Design ideas, May 2018

Making the most of a small space

A small space doesn’t have to hold you back from getting what you want out of your garden. A small space just means that decisions count more than they might in a larger area where you have room to put everything that you want.

I think that the best way to illustrate what works in a small garden is to show a few pictures and discuss what works (or doesn’t.) First of all, I will say that all the pictures that you are about to see are interesting and successful because they don’t consist of an expanse of lawn in the middle with flowerbeds bordering it on all sides. Although you might think that being able to see the whole garden at once allows you to get the most out of the space available and make it seem bigger, the reverse is actually true, except for under certain circumstances, like if the garden is seen primarily from above.

So let’s go…

Example #1:

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This garden is successful for a number of reasons.

  1. Good fencing choices. While it is enclosed, the choice of a lattice fence allows it to “breathe”, and the little glimpses that you get of the gardens beyond make it feel more open. Imagine if the fence were solid instead of “see-through”. You would lose that light feeling and just feel like you were in a box.
  2. Change of heights. By having the gate at the top of the steps, it adds interest to the space and makes you wonder what is on the other side, and how it relates to the sunken garden.
  3. Open space vs. plant space. The designer of this garden was wise to keep them separate. If there had been plants on the left hand side as well as the right, it would have made the garden feel more closed in. The little patch of lawn keeps the garden from being busy, and nicely compliments the exuberance of the plant bed on the right.
  4. There is a place to enjoy it! Even a small garden should have room for a seat of some sort. In this case, the patio has room for enough furniture for two people to have a meal, or just to sit and enjoy the space around them.

 

Example #2:

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This garden is much more plant-centric than the first one, but it shows how a relaxing area can be made out of the smallest space, or even a corner of a larger space. Noteworthy characteristics include:

  1. Coziness. While feeling much more enclosed than the first garden, this nook looks like it was made so on purpose. Colorful, shade loving plants surround but do not encroach on the lounge chair’s space. And the blanket on the chair adds to the cozy effect.
  2. Water. What could be more relaxing than the sound of water? The small fountain in the corner (at least, I think that’s what it is – if not, let’s pretend it is) fits the space well, and delivers a soothing sound.
  3. Well chosen colors. The relaxing palette plus the occasional pop of red keeps this space calm, but interesting. The cushions on the chair echo the color of the foliage, and the natural wood keeps the whole scene looking natural. Picture it with bright red cushions. Not necessarily bad, but a very different feel.

Example #3:

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This small garden has a more modern feel, but is still a good example of how simplicity can be very successful in a small garden.  In my opinion, things that make this garden work are:

  1. A limited number of textures. One common mistake in small gardens is to try to have too many textures – patio, walkway, plants, etc. This garden has four basic “visual” textures; the metal chairs, the decking, the pea stone, and the grass. Other things in the garden echo these choices – the larger round rocks by the fountain echo the pea stone, the metal fountain echoes the chairs, the edging echoes the deck, and the plants echo the grass. This creates a visual continuity, instead of being cluttered.
  2. A repetition of shapes. The designer of this garden didn’t try to integrate curves and straight lines as that could be visually over-stimulating. Instead, there are squares and rectangles of various sizes that move the eye through the space.
  3. A limited color palette. Warm browns and greens make up this garden, and tie the separate elements together. Imagine if the pea stone had been grey and the plants a riot of color. It might have worked, although more likely, I think, the garden would have looked much too busy. In any case, it would have had a totally different look.

There are so many ways to design a small space. If you have one of you own, take time to look online at pictures of other small gardens and think of what looks good to you. If you do that, you will be halfway there. Awareness is everything.

2018, May 2018, What to do in the garden

Peony Hoops

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This is more of a reminder than a blog entry. For those of us who grow Peonies, it is time to start paying attention to them and thinking about putting up the Peony hoops. When in full flower, the flowers can be so heavy that the stems flop over, squashing the plants around them and making it impossible to enjoy the flowers. A Peony hoop, a support consisting of two rings held up by three legs, keeps the plants upright and allows you to really enjoy them. They don’t cost very much, and are well worth the investment. Here’s a link to them on Amazon, although they are probably also available from your local garden center.

 

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Young Peonies

 

The downside is remembering to put them up. In the spring, Peony shoots are very straight and  don’t look like they will ever need staking. They tend to be one of the first things up, so you notice them. Then other plants start to grow, and you tend to forget about the peonies, until they are so big that wrestling them into the hoops requires two people and a stiff shot of Whiskey.

 

So although it may seem like too much and too early, put the hoops on when the plants are young. They will soon be hidden by foliage, and it’s SO much easier! Save the Whiskey for congratulating yourself on a job well done.

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Perennial Geraniums

 

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Geranium ‘Azure Rush’

 

People often get confused about Geraniums. For many, Geraniums are red or pink annuals with a rather weird scent that you put in pots every summer. While that is true in one sense, those “geraniums” actually have the botanical name of Pelargonium. It’s an example of why it’s helpful to know the botanical name in order to make sure people are talking about the same thing, as the habit and care of those two plants could not be more different.

 

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Geranium , a.k.a. Cranesbill (This one is ‘Rozanne’, I think.)

 

 

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Pelargonium

 

The true Geranium (Often called ‘Cranesbill’, just to confuse things) is a perennial, whereas Pelargoniums are annuals in the Northeast. They look a lot different, too, with Geraniums forming mounds of sedate foliage covered in five petaled flowers in pink, white, magenta, or purplish blue, Pelargoniums having thick, leathery foliage and clusters of red, pink, salmon, or white flowers borne on stalks. Geraniums nestle right into a garden border, whereas Pelargoniums seem more at home in pots.

Geraniums are wonderful, versatile plants that will bring you weeks, if not months, of blooms in the garden. There is even a native Geranium, Geranium maculatum. Some are as short as 6-8″ like Geranium sanguineum var. striatum,  delightful little pale pink one with dark pink veining on the petals. Others are taller, like ‘Blushing Turtle’, which has medium pink flowers and grows to be 18-24″. There are Geraniums with dark bronze foliage and pink flowers (“Espresso’), ones with nodding burgundy flowers with black centers (‘Mourning Widow’) and some with neon pink flowers and white edges (‘Elke’), for example. One of my favorites is one called ‘Azure Rush’. Compact and growing in civilized 18-20” mounds, it has purplish-blue flowers with pale centers that bloom from May through October in my garden.

Try them in the front of the border, spilling onto paths, atop a stone wall… You won’t be sorry.

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Time to plant the early birds!

peas

At long last, Spring is at the point where we can start planting things. As soon as the ground is workable, you can plant your pea seeds. They like to grow best in cool weather so will do much better if you plant them now than if you plant them in June. Ditto Nasturtiums. Lettuce also likes cool temperatures. Don’t forget that you can also plant a crop in late summer to enjoy throughout the fall!

 

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Nasturtium blossoms are not only pretty to look at, they are tasty to eat, as well, with a light, peppery taste that goes well in salads.

 

Things like tomatoes and squash can be given a head start on a sunny windowsill, if you are so inclined. You will still have to wait until around Memorial Day to plant them (they like heat and lots of it, so planting them outside too soon isn’t productive) but you can certainly get them started. Just remember to bring them outside during the day and inside at night for 4-5 days before planting them outside for good. This is called “hardening off” and gets them used to the cooler temperatures so that they adapt better when in their final places.

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Pansy plants are also favorites for early planting. While typically they do best in the spring (and they love fall, too, although we don’t tend to think of them as fall flowers) they will often do pretty well in the summer heat if given a semi-shady spot. I had pansies that I planted in a barrel last April that survived and flowered until Christmas. Now that’s value!

Scratch that planting itch with a few of these beautiful and tasty plants, and get the season off to a good start!

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April 2018, What to do in the garden

Fertilizing Roses

rose doodle

I have always had good luck with roses. Perhaps it’s because I’m half English, so it is ingrained in my particular genetic mixture. More likely though, it’s because I really like them, and because of that, I have made a point to learn what makes them happy. One thing that I do, no matter how busy I am, is to give them regular fertilizer once a month from April to September. I try to do it on the first of the month, in order to keep it consistent, and to help me remember to do it. I use Rose-tone, by Espoma, which has a nutritional breakdown of 4-3-2. (Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium). I’m sure there are other good brands out there, but I like this one.

The application is simple: Just sprinkle it around the “drip line” of the plant, and either water it in, or let the rain do it. The “drip line” is the outermost circle of leaves of the plant. (See illustration.) By spreading the fertilizer that far out, as opposed to right at the base of the plant, you encourage healthy root growth and spread.

rose drip line

And that’s it! Really, the hardest part is just remembering to do it.

 

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Cherry Trees

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While George Washington’s famous “Father, I cannot tell a lie, I chopped down the cherry tree with my hatchet” may be a story invented by his biographer, it is not surprising that the cherry tree was chosen to feature in the myth, as it has had a place in history for thousands of years.

The first mention of the cherry tree is said to have been in 300 bc, when they were named after a town in Turkey. Since then, it has appeared in legends from all over the world.  It has also been goven as a token of friendship, often from Japan,  as were the famous cherry trees that now grow in Washington D.C. Parts of the tree have been used throughout history to treat jaundice, intestinal discomfort, used as a sedative, and in cough medicine. (Ludens cough drops ring a bell?) We eat cherry jams and jellies on toast, bake them in pies, and spear them with tiny swords and put them in cocktails which we serve on on tables made of cherry wood. The uses go on and on.

Graceful soldiers

In the garden, Cherry trees and their cousins, the Plums, are beautiful additions, providing blossoms in the spring, shade in the summer, and stately silhouettes in the winter. Cherry blossom festivals seem to pop up wherever more than a dozen grow. There are tall ones and short ones, shrub sized ones, weeping ones, tart ones and sweet ones, so there is one for every garden situation. No wonder they have stood the test of time!

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Spring cleanup

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I tend to prefer to clean up the garden in the spring rather than the fall. That is when I’m motivated to do it, as I am dreaming of the spring garden and looking forward to getting re-acquainted with the plants. It’s better for the garden, too, as the dead stems and foliage protect the crown of the plant in the winter, and the birds can eat the seeds, if any. The only thing I religiously cut back in the fall are irises and daylilies, but that’s just because I can’t stand how slimy they get over the winter.

Eventually, however, you have to pull your wellies on and get busy. It’s a good idea to get the dead plant material out of the way before the new growth starts, otherwise you might cut some of that by mistake. For the most part, you want to cut perennials back to about an inch or two above the base. Don’t cut closer than that or you may injure the crown. Cut less if the new growth has already started – it will cover the “stumps” soon. Don’t cut things like roses, woody perennials (ones that have bark) early spring bloomers like Moss Phlox or vines back unless you have read up on them and are sure that they will do what you want after you cut them. Some things only bloom on new growth, and so you can be set back years if you cut them back too much. But for perennials like Echinacea, Shasta Daisies, Geraniums, etc, cutting them back can be very beneficial.

 

Peony
This is a picture of new growth on a Peony. If you look closely, you can see how last year’s stems have been cut back, barely noticeable now. The plants to the right and in the background have also been cut neatly.

 

Fallen leaves can be raked up and composted or, better still, put through a leaf shredder and put back on the garden. There, they will release nutrients all summer as they break down, and you won’t need to add additional fertiliser. I also mulch about every other year with a mixture of compost and shredded pine bark, just for good measure. The trick is to do it before the plants put on too much growth, otherwise it’s a rotten job.

And that’s it! Your garden now looks neat and tidy, your plants will be fed, and you can sit back and enjoy it. (For awhile!)