Beauty by Design: New Gardeners Plant A Welcoming, Four Season Entryway …

October 27th, 2012 § 3 comments § permalink

Mary Kay & Greg’s Entryway Garden, One Year After Planting. Garden Design: Michaela M. Harlow

Season-Spanning Color Lights Up the Stone Entry Steps & Landing. Stonework: Alec Goldschmid. Garden Design: Michaela M. Harlow

With Properly Prepared, Edged & Mulched Planting Beds —Provided Here by Turner & Renaud— As Well as Diligent Weeding and Adequate Watering (Soaker Hoses Here Provide Water at the Root Zone; Preventing Evaporation and Delivering Moisture Only Where Needed) This DIY Entry Garden Planting Has Grown to Impressive Proportion in Just One Year. Garden Design: Michaela M. Harlow.

 I enjoy taking on the challenge of DIY projects in my own home and garden. But DIY projects with garden clients? Why not? As a garden designer, I frequently work with DIY landscapers at all levels —from absolute beginners to midlevel plant connoisseurs and fellow hortimaniacs— to create beautiful gardens. There’s no better way to learn how to garden, develop new landscaping skills, or brush up on rusty technique than by planting a garden of your own. Of course, taking on a big landscaping project can be intimidating, no matter your level of gardening experience. Knowing what you can realistically accomplish yourself and what might be best left to professionals, as well as deciding how and when to begin, are things we all need to consider before starting a DIY home project. In need of some inspiration? The garden pictured here was planted by my design clients —both relatively new gardeners— one year ago. Curious? Read on …

Windflowers (Anemone x hybrida cvs.) Blooming in Mary Kay & Greg’s Garden in Mid October, 2012. Garden Design: Michaela M. Harlow

Over the past few years, with revived interest in homesteading, victory gardening and self-reliance, the number of gardens I’ve designed for do-it-yourself landscaping clients has increased dramatically. I’m extra proud of these new friends and their projects, because they involve two of my favorite things: designing gardens and teaching others how to garden. Over the years, I’ve discovered that anyone with desire and dedication can learn to garden. I simply do not believe in “black thumbs”; those rusty digits just need a little polishing and training, and they will be verdant in no time!

This Photo of Mary Kay, Watering in Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford’, Was Taken in the Summer of 2011. Stone Steps by Alec Goldschmid. Site work & Perennial Bed Preparation by Turner & Renaud. Plants from Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont.

One of my favorite, recent DIY projects came about when I met Mary Kay and Greg at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont, after presenting a Four Season Garden Design seminar last year. I’d stayed on at the farm for an hour or so to answer questions after my talk, and Mary Kay and Greg happened to be simultaneously shopping for a Japanese Maple (one of my favorite trees). As fate would have it, Greg’s mother —an experienced horticulturalist and plant hybridizer— struck up a conversation with me about Acer palmatum. She mentioned that Mary Kay and Greg wanted to plant a new garden for themselves, but were in need of some professional guidance in the form of a garden designer. She introduced us and we discussed the possibility of a designing/garden coaching arrangement. My spring schedule was already filled with full service garden design projects, but I really liked Mary Kay and Greg’s DIY enthusiasm, so we spontaneously arranged  to meet at their place for a garden design consultation later that day.

Meanwhile, Greg Plants Hakonechola macra ‘All Gold’ and Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford’ on the Opposite Side of the Stone Steps, According to the Planting Plan.

When I arrived at Mary Kay and Greg’s home, I had the opportunity to meet a few additional members of their family. Although the couple were relatively new to ornamental gardening at the time, they’d been successfully growing edibles at their place for a couple of years. I’d already learned that Greg’s mother is a retired, professional horticulturalist, and I soon discovered that Mary Kay’s father is also an avid, and experienced gardener. I was encouraged to know that my new clients would have plenty of gardening support and advice available from “green thumb” parents on both sides. As all DIYrs know, one-on-one assistance and tips from an an experienced helper are truly invaluable when you are learning a hands-on skill.

My first step with Mary Kay and Greg was to have a look at the big picture of their landscape, in order to develop long term plans/goals and prioritize immediate needs/desires, as well as to assist in determining what parts of various projects they could do for themselves, and what they might need professional help with. I sketched out a few design ideas and we decided that with a garden design, planting plan, materials/shopping list, together with a bit of coaching and some help selecting contractors for hardscaping, they would be able to take on the entryway as a first DIY landscape project. Once I drew up a plan, we were ready to roll on our next steps together …

Mary Kay & Greg’s Garden Design, Planting Plan, Materials/Shopping List on Layout Day 2011

Local stoneworker, Alec Goldschmid was contracted to construct new drystone steps and a landing area for the front entryway. In the future, a stepping stone path and patio may be added, so the garden was designed and planned with this in mind. Once the stone entryway steps were completed, Turner & Renaud Landscaping came in to prepare the site for planting a new perennial garden. Poor-quality fill is often used at building sites when homes are constructed, and after examining and testing the soil, we decided to have Turner & Renaud remove the existing topsoil in the planting area and bring in a high quality mix of 50% compost and 50% screened loam. The crew used a tractor to scrape away the old base and build new beds. English edging was used to define the raised bed and separate the planting area from surrounding lawn. With the site work completed, Greg and Mary Kay went shopping at Walker Farm, where they found the majority of plants on their plan. I always advise my clients to buy locally when possible, and other tri-state garden centers —including Bay State Perennial, Rasheds Garden Center and Dynamic Landscaping— filled in the remaining gaps on the shopping list. Once they’d collected all of their plants, I returned to the site to help coach Mary Kay and Greg on the final layout and give them some planting tips and advice. As you can see, they did a fantastic job! Later, Turner & Renaud returned with enough natural bark mulch to spread a 2+” layer on the newly planted beds. Using some form of mulch is essential to conserve moisture, keep down weeds, and moderate temperature at the root zone in summer, as well as prevent heaving in winter. Soaker hoses were also set up to keep the new plantings well watered during the growing season (more newly installed plants die from dehydration than any other cause).

A Close-Up View of Mary Kay & Greg’s Entryway Garden, One Year Later

Inspired by Mary Kay & Greg’s success story? Autumn is a great time to design, plan and prep sites for new gardens. In an upcoming post, I’ll share more tips on how to begin a landscaping project on your own, or with the help of a garden designer and/or contractors. Although there are challenges, the rewards of hands-on-involvement in the creation of your landscape far outweigh the difficulties. Now’s the time to get outside and assess your site. Grab big a pad of 1″ graph paper, a pencil and measuring tape. I’ll meet you back here next week and we’ll get started!

A Glorious Stewartia Lights Up Mary Kay & Greg’s Front Entryway in the October Sunlight 

Garden Design & DIY Coaching: Michaela Medina Harlow

Site Work, Hardscape & Perennial Border Preparation: Turner & Renaud

Stonework: Alec Goldschmid, Vermont

Perennials & Shrubs: Walker Farm (VT), Baystate Perennial (MA), Rasheds (VT) & Dynamic Landscaping (NH)

Installation by Homeowners & Gardeners, Extraordinaire: Mary Kay and Greg

Photography and Text â“’ 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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The Perennial Maintenance Question: When Should I Cut Back the Garden?

October 15th, 2012 § 6 comments § permalink

Rainy-Day, Autumn Maintenance in My Wildflower Walk: Cutting Back Withered Perennials & Removing Weeds

Ah, October. One minute it’s freezing cold and you’re pulling on the wooly socks, and the next you’re stripping to your t-shirt and slathering on the sunscreen. I wonder… Do gardeners in other regions talk about the weather as much as the folks here in New England? A few years back, I was enjoying a live Lewis Black rant on meteorological events, when the comedian turned his attention to the peculiar phenomenon known as New England weather. Only in Boston, he fumed, can one experience: “…thunder, lightening and snow— together”. The audience groaned in unison and filled the room with nervous laughter. It’s true: no matter what the season, you just never can tell what’s in store in our unpredictable climate. Mother Nature certainly has a varied bag of tricks reserved for those of us living in the northeast, and last year, she brewed up a nasty Halloween blizzard; knocking out the power for days and canceling trick or treating (visit last year’s post for photos of the beautiful horror). So with all of this zany New England weather, deciding when to put what “to bed” in  the garden can be a bit of a challenge.

In Mid-October, Seed Pods and Dried Flower Heads Add Textural Interest & Contrast in a Garden Filled with Autumn Foliage (Doctor Woo Relishes an Afternoon of Fall Mouse-Hunting while I Spread Mulch and Tidy Up the Garden)

Last year’s early snowfall caught many gardeners —including this one— by complete surprise. Ornamental grasses, textural seed heads and dried flowers were all crushed by a heavy, white blanket. It was the first time in many years that my garden shut down early. Normally, hoar frosts and light, November snow squalls add seasonal beauty to the garden; tracing skeletal forms in delicate, glistening layers of ice crystal and white lace. For this reason, as well as a desire to attract wildlife, I prefer to leave most textural plants —such as Rudbeckia, Coreopsis, Eupatorium, Miscanthus, Echinacea, Rodgersia, and Asters to name a few— standing throughout the winter months, and cut back whatever remains of these perennials in early spring. However there are some perennials I trim back fairly soon; such as the “melter” plants, including Hosta and Ligularia, and the “scraggle dogs”, like Aruncus, Phlox maculata and Heliopsis. After the first hard frost, I try to critically evaluate the landscape and cut back perennials that no longer provide sustenance to wildlife or add structure, texture or color to the overall garden design and composition. And although I clip back certain woody plants to within 4″ of the ground —Hydrangea arborescens, Perovskia atriplicifolia, Lespedeza thunbergii, etc— I leave most structural pruning for late winter and detailing of woody perennials for early spring.

I Prefer to Leave Certain Dried Flowers —Such as Rodgersia (Shown Above) & Astilbe— Standing in the Secret Garden, to Catch Frost, Ice and Snow. These Perennial Plants will be Cut Back in Early Spring

One of the Great Joys of Ornamental Grasses is the Winter Beauty They Provide in the Garden. Shown Here, Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’) Coated in a Layer of Ice

Two of My Favorite, Architectural Flowers —Rudbeckia and Echinacea— Provide Sustenance to Overwintering Birds. Seed Producing Flowers are Always Left Standing in My Garden. What Remains will be Cut Back in Late April or Early May

Deciding which perennials to cut back when is often a matter of personal preference and garden style. The seed pods and drooping, dried flowers that one gardener thinks poetic, another might consider a terrible mess! You may like your garden neat and tidy, but in terms of protection, most perennials are quite hardy and need very little TLC. Zone marginal and newly transplanted perennials should always be cut back and mulched for winter protection, but established perennial borders are far less fussy. In my own garden, I leave most plants standing and clean up remnants in early spring. Do you have a specific question about when or what to cut back in your perennial garden? I spent the first 15 years of my professional, horticultural career maintaining gardens, and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned. Please feel free to ask about autumn perennial maintenance in the comments, below!

Garden Design & Installation: Michaela Medina Harlow

Photography and Text â“’ 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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To Every Thing, There is a Season … Preparing Garden & Shed for Winter Part One: Bulbs & Tubers

November 4th, 2011 § 6 comments § permalink

Cleaning and Preparing Pots & Tools for Winter Storage

Most years, by the time sleet and snow begin to fall, both my garden and home are well prepared for winter. By mid-November, my firewood is stacked, dahlias are boxed up, spring-blooming bulbs are planted and vegetable beds are neatly mulched with chopped leaves and clean straw. But this season’s early snow really took me by surprise. Even in New England, where we’re known for our unpredictable weather, who expects two feet of snow before Halloween? And now —with white drifts covering much of the garden— even though I’m actually well ahead of schedule, it suddenly feels as if I’ve fallen far behind. It’s only the first week of November, and I still have many chores to finish up! Fortunately —with frost-free ground and daytime temperatures in the high 50s— the snow is quickly receding!

Out go the bulbs (I’m planting extra Tulips this year — including long-standing favorites: Queen of the Night & Apricot Beauty— just for cutting)

I plant a large number of bulbs every fall, both for myself and for my garden design clients. Some early bloomers, like Galanthus, Eranthus and Erythronium for example, need extra time to settle in and are planted in late summer or very early autumn (or even better, in the case of Galanthus, transplanted in-the-green, after blooming). But I find that other springtime favorites —especially tulips and daffodils— perform best when planted in cooler soil, after a hard frost. Of course for some of us in the northeast, the first killing frost came in the form of a snow storm this year. That really threw a monkey wrench in my schedule! But no matter, there’s still plenty of time. In the next few weeks I’ll be digging more holes than my resident squirrels; planting daffodils, tulips and anything else I find on sale, until the ground freezes! In small spaces —or for dramatic effect— I often plant bulbs in layers (click here to see how), and I also buy extra bulbs to chill and force later on in winter (click here for tutorial).

And in come the Dahlias. Sweet dreams, my beauties …

In my cold climate, another unfinished garden chore, lifting and boxing up tender Dahlia tubers, needs to be completed over the next couple of weeks. Usually, I pull Dahlias two weeks after the frost, when their foliage has completely withered. But this season, my Dahlias were still blooming in late October, right up until the first snow (and if they could, I’m sure the Dahlias would be telling you that this year’s weather was all very strange and confusing). Yesterday I cut away the blackened remains of my beloved Karma Choc, Ferncliff Illusion, and other favorite Dahlias, and began lifting them (gently now, with fingertips and a bit of assistance from a trowel) from their pots. After shaking soil from Dahlias, I rinse and air dry the tubers for a day before nestling them into newspaper-lined cardboard boxes, filled with damp cedar shavings (I’ve stopped using peat moss for enviromental reasons). Once boxed up, I put my Dahlias to sleep on shelves in a cool, but not freezing part of my cellar (somewhere around 45 degrees is good).

And so now, I’m off to plant spring-blooming bulbs for my clients. Have you ever known a gardener to say that they planted too many? Impossible!

Although I’m Sad to See Many Things Go, There’s an Undeniable Beauty to Stark and Skeletal Winter

Canadian Geese on Departure

A Confetti Display of Leaves and Seeds in Melting Snow

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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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) â“’ 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!***

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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Preparing the Garden for Winter: Protect Young, Ornamental & Fruit Trees from Gnawing Rodents…

November 11th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

My young Royal Frost birch (Betula populifolia x Whitespire ‘Royal Frost’) tree’s golden-orange foliage in November

Several years ago, when my father had heart surgery at the VA hospital in Boston, I was away from home quite a bit during the last three months of the year. Preoccupied with my dad’s health and juggling various responsibilities during his recovery, I neglected end-of-season chores in my garden. Later on, as the first month of winter passed and my father’s condition improved, I found myself staring at a box of unplanted bulbs and a check list of unfinished tasks.

Soon, spring arrived. Waves of forced bulbs —potted and chilled in late December— began to emerge from the depths of my refrigerator. Although I regretted not getting my little treasures into the ground, I was grateful for the bright color of early tulips and tiny, fragrant narcissus when the snow began to recede; exposing muddy patches of half-frozen earth. Later, as I began rummaging around my cellar in search of gardening tools, I made a grim discovery: an entire box of wire cages that never made it around the trunks of my young trees. My heart sank. I looked out into the Secret Garden —at my still-buried Japanese maple— and I knew that I was in trouble. Immediately I raced out the front door and down the steps to my beloved Blue Green Dragon (aka ‘Seiryu’) at the Secret Garden Door. I began furiously digging at the foot of ice and snow still mounded ’round the tree trunk. My cold, raw fingers felt of the smooth bark for tell-tale signs of mouse-damage; scratches, gouges or ridges. Eventually, after clearing the entire base of the tree, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. No rodent damage here. But then, I turned my attention to the Japanese maple inside the Secret Garden -my beautiful ‘Butterfly’.

The gorgeous spring colors of Acer palmatum ‘Butterfly'(from Almost Eden Plants)

I went inside to grab a pair of gloves and shovel. Snow always drifts and piles higher inside the Secret Garden, and the shade prevents early melting. As I began digging, I quickly uncovered a cylindrical channel leading from one of the stone walls toward the tree. Drawing closer to the trunk, I could see tiny bits of bark scattered about the white tunnel. I slumped down in the snow. Still digging, as I uncovered one side of the stripped trunk, I started to cry. I knew what I would find, and I was right. The tree had been completely girdled (living bark gnawed clean off in a full circle around the trunk). If you’ve never seen this kind of rodent-damage before, my reaction may seem a bit over-dramatic. But if you’ve ever experienced the heartbreak of losing a beloved tree or shrub to winter girdling, you will understand. The rodents must have begun their chewing after the sap started to run in late February. As the weather warmed, the tree began to leaf out. What a pathetic scene. The gorgeous crimson-tipped leaves and coral-pink stems taunted me as I watched them unfurl; knowing that this would be my beautiful, young tree’s last spring. I couldn’t bear to dig it up, and I couldn’t stand to walk through the garden.

The beautiful leaves of The Blue Green Dragon (Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’) in Springtime

Eventually, I came to accept reality, and I removed the ‘Butterfly’ from my garden. I could not find another specimen, so I changed course, dug up the earth, and planted a young Stewartia pseudocamilla in her place. She is, of course, stunning in that spot. And one day, I will create another protected nook and bring a new ‘Butterfly’ to my garden.

If you have young trees and shrubs with tender bark in your garden, protecting those valuable plants from winter rodent damage is absolutely essential. Every November, I pull out my homemade wire tubes and surround the base of my precious plants. You can buy protective tree tubes at many garden centers, or easily make your own from fine wire mesh sheeting (available at most hardware stores). I had extra metal lath leftover from several construction projects, and that works well too. The important thing is that the spaces between the wires be small enough to prevent the tiniest of mice from slipping into the tube. Make the width of the cylinder about twice the diameter of the tree, and at least 18″ tall (depending on average snow depth, you may want to make your cylinder two feet tall)  For extra insurance, I often spray the bark of my trees with hot pepper wax before securing the wire tubes, and I also pour a few inches of sharp gravel around the base of the tube to prevent tunneling.

Gently settle the tube around the tree and push slightly into the mulch. Take care not to damage shallow-rooted trees like Japanese maple by pushing wire into the tender roots at the surface.

Secure the tube with medium-guage steel wire. Gasp! Put down those Felcos! Use wire cutters to snip that steel!

Secure the tube well, tucking the wire beneath itself to prevent injury to your fingers in springtime

This is what the tube looks like when properly installed around the base of the tree. Once you have made them, you can easily recycle them from year to year. Replace them every November. Larger trees can withstand a bit of mouse gnawing. Mature trees, with tough bark, rarely experience gnawing. But, I protect all of my smooth-barked specimen trees. It only takes about a half an hour to do my entire (very large) garden.

Japanese Golden Forest Grass (Hachonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) continues to provide late season color in the Secret Garden, and…

It also provides a bit of camouflage for my Stewartia’s protective, wire tree-tube

Before long, the silver-grey tubes in my garden will be buried beneath the snow. But because I am a garden designer, I am very preoccupied with how the garden looks throughout the seasons. So, I try to plant a ‘screen’ at the base of my young trees to help conceal these seasonal tubes in late autumn. In the photo above, golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) and Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ provide a fine camouflage.

And although I still pine for my ‘Butterfly’, I accept that sometimes accidents happen. My garden is important to me, but my family and friends are far more important. I’m happy to report that thanks to the team of medical professionals at the VA Hospital in West Roxbury, MA, my father made a full recovery from the heart surgery that saved his life. And every year on November 11th, as I go out in the morning to faithfully wrap my trees, I am reminded of the many veterans I met during my father’s stay at the Veterans Hospital four years ago. Thank you for your service to our country dad, and thank you to all of your brothers and sisters in arms. We are ever-grateful for your sacrifice, and we salute you.

A Time of Reflection- Veterans Day, November 11th


Article and Photographs (with exception noted & linked) â“’ Michaela at TGE

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