Welcoming Late Summer’s Slow, Shadowy, Seductive Beauty . . .

September 4th, 2018 § 2 comments § permalink

Ligularia dentata ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’ in the Secret Garden

September is truly my favorite Summer month. In fact, now through early December is my preferred season to be outside and in the garden. Everyone loves springtime, of course, but when you’re employed in the field of horticulture and landscape design, it’s hard to find the time to enjoy it. May and June are busy, busy months in the garden. September is different. Although the days are getting shorter and my task list is getting longer, things still seem just a little less urgent. We’re still in a summer state-of-mind. The first day of autumn is three weeks away and plenty of hot, hazy days remain. My hammock yet beckons.

Of course it’s the September garden that I adore: sky blue asters, voluptuous hydrangeas, showgirl dahlias, fragrant fairy candles, feathery grasses. I love to wander through the blowzy perennial borders at this time of year, gathering bouquets and admiring butterflies. And sometimes I’ll just sprawl out in the middle of lawn, watching fluffy, white clouds drift by while listening to the chorus of crickets.

September’s Quiet Summer Beauty

Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, Ligularia dentata ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’, self-sown Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky’ and Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, in early September 

 

Article and Photography copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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A Moment of Verdant Bliss

July 16th, 2015 § 4 comments § permalink

IMG_5596.JPG Cool, lush, verdant: a moment of mid-summer bliss in the Secret Garden

It’s been an incredibly rewarding, but also a busy and stressful week at my studio. I bite my nails when anxiety rises and I know that worrying about tomorrow robs me of today. Gardening has taught me to slow down and stay in the moment. After an hour or two of weeding therapy, I realize that I’m exactly where I need to be, right now.

  IMG_1924.JPGJapanese Painted Fern (Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’) & Astilbe ‘Europa’ (A. arendesii), beside the Secret Garden water bowl

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 permission. Thank you!

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Upon a May Night . . .

May 25th, 2014 § 5 comments § permalink

Upon_a_May_Night_2014_Copyright_Michaela_Harlow_thegardenerseden.comJPG An Evening Stroll to the Secret Garden, through a Carpet of Wild, Blue Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata)

Awake before the dawn this morning —listening to the forest come alive with the songs of hermit thrush and the yelps of young fox— my mind drifted back to yesterday evening, and a few stolen hours in the garden at twilight. A glass of wine and few moments to  collect fresh Lily-of-the-Valley, Daphne, fragrant Viburnum and Wild, Woodland Phlox for beside the bed. Spring is such a fleeting season, and oh, how I treasure May nights.

Memorial Day is the biggest gardening weekend of the year in New England, and yesterday was a busy work day for me. I spent the day shopping at nurseries and making multiple trips to and from growers with truckloads of plants. Hours in my own garden are so limited in May; with available time for maintenance confined mainly to early mornings and evenings. Thank goodness for lengthening daylight hours and French-pressed coffee to greet the sunrise.

Secret_Garden_with_Ostrich_Fern_and_Sterling_Narcissus_copyright_Michaela_Harlow_thegardenerseden.com The Secret Garden: from Fiddleheads to Feathery Fern, in the Blink of an Eye

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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Burnished Bronze & Jewel Tones: November Light in the Garden . . .

November 7th, 2013 § Comments Off on Burnished Bronze & Jewel Tones: November Light in the Garden . . . § permalink

Secret Garden in Late October - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Stepping into Late Autumn, Through the Secret Garden Door

Jack Frost arrived a bit late to the garden this year, and so far, he’s breezed through only lightly. Though the calendar says it’s November, Black-eyed Susan and her pretty, pink Wind-Flower companions have thus far eluded his fatal kiss. The maples have all shed their leaves, but oak, beech and poplar trees continue to add confetti dots of color to the hills. Here in the garden, the ornamental grasses reign supreme, but Korean Dogwood (Cornus kousa) and Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum), as well as many Viburnum, Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), Witch Alder (Fothergilla), and other species hold tight to pretty red-orange foliage and brightly colored berries. Still, I remind myself daily to savor this last great wave of color. Days are getting shorter and nights are getting colder. Soon the garden and surrounding forest will stand naked, shivering in white, winter bones.

Before the November Wind - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com  A Garden Trio of Cranberrybush Viburnum, Maiden Grass and Limelight Hydrangea Vie with Blushing Sunset for an Autumn Evening Spotlight

Miscanthus sinensis in the Entry Garden - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comJPG And Rounding the Corner on the Opposite Side, Creeping Blue-Rug Juinper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’), Striped Eulalia Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’) and Variegated Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana ‘Variegatus’), Add Complimentary Color and Textural Contrast to the Fiery Hues

Switch Grass Turns Gold (Panicum virgatum 'Heavy Metal') - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com The Autumnal Gold of Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’) Plays Pretty Against the Maroon Backdrop of Diablo Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’)

Callicarpa dichotoma 'Early Amethyst' with Rudbeckia hirta and Amsonia hubrichtii - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Issai’) and Hubricht’s Amsonia (Amsonia hubrichtii) Shine Bright as the Sun’s Afterglow 

Callicarpa-dichotoma-with-Cotinus-coggygria-and-Miscanthus Early Amethyst Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Early Amethyst’) with Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’) and Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), in the Entry Garden Walk

Moody Morning in the Autumn Garden Miscanthus sinensis cultivars - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Striped Eulalia Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’) with Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens) on a Dramatic, November Day

Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln' in autumn - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) Tufts Lend an Air of Soft Warmth to a Cold, Autumn Day 

Secret Garden Door and Water Bowl in November (Acer palmatum x dissectum 'Seiryu')- michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com The Blue-Green Dragon (Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’) Breathes Fire at the Secret Garden Door on a November Day

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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Summer Hide Away: A Shady Nook & Dreamy Gardening Books …

July 16th, 2012 § Comments Off on Summer Hide Away: A Shady Nook & Dreamy Gardening Books … § permalink

Hosta Leaves in Soothing Shades of  Blue-Green and Lime Cool Things Down on a Hot Summer Day. I Love Creating Shady Vignettes Outside of Entryways. This Grouping of Shady Ladies on the North Side of My Studio Includes: Aruncus dioicus, Hosta ‘Sum & Substance’ and in the foreground, Hosta ‘Blue Ice’

A gentle rain fell here last night, providing a bit of respite for my parched garden and the forest beyond. And it’s a good thing Mother Nature quenched our thirst with a modest drink, as it seems New England is headed into another heatwave. In an effort to remain comfortable and productive, my cat-like nature leads me from room to room with the change of seasons. During the hottest months —when there’s no breeze blowing through the dogtrot— I often retreat into the cool shade of my Secret Garden Room. Here —French doors flung open wide to a view of mossy walls and verdant plantings— I work from my desk throughout the heat of the day. The temperature in this sunken shade garden is noticeably cooler, and with blue-green foliage and soft textures soothing the eye, it’s a welcome relief to spend time here…

My Secret Garden Room/Office: For More Photos, Visit Previous Post Here

Inside the Secret Garden Room, Which is Really Just a Walkout Basement I Designed with a Wall of French Doors, Leading to the Walled Courtyard Beyond. For More Images of This Room, Click Here.

The Secret Garden Room Serves Many Purposes: Potting Shed, Shady Conservatory, Summer Office and Occasionally, as Seasonal Guest Room

I Design Many Shade Gardens —Secret Gardens are One of My Specialties— so I’m Always Researching Great, New Plants for Shade. I Often Spend My Free Time Reading Garden Books. At the Top of My Stack These Days? Inspirational Titles from Monacelli and Timber Press; including A Clearing in the Woods by Roger Foley, The New Encyclopedia of Hostas & Gardening with Woodland Plants by Karen Junker

When I’m working on a garden design for a client, or even when I’m just relaxing on a day off, more often than not, I am surrounded by a stack of books. My over-flowing shelves and teetering stacks include a great number of shade garden reference books. Secret gardens and shade gardens are two of my specialties as a garden designer. In fact, it seems I’m almost always working with shade — currently designing three shade gardens— so I’m constantly researching the latest and greatest new plant introductions for low light conditions. Familiarizing yourself with zone and site appropriate plants is not unlike learning about possible ingredients before you begin creating a new recipe. I make endless lists of plants when I visit local nurseries and garden centers, and I keep  a running file of photo notes on my iPhone and iPad, for future reference. For more inspiration, revisit my previous posts on shade gardening here and posts listed by topic in the lower right sidebar. See more images of the Secret Garden here and browse through more photos of the Secret Garden and other garden rooms at Ferncliff, throughout the seasons, here.

Needless to Say —Given the Name of My Garden— I’m Ridiculously Infatuated with Ferns. Delicate as a Voile Curtain, this Lady in Red (Athyrium filix-femina) Catches Every Breeze at the Secret Garden Door. Notice the Reddish Hue of the Stems, From Which this Cultivar Takes It’s Name. The Effect is More Pronounced in Early Spring, When the Sanguine Fiddle-Heads Unfurl.

Inside-Out: Now the Asparagus Fern has Become too Large to Move Back & Forth, It Stays within the Secret Garden Room Year-Round; Bringing a Touch of Verdant Beauty to the Plastered Walls Within. I Love Adding Metal, Stone and Clay Objects to Shade Gardens, Where They Often Rust or Collect Moss; Adding Subtle Color Contrast and Texture to Quiet Vignettes.

Blossoms of Astilbe x arendesii ‘Europa’ Offer Beautiful Color to Contrast with the Violet Undertones of Japanese Mitsuba Leaves (Cryptotaenia japonica atropurpurea). Herbal Mitsuba is a Lovely Perennial Ground Cover, but Self-Sows with Abandon. I Suggest Clipping the Foliage short and Dead-Heading Before the Insignificant Blossoms Emerge to Prevent Re-Seeding.

Texture and Foliage Color are the Keys to Creating an Interesting Shade Garden. Shade Tolerant Ornamental Grasses are a Soft and Elegant Option. Among the Best? Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra). I Love the Many Cultivars and Frequently Use Them in My Designs. My Favorites Include H. macra ‘All Gold’ —Pictured Here in My Secret Garden— and the Subtly Variegated H. macra ‘Aurea’. In Areas with a Bit More Sunlight, I Often Opt for H. macra ‘Beni Kaze’ or H. macra ‘Nicholas’. Both of the Latter Cultivars Have Brilliant Autumn Coloring.

Stonework: Dan Snow (click here for information)

Garden Design: Michaela Medina (click here to contact)

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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Moonlight & Shadow on the Rocks … Mysterious Japanese Hydrangea Vine

June 6th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

Moonlight & Shadow on the Rocks. Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’ in The Secret Garden

Moonlight Hydrangea Vine. Her name evokes silver-lined clouds in a velvet sky, and midnight strolls through the Secret Garden. I picture a heroine with long tousled tresses, holding a candle by the forest gate. It’s a fairytale of course, and in the distance, wolves howl and trees echo with the shrieks of yellow-eyed owls. There’s a chill in the dark woodland air, but the maiden’s young lad is due to arrive and, in spite of the late hour, she wanders down the length of stone wall to loose the iron latch. As her long, graceful fingers trace the mossy walls, clouds part and the moon appears from behind shadows. Hours pass and time stands still, but her suitor is nowhere to be found. Tenacious and faithful, night after night, she clings to the rocks; lighting the stoney passage with her luminous glow; waiting in moonlight and shadow….

Moonlight Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’)

Moonlight Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’) is a delightfully mottled, self clinging climber; attaching itself to walls, fences, trees and most any other surface with self-adhering, woody stems. Hardy in USDA zones 4-9, this perennial vine prefers light to near-full shade and moist, woodsy soil (though it will tolerate a range of conditions). Although this isn’t a true Hydrangea, eventually —given the right conditions— Schizoprhagma hydrangeoides will  –after as many as four to five years— produce lovely, white, hydrangea-like blossoms in early June. Of course, I look forward to seeing the flowers, but the blossoms are really a small bonus. In the dark recesses of my Secret Garden, it’s all about foliage! Frosty and luminous throughout the dog days of summer; the leaves take on a bronzy cast with the approach of autumn’s chill. Moonlight Hydrangea Vine is a true woodland beauty, beyond compare. I love using this gorgeous climber in my shade garden designs, and if you too are looking for a stunning vine for low-light spaces, it’s high time you make this mysterious lady’s acquaintance. Soon, Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’ could be lighting a candle-in-the-night just for you…

The Leaves of Moonlight Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides) Take On a Bronzy Cast by Early Autumn in the Semi-Shade of the Walled Garden

The New Leaves of Moonlight Hydrangea Vine Emerge Light Green in Early May, And Quickly Develop Gorgeous, Pewter-Hewed Mottling

Moonlight Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’) Along the Outer Walls of the Secret Garden in June

Article and Photographs ⓒ 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 used or reposted, reproduced or reused in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

All Stonework is by Vermont Artist Dan Snow

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

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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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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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Autumn Brilliance Part Three: Plant Partners for the Late Show and Early Winter Marquee…

October 23rd, 2009 § Comments Off on Autumn Brilliance Part Three: Plant Partners for the Late Show and Early Winter Marquee… § permalink

Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’ in late October

By late October, much of the foliage in the forest surrounding my garden has passed its peak. Although the woods are still basking in the glow of golden birch and poplar, lemony striped maple, rusty red oak and amber colored beech –  the vibrant orange and red maple leaves are now carpeting the woodland paths, where they rustle in the wind and crunch beneath my feet. Walks through the forest in late autumn are a fragrant affair; scented with musky dampness and memories. There is a beautiful sadness in the woods at this time of year – a melancholy enhanced by frequently-foggy mornings and low-lit afternoons…

Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’ foliage in late October

In my garden, most flowers vanished with the recent hard frost – but the ornamental fruit and foliage, stars of autumn’s late-show, are still going strong. Now through mid November, the leading role belongs to my favorite tree, Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’. This Japanese maple, commonly known as ‘The Blue-Green Dragon’, (currently the only upright dissected-leaf cultivar), is planted at the bottom edge of a slope near my studio where it arches over the Secret Garden door. The Blue-Green Dragon is prized for its lacy, delicately cut foliage and its late season color. A true chameleon, this dragon changes from sea-green to golden chartreuse before lighting a brilliant blaze of orange. Finally, in mid November, the dragon’s heat simmers down to a coppery hue as her leaves slowly drop to the hidden walkway below. Nearby, Daphne x burkwoodii, ‘Carol Mackie’, has begun her own transformation; morphing from variegated green and white to a citrusy blend of lemon yellow, sweet orange and sour lime. The contrast between these two plants is particularly stunning in the last week of October and the first few days of November. Closer to ground-level, Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’, planted at the foot of the entry wall to the Secret Garden, shines like a candy apple. Glossy green and elegant during the summer months, by late autumn Bergenia’s foliage has shifted hues from green to orange to cherry red – until finally settling on the ruby-wine color she will hold throughout the early winter months….

Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’

Secret Garden door in October

Further along the garden path, nestled into the nooks and crannies between ledgy outcrops bordering the main garden entrance, Calluna and Erica have begun to turn up their heat just as temperatures here dip below freezing. Calluna vulgaris ‘Multicolor’ has shifted to a shocking shade of vermillion, emphasized by the contrasting blue-tinted foliage of nearby Calluna vulgaris ‘Silver Knight’ and Juniperous horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’. Tiny lavender blossoms continue to flush the tips of the ‘Silver Knight’ heather, in spite of the cold – I gather them up in tiny bouquets for my kitchen table.

Ground covering woody plants, such as Calluna, Erica, Stephanadra, and Cotoneaster, offer vibrant late season color that combines well with with a wide variety of evergreens. Some of my favorites include juniper, (of all sizes and habits), Siberian cypress, (Microbiota), hemlock, (Tsuga), spruce, (Abies) and yew (Taxus). Blue-green masses of foliage and bronzing needle tips provide a soothing foreground or lush, calm backdrop for the more intense, late -autumnal hues in perennial and shrub borders…

Calluna vulgaris ‘Multicolor’ and ‘Silver Knight’, planted with Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’, (Blue rug), along the ledgy walkway at Ferncliff…

Calluna vulgaris ‘Multicolor’, forms a blazing carpet against the gray ledge in late October…

Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’, along the Secret Garden steps in October

Stephanandra incisa ‘Crispa’ glows golden-orange against the gray stone wall steps in late October

Stephanandra incisa and Juniperus Pfitzeriana ‘Aurea’ make a beautiful autumn pairing…

Of course fruiting shrubs and trees play an important role in my garden at this time of year and throughout the winter months. Yes, I fully admit to an obsession with colored berries. I collect and treasure fruiting shrubs for their shimmering, confetti-dot effect. While these plants are a feast for the eyes as winter draws near and color grows scarce, more importantly, their berries provide natural food for birds including the finch, cedar wax wings, cardinals and many others. As mentioned in my previous posts, (Autumn Brilliance Part One and also Autumn Brilliance Part Two), Callicarpa dichotoma and Viburnum, including the black-fruited V. carlesii, (Korean spice viburnum), provide berries for many of my feathered friends. As late fall shifts to early winter, other fruiting plants, such as Cotoneaster, begin to stand out in the garden. Ground-hugging Cotoneaster is a great partner for stonewalls, particularly in late autumn, when the bright red fruit and rusty foliage radiates in vibrant contrast to the rock’s cool, gray surface. I like to combine horizontal juniper cultivars with Cotoneaster, allowing both to trail down the side of retaining walls. Bright blue juniper berries sparkle on frosty mornings until they are devoured by hungry chipmunks and song sparrows. Ilex verticillata ‘Red sprite, a long-standing winter favorite, is just beginning its show-stopping performance. This mass of winterberry in my entry garden never fails to lift my spirits during the cold, raw days of late November. In the foreground, blue-tinted Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’ enhances the orange-red brilliance of the berries and the beautiful gray-tones of Dan Snow’s stone wall rise up from behind. When snow finally dusts the winterberry branches, the red fruits float like cherries in a bowl of cream…

Ilex verticillata, and Juniper Sargent in October

Ilex verticillata ‘Red sprite’ with Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’ in late October

Ilex verticillata 'Red sprite' close-up

Ilex verticillata ‘Red sprite’ with Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentti’ in late October

Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ and Thymus

Cotoneaster dammeri ‘Eichholz’s, leaves turn burgundy red after the hard frost in October

This Juniperus horizontalis provides blue berries in addition to sea green foliage

Viburnum carlesii, (Korean Spice Viburnum), provides late autumn foliage and black fruit. A small sized shrub, (3′ x 3′), Korean Spice Viburnum is generous with her fragrant flowers in spring…

Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Issai’, shown in an earlier post with golden foliage, is pictured after the hard frost in late October- looking even more magical than before…

Rich brown and subtle bronze tones also begin to appear in the late season, creating opportunities for harmonious pairings with brightly colored foliage and fruit. The cobalt violet hue of Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Issai’ berries, (above), seems even brighter once the shrub’s foliage turns a warm copper brown. Likewise, Microbiota decussata, (Siberian cypress), slowly burnishes from forest green to warm bronze as temperatures dip, playing beautifully against the orange-chartreuse tones of nearby moss and the pyrotechnic-color display of Enkianthus campanulatus ‘Red Bells’, planted at the corner of the walkway…

Microbiota, Thyme, Moss, Path to Northwest meadow in autumn

Microbiota decussata, (Siberian cypress), with Thyme and Moss on the path to the Northwest meadow in October…

Enkianthus companulatus ‘Red Bells’, in October

Microbiota decussata, autumn color close-up

Northwest path to the meadow with a view of amber colored beech in the distance

Although most of the flowers in my garden have faded away, some, such as Geranium ‘Brookside’, continue to surprise me past the first few frosts. When a fuchsia veined, blue-violet bloom appears amid the bright orange and yellow leaves of this gorgeous cranesbill, it can light up a gray October day almost as brightly as the sun. Placed near the golden autumn foliage of Amsonia illustris‘, this plant can easily stop me in my tracks with or without her stunning flowers. The dark hues of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ foliage, (or P. opulifolius ‘Summer wine’, or ‘Coppertinia’), pair nicely with these brighter plants, as do many ornamental grasses, dark violet colored sedum and verdigris tinted juniper…

Geranium ‘Brookside’ foliage turns brilliant orange and scarlet. and continues to produce violet blue blossoms with fuscia veins well past the hard frost…

Amsonia illustris, in the entry walk – golden autumn color enhanced by the late frost and nearby orange-hued ornamental grasses in October

Physocarpus 'Diablo' color variation 2

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ foliage color, varies from deep oxblood red…

Physocarpus 'Diablo' color variation

to burnished amber…

May the colors of late autumn lift your spirits and encourage you to venture out into the garden with an eye toward extending the season. With a bit of effort and planning, almost any patch of earth can provide a season-spanning garden, filled with color and texture throughout the year. I will meet you back here in just a bit, with more design inspiration for the coming months…

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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 sole property of The Gardner’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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Tricyrtis formosana ‘Dark Beauty’ ….. The Late Blooming Perennial Toad Lily

September 18th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

Tricyrtis formosana ‘Dark Beauty’ in the Secret Garden at Ferncliff

The first time I encountered Tricyrtis formosana she had been stripped of all foliage and was displayed dramatically with coppery toned twigs in a Japanese vase. It was lust at first sight. I was standing at the front desk in an elegant hotel lobby, and although I had plenty of things on my mind, I was driven to distraction by this flower. I suspected this was no orchid, but I could not identify her. Completely possessed, I had to know everything about the plant immediately. I peppered the hotel manager and staff with questions, and of course, no one could help me. In fact, I am certain the concierge thought me quite mad. He was busy and completely indifferent to my horticultural distress.

So I lurked about the first floor of the hotel, lingering in the bar with a late afternoon libation until the uncooperative employees departed. When the hotel staff changed shifts, a sympathetic face appeared behind the long slab of marble and I seized the opportunity at hand. This time I carefully tempered my enthusiasm so as not to appear too odd, and I simply inquired about the hotel’s florist. Much to my delight, after disappearing around the corner, the rather dashing fellow returned with a business card. “They are open tomorrow until noon”, he said. It was then that he must have noticed my aching gaze toward the vase, for he said… “Wait here just a moment”, and he disappeared once more. “Here…”, he smiled conspiratorially and presented me with three gorgeous stems, “These were on my boss’ desk”, he said, “and she has gone for the weekend”. I offered him a tip but he waved his hand. “My mother is obsessed with flowers, I understand”.

When the florist’s shop opened the next day, I learned that the object of my infatuation was a cultivar of Tricyrtis formosana. And although she may look like a member of the orchid family, she is not. Her swollen buds and speckled, waxy petals do bear a striking resemblance to Cymbidium, or perhaps Phalaenopsis, but her alternate lance-shaped leaves and hairy stems are a dead give away. This dappled beauty is actually a lily. A toad lily, in fact. And although I do find warty amphibians quite charming, I think this name is completely unsuitable. Other than Tricyrtis’ preference for a moist location, there is nothing toad-like about this elegant plant.

Tricyrtis formosana ‘Dark Beauty’ and Uncinia egmontiana, (orange hook sedge)

This initial introduction to Tricyrtis formosana was some years ago, before I finished college. When I finally had a garden of my own I was back in New England and Tricyrtis formosana was nowhere to be found. Although I heard there were hardier cultivars, (most range-out at zone 6), I could not find one to match the beauty I met in the hotel that day. Time went by, and I moved on to other botanical loves, but I never forgot my “orchid-lily”.

I shop around quite a bit for plants every year, and I try to keep an open mind when it comes to sources. You never know. Sometimes the most unusual things will turn up at a garden swap, or even a yard sale. I am no shop-girl snob, and I am certainly not above looking for botanical treasures in the most common of places. But I have to admit I was taken aback when I ran into my old love at the Home Depot. Of all the box stores in all the towns in all the world…

There she was, Tricyrtis formosana, the ‘Dark Beauty’.  Needless to say she came home with me. Native to Japan, this lovely lily brings a touch of exotic, Asian elegance to my shady northern nook. Much to my delight, this cultivar is hardy in zones 4 – 8.  She likes partial shade and constant moisture, and when happy her rhizomatous roots will spread out to form 2 to 3 foot colonies. Best of all, the ‘Dark Beauty’ blooms in early to mid fall, when few other flowers remain in my garden. I believe she likes taking the stage all to herself in the late show. And I am more than happy to supply her with a vibrant supporting cast.

The bold orange tones of Japanese forest grass, Hakonechloa macra ‘Nicolas’, strike a beautiful, contrasting chord when positioned beside the violet hues of Tricyrtis formosana ‘Dark Beauty’. A similar effect may be achieved when she is combined with orange hook sedge, (Ucinia egmontiana). Although you might not expect a dramatic late season finale when the pair are viewed throughout the quiet days of summer, ‘Dark Beauty’ will stand out in bold contrast to the orangy-gold autumn color of  our native cinnamon fern, (Osmonda cinnamonea), in fall. Tricyrtis formosana reaches a height somewhere between 18 and 28″, and she combines beautifully with other perennials. I might choose coral bells (Heuchera), for the foreground and perhaps position her beside a dark violet monkshood, (Aconitum, various cultivars), to create a dramatic autumn vignette. Her glossy green leaves play nicely against the feathery foliage of Astilbe, or the statuesque Goat’s Beard, (Aruncus dioicus), who backs up ‘Dark Beauty’ particularly well.

So here we are together again. Me and my old flame Tricyrtis formosana. So why not play it Sam? This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship …

Tricyrtis formonsana ‘Dark Beauty’ with Orange Hook Sedge

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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 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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Hello Lover…

August 7th, 2009 § 7 comments § permalink

Cape Primrose, (Streptocarpus ‘Black Panther’) in the Secret Garden at Ferncliff

I love a little flirtation in the garden. Yesterday, my cape primrose ‘Black Panther’ reminded me of just how much fun it is to be teased and surprised. I was dutifully weeding the Secret Garden path when I noticed something dark and mysterious peeking out from between the Streptocarpus leaves. Earlier this summer, I placed this tropical houseplant in a glazed pot and set it out on the chair beside my door. All sumer long, in spite of my potash rich fertilizer, ‘Black Panther’ has been reluctant to bloom. I blamed this shyness on the cool, rainy weather and resigned myself to his indifference. Imagine my surprise when I saw that violet shadow on the other side of the foliage. I quickly spun the pot around to have a better look. And there he was, that sneaky devil! Gorgeous. Just look at that deep, dark velvety beauty. Can you believe that color?  Some things are so worth waiting for.

Cape primrose ‘Black Panther’ belongs to the genus Streptocarpus, a rather large group of annual and perennial tropical plants containing more than 100 species. Streptocarpus come from the rain forest originally, growing on rocks and along banks in moist, humid forests and tropical rivers. This exotic plant can be found growing wild in China and South East Asia, southern Africa and Madagascar. But here in North America, Cape primrose is a conservatory plant; preferring warm, humid conditions and steady filtered light. I bring the ‘Black Panther’ inside each winter and I reduce watering a bit. As soon as outside temperatures moderate in early summer, I water the pot deeply and fertilize, placing it outside in my protected Secret Garden where he receives low-light, filtered by the steel balcony above.

I am so enamored with this mysterious, solitary blossom… And of course I am greedy for more. Will he spoil me, now that he is in the mood ? I can only wait and see. Anticipation… It can be so delightful.

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Streptocarpus ‘Black Panther’ from Proven Winners @ www.provenwinners.com

Proven Winners *find a retailer near you link*

~ Copyright 2009 Michaela at 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


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

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