Welcome December

December 1st, 2015 § 2 comments § permalink

IMG_4262.JPG  Frosted Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) in Morning Light

Welcome, December, with your sparkling, festive ways!

IMG_4264.JPG Blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) Sparkle like Stars

IMG_4250-0.jpgBlushing, Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), Bathed in Rose-Gold Light

Photography & Text ⓒ  Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, artwork, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of Michaela Medina Harlow and/or The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without permission. Thank you!

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Blowzy Beauty in the Summer Heat

July 13th, 2015 § 2 comments § permalink

IMG_1889.JPG Hemerocallis, Geranium ‘Brookside’ and Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ glow in late afternoon light, backed up by Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’, Itea virginica and Amsonia illustris.

In the heat of summer, when delicate flowers wilt in the noonday sun, some tough plants really strut their stuff. Experienced gardeners know that although they may seem less glamorous than peonies and less exotic than lady slipper orchids, more common perennials —such as Hemerocallis and Rudbeckia— are the secret to beautiful borders during summer’s dog days.

IMG_1805.JPGRudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ catch early evening’s lingering rays.

Photography & Text ⓒ  Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, artwork, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of Michaela Medina Harlow and/or The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without permission. Thank you!

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Embracing the Long, Hot Summer . . . Designing a Water Wise Garden

July 24th, 2013 § Comments Off on Embracing the Long, Hot Summer . . . Designing a Water Wise Garden § permalink

Golden Wildflower Walk - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Rudbeckia hirta, Blooming a Wild River of Gold in Morning Fog

Welcome to high summer! With temperatures soaring and scant rainfall last week, suddenly this gardener switched from wellies and rain ponchos to flip flops, sundresses and watering wands. New England —always known for its fast-changing weather— has been experiencing some atypical summer extremes. For the past three summers, it seems like it’s either raining non-stop for months —with severe flooding here in Vermont— or not at all. After weeks of downpours and washouts, I had quite a bit of hydrating to do last week —running here and there with hoses and timers for newly installed gardens— but my wildflower garden, pictured here, hasn’t cried out for a single drop. The vast majority of plants in this drought-tolerant design are North American natives —or hardy, non-native cousins— chosen for their willingness to not only survive, but thrive with Mother Nature’s wild mood swings. When I think ‘low maintenance’, I always look to heat and drought-tolerant plants for summer sun.

Maiden Grass and Rudbeckia - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Self Sown Rudbeckia hirta and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ Line the Secret Garden Path

Even in the Northeast, full sun gardens require perennials, shrubs and trees that can really take the heat. When designing gardens in hot, dry locations, I take my inspiration from the native prairies, meadows and even high desert regions of North America, where drought tolerance is essential to survival. Rudbeckia, Penstemon, Panicum, Agastache, Filipendula, Amsonia, Coreopsis, Asclepias, Echinacea, Liatris, Achillea, Pennisetum, Lupine, Heliopsis, Salvia and other wildflowers and grasses are all good, perennial choices for full sun and lean soil. I also look to the Mediterranean, where boney earth, sunny summer days and low rainfall place similar demands on plant life. Perennials and shrubs with narrow, fine. shiny, silvery, and/or sun-reflective foliage —Lavendula, Achillea, Tanacetum, Festuca, Perovskia, Nepeta, Artemisia, Stachys, Thymus, Echinops, Eryngium, Centranthus, Ceratsium, Salvia, Juniperus, Caryopteris, Calluna and Erica, to name a few— not only survive in full sun and fast-draining soil, but they actually require it in order to thrive. Hardy succulents and their close cousins —including many Sedum, Echeveria and Euphorbia— perform well during hot, dry spells and the many low-growing species fill empty nooks and crannies between stones and walkway pavers. Although all gardens require supplemental watering until established, by choosing drought-tolerant plants, mid-summer water-demand and garden labor is significantly decreased. And aren’t we all looking for just a bit more time in the hammock?

Light-Catching Textures in the Entry Garden - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Fine Textures & Transparant Colors Catch the Light & Slightest Breeze 

Cotinus coggygria with Miscanthus sinensis and wildflowers - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com A Drought-Tolerant Mix for Summer-Autumn Color: Rudbeckia hirta, Amsonia hubrichtii, Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, Callicarpa dichatoma ‘Issai’,  Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’

Welcoming Summer Garden - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com A Warm Welcome Home, Atop the Drive

Ladybells (Adenephora confusa) - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Although Non-Native, I Notice the Lady-Like Ladybells Keep Their Cool Charm on a Hot Summer Day (Adenephora confusa)

Daylilies in July - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comWhile Daylilies Match the Thermometer in Raging Hot Shades Along the Drive

Agastache and Rudbeckia - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comAgastache & Rudbeckia Lure in the Pollinators with Bold Color, and Stand Tall on Hot Summer Days

Daylilies and Sunlight in July - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com  Late Day Light on the Golden Daylilies Along the Drive: Though Hemerocallis are Often Shunned as ‘Common’, I Love their Long, Cheerful Show and Indestructible Ease. Many of Mine are from Olallie Daylily Gardens in South Newfane, Vermont.

Bumblebee in Daylily - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Bumble Bee Enjoying Hemerocallis in the Entry Garden

On My Bookshelf: Resources & Inspiration for Designing & Planting a Water-Wise Garden . . .

The American Meadow Garden The American Meadow Garden – John Greenlee and Saxon Holt – Click to view/purchase from Amazon.com

Gardening the Meiterranean Way Gardening the Mediterranean Way – Heidi Gildemeister – Click to view/purchase from Amazon.com

Sun-Drenched Gardens - Jane Smithen Sun-Drenched Gardens – Jan Smithen

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Winged Guests & Days of Wild Wonder

July 14th, 2013 § 3 comments § permalink

Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly on Valeriana officinalis with Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki' - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly on Garden Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) with Nishiki Willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’) Beyond

Early in the morning —in the still before sunrise, when the air is calm and cool— the garden awakens with a fluttering dance. Red-Spotted Purple butterflies —dusty plum-black wings, dotted with aqua and scarlet— flit about the sleepy Valerian, teasing it into motion. Nearby, Swallowtails tickle the tips of Queen Anne’s Lace, Great Spangled Fritillaries sweep through tangerine-hued Butterfly Weed and the dramatic Virginia Ctenucha lights upon Black-Eyed Susans to sample sweet, summer nectar…

Virginia Ctenucha on Rudbeckia - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comVirginia Ctenucha Wasp Moth on Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ with Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’ Beyond. Like the Hummingbird Moth, this Creature is a Diurnal Garden Guest 

Impossible to miss with its electric-blue body, yellow-orange head and olive-brown, metallic-powder dusted wings, the Virginia Ctneucha (Ctenutcha virginiana, pictured above and below), made a first-time appearance in my garden this week. What’s that? I had to do a quick ID. In its adult stage, this diurnal wasp moth gathers nectar from flowering plants for sustenance, and in youth, the larvae feed upon native grass, sedges and iris. Read more about this broad-winged wasp-moth here.

An organic garden filled with non-stop, nectar-rich flowers and ample foliage for caterpillars, is the key to creating a successful moth and butterfly habitat. Find more ways to attract and support beautiful butterflies and moths by clicking back to this post, filled with butterfly garden design ideas, tips and techniques. For help identifying moths and butterflies, lately I’ve been enjoying The Butterflies and Moths of North America site here.

Virginia Ctenucha (close up) - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Close Up of the Virginia Ctenucha Wasp Moth’s Iridescent Blue Body, Yellow-Orange Head and Metallic-Dusted, Olive-Brown Wings

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Rain, Fog and A Bit of Summer Sun . . .

July 13th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Summer's Wild Wonder - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Basking in the Late Day Gift of Summer Sunlight on the Terrace – So Far This Season, Sunny Days Have Been Few & Far Between…

Hello, mid July. How did we get here so quickly? It’s been a busy start to summer, with little time for journaling, but I expect things to slow down a bit now that I’ve suspended planting and am back in the studio full-time. Rain and fog continue to soften the landscape, and although beautiful for making photographs, the weather has made this a challenging year for the New England farming community.

I just read that 3″ of rain fell in April and more than 9″ of rain saturated Vermont during the months of both May and June (the Amazon sees an average of 8″ or rainfall per month, read the full story here). No wonder it has been so hard to complete projects and stay on schedule! As difficult as landscaping work has been this year, it’s nothing compared to the plight of local farmers. I tip my hat to vegetable and fruit growers in my community. Working the land for a living and providing organically grown food —especially in a climate with such a short growing season— is truly a courageous life path. I remember well the seasons of water-logged strawberry fields, and the worried expressions worn by my parents, when the fruit rotted faster than we could pick.

Harvest Basket - A Slow Start to Summer Produce - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comHere at Home, Produce has been Very Slow to Ripen in my Tiny Potager, but I am Picking the First Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes and Red Rubin Basil this Week

Winding the Way Through Wildflowers and Fog - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Most Days, I Find Myself Winding My Way to Work through Wildflowers and Fog . . .

Foggy Wildflower Meadow Hop - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com A Rainy Year Means Abundant & Long-Lasting Blossoms in the Meadowy Wildflower Walk . . .

The Dishwasher's Arrangement - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com And Plenty Extra for the Dishwasher’s Weekly Arrangement . . . 

Asclepias tuberosa - Butterflyweed in the Meadow - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Like a Tangerine Dream, Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) Sweetens the Verdant Meadow with Pollen and Nectar for Bees and Butterflies

Valeriana officinalis michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Sweet, Shimmering Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) . . .

Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' in July - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com And the Soft Whisper of Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) in Afternoon Sun . . .

John Creech Meets the Gladiators - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Polished Toes and Posies: John Creech Meets the Gladiators (Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’)

Nepeta sibirica 'Souvenir d'Andre Chaudron' - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Nepeta sibirica ‘Souvenir d’André Chaudron’, an Old Favorite from My Mother’s Garden, with Thalictrum pubescens Beyond

Lysmachia clethroides and Rudbeckia hirta Duke it Out in the Entry Garden - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com  An Uninvited and Pushy Garden-Party Crasher, Gooseneck Loosestrife (Lysmachia clethroides) Dukes it out with Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) in the Entry Garden

Veronica spicata 'Sunny Border Blue' in July - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Meanwhile, Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’ Plays Nicely with Her Neighbors

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Into the August Haze …

August 1st, 2012 § 5 comments § permalink

Ladybells (Adenophora confusa) Spill, Languid Blossoms to the Lawn

August is a languid month; hazy, verdant hills saturated with the weight of humid air. It’s mid-summer, and the fields are ripe. Come stroll with me through the blowzy gardens and wildflower meadow; gathering Black-eyed Susans, Ladybells and Queen Anne’s Lace for carefree bouquets. It’s time for fruit picking in the peach-filled orchards, cocktails on the sun-warmed terrace and drifting off to sleep beside the deep blue lake …

Like an August Sunset, Woodside Daylily Mix adds Fiery Heat to the Entry Garden

Queen Anne’s Lace and Goldenrod in the Wildflower Meadow

Peaches at Walker Farm

The Sun-Warmed Hammock Floats Above the Tickle of Tawny Hairgrass (Native Deschampsia  flexuosa)

Rudbeckia hirta and Adenophora confusa Along the Wildflower Walk

Sultry Summer Moonlight in the Indigo Haze

Remember to Look for the Full, Green Corn Moon Tonight! The First Full Moon of August Moon will Rise Tonight at 7:37pm ET. A Second, Blue Moon  will Rise this Month on August 31st. See the Old Farmer’s Almanac Online for a Listing of Full Moon Dates, Times & Names

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Musings On A September Morning …

September 1st, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

A Lovely September Sunrise (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ with Rudbeckia hirta seed pods and Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’)

September, October and November are my favorite months in the gardening year. Late summer and early autumn —as well as that magical, indescribable, post-frost warm-spell known as ‘Indian Summer’— are spectacular seasons here in New England. This morning —before heading back to work via a newly cut four-wheel drive road— I took a walk through my garden, counting my blessings. I’m so fortunate to live and work in this beautiful state, surrounded by so much natural beauty. I love Vermont, and although we will face many challenges in the coming months —fixing bridges, roads and homes before winter— we are headed into what is perhaps our most inspirational season. I draw strength from wild beauty every day. And though nature has recently humbled us with her raw power, more often she leaves us in awe of her majesty …

Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’ Begins Blooming in Early September and Continues Through Early October (In the Background: Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’ and Heuchera villosa ‘Palace Purple’)

The Soft, New Inflorescences on the Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens) and Leather-Like Leaves of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ Catch an Early Glow 

Creamy Hydrangea Blossoms (H. paniculata ‘Limelight’) with a Backdrop of Glowing Heather  (Calluna vulgaris ‘Silver Knight)

The Delightfully Hombre-Hued Fruits of Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’

Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’ with Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’

I Find Fingerleaf Rodgersia’s (R. aesculifolia) Blossoms, Foliage and Dried Flower Heads Gorgeous From Spring Through Winter

At the Moment I’m Too Busy to Tend to Garden Chores Like Deadheading, But the Secret Garden Stairs Feel Welcoming Each Morning, if Just a Wee-Bit Unkempt

And There’s Always the South-Easterly View to Distract from Imperfections

Which I Enjoyed Thoroughly This Morning While Setting My Annual Pots & Other Things Back in Their Rightful Places

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links (including Amazon book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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The Play of Sunlight and Shadow: Through the Secret Garden Door …

July 13th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Golden Flowers in a Pool of Sunlight: Through the Secret Garden Door …

It’s a busy, busy week here at my studio. With two large garden designs, and three smaller projects shifting from dream to reality, there’s much work to be done behind the scenes. I must confess that paperwork and numbers are not terribly exciting to this creative personality type, but desk duties are very necessary to insure smooth sailing in the says ahead. And, how can I complain? Looking through the Secret Garden door —sunlit gardens sparkling beyond a shadowy frame— I know how lucky I am to have a room with a view …

Peeking Through the Secret Garden Room Door

Outside, Looking In …

View from the Desk in my Secret Garden Room …

Looking Through the Secret Garden Door, Beyond the Wild Flower Walk, the Sun Slides Behind the Shadowy Stone Wall

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Strolling Along the Wildflower Walk …

July 6th, 2011 § Comments Off on Strolling Along the Wildflower Walk … § permalink

A Stroll Through the Wildflower Walk in Late Afternoon

The Wildflower Walk may have started as an accidental feature in my garden, but —second only to the Secret Garden— it always generates the most oohs and ahhs. And when the sunny drifts of Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) hit their crescendo in July, it’s easy to see what all the commotion is all about. The softening effect of randomly strewn, bold sweeps of wildflowers is truly magical in a landscape, and although my dog Oli is responsible for coming up with this design, I have not only run with the theme in my own garden, but used the idea in other designs as well (minus the method of installation, see previous post for that story). I’m sure that if he only knew how popular one of his ‘bads’ has become, Oli would be begging for bones every day when he passes through his wondrous Wildflower Walk.

Of course —not to take away from my dog’s true genius— but one of the things that makes all of this unplanned wildness work from a design standpoint, is the underlying structure of the garden. The hardscape and bones of the landscape —which includes the stonewalls, loose stone paths, and structural trees and shrubs— give shape to the space; allowing ever-changing elements to take center stage at any given time, while the constant ‘theater’ holds everything together. And though they stand in the background throughout the summer —steady and central— the structural features always take over the show in late autumn and winter…

Rudbeckia and Nepeta tumble in a colorful jumble along the Wildflower Walk. Bees, butterflies and other pollinators love Nepeta and Rudbeckia. And later in the season, finches will stop by to feast upon Rudbeckia seed (I leave many of the stalks standing for my feathered friends). Meanwhile, in the background: the spilling green Juniperus horizontalis provides bright blue berries for wildlife, as well as a pretty green foil for the wildflowers. And though it’s barely visible in high summer, Dan Snow’s retaining wall holds everything together —both figuratively and literally– throughout the year.

The walkway surface is 1″ natural round stone —slightly larger and more grey-blue than pea stone— which allows wildflower seed to germinate just beneath the surface. The walk does require some weeding, but it isn’t as labor intensive as you might think. Rounded, natural stone makes a great surface for seating areas and walkways; in both formal and informal spaces. I particularly love this look in lawn-less, Mediterranean gardens.

The main walkway —to and from my home/studio— is wider than the Secret Garden path and the rest of the Wildflower Walk. And though the Rudbeckia reigns supreme here in early summer, this wave of bloom is preceded by Lupine and succeeded by Adenophora. Other wildflowers and shrubs play supporting and cameo roles along the way… 

In reality, getting wildflowers to succeed in a garden over the long-haul usually requires a bit more planning than Oli put into his work. Many self-sown bi-annual and meadowy perennial flowers —such as Lupine, Poppies, Asters, Black-eyed Susans and the like— prefer fast-draining, thin soil in full-sun. These flowers thrive on natural, seasonal weather conditions. When it comes to sunny-meadow flowers, sites with poor soil often work better than sites with rich soil (take note of those wildflower drifts along the highway: talk about thriving on neglect!), but there are wildflowers adapted to wet, rich soil as well. Recognizing wildflower seedlings (to avoid accidental weeding or over-mulching) throughout the season, and allowing seed heads to remain standing until they mature, is absolutely critical to the maintenance of wildflower drifts (this is particularly important in true meadows, which must be mown after the flower heads have browned and are ready to release seed). All of these things tend to go against the grain of super-tidy gardeners, so in the beginning at least, a leisurely attitude toward maintenance may work to your advantage when it comes to wildflowers. However in long term, lazy Susans would not be successful here. I am the sole gardener on my property, and as ‘wild’ as this walkway may look, I can assure you that it does demand some weeding time; particularly in the early spring, after rainy periods. Clover, grass and other thin-soil-lovers germinate well between the loose stone, and rise up in competition with the wildflowers along the path. I simply keep them in check (often in the early morning hours while talking on the phone with a client or contractor, or late, late in the afternoon with a glass of cold lemonade or chilled wine).

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ will reach its summertime crescendo this month in the Wildflower Walk

A different perspective: looking down the Secret Garden path from the main walkway. This shot was taken on an overcast morning, when the bright yellow and orange of the just-opening Rudbeckia really stood out.That’s Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ on the right, backed up by Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’ (that dynamic duo really lights up in the autumn, see this post for photos).

Looking Through the Wildflower Walk and Into the Secret Garden Beyond (Foreground: Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’).

Tempted to give wildflower drifts a try in your own garden? Want to replace your front lawn with something less water/chemical dependent and more colorful? Would you like to support pollinator and bird populations with a natural food source? Well, you could ask a rambunctious dog like Oli to install a Wildflower Walk for you, or you could consult some inspirational books on the subject of Meadow Gardens. The one I am currently ogling, and constantly praising, is The American Meadow Garden, pictured and linked below. Beyond its obvious beauty, this book is also genuinely useful; offering meadow/wildflower planting suggestions by region, soil type and exposure. Self-sown wildflower drifts are lovely both in meadows and within designed gardens. Isn’t it amazing what your dog can teach you?

The American Meadow Garden (John Greenlee/Saxon Holt) from Timber Press

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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The Secret Garden’s Shadowy Allure & Mysterious Prince Pickerel’s Charms…

August 3rd, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

Prince Pickerel at the Edge of the Water Bowl in the Secret Garden – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Cool, quiet and calm; a shady oasis whispers seductively on hot summer days. While blazing orange and yellow hues burn bright as wildfire in the meadow, my Secret Garden shimmers like an emerald in the dappled light beneath a steel balcony. High walls, constructed seven years ago by artist Dan Snow, are now veiled with verdant moss and delicate, lacy vines. In mid-summer, emerging as if from a fairytale, the reigning prince of the Secret Garden is the beautiful, copper-tinted pickerel frog (Lithobates palustris), who resides in and around the water bowl at the foot of the entry wall. Although he is usually quite shy, I have been catching glimpses of him now and again, as he basks in the late afternoon light.  Yesterday, just before sunset, he paused long enough for me to snap a quick photo. And isn’t he just enchanting? I am absolutely fascinated by frogs. Their gorgeous colors and soothing voices are charming of course, but I also value the frogs’ beneficial role in controlling insects and slugs in my garden.

The pickerel frog —commonly found in the United States from the midwest on east to the coast— is a particularly interesting species. After a bit of research, I discovered that this is the only poisonous frog native to the US. But don’t worry, the pickerel frog isn’t harmful, he simply produces a skin-secretion to protect himself from predatory birds, reptiles and mammals. This toxic substance is quite poisonous to many small animals —including other frogs, which will die if kept in captivity with pickerel frogs— but it is only mildly irritating to a human’s skin (it’s always wise to wash your hands after examining a pickerel frog, or any wildlife for that matter). The pickerel’s surprising defense mechanism might explain why he is able to survive in my garden alongside the ribbon and garter snakes, as they are both well-known predators of both frogs and toads.

Welcome to my Secret Garden, Prince Pickerel…

A Peek Inside the Secret Garden – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Foreground plantings: Daphne ‘Carol Mackie’ and Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’)

The Hidden Secret Garden Door – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Foreground plantings include Daphne ‘Carol Mackie” and at the wall: Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and Galium odoratum)

The Water Bowl at the Secret Garden Door – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plantings include foreground: Glaucidium palmatum, Heuchera ‘Stormy Seas’, and to the background: Euphorbia, Hosta ‘August Moon’ and Fothergilla gardenii)

Glossy Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’ at the Foot of the Secret Garden Wall – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE

The Secret Garden Shady Oasis from the August Sun – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plants from left to right Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’, Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, Helleborus x hybridus, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’, Paeonia suffruticosa ‘High Noon’)

The Secret Garden, Viewed from the Balcony Above ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plantings: Background Paeonia suffruticosa ‘High Noon’, Foreground: Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ and Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’)

Secret Garden Vignette – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plantings: Foreground Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’ and Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’, Background: Matteuccia pensylvanica. Potted is Hedera helix ‘Variegata’)

Colors and Patterns Carpet the Secret Garden Floor – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plantings: Lamium macuatum ‘Orchid Frost’, Hosta ‘August Moon’, and Cryptotaenia japonica ‘Atropurpurea’)

A Glimpse of the Garden from the Balcony – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plantings left to right: Paeonia suffruticosa ‘High Noon”, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aurea’, Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Stewartia pseudocamillia, Matteccia pensylvanica)

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

Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Roseum’ clamoring up the Secret Garden Wall – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE (Other plantings include Cimicifuga racemosa, Hosta ‘August Moon’, and in pots: Agapanthus, Hosta ‘Remember Me’ and Asparagus densiflorus)

Secrets within the Secret Garden – Streptocarpus ‘Black Panther’ Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Read more about the ‘Black Panther’ in the post “Hello Lover” here…)

A Glimpse at the Sunlight Beyond the Secret Garden Door ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Two Worlds, Divided by a Moss-Coverd Wall – Standing at the Secret Garden Threshold ⓒ Michaela at TGE (Plantings to the edge of the walk include, to the left: Euphorbia and Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby”, and to the right, again B. ‘Bressingham Ruby’, and Filix femina ‘Lady in Red’

Rosa ‘Bibi Maizoon’ Blooming at the Secret Garden Door ⓒ Michaela at TGE

View to the Wildflower Walk from the Secret Garden Steps ⓒ Michaela at TGE (Wildflowers in bloom: Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ and Adenephora confusa)

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Inspiration from my childhood: “Der Froschkönig” from Grimms Märchen

The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett and Inga Moore

The Secret Garden on DVD in Keep Case

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Image excerpts from reviewed publications and/or products are copyright as noted and linked.

All other images and article © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden.

The Secret Garden at Fercliff is the author’s design and installation.

For more images of my Secret Garden (throughout the seasons) see the Ferncliff page at left – or type Ferncliff into the search box. All images here, (with three noted exceptions) are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. Except in the case of critical and editorial review and/or notation, photographs and text on this site may not be reproduced without written consent. If you would like to use an image online, please contact me before posting! With proper attribution, I am usually happy to share (See ‘contact’ at left). Thank you for respecting my work and copyrights.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden. 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

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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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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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