The Grand, Fall Foliage Finale: November Photo-Notes from Ferncliff…

November 8th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’ and Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’at the Secret Garden Entry in Early November

It seems to me that the first week of November flew by in a complete blur. This morning I awoke to howling wind and the unmistakable sound of sleet blasting the windowpanes. In one short week, the vast majority of deciduous trees surrounding my home have shed their late autumn foliage. Looking out at the hillside today, only rust-colored beech leaves and deep-green conifer needles remain.

As I watch the high winds whipping about my garden  —stripping leaves and knocking plants to and fro— I’m glad that I made time to snap a few photos during last week’s grand, color-finale. For although I do love the subtle textures and muted hues of winter, I always mourn the end of autumn’s brilliant color-spectacle. The season is changing quickly now, shifting toward the darkness and stark, skeletal landscapes. But before it all slips away, let’s take a walk through the colorful foliage in the garden; soaking up the warm color and glowing light…

Vibrant Late-Season Foliage – The leaves of Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’ change slowly and hold long at the Secret Garden Door

Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’ and Daphne x burkwoodi ‘Carol Mackie’

Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’ – The Reflected Red Foliage Flickering Like Flames in the Water

As the flame grass fades to tawny bronze, Amsonia illustris (foreground), Lysimachia clethroides, Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’ and the golden color of Hemerocallis foliage light up the entry garden and walkway against a backdrop of Juniperus x Pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’

Although the majority of birch leaves (Betula papyrifera) have fallen, colorful plants —including those listed above as well as Aster oblongifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite’, Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’, Amsonia hubrichtii, and Cornus kousa— continue to provide autumn color in the garden

Close-up of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’, Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’, Lysimachia clethroides and Rudbeckia hirta seed pods, against a backdrop of  ‘Sea Green’ Juniperus x Pfitzeriana

The same grouping of plants pictured above, viewed from the opposite side of the walkway

In front of the Secret Garden wall, Cornus kousa glows like a bonfire (backed here by Juniperus x Pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’ and fronted by Juniperus sargentii). As the last yellowing leaves fall from Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, her beautiful red berries stand out like bits of luminous confetti against the blue-green juniper. Throughout November, Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’ and Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ add a splash of orange and gold to this garden’s foreground.

In my garden, two of the very last trees to drop their leaves are the Cornus kousa in front of the Secret Garden wall (from Walker Farm in Dummerston, VT) and the Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’ at the Secret Garden entry (see list above for other plants in this border)

The high stone walls (built by artist Dan Snow) provide a buffer from the wind. This bit of extra protection is at least partly responsible for the lengthy autumn foliage display in this garden.

A. palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’ forms a flaming red arch above the Secret Garden door

Looking inside the Secret Garden on a rainy, early November day. In autumn, the chartreuse color of Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ intensifies to an even more luminous-hue. I love gazing upon its beauty on rainy days. For a listing of other plants in this garden, see the Secret Garden page at left.

The beautiful autumn color of Cornus kousa was my primary motivation when planting this tree (purchased from Walker Farm) five years ago. Now that it has reached a more substantial height, it can be enjoyed from inside the Secret Garden and Garden Room as well as from the front walkway. Plants visible in the foreground include Rodgersia aesculifolia and to the right, Paeonia mouton x lutea ‘High Noon’ (both from Walker Farm).

The reflected foliage of A. plamatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’. This semi-frost-proof water bowl will remain outdoors until early December, when I empty it and bring it inside for the winter.

Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Roseum’ in November’s Secret Garden – In late autumn, the deep green foliage lights up the dark stone wall with its brilliant-chartreuse fall color

Although the native forest (background) has shed most of its leaves —save the burnt-orange beech in the background here— the Secret Garden continues to celebrate with a grand finale of color (A. palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’, Fothergilla gardenii, Hosta ‘August Moon’ and various ground covering perennials; including Heuchera, Euphorbia and Bergenia)

A Last Look at Autumn’s Beautiful Reflection

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Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Fire and Ice: The Flaming Red Foliage of Abelia Mosanensis Sizzles Beside Cool Blue Juniper Horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’…

November 4th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

Fragrant abelia (Abelia mosanensis) and Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’ (aka ‘The Blue Rug’)

They say opposites attract —think Bogie and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracy, Lady and the Tramp, Bert and Ernie— in passionate relationships.  And it’s certainly true that sparks tend to fly in nature, as well as on the silver screen, when something hot and fiery comes into contact with the cool, calm and steely. In the late autumn garden, such contrasts are particularly spectacular when blue-tinted conifers are played against orange and red-colored deciduous beauties. In October and early November, the magnetic charge between red-orange abelia and blue-green juniper produces some serious, show-stopping drama in my garden; especially on a moody, overcast day.

The Brilliant Autumn Color of Abelia mosanensis Holds Straight Into November

Fragrant, hardy abelia (Abelia mosanensis) possesses some of the most brilliant fall color in my late-season garden. Beginning in mid to late October, her lustrous foliage —medium green and glossy throughout the growing season— slowly shifts from glowing orangey-red to fiery scarlet. The color of her autumn leaves is so brilliant, it literally glows like a campfire on a foggy day. You may recall my affection for Abelia mosanensis from a post in late spring, when this delightful plant produces beautiful pink, intensely fragrant blossoms (beginning in late May here int VT) that rival the sweet scent of lilac and daphne. If you’ve never met Abelia mosanensis, you should know that this is not a beautifully shaped plant —requiring careful positioning and June pruning to maintain an acceptable presence in a more formal garden situation— but her sweet, springtime blossoms and glorious fall color more than make up for her rather scrappy form. Listed by most growers as hardy in zones 5 to 9, here on my windy, exposed hilltop (zone 4/5), she has performed very well for five seasons with no absolutely no effort on my part. When her modest requirements are met, (moist, well-drained, average garden soil) fragrant abelia can reach six feet high and wide in full sun -but she’ll also tolerate partial shade, where a gardener can expect the mature shrub to be of somewhat smaller stature.

Fragrant abelia, draped in May blossoms (Abelia mosanensis) with ‘Blue Rug’ at her feet (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug’)

And the perfect yang to fragrant abelia’s delightfully feminine yin? In both spring and fall, I adore the contrast of steely, blue-tipped conifers with Abelia mosanensis. In the entry garden, sprawling at fragrant abelia’s feet, the ‘Blue Rug’ (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’) looks particularly lovely to my eye. Tough as nails, this splendid ground-cover is extremely hardy (USDA zones 3-10) and tolerates many soil types as long as it is provided with full sun and excellent drainage. Although it may sprawl to 10 feet or more, like most juniper, the ‘Blue Rug’ is easily contained with regular pruning.

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug’ in November, with a Frosty Coat of Ice Crystals

When I’m pairing plants in my garden, I usually end up thinking about characters in a film.  To bring out the best qualities of one plant, it often helps to place it beside another with opposing charms. There’s nothing like watching the sparks fly between a feisty leading-lady and a cool and classic leading man. Why not follow suit in the garden, and watch your late-show sizzle to life.

Inspiration: Romantic Opposites…

Bogie and Bacall

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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

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Opposites Attract: Autumn Golds Glow Beside Vibrant Violets, Pale Plums & Lovely Lavenders…

October 7th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

An October knock-out: Clematis viticella ‘Polish Spirit’ (my new favorite) sings harmony at the edge of the golden-chartreuse fields of autumn

Oh beautiful, technicolor October, my favorite month of the year. On glorious fall days like today, I live to be outdoors from dawn to dusk, playing in the garden’s golden light. With all of the warm autumn colors and hot, mulled apple cider, I barely notice evening’s growing chill. Bold, contrasting shades —citrus and purple, saffron and plum— fill the beds and borders with near-electric radiance. Opposites attract, and sparks fly in the garden…

The lemon-colored spicebush (native Lindera benzoin) featured here last week is still glowing brightly. And this week, the shining and Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia illustris and A. hubrichtii, respectively) and sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) have joined the colorful garden party; all shimmering now in bright-as-the-sun yellow hues. Alongside all of the gilded foliage, shades of violet —from lavender to deepest plum— continue to play right in tune. Looking to bump up the late-season wattage in your garden? Consider side-by-side plantings in shades of purple and yellow. The combination always gives a garden design a good kick…

Late asters stand out like jewels in a setting: the glowing color of Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’, backed by golden Amsonia illustris, captures the last rays of sunlight

The plummy plumes of maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’) play beautifully in my garden. Here, bathed in late afternoon light, the inflorescences stand tall against a backdrop hedge of deep-purple Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’. Yellow, horizontal stripes on the grass —a little hard to see in this photo— add dynamic color and texture to the combination

Pots get in on the color-act as well: Aster ‘Apollo’ strikes a stunning pose, massed on the stone steps leading to my studio; planted here in contrasting, mustard-colored containers

An autumn love story: Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ romances Clethera alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’

Another favorite pairing in my autumn garden: Aster oblongifolium, ‘Raydon’s Favorite’, planted against a golden backdrop of Clethera alnifolia, ‘Ruby Spice’

This Hydrangea quercifolia (our native oakleaf hydrangea) is Turning a Lovely Shade of Dusty Plum this Week

Aster oblogifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ pairs beautifully with many autumn golds; including nearby Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii)

Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) is as beautiful close-up as it is viewed from a distance; planted en masse

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ is a perfect backdrop for subtle, plum-toned ‘bloom’ (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’ inflorescence)

The color of purple-leafed coral bells (Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’) grows more intense as the weather cools

And last —but never least— in today’s round-up of violet and gold foliage and flowers is my favorite autumn plant: our native Rhus typhina. This selected cultivar, ‘Tiger Eyes’, is particularly stunning this week at Ferncliff. Read more about my love-affair with Lady Rhus by traveling back to last year’s post on this beautiful plant (click here)

Article and photographs ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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

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Singin’ and Dancin’ in the Rain….. Vibrant Colors on a Late September Day

September 28th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Raindrops on Birch – Late September at Ferncliff

Grey skies and fog… Are those downpours drumming on my roof? Why yes! At long last, the heavens have opened up; two days and a forecast filled with showers! Suddenly saturated, the colors of early autumn seem to be singin’ and dancin’ in the rain. Chinese orange and plum, cherry red and dusty violet, saffron and rust; a rainbow of beauty without a trace of sun. So now, pull on your rain boots and pop on a bright yellow jacket. Come join me beneath my big umbrella and let’s go for a stroll ’round the September garden. It couldn’t be prettier outside. Why not splash in the puddles and have some fun…

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ and Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’

Rodgersia aesculifolia and Stewartia pseudocamillia in the Secret Garden

Miscanthus purpurascens (Flame Grass) with Viburnum trilobum ‘J.N. Select – Redwing’

Viburnum setigerum with berries, planted with Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ and Rudbeckia hirta {remnant seed pods on view}

In the Entry Garden: Amsonia illustris and Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug’

Raindrops on the coral twigs and multicolored foliage of a young Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’ beside the wall

The golden timothy meadow (Phleum pratense) and beyond, hayscented fern (Dennstaedtia puctilobula) edge the woodland

A half-lit sugar maple (Acer saccharum) glows in front of the native forest to the south

Purple-red ash (Fraxinus americana) and tangerine-tipped sugar maple (Acer saccharum) line the gateway to the native forest

A red maple (Acer rubrum) is all aflame on my hilltop, standing before the native forest to the north

Miscanthus purpurascens and Amsonia illustris (planted with Fothergilla gardenii, Rudbeckia, Sedum and in the background Cornus alba)

Hayscented Fern (Dennstaedtia puctilobula)

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’ and Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ and Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’

Raindrops on Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ (Fountain Grass)

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’, Sedum, and Eupatorium ‘Chocolate’

Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ (detail)

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ and Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’

Clethra alnifolia (Summersweet) and Miscanthus purpurascens with Weigela florida ‘Red Prince’

Early Autumn Colors in Vermont

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf hydrangea), Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ (Holgers Juniper) and Solidago (Goldenrod)

Inspiration…

Singin’ in the Rain…

In Pretty Red Wellies !

Article and photographs (with last two exceptions) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. Advertisers do not pay for editorial placement here, but do remit a small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden affiliate links to this site. All proceeds will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Mellow Yellow: Lovely Lindera Benzoin, North American Native Spicebush…

September 27th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Lindera benzoin (Spicebush) in front of the Secret Garden wall (see complete plant list below)

The question comes up every September in my garden. The meter-reader, oil delivery driver and countless guests have asked: “What’s that bright yellow shrub over there by the wall  …The one covered with birds and red berries?” When I ask, “Have you heard of Lindera benzoin, North American spicebush?”, the answer is invariably ‘no’. And no matter how many times I make the introduction, it’s always surprising to me that this gorgeous shrub isn’t more widely known and used in the landscape. Spicebush’s season-spanning, informal beauty makes her the perfect choice for naturalizing along woodland boundaries and in countless other transitional situations. But as you can see from the photo above, this native plant also works beautifully in a mixed-border; with other trees, shrubs, bulbs and perennials.

512x768xLindera_benzoin_North_American_Native_Spicebush_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.com_.jpg,Mic_.d56oqQ6fMB.jpg.pagespeed.ce.d56oqQ6fMB Lindera benzoin blooming in my garden 

The show begins in first weeks of April, when the spicebush’s lightly-fragrant, lemon-yellow blossoms begin to open on the dreariest of days. These early flowers are an important source of nectar to pollinating insects —including native and honey bees—and a welcome sight to my winter-weary eyes. The specimen pictured above — in front of the stone wall surrounding the Secret Garden— has developed a round, mounded shape in full sun (I prune very lightly after the early spring blossoms fade). Lindera benzoin will also tolerate light shade, and the groupings here at the edge of the native forest have developed a more open, but graceful habit. After the early flowers fade, attractive, blue-green foliage (the leaves have a delightfully spicy, masculine fragrance when crushed, and can be used to make tea, herbal sachets or potpourri) makes a fine backdrop for other players in front of the perennial border.

Lindera benzoin, autumn leaf detail

Lindera benzoin in late September (planted here with Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’ and Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’)

As pretty and uplifting as this shrub is when blossoming in April, come September, spicebush really turns things up a notch in the garden when its foliage shifts from cool green to brilliant, lemon-gold. The female plants (this species is dioecious and a male must be planted nearby for the female to produce fruit), with their bright red berries (edible/substitute for allspice), are especially fetching in autumn; attracting birds from the nearby forest by the dozen. Combinations with other showy, autumn shrubs and trees —such as bold red viburnum (particluarly V.bodnatense and V. trilobum), dogwood, witch hazel, and red vein enkianthus— are always gorgeous. And rich purple or deep-blue blossoms —including monkshood (Aconitum) and asters in autumn, and glory-of-the-snow (Chinodoxa), crocus and grape hyacinth (Muscari) in spring— make lovely, perennial and bulb pairings with spicebush on either end of the growing season as well. Conifers, particularly deep green hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and blue spruce cultivars (Picea pungens) also provide a striking contrast to luminous Lindera benzoin, both in texture and color. And keep in mind the design possibilities of deep violet foliage when choosing a spot for spicebush. Dark, burgundy shrubs, including Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’, P. opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ and Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’, really bring out the golden hues in Lindera benzoin; as do perennials like purple fountain grass (Pennisetum rubrum) and Sedum ‘Matrona’ or S. ‘Purple Emperor’. In a shadier situation, try spicebush in combination with the purple foliage of Heuchera cultiavars (like ‘Plum Pudding’ and ‘Palace Purple’) or perhaps Actaea racemosa (aka Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ or ‘Brunette’).

Lindera benzoin provides a luminous, gold backdrop for other autumn colors (here with Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’)

Hardy in zones 4-9, Lindera benzoin is a native of N. America from the north into Canada and on south to Florida; into midwestern Michigan and Kansas, and southwest to moderate climate zones of Texas. As a landscaping plant, spicebush is relatively trouble-free in the garden or naturalized settings; forming a mound-shaped shrub (6-12′ high and wide) when planted in a sunny location. In the shade the shrub tends to form a more open shape (a bit like Amelanchier); absolutely lovely, though subtle, when in bloom. Lindera benzoin prefers even soil-moisture (dry conditions make for a scruffy looking specimen) with cooling mulch about the root-zone (helpful to preserve even soil temperature and moisture)

Perhaps you’re already acquainted with lovely Lindera. If so, remember to pass on the good word. Mid to late fall is a great time to add shrubs to the landscape (see related post here). This native plant is an important part of our natural, North American habitat, and a significant source of food for insects (bees and butterfly larvae) and birds. But it seems to me that the spring blossoms, red fruit and glorious, golden, autumn color of Lindera benzoin provide all the promotional material any plant could ever need…

North American Native Spice Bush (Lindera benzoin) – Shown here in my garden with Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ (and in the background Cornus kousa, Ilex verticillata and Juniperus chubebsus ‘Sargentii’, seed pod remnants of Rudbeckia. And to the left Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’ and various Sedum)

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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Fashionably Late & Dressed in Maroon: Sweetly-Scented, Autumn Fairy Candles Light Up the Shadowy, Secret Garden…

September 16th, 2010 § 6 comments § permalink

Actaea simplex/Cimicifuga simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty {also known variously as Fairy Candles, Black Snake Root & Black Cohosh}

Actaea simlex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, here in the Secret Garden with Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, Lamium maculatum, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’, Paeonia mouton x lutea ‘High Noon’, Stewartia pseudocamilla, and a background of bronzing Matteuccia pensylvanica {native Ostrich fern}

True, there are those who say it’s rude to be tardy, but it seems to me that the more interesting characters always arrive a wee-bit late to the party. Of course, they are always gorgeous, a bit mysterious, and often wearing something dark and dramatic. Well, such is the case with Actaea simplex {aka Cimicifuga simplex} ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, in my Secret Garden. Clad in exquisitely-cut, deep, velvet-maroon, the Fairy Candles —as I like to call them— saunter into bloom in September; wearing their lilac-tinted, flower plumes the way an old-fashioned bombshell might drape her shoulders with an exotic, perfumed boa. Filling the cool, misty air of the Secret Garden with the most delightfully intoxicating scent, {noticed and adored by hungry bees and other early autumn pollinators} Actaea simplex arrives late on the garden-scene with the kind of laid-back elegance of which modern Hollywood starlets can only dream…

Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ in the Secret Garden {see companion plant listing above}

Known by various intriguing aliases —including Black Snake Root, Black Cohosh and (my favorite) Fairy Candles— Actaea simplex was formerly categorized in taxonomic circles as Cimicifuga simplex (sim-e- sih-few-gah sim-plex); a delightful tongue-twister that, once mastered, I actually came to adore (In fact, I still refer to her by the original botanical name – the Latin just seems to capture her… Je ne sais quoi). Native to the moist, cool woodlands of eastern North America, this statuesque beauty will easily reach 4-6′ tall — spikes in full bloom— when she’s given the conditions she prefers. Hardy in USDA zones 4-8, Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, and the similarly beautiful ‘Brunette’, require a consistently moist and amply shaded location to really strut their stuff. Too much sun will bleach and burn-out her gorgeous foliage , and dry soil will quickly do her in.

It’s a shame the fragrance of Actaea simplex’s blossoms can not be transmitted electronically. I wish you could sample the delicious scent…

A classy beauty like this demands fine company. And with her year-round, velvety, maroon attire, chartreuse and gold foliage make gorgeous music with her in the low-light. I like to combine the dark foliage of  A. simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ and ‘Brunette’ with low, spreading, golden Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ or ‘Aureola’), mound-shaped Hosta ‘August Moon’, and for serious drama, I play her against my favorite chartreuse -stunner, Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’ (European elder). Yes, Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ is a true garden bombshell – but of the dark variety, not the blonde— like Hedy Lamarr. She’s sultry, she’s elegant, and she really knows how to bring down the house in style….

Inspiration: Hedy Lamarr {image: still from ‘The Strange Woman’ United Artists 1946 (public domain)– via improbable research}

Hedy Lamarr {Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1938 – image via zimbio.com}

Hedy Lamarr {image via zimbio.com}

Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian-born actress popular in films of the 1930s and 40s. Read more about Hedy Lamarr on her IMDB page by clicking here.

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Article and photos (excepting portraits of Hedy Lamarr) are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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

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Flickering Like Flames: Scarlet Red, Brilliant Orange & Burnished Gold … Early Signs of Change in the Garden…

September 14th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

The bold vermillion of late summer: Rosa rugosa’s bright and beautiful hips

Cobalt-Violet Annual Asters Fill Beds Planned for Cutting in the Potager…

This morning, I watched as a flock of sparrows splashed joyfully in a tiny pool on the stone terrace. Showers passed through the area yesterday afternoon and evening; refreshing the garden and leaving behind a temporary bird bath for my winged-guests. Every day now, when I look out the window, I notice more and more traces of red and gold in the meadow and along the distant hillside. Changes are evident in both the flora and the local fauna. The seasonal shift has started a bit early here; caused, perhaps, by unusually hot and dry conditions this summer. The natural world is changing rapidly now; heralding the arrival of a new season.

Trees and shrubs planted in shallow soil along the northwestern corner of the garden are already beginning to shift hues. Red leaves outnumber green this week on one ‘Shasta’ viburnum (V. plicatum var. tomentosum) in particular, and the tea viburnum (V. setigerum ) is loaded with Chinese-orange berries. The viburnum genus includes many species with fantastic autumn color —both in terms of foliage and fruit— and planting them in and amongst perennials is a great way to add late season pizazz to a garden.  It’s no secret that these are my favorite shrubs. Not only are common and rare species and cultivars of the genus planted everywhere in my garden —and in almost every garden I design for others— but I post viburnum photos on this blog and talk and write about them constantly. Two lovely swing-season plants, among the many possible options to use when designing a garden around viburnum, are asters and ornamental grass. ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ asters bloom here every September and October in the most exquisite shade of blue imaginable; like the sky itself on an early autumn day. These flowers are beloved by bees and butterflies, especially in the latter half of the year, as natural sources of food begin to grow more scarce. Beautiful in the vase as well as in the garden, annual asters —packets of seed sprinkled about the flower beds in early spring— are an easy way to add bold color and vary the seasonal tapestry in a mixed border. And I also like to use mound-shaped ornamental grasses, with their soft textures and varied hues —particularly the pennisetums— to add a softness and grace at the foot of leggier viburnums, such as the tea (V. setigerum) and bodnant (V. bodnantense)…

Viburnum plicatum tomentosum ‘Shasta’

Aster oblongifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ Pulls the September Sky Down to Earth…

The Gorgeous Chinese-Orange Berries of Tea Viburnum ( V. setigerum )

I find it impossible to pass by Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ without running my fingers through her downy tufts. They remind me a bit of another local resident…

Red Fox – Meadow’s Edge at Ferncliff

Wild Turkey – Forest Boundary at Ferncliff

Sparrows Splashing on a Terrace at Ferncliff

A Passing Shower Provides Temporary, Late Summer Bathing for Birds

***

Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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

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Savoring Summer: Harvesting and Drying The Garden’s Finest Herbal Treasures…

August 19th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Drying Herbs in the Stairwell

One of the great pleasures of living in New England is, of course, the seasons. The natural world operates on a distinct schedule here, and all life flows along with it at a steady pace. On these late August days, the song of the hermit thrush —an ever-present twilight melody enjoyed throughout summer— begins to fade as flocks of songbirds gather for migration before the full moon. And the sun, shifting position and setting earlier each day on the horizon, glimmers low and gold in the trees now. Although the noontime hours of late summer can be quite hot, and evenings are still spent bare-shouldered, it won’t be long before downy quilts and lavender-scented sweaters are pulled from closet shelves.

August is a month of preserving; of putting up and setting things by. Jars of jam and pickled produce form neat rows in the cupboards, and my freezer is packed wall-to-wall with summertime’s bounty. This is the time of year when my voluptuous herb garden literally spills from its neatly-edged confines. Borders? Fiddle-dee-dee, the mint seems to say, as it runs wildly wherever it may. But I never mind a bit of excess in the garden -it’s so nice to have plenty to spare. Mint, rosemary, basil, thyme, lavender and lemon verbena; their scents perfume my fingers and fill the cellar stairwell with beautiful fragrance. …

Freshly-harvested basil – Tied with twine for drying…

Basil and Mint Bundles

With dry air and scant rain, August is a great month to begin harvesting and drying herbs for winter. In the coming months, I will be grateful for a hint of summertime’s pleasures in warm cups of tea and fragrant breakfast scones. Drying herbs is simple and economical; an easy way to trim your monthly grocery budget and add flavor to daily meals. Have a look at the price of dried, organic basil next time you visit a grocery store. If you need a bit of convincing before bundling up the harvest and making room in your rafters, that little bit of sticker-shock should do the trick.

I grow herbs in my potager amongst the vegetables, on my terrace in containers, and throughout the ornamental gardens as well. Once the morning dew has dried —usually by 10am— I head outside with harvest baskets to gather whatever tempts my eye. Some days, I focus on aromatic herbs for cooking; including basil, rosemary, thyme and mint. But I also keep other uses in mind; gathering lavender, bergamot and hyssop for scenting oils, soaps, and sachets. Dried bundles of artemisia, tansy, Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod and other herbs are also useful for wreaths, swags and dried flower arrangements. Once the cellar stairwell and loft are filled —mostly with herbs for teas and cooking— I string clothesline in my dry cellar to hang bunches of herbs, protecting them from dust with loose paper bag ‘hoods’…

Herbs in the Potager

Keep potted herbs attractive by frequently pruning. More than you need? Try drying bundles to use in recipes —including soup and salad dressing— throughout the winter…

Once I’ve collected herbs, I spread them out on the terrace and pick them over; stripping lower leaves and forming small bundles. I like to use natural twine to tie the herbs together, but I will use recycled rubber-bands as well; particularly for large bouquets of flowering herbs. Once bundled up, I hang the herbs in a dry, dark place. When they have completely dry-cured, I will strip the leaves from the stems and store the herbs in tightly sealed jars (clear is fine for closed cupboards – use dark glass if storing herbs in brightly-lit spaces). Although I try to harvest most culinary herbs before flowering —for best flavor— I do allow some herbs to blossom, in order to provide pollen for bees and other beneficial insects in my garden. Flowering herbs make great companion plants in the potager…

Bundles of herbs are picked over and thinned, then bound together with twine…

Harvesting Herbs in Late Morning, After the Dew Has Throughly Dried

Sorting and Bundling Herbs in My Kitchen

Some sage is left to flower in the potager. Other plants are kept tightly pruned through regular harvests…

Rosemary is a beautiful, as well as a useful herb. I like keeping aromatic herbs near my door, where I brush against them as I come and go. Here, I can quickly snip bits to flavor teas, salad dressings or garnish cocktails…

And as wonderful as dried herbs are in winter, there’s nothing quite like the flavor of fresh rosemary and basil —is there? I keep pots of herbs just outside my kitchen door all summer long, where I can easily access them if I need to add a sprig to a special sauce or evening cocktail. Come late autumn, I will bring the potted rosemary inside to my windowsill, and in late September, I will begin sowing flats of basil to grow indoors beneath lights.

Yes, I enjoy thinking ahead to the coming seasons, but I’ve never been much of a pleasure-delayer at heart. I believe that being prepared for the future should never detract from the importance of the present moment. From lemon-mint sun tea and caprese salad with fresh basil at lunchtime to ice-cold mojitos and herb-infused ice cream enjoyed by the light of the moon; savor the rich tastes and sweet smells of the season while you can…

Lemon-Mint Sun Tea (Click Here for Post and Recipe)

Mentha piperita (Peppermint flowering in the garden)

Cuban Mint Julep (aka the mojito) – Click here for recipe and story

Some great herb gardening resources to give as gifts, add to a wish-list or purchase for your own horticultural and culinary bookshelves…

Gardening with Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead

The Herbal Kitchen by Jerry Traunfeld

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

***

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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

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August Abundance: Notes from the Kitchen Garden…

August 12th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

My Summertime Kitchen

Mid August is always a busy month in the kitchen garden. Abundant cucumbers, summer squash, beans, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and onions must be harvested and put up —frozen, dried, pickled and/or canned— at the peak of freshness. Late summer chores in the potager include watering —especially during this extended dry spell we are experiencing in New England— weeding, monitoring and managing pests, succession sowing for short-season fall crops, and of course, daily harvests. Some of my stand-out crops this year include cippolini and sweet onions, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, romanesco broccoli, arugula, cucumbers, and finally —after last season’s meager crop and fears about late blight— gorgeous, fruitful tomatoes. Read more about the highlighted crops by clicking on each to return to a previous blog-post.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s a good idea to make notes for next year; jotting down harvest dates, this season’s plant successes and failures, troublesome pests and current plant family locations to assist you with next year’s crop rotation. Carrots look stunted or forked? Maybe it’s a good time to raise your beds, giving them more root-room. Lush growth in your garden but little or no produce? It could be time to test your soil pH and fertility. Plants petering out? Sow some quick turn-around crops like lettuce, arugula, beets, peas and beans for a fall harvest. If you live in a cold climate, now may be a good time to begin constructing hoop-houses to protect your crops from frost and extend the growing season (see post on hoop house construction here). If you are making your own compost, be sure to turn it regularly, keeping content balanced with layers of fresh ‘green’ kitchen scraps and pulled garden plants, dry (such as straw and paper) and brown (mature compost).

And busy as we gardeners tend to be in August, I like to slow myself down by pulling out the camera and taking a close look at the beautiful colors, textures and shapes in my late summer potager. Here are some highlights from my morning garden walk and daily harvest…

Romanesco Broccoli in the Potager

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes Ripening in the Garden

The Beautiful Edibles – Nasturtium and Pansies in the Potager

Ripening Butternut Squash Along the Kitchen Garden Fence

Cippolini Onions at Harvest

Yellow Summer Squash and Haricots Verts

Red Hot Chili Peppers in August

Morning Glories Along the Potager Fence

Orange Blossom and Early Girl Tomatoes in August

Basically Beautiful – Orange Blossom and Basil Salad

Garlic Harvest – Hard Neck Music, Continental & Doc’s German Garlic Drying on the Terrace

Haricots Verts, Calendula, Tomatoes, Arugula, Nasturtiums and Alpine Strawberries Bask in the Late Summer Sun

Blanching and Freezing Haricots Verts from the Kitchen Garden

Shiitake Mushrooms Harvested from the Mushroom Garden in my Forest (See Tutorial Post Here)

Ruby Red Chard in the Potager

Summertime Herb Harvest – Rosemary, Thyme, Sage and Mint

An Armful of Fresh-Cut Flowers Makes for a Different Kind of Treat in the Jar

Late Summer Abundance in the Potager

Late Summer Chaos in My Kitchen (read about building this homemade kitchen island here)

Gourmet Potatoes, Chard, Cucumbers, and Nasturtiums in the Potager

***

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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

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A Splash of Color in Dappled Shade: Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’…. { PS: Please Don’t Confuse Me with My Wicked Cousin }

August 6th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’, Variegated Virginia knotweed (aka Polygonum virginianum/Tovara virginiana) in the Secret Garden at Ferncliff ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Who says a plant needs flowers to be interesting? Be they speckled, lace-edged or luminous as stained-glass, leaves are often incredibly fascinating. In fact, some of my favorite species in the great Kingdom of Plantae never blossom at all —and if they do, their flowers are relatively insignificant. Take Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’ for example (photographed above in my Secret Garden). Isn’t this some of the most beautiful foliage you have ever seen? The colors —swirling and mottled in a marble-like pattern— and the lovely leaf shape make this outstanding plant a true, artist’s dream. Unfortunately, Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’ (aka Polygonum virginianum/Tovara virginiana) needs a bit of public relations help. Sadly, this lovely, native, knotweed cultivar is suffering from a case of mistaken identity; similar to the troubled and tarnished reputation with which lady Rhus typhina struggles (previously detailed in a post I wrote about our gorgeous, native Staghorn sumac last year). Let’s see if I can clear things up.

Polygonum cuspidatum, commonly known as Japanese knotweed, is a noxious —and in my opinion, obnoxious— invasive plant and rampant weed introduced to North America from Asia sometime in the 1800s. The Polygonum genus includes a large number of plants in the Polygonaceae (or buckwheat) family. Some members of this genus —including many weeds as well as several fine garden species— are native to North America. There is a movement to reclassify Polygonum virginianum as Persicaria virginiana; a taxonomic change which I wholeheartedly support in an effort to clear-up some of the confusion. To be sure, some members of the native Polygonum virginianum crowd can also be somewhat aggressive. But there is a real difference between an enthusiastic, spreading plant and an invasive one. Persicaria virginiana is not an invasive plant —this is a native species. And although some cultivars —including ‘Painter’s palette’— may self-seed, in my experience this Persicaria virginiana cultivar is easily managed, well behaved, and non-aggressive. If you are still concerned with self-sowing, simply deadhead the tiny flowers in late summer, or grow this plant in a container…

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

Unlike her aggressive, famously invasive Asian cousin (Japanese knotweed), Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’ (as I prefer to call this Virginia knotweed cultivar) is a truly beautiful, endlessly useful and quite mild-mannered plant. Hardy in USDA zones 4-8, ‘Painter’s Palette’ prefers dappled shade and moist (but very well drained) garden soil. When given the right growing conditions, this unusual cultivar forms lovely, arching mounds; roughly 1 1/2′ tall, and 2′ wide. The blooms are relatively insignificant –tiny pinkish-red spikes– however in autumn, beautiful red berries are a lovely, end-of-season surprise.

I love to combine this painterly plant with dark neighbors (including Heuchera ‘Palace purple’, Cryptotaenia japonica ‘atropurpurea’, and Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Brunette’, among others). Splashes of nearby gold from Japanese golden forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aurea’), or rusty tones from orange hook sedge (Uncinia egmontiana) and the dark-green hues of hosta and tall ferns (particularly the Cinnamon fern), also combine beautifully with ‘Painter’s Palette’. So, gardening friends, won’t you help this lovely, shady-lady out ? She may be related to Japanese knotweed, but let’s not hold that against her. Spread the word and help clear-up her reputation! Stunning Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’ is a gorgeous and environmentally-friendly addition to your garden.

***

Article and photographs © 2010 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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Sweet Summertime Risotto with Zucchini, Basil & Golden Peppers & Cultural Notes and Tips from the Kitchen Garden…

July 22nd, 2010 § 6 comments § permalink

Summertime Risotto ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Endless summer. Between the deep green leaves in my kitchen garden, zucchini plants offer up their tender, young fruit and bell peppers glisten in the morning sun. Green and purple basil plants —pinched to form bushy mounds— brush my ankles, scenting the air as I walk along the pathways. Sungold tomatoes drip sweet from their vines and haricots verts fill my harvest baskets.

This certainly is the season of abundance, and one of my favorite ways to enjoy it is a simple summertime meal of risotto and garden-fresh vegetables. There are many, many wonderful possibilities when it comes to cooking risotto, and I like to use whatever is plentiful and freshest at any given moment. This week, another half dozen zucchini seem to present themselves every day, and the first ripe peppers have just begun to appear – what a delightful combination with a handful of basil leaves and freshly grated parmesan…

Summertime Risotto – Photograph ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Summertime Risotto

Ingredients: serves 4 moderate dinner servings or 6-8 as a starter. Double recipe to increase portion size or quantity

2          Tbs olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

3          Small zucchini, washed and  diced (4-5 inch freshly picked zucchini for best flavor)

1          Orange or yellow bell pepper, washed, seeded and diced

1          Clove fresh garlic, chopped fine

1          Small to medium sweet onion, chopped fine

1 3/4   Cup Arborio Rice

3          Tbs dry vermouth or dry white wine

3 1/2    Cups homemade or high quality vegetable broth, on simmer

1           Tbs unsalted butter

1/2       Cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese – plus extra for serving

1/2       Cup of fresh basil leaves, washed and torn into small bits. Plus a few whole basil tips for garnish

Directions:

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on high heat. Add zucchini and orange pepper, quickly sautéing (about 2-3 minutes) until gold. Lower heat and stir in garlic. Cook for another half a minute or so, stirring constantly. Remove and set aside to a plate.

In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil on medium. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent (about 2-3 minutes). Toss in the rice and cook another 2 minutes, coating the grains in oil. Add the vermouth while stirring. Immediately follow with a ladle (about 1/2 cup) of stock, stirring constantly. When the stock is absorbed, add another ladle, stirring steadily. Continue to ladle in stock as the rice absorbs the fluid. After about 20 minutes, taste the risotto. It should have a very creamy, but firm to the bite, consistency. At this point, stir in the butter, reserved zucchini and peppers and their juice. Add the torn basil and grated parmesan and stir gently. Remove from heat. Drizzle with oil and serve hot with a sprinkle of parmesan and a garnish of fresh basil.

Summertime Risotto with Zucchini, Basil and Orange Bell Peppers – Photograph ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Cultural Notes and Tips for Growing Great Zucchini – From the Kitchen Garden

My vegetable garden is growing and producing well this year, but I still keep a watchful eye for signs of trouble. In high-summer, when the weather in New England tends to be quite humid, I apply a homemade, organic fungicide to prevent powdery mildew on cucurbits (this plant family includes zucchini and other squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and more). This simple remedy (see recipe below) is mixed fresh in a pail and applied when the air is still, with a hand spray-bottle. Try to water the garden in the morning, focusing the shower at the root zone. I also patrol the garden for squash bugs (they attack all cucurbits, including cucumbers) removing them by hand when I spot them and applying insecticidal soap to plant leaves. Mint, oregano and nasturtiums are good companion plants for deterring squash bugs, though you may wish to contain aggressive mint —and rambunctious cousin oregano— in planters. Keep in mind that zucchini and other squash should be picked daily to promote fruiting and avoid the dread “door-stop zucchini”. Try to harvest small fruits (4-5 inch long zucchini have the best flavor and texture) in the morning.  Squash are heavy feeders, preferring compost-rich soil with a high nitrogen content. I plan ahead by amending the soil in next year’s squash bed (rotate to prevent disease) with ample compost and dried blood. If the soil in your garden needs work, then squash will benefit from supplemental feeding with fish emulsion during the growing season.

Homemade Anti-fungal Baking Soda Solution

3 Tbs baking soda

2 Tbs vegetable oil

3 gallons (plus) warm water

In a medium sized kitchen bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of baking soda with 2 cups of warm water. Add the oil and whisk together. Pour the mixture into 3 gallons of warm water. Transfer to spray bottles and use immediately, spraying the undersides as well as the tops of leaves. If any is left over, store in the fridge and warm in sun before using.

Use on cucurbits during warm, humid spells and at first sign of powdery mildew. This remedy is also useful for black spot.

***

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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

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Penstemon, Rudbeckia and Veronica: An Easy, Breezy, Flowering Combination for Mid-Summer Meadow Gardens…

June 29th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

A Sunny Combination of Meadow Flowers for a Long-Blooming, Informal Summer Garden. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Bees buzzing in the garden, sun-tea brewing on the terrace, and books piled high beside the hammock; sweet summertime is here at last. I love waking up to early morning sunshine playing upon the warm, summery colors in my garden. Right now I am particularly smitten with the entry garden, where cool shades of blue and violet are sparked to life with bright flecks of yellow and orange. “Hello, and welcome home again”, they seem to say, as I pull my work totes from the car at the end of a long, hot day.

Bright and cheerful black-eyed Susan, (Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’), sky-blue speedwell, (Vernonica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’), and season-spanning beard’s tongue, (Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’), perform beautifully together in a pretty trio that lasts throughout July and well into August, with little effort on my part. Bee, butterfly and hummingbird magnets, all three; these flowers delight the eye as they sparkle in the sunshine and sway in the warm summer breeze. What genius thought of this combination? Well, I wish I could take the credit, but only Mother Nature could come up with such a sensational mix. Although the grouping featured here blends three selected cultivars, these are all North American native plants. Meadow flowers tend to be drought-tolerant by nature, and once established, they need little care. Rudbeckia and Penstemon will self-seed with abandon, making them the perfect choice for a wildflower walk or naturalized planting. And delightful Veronica provides this low-maintenace group with a heavenly dose of mid-season blue…

Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’ plays in poetic, harmony with bees – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’  with Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’, backed by Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’- Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’ provides both blossom and stunning, purple-hued foliage to the meadow garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Hardy to at least zone 4 (Penstemon digitalis and Veronica spicata are cold tolerant to zone 2 and 3, respectively) all three plants pictured here are mid-sized perennials, with Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ reaching a variable 8- 24″, while Penstemon digitalis and Veronica spicata mature to a consistent 2′-2 1/2′ size.  I like this trio backed by all varieties of Miscanthus, but particularly the shimmering, light-catching cultivar ‘Morning light’. And as an added bonus with this group –  no matter the heat and blazing sunshine, there is nary a droopy bloom in sight. This trio of top summertime performers is a true dog-day’s delight…

A sunny, summertime entry garden at Ferncliff – Design and Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

A bee visits Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’ ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

***

Article and photographs © 2010 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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Restful Rodgersia: A Tall, Dramatic Beauty for Secret, Shadowy Nooks and Damp, Dappled Shade…

June 22nd, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Rodgersia aesculifolia in the Secret Garden with Matteuccia struthiopteris and Heuchera – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Although you will usually find Rodgersia hiding out in dappled corners, boggy nooks and shadowy glens, it’s not because she’s exactly shy. In fact, when you stop to consider her dramatic foliage and statuesque size, Rodgersia is really quite bold. But she’s definitely not the kind of flower you find screaming for attention in a common, suburban lot in blazing sunshine. Oh no. This exotic-looking beauty prefers moisture and protection from the heat of the day, or she begins to look disheveled- wilted even.

Rogersia is a knock out garden plant when you give her what she wants. And since it’s difficult to find a well-mannered, delicate presence in such a big, bold plant, I am more than happy to satisfy her modest demands. I love how her palmate, horse-chestnut-like leaves contrast with the texture of ostrich fern (Mettecuccia struthiopteris), in my shady Secret Garden; her creamy blossoms rising above an elegant skirt of bold and starry leaves. Later, in autumn, she burnishes to a bronzy-gold, combining beautifully with her stunning, near-by neighbor, Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamillia), as she blazes in all her vermillion glory…

Gorgeous, horse-chestnut-like foliage and tiny, star-shaped white flowers in June. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Rodgersia aesculifolia in the Secret Garden – late June. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Rodgersia combines beautifully with Stewartia in the Secret Garden – here again in mid October. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

A genus of six species native to the woodlands and moist mountain stream-side banks of Asia, Rogersia is hardy in zones 5-9. R.pinnata, the toughest species in the group, is reportedly cold-tolerant to zone 3. After my successful experiment with Rogersia aesculifolia, I will certainly be adding more shady ladies -perhaps bronzy-leaved, pink flowering Rogersia pinnata ‘Superba’, and elder-like R. sambucifolia– to my garden this year. Of course I would grow this beauty for her knock-out foliage alone, but her sweet-cream flowers are also a lovely addition to the Secret Garden -even when dried-out brown in winter, and dusted with new-fallen snow…

Rogersia aesculifolia in June ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Rogersia aesculifolia dusted in snow ⓒ Michaela at TGE

***

Article and photographs © 2010 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…

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

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I Know They Are In There Somewhere! Companion Planting in the Vegetable Garden: Guest Post by John Miller of The Old School House Plantery…

June 2nd, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Radishes and Carrots Together Again at the Market, (photo © Michaela TGE)

“They”, in this instance, being carrots and parsnips. In my previous post I mentioned how farmers use plug sown onion transplants to overcome the problems associated with the slow germination time of onions. Onions are not the only vegetables that exhibit long germination times, raw (naked or unpelleted) parsnips and carrots can also take six weeks to germinate. Unfortunately neither of these crops readily lend themselves to transplanting as the desired part, the root, can be easily damaged and result in misshapen or stunted growth. Transplanting can be done on a small scale but requires care and attention to precise handling to avoid damaging the root (in spring it also requires even more space in one’s probably already strained propagating area!).

Italian heirloom radish ‘Candela di Fuoco’ and Rainbow Mix carrot seedlings, (photo © John Miller)

Hoed row, (photo © John Miller)

Unless you have a sterile seedbed (a technique requiring foresight and a flame gun, clear plastic and sunshine or a herbicide) then your direct sown carrots or parsnips will be competing against weeds in your garden while they are germinating and emerging. However these same weeds are not concerned with your desire for that sweet first home grown carrot of the season or that wonderful roast parsnip with your Thanksgiving dinner- they want the space and the nutrients! In six weeks weeds can romp away in the race to germinate and establish themselves and leave you, the custodian of the crop, the time consuming task, usually on hands and knees, of delicately moving rampant weed foliage, probably covering the entire bed, trying to spot the still minute seedlings of that hoped for crop.

There they are! Parsnip and radish seedlings (photo © John Miller)

But wait! There is hope. No, it won’t stop the weeds germinating but it could make spotting the row a lot easier. It involves sowing either carrots or parsnips with a faster growing crop, such as radish, together in the same row. Radish are one of the faster growing crops, maturing in as little as 35 days, and will keep pace with even the most vigourous weeds, in my case Fat Hen and Galinsoga (I often hear that mis-pronounced as Gallant Soldier). The radishes are sown relatively thinly. I aim for one every foot, as you may pull the main crop by accident if the density is too great. The radish makes spotting the row quite easy, and I can quickly hoe in between the rows before the weeds get too big and require hand pulling. Hoeing all but a narrow row then makes hand weeding the crop itself a quick -dare I say it- almost enjoyable, task. Then I will reward myself with a freshly pulled radish, or two! Any fast growing crop that you prefer, arugula or Broccoli raab for instance, could be used instead of radish.

Radish and Carrot Bunches at Market (photo © Michaela TGE)

Article and photographs as noted in this post, © 2009/2010 John Miller

John Miller and his wife Diane Miller own and operate The Old School House Plantery in Brattleboro Vermont

Visit the Miller’s Etsy shop, Eclecticasia, for a selection of rare and beautiful plants.

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Market photos as noted are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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A Garden for Cutting – Part One: Planning for Fresh Cut Flowers in the Kitchen Garden…

April 14th, 2010 § 16 comments § permalink

Zinnia and Dahlia © 2009 Tim Geiss

Some of my gardening friends never cut flowers. I have one friend who grows very few blooming plants, and she prefers to keep her limited flowers on display in the landscape. Other friends have told me that the constant snipping of stems and changing of water becomes a tedious chore with fresh flowers, so they have houseplants instead. Me? Oh, I am a hopeless romantic with an unabashed love of cut flowers. I grow as many blossoming plants as possible; everything from Queen Anne’s Lace and sweet peas, to heady Damask Roses and French lilacs. In fact I grow some flowers exclusively for cutting. My house is always decorated with something harvested fresh from the garden, even if it’s only dried grass, bare branches and pinecones in the coldest months. Now that spring has arrived my home is filled with flowers; in the kitchen, on the dining table and beside my bed and in my studio. I can not imagine living in a home without bringing a bit of nature inside with me, and I simply love big, bold blossoms.

But to be honest, some of my favorite cut flowers, such as dinnerplate dahlias and bold colored sunflowers, can be a bit over-the-top in a landscape. I love fuchsia gladiolas in a simple vase on my kitchen table, but I prefer not to look at them screaming at me from the perennial border. So my solution is to grow flowers for cutting along side the vegetables in my potager. This sort of arrangement is hardly new. In fact, many flowers have long been grown as beneficial companion plants for vegetables; attracting bees and other pollinators to the garden, and in some cases even repelling less desirable insect guests, (click here to read last year’s post on companion planting in the vegetable garden)

Cleome, harvested from last year’s cutting garden, on my vanity table

Sunflowers lined up against the sapling fence in my potager

Dahlia and Calendula bouquet, last summer on my kitchen windowsill

Climbing flowers, such as sweet peas, can be grown up a vegetable garden fence. Sunflowers, cleome, and other tall beauties can also be set against a shed wall or other garden boundary. Some lower growing flowers, including French marigold and dwarf dahlias, make good edging plants for mounded or raised beds. Of course if you have more space, an entire flower garden comprised of multiple beds can become an endless source of blossoms for summertime bouquets to give or keep. If you have pets or small children, always be sure that the flowers planted in vegetable plots are non-poisonous.

This year, after the last frost date here in Vermont, I will be planting shocking quantities of dahlias. I have always loved dahlias, but this year I truly don’t know what came over me. An obsession with their origami-like folded petals? Perhaps the midwinter blahs brought on an urge to fill my house with color? I can’t really explain it, maybe it was just plain old greed, but I ordered oodles of dahlia tubers. While browsing several sites this year, I stumbled upon a dahlia called ‘Ferncliff Illusion’. How could I resist such a gorgeous flower with creamy petals with lavender tips when my own garden is named Ferncliff? This discovery was just too poetic to let pass! And of course, I can’t keep this to myself. I must share it with at least one of you…

Presenting The Gardener’s Eden Anniversary Give-Away # 2

Dahlia ‘Ferncliff Illusion’ from, and image copyright to, Arrowhead Dahlias

And at the end of this month, one reader will receive a package containing four large size tubers of Dahlia ‘Ferncliff Illusion’ from The Gardener’s Eden! Today and every Wednesday thoughout the month of April, in honor of our first anniversary, The Gardener’s Eden will be giving away a special gift. In order to enter, correctly answer the question below in the comment section of this article. Be sure to post your answer prior to the 12:00 pm Eastern Time cut-off. Only one entry per reader, per give-away, please. The winner will be chosen at random from all of the correct entries received, and will be notified by email. Gift recipients will also be announced both here in the blog comments and on our Facebook Page. So now…

The question is just a wee bit harder this week: What is the name of the Japanese maple tree standing at the entrance to my Secret Garden room here at Ferncliff? You may use the latin or the very intriguing common name. Hint: The answer can be found in the photo-captions within the page marked ‘Ferncliff’, (where it is photographed in all seasons). In order to enter the contest, please post your answer in the comments here on this blog post, (not on the Facebook page). All email addresses will remain unpublished and kept in complete confidence. Your email will only be used to notify you if you have won. Good Luck!

* In order to provide each reader with an equal chance to win, your comment/ entry will not appear until 4/15*

Entry Deadline is Midnight, Eastern Time, 4/14/10

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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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What’s Up Doc? Waskilly Seeds and a Recipe for Velvety Baked Carrots…

January 23rd, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

Baked Velvet Carrots

Beautiful Bolero …

Flat leaf Italian parsley from the windowsill herb garden…

Sliced Bolero Carrots…

We all know that old Elmer Fudd thinks Bugs Bunny is a terribly, waskilly wabbit. But frankly I think Elmer has it wrong. I think it’s Bugs Bunny’s carrot that’s a bit waskilly – at least as a seed. Itsy bitsy, teeny weeny carrot seeds are notoriously difficult to sow. Tiny, fine and lighter than a feather, it’s easy to lose track of those little devils. They stick to the packet; slip through your fingers; blow down your shirt; and before you know it they are spilling all over the ground. Waskilly Kawits. Unfortunately, if you want beautifully shaped, full size carrots, then seed spacing is pretty darn important. But you know, I’m also fairly sure that I’m not the only gardener to lose track of how many carrot seeds have fallen into the soil, and how close they ended up being planted together. To solve the spacing problem, some gardeners broadcast seed with sand or coffee grounds. Other gardeners have showed me how they create elaborately folded paper contraptions. And a few frugal New England gardeners I know have ended up breaking down and buying pre-seeded carrot tape. Me? Oh I am stubborn. I usually struggle through the planting and then, weeks later, I test my patience by thinning seedlings with a pair of scissors on a buggy day. But there is another, fully-organic, OMRI approved solution: pelleted seeds. This year I am going to give them a go…

Pelleted carrot seeds with radishes, (photo courtesy of The Old School House Plantery)

Never heard of pelleted, (or pelletized), seeds? Well, they are just regular old seeds, coated with an organic substance, (usually an inert material like starch), that makes them easier to see and handle. The coating is sort of like the dusty, crusty stuff on the outside of a chocolate truffle, (sorry chocoholics, I didn’t mean to do that to you). If you are planning on planting a vegetable garden with kids, or if you have less-than-steady hands, or less-than perfect eyesight, (or, err,  less-than saintly patience, like me), pelletized seeds can come in very handy. I just ordered up pelleted Bolero, Mokum and Sugarsnax carrot seed from Johnny’s Seeds yesterday. I also chose a few packs of pelleted lettuce seed, since I find them a bit waskilly as well. Johnny’s Seeds is a wonderful employee-owned company in the great state of Maine, and they carry a wide variety of organic, heirloom and gourmet vegetables. I order many of my unusual vegetable seeds from Johnny’s Seeds and the other great online companies, including Renee’s Garden Seeds and Botanical Interests, listed in the sidebar at right under “seeds”. I have found that each company usually has some special variety I want, (such as the pelleted seeds from Johnny’s), so I always end up spreading my orders around the country a bit. And this year, I notice seeds are selling out faster than usual, so it’s always helpful to have a few reliable sources.

Carrots are a cook’s kitchen staple. The foundation of many stocks, carrots also add color, sweetness and vitamins to everything from salads, appetizers and soups to savory baked dishes, casseroles and breads. And can you imagine life without carrot cake and cream cheese frosting? For such a rewarding crop, carrots are remarkably easy to grow in the garden. These bright colored veggies aren’t fussy, but they do like very deep, loose, compost-rich soil. So if you have rocky loam, you might have better luck with carrots if you raise your beds with mounds or planters. Many gardeners use radishes as companions for carrots to mark the row, and to help break the crusty soil. Of course it also helps to keep the soil evenly moist during germination, (but be sure not to overwater carrots during the growing season). During the hot summer, carrots will benefit from a layer of mulch; keeping their roots cool and their tops warm enhances flavor. I also like to shade carrot roots by planting them between rows of leafy lettuce, spinach and/or chard. If you sow a fast maturing variety in the early part of the season, (when soil temps reach a consistent 60° F), and then plant a second crop when the soil is warm enough to plant tomatoes, (70-75°), you can harvest carrots all year long, (and for those of us with frozen tundra, carrots will also store well in root cellars, layered in damp sand).

Hungry yet? There’s nothing like a serving of bright orange, velvety carrots to remind me of summer’s sweetness, and I truly love this rich, savory old recipe. Brilliantly colored baked carrots are the perfect side dish for a potato-vegetable gratin or a roasted or baked pretty-much-anything. Mmmmm. Sweet Bolero, my lovely carrot, you don’t seem quite so rascally now….

Greene on Greens

Velvety Baked Carrots

(an oldie but a goodie, from Bert Greene’s Greene on Greens cookbook)

Ingredients (serves 4-6 as a side dish):

3 1/2 c       homemade vegetable stock or chicken broth

1 pound     peeled carrots cut in half lengthwise

3 Tbs         unsalted butter

3 Tbs         all-purpose flour

1/2 c          heavy cream

1/8 tsp       ground allspice

1/8 tsp       fresh grated nutmeg

dash          Sriracha hot chili sauce, (or other pepper sauce)

to taste      salt

to taste      fresh ground pepper

1/4 c          fresh bread crumbs

2 Tbs         fresh chopped parsley

1 Tbs         grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Wash and peel carrots, and slice them in half lengthwise, (more if they are particularly large). In a medium saucepan, bring 3 1/2 cups of vegetable, (or chicken), broth to a boil.  Slowly add the carrots and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the carrots, uncovered, until they are soft. Test with a fork after 25 minutes. Drain the carrots over a bowl, reserving the broth. Place the carrots in a separate bowl and mash, (lightly with a potato masher), until smooth but still attractively textured. Set aside.

Return the saucepan to the stove and melt 2 Tbs. of butter over medium-low heat. Stir in the flour and cook, continuously stirring, for a couple of minutes. Add 1 cup of the reserved cooking stock and whisk together while brining the mix to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Add the nutmeg, allspice, pepper sauce. Whisk in 1/2 cup of cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the mixture from the heat and combine with the mashed carrots. Pour into a buttered, shallow baking dish and set aside.

In a small skillet, melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and stir into the butter, cooking and turning until golden brown. Remove from the heat and add in the chopped parsley. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the carrots and top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the topping is bubbling.

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All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Please do not use photographs or text excerpts without permission, (see contact at left). 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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Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: Flowers Just for Cutting…

August 11th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

a bouquet of annual dahlias and calendula Walker Farm

~ A bouquet of dahlia and calendula brightens my windowsill ~

One of the great pleasures of successful flower gardening is, of course, the access to seasonal, fresh cut flowers for the dinner table, desk and elsewhere in the home. I also really enjoy bringing an exotic bouquet to my host or hostess when I am invited to a dinner party, or to a friend as a surprise. Earlier this summer, in my posts about designing a potager and companion planting in the vegetable garden, I mentioned the horticultural benefits of growing flowers in a kitchen garden. But as an artist, I have many reasons, way beyond the practical, for a cutting garden. Flowers are a great inspiration; the extraordinary colors and amazing geometric forms can shift a mood, spark a creative impulse, or simply add a touch of beauty to the day. Know someone with a bland office cubicle, or sterile waiting room? Imagine what a few colorful zinnias would do to change the atmosphere. It’s amazing really. That old 1960’s slogan “Flower Power” couldn’t be more accurate.

zinnia and dahlia, c. Tim Geiss 2009

Zinnia and Dahlia ~ copyright 2009 ~ Tim Geiss

Growing annuals for cutting can be as simple as sowing seed or planting six packs in the vegetable garden in spring. I grow my cutting garden in well drained soil enriched with compost, and I fertilize with Neptune’s Harvest or whatever fish emulsion I have on hand. My own cutting garden varies in size each year depending upon my available time, space and budget. This year, I purchased common annuals in six packs from Walker Farm and a few of the specialty annuals they are known for. I chose dahlia, zinnia, cleome, cosmos, verbena bonariensis, specialty calendula, (French marigold), and moluccella laevis, (Bells of Ireland), among others. I also grow some perennials in and around my vegetable garden, including early bloomers like bulbs and peonies and late-season favorites such as coreopsis tripteris, physostegia virginiana, liatris ‘Kobold’, veronica ‘Goodness grows’, rudbeckia, echinacea and solidago, (golden rod), to name but a few. Native goldenrod is a great addition to flower arrangements. Sadly, although solidago is a prized perennial in much of Europe, this native flower is shunned by many North American gardeners who mistakenly believe it to be a cause of hay fever, (ambrosia artmisiifolia, or common ragweed, is usually the culprit). I always buy my annuals locally in spring. But you can also find bulbs and plants through online retailers, including my two of my favorite sources for summer bulbs, Swan Island Dahlias and Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

Combining perennials and annuals in casual arrangements is one of my favorite ways to bring the garden indoors, (see photo below). I like to play with contrasting colors like orangey-yellow and purple, or bright blue and reddish-orange to enliven my kitchen table. When creating bouquets for the bedroom or bath, I often soften the mood a bit, and combine flowers in more complimentary hues; using tones of blue and green, or shades of lavender and rose. Whatever I create with flowers from my garden, the arrangements have a way of making the whole house look brighter.

In order to get the most life from cut flower arrangements, I try to harvest the blooms in early morning, before the heat of the day, or in the cool of the evening after the sun has set. I choose flowers with swollen buds or petals just opening. With sharp scissors, I cut the stems long and at a slight angle. Immediately, I place them in a bucket of lukewarm water kept in the shade while I make my other selections. Certain flowers, such as poppies, will need to have their stalks seared with a match in order to seal the stem. And most early bulbs, such as daffodils, prefer cool vase water. Cut flowers will stay fresh longer when you add a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice, about a tablespoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of bleach to each quart of vase-water. Changing the vase-water every couple of days will extend the life of your bouquet and keep the flowers looking fresh longer. Bacteria is responsible for that nasty flower-water slime and smell when you forget to change the water for a week. I try to avoid that olfactory experience at all costs!

Bouquet of cosmos candy stripe, calendula pacific beauty mix, echinacea purpurea, physostegia, goldenrod, liatris and veronica goodness grows

Annual Cosmos ‘Candy Stripe’, Calendula ‘Pacific Beauty Mix’, Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ here with perennial Veronica ‘Goodness Grows, Liatris ‘Kobold’, Echinacea purpurea and Solidago Canadensis Gunmetal Glazed Pitcher by artist Aletha Soule

double rudbeckia "Goldilocks" (small), cutting garden

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Goldilocks’ produces 18″-24″ stems with 4″ double orange blossoms… perfect for late summer bouquets

To add a little something extra to my bouquets, I often add ornamental grasses, (such as miscanthus), foliage plants, (including ferns and perennial plant leaves), vines, (such as bittersweet), and branches from trees and shrubs. Shrubs with darker foliage, including physocarpus ‘Diablo’ or ‘Summer Wine’, and weigela ‘Java Red’, among the many choices, add a nice contrast to floral arrangements in complimentary hues. When adding woody plants like these, as well as flowering hydrangea and lilac to an arrangement, it ‘s important to “smash” the woody stems with a mallet in order for the cut branch to absorb water, (see center photo below).  In addition to beautiful color and texture, woody plants add structure to a vase, and can help support both delicate flowers and heavy blooms, especially those with a tendency to flop.

cleome, zebra grass and weigela java red foliage

White cleome, zebra grass and weigela florida ‘Java Red’ foliage in a vase by  Aletha Soule

pounding woody stems

Flowers harvested from shrubs with woody stems must be ‘smashed’ as shown, to help them absorb water

Ninebark,(Physocarpus) 'Diablo', False Indigo, (Baptisia foliage) Foxglove, (Digitalis davisiana),Queen Anne's Lace'(Anthriscus sylvestris Bells of Ireland, (Moluccella laevis)

~ A beautiful raku vase by Vermont artist Richard Foye ~

And from the garden: Ninebark, (Physocarpus), ‘Diablo’, False indigo foliage, (Baptisia), Foxglove, (Digitalis davisiana), Queen Anne’s Lace, (Anthriscus sylvestris), and Bells of Ireland, (Moluccella laevis)

Hydrangea paniculata 'limelight'

~ Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ in a small vase by artist Aletha Soule ~

When it comes to choosing vases, I am a big believer in experimentation. Although I have a nice collection of vases from Vermont artisan Richard Foye and California’s Aletha Soule, I do not limit myself to traditional vessels for holding fresh flowers. I am just as likely to stick a bouquet into a rusty tin can when the orange-brown contrast strikes my fancy. Old mason jars, drinking glasses, perfume and liquor bottles, beach buckets, cookie tins, soda bottles and milk cartons have all served as vases in my household. In fact, pretty much anything that holds water is fair game. Floating flowers in a shallow bowl with candles makes for a memorable center piece at a dinner party, and the low display draws attention to the structure of larger flowers such as dahlia and sunflower. I also like the look of one spectacular blossom filling the top of a thick glass, as photographed by artist Tim Geiss below.

floating dahlia copyright 2009 tim geiss

As the seasons change, I like to bring autumn leaves and bare branches into the house for my larger urns. And early autumn vegetables, such as kale and cabbage, make dramatic additions to flower arrangements as well. When November and December come ’round, I will bring in winterberry, (Ilex verticillata), and dried grasses from the garden by the armful. Do you have any favorite additions to your floral arrangements? I will be featuring more articles like this one in the future, but for now, please feel free to share your ideas and add comments for others here on the forum. In a world filled with chaos, stress, uncertainty and pressure, we could all use a little beauty to brighten our day. Sometimes, even a milk carton of roadside daisies will do!

zinnia on a table copyright 2009 Tim Geiss

~ Freshly cut Zinnia, copyright 2009, Tim Geiss ~

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~ Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his beautiful flower photographs as noted ~

~ Article and other photos copyright 2009 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden ~

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Companion Planting in the Organic Vegetable Garden

June 2nd, 2009 § 13 comments § permalink

chives-thyme-rosemary-savoryChives and thyme in the potager

Companion planting is a very old-world, organic gardening method. Unfortunately, much companion planting knowledge has fallen out of use and favor in modern times due to a focus on efficiency. Of course on large farms efficiency is very important, but in a home garden I prefer to concentrate as much on process as I do on product. Instead of rotor-tilled planting strips, I have raised beds of mounded earth in my potager. My vegetable garden is organized in wide planting groups, not narrow rows. This sort of arrangement is not practical for commercial growers, but in a back yard vegetable garden, it works beautifully. From a design stand-point, I like this method of vegetable gardening because it maximizes my space, and allows me to create whimsical-looking arrangements of flowering and fruiting plants. There are also more practical and scientific benefits to this shared-space arrangement as well. Mixed-vegetable beds with herbs and flowers create many opportunities for synergistic relationships between plants. Utilizing natural plant relationships is one of the oldest organic gardening methods for vegetable growing success.

marigold-close-upCalendula, (marigold)

Herbs and flowers make attractive companions to vegetables, and many decorative potager plants lure beneficial insects. Blooming, fragrant herbs and flowers appeal to insects such as bees, green lacewings, hover flies, and lady bugs, among other helpful creatures. Yarrow is a pretty garden flower, and morning glory vines look beautiful growing up a garden fence. More importantly, and worth noting: these plants attract lady bugs and other insect-carnivores. Wild flowers, such as golden rod, are often mown down or uprooted by gardeners as ‘weeds’, but these flowers attract parasitic wasps, assasin bugs and lady bugs as well. Keeping native wild flowers around is a good idea for the organic gardener, as these plants are natural magnets for beneficial insects. Many insect-helpers eat pollen, and they are attracted to blooming plants during their adult stages. Later their off-spring, in the larval stage, will devour aphids, thrips, white flies, mealybugs, and many more pests. For useful information on how to identify friend from foe, visit sites in the entomology -links section to the right of this post on the blog-roll.

Attractive potager plants make the vegetable garden a beautiful and pleasant place to work and many are flavorful additions to recipes. However not all living things enjoy the presence of pungent herbs and flowers. These plants can also serve to repel insects and to mask the odors of more attractive plants, confusing or distracting pests. Onions, chives and garlic tend to deter aphids, ants and flea beetles. Rosemary may be flavorful to humans, but it is an unattractive, powerful scent to carrot flies and cabbage moths. Calendula, (marigold), is a traditional French potager plant used ward-off aphids, white flies and potato beetles. French marigold is also a deterent to nematodes and tomato hornworm. Basil and borage are also unappealing to tomato hornworm, and basil in particular makes a great edging plant for tomatoes. Surrounding tomatoes with basil may fool insect pests by masking the attractive odor of the tomatoes. Sage deters carrot fly and it also is unappealing to cabbage moth, as is thyme, hyssop and artemesia.

Companion planting also utilizes the harmonious and beneficial relationships between the plants themselves. Some crops, when grown near one another, may grow and yield better, and also protect one another from insect pests. Native Americans developed companion planting schemes based on such experiences; growing pole beans with corn for support, and surrounding corn with squash to deter raccoons, (apparently they dislike climbing over the leafy plants). Clearly it is important to plant taller or larger-growing crops, (like corn, pole beans and pumpkins for example), in beds where they can spread out and up without blocking sun, or smothering smaller crops near-by.

Most gardeners love to grow tomatoes. Herbs like parsley, basil, mint and chives are all good companions for tomatoes.  Flowers, such as nasturtium, marigold, and bee-balm also make good neighbors for tomatoes of all kinds. Lettuce grows well at the foot of tomato plants, and cucumbers, celery and chili peppers are happy near-by, (with proper spacing of course). Keep in mind that tomatoes, eggplant, bell pepper and potatoes should not be grown directly next to one another, as they all attract Colorado potato beetle. When planting these plants, mix them up with other plant groups, like herbs and lettuce. Another planting combination to avoid is tomatoes and corn, as they both attract a pest known by two names: corn ear worm/tomato fruit worm. Try planting tomatoes and corn at opposite corners of the garden to deter these pests.

Pole beans are also popular potager plants, and in general they will do best planted away from members of the cabbage family, (broccoli, cauliflower, cress, kale, mizuna, arugula, radish, turnip, brussel sprouts). However most bush-beans are not so picky. All beans do well mingled with rosemary and celery, but should not be next-door-neighbors with fennel, basil and onion.

Cucumbers, another back-yard favorite, are a rewarding, fast-producing crop. They grow well near bush beans, eggplant, cabbages, peas, tomatoes lettuce and all herbs except sage.  It is wise to avoid planting cucumbers near potatoes, and also provide separation between this plant and squash, pumpkin and melon, as they are all host to the stem and fruit boring pickle worm.

Summer squash and zucchini are also popular garden crops, and they make great companions for onions, radishes, and corn and celery.  But as mentioned above, this plant is best grown away from cucumber and potatoes, to deter pests.

Head lettuce grows well beside most vegetable plants, and it does particularly well in mid-summer near taller plants, as they give the lettuce a bit of shade. Pole beans or peas provide an excellent opportunity to test this synergistic relationship. Because lettuce is a fast growing crop, benefitting from cool conditions, it can be sown at the feet of many vegetables through out the growing season.

These planting suggestions are best viewed as guides, not hard and fast rules. There are many, many more plant relationships to explore.  Research companion planting online, and in some of the books mentioned on this site in the ‘Bookstore / Library’ (page left), under the ‘vegetable garden’,(last section). Try keeping a journal of your garden to note your experiences with companion planting, and to help you plan your garden next year. Remember that synergistic plant relationships can help reduce the need for insecticidal soaps and other pesticides. Above all, keep in mind that vegetable gardening is good for you in many ways. Experimenting with the beauty and benefits of herbs and flowers can only help you to enjoy companion planting as part of your overall garden experience.

flower-baskets-in-potagerNewly planted flower baskets in this year’s potager will attract beneficial insects

herbs-in-the-gardenThyme, rosemary, savory and chives at the vegetable garden entry

Article copyright 2009 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved.

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