November Garden: Late Autumn’s Sunny-Day Chores & Pleasures…

November 13th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Glowing Tufts of Ornamental Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)

My Trusty Old Garden Cart ( from Gardener’s Supply Company )

Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ (Switch Grass) – Golden Color Illuminated by November Sunlight

Days of beautifully warm, sunny weather, a free weekend, and a list of end-of-season garden chores = Michaela in Bliss. I’ve had a really busy week —filled with deadlines and end-of-season projects to finish up for my design clients— so I’m looking forward to a weekend’s worth of work and relaxation in my own garden. The fun began yesterday afternoon, when I planted 400 landscape-size Narcissus bulbs; 200 N. ‘Ice Follies’ in the long border and 200 premium mixed daffodils in the entry garden. Yes, I am still planting bulbs, and I will continue to do so until the snow flies. I did warn you that it’s compulsive. Plus, with all of the end-of-season sales, how can I help myself?

But Daffodils, Michaela? Aren’t they a bit… pedestrian? Bah. Don’t you believe that nonsense. The genus Narcissus is one of the most amazingly diverse groups of bulbs. If you don’t believe me, just have a look at Brent and Becky Heath’s incredible collection of Narcissus on their beautiful website. And not only are Narcissus long-lived and gorgeous, they are also tough as nails; resistant to mice, deer, insects and cold. I like to plant a cheerful mix of yellow shades where the entry garden meets the driveway to greet springtime guests. And in the long border — as well as the other flower beds near my studio and kitchen windows— I prefer to plant bulbs in single-color drifts for a calm, soothing effect. Yesterday, I added 200 landscape-size N. ‘Ice Follies’ (below) in the long perennial border, which I am currently renovating (pulling out old ‘holding tank’ plants and re-designing).

Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ (photo from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, where I bought mine)

Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ bulbs from Brent and Becky’s. If you have small children, planting daffodils is a great way to share the experience of gardening with them.

Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ with winter aconites (photo from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs)

Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ belong to the division 2 group (large cup daffodils). These long-lived perennial plants are perfect for beds and borders, as well as for naturalizing in large landscapes. Because division 2 daffodils are so popular, they tend to be less expensive -perfect if you have a large area to plant on a tight budget (yes, and yes). I believe that one of the keys to good landscape design is understanding the big picture -and I do mean the really big picture. Specialty bulbs are lovely indeed, but you needn’t spend a fortune in order to have a beautiful garden. What you do need is to develop your eye, and to train yourself to think creatively.

Budget only allow you a few bags of landscape daffodils? Work with what you’ve got. Plant those bulbs in clusters of 5, 7 or 9 —I like to dig oval or circular holes and plant in irregular patterns— between your perennials. Work with the timing and colors of other flowering plants (and foliage!) in your border to maximize impact. Have forsythia in your garden? Instead of planting solid yellow daffodils, why not try a subtle contrast instead. Plant white, two-tone, or a combination of darker, orangey-yellow daffodil bulbs beneath your yellow-flowering shrubs. Is there a white-flowering tree or shrub in your early to mid spring garden? Add a pool of lavender-blue grape hyacinth (Muscari ‘Valerie Finnis’ is particularly gorgeous) beneath the branches to create a soothing scene. Muscari (grape hyacinth) bulbs are very inexpensive, and they multiply freely over time. Look back at pictures of your garden from last spring. See spots that could use a little umpf or more color-play? Let those photos be your guide this fall during bulb planting.

Cluster’-planting Narcissus bulbs helps to create a full and natural look in the garden and landscape. Much better than wimpy little polka-dots of yellow! Be sure to mix a bit of bulb-booster into the top layer of back-filled soil for best results.

Have a daylily patch (or a neighbor with one in need of dividing)? Hemerocallis make great planting companions for Narcissus. As the foliage of your daffodils dies back, the daylily leaves and flowers will conceal the yellowing and dormant Narcissus (never braid or tie daffodil foliage after flowering, and until it has completely withered and turned yellow/brown before cutting back). And while it’s certainly true that the dividing and planting of perennials is best done a bit earlier in the season, most tough-nut daylilies can be divided and replanted late (oh how they take the abuse!). Other good and inexpensive daylily companions? In semi-shade areas, I like to combine Narcissus with native ferns —particularly cinnamon (Osmunda cinnamonea) and ostrich ferns (Matteuccia pensylvanica)— and other big-leaf beauties like Hosta. Daffodils prefer dryish soil during their dormant period, but they are fairly tolerant of less-than-ideal conditions. The daffodils in the drier sections of my shade gardens are all doing quite well.

Here in the Secret Garden, Muscari ‘Valerie Finnis’ (grape hyacinth) and Narcissus ‘Misty Glen’ (white daffodils) are well-timed spring companions

Also keep in mind that bulbs can make great companions for other bulbs. If you are new to gardening, it may not occur to you to plant bulbs in ‘layers’. Some bulbs, like most Narcissus, are large, and need deep planting holes. But other spring flowering beauties emerge from tiny bulbs, (like crocus, grape hyacinth and snowdrops) requiring minimal planting depth. Of course this creates an opportunity for a ‘bulb sandwich’, and I love this planting method! Simply plant your larger bulbs first, then backfill until you reach the depth required for medium-bulbs, then —if you have them— finish off with shallow-planted bulbs. Here’s an example….

Plant three big bulbs, like these daffodils, 7 inches deep, between a grouping between perennials (these are spaced a little tight in this photo, be sure to give bulbs enough room to grow). Then backfill with about 3 inches of soil, to just cover the bulbs. Next…

Plant Three Muscari 4 inches deep, staggering them between the daffodils (you can feel around for the tips of the Narcissus, but it’s OK if they overlap a little. Bulbs will find their way around one another)

Another example of bulb companions with spring blooming perennials (Narcissus ‘Misty Glen’ with Erythronium and Helleborus x hybridus)

As I plant my bulbs each fall, I sometimes unearth previously planted daffodils, grape hyacinth or other spring bloomers. If this happens to you, don’t worry —no harm has been done, unless you chop it up!— just replace the bulb and keep going. Do remember to water your bulbs thoroughly after planting, and continue to water until the ground freezes if nature doesn’t do so for you. OK. Back to the garden -there’s more work to be done! I’ll be back with bulb-a-rama II later! Don’t you just love this time of year? It’s so lovely out there…

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’ beside Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’

***

Article and photographs (exceptions noted an linked) ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

***The Gardener’s Eden is not an affiliate of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. But, Michaela is indeed a very happy customer!***

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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


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