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

September 14th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

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

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

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

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

Viburnum plicatum tomentosum ‘Shasta’

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

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

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

Red Fox – Meadow’s Edge at Ferncliff

Wild Turkey – Forest Boundary at Ferncliff

Sparrows Splashing on a Terrace at Ferncliff

A Passing Shower Provides Temporary, Late Summer Bathing for Birds

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Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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I’ve Got Sunshine… On a Cloudy Day: Humulus Lupulus ‘Aureus’, Beautiful Golden Hops Vine

August 24th, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

Luminous Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’, the Chartreuse Beauty of Golden Hops Vines

Gloomy morning. Shifting, filtered light — melancholy as an old bow, dragging across a cello— traces murky shadows in the morning fog. The garden’s saturated colors —maroon, deep green, burgundy and rust— hint at summer’s end. There is a touch of sadness within the garden walls. A beautiful wistfulness hangs heavy in the air; clinging like raindrops to the dark, moss-covered rock. The somber mood lifts when, through the grey sky and lingering mist, a golden, chartreuse glow appears; like the light of paper lanterns filled with a million fireflies…

Tiny buds capture raindrops and glow like paper lanterns in the morning fog…

Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’, commonly known as the golden hops vine, has become one of my favorite perennial climbers. I like to use it in unexpected places —modern fences and dark, masculine structures– adding a luminous touch of feminine lace. Hardy in USDA zones 4-8, this twining, citron-beauty prefers full sun (for best color), and even soil moisture. Rapidly clamoring up walls, fences and pergolas, the golden hops vine can reach a height of 15-20′ in a single season. Brilliant in combination with dark colors —black, maroon, burgundy and dark blue are particularly lovely— Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’ brightens gloomy spaces and sings against tobacco-stained wood. Although the vine dies back each year, the papery buds persist throughout winter; adding delicate, textural interest to structures when traced with snow or ice. In spring, golden, new shoots appear from the base of the plant, rapidly covering nearby surfaces as it races to its mature height before blooming. For a neat appearance, old growth can be cut to the ground as soon as new shoots appear (usually by April here in New England). In more casual spaces, I leave some of the old vines (tidied up a bit) to serve as a guiding ladder for new shoots…

Tendrils of Golden Hops Glow Against the Blackened Siding

Although the golden hops vine is a vigorous climber, it’s no garden-thug. Easily trained, each year I encourage the vine’s shoots along each cable-rail of my balcony, where it softens the hard structure and contrasts beautifully with the rusting steel, oxblood planters and charcoal-colored siding of the studio. Wayward tendrils, weighted with little lanterns by midsummer, droop from the balcony, dangling into the Secret Garden below. As temperatures cool with autumn’s approach, the chartreuse leaves will slowly burnish to rusty-speckled yellow and orange; eventually deepening to a warm, golden brown…

Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’, off at a rapid pace, twining across the balcony in mid May

Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’ in late autumn rain

Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’, Dressed in a Cloak of Ice

***

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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Long-Distance Garden Design: Creating Structure & Year-Round Color for an Elegant Residence on Long Island…

July 17th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

A summertime border of mixed colors and textures: Deciduous and evergreen shrubs anchor a perennial garden planned for season-spanning interest…

In winter: Red rose hips and glowing dogwood twigs will add brilliant color to the entry garden, punctuated by verdant conifers and broadleaf evergreen shrubs…

Rosanna, my new friend and client, lives on Long Island and works in New York City. I live and work in Vermont. We met by chance this spring at Walker Farm after one of my seminars, when I stayed on for the afternoon at the garden center, answering questions about trees, shrubs and perennials. Rosanna and her gardener were shopping for —and spontaneously designing— a new garden for the front of her weekend place in the nearby Mount Snow region. I helped Rosanna choose trans-seasonal plantings for the Vermont garden, and shortly after, she began to follow this blog. Meanwhile, back in New York, Rosanna was faced with an unexpected problem: re-working the garden in front of her house without help. After seeing Dan and Laura’s garden design posted here this spring, an unusual idea came to her mind. Given the overlay design-drawing and photographs presented in that post, Rosanna thought perhaps I could design a garden for her —long-distance— and she contacted me about the idea…

Have you ever played Battleship? You remember, the game where you and your partner have identical grids —which you conceal from each other— calling out blind coordinates, striking at unseen targets? Well, that’s kind of what designing a garden long-distance is like, except we are working with living plants. It’s challenging, a little scary, strangely thrilling and great deal of fun, all at the same time.

This probably wouldn’t work in every situation —and certainly not with every client— but after talking with Rosanna about the project, and getting to know her a bit by phone, I had a hunch that she was going to be a really good general contractor. Rosanna is a self-described “type A personality”; highly organized, super efficient, and extremely attentive to detail. When I gave her an initial task list —including soil testing, sunlight charting, dimension recording and multiple-angle photographs— she came to our next phone conference not only with her homework completely done, but also emailed to me in advance. Impressive. I decided to take on the project with Rosanna, even though I knew we could —and likely would— encounter a variety of un-forseeable challenges…

The (almost) clean slate. Photograph by Rosanna.

With Rosanna’s site information and photographs in hand, I began to work on a new design for the front garden. Meanwhile, my enthusiastic game partner sought out a new gardener —to help her remove the existing plants, rebuild the soil and install the new design— and a local nurseryman willing to work with us to fulfill the plant list and/or help with available substitutes if needed. After Rosanna approved the design pictured at the top of this post, Santos, her new gardener, prepared the site (see photo above) and I presented a plant list for her local nursery. As always, the most important part of any garden is establishing an architectural framework. With this in mind, I began with three key woody plants.

Prior to Santos’ fantastic clean-up and refurbishment of the front bed, the garden contained an overgrown holly (situated beside the Picea glauca), a few small Chamaecyparis and a hodgepodge of perennials. Rosanna wanted structure and season-spanning color for her front garden. The existing holly threw the garden off-balance, with too much visual weight at the far end of the house. Green, green, green = boring. It had to go. In a garden this small, it’s important to choose woody plants with as much year-round pizazz as possible. I looked at several variegated shrubs to fill the holly-void, and settled on Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’; selected for it’s softly mounded form, creamy blossoms, subtle green and white variegated leaves, and brilliant red stems to provide winter color. This gorgeous shrub will stand in striking contrast to the evergreen Alberta spruce  (Picea glauca) and the backdrop of white siding throughout the year.

After introducing some subtle leaf pattern to the border, I decided to play with shadow against the black and white exterior of the home. With Rosanna’s Italian heritage, (and of course her name!) I couldn’t resist South Central-European native Rosa glauca. This ‘red-leaf rose’, as it is commonly known, has always been one of my favorites. Of course, the dark, blue-green foliage and delicate pink and white blossoms are a stunning combination – but the arching form is also useful, and in winter, spectacular deep red rose hips provide dramatic color until they are gobbled up by hungry birds. This shrub will work with several dark leafed perennials in the front of the design, and it also echos a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) nearby on the property.

Beneath the bay window, I needed a low-growing, horizontally spreading woody plant with season-spanning interest to soften the architecture and provide structure for perennials to the front and either side. Rosanna loves hydrangea, and has several on her property. Because of this, I knew she would like Viburnum plicatum ‘Newport’ (sometimes listed as V.p. ‘Newzan’). With creamy white blossoms early in the season and red autumn foliage, this compact cultivar often comes to mind when I am designing a small garden. The design also includes a pair of boxwood globes flanking the Rosa glauca.

As I expected, we ran into a few snags, starting with our plant list. By July, most nurseries are a bit picked over, and some of the key plants were unavailable. Although the local garden center was able to provide a fine Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’, the owner was unable to locate Rosa glauca and Viburnum plicatum ‘Newport’. Not one to be deterred, Rosanna found a small but healthy red-leaf rose online, and I located a Newport viburnum in nearby Massachusetts, which she will pick up from me in early autumn. Most of the perennials —or acceptable substitutes— were found by Rosanna and her nurseryman, and the others will be added later this season or next spring. So far, so good. Next up, details on the plant installation (last weekend), the irrigation system and the mulch. Did we succeed in our mission or did we sink the battleship? We break now for Rosanna’s scheduled vacation to Italy. Stay tuned, this story will be continued in an upcoming post later in the season…

Milton Bradley’s Battleship. I will never look at this game quite the same!

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Image credits: Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’: Krysztof Siarnek Kenraiz via Wikimedia Commons, Rosa glauca: Franz Xaver via Wikimedia Commons, and Viburnum plicatum ‘Newport’: Sooner Plant Farm

Article and Garden Design Drawings © 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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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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Penstemon, Rudbeckia and Veronica: An Easy, Breezy, Flowering Combination for Mid-Summer Meadow Gardens…

June 29th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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…

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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Plow & Hearth

***

Front Yard Gardens: A Peek at the Design Process…

May 26th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Front Yard Garden Design Proposal – Early Autumn View – Drawing © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Just look at this sweet little house! It’s easy to see why my clients Laura and Dan fell in love with this place, isn’t it? I was instantly charmed by this classic New England home. From the slate-covered hip roof and romantic front porch to the spacious back yard surrounded by elegant old trees – including a knock-out old Acer palmatum alongside the drive- it’s the perfect small town residence…

The Front Yard Garden Before Removal of Hemlock and Yew

But although the house itself has both a beautiful interior and exterior, the lack-luster, green-on-green entry garden -pictured in the ‘before’ shot above- didn’t do the place justice, and the new owners knew that it just had to go. Laura and Dan are both enthusiastic do-it-yourselfers, however they lead busy, professional weekday lives, and want to keep weekend gardening chores to a minimum. When they called me to consult on their first landscaping project, Laura and Dan were more than eager to pull the ho-hum hemlock and yawn-inducing yew populating their front yard. From our earliest email communications, it was immediately clear that Laura and Dan both wanted to add color and life to the front entry of their pretty home.

Located on a busy downtown street, the front yard of this home is surrounded by a concrete sidewalk, two driveways, and a heat-generating asphalt road- but the side and backyard gardens are sheltered by the shade of mature, graceful trees. Owners Laura and Dan have modern, minimal taste, and their desire for a low-maintenance landscape made them ideal candidates for a combination of native plants and easy-care ornamental grasses with season-spanning interest. I instantly connected with Laura and Dan, and their clean aesthetic sensibilities, and I was excited when they pulled out a copy of one of my favorite gardening books,(see below for links), Nancy Ondra’s Grasses, (read my review of this book and The Meadow Garden, here in this week’s Garden Variety blog at Barnes & Noble online ), during our first meeting.

Nancy Ondra’s Grasses is available online at B&N or Amazon

Two compact, deciduous shrubs, (Viburnum trilobum and plicatum ‘Newport‘), will soften the edge of the building, providing changing interest with foliage, pollinator-friendly flowers and bird-attracting fruit, while maintaining trans-seasonal garden structure with their attractive, contrasting forms. A gorgeous golden hops vine, (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’), will add a luminous, romantic touch to the seductive shade of the front porch. Other key plants filling out the front yard garden plan -designed with an emphasis on form, color and movement- include mass plantings of flame grass, (Miscanthus purpurascens), blue fescue, (Festuca glauca), low maintenance daylilies, (Hemerocallis ‘Entrapment’), and ground-covering stonecrop, (Sedum). This fall, I recommended that the owners add daffodil bulbs to the front beds, to provide early season color and fragrance to their garden. At the opposite, protected corner of the house beside the front steps, a pink flowering dogwood, (Cornus florida rubra), will provide balance to the asymmetric design, with a flattering horizontal shape to soften the edge of the house and break up the vertical line. Dogwood is a great small-scale landscape tree, perfect for framing a home, and this particular selection, with its pink flowers and red autumn foliage and fruits, will really light up against the charcoal-brown siding.

One of the key new plants in this desgin: Miscanthus purpurascens, aka ‘Flame Grass’

And for contrast: Blue Festuca Grass from Spring Hill Nursery Online

Also in the works, a shady side yard garden to compliment the gorgeous, mature Japanese maple on the property. I will be back soon with more details on this fun, upcoming project, including a report from the owners on the do-it-yourself installation process. For more information on ornamental grasses and their use in the landscape, travel back in blog-time and see my earlier post on the subject here. See you with more on this easy-care garden design project soon…

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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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Season-Spanning Garden Design: Springtime Shrubs to Enjoy Now and Love Again Later – Three Favorites…

May 11th, 2010 § 5 comments § permalink

Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’ in May – Native American Witch Alder

Is there anything more delightful than the sweet scent of blossoms on a sparkling spring morning? Nature never ceases to amaze me. I often marvel at the seasonal cycle here in my cold climate. In spite of my garden’s success, I still find it hard to believe that some of the more delicate-looking plants can survive winter’s wrath on this exposed hilltop. And yet every year, after months of frigid temperatures, brutal, blasting winds, and crushing snow topped with cracking ice, winter recedes and the blossoms return again. To me this is nothing short of a miracle.

The growing season in the Northeast is quite short. And the familiar, tongue-in-cheek saying, “New England has nine months of winter and three months of darn poor sledding”, never fails to bring a short, nervous burst of laughter amongst the locals. The temperatures here in Vermont have changed dramatically over the past few days, and over the weekend, I awoke to find a dusting of snow on my hilltop. Late spring snow always seems to stand out more in my memory than tardy autumn frost. Needless to say, in my work as a garden designer, and here in my own garden, extending seasonal enjoyment of the landscape is a big priority. And there are benefits to this multi-season approach no matter where you live…

One of my favorite early-spring blooming shrubs is very high on my list of ‘bests’ for autumn foliage. The native witch alder in my garden, (Fothergilla major and the compact Fothergilla gardenii), is currently smothered in beautiful white flowers and buzzing with honey bees. My tiny, winged garden guests are attracted to Fothergilla’s sweetly scented bottle brush blossoms and the ample pollen they provide in the early season. I absolutely adore this good garden ‘witch’, and long-time readers may recall my obsession with her late season color from my post on the subject last fall. If not, travel back and read more about this wonderful, woody plant by clicking here

Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’ , (in closeup at top of post), is a lovely treat for bees in May…

And she also glows again with various perennials in early November, luminous in the grey light…

When it comes to my love-affair with the next shrub on my list, Viburnum carlesii, I am almost at a loss for words. As I pause to think back on our romantic history, I believe that my passion for the genus can be traced back to a Korean spice shrub planted beside the farmhouse next door to my childhood home. The slightly spicy, delicately sweet flowers of this lovely shrub were both familiar and exotic to my curious little nose. Every spring, I would invent excuses to ride my wobbly bike down the road, just to catch a whiff of those delightful blossoms on the breeze. Over time, I became acquainted with other members of this large and varied genus, and I have to admit that even now, no other woody plant -even the beloved Acer palmatum– can compete with my affection for viburnum.

Why such devotion? Well to begin with, although these shrubs aren’t always fragrant, some of the earliest blooming, and most beautifully scented flowers are produced by species of viburnum. The intensely fragrant Viburnum bodnantese ‘Dawn’ blooms at roughly the same time as the witch hazel in my zone 4/5 garden, filling the air with the most wonderful, almost edible, scent. Closely following V. bodnantense in flower is V. carlesii, (hardy in zone 4-8), better known as Korean spice shrub or Mayflower viburnum. This intoxicatingly fragrant shrub is the coveted Viburnum of my childhood memory, and her gorgeous great-grand daughter now occupies a prominent spot near my front door. Come autumn, her leaves will turn brilliant orange-red, (see photo below), and her shiny black fruits gleam amongst the glowing foliage like polished obsidian jewels….

Viburnum carlesii – Beautifully fragrant pink blossoms delight in the spring garden…

While ebony fruits and bright color make Korean spice a favorite come fall…

And the last spring-bloomer on today’s season-spanning shrub list -oh yes, you know there will be more coming- has to be Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’. As a whole, Daphnes have a well-earned reputation for being somewhat temperamental garden plants. However, given the right siting -excellent drainage and protection from crushing snow and burning winter wind, is key- this season-spanning beauty will perform well in zones 4-7. There are other, equally lovely Daphne species and cultivars, however ‘Carol Mackie’ remains at the top of my list of favorites due to her glorious variegated foliage, which turns a honey-gold color in autumn; beautiful against the cool, dark stone landing at the entry to my Secret Garden. And the fragrant flowers in spring? Well, that is really the hook. I have a botanically-obsessed friend who cradles the blossoms in her hands every May, as if they were the rarest commodity on earth – and with good reason! The perfume is sensational; slightly musky with hints of clove and subtly sweet fruit. If only it could be bottled…

Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’ – Lovely, fragrant pink blossoms and golden edged green leaves, this shrub turns a lovely golden hue in autumn..

As shown here, (with Acer palmatum), in autumn

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Article and photographs copyright, Michaela at TGE. 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 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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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

All content on this site is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without written consent. Please do not use anything on this site without permission

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Autumn Brilliance: Plants for Spectacular Fall Color, Part One …

October 5th, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

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

What an impossibly beautiful morning. The sky is a scraped palette of blue-grey-violet, and the world all around me is a swirling kaleidoscope of orange and chartreuse, scarlet and vermillion, saffron and violet. I began my day with an early walk through the garden – savoring the ephemeral beauty of windflower and monkshood, and the delicate tufts of fountain grass.

My favorite woody plants, autumn’s radiant viburnum, shine against the moody sky as if lit from within. Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey compact’ and V. nudum ‘Winterthur’ are particularly beautiful in early October. In fact, Bailey reminds me a bit of those rainbow colored confections found in old-fashioned candy stores. Do you know the ones I mean… the long, translucent cone with the stick? I can’t recall their name. The spice bush, (Lindera benzoin), has turned lemon-drop yellow, and her neighbor, the Bodnant viburnum, (V. bodnantense ‘Dawn’), is slowly shifting from maraschino to dark-cherry-fizz. But at the moment, the real stand-out in the garden is the flame-grass, (Miscanthus purpurascens). This glorious plant is a giant swirl of orange, yellow and grape hued ribbon, ready to be wound into a psychedelic lolly-pop. Delicious. Perhaps Willy Wonka collected plants in the fields beyond his factory?

And speaking of candy-shops – it seems my garden has turned into a feathered-foodie mecca. Every bird in the forest, from cedar wax-wings and cardinals to finches of every hue, has turned up to feast upon seeds and berries. The tea and nannyberry viburnum, (V. setigerum and V. lentago), are a beautiful sight with their brilliantly colored berries and stems, and the American cranberrybush viburnum, (V. trilobum ‘J.N. Select’ and ‘Baily compact’), is loaded with shimmering red fruit – all bright as gum-drops.

Oh dear. All of this talk about candy is making me hungry. But before I slip away to rustle up some breakfast, I will leave you with some ideas for autumn planting. This month I will be focusing on ornamental trees and shrubs, grasses and perennials for brilliant fall color. Take a peek at some of the colorful plants and combinations here. The key to successful late-season garden design is anticipating the color-shifts of autumn and winter. So let’s have a little fun with garden alchemy, shall we? I’ll meet you back here in just  a bit…

flame grass at edge of north garden : meadow edge 2Miscanthus purpurascens (Flame grass), and Viburnum trilobum, edge the meadow

amsonia, close upAmsonia illustris (Ozark Blue Star), glows against blue-green, ground-hugging juniper

viburnum setigerum, tea viburnumViburnum setigerum, (Tea viburnum), fruit in September

Anemone ‘Serenade’ (Japanese Wind Flower), harmonizes with golden hosta

Berry and stem coloration of North American native Viburnum lentago, (Nannyberry viburnum)

witch hazel 2Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ (Witch Hazel), color variation

witch hazelHamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ (Witch hazel ), color variation

Lespedeza thunbergii bicolor bush cloverLespedeza thunbergii bicolor, (bush clover), provides late-season bloom

autumn color lindera bLindera benzoin (Spice bush), turns lemon yellow in early October

Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn' autumn color, companion Lindera benzoinViburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’, shines cherry red against Lindera’s gold

Rosa rugosa hipRosa rugosa’s (Rugosa rose) fruit is a knock-out in September

Viburnum plicatum var tomentosum 'Shasta' begins to colorViburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’ (Doublefile viburnum)

Lindera b. fall color close upNorth American native Lindera benzoin, (Spice bush)

Viburnum trilobum J.N. Select RedwingViburnum trilobum ‘J.N. Select’ Redwing – American Cranberry Viburnum fruits

Viburnum trilobum JN Select 'Redwing' and Miscanthus purpurascensViburnum trilobum ‘J.N. Select’ Redwing, (American Cranberrybush viburnum), with Miscanthus purpurascens, a radiant combination on a misty morning

amsonia hubrichtiiAmsonia hubrichtii (Thread-leaf Blue Star), a glowing North American native plant

Cornus kousa fruitsCornus kousa, (Korean dogwood), fruit in September, slowly turns from green to scarlet

Humulus lupulus, "aureus'Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’ (Golden hops), is bright all season long

Viburnum nudum 'Winterthur'Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur’ turns a knock-out red with bright blue fruit

Dryopteris erythrosora autumn fern  'Brilliance'Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’, (Autumn fern), is one of the stars of late-season shade

entry walk, viburnum, miscanthus, lindera b, viburnum b, autumn perennialsEntry garden: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’, Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact, groundcover ajuga reptans,’Brocade’Background: Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, Fothergilla gardenii, (still green), Lindera benzoin,(gold), Cornus kousa. Background perennials: Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Rudbeckia hirta.

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For more on ornamental grass, see ‘Autumn and Everything After‘…

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

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

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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

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August: Seeking the Thrill of High Summer…

August 3rd, 2009 § Comments Off on August: Seeking the Thrill of High Summer… § permalink

honey bee / rudbeckia / late summer

~ A bee visits Rudbeckia hirta “Becky mixed” in the perennial garden ~

Is it just me or does it feels like summer is passing too quickly this year? Here we are at the full Sturgeon Moon, (rising tonight, August 5th,at 8:56 pm EST), and it seems like the warm weather is just getting started in New England. Many song birds begin to flock in August, and some of them even start their migrations south. I associate the Sturgeon Moon with the departure of my beloved wood thrush, and the final weeks of other ephemeral pleasures here in Vermont. Perhaps because we endured such a rainy June, (the rainiest on record in New England), I feel an urgency to soak up as much of this short season as possible, before it fades away.

Ordinarily I slow down a bit in August. Usually, I cut back on work hours during the dog-days, and allow myself long, lazy afternoons in the garden room; lounging about with tart, ice-cold lemonade, books and languid pleasures. Over the years, I developed a habit of slipping into my kayak at day’s end. I came to love spending long summer evenings on the water; paddling to catch the last rays of sunlight and aimlessly floating in the lavender mist. But this year it seems I can hardly catch my breath. There is so much to squeeze in and so little time. Competing demands and rain-delayed projects all seem to be clamoring for my attention at once. I feel like I am still coming into early July, and yet nature is telling me we are in high summer. The garden here at Ferncliff hit its mid-season crescendo this week. Liatris and Black-eyed Susan; Daylilies and Ox Eye; Russian Sage and Veronica; Bee balm and Phlox; the garden is exploding with primary colors, begging me to stop for a moment and to share it with you. And how can I resist? There is an opportunity here…

c. <a href=

~ Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’, (photo copyright 2009, Tim Geiss) ~

c. 2009 Tim Geiss Hemerocallis

~ Hemerocallis ‘Apple tart’ (daylily), (photo copyright 2009, Tim Geiss)~

By late summer, many gardeners begin to ask me how to breathe life into their tired perennial borders. What can I add to jazz up my lilies? Everything has passed by already, how do I add more color to my backyard? I start to hear these familiar questions in late July and early August; when flower beds have become neglected and weedy, wilted and lack-luster. Garden projects that began in May with a great deal of enthusiasm often fall to the wayside by July. Weekends fill up with family picnics, weddings, back to school shopping, days at the beach and vacations. It’s hot outside. No one really wants to think about digging in the garden, and it really isn’t the time for planting anyway.

No. Enjoy the summer while you can. But let me stir your imagination while you make some notes for the future. By the time the weather cools and your weekends loosen-up, garden centers will be advertising fire-sales, and many perennials will be available for a fraction of the cost. Look at your fading garden with a critical eye, and make a list. What you add to your garden in early September will reward you richly next summer.

Rudbeckia fulgida sullivantii,'Goldsturm' (Black-eyed Susan)

~ Rudbeckia fulgida x sullivantii, ‘Goldsturm’ (Black-eyed Susan) ~

rudbeckia 'becky mixed'

~ Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky mixed’, in full bloom on the wildflower walk ~

rudbeckia hirta late summer, (with lysimachia clethroides)

~ Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky mixed’ at the edge of the walkway with lysimachia clethroides~

Start by considering all the possibilities. Let’s begin with some late summer classics. By boldly pairing lavender Liatris, (gay feather), with orange-yellow daylilies, a gardener can reap the benefits of contrasting texture and opposing color. One year I received a generous White Flower Farm gift certificate, which I used to purchase several daylily collections, including their beautiful and reliable Woodside mix. The bold oranges, reds and bright yellows look stunning in combination with Veronica ‘Goodness grows’ or native obedient plant, (Physostegia). My gardens are also home to some spectacular named daylily cultivars from Olallie Daylily Gardens. Lavender-rose colored obedient plant, (Phystostegia ‘Bouquet Rose’), combines well with every lily hue, hot to cool. Similarly, North American native bee balm, (Monarda), strikes a harmonious chord when settled into the garden near Russian sage, (Perovskia atriplicifolia), where they are both frequented by butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Blues are much less common at this time of the year, but lady bells, (Adenophora confusa), and another bee and butterfly favorite, hyssop, (Agastache), also provide some violet-tinted blue to the garden. And then there is the beloved classic garden phlox. Without a doubt, fragrant phlox is a memorable scent to be enjoyed at its peak on still mornings and humid summer evenings. Variously colored and charmingly old-fashioned, garden phlox should be positioned where it receives ample moisture and airflow to avoid powdery mildew, making it an ideal partner for moisture-loving joe-pye weed, (Eupatorium). Some garden phlox boasts creamy white and green variegated foliage, beautiful when contrasted with Eupatorium rugosum, ‘brunette’. And no summer perennial garden seems quite complete without old-time favorite, black-eyed Susan, (Rudbeckia fulgida x sullivantii); a fail-safe performer in my garden every summer. With so many varieties to choose from, there is a rudbeckia to suit every garden. A stand out in borders, free-seeding Rudbeckia hirta, ‘Becky mixed’, adds a bit of whimsy along the wildflower walk here at my home. Every spring I have to smile as seedlings appear at random, planted here and there by the wind; emerging from the most unlikely locations, even straight from the gravel path. Rudbeckia and her cousin Echinacea, (commonly known as coneflower ), are important, natural food sources for honey bees. I am quite certain if they could ask us, the honey bees would request gardens overflowing with native plants. Personally, I am happy to oblige. Echinacea purpurea is a lovely garden plant. When viewed up-close in a vase, the flower is every bit as dramatic as a Georgia O’Keeffe abstraction. With a costume of orange, spiked cone center piece and bold fuchsia rays pointing out in all directions, it’s hard not to stare at this drama queen. And for cooler spots in the garden, Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ or ‘Fragrant Angel’ are perfect for lending a touch of elegance. This year I have also seen a new double-flowered white form of Echinacea named ‘Coconut Lime’. It is definitely on my list.

Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'

~  Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ (purple coneflower) ~

Adenophora

~ Free seeding Adenophora confusa, (Lady bells), with Heuchera ‘Palace purple’, (Coral bells) ~

Striped eulalia grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'variegatugatus')

~ Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’, paired with Rudbeckia hirta~

Although they have become more popular of late, ornamental grasses are still largely underutilized in perennial borders. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’ and ‘Morning Light’ are two of my all-time favorites, and the splotchy green and yellow stripes of Miscanthus ‘Zebrinus’ make a bold statement when paired with primary-colored coneflowers and violet phlox. The contrasting hues and narrow blades of variegated ornamental grass catch the light and play off many perennials and nearby shrubs. All tall grass has a lovely way of swaying in the breeze, but none quite so poetically as buff-tasseled Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’. Last year I positioned Karl along the edge of my wildflower walk, where he adds movement and a delicate shimmer to a solid grouping of Viburnum. Further along the path, fountain shaped Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ adds sculptural elegance where the casual meets the more formal entry to my home. Foliage plants such as ornamental grass, along with structural shrubs, help to create the framework for an entire garden. As spring and summer plantings fade and make way for mid-season and early fall perennials, the statuesque form, alluring texture and seductive movement provided by ornamental grass can be key to anchoring a great perennial garden design. Tall grass can also be used as a living screen, concealing unsightly necessities such as compost bins, plastic vents and air-conditioning units throughout the growing season, and into winter.

miscanthus morning light

~ Miscanthus sinensis “Morning Light” punctuates an intersection ~

Kalimeris

~ Kalimeris ‘Variegatus’, (Japanese aster) ~

kirengeshoma palmata (yellow wax-bells)

~ Kirengeshoma palmata, (yellow wax-bells) : swollen buds in golden yellow ~

More experienced gardeners may have already mastered the art season-spanning bloom in their perennial gardens. But even for the most versatile designer, there are always new ways to visually explore the far-end of the seasonal bloom-range. Filipendula ulmaria ‘Variegata’ as well as the lovely Kalimeris ‘Geisha’ and ‘Variegata’ are knock-out foliage plants throughout the garden season. And as an added bonus, these plants provide pale blossoms to cool some of the hotter-hues in the late season border. One of my new garden favorites, yellow wax-bells (Kirengeshoma palmata), adds a pale golden hue to the garden in August, contrasting with the burgundy-violet foliage of closely planted bugbane, (Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside black beauty’). Yellow wax-bells add interest to this spot before the wind-flower, (Anemone), and bugbane come into flower later this month. Other dark hued garden plants, including shrubs such as ninebark, (Physocarpus) varieties ‘Diablo’, ‘Summer wine’ and ‘Coppertinia’, are endlessly useful for bringing out the golden colors of late summer flowers. Eupatorium rugosum ‘chocolate’ and Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Sommersonne’ is a favorite contrasting, late season combination along my walkway.

filipendula variegata

~ Filipendula ulmaria ‘Variegata’ foliage ~

filipindula variegata flower

~ Filipendula ulmaria ‘Variegata’ flower ~

eupatorium rugosum and heliopsis helianthoides

~ Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, paired with Heliopsis ‘Sommersonne’ ~

Combining late season perennials with neutral-hued foliage plants such as Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver mound’ helps keep the August garden from becoming too riotous and loud. Spring and early summer blooming favorites, such as coral bells, (Heuchera), and lady’s mantle, (Alchemilla mollis), continue to play an important role in the garden by adding color and texture, holding a perennial bed together at the edge. Gardens designed to include foliage plants such as these rarely look tired, even during lulls in the bloom season.

rudbeckia, artemisia schmidtiana, kirengeshoma, sedum...

~ Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky mixed’, in a mixed planting with Artemisia schmidtiana,(silver mound),  Kirengeshoma palmata (yellow wax-bells) and Sedum ‘Ruby glow’ ~

While I am fairly certain that my schedule will not be be easing up any time soon, I will continue to seek out the pleasures of high summer this month. This week I promise to make time to stop and enjoy my late summer garden as I pass through the wildflower walk each morning, and stroll along the long perennial border on my way to the vegetable garden. I too will be making notes for fall planting this year. Perhaps this cool, wet season in New England will reward us with a warm and vibrant autumn. But for now summer reigns, if but for a few brief weeks, here in my garden home. Enjoy tonight’s full Sturgeon Moon. Happy Gardening.

physostegia, (obedient plant) 'Bouquet Rose'

~ Physostegia ‘Bouquet Rose’, (Obedient plant) ~

Hemerocallis, (daylily from WFF Woodside mix)

~ Hemerocallis, (Daylily), unnamed variety  from the White Flower Farm ‘Woodside Mix’ ~

perovskia atriplicifolia

~ Perovskia atriplicifolia, (Russian sage) ~

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~ Special thanks to  Tim Geiss at Poltergeiss.com for flower photos as noted ~

~ Article and other photographs copyright 2009 Michaela-The Gardener’s Eden~

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“That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”….. Shakespeare

May 18th, 2009 § Comments Off on “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”….. Shakespeare § permalink

wild-rose

Selecting and Siting Roses in Cold Climates

Damask, Moss, or Gallica?  Modern, Old or English? Call them what you will, many gardeners fall in love with roses early on, and the infatuation never ends. The moist, velvety petals and heady fragrance of this fabled flower are powerfully seductive.  It is easy to to understand the allure of roses. A garden in June, with roses climbing walls, tumbling over fences and nestled into perennial borders, is a beautiful sight. During the long, dark months of winter, many northern gardeners curl up with spring catalogues, fantasizing about the vast array of rose offerings.  I too have been tempted by this fragrant queen of flowers, and having succeeded in my first garden with a luxurious climbing-beauty named “Constance Spry”, I know the sweet rewards of success. But as a professional gardener, I also know that growing roses can be a real challenge in cold climates. And unless the rose-lover takes as much care in the planning and planting phase as he/she does in the dreaming stage, there will often be great disappointment. Healthy, vigorous roses of almost all types can be grown in New England with a bit of research and proper care. The first steps in successful cold-climate rose culture are choosing the right location for the rose within the garden itself, and of course, selection of the best plants for hardiness

Choosing and siting a rose with it’s individual lifetime requirements in mind is wise for many reasons.  A rose planted in a proper site will receive ample sun, water, nutrients and protection.  The site should also allow the rose enough space to reach its full size and shape, and provide ample air movement for healthy foliage and adequate drainage of soil for healthy roots. Focusing on the process of gardening, by providing a proper environment, is key to success no matter what the gardener wishes to grow.

Soil is important to all plant life, of course.  And roses, like most plants, have preferences about the soil in which they grow.  It is wise to test your soil pH level, as well as nitrogen, phosphorus and potash levels, and adjust your soil chemistry accordingly. Roses prefer soil rich in minerals, nutrients and organic matter.  Like most garden plants, roses prefer a slightly acid soil with a pH between 6 and 7. When soil pH becomes too low or too high, nutrients become less available to plants. A pH test is easy to do, and takes just a few minutes. Soil testing kits are readily available at most garden centers and through online vendors and more extensive soil tests can often be done through your local university extension service. Getting pH and nutrient levels right is the first step toward making sure that your roses are receiving what they need from the soil in order to grow and thrive.

Soil texture is also very important to roses. And while it is true that roses prefer mineral-rich soil, it is also critical that they receive proper drainage and air circulation at their roots.  For these reasons, it is often helpful to closely examine your garden soil, and modify the texture if necessary, before planting roses.  Clay rich soils provide the minerals roses prefer, but unless organic matter, (such as compost and peat moss or other fiber), is added to the soil,the rose will rot and suffocate in water-logged, poorly aerated root conditions. Conversely, sandy soil will provide the rose with the drainage and dry roots it prefers, but the plant will suffer as minerals and nutrients wash away from the roots in quickly draining sand. Organic matter such as compost and other fibrous materials will hold moisture, minerals and nutrients in the soil, allowing the plant time to absorb them into it’s root system.  Adding compost and other organic material will improve your soil, be it clay-like or sandy.

Protecting the root zone of roses in climates like New England,where wildly fluctuating temperatures are common, will help prevent many problems. Compost-mulch shields roots and soil from heat and cold, weeds and insects, wind and erosion.  Bare soil is not natural, and stresses plants. Caring for the parts of the rose beneath the ground is as important as the attention we give to the plant we see. The rewards of good soil-science are strong, healthy root systems and roses with access to good nutrition. a few inches of compost mulch, and perhaps the addition of herbal companion plants such as thyme and lavender, (herbs provide some natural insect resistance, and attract beneficial insects), will go a long way toward giving your rose ideal growing conditions.

Of course, what goes on above soil level is equally important to rose-culture. Full sun is an absolute requirement for healthy roses. The plant should receive bright light from sunrise to sunset. Without full sun, a rose can not properly photosynthesize, and the result is a weak and spindly plant with few blossoms. Sunlight is also critical for dry foliage, and dry foliage is key to preventing fungal infections and disease. Although some rose varieties will tolerate less than a full day of sun, no rose is truly happy in shade. Sunny-sited roses will always be stronger and healthier than their shadowed neighbors. Give the rose what it needs, and it will return the favor of what you want: blossoms.

Considering air circulation and flow is advantageous for plant health, and longevity.  Siting your rose for unobstructed growth and air movement is important for disease prevention and cold protection.  Roses protected from prevailing winds by taller trees and shrubs will grow stronger and avoid the damage of winter desiccation.  So long as neighboring plants do not obstruct sunlight, roses will benefit from the back-up provided by neighboring hedges or groups of shrubs.  It is also beneficial to plant roses on a slightly elevated portion of a site.  Cold air flows downhill, and frost settles in lower parts of the land first.  Siting roses in a raised position will help with both airflow and drainage, giving roses another advantage in a cold climate.

Providing roses with the correct growing conditions is clearly important. However, no amount of care and consideration can substitute for proper selection of the rose itself.  When selecting roses for any garden, it is important to first consider the uniqueness of the plant. Every rose has an individual habit, mature size, shape and texture.  Some roses are vigorous and shrubby, some are politely contained bushes. Certain roses are open-shaped, others are dense. A few roses may be grown as climbers or tall shrubs, others remain petite. Knowing the form of the plant will help the gardener decide if it is right for the garden’s design. Rugosa roses have very different requirements from English roses.  And of course, any rose grown in a climate with cold winters must be fully compatible with the garden’s USDA hardiness zone.

As most gardeners quickly become aware, even individual gardens can have micro-climates with enough temperature variation to make a major difference in cold-hardiness. Spots protected from prevailing winds and freeze-thaw conditions on an individual site may allow for some zone-flexibility.  However, given the temperature variations in New England, it is safest to stick with a conservative attitude toward cold-hardiness, unless the gardener is willing to take extra precautions by mounding rose-root zones with compost each fall, and in some cases providing protection for the entire shrub.  New rose varieties will be more variable than the tried and true, and for the beginning gardener, hardy and time-tested varieties are a good place to start.  USDA zone 4/5 roses are a safe bet for most gardeners in New England, and zone 2/3 varieties will be safest for very cold, windy or exposed sites.

Most rugosa roses, modern landscape roses, and many antique shrub roses are extremely cold hardy. Rosa rugosa “Sarah Van Fleet”, “Belle Poitevine” and “Blanc double de Coubert” and hybrid “Therese Bugnet” are beautiful, exceptional performers.  Rugosas are a good choice for fences, hedges and groupings in the landscape. David Austin English roses are a nice choice for mixed borders, and provided the bud-union, (point of graft), is planted at least 4 inches beneath the soil-surface, a well sited Austin rose will perform well in New England.  Tried and true landscape roses, such as “Carefree Wonder”,( and for small-bloom lovers, “The Fairy”), are excellent selections for a wide variety of perennial garden designs, including designs with stone and along walkways. For old rose lovers, the hardy gallica, alba, moss and damask hybrids are good bets. “Charles de Mills”, “Konigin Von Denmark”, “Karl Forster”, “Maiden’s Blush”, “Striped Moss” and “Stanwell Perpetual” bring some old European-style to northern rose gardens. In addition to the shrub and landscape roses mentioned above, some climbers such as  “William Baffin”, “New Dawn” and “John Cabot” are tough enough to weather the cold winds and blistering sub- zero temperatures New England dishes out. Extra care must be taken when siting more marginal climbing roses, such as “Constance Spry”, in a cold climate.  It is important to protect the exposed canes of more delicate climbing roses from desiccating winter winds. And always remember to position your rose to avoid damage from snow loads sliding off a steep roof.

When purchasing potted roses, try to buy from a local nursery, where the growers know your zone hardiness and purchase or propagate roses with cold conditions in mind. Take the time to ask the garden center staff about the roses you buy, and research the variety online to learn its habits and preferences. Knowing your rose and giving it what it needs are key to success no matter the garden climate, however this advice holds particularly true for gardeners in the north, where roses named “cold hardy” will continue to smell sweet for many years.

( coming soon…. part two roses: planting, pruning and maintenance )

Copyright 2009 Michaela H

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