The Dawn of Winter: December Notes from Ferncliff…

December 17th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

Winter Dawn

Winter’s Dawn at Ferncliff

The morning after a storm. Silent. Pristine. After months of drowsy, frost-covered mornings, at long last the garden has fallen to sleep. Lulled by a by a shifting blanket of snow, the flowers have all drifted away now; their pods empty; stalks broken. Summer’s song is hushed; notes frozen in chilly stillness. A long winter’s night lies ahead. Sleep tight Callicarpa. Stay warm beneath your mulch, toad lily. I’ve tucked you in with care – very tightly.  Soon the forest will howl and snap, ushering in Winter’s sharp, bitter cold…

Microbiota in snow storm

Russian cypress, (Microbiota decussata), lines the path to the north meadow…

Ilex verticillata in snow

Ilex verticillata, ‘Red sprite’ sparkles in the morning snow…

forest in snow storm

The native forest caught in a snow squall…

fountain grass and sedum in snow

Shadows play upon the snow and bleached remains of fountain grass…

chair and basket

Snow coats rusty patterns – sharp, steel slats and curved lines…

miscanthus sinensis close up in snow

Impossibly delicate, tiny snowflakes cling to tufts on ornamental grass…

miscanthus sinensis in snow storm

The hardy perennials remain standing, swaying in the snow…

entry garden, first snow

The entry garden plantings continue to add color and texture to the landscape, and in the background, eastern hemlock stands stately, newly cloaked in white…

echinacea, rudbeckia and miscanthus in winter

Garden remnants in light and shadow…

cotoneaster in snow

Cotoneaster, still holding plump, ripe fruit, cascades down the retaining wall…

Hydrangea paniculata lime light in snow

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ rests in a bed of snow…

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Article and photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. Please do not use my words or pictures without contacting me first. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardner’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced without express written permission. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Late Autumn Texture Studies, Part Two: Plants that Play with Low Light…

November 2nd, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

Morning Light at the edge of the forest

The native forest on an early November morning…

Native Beech in Morning Light, October

The light of late autumn is pure poetry – bathing the forest in bronze radiance. In the early morning fog, dark, vertical tree trunks move in and out of focus; playing off the back-light and textural forest tapestry. A walk through the woods reveals stunning seasonal change – November has arrived.

As foliage falls away, stripping bare garden bones, structure is revealed. Now, skeletal elements of the garden begin to take center stage, delighting the observant with geometric shapes, abstract forms and patterns. There is a melancholy beauty amid all the decay, enhanced by the dwindling hours of daylight. When the November wind picks up, long shadows dance across the lawn, and bleached grasses sway in the sun’s low, sparkling rays. This is a different garden now – a landscape filled with dry, empty pods, bleached stalks and grasses, bare branches, dark silhouettes and flickering light…

Artemesia 'silver mound'

Dried, lacy flower heads of Artemisia schmidtiana, ‘Silvermound’, set against a shimmering backdrop of Fothergilla gardenii foliage in the morning light…

butterfly weed pod

The cracked paper-pods of Asclepias tuberosa, (Butterfly weed), open to reveal feathery white seeds – a delicate and fleeting textural contrast…

dried ornamental mentha

Remnants of Nepeta siberica ‘Souvenir D’Andre Chaudron’, stand stark and bristly, picked clean by greedy finches…

Miscanthus purpurascens in the last days of October

Tawny Miscanthus purpurascens catches the morning light on the first day of November

Taking my cue from the natural world, I like to design gardens in layers. The bones of the garden, (trees, shrubs, stonework), support a constantly changing wardrobe of foliage throughout the seasons. As winter approaches, the underlying framework of the garden begins to appear. Now, horizontal branches and vertical trunks really stand out in the landscape. Trees and shrubs, especially those chosen for their colorful twigs, stems and exfoliating bark, hold the garden together as the ephemeral elements fade away.

The entry garden, dividing the car-park from my home, (pictured below), was designed with naturalistic, season-spanning interest in mind. Throughout the growing season, red-twig dogwood, (Cornus alba ‘Siberica’), provides a pleasant, but unobtrusive green back-drop for three seasons of perennial display. Come autumn, the foliage of this shrub slowly morphs from orange-red to rust, holding until late October. Finally, when the leaves drop, the surprising beauty of this dogwood is revealed. Now, brilliant red bark glows from behind the flame-grass and the late-season color of Fothergilla gardenii. Suddenly, what was an unremarkable background shrub has become a key player in a dramatic vignette. This luminous, red screen of dogwood emphasizes the textural beauty of ornamental grass, drying sedum and the needle-like foliage of golden amsonia…

Red twig dogwood, fothergilla, miscanthus, sedum, etc...

Clockwise from left: Miscanthus purpurascens, Cornus alba ‘Siberica’, Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’, Fothergilla gardenii, Amsonia hubrichtii, Sedum ‘Matrona’

Although some trees, (such as the Japanese maple, ‘Seiryu’, below), continue to offer stunning foliage-effects in late autumn, their more important, structural roles will be revealed in the coming months. Japanese maple in particular is highly valued for its beautiful, architectural form. In my garden, the Blue Green Dragon’s arching limbs and delicate branches gracefully play with light and shadow. For now the dark silhouette of this tree contrasts with its luminous foliage. Later, bare twigs will catch raindrops and dusty, white snow. Throughout the year, the striped bark and elegant shape of this magnificent tree adds tremendously to my garden…

Acer palmatum x dissectum 'Seiryu' backlit foliage

Acer palmatum x dissectum 'Seiryu'

Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’, is positioned to take advantage of the stained glass effect, seen when late-season sunshine backlights her orange foliage, and silhouettes her sinewy branches..

Ornamental grasses and other textural plants play a key role in the late-season garden as well, holding interest as flowers pass and foliage withers away. Planted in large groups, stands of flame, porcupine and maiden grass are stunning at this time of the year. The tufts of ornamental grass, called inflorescence, expand and puff up as they cast their seed. These ‘flowers’ make for a brilliant sunlit display, and also provide a rough surface for catching frost, snow and frozen rain drops later. Two of my favorite fall plants, wild-oats, (Chasmanthium latifolium) and blue-star, (Amsonia hubrichtii), continue to add autumnal beauty to the garden throughout November.

I will be back soon with more notes and images gathered from the late-season garden. Until then, here is a bit of what I am enjoying as the season continues to change…

Amsonia in afternoon light

Amsonia hubrichitii glows orange-gold in the low light

'Heavy Metal' in November

Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy metal’ in November…

Miscanthus sinensis

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’ with Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’, standing seed pods and dried flowers…

miscanthus sinensis against sky

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’ plays with November light…

oat grass with blue sky in meadow

Chasmanthium latifolium, Wild-Oats…

Miscanthus purpurascens tassel

Miscanthus purpurascens inflorescence

milkweed

Asclepias tuberosa, butterfly weed

miscanthus inflorescens

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ inflorescence

Miscanthus purpurascens

Misccanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’, Porcupine Grass

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Article and photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express 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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Late Autumn Texture Studies, Part One: Plants Sparkling with Sugary Frost…

October 26th, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’ – Sweet Treat of the Sugar Plum Fairy…

Jack Frost and the Sugar Plum Fairy had a party in my garden the other night.     I wasn’t invited. But my naughty guests did leave behind plenty of outrageous evidence and a few party favors. In the morning I awoke to find powdered-sugar puffs, candied flower petals, jimmie-sprinkled leaves, fruity rock candy and other champagne-sprayed remnants from their chilly midnight ball. It seems that I missed quite the soiree. Everywhere, just everywhere – glittery bits of lace and satin laid strewn about the walkways and flower beds. As I wandered through the empty garden rooms, scantily-clad branches shamelessly greeted sunrise – all flaunting sheer, sparkling robes. Why, even the walls and cars were dotted by crystal-confetti and draped with jewel-encrusted sashes.

Shocked? You shouldn’t be. This happens every year – sometimes without warning. I’m sure Mr. Frost and and his cool band of gypsies have traipsed through your neighborhood at one time or another. Jack and his lady-friend Sugar really get around, especially at this time of year. While it’s true that I once despised these uninvited hedonists, (blind, all I could see was the mess and the waste), I slowly came to my senses. Who am I to spoil the fun? So I casually began to set the stage for their late-night romp and revelry, waiting for a response. I filled my garden with soft pillows of downy foliage and feathery decorations, paying close attention to texture and detail. Jack is fond of lace and velvet, and Sugar seems to have a thing for candy colored decor. I noticed by the first autumn that they were paying attention to my newfound efforts. My late-night guests left me a beautiful thank you note in a sparkling envelope of glitter.

Jack Frost and the Sugar Plum Fairy have really grown on me. These days I find myself anticipating their arrival. Although I have never seen their chilly white fingers and toes as they dance about caressing my garden, evidence of their gratitude grows each year. Living vicariously through abandoned voile and tulle, I edge my pathways with velveteen lambs ears and lady’s mantle, taking care to carpet the garden floor with wooly thyme and delicate moss. Screens of ornamental grass seem particularly popular during these freezing midnight balls, as do the dried-flower arrangements I always leave standing as a welcome. I have noticed that Sugar is especially fond of plum colored sedum, purply coral bells and richly colored berries. Of course Jack Frost charms all the ladies in my garden, both the smooth and the more rough-around the edges. But he seems to spend most of his time with the the fashionistas – The Bells of Ireland, Liatris, Black-eyed Susan, and of course Queen Anne and her lace.

Yes it’s true – I am still just the party planner. No one has requested my RSVP. Jack and Sugar seem more than content with our anonymous arrangements. But how can I complain? For now I drift to sleep on frigid autumn nights, snug with sweet dreams of their wild comings and goings –  fantasizing about what I will find with the sunrise…

Below you may find some inspiration for your own late-night party decor – and there’s plenty more to come…

Alchemilla mollis, (Lady’s mantle), is always a hit with Jack and Sugar

Heuchera micrantha var. diversifolia ‘Palace Purple’  looks a bit like a sugar plum herself

Rudbeckia hirta obviously did some dancing at the late night hoar frost this October

Alchemilla mollis – Lady’s mantle leaf-edge, here enhanced with cold crystals

Heuchera ‘Green Spice’, kissed by the Sugar Plum Fairy

Ajuga reptans ‘Brocade’ with a smattering of sugar jimmies

Acer griseum – Paperbark maple leaf with delicate ice crystals

Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’, (Japanese dwarf garden juniper), lured Jack in with her texture

A warm honey Beech leaf glistens in early light on the morning after the first hard freeze

In the soft morning light, Lupine seedlings shine like misplaced rhinestone pins

Rudbeckia hirta after a late-night rendezvous with Mr. Frost

Allegheny spurge leaves, (Pachysandra procumbens), glisten like salted caramels after the party

Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’  – Sage with an icy crust

Thymus pseudolanuginosus –  a carpet of wooly thyme, sugared with sweetness

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Article & 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 and Everything After……. Designing Beautiful Late Season Gardens with Ornamental Grass…

September 3rd, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

Autumn is a Second Spring, When Every Leaf is a Flower” – Camus

A Grouping of Miscanthus sinensis, ‘Morning Light’, ‘Variegatus’, and Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’ in Mid-October at Ferncliff

Pennisetum alopecuroides, (fountain grass), with sedum and juniper in the entry garden at Ferncliff  in early September, just before the inflorescence appear.

Much as I would like summer to drag her feet a bit when departing this year, I find myself looking forward to the brilliant beauty of fall. Living in New England has its benefits, and the months of September, October and November are three of them. Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year, and in no place is my seasonal preference more evident than the garden. As the writer Camus once said, “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”. Indeed. I truly savor this second spring, for although I do love the early buds and bulbs of April, pastel hues don’t really excite me. Dark red is my favorite color, and bitter orange, rust, deep violet and burgundy aren’t far behind. The cerulean skies and stained-glass forest canopies of autumn bring a touch of heaven straight to my little paradise on earth. In September and October I feel as if I am living in a paint box, surrounded by a palette of colors so brilliant that simply going for a walk is all the inspiration any artist could hope for.

I cherish the fall gardening season. Some of my most treasured trees, shrubs and perennials reach their peak beauty in autumn. Of the many late-season plants in my garden, the ornamental grasses are high on my list of favorites. Grasses are useful though out the gardening season, of course. Beginning in mid-summer and continuing throughout winter, ornamental grasses provide dramatic foliage, texture and form to my gardens. But come autumn, the shifting hues of foliage and beautifully textured spikes, racemes and panicles of ornamental grass create the potential for a spectacular garden show that can not be beat. By early September, when many perennials and annuals have petered out in the garden, my ornamental grasses are just warming up for their crescendo. As the days shorten and nights cool, chemical changes are triggered in many deciduous trees, shrubs and other plants in the northern areas of the United States. Ornamental grasses also respond to these changes, and many begin to take on subtle tints and vivid hues as dramatic as the trees.

Miscanthus purpurascens, (close up), early fall color, (click to enlarge)

When I design a garden, I try to keep this spectacular late-show in mind. September blooming pepper bush, (Clethera alnifolia, a native shrub I featured here last month), sculptural spice bush, (Lindera benzoin), and and the lovely native paper birch, (Betula papyrifera), all turn brilliant yellow in autumn. I like to combine fall’s seasonal gold foliage with the purple-burgundy-red kaleidoscope-like hues of flame grass, (Miscanthus purpurascens), the brilliant orange of Japanese forest grass, (Hakonechloa macra, cvs. ‘Nicolas’, or burgundy tipped, ‘Beni Kaze’), for example. Witch alder, (Fothergilla gardenii), and many viburnum species, including the arrow wood, (V. dentatum), the American cranberrybush, (V. trilobum), and the European cranberrybush, (V. opulus), turn brilliant shades of red and orange in autumn. This makes them great companions for a wide variety of grasses including switch grass, (Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy metal’, (a blue grass in summer, turning gold in fall), wild oats, (Chasmanthium latifolium), green in summer and red-bronze in fall), and again, flame grass, (Miscanthus pupurascens). Late blooming perennials, such as asters, rudbeckia, mums, sedum and monkshood  all make great companion plants for ornamental grasses.

Hakonechloa NicolasThe summer color of Hakonechloa macra ‘Nicolas’,above, intensifies further in autumn

Unless you are a more experienced gardener, companion planting for autumn interest can be a bit difficult. How can you predict color-shifts and texture changes? Nursery tags are often stingy with clues. A good encyclopedia is useful for learning about ornamental grasses and their seasonal changes. And if you know the name of a cultivar, you can easily research information on a web-site such as Dave’s Garden. But for the true ornamental grass aficionado, Rick Darke’s The Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses (see library) is a great asset. This book will help you to identify more unusual cultivars of sedge, rush, restios, cat-tails and bamboo as well as the gorgeous grasses native to North America and beyond.

Miscanthus purpurascens, (Flame grass) in late September

When I want to add texture and movement in a garden design, no matter the season, I often look to ornamental grass. The larger garden grasses, such as miscanthus, panicum, and calmagrostis, bring important vertical interest and essential structure to perennial gardens. From the fine, delicate foliage and sensual lines of maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ to the bold geometric presence of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’, can make a dramatic, sculptural statement in a garden. Grasses can be used to soften modern buildings and camouflage unattractive architecture. A natural choice beside lakes, ponds, streams and pools, grasses also bring a relaxed line to hard-edged water features. Many species of grass are drought tolerant, and a number will survive roadside conditions in even the most inhospitable environments. Alone or as a group, settled into a garden or spilling over a pot, placed at a juncture or to mark a final destination, ornamental grass can provide great focal points in many garden design situations. Ornamental grasses planted en mass can blur the edges of a garden, helping to ease the transition between formal and informal areas. Because of the dramatic stature reached by many large ornamental grasses, they are also very useful as living screens, helping to conceal unsightly necessities such as fuel tanks and air conditioning units. It is easy to understand the growing popularity of this diverse group of plants.

North American native, Bouteloua curtipendula (side-oats grasss), backed by taller Pennisetum alopecuroides in the entry garden at Ferncliff, early September

striped grass and juniperMiscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’, here used as a specimen and below, a different cultivar used in a large grouping at the eastern-edge of the garden.


karl f. backed up by viburnumCalamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, backed by Viburnum trilobum

Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’ grouped at the edge of the northwest meadow in August…

And again, in late September…

miscanthus morning light back lit from the eastThis two year old grass specimen, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning light’, catches the early sun as it rises to the east at the edge of the wildflower walk in early September

Although ornamental grasses have become quite common in sunny perennial gardens, they are still surprisingly overlooked in shade garden designs. This surprises me because grass exists naturally in all but the darkest of shady woodlands, and they can add tremendously to the subtle beauty of low-light gardens. In the shade, I often add fine textured ornamental grass to contrast with larger, broad leafed foliage, such as the leathery, smooth surfaced leaves of hosta. I also like to include bright colored grasses to shade gardens in order to illuminate dark corners and shadowy areas beneath trees. Japanese woodland grass, (Hakonechloa macra), is one of my favorite plants. The golden cultivars, ‘Aureola’ and ‘All-Gold’ are very useful in low light areas, and in contrast to violent-tinted foliage. Newer cultivars, such as ‘Nicolas’ and ‘Ben Kaze’,(mentioned above), are rich in bitter orange and burgundy hues. These are truly spectacular plants with enormous design potential. Sedges are also useful in partial shade. I count orange-hook sedge, (Ucinia egmontiana), among my favorite low-light grasses, although it is marginally hardy in New England, (I usually place it in pots for summer and move them inside for winter).  Sedges will also tolerate more sunlight, provided they are given ample moisture, and I like to use them in brighter locations as well, (see pots on deck below).

A close-up of Hakonecholoa macra ‘All Gold’ in the shady Secret Garden at Ferncliff

hakonechloa in morning lightHakonecholoa macra ‘All-Gold’, (Japanese forest grass), catching the morning light in the Secret Garden at Ferncliff

hakonechloa macra 'aureola' with cimicifuga r. 'hillside black beauty'The golden color of this Japanese forest grass brings out the violet hues in the companion plantings of Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside black beauty’ and the young foliage of euphorbia on the left

Many ornamental grasses also make great potted plants. I particularly like sedge and stipa in massive groupings on decks and terraces, where they catch the slightest breeze. A sedge commonly known as fiber-optic plant, (Isolepis cernua), looks very dramatic in a pot. I like to allow this mop-like grass to spill over the edge of a planter, emphasizing its pendent form. Whenever I set a fiber-optic plant out on a pedestal, it becomes the focus of attention and conversation, like living sculpture. Personally, I have grown a bit tired of cleverly designed, over-planted pots. I prefer simplicity. Over the past few years, I have been limiting my planter-compositions to a few species of plants, and ornamental grasses are often featured in my current designs.

Stipa tenuissima, (Mexican Feather Grass)

Orange Hook Sedge, (Uncinia egmontiana)

Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ and Stipa tenuissima Catching the Breeze and Afternoon Light

Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ up close

Like many cold-climate gardeners, I try to enjoy my garden for as long as possible. And I consider ornamental grass and important part of the winter garden as well. Although some people prefer their gardens to be tidy, cut, and thoroughly mulched come winter, I like to leave my hardier grasses standing until spring thaw. Frost, ice and light snow emphasize the delicate patterns of ornamental grass, and for this reason I consider them a four season plant. I continue to enjoy the tassels and the rust, buff and wheat hues of bleached out grass well into winter. By December, when little color remains in the garden, ornamental grass continues to add subtle, creamy tones. I particularly like the way wheat colored pennisetum draws attention to the red berries remaining on my winterberry, (Ilex verticillata ‘Red sprite’. Because texture and color are so important in the winter garden, I prefer to cut many ornamental grasses back in spring. Why not enjoy all the beauty nature has to offer us, autumn and beyond?

Grasses remain beautiful well into winter. Above, pictured in the entry garden at Ferncliff, fountain grass and side oats look particularly magical in December when coated with ice or snow. Below, the tassels of Miscanthus sinensis, frozen with ice, catch the January light…

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Woo in the native meadow garden with rudbeckia and Deschampsia flexuosa, (hair grass)

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Article and all other photographs ⓒ 2009 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. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!


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