The Wonderful Wizard of Winter: Native, Snow-Draped Canadian Hemlock

February 10th, 2011 § Comments Off on The Wonderful Wizard of Winter: Native, Snow-Draped Canadian Hemlock § permalink

Tsuga canadensis – Native Canadian Hemlock

I try very hard not to play favorites with the plants growing in and around my garden. In fact, you may have noticed that I’ll refer to a preferred species as ‘one of my favorites’, as opposed to ‘my favorite’. After all, I truly love each and every one of them, and I wouldn’t want to hurt any of their feelings. Still, there are a few stand-out, four-season beauties that I can not imagine living without. And in the great world of conifers, I must admit that I am quite partial to our native Tsuga canadensis, commonly known as the Canadian or Eastern hemlock. Though graceful and verdant year-round, Canadian hemlock is a true stunner in the winter garden. After a snow storm —when Tsuga canadensis is cloaked in a fresh coat of powder or ice— it’s impossible not to think of the enchanted forests of fairy tales. I absolutely adore this feathery, magical evergreen.

A few years ago —when I was planting an informal hedge of Canadian hemlock at a private residence— one of my garden clients told me that the shape of the hemlock tree reminded her of a wizard’s hat. Well I already liked this woman, but as soon as she said that, I knew I was going to love working with her. For long as I can remember, I’ve always thought of the Canadian hemlock as a Winter Wizard or even a Warlock (a masculine witch). And as a child, I loved playing beneath the tent-like boughs of hemlock stands; draped in heavy, sparkling white robes after a snow storm. Hemlock is a magnificent native tree; one I never grow tired of praising.

The pliant boughs of Tsuga canadensis are less likely to break when covered in heavy snow and ice

The outer branches of hemlock trees, as well as the tip or leader, are narrow and flexible. The pliant boughs give hemlock the distinctly cascading, somewhat melancholy appearance I find so enchanting. But more importantly, the springy quality of the outer wood gives this native tree an ability to shed snow and ice, avoiding winter breakage –a common problem for other conifers, such as white pine. Hemlock needles are softly rounded; blue-green on the top and silvery on the reverse (the shiny-whitish color is created by tiny openings along the backside of the needles called stomata, which —for lack of a better word— allow the tree to ‘breathe’). When breezes blow through a hemlock’s bows, the pale undersides of its needles are exposed to light; creating a subtle, shimmering effect. Growers have worked with this trees beautiful cascading habit and needle coloration, developing cultivars with mint-tinged branch tips and weeping forms. And because it responds well to pruning, eastern hemlock offers four-season privacy screening when grown as a soft, ever-green hedge in semi-shaded, moist sites. The feathery, deep green needles provide a lovely contrast and sensual backdrop in many of my garden designs.

The Tops of Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) boughs are covered with dark, blue-green needles

On the reverse side, Tsuga canadensis needles have a light, almost silvery-green color. And when wind blows through the branches, lifting and exposing the undersides of needles to flashes of light, the Canadian hemlock takes on a subtle, gorgeous, two-tone appearance.

With a North American range spanning from Nova Scotia southward to the mountains of Alabama and westward to Minnesota (USDA zones 3 – 8/9) Tsuga canadensis is commonly found in moist, shady woodlands; often along forest streams or cool, north-facing ridge lines. Because of their wide-spread but shallow-root tendency, hemlock are vulnerable to drought, but are less likely to be knocked down in high winds. Here at the northeastern crest of my ledgy site, substantial stands of native hemlock provide a safe haven and nesting habitat for local birds as well as food (seeds, twigs, bark and needles) and shelter for various mammals (including squirrels, porcupines and deer). Although hemlock can grow over 100 feet in ideal conditions, they typically reach 40-70 feet within their native range. When grown as a specimen tree in the open —or planted in small groups—hemlock will develop a soft, full, conical shape (yes, shaped quite like a wizard’s hat).

Because hemlock trees produce acidic tannins, they are quite disease and insect-resistant. However, there exists one recent and notable exception: the wooly adelgid (Adelges tsugae). Closely related to common aphids, this invasive insect pest —introduced from Asia— has the potential to wipe out native, eastern hemlock populations (read more about this pest and how infestations are treated at the UMass Extension Service website here). Although I have not seen the wooly adelgid in my immediate area, I am constantly on the lookout for this destructive insect when pruning hemlock hedges for my clients in early spring. Currently, the only effective, organic treatment for wooly adelgid is thorough, repeat applications of horticultural oil. Entomologists continue to search for natural, biological adelgid controls, and I have high hopes for the tree’s survival. I simply can not imagine the northeastern landscape without my beloved Winter Wizards…

This Canadian hemlock trio forms a soft, four-season screen at the northeastern edge of my garden

Here in late November, the Tsuga canadensis trio provides color and textural contrast and backdrop to the red-twig dogwood, birch and ornamental grasses in the foreground of the entry garden

This beautiful, weeping hemlock (Tsuga candensis ‘Pendula’) —pictured here at The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts— is one of the finest examples, and uses of the pendulous form, that I have ever seen. See more photos, and read a bit about The Bridge of Flowers by revisiting this post (click here).

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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.

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Golden Light & Glistening Gardens on a Frosty Winter’s Morn…

January 12th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Sunrise on the Frosty Tufts of Miscanthus sinensis

As a winter snow storm swirls about outside, my thoughts drift back to yesterday’s frosty morning, and the glistening, pink-gold sunrise. If today she reveals her wild fury, I am reminded that this tempestuous season more often shows us her beauty…

Morning Light on Humulus lupulus (Golden Hops Vine) with Frost Crystals

Silhouetted Branches of Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’ at Sunrise

Frost Crystals on Rudbeckia hirta, Gleam and Glisten in the Golden Sunlight

Gilded Korean Dogwood Branches (Cornus kousa) and Luminous Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’ at the South-Eastern Edge of My Winter Garden

Silver-Tipped Twigs Strung Along a Chilly Cable-Rail (Humulus lupulus)

These Star-Dusted, Feathery Plumes Seem Fit for the Most Glamorous of Shoulders (Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens)

The Beautiful, Crystal-Flecked Tea Viburnum Berries Remind Me of Shoulder-Grazing, Ruby Chandeliers

In this Moment, Could January be Upstaged by June?

Perfect Prisms – The Delightful Geometry of Frost Crystals in Pink-Gold Sunlight

At the Edge of the Garden, Saplings Form a Crystal Curtain

The Frosty Red-Twigs of this Japanese Maple Glow Brightly Against the Native Hemlock Forest

The Stillness of a Frosty Morning and a Perfect Winter Sunrise

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Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Sparkles, Drifts, Patterns & Shadows: The Beauty of a Frosty Winter’s Morn…

December 30th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Frosty Holiday Decorations

Oh, the shimmering, glimmering glamour of a frost-covered garden! After days of howling wind, I awoke to a still hush and brilliant sunrise. I simply had to rush outside to greet the glistening morn. Of course, there was no time to change into snow boots and jacket. Oh no. So I grabbed my camera and ran, bundled up in my fluffy robe and fuzzy slippers, to enjoy the first light of day. If it was cold, I never noticed. Such is the power of beauty. Even in winter, the garden beckons her faithful servant with a seductive call. And even in the quiet season, she never disappoints…

Sparkles, Drifts and Shadows (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’, Juniperus sargentii and Rudbeckia hirta shadows)

The Frost Covered Fire Sculpture Awaits New Year’s Eve Celebrations

Rudbeckia and Solidago Dance in Sparkling Snow

Frost-Coated Furniture on the Stone Terrace

And Color? Oh Yes. The Garden Still Sings in Red, Green and Gold (Cornus alba ‘Siberica’ and Kalmia latifolia)

Golden Miscanthus sinensis Shines Against the Violet-Grey Mountains, Bare Tree Branches and Cerulean Blue Sky

The Delightfully Shiny, Bright-Red Fruit of Viburnum setigerum

Rudbeckia Hirta Seed Heads Soak Up the Sun

Two Paths Diverge – Dramatically

A Wind-Blown Patch of Bare Textured, Lawn

And Piles of Sensual, Sparkling Snow

The Tippy Tops of Hosta Seem to Rise from Winter Slumber to Greet the Shimmering Morn…

Winter Borders Gleam, Greeting the Wandering Gardener

A Beautiful Way to Begin the Day…

With Sparkles and Shadows on Snow Drifts

Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Garden Structure & Seasonal Texture: White Lace and Sparkling Silver Tulle Dance and Flirt in a Prelude to Winter…

December 11th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

The Entry Garden at First Light on December 11th

I often wonder why I bother to mourn the end of autumn when there’s so much magic and beauty to be found in the garden during this quiet time of the year. As we near the winter solstice, I find myself every bit as enchanted by the garden as I am during the spring and summer months. My morning walks are cold —no doubt— and my finger tips burn a bit as I run them over the frosty stone walls. But the rich, visual rewards of those nippy strolls at first light make every shiver worthwhile.

Some gardeners prefer to cut back the perennials in their beds and borders in late autumn and early winter. And there is an argument to made for this approach. Certainly, there are places within the garden where I fuss over tender plants; protecting them from cold with mounds of compost or blankets of evergreen boughs. But by and large, I prefer to leave perennials standing throughout winter; that I might enjoy both the bold and delicate textures and how they sparkle with snow and ice after storms. Vertical lines, relief and pattern, both in the garden’s hardscape as well as in the more ephemeral plantings, are key to creating structure and beauty in a winter garden.

Seed Pods Provide Food for Birds and Beauty for Human Eyes: Rudbeckia hirta and Solidago with Sparkling Frost and Snow

Textural Grass Catches Light, Snow and Ice in the Quiet Season. Switch Grass (Panicum virginicum ‘Heavy Metal’) with A Light Morning Glaze…

Climbing Hydrangea (H. petiolaris) Adds Texture and Color to A Grouping of Boulders, and Provides Nooks and Crannies for a Dusting of Fresh Snow…

I often talk about the “bones” of a garden when I discuss design with my clients. This framework, or skeleton, is what gives the landscape shape throughout the year. Walls, fences and arbors, trellises and obelisks, benches and chairs, sculpture and boulders are all examples of objects that add to a garden’s hardscape and structure. Living plants, particularly dramatically shaped trees and shrubs are also helpful in creating a season-spanning garden design. In terms of defining outdoor space, hedges —both formal and informal— alles, espalier fences, and other features are useful in building permanent trans-seasonal walls.

Sculpture and Lichen-Covered Stone Catch Snow: Here, the Guardian Stands Sentry at the Edge of the Forest

The Rusty Color and Grid-Patterned Seat Make this Bench a Valuable Winter-Garden Object

Perennials May Fade at Autumn’s End, but Dan Snow’s Stone Seat and Evergreen Conifers Remain (Young hemlock: Tsuga canadensis)

Here in New England, field stone has long been a popular material for dividing garden spaces, and it will always be my personal favorite. From retaining walls and steps, to formal and free-form sculpture, I am most fond of this natural and versatile material. Throughout the seasons —but especially during the quiet season of winter— Dan Snow’s stonework is the central architectural feature and design element in my garden. Because Dan’s walls are comprised of subtly colored and textured rock —often softened by blueish lichen and emerald moss— they seem quite alive, even though they are technically inorganic. Whats more, the arrangement of the stonework itself —whether stacked horizontally, vertically, or arranged in dramatic and shifting pattern— adds artistry to the garden’s bare architecture in winter.

Steps and stairs —though they can be constructed from a wide variety of materials— must safely function and enhance a garden throughout the seasons. What we call “hallways” in our homes are the “pathways” in our gardens. These frequently-traveled spaces are as important outdoors as they are inside the house. Stepping stones, pea stones and gravel all add texture to the garden throughout the year. And in winter, walls, pathways, steps and other architectural features become highly exposed design elements. As crazy as I am about plants (and we all know that’s pretty crazy) my primary focus when designing a garden is always on the underlying structure. Build your garden before you decorate it with plants –and build it well, for it will hold, protect and exhibit your botanical treasures as your house contains, shelters and displays all of your worldly possessions! In winter, outdoor rooms are as stark as an empty house. And usually, the more attractive the garden’s architecture, the more beautiful the winter garden…

Stone Wall and Juniper Line the Winter Garden Walkway. Dan Snow Added both Candle Niches and Seats within the Wall, Creating Opportunities for Rest and Display Throughout the Seasons…

Stone Steps by Dan Snow Look Beautiful with a Dusting of Snow, and the Varied Height of the Sloped Setting Makes a Lovely Display for Frost-Proof Pots and Evergreen Plants…

Winter is a Fine Time to Enjoy Works of Art —Both Large and Small— in the Garden. Dan Snow’s Fire Sculpture Looks Particularly Beautiful in the Snow…

Structural elements and textural interest provide nature with a three-dimensional canvas for wintery works of art. And although it’s possible to spend a fortune on architectural details and plants, keep in mind that even the humblest cast-aways —flea market benches, unwanted boulders, simple fences and wire cables, twig teepees and homemade works of art— are just as effective when it comes to creating spaces and adding tactile elements in the garden. The rusty surfaces and cracked edges of second hand and found objects often enhance a snowy landscape. Set things out in the garden and move them around until you find a spot that feels right. Begin by using what you have on hand and playfully experiment with the beauty of the winter garden…

The honey-colored remnants of Golden Hops Vine (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’) add beautiful texture to a simple cable rail along a deck in winter. Be on the look-out for perennials and vines with persistent papery, dried flowers and seed heads -these textural elements are key to winter garden detail…

A Mass Planting of  Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’ ) Forms a Season-Spanning ‘Screen’; Adding Texture and Color to the Garden Throughout the Seasons, in Addition to Providing Enclosure and  Natural Transition to the Meadow and Mountain Tops Beyond

Old wire chairs, even if they are no longer functional, provide endless interest in the garden throughout the seasons. In winter, this ivy-patterend chair casts a gorgeous shadow in the snow…

At the Garden Entryway, the Texture of Juniperus horizontalis and the Natural Stone Ledge Both Stand Out with a Dusting of Snow and Create a Backdrop for Other Plantings Throughout the Seasons…

Boulders —Remnants from Site Excavation— Make a Pretty Vine-Covered Grouping at Garden’s Edge (Hydrangea petiolaris)

Dan Snow’s Stone Steps Dusted in Snow

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All Stonework Featured Here is by Vermont Artist Dan Snow

Article and Photographs 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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A Morning of Sunlit Snow Flurries & Quiet Moments of Wintry Beauty…

December 8th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Golden, Sunrise Snow Shower

Sunlit snow flurries, stark, white tree trunks and icy sparkle at the tips of my toes; it seems that every morning I awake to find yet another golden dawn, illuminating a crystal-and-snow-coated wonderland. And now, as late autumn gently fades —heralding the arrival of early winter— I am dazzled-as-always by the beauty of the changing seasons. The remarkable quality of light, the clear, crisp air, and the sharp lines of the early December garden make this month as beautiful and varied as any other…

Violet pastilles or Labrador violets (Viola labradorica)? Sugar-coated delight, either way.

Black Raspberry Sherbet or Frosted Coral Bells (Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’)?

If this oakleaf hydrangea ( H. quercifolia) had a flavor, I think it would taste something like frosted rum-raisin ice cream. This year, the pretty specimen by my front door is really holding onto her regal-colored cloak…

Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) sparkles like frosted fruit leather in the morning light

Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) and Juniper (J. x pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’) in a sparkling, golden snow squall

Frosty Flame Grass (Miscanthus purpurascens) at Forest-Edge

Crystal-Coated Coral Bell Color (Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’)

Chilly Little Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina)

Snow-Dusted Secret Garden Steps

Delicate Snow, Like Fine White Powder, Coats Lacy, Evergreen Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and Ledge

Rodgersia aesculifolia with a fresh white-wash

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For more winter-garden inspiration, check out my post today for Garden Variety  (click here).

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Article and Photographs 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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Bright, Red Winterberry & Juniper Magic: Lovely, Native Ilex verticillata Sparkles & Glows on Grey, Chilly Days…

November 21st, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, paired here with Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’

In the last weeks of late autumn —after the leaves have all fallen and deciduous trees stand naked and rattling in cold wind— the conifers and fruit-bearing shrubs reign supreme in my garden. Late fall and early winter days —laced with hoar frost and sugar-coatings of fresh snow— are brightened by the glow of colorful berries, twigs and richly hued conifers. All of the delicately textured remnants —needles, seeds and tiny twigs— catch falling ice crystals and snow flakes; like sweets coated in confectioners sugar.

One of my favorite late-season shrubs, the Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’ (common, dwarf winterberry holly) planted in front of my Secret Garden, is a knock-out at this time of year. With bright red fruit ripening in September and holding through January or longer, this shrub is invaluable for color in the winter landscape. Chosen for its charmingly petite, compact size (about 3-5 feet high and wide)  I. verticillata ‘Red Sprite’ is a great choice for softening the edges of walls, buildings and fences. I grow several winterberry cultivars, including the beautiful, statuesque I. verticillata ‘Winter Red’ (9′ x 9′), in my landscape; combining them with conifers and other shrubs and trees to create season-spanning interest in the garden. Juniper make great companions for winterberry, and Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’ forms a lovely, contrasting blue-green carpet in front of the dwarf I. verticillata ‘Red Sprite’. Winterberry are extremely hardy shrubs, (USDA zones 3-9) native to eastern North America. These shrubs are long lived and trouble free; provided they are planted in rich, moist, freely- draining, acidic soil in full sun. I use a thick, organic mulch to conserve moisture and keep the root zone of my shrubs cool on hot summer days. When planting winterberry, it’s important to remember that a male cultivar will be needed for pollination -but only the female plants will bear fruit. In the grouping pictured below, the bare twigs in the background are the branches of a male cultivar. The pollinating shrub needn’t be planted in the same grouping -anywhere nearby will do just fine.

In front of my Secret Garden, Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’ looks like a tasty treat in a confectioner’s window. I snapped this picture the morning after the first snow…

Birds love plump, red winterberries, and will often gobble them up before the end of December. I keep planting more to please the crowd…

The bright red winterberries are even more stunning when snow drifts cover the carpet of juniper in a soft, white blanket

Rock candy mountain – Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, the morning after an ice storm

Our native winterberry (Ilex verticillata) can usually be found in wet, low-lying areas —places like marsh and swamp land or natural, open drainage areas— where it forms dense thickets. In the later part of the year, the shrubs are filled with colorful, red fruits, which hold until late winter unless they are picked clean by wildlife. Although winterberries are inedible to humans (mildly toxic) they are extremely popular with small mammals and overwintering birds. Gathering winterberry for holiday decorations is a tradition for me, as it is for many cold-climate gardeners. If you are collecting these berries from the wild, please be sure to check with the property owner before harvesting — and never harvest from public parks or protected lands. Always gather branches responsibly; leaving enough for the wildlife depending upon this important source of food. Remember to use sharp pruning shears and make clean cuts at a slight angle (clean pruners with rubbing alcohol after use to prevent spread of disease), as you would on ornamental shrubs in your own garden. Because I have a large garden of my own, I grow enough winterberry to both enjoy in holiday decorations and in the landscape, where I can share with local birds. And when January rolls ’round, I deposit my discarded, decorative branches in the snow for field mice and feathered friends.

If you have the room, it makes sense to grow extra winterberry for holiday decorations

Bright red winterberries sparkle in a vase here in my dining room

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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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Autumn Light…

October 19th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Edge of daylight…

Autumn light, like golden honey dripping from branches, sweetens the chill of mid-October days. A stroll through the garden reveals a sunlit patch of earth —still empty. My eye follows the low rays, looking for opportunities to play with light and texture; a potential spot for a luminous shrub, feathery grass or sculptural group of silhouetted seed pods. Could this be the place for a new player in my garden’s late show? Morning and evening, I ask: where is the light? Where is the magic?

Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’ (Shasta viburnum) lights up like stained glass in the western corner of the garden at sunset

Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ (Switch Grass) is positioned to catch the light of both sunrise and sunset

Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’ catches early morning light in the eastern corner of the garden

Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens on the western edge of the garden, bathed in afternoon light

Halesia tetraptera Leaf in Water Bowl (Carolina silverbell)

This Cornus kousa (Korean dogwood), positioned on the east side of the terrace,  glows in the morning light

Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’ and Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’ at the eastern, side-entrance to the Secret Garden

Another look at the glowing foliage of Cornus kousa

Miscanthus sinensis tufts in early morning light

Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey compact’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning light’ Shimmer and Sparkle at Dawn

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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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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…

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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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…

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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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The Accidental Gardener: A Short Story About a Dog Named Oli and His Wondrous Wildflower Walk…

July 9th, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

The Wildflower Walk in July at Ferncliff ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

As a professional garden designer, I take a certain amount of pride in my work. My clients always seem quite pleased with the gardens I create, and I think I’m a pretty good designer. Yet every July I am served a very large dish of my favorite dessert – humble pie. In midsummer, visitors to my studio are invariably knocked-out by the entry garden, which I now call ‘The Wildflower Walk’. They ooh and they ah and they coo over the wide swaths of bright color and the natural feel of this welcoming, open space. “What a beautiful garden”, they exclaim. And yes, I have to admit, it certainly is quite stunning. But, thanks to the brilliant artist I live with, my ego remains fully in check. Why? Well, you see, I didn’t design this gorgeous wildflower garden – my dog Oli did.

I know. You’re probably wondering how this is possible. How can a Labrador Retriever design a wildflower garden? Perhaps you think I am exaggerating or maybe even making it up from thin air. Or worse, you might be wondering if I’ve gone quite mad, since clearly I am suffering from delusions. But I swear –on my Vegetable Gardener’s Bible — it is true. In fact, not only did my crazy canine design this garden, but he also planted it all by himself. Yes, I promise I will explain – but first, let me back up a little bit and tell you the story of my dog, Oli…

Midway Point on the Wildflower Walk at Ferncliff in July ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

It was late in the summer of 2002, and I’d just finished building the studio-barn I now call home. There were no gardens here back then. In fact, the land was quite raw and, like most construction sites, it was a mess. I knew it would be a year before I could begin work on my landscaping projects and –frustrated with the ugliness– I spent most of my free time elsewhere. I’m an avid kayaker, and throughout that first summer, I floated my evenings away on local lakes and rivers. Late one August afternoon –hot, sticky and harried– I loaded my kayak on the car and headed out to the Connecticut River. Distracted as usual, in my haste I forgot my backpack at home. I didn’t want to miss sunset on the water, so I stopped by a local farm stand to grab a snack and a drink to take along on my paddle. Fate however, had other plans for me  –and indeed she moves in mysterious ways– because that’s when I met “Old Yeller”, as he was then called; a dirty, flea-infested, one-year-old, retriever pup with sad eyes and a ‘toy’ beer can. “Yeller” was chained to a foundation post and his legs were all tangled up in rusty links. Immediately a large crack –likely audible throughout the valley– split straight through my ribcage and broke my heart. Of course I thought about the dog the entire time I was out on the river, and the next day I stopped by the stand once again. He was still there; same beer can, same sad eyes. By visit three, my weakness must have been plainly visible, for the farm hand –three sheets to the wind– announced that the “flea bag” was headed to the pound by the end of the week. “If  you want him, take him” he said, “for free“.  It seemed that the wild pup had already worked his way through three homes, and his current owner –recently disabled from a stroke– could no longer handle him…

My dog Oli, in the studio…

Well, you know how this part of the story goes. Of course, by Friday, the wiggling, slobbering “flea bag” –renamed Oli– was bouncing around the back of my car on the way to his new home. He was, to put it mildly, a terror. Have you seen the film “Marley and Me ? Well, good for you, because I can’t watch more than 20 minutes of it. It’s just too close for comfort. And besides, my dog Oli, makes that dog Marley look like a saint. I kid you not. During his first year in my formerly-peaceful life, Oli did more damage than an F1 tornado. Goodbye car interior (including all back seatbelts and cushions), so-long sexy shoes, see-ya-later kayak seat and farewell furniture. Left alone for more than five minutes, Oli would rip through and devour anything in sight. His ingested-item list even includes a Mikimoto pearl necklace (yes, in its box, pulled from the top of my dresser), and we made more visits to the veterinarian than I care to remember. I was told by dog-loving friends that this behavior would ease up within a year. I was promised this was merely a prolonged puppy phase. I was advised that he had separation anxiety and that training would help. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Oli continued his reign of terror straight through the following summer, when I began working on my new gardens. Unimpressed with my horticultural pursuits, Oli uprooted perennials as fast as I planted them and devoured several young shrubs. He even stripped the branches from a rare Japanese maple, defoliating and destroying it within minutes, while I unloaded groceries in the kitchen. Yes, I still love him, but I would be lying if I told you that I never had a dark thought about my dog.

A bag of collected Lupine seed…

Around this time, I started thinking about planting a wildflower meadow on the west side of my clearing. My parents had created an impressive, self-sustaining field of wildflowers on their property, which bloomed from spring to fall, and I wanted to replicate that here. My father collected seed from the garden, and gave me two bags to take home. One contained pouches of Lupine and Adenophora, and the other was filled with Rudbeckia hirta. When I got back to my place, I brought one bag of seed up to the house, let Oli out of his crate, and started to unload the rest of my car. Then, the phone rang. You would think that I would have learned my lesson after the Japanese maple fiasco – but no. Of course not. Finally, at some point during my telephone conversation, I looked out the window to see Oli running full boar down the walkway – brown paper bag held high, head shaking to-and-fro, black seed spewing out in all directions. My scream could have stopped a train dead in its tracks, but it didn’t even register with Oli. He only seemed to run faster. I tore down the pathway after my wild dog, chasing him in circles ’round the ledge at the top of the drive – but it was too late. The bag of Rudbeckia was scattered everywhere – all over the walkway and throughout my carefully designed entry garden…

Rudbeckia hirta, in a design by Oli, the accidental gardener…

Eight years have come and gone since Oli hopped into my car on that fateful, hot summer evening, and I have given in to his chaos on many levels. Hey, if you can’t beat them, join them I say. So, I added more wildflower seed to his design; sprinkling Lupine and Adenophora throughout the walkway and into the surrounding mixed borders. What can I say – it works. And yes, he’s a genius. But athough he may be talented, Oli –now growing fat and grizzled about the muzzle — can still never be left alone in the house…

Oli and Me

***

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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Asclepias Tuberosa: Bold, Beautiful Butterfly Weed is the Life of the Midsummer Garden Party…

July 7th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Butterflyweed, North American native Asclepias tuberosa ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Oh to be a butterfly! Just imagine fluttering upon this delightful blossom; saturated in golden-orange color and loaded with sweet nectar. What a feast! Why I’d flit from flower to flower, happily sharing precious pollen with hovering hummingbirds and buzzing bees, from sunrise to sunset. Butterflyweed in the garden? Yes, yes – don’t let the ‘weed’ moniker fool you! North American native Asclepias tuberosa (aka Aesclepias tuberosa) is a wonderful garden plant, forming neat and tidy, mid-sized mounds in the perennial border, where it blooms its pretty little head off on even the hottest of summer days (and boy are we having those right now – 97 degrees in the shade yesterday).

Afraid of bold hues? Much like an acquaintance with a strong personality, many gardeners have an uneasy relationship with orange. Perhaps due to worries about dis-harmony and possible conflicts within the garden group, some might hesitate –or even flat-out refuse– to invite such a colorful character to the party. This is sad really, because when used creatively, a splash of orange can work wonders in a garden. Having trouble imagining it?  Well, just think about the allure of a bright tangerine on a dark-blue ceramic plate, or the intensity of Vincent Van Gogh’s golden Sunflowers and his swirly gobs of luminous orange in the Starry Night. Hard to argue with the beauty of orange, now isn’t it? Blue-violet hues are never more spectacular than they appear when combined with orangey saffron and brilliant vermillion. Whether in the form of leaf or blossom, I am always looking for ways to play with the hot-cool combination. But orange also looks spectacular in a simple sea of green, her natural, attractive opposite on the color wheel…

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed) begins to blossom in July

Of course, if you love butterflies, this plant really deserves a place in your mid-summer garden. Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed) provides long, summer sustenance to pollinators of all kinds, including, of course, the butterflies. Hardy in zones 4-10, butterflyweed prefers neutral to slightly acidic soil. This is a very drought tolerant plant; an excellent choice for hot, sunny spaces and naturalized areas, where it may be allowed to self-seed and form colorful drifts. At approximately 24-36″ high and 18″ wide, butterflyweed combines beautifully with other summer-fall blooming plants in rich colors; including speedwell (Veronica spicata), Russian Sage (Perovskia), gayfeather (Liatris), deep violet butterflybush (Buddleia cvs), monkshood (Aconitum), daylily (Hemerocallis), and many others…

And then, later on in the season –when the sun sinks low and tickles the garden with golden light– pretty dried-pods crack open on butterflyweed, releasing silky, parachute-like seeds into the air. It’s hard not to be charmed by such a sunny plant. She seems continually surrounded by a crowd of graceful movement; hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and drifting white tutus filling the air. Perhaps if you give her a chance, Asclepias tuberosa will add just the right touch of exuberance to your quiet beds and borders. Who knows, maybe you will even find her to be the life of your garden party…

Butterflyweed Seed Pods – Asclepias tuberosa – ⓒ Michaela at TGE

A single parachutist – Asclepias tuberosa ⓒ 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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Isn’t She Pretty in Pink? A Peek at a Few of June’s Blushing Young Beauties: Mountain Laurel, Lupine, Indigofera, and More…

June 16th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Kalmia latifolia ‘Pink Charm’ with Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland’s Gold’ and Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ in the background, and Rudbeckia hirta and Miscanthus in the foreground… Garden Design and Photo © Michaela at TGE

Kalmia latifolia ‘Pink Charm’ – Photo © Michaela at TGE

Kalmia latifolia ‘Pink Charm’ in the Entry Garden – Design and Photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE

There’s something of a pink-fizzy-explosion going on in the main entrance to my garden right now. From bashful blush and shocking rose, to coral, crimson, and pale petal; the garden is looking very pretty in pink. At this time of the year, my wildflower walkway is filled with the lighter shades of red, including two-tone-pink lupine, pale penstemon and other cerise colored flowers. This spring, the wild roses have really taken off, clamoring over the big ledges, and spilling out from the juniper edging into the gravel path. But the reigning queen of the moment in the entry garden is Kalmia latifolia ‘Pink Charm’; a gorgeous pink selection of our native mountain laurel. I am very fond of Kalmia, and I grow both the native and various cultivars. Mountain laurel has developed a reputation for being a somewhat tricky plant to grow, but I have had great success with the genus. In my experience, proper siting and soil are key to pleasing this beautiful, native evergreen. For more information on Kalmia latifolia, including how and where to grow and use this plant in the garden, travel back to last year’s post on Mountain Laurel here.

Indigofera kirilowii on the terrace edge. Photo © Michaela at TGE

And on the northwestern side of my garden, Indigofera kirilowii -which I also posted about last summer in an article linked here- is producing an outrageously romantic display at the edge of the terrace. This gorgeous small shrub is literally covered with lilac-pink panicles, spilling in dramatic fashion on to the thyme-laced stone at her feet. Indigofera is putting on her show earlier this year, as are many other plants in my garden. What’s the hurry ladies? We have all summer. Why not slow down and stick around awhile?

Still, in spite of the early rush to bloom, I must say I am loving the profusion. When my garden gets to blushing like this, I can’t help but think of girlish things like prom dresses and bridal showers. I suppose it’s just that time  of the year  – when everything is pretty in pink….

A closeup of our native North American mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, in bloom. Photo © Michaela at TGE

A natural wonder, smothered in blooms – Kalmia latifolia – native mountain laurel. Photo © Michaela at TGE

Lupine put on a reliable yearly display in the wildflower walk. Photo © Michaela at TGE

Lupine hybrid – Bicolor pink in the Wild Flower Walk – Entry Garden Design and Photo © 2010 Michaela TGE

A wild rose in the entry garden – Photo © Michaela at TGE

Budding Beauty – Photo © Michaela at TGE

Pretty in Pink in the Rain – Photo © Michaela at TGE

Seashell Pink Colored Coral Bell Blossoms (Heuchera sanguinea) Dance in the Morning Breeze. Photo © Michaela at TGE

Lavender-pink Indigofera kirilowii edges the north facing terrace, planted here with wooly thyme. Photo © Michaela at TGE

You know I was thinking about it when I typed the words. I had to pull out the Molly Ringwald for this post…

Pretty in Pink Molly Ringwald

Pretty in Pink on DVD

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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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A Tall, Cool Drink for the Eyes: Quiet, Calm Camassia – Wild American Beauty of the Marshland and Meadow…

May 24th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Camassia quamash, North American native Camas Lily, © 2010 Michaela at TGE

A few years ago, at the low edge of my garden where open meadow meets slow transition to cultivated borders, I planted a handful of native camas lily bulbs, (Camassia quamash). The first spring after planting, an orphaned fawn wandered into my life, and he nibbled the tops off my camas lilies before they could bloom. Did you just gasp? I probably would have too, if I’d never met “L’il Deer”. My reaction may surprise you. I’m not denying that I winced -loudly- when I caught my voracious guest browsing my garden – but I quickly fell head over heels in love with that fawn, and his presence in my life was more than worth the sacrifice of a few blue blossoms. Funny how that works…  isn’t it?     (I promise to tell you more about my friend the fawn another day.)

Beloved by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, camas lilies have a long and interesting history as a food source for many creatures – including humans. Before the arrival of Europeans to the North American continent, sweet camas bulbs were harvested and eaten raw by Native Americans. Although I have never tried them (it’s hard to pull them up when they produce such beautiful flowers) the flavor is described as chestnut-like, with a creamy, pleasant cooked texture…

Camassi quamash © 2010, Michaela at TGE

Camas lily species are all useful garden plants. Some, such as Camassia cusickii and leichtlinii, are stunning in perennial borders, and others, such as C. scilloides, (wild hyacinth), and C. quamsah, (common camas lily), are perfect for naturalizing at the edge of a pond, meadow or forest. Camas lilies are difficult to propagate from seed -and also challenging from divisions- but they are easily grown and readily available from most bulb companies for planting in fall. C. cusickii, (Cusick’s camas), as well as C.leichtlinii, (Leichtlin’s camas), and variously colored cultivars, from white to lavender and deep violet, form beautiful, well-mannered clumps in the garden.

Native to North America, from Canada to the southern plains, camas lilies range in hardiness from 3-9, depending upon the species. These beautiful and graceful flowers prefer locations with ample moisture in springtime, and later, as they go dormant in summer, they like for their soil to remain a bit drier. Position Camassia species and cultivars where they can be enjoyed blooming in late spring-early summer, and where other plants can fill in for them as their foliage dies back in dormancy. Once established, blue camas will create a soothing visual oasis in the garden, moving like water in a gentle stream with the slightest breeze. While they are blooming, I will forever picture a delicate fawn, drinking at a forest brook…

Camassia at the Edge of the Meadow © 2010, Michaela at TGE

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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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“Native Plants: Why We Love Them and How to Use Them” – Free Seminar – This Saturday at Walker Farm in Southern Vermont – Please Join Me …

May 13th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Cullina – Wildflowers

William Cullina – Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines

Armitage’s Native Plants for North American Gardens

Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at TGE

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

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Trout Lily, Fawn Lily, or Dog-tooth Violet: No Matter What You Call This Woodland Beauty, Erythronium is a Springtime Delight…

May 3rd, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Erythronium tuolumnense in the Secret Garden at Ferncliff © 2010 Michaela TGE

Fawn lily, Trout lily, Dog-tooth Violet: Beautiful, evocative and curious, the common names for the various North American Erythronium species are as delightful as the lovely woodland flower itself. In Northeastern forests, yellow trout lilies are a common, early-spring, ephemeral wildflower. As a child, I collected these tiny, golden beauties in the forest behind my home, and presented them in little bouquets to my mother. When I was a little girl, the mottled green foliage of the trout lily made me think of a frog. Soon I confused the name, and called them ‘toad lilies’ for years – even now I catch myself making the mistake. The flowers themselves remind me of little yellow hats, especially when I catch them bobbing up and down in the morning breeze; fancy and feminine, like bonnet Audrey Hepburn might have worn.

The forest surrounding my garden is filled with trout lilies at this time of the year, but the beautiful Erythronium in my Secret Garden is a different species. This Erythronium, (pictured above and below), originates from California’s Sierra range, and is highly prized for both large bloom, glossy foliage, and a tidy, clumping habit. Many beautiful Erythronium cultivars exist -including pink and white hybrids- but I have a nostalgic preference for the pretty native species, as well as the golden California girls in my Secret Garden…

Erythronium tuolumnense and Phlox divaricata in the Secret Garden at Ferncliff © Michaela at TGE

Trout lilies, (and their cousins, the dog-tooth violets and fawn lilies), are native to North America and are generally hardy in USDA zones 3-9, (Erythronium tuolumnense hybrids have a narrower range of 5-8). Trout lilies can be purchased potted, and planted in spring, or the corms, (bulbs), are available to plant in early fall. All Erythroniums prefer a site with moist, humus-rich but well-drained soil. Slightly acidic soil, with a lower pH is best for trout lilies. Although this lovely wildflower enjoys the soft sunshine of early spring, she should be planted in a spot where drier conditions and shade prevail in summer. Trout lilies are usually found beneath deciduous trees and shrubs in native woodlands, and they will do well in similar garden situations. Like all spring ephemerals, the foliage of Erythroniums will die back soon after flowering, leaving empty spots in the garden during the dormant period. Because of this, from a design standpoint it makes sense to combine Erythronium with other shade-tolerant plants, which will fill the holes later in the season. Ferns, EpemidiumTiarellaHeuchera and Hosta all make good companions for Erythronium. Trout lilies also combine well with other early-blooming flowers, including Phlox divaricata, Helleborus, Narcissus, Dicentra and many other springtime beauties…

Erythronium tuolumnense and Lamium ‘White Nancy’ in the Secret Garden at Ferncliff © Michaela at TGE

Similar… no? It seems Audrey had a thing for hats and umbrellas, and so do I – especially in the garden. (photo credit not located)

Audrey Hepburn by Terry O’Neill

Audrey Hepburn films are some of my favorites, (Photo Still: Paris When it Sizzles, 1963, © Bob Willoughby). She is definitely a Fawn Lily to me. What do you think?

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Article and photographs, (with noted exceptions), copyright 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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No Shrinking Violet: North American Native, Lovely Viola Labradorica…

April 26th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

Viola labradorica, (photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE), North American native Labrador violet…

They say that Elizabeth Taylor once drew her lovers in with the flutter of her dark lashes and a passing glance from her violet-hued eyes. I have never seen eyes tinted in such a rich color, but I am sure that they must be powerfully seductive. Richard Burton was certainly captivated -twice in fact- and countless others fell under Elizabeth’s spell. Indeed, if you are to believe the headlines on the front page of grocery check-out tabloids, (oh come on, you know you peek at them too), the violet-eyed bombshell is still reeling them in with her gaze. Of course, not everyone loves Elizabeth Taylor, but I have a soft-spot for her – I admit it. I completely love her in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and her other great roles, and I could care less how many times she’s been married. She believes in love and she throws her heart open wide, with complete abandon…

Violets. Like most divas, it seems you either love them, or you hate them. Some are neat and tidy, and others spread wildly – sometimes even aggressively. Over the weekend, my friend Leah sent me a quick note. She was wondering if she should be concerned about the violets popping up in her garden. Leah finds them charming -as do I- but she is aware that some wild species are considered weeds. By now, it’s probably quite apparent that I have a looser approach to gardening. If a plant performs well as a ground cover, producing a lovely blossom and pretty foliage, why fight Mother Nature, right? OK, sometimes we must. Sometimes. In well-tended perennial gardens, we must keep the rhizomatous roots of spreading wild violets in check. Annual field violets and pansies are rarely a problem however, and I rather like them.

Anyway, Leah got me thinking about violets. I grow many species of viola here at Ferncliff, and I enjoy them all – including the more aggressive types spreading at the edge of the forest. And few European varieties, such as the German violets I grow, possess a powerful and intoxicating fragrance. The scent, drifting from neat colonies clustered at the base of the warm stonewalls here in spring, is quite heady. Much as I love them all, it is our native Labrador violet that has truly captured my heart..

Viola labradorica – © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Lovely Viola labradorica, as the name suggests, can be found growing wild to the north in Canada, from Labrador and Ontario, on southward into Northern New England, (USDA hardiness zones 2-8). Her gorgeous true-violet blossoms emerge in early spring, (April here in Vermont), and continue for several weeks. Throughout the season, Viola labradorica’s beautiful burgundy foliage covers the garden floor in a dense carpet, slowly morphing in color to a purple tinged green by midsummer. To put on the best show, she prefers dappled shade and woodsy soil with moist conditions, though she will also adapt to drier spells once established. This is another tough lady, with deceptively fragile looks. Tiny she is, remaining a ground cover no more than 8 inches high, (typically 3-6″), but shrinking she is not! The Labrador violet forms a bold tapestry – stunning in combination with golden Japanese forest grass, (Hakonechloa ‘Aurea’), and painted ferns, (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum), and virtually any perennial or woody plant – particularly those with gold, bronze and orange-tinted foliage…

Viola labradorica © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Violet seduction, as personified by Elizabeth Taylor {Image ⓒ Wallace Seawell / MGM archive}

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Article and photographs (with noted exception) are copyright 2010, Michaela at TGE. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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A Rhapsody in Blue: Selecting and Planting Vaccinium corymbosum, (Highbush Blueberry), Plus a Favorite Recipe for Blueberry-Lemon Bread…

March 31st, 2010 § 11 comments § permalink

A Rhapsody in Blue 

What would you say if I told you that I know of an amazing cold-hardy shrub, with creamy, bell-like spring flowers, glossy green leaves, brilliant fall foliage, colorful winter stems and an attractive, well-rounded form? Interested yet? It may come as a surprise that the shrub I am describing is none other than the common highbush blueberry, (Vaccinium corymbosum). Of course, the highbush blueberry is widely cultivated for its delicious fruit, but it’s often overlooked as a useful addition to ornamental gardens. Native to eastern North America, this gorgeous shrub can be found growing wild in acidic soil from central Canada all the way down to Florida, with a western range from Minnesota, south to Louisiana. Typically reaching a mature size of 8-12 feet high and wide, highbush blueberries are most commonly found in USDA zones 3-7. Although lowbush blueberries,(Vaccinium angustifolium), are also a fine and quite hardy shrub -famously grown for fruit in the state of Maine- they too are are rarely grown in ornamental gardens. This is a shame, as lowbush blueberries make a fine ground cover, producing pollinator-friendly blossoms and very sweet fruit. They also display beautiful autumn color.

If you live in a climate with lengthy cool seasons, highbush blueberries are easy to cultivate either in the vegetable garden, berry patch or mixed border. This is a relatively long-lived shrub, with few pests and diseases. When provided with the proper conditions, blueberry bushes make fantastic garden plants. Although Vaccinium corymbosum are generally trouble-free, a few growing tips will help increase berry yield and plant health…

Vaccinium corymbosum autumn color

In life, I often find that a group of diverse, mixed company creates great culture. With blueberry varieties this is especially true. When buying plants, keep in mind that for best pollination and fruit set, you should choose two different varieties of blueberry bushes that bloom at the same time. If you would like fruit throughout the season, try growing several different varieties in the same patch. When choosing plants, ask a local grower which varieties grow and produce best in your area. Some excellent early to midseason varieties include ‘Blueray’,’Duke’ and ‘Berkeley’. For later fruit try ‘Jersey Blue’ and ‘Elliot’ varieties. Again, ask your local grower for some recommendations. Remember that every variety will have a slightly different flavor.

When growing blueberries, one of the most important aspects of cultivation to consider is soil acidity. All blueberry bushes prefer a pH below 5, with an ideal range between 4.5 and 4.8. Be sure to test your soil pH with a kit. If your soil is more alkaline (even neutral is too alkaline for blueberries) you may lower the pH by adding sulfur, pine needles and/or other naturally acidic materials both to the soil and as a regular top-dressing in mulch. Blueberries are shallow-rooted plants and they require moist, but well-drained soil. Unless your garden receives at least an inch or two of rain per week, you will want to water your shrubs. The best way to keep soil moist and plants weed-free is to apply a wood chip/pine needle mulch. When planting new blueberry bushes, be sure not to plant too deeply. Keep the top of the pot level even with your existing soil, and add 1/3 peat moss to the planting mix when you backfill the dirt. Be sure to saturate the soil and peat, as well as the planting hole, with water. Do not fertilize your blueberry bushes for 2-3 months after planting. Once the plants are established, use an organic fertilizer in spring at bloom time, and again 3 weeks later while fruit is setting. Plants should not be fertilized later than this, and never in summer  or fall as the shrubs may suffer winter damage on soft wood ….

Fresh washed blueberries from the garden

In general, when grown for fruit, highbush blueberries should have 5-10′ of spacing, (depending upon variety). But if you are planting in rows, space plants 4-5′ apart in rows with 8-10′ separation. Some growers recommend removal of flowers in the first season for a better crop the second year. This is optional. No pruning is needed in the first three years, but in the fourth season, thinning may begin during dormancy, (late winter/very early spring). Remove weak branches, and any branches restricting sunlight and airflow at the center of the shrub. If fruit is your primary goal, aim for 12 healthy, strong canes per plant. The younger wood will produce the best fruit, so choose a good mix of branches, removing older sections each year.

By following these simple tips, delicious and health fruit will soon be on the way! But beware: birds love to eat blueberries too. If you grow Vaccinium corymbosum solely for ornamental value, then maybe you will leave the fruit on these shrubs for our birds to enjoy. However, if you are growing blueberries as a crop -perhaps as a hedging plant in your potager- you must cover the shrubs from the time of fruit set ’til the point of harvest. My father always used tobacco netting on his highbush blueberries, and I tend to recommend it or the modern-day equivalent, Remay. Plastic netting is hazardous to birds and other creatures, and I find Remay or tobacco netting work as well, or better.

And now, what do you say? Shall we use up some of those plump and delicious blue fruits? Oh, of course! Why not? A couple of weeks back, I featured a favorite recipe for Blueberry Hill Hotcakes and Syrup. They are scrumptious. Over the weekend, I was feeling the blues again, (maybe it was all the rain?). So I took to the kitchen. But this time around, I whipped up my favorite blueberry-lemon bread. This versatile recipe can also be used as a muffin mix, if you’re in the mood for a tasty-treat to-go. The lemony-sugar-syrup is optional, but I find it provides an extra bit of moisture and an added kiss of sweetness – plus I love the shimmery-effect on top. And although frozen blueberries work well here… there’s nothing quite like the fresh berries we will be enjoying later in the year. On a quiet weekend morning, I’m always in the mood for a rhapsody in blue…

Blueberry-Lemon-Bread-Muffins-thegardenersedenBlueberry Lemon Bread / Muffins, photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Blueberry-Lemon Bread with Lemon Syrup (or muffins)


Ingredients for one loaf of bread or one dozen average sized muffins:

2          cups all-purpose flour

1          teaspoon baking powder

1          teaspoon baking soda

1/4       teaspoon salt

1/4       cup sugar

2          eggs

1 1/4   cup sour cream

1/4      cup melted butter

1          tablespoon fresh lemon zest

2          cups of fresh or frozen blueberries

Lemon Syrup:

1/2      cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/2      cup of sugar

4          tablespoons water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°. Butter one 9″ x 5″ x 3″ bread pan or two muffin tins.

To make batter: Toss flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, combine eggs, sugar, sour cream, melted butter and lemon zest and beat until well mixed. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until just blended. Add blueberries and stir lightly to combine.

Pour the batter into the bread pan or muffin tins, (each muffin tin should be filled to 2/3 full). Bake bread for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until top is golden brown and a wooden stick comes out clean after inserted at center. If baking muffins, 15-20 minutes in the hot oven should do the trick.

To make the optional lemon syrup: combine the ingredients in a small saucepan and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

After removing bread or muffins from the oven, prick the top with wooden stick, (all over for bread, or in 3 or 4 places per muffin). Drizzle the lemon-syrup slowly over the surface. Allow the lemon-bread or muffins to cool for 10 or 15 minutes before slicing or removing from the tins.

Serve warm with Earl Grey tea and fresh blueberries if they are in season. If you skip the syrup, the muffins also taste great with a bit of butter and honey.

Mixy, mixy…

 For further inspiration, there’s always…

Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue/An American In Paris

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/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 White Witch Cometh…

February 27th, 2010 § 5 comments § permalink

The Morning after the Storm…

The White Witch roared back up the hill last night in her icy chariot. My oh my, is she a beautiful and treacherous queen. She was angry, and she swirled her crystal scarf and heavy cloak in a fit of rage. Behind her, the cold sorceress dragged a wet blanket of snow so thick that even the greatest trees bowed beneath the weight of her power. “Did you think I would leave so soon?”, she hissed and cackled all night into the howling wind. “How dare you flirt with my younger sister…“. I could almost hear her shaking with laughter in the forest. Yes, she has banished my Spring dreams. This is her season after all, and she is not yet ready to hand over her crown. Fierce Winter will take her leave of us when she is good and ready, and she will likely slam the door…

To the south, the oak and ash stand like ghostly skeletons in the morning light…

And to the west, a towering pine bows in submission…

The hillside traced in snow…

Sunlight makes an early morning appearance through the icy fog and mist…

The Japanese Maple as a Jackson Pollock…

The remains of Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’

Broken and battered, the last papery petals cling to Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ in the snow…

Pointy as a wizard’s hat, native hemlock has always been my favorite winter conifer…

Low clouds break to the east…

The glorious, burnt orange leaves of native beech still cling to her snow coated branches…

Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’ reminds me of a porcupine, all prickly in the soft snow…

Stewartia pseudocamilla strikes a graceful silhouette against the snow drift in the Secret Garden…

Three Magical Warlocks…

Regal pines stand sentry on the western slope…

The tree lined forest path, draped in fresh white lace…

A young spruce droops beneath the weight of a heavy new coat…

Gorgeous, horizontal lines of beech amid the vertical striped forest…

Grey clouds make for a dramatic backdrop after the storm…

Pale morning light…

The door to the Secret Garden…

The velvety black remains of Physocarpus ‘Diablo’, sparkling in ice crystals…

Top of the snow-covered drive…

The forest at Ferncliff in all the White Witch’s Winter glory, {and 3 feet of snow}

Inspiration: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Article and photographs © 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, All Rights Reserved.

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

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Go a Little Less Green for the Environment: Rethink Your Lawn…

February 13th, 2010 § Comments Off on Go a Little Less Green for the Environment: Rethink Your Lawn… § permalink

The Front Wildflower Walk in my Garden in June…

Lush, wide, green and rolling; in America we love our lawns. We like to sprawl out on the grass for a picnic, gather on the neighbor’s lawn for a game of touch football , and set up our folding chairs and tiki-torches in the backyard green for summer barbeques. I like doing these things too, and I have a small lawn of my own in Vermont. But it’s important to remember that lawns, from and environmental perspective, provide little support for the ecosystem. In fact, the tremendous amount of water, fossil fuel, fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides used to maintain most suburban lawns makes our green-fixation downright irresponsible. And although green areas do reduce heat in cities, tightly cropped lawns do little to create habitat and provide food for birds, bees and the many other creatures sharing our world…

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’, attracts a buzzing dinner guest…

 

So, how do we balance our desire for outdoor recreational spaces with environmentally friendly landscaping? When I design gardens for suburban homeowners, I like to suggest a compromise: keep some lawn in the backyard for play-space if it is truly used, and devote the front yard to nature. Usually, the front yard in an urban environment is no more than a strip of earth between the front door and the sidewalk or road. This part of the property is often dry and dusty, and it is rarely used for recreation. Sometimes the area between the house and street is steep and difficult, or even dangerous to mow. In many neighborhoods, roadside turf grass turns brown and unattractive by midsummer, (if it ever looks good at all). There are far more appropriate plants for such spaces; plants that will provide food and habitat for wildlife. In may areas, simply replacing grass with clover or another flowering ground cover is an excellent choice. For the more adventurous, a front garden filled with a mixed selection of native plants can be both beautiful and rewarding. Although there will be initial expenses and work involved, replacing front yard turf grass with more viable plantings can eventually save money and make a home more appealing and marketable as well as ecologically friendly.

For experienced gardeners, alternatives to turf grass will immediately spring to mind, but for novices the sea of choices and garden plan decisions can often seem overwhelming. If you are at a loss for ideas, Liz Primeau’s Front Yard Gardens is a great place to look for inspiration. This lovely paperback book is filled with hundreds of photographs of front yard garden designs, taken in a wide variety of climates. But more important, Primeau is quite practical, her book includes detailed plant lists and step-by-step plans to suit all climates, tastes and budgets. Usually I advise simple design plans and lower maintenance, native plants for new gardeners. Of course, what is considered a native plant will vary tremendously from one place to another, and this is where a bit of research comes in handy. It’s important that your garden suit your location. Perhaps one of your neighbors has a successful front yard garden. What plants grow well for them?  Most gardeners love to talk about plants and they tend to be very generous with advice. Also keep in mind that many communities have gardening clubs and plant swaps groups, and they usually welcome newcomers with a wealth of tips and information – sometimes even perennial divisions !  A small, neighborhood garden center is also a fantastic place to go for advice. Ask experienced, local nursery staff for some native plant recommendations. Be sure to mention that you would like to grow plants with open flowers and extended bloom periods to attract bees, butterflies and birds to your yard. If you are new to gardening, remember to start with a modest plan, and expand your garden as you develop confidence and success…

 

Why mow on a dangerous slope ? When terraced with natural stone, this ‘problem area’ in my garden became a lush, mixed border filled with shrubs, ground covers and perennials, blooming from early spring to late autumn…

Purchase Liz Primeau’s Front Yard Gardens( 2003 ed.): from Barnes and Noble

Purchase Liz Primeau’s Front Yard Gardens (new 2010 ed.): from Amazon

 

An excellent choice for beginners to more advanced gardeners, mixed daylily gardens cover ground, (even those tough to maintain slopes), and bloom from early summer through frost. Expand the early spring bloom time by adding bulbs in the fall. This beautiful daylily combination in my front garden is from White Flower Farm

Hosta are a good choice for new gardeners with shady outdoor spaces. Hosta produce white to lavender blossoms, providing pollen for hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, and cool summer shade for other living creatures. Early blooming bulbs can be planted between hosta in autumn, to extend a landscape’s bloom period. The image above is from White Flower Farm

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This article was originally written by Michaela (TGE), for The Honeybee Conservancy Blog as part of a volunteer, collaborative effort. Please visit the HBC site to learn more about this important cause, and how you can do more to help support and protect earth’s pollinators.

Article and photographs, (with noted exceptions), © 2010, All Rights Reserved : Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: Terrariums Part One…

December 11th, 2009 § 12 comments § permalink

A seasonal terrarium filled with North American forest plants…

I am very fortunate to live and work surrounded by gardens. Even in winter, nature is part of my everyday life. But not everyone is so lucky. Some of us have friends and family members working in city high rises, crowded into sterile offices or lifeless cubicles. As gardeners, I’d like to think that we can alter this situation, especially around the holidays, by bringing a little bit of nature into these people’s lives. A few years back a friend of mine gave a magical, mist-covered terrarium as a birthday gift to a mutual acquaintance. This gorgeous garden-behind-glass, filled with ferns and moss, inspired me to create one for a nature-lover I know; one sadly trapped inside a concrete jungle.

I have loved building mini-greenhouses ever since grade school, when they were a big fad with my friends. Although terrariums disappeared for awhile, I am happy to report that this indoor gardening trend has returned – and with a vengeance ! Terrariums are all the rage right now. The popular craft and decorating blog Design * Sponge has been running spots on glass covered terrarium ornaments and even haunted ‘terror-ariums’ for months, and suddenly it seems that tiny greenhouses are turning up everywhere from trendy restaurants and hotel lobbies to libraries and classrooms. With the surge in terrarium popularity, you might think that keeping plants beneath glass is a new idea. But small-scale, glass covered gardens have gone in and out of fashion for centuries. The Victorians were particularly elaborate, designing exquisite table-top greenhouses and free-standing conservatories in miniature, (usually fashioned from plate glass and forged iron). These days, we are seeing everything from itty-bitty, hanging glass-globe-gardens to enormous, sculptural terrariums; masterful works of art and horticultural science.

Creating a basic terrarium is very simple, and it’s a fun project for kids and adults alike. All you need to begin is a glass jar with a lid, a bag of pea gravel, sphagnum moss, potting soil, a spray-bottle filled with water, and a selection of rocks, bark, sticks and plants. Holiday conservatories, filled with birch bark, native moss, ferns and partridge berry look particularly lovely centered on a dining table or grouped together on a mantel. Terrarium design is limited only by your own imagination! For inspiration, I love Tovah Martin’s book, The New Terrarium, pictured below…

Tovah Martin BookThe New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature

To build a simple terrarium like the one I made, (pictured at the top of this article), begin by locating a clear glass container with a lid. The smaller one pictured here is an Anchor Hocking 3 quart, glass kitchen canister. You can find these at most department and craft store, or order them through the various links below. If you are planting your first terrarium, or if you are working with school-aged children, I recommend starting with simple containers or jars. If you are making a holiday gift, or feeling more adventurous, then by all means get more creative with antique apothecary jars, glass cake domes, or specialty terrarium containers.

Now, just follow the simple steps below…

terrariums, gathered woodland materials

Step one: Purchase pea gravel or aquarium stone, sphagnum moss, (for native plants I also recommend peat moss), and good, dry potting soil, (you can get all of these things at a local home store like Home Depot). Collect decorative materials such as stones, bark, twigs, and pine cones from nature or purchase these types of items from a craft store. Select and buy small plants from a local greenhouse/florist or through online resources. Cover the table top with newspaper before you begin – this is a messy project !

terrarium stage one base

Step two: Fill the bottom of the glass container with about an inch of pea stone gravel. This is important for drainage, but you really only need a bit to cover the bottom. You can get more creative, as you gain experience…

terrariums stage 2 sphagnum sheet moss

Step Three: Add a layer of sphagnum moss, (sometimes called sheet moss), to hold in the soil and retain moisture. This is optional, but I find it helps the terrarium remain neat. You can also add horticultural charcoal to keep the jar fresh, but it isn’t necessary, (I skipped this for my holiday terrariums)…

terrarium stage 3

Step Four: Add potting soil,(and peat moss if you are planting acid-loving natives like ferns and moss). Make a mound so that the plants in the center will be visible from all sides…

terrarium stage 4

Step Five: Add bark bits here and there, and wet down the contents of the jar thoroughly with a water-filled spray mister, like the one shown above. Let the contents settle for a few minutes and then add your plants. For my native terrarium, I added club moss,(Lycopodium), partridge berry, (Mitchella), and a forest moss called Dicranella. I also scattered tiny pine cones and birch bark in the jar to make the woodsy scene more realistic. Mist your terrarium thoroughly after planting and cover with the glass lid. Check your plants over the next few days and water with your mister if they seem dry.

You are finished ! Terrariums need very little maintenance. They are the perfect project for new indoor-gardeners. All you need to do is check on them once a month or so, and add water if necessary. Once terrariums are established, they can go months without any attention at all. Humidity and condensation inside the jar will generally keep things alive and well.

Below I have pasted some jar photos to give you some container ideas. But if you have the time, let your creative mind be your guide. Once you begin, you may find yourself catching terrarium-mania. I know I have. In fact, I am headed to my local greenhouse tomorrow for some tropical inspiration. Next week I will share what I find for my larger table-top terrarium. You can go wild with all kinds of plants from African violets and orchids to exotic ferns and moss. I will be back with more terrarium plants, containers and ideas soon…

Container ideas and links…

Glass Cake Cover with Dome

This glass cake cover with a dome lid, ($39.99 from Target),  makes a beautiful terrarium…

Glass Cake Dome

This one from Anchor Hocking at Amazon has a more open lip. A Low ceiling like this means you will be limited to tiny plants, such as moss and miniature ferns…

1 gallon terrariumSmaller, 1 Gallon Sized Terrariums Make Lovely Gifts

Glass Apothocary JarApothecary jars make lovely terrariums. They are available in many sizes. You can seek them out in antique shops or buy them new.

Anchor Hocking 3 Quart Apothocary Jar w:lid

A 3-Quart clear jar will make a nice sized terrarium. The top lid makes for easy maintenance…

Find more sophisticated and advanced terrarium ideas on the Indoor Eden page at left.

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