at-ferncliffOstrich Fern (Matteuccia pensylvanica) is a member of the cliff fern family.

The delicate and airy, native maidenhair fern, (Adiantum pedatum), and lady fern, (Athyrium felix-feminina), are commonly used in gardens, and with good reason. Both of these plants are not only beautiful but tough, tolerating a wide variety of soil conditions and changing light. Although both ferns prefer dappled shade and moist soil, they will succeed under less favorable circumstances, and need not be coddled. Lady fern in particular has become popular with commercial growers, and it seems a new variety is available whenever I pick up a magazine or catalogue. Beyond the commonly available lady fern, (a member of my favorite group, the cliff ferns), I have come to enjoy the sanguine stems of Athyrium felix-feminina, “Lady in red”, as they emerge along my garden wall.

lady-fernLady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) ‘Lady in Red’ and companion Huechera ‘Green Spice’

maiden-hair-fernThe northern maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) planted with Hosta.

Many of the other ferns native to North America, such as the bracken fern, (Pteridium aquilinum), and hay-scented fern,(Dennstaedtia puctilobula), are lovely in naturalized settings, or singular landscape uses, but are far too aggressive for mixed borders or perennial gardens. Hay-scented fern forms dense carpets, and it is particularly beautiful and useful along woodland paths, hedges, walks and driveways, and beneath dense foliage trees.

natural-grouping-of-bracken-fern-at-ferncliffBracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) beautiful in naturalized areas, is an aggressive spreader.

natural-grouping-of-hay-scented-bracken-and-interrupted-fern-at-ferncliffA natural grouping of hay-scented, bracken and interrupted ferns in the forest at Ferncliff.

In addition to the many ferns native to North America, introduced garden ferns and hybrids, such as the Japanese painted fern, (Athyrium nipponicum, “Pictum”), are spectacular plants for light to dense shade situations. Beautiful, subtle color variations in fern foliage can be played against one another and in combination with other plants to create breathtakingly beautiful patterns. A ground-cover of perennial ferns can become a living tapestry to be enjoyed throughout the growing season, year after year. Athyrium x “Ghost” is a particularly beautiful fern, and I have found the color varies a bit by placement and light. The frosty white fronds are stunning at twilight in darker corners of my garden.

Athyrium x ‘Ghost’ planted to with Hosta ‘August Moon’ , Astilbe, Lamium and Cryptotaenia japonica

Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’, planted with Cryptotaenia japonica ‘Atropurpurea’

japanese-painted-fernJapanese painted fern, Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’, nestled beside Hosta and seeded Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’

Having named my garden Ferncliff, it should come as no surprise that I am a true fern-fanatic. When designing gardens here and elsewhere, I am always on the look-out for new ways to use ferns in garden settings. Ferns are remarkably versatile plants; softening formal designs and lending elegance to modest buildings and simple features. Ferns can be planted in urns to flatter classical architecture, or in geometrically precise planters to harmonize with more modern landscapes. The airy quality of ferns provides movement in shady nooks with the slightest breeze, and the textural qualities of fronds enliven the edge of still or slow-moving water features and smooth wall surfaces. The possibilities of ferns are limited only by imagination.

fern-in-courtyardOstrich Fern, (Matteuccia pensylvanica), softening the edge of the secret garden at Ferncliff.

For more information on ferns, see Martin Rickard’s The Plantfinder’s Guide to Garden Ferns, (copyright 2000, Timber Press).

Image of Cinnamon Fern: Georgian Court University

Article and all other photographs copyright 2009 Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden


Romancing the Garden: Indigofera…

July 13th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

indigofera 2Indigofera kirilowii, laden with raindrops

Poetic. Indigofera absolutely glows in the damp, darkness of rainy days and the shadowy, low light of early mornings and late afternoons. This is a romantic flower; reminiscent of castle-bound heroines and hidden, walled gardens. The weeping form and cascading flowers create a slightly wistful, but classically beautiful presence. Although the habit of this little-known Asian shrub is quiet different, the long, lavender panicles of indigofera blossoms remind me a bit of wisteria. And the hue of this gorgeous flower, slightly rosier than wisteria, positively sings against rusty metal, stone and darkened wood. Striking combinations with physocarpus ‘Diablo’, (or ‘Summer Wine)’, and other burgundy-hued, foliage plants immediately spring to mind. Clearly, I have developed quite a fondness for this woody plant over the past few years. When I first sited indigofera on my windy hilltop, I was uncertain that it would survive the brutal winters here. But survive it has, proving tough as nails in spite of its delicate appearance.

At 3-5 feet high, indigofera is a small, colony-forming shrub, (or a woody, herbaceous perennial in very cold climates, where it can be cut back to the ground in spring). It is rugged and undemanding, (hardy in zones 4-8), adapting to a wide variety of soil types and conditions. In spite of its sturdy constitution, it is also well-mannered and non-aggressive in the garden. Indigofera is beautiful in many design situations; as an accent or solitary specimen, in groupings, or even as a high-ground-cover. The attractive, bright green foliage, long bloom time, (late June – July here in Vermont), and unusual color makes indigofera an excellent choice for perennial gardens and mixed borders. Although this beauty can stand a bit of shade, to encourage the strongest growth, and maximum bloom, position indigofera in full sun, and give it well drained soil amended with good compost.

Because it is relatively uncommon, indigofera may be hard to find in some areas. But like most treasures, this one is truly worth seeking out.

indigoferaIndigofera blooms, as seen from above…

indigofera 4Indigofera, (two year old specimen at Ferncliff)

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Article and photographs copyright 2009 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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

May 27th, 2009 § Comments Off on At Ferncliff this week: The wildflower walk and other highlights of late spring… § permalink

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

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