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

October 16th, 2011 § Comments Off on Autumn’s Burning Beauty: Flame Grass Heats Up the Mid-October Garden … § permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Raindrops & Sunshowers

April 17th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Stepping Out Through the Raindrops…

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

To Find an Early Morning Sunshower Delivered Unexpected Gifts…

Fothergilla gardenii’s Silvery Buds Glowing in Morning Mist…

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

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

Slows Me Down to Enjoy a Moment Between Passing Showers…

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

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Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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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Must Be The Season Of The Witch…

October 30th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

“When I look out my Window, Many sights to see. And when I look out my window, So many different people to be …That it’s strange, so strange.”

“You’ve got to pick up every stitch, You’ve got to pick up every stitch, You’ve got to pick up every stitch …Mm, must be the Season of the Witch, Must be the Season of the Witch, yea…”

“Must be the Season of the Witch…”

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) – Turns Brilliant Gold in Late Autumn

Dwarf Witch Alder (Fothergilla gardenii) – Radiates an Eerie Orange Glow in the Secret Garden

I caught her last night in the garden; blowing around in the wind and casting her spells in the drizzly shadows. She’s a changeling and she’s a wild thing. You never know how she will appear from one minute to the next. Red? Orange? Yellow? Perhaps all three hues will turn up in her autumn brew. Yes, she’s the garden witch, and this is indeed her season…

Witch Alder (Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’) is My Answer to Burning Bush in the Garden

Hamamelis (witch hazel) and Fothergilla (witch alder) are two of the most spellbinding woody plants in my garden. The magical blossoms of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ light up the gloomy days of March with color and scent, and later her cousins, the Fothergilla, take over with bewitching blossoms in April and May (read more about Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ by clicking here, and Fothergilla by clicking here). But it’s the witching hour — late October and November in my garden— when these sorceresses truly light up the gathering gloom…

The Wild, Red Witch (Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’) raging along the walkway in late October

The family of Hamamelidaceae is a large group that includes both spring and autumn blooming Witch Hazels (native Hamamelis vernalis and Hamamelis mollis) and their cousins, the Witch Alders (among other woody plants). Although the spring-blooming Witch Hazels tend to me more dramatic in the early part of the year, the autumn blooming species provides both stunning foliage and fragrant flowers in fall (it is definitely harder to spot the sweetly-scented yellow blossoms on my autumn blooming Hamamelis mollis behind the golden foliage). Some of the most gorgeous autumn color in the garden belongs to the Witch Hazel hybrids; particularly H x intermedia ‘Diane’, ‘Jelena’ and ‘Arnold’s Promise’. Although a separate species, Fothergilla is equally magical, and often more flamboyant in her end-of-season color display. A dwarf Witch Alder (Fothergilla gardenii) is planted in the corner of my Secret Garden, where she is just now turning brilliant orangey-yellow. Elsewhere in the garden, Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’ glow red, orange, yellow and every imaginable shade in between…

Witch Hazel ‘Diane’ (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’) – Autumn Color Variation

Witch Hazel ‘Diane’ (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’) – Autumn Color Variation

Witch Alder (Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’) Leaf Color Variation

Most members of the Hamamelidaceae family prefer moist, semi-acidic soil and mostly sunny to partially shady conditions (in nature, they are forest edge and understory trees and shrubs). Some Witch Hazels and Witch Alders are quite hardy in northern climates; all of those mentioned here are reliable in USDA zones 4-9. In the garden, they are enchanting in autumn when paired with late-season flowers (including anemone and aster) fall-blooming crocus, ornamental grasses, and conifers (including shade-tolerant Microbiota). Catching a rooted witch is far easier than snagging the airborne variety: no net is necessary, simply stop in your local garden center and poke around the sales aisles…

Can You Catch the Witch?

This Story’s Inspiration Comes from ‘Season of the Witch’ by Donovan

Donovan – Season of the Witch

“Season of the Witch” Lyrics are ⓒ Donovan 1967

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, artwork, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of Michaela Medina Harlow and/or 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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The Secret Garden’s Shadowy Allure & Mysterious Prince Pickerel’s Charms…

August 3rd, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

Prince Pickerel at the Edge of the Water Bowl in the Secret Garden – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Cool, quiet and calm; a shady oasis whispers seductively on hot summer days. While blazing orange and yellow hues burn bright as wildfire in the meadow, my Secret Garden shimmers like an emerald in the dappled light beneath a steel balcony. High walls, constructed seven years ago by artist Dan Snow, are now veiled with verdant moss and delicate, lacy vines. In mid-summer, emerging as if from a fairytale, the reigning prince of the Secret Garden is the beautiful, copper-tinted pickerel frog (Lithobates palustris), who resides in and around the water bowl at the foot of the entry wall. Although he is usually quite shy, I have been catching glimpses of him now and again, as he basks in the late afternoon light.  Yesterday, just before sunset, he paused long enough for me to snap a quick photo. And isn’t he just enchanting? I am absolutely fascinated by frogs. Their gorgeous colors and soothing voices are charming of course, but I also value the frogs’ beneficial role in controlling insects and slugs in my garden.

The pickerel frog —commonly found in the United States from the midwest on east to the coast— is a particularly interesting species. After a bit of research, I discovered that this is the only poisonous frog native to the US. But don’t worry, the pickerel frog isn’t harmful, he simply produces a skin-secretion to protect himself from predatory birds, reptiles and mammals. This toxic substance is quite poisonous to many small animals —including other frogs, which will die if kept in captivity with pickerel frogs— but it is only mildly irritating to a human’s skin (it’s always wise to wash your hands after examining a pickerel frog, or any wildlife for that matter). The pickerel’s surprising defense mechanism might explain why he is able to survive in my garden alongside the ribbon and garter snakes, as they are both well-known predators of both frogs and toads.

Welcome to my Secret Garden, Prince Pickerel…

A Peek Inside the Secret Garden – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Foreground plantings: Daphne ‘Carol Mackie’ and Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’)

The Hidden Secret Garden Door – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Foreground plantings include Daphne ‘Carol Mackie” and at the wall: Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and Galium odoratum)

The Water Bowl at the Secret Garden Door – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plantings include foreground: Glaucidium palmatum, Heuchera ‘Stormy Seas’, and to the background: Euphorbia, Hosta ‘August Moon’ and Fothergilla gardenii)

Glossy Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’ at the Foot of the Secret Garden Wall – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE

The Secret Garden Shady Oasis from the August Sun – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plants from left to right Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’, Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, Helleborus x hybridus, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’, Paeonia suffruticosa ‘High Noon’)

The Secret Garden, Viewed from the Balcony Above ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plantings: Background Paeonia suffruticosa ‘High Noon’, Foreground: Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ and Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’)

Secret Garden Vignette – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plantings: Foreground Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’ and Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’, Background: Matteuccia pensylvanica. Potted is Hedera helix ‘Variegata’)

Colors and Patterns Carpet the Secret Garden Floor – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plantings: Lamium macuatum ‘Orchid Frost’, Hosta ‘August Moon’, and Cryptotaenia japonica ‘Atropurpurea’)

A Glimpse of the Garden from the Balcony – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plantings left to right: Paeonia suffruticosa ‘High Noon”, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aurea’, Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Stewartia pseudocamillia, Matteccia pensylvanica)

Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’ in the Secret Garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Roseum’ clamoring up the Secret Garden Wall – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE (Other plantings include Cimicifuga racemosa, Hosta ‘August Moon’, and in pots: Agapanthus, Hosta ‘Remember Me’ and Asparagus densiflorus)

Secrets within the Secret Garden – Streptocarpus ‘Black Panther’ Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Read more about the ‘Black Panther’ in the post “Hello Lover” here…)

A Glimpse at the Sunlight Beyond the Secret Garden Door ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Two Worlds, Divided by a Moss-Coverd Wall – Standing at the Secret Garden Threshold ⓒ Michaela at TGE (Plantings to the edge of the walk include, to the left: Euphorbia and Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby”, and to the right, again B. ‘Bressingham Ruby’, and Filix femina ‘Lady in Red’

Rosa ‘Bibi Maizoon’ Blooming at the Secret Garden Door ⓒ Michaela at TGE

View to the Wildflower Walk from the Secret Garden Steps ⓒ Michaela at TGE (Wildflowers in bloom: Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ and Adenephora confusa)

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Inspiration from my childhood: “Der Froschkönig” from Grimms Märchen

The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett and Inga Moore

The Secret Garden on DVD in Keep Case

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Image excerpts from reviewed publications and/or products are copyright as noted and linked.

All other images and article © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden.

The Secret Garden at Fercliff is the author’s design and installation.

For more images of my Secret Garden (throughout the seasons) see the Ferncliff page at left – or type Ferncliff into the search box. All images here, (with three noted exceptions) are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. Except in the case of critical and editorial review and/or notation, photographs and text on this site may not be reproduced without written consent. If you would like to use an image online, please contact me before posting! With proper attribution, I am usually happy to share (See ‘contact’ at left). Thank you for respecting my work and copyrights.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden. 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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“Native Plants: Why We Love Them and How to Use Them” – Free Seminar – This Saturday at Walker Farm in Southern Vermont – Please Join Me …

May 13th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Native mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, (here a cultivar named ‘Pink Charm’), are durable, evergreen plants suitable for ledgy, exposed sites… far more hardy than their more tender cousins, the rhododendrons. To read more about Kalmia latifolia, click here.

I am very fortunate. This place in Vermont, where I live, is a true paradise and I cherish it. Every morning I wake up to the beautiful sights, sounds and smells of the Northeast American native forest. The songs of the veery, hermit and wood thrush, the mist rising from the Green River valley and the fragrance of the woodland surrounding my home relax and comfort me. Of course, I am not alone – many people, including a great number of my friends, share this passion for the native forest, and I love hearing about their woodland hikes, experiences and discoveries. I have also traveled throughout North America, and I know that every spot I have visited on this continent -as well as those I have yet to see- has it’s own unique and irreplaceable natural environment. This great love of nature is part of the reason that our native plant species are so important to me. There are many, many beautiful trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants all over the world -and I do have quite the collection of exotics growing here in my garden- but none more beautiful or important than those growing naturally outside my front door.

As is often the case with horticultural terms and phrases, native plant can have different definitions and meanings, depending upon the source of the information. In the strictest sense -and according to The New England Wild Flower Society–  when describing woody plants and perennials on this continent, the term native “refers to plants growing in North America before the European settlement”. Does this definition include species cultivars that have occurred since the European settlement through natural selection? I imagine so. But I would expect that the NEWFS definition excludes individual cultivars and hybrids created via the hand-of-man. My own definition of  native plant is somewhat looser and more tolerant of the various seedlings and crosses commonly found in gardens and in the nursery trade – but I’m no research scientist. Perhaps because one of my favorite North American native trees, Serviceberry, (Amelanchier) , is a horticultural wild-child, (freely hybridizing with neighboring species within the genus), I see the process of plant evolution as inevitable and fascinating. Mother nature seems to approve of variety, as do I !

Beautiful, spring blooming trees of the forest understory, such as North American native Halesia tetraptera, are excellent choices for home landscapes…

Beyond their obvious importance in the natural ecosystem, native plants also make fantastic additions to the garden. In fact so many North American native species, such as coral bells, (Heuchera), coneflower, (Echinacea), gayfeather, (Liatris), and cranesbill, (Geranium), have become such superstars in the nursery trade, that many gardeners have no idea that many common garden center plants are actually wild-flower cultivars. As far as I am concerned, that is good news because native plants, and nursery-grown native cultivars, provide season-spanning food and habitat for local animals and insects, and they also tend to require less water, commercial fertilizer and chemical support than imported plants. And again, I am no purist when it comes to my own garden. I have a great passion for exotic plants – especially Japanese maple! However, I make every effort to garden responsibly, both in my own private paradise, and in the various landscapes where I work as a professional gardener and designer.

This Saturday morning, (May 15, 2010, from 9:30 – 10:30), I will be presenting a free, introductory seminar on native plants for home gardeners at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. If you are in the area, and you would like to learn more about how to use some of these incredibly beautiful and hardy plants in your own landscape, please stop in and join the fun. The emphasis will be on home garden design; creating season-spanning interest, and wildlife support in your back yard oasis, by choosing trees, shrubs and perennials native to the Northeastern United States. Examples of lesser-known native plants will be on display, and free color handouts, (including design tips, plant information, and online resources), will also be provided. Visit Walker Farm online or call 802 – 254-2051 for more information.

Native Lady fern, (athyrium felix feminina), and selected cultivars such as ‘Lady in Red’, shown here, provide shady habitat for toads and frogs, and durable but delicate beauty for dappled gardens… Especially in combination with other natives such as Heuchera and Phlox divaracata.

An excellent ground-covering choice for acidic, shady areas, native labrador violets are stunners whether blooming or not…

Clethra alnifolia, our native summersweet, is a low-maintenance shrub producing pollinator-magnet flowers in late summer…

Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’ is a lovely, select pink-flowering cultivar of our native summersweet shrub, shown above

Aruncus, commonly known as the ‘goat’s beard’, is a statuesque June bloomer for perennial borders and woodland edge…

Fothergilla major, (witch alder), and Lindera benzoin,(spicebush), provide a changing backdrop for gardens all season long…

By combining native shrubs and cultivars, a natural but dynamic, sustainable design can be achieved…

Fothergilla gardenii, our native witch alder, lights up the garden in spring and again in late autumn…

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For further information on native plants, I highly recommend the following books by Allan Armitage and William Cullina; two accomplished, renowned, horticulturalists and brilliant and poetic authors I admire…

William Cullina – Wildflowers

William Cullina – Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines

Armitage’s Native Plants for North American Gardens

Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without 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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Season-Spanning Garden Design: Springtime Shrubs to Enjoy Now and Love Again Later – Three Favorites…

May 11th, 2010 § 5 comments § permalink

Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’ in May – Native American Witch Alder

Is there anything more delightful than the sweet scent of blossoms on a sparkling spring morning? Nature never ceases to amaze me. I often marvel at the seasonal cycle here in my cold climate. In spite of my garden’s success, I still find it hard to believe that some of the more delicate-looking plants can survive winter’s wrath on this exposed hilltop. And yet every year, after months of frigid temperatures, brutal, blasting winds, and crushing snow topped with cracking ice, winter recedes and the blossoms return again. To me this is nothing short of a miracle.

The growing season in the Northeast is quite short. And the familiar, tongue-in-cheek saying, “New England has nine months of winter and three months of darn poor sledding”, never fails to bring a short, nervous burst of laughter amongst the locals. The temperatures here in Vermont have changed dramatically over the past few days, and over the weekend, I awoke to find a dusting of snow on my hilltop. Late spring snow always seems to stand out more in my memory than tardy autumn frost. Needless to say, in my work as a garden designer, and here in my own garden, extending seasonal enjoyment of the landscape is a big priority. And there are benefits to this multi-season approach no matter where you live…

One of my favorite early-spring blooming shrubs is very high on my list of ‘bests’ for autumn foliage. The native witch alder in my garden, (Fothergilla major and the compact Fothergilla gardenii), is currently smothered in beautiful white flowers and buzzing with honey bees. My tiny, winged garden guests are attracted to Fothergilla’s sweetly scented bottle brush blossoms and the ample pollen they provide in the early season. I absolutely adore this good garden ‘witch’, and long-time readers may recall my obsession with her late season color from my post on the subject last fall. If not, travel back and read more about this wonderful, woody plant by clicking here

Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’ , (in closeup at top of post), is a lovely treat for bees in May…

And she also glows again with various perennials in early November, luminous in the grey light…

When it comes to my love-affair with the next shrub on my list, Viburnum carlesii, I am almost at a loss for words. As I pause to think back on our romantic history, I believe that my passion for the genus can be traced back to a Korean spice shrub planted beside the farmhouse next door to my childhood home. The slightly spicy, delicately sweet flowers of this lovely shrub were both familiar and exotic to my curious little nose. Every spring, I would invent excuses to ride my wobbly bike down the road, just to catch a whiff of those delightful blossoms on the breeze. Over time, I became acquainted with other members of this large and varied genus, and I have to admit that even now, no other woody plant -even the beloved Acer palmatum– can compete with my affection for viburnum.

Why such devotion? Well to begin with, although these shrubs aren’t always fragrant, some of the earliest blooming, and most beautifully scented flowers are produced by species of viburnum. The intensely fragrant Viburnum bodnantese ‘Dawn’ blooms at roughly the same time as the witch hazel in my zone 4/5 garden, filling the air with the most wonderful, almost edible, scent. Closely following V. bodnantense in flower is V. carlesii, (hardy in zone 4-8), better known as Korean spice shrub or Mayflower viburnum. This intoxicatingly fragrant shrub is the coveted Viburnum of my childhood memory, and her gorgeous great-grand daughter now occupies a prominent spot near my front door. Come autumn, her leaves will turn brilliant orange-red, (see photo below), and her shiny black fruits gleam amongst the glowing foliage like polished obsidian jewels….

Viburnum carlesii – Beautifully fragrant pink blossoms delight in the spring garden…

While ebony fruits and bright color make Korean spice a favorite come fall…

And the last spring-bloomer on today’s season-spanning shrub list -oh yes, you know there will be more coming- has to be Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’. As a whole, Daphnes have a well-earned reputation for being somewhat temperamental garden plants. However, given the right siting -excellent drainage and protection from crushing snow and burning winter wind, is key- this season-spanning beauty will perform well in zones 4-7. There are other, equally lovely Daphne species and cultivars, however ‘Carol Mackie’ remains at the top of my list of favorites due to her glorious variegated foliage, which turns a honey-gold color in autumn; beautiful against the cool, dark stone landing at the entry to my Secret Garden. And the fragrant flowers in spring? Well, that is really the hook. I have a botanically-obsessed friend who cradles the blossoms in her hands every May, as if they were the rarest commodity on earth – and with good reason! The perfume is sensational; slightly musky with hints of clove and subtly sweet fruit. If only it could be bottled…

Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’ – Lovely, fragrant pink blossoms and golden edged green leaves, this shrub turns a lovely golden hue in autumn..

As shown here, (with Acer palmatum), in autumn

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Article and photographs copyright, Michaela at TGE. All rights reserved.

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

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

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Must be the Season of the Witch Alder : The Spellbinding Late Autumn Color of Fothergilla…

November 16th, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

Fothergilla gardenii by the wall in NovemberWitch Alder, (Fothergilla major, ‘Mt. Airy’), in the sunny entry garden in mid November; luminous against the Secret Garden wall…

Oh, would you look at this beauty. Look at the magical, bright orange and yellow color, glowing in the grey November light. Is it any wonder they named her Witch Alder? She’s completely enchanting. All around her, the other shrubs have lost their foliage; standing naked in the garden. But in the last weeks of October, Witch Alder just begins to cast her autumn spell. From Halloween right on through Thanksgiving – I like to celebrate the season of this witch.

North American native Witch Alder, (Fothergilla major and Fothergilla gardenii), is one of the first shrubs to bloom come springtime, and one of the last to drop its leaves in late fall. Not only is she beautiful, but Witch-alder also provides a rich source of early-season nectar for bees and other insects; all held within pretty, bottle-brush, green-white blooms. Hardy in USDA zones 4-9, Witch-alder prefers moist but well drained soil, and performs best in sun to light shade. Dwarf Witch-alder, (Fothergilla gardenii), is an excellent small-scale garden shrub, reaching a height of 3-6 feet and a similar width. There is a beautiful, moody cultivar called ‘Blue mist’ that I saw for the first time, a few years back, in a friend’s garden. I was envious then, and I am still longing to add her to my garden. Large Witch Alder can reach 15 feet tall and 6 feet wide in ideal conditions, but the largest specimen I have seen here at the northern edge of the hardiness range was about half that size. I have a number of witches in my garden, (including the closely related Witch Hazel), and one of my favorites for autumn color the intermediate sized Witch Alder hybrid known as ‘Mt. Airy’, (shown here as noted).

So although they have the fake, fluffy snow and blinking Christmas decorations decking the halls at the Home Depot, I am choosing to ignore all that for now. It’s November, after all. There is so much to enjoy in the late autumn garden – why rush? My, it’s downright hypnotic out there on a warm, sunny day. Slow down and delight in all of this season’s magic and wonder. And don’t forget – it’s still the season of the witch…

Fothergilla leafThe technicolor foliage of Witch Alder, (Fothergilla major, ‘Mt. Airy’),  in early November…

Fothergilla gardenii inside the secret garden in NovemberDwarf Witch Alder (Fothergilla gardenii) in mid November, planted in a shady location inside the Secret Garden – note the difference in size and fall foliage color between cultivars…

Red twig dogwood, fothergilla, miscanthus, sedum, etc...Native Witch Alder, (Fothergilla major ‘Mt. Airy’) in a mixed border of shrubs planted for season-spanning bloom, color and texture…

fothergilla gardenii, early springWitch Alder (Fothergilla major ‘Mt. Airy’) provides early spring bloom in the entry garden

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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 express permission. 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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Late Autumn Texture Studies, Part Two: Plants that Play with Low Light…

November 2nd, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

Morning Light at the edge of the forest

The native forest on an early November morning…

Native Beech in Morning Light, October

The light of late autumn is pure poetry – bathing the forest in bronze radiance. In the early morning fog, dark, vertical tree trunks move in and out of focus; playing off the back-light and textural forest tapestry. A walk through the woods reveals stunning seasonal change – November has arrived.

As foliage falls away, stripping bare garden bones, structure is revealed. Now, skeletal elements of the garden begin to take center stage, delighting the observant with geometric shapes, abstract forms and patterns. There is a melancholy beauty amid all the decay, enhanced by the dwindling hours of daylight. When the November wind picks up, long shadows dance across the lawn, and bleached grasses sway in the sun’s low, sparkling rays. This is a different garden now – a landscape filled with dry, empty pods, bleached stalks and grasses, bare branches, dark silhouettes and flickering light…

Artemesia 'silver mound'

Dried, lacy flower heads of Artemisia schmidtiana, ‘Silvermound’, set against a shimmering backdrop of Fothergilla gardenii foliage in the morning light…

butterfly weed pod

The cracked paper-pods of Asclepias tuberosa, (Butterfly weed), open to reveal feathery white seeds – a delicate and fleeting textural contrast…

dried ornamental mentha

Remnants of Nepeta siberica ‘Souvenir D’Andre Chaudron’, stand stark and bristly, picked clean by greedy finches…

Miscanthus purpurascens in the last days of October

Tawny Miscanthus purpurascens catches the morning light on the first day of November

Taking my cue from the natural world, I like to design gardens in layers. The bones of the garden, (trees, shrubs, stonework), support a constantly changing wardrobe of foliage throughout the seasons. As winter approaches, the underlying framework of the garden begins to appear. Now, horizontal branches and vertical trunks really stand out in the landscape. Trees and shrubs, especially those chosen for their colorful twigs, stems and exfoliating bark, hold the garden together as the ephemeral elements fade away.

The entry garden, dividing the car-park from my home, (pictured below), was designed with naturalistic, season-spanning interest in mind. Throughout the growing season, red-twig dogwood, (Cornus alba ‘Siberica’), provides a pleasant, but unobtrusive green back-drop for three seasons of perennial display. Come autumn, the foliage of this shrub slowly morphs from orange-red to rust, holding until late October. Finally, when the leaves drop, the surprising beauty of this dogwood is revealed. Now, brilliant red bark glows from behind the flame-grass and the late-season color of Fothergilla gardenii. Suddenly, what was an unremarkable background shrub has become a key player in a dramatic vignette. This luminous, red screen of dogwood emphasizes the textural beauty of ornamental grass, drying sedum and the needle-like foliage of golden amsonia…

Red twig dogwood, fothergilla, miscanthus, sedum, etc...

Clockwise from left: Miscanthus purpurascens, Cornus alba ‘Siberica’, Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’, Fothergilla gardenii, Amsonia hubrichtii, Sedum ‘Matrona’

Although some trees, (such as the Japanese maple, ‘Seiryu’, below), continue to offer stunning foliage-effects in late autumn, their more important, structural roles will be revealed in the coming months. Japanese maple in particular is highly valued for its beautiful, architectural form. In my garden, the Blue Green Dragon’s arching limbs and delicate branches gracefully play with light and shadow. For now the dark silhouette of this tree contrasts with its luminous foliage. Later, bare twigs will catch raindrops and dusty, white snow. Throughout the year, the striped bark and elegant shape of this magnificent tree adds tremendously to my garden…

Acer palmatum x dissectum 'Seiryu' backlit foliage

Acer palmatum x dissectum 'Seiryu'

Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’, is positioned to take advantage of the stained glass effect, seen when late-season sunshine backlights her orange foliage, and silhouettes her sinewy branches..

Ornamental grasses and other textural plants play a key role in the late-season garden as well, holding interest as flowers pass and foliage withers away. Planted in large groups, stands of flame, porcupine and maiden grass are stunning at this time of the year. The tufts of ornamental grass, called inflorescence, expand and puff up as they cast their seed. These ‘flowers’ make for a brilliant sunlit display, and also provide a rough surface for catching frost, snow and frozen rain drops later. Two of my favorite fall plants, wild-oats, (Chasmanthium latifolium) and blue-star, (Amsonia hubrichtii), continue to add autumnal beauty to the garden throughout November.

I will be back soon with more notes and images gathered from the late-season garden. Until then, here is a bit of what I am enjoying as the season continues to change…

Amsonia in afternoon light

Amsonia hubrichitii glows orange-gold in the low light

'Heavy Metal' in November

Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy metal’ in November…

Miscanthus sinensis

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’ with Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’, standing seed pods and dried flowers…

miscanthus sinensis against sky

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’ plays with November light…

oat grass with blue sky in meadow

Chasmanthium latifolium, Wild-Oats…

Miscanthus purpurascens tassel

Miscanthus purpurascens inflorescence

milkweed

Asclepias tuberosa, butterfly weed

miscanthus inflorescens

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ inflorescence

Miscanthus purpurascens

Misccanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’, Porcupine Grass

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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 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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Designing a Quiet Vignette for a Shady Garden…

May 7th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

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

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden. 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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