2019, Design ideas, Garden ramblings, What to do in the garden

Garden filmography

No, I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth. It’s been a crazy winter and an even  crazier spring, so I haven’t been writing as much. However, this weekend I’m out in my garden for the first time this season, taking stock of things, and what I’m finding has motivated me to write.

It was a tough winter and spring for plants. The early freeze last fall damaged a lot of Rhododendrons, and the deer got at many of the rest. On NH’s Seacoast, there was precious little snow cover, so the plants didn’t get insulated from the freeze-thaw cycles that followed, and then the spring was so wet that things rotted. The deer, who will usually stay away from certain plants, munched away indiscriminately, despite the fact that without the snow, much more food was available and they could have been choosy. It was the worst winter for deer damage that many have ever seen.

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In my garden, I’m noticing gaps where things are missing. My Shasta daisies, which we usually refer to as “cockroaches” because they will survive anything, are shadows of their former selves, if they are there at all. The Lavender is history. My Nepeta is mostly gone-  Nepeta! Another cockroach! It boggles the imagination. Weirdly, the roses are looking lovely, and the ferns have gone bezerk, perhaps because they enjoy the moist “English” weather. The irises are everywhere, now.

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The Tree Peonies are having a banner year.

 

Professionally, clients are confused. Some are upset, understandably, that their investment has been eaten, or rotted, or just not come back as healthily as we all would have liked. I feel their pain. Unfortunately, neither landscape designers nor landscapers can predict what sort of unusual weather will come next these days, or what the deer will eat or not eat. I used to feel that I could put plants in a garden that would reliably be left alone by the deer; not any more.  The landscape, quite literally, is changing.

So what is a homeowner to do? Well, I would politely ask that first and foremost, they not blame their landscaper or landscape designer. While we can certainly be blamed for bad planting decisions like placing  a hosta in full sun, we can’t control weather or animals, and are always struggling to contend with both. However, we can be your best source of information when it comes to keeping up with the changing times. We read articles. We talk with colleagues and friends about what has and hasn’t worked in the garden. We discuss this A LOT. And most importantly, we are in gardens, either our clients’ or our own, each and every day and we see what is going on from all different perspectives. We see that Mrs. Smith’s catawbiense Rhododendron got eaten by deer, but Mrs. Jones’ yakushimanum Rhododendron didn’t. We will notice that boxwoods did well in one spot but not another. And we know about plants and their needs and are able to draw conclusions from these observations, and adapt accordingly. So while we aren’t able to guarantee the success of replacement plants with respect to animal damage and extreme weather, we can certainly help with choices that will have the best chance of doing well. We are your best front line of defense.

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In my own garden, while I’m sorry to see plants go, I consider every death an opportunity. The loss of a large stand of Shasta Daisies allowed me to plant a funky evergreen called Thuja ‘Whipcord’, a funny looking, dreadlock-covered shrub that looks like it’s about to scuttle across the garden muttering darkly to itself. It makes me happy in ways that the Shasta Daisies never would have. And while there is all that space devoid of plants, I’m taking the opportunity to lay down cardboard to smother the Goutweed which thought the winter was just fine, thank you very much, and is making an enthusiastic bid to take over the world.

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I’m letting the buttercups flower this year. They are pretty, and I can deal with their invasiveness later. In the mean time, they are filling the gap left by the Nepeta. I keep reminding myself, and others, that gardening is a film, not a still picture. Weather patterns change. Gardens become more or less shady, and so the growing conditions can cause one plant to die out while another thrives. This transience is one of the reasons I love gardening and designing gardens, because there is always a chance to try something new. So don’t worry, it will be all right. Go with the flow, ask the advice of experts, and don’t forget to enjoy the movie!

(PS. There’s a lovely Iris called “Buttered Popcorn” that you can even have with it.)

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Lots of gaps, lots of opportunities.
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Happy Pulmonaria, even with the obligatory Goutweed photo-bomb.
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Nothing seems to faze Bleeding Heart.

 

Design ideas, Garden ramblings, June 2018

Down the garden path

Pathways are an important part of any garden. They get you from here to there, and separate areas of the garden. But their value is not necessarily just in their physical function. Pathways play an important psychological role in the garden, and so it’s important to choose the right material and layout, and to really think about what the path is supposed to accomplish.

Let’s talk about a few examples.

Fruit garden

Example #1: Paths that slow you down. This is part of my garden. It’s a terraced area on a very steep hillside, and when we had the terracing done, it took a long time to figure out how I wanted the layout to be. You enter the garden between the two round boxwoods on the right. From this top layer, there are two ways of getting to the bottom layer- by going down the hill in front of the stump-and-stone table in the center back, or down some steps that you can see the beginning of in the bottom left hand corner.

Without the garden beds, the impulse was to enter the garden and turn immediately towards the steps on the left, without paying attention to the rest of the garden. At the bottom of the steps was a second terrace, an eight foot strip that followed the upper contour, and another set of steps that lead into the woods. The flow of the space basically spit you out of the garden before you had even had a chance to look around.

I wanted to change that. I wanted there to be no direct way to get anywhere in the garden quickly, so that I (a rather impatient person by nature) or a visitor, would have to slow down and enjoy the garden which I was about to put a lot of effort into. So I created the semi-labyrinth that you see in the picture. There are now many ways to get from point a to point b, but none are direct, so you get to spend some time being present and enjoying the space.

The pea stone was also a deliberate choice. I will admit that part of the reason that I chose it was because the driveway in front of my grandparents’ house was covered in pea stone, and the crunching noise that a car or feet would make has a nostalgic aspect for me. But I also chose it because it is soft, and gives underfoot, and adds to the feeling of slowing down.  Pea stone can be a pain and isn’t for everyone, but in this circumstance, given what I wanted to accomplish and my fondness for it, it was perfect. And it serves the purpose well.

Path 2

Example #2: Paths that speed you up. This is a lovely path. It curves out of sight and adds interest and mystery to the garden. But it is not built for wanderers. The narrowness of it combines with the bricks running the long way psychologically hurry you up. While you are meant to enjoy what is on either side, you aren’t encouraged to linger. If I had to guess, it is a garden that is open to the public, and is designed to politely move people along. Imagine, for a moment, that the bricks went horizontally across the path. Would you walk more slowly?

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Example #3: Natural, but formal pathways. I love this picture. The garden is made up of great swirling drifts of plants in organic sweeps, but is manicured and formal at the same time. Choosing a style of pathway to fit those somewhat conflicting criteria could be tricky, but in this case, the designer has  done it perfectly. There are two paths here, and they need to be wide enough to fit the space but inconspicuous enough so as not to take over. These well shaped pieces of wood, arranged in pairs into graceful curves while  allowing grass to grow in between accomplish all that.

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Example #4: Natural but informal paths. This pathway is a great example of a side path that would belong in the woods, or be the “road less travelled”. Although its narrowness might suggest that it would make you go more quickly, the natural stepping stones do the reverse, as you would probably be keeping half an eye on the ground to make sure you had your footing. This pathway makes me think of a Japanese designer that I read about once but whose name I have unfortunately forgotten. But I have never forgotten the trick that he used to employ. He liked to design his gardens with stepping stones like these, and he liked curving paths with something special like a view or a specimen tree just out of sight around the corner. Then, he would make sure that the stepping stone that you would step on just before going around the corner and seeing that special something was a little wobbly. You would tread on it, wobble, and look down to  check your footing. As you took your next step, and rounded the corner, your head would come up again and you would get a special surprise. Manipulative, yes, but magical all the same.

And it goes on and on. Think about it next time you walk on a path. How does it make you feel? Does it affect the way you walk on it? What would you change if you could?

 

February 2018, Garden ramblings

Snow fertilizer

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When I get to this point in the winter I am like a petulant child on a long road trip. “Are we THERE yet? How much LONGER?” I have been patient, and now I’m ready for things to wind down and to start to be able to think about working outside. It’s a bit soon, however, and so, like the child in the car, I must think of distractions to keep my impatience at arm’s length.

I am definitely a fan of thinking ahead and doing things now that will make life easier in the future. I always put the Christmas lights away carefully so that they won’t be a nightmare to unwrap next year, for example. Well, Mother Nature does that sort of thing, too. The snow, while nicely insulating the plants, also provides needed nitrogen for the soil.

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Nitrogen is essential for plant growth. It can get into the soil in a number of ways; through the decomposition of plant and animal wastes, through the planting of plants in the bean family which fix Nitrogen in their roots, and even as the result of lightning! And, of course, there is man-made fertilizer. But snow collects nitrogen from the atmosphere as it falls, and then slowly releases it into the soil, so while it may be a pain to shovel, it is actually doing its job as a pre-emergent fertilizer of sorts.

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While that, perhaps, isn’t enough to make the child in the back seat stop whining completely, it is at least enough to make me feel like snow has a purpose in the garden. And you have to admit, it is beautiful. So while we aren’t THERE, yet, perhaps there is still some of the journey left to be enjoyed.

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February 2018, Garden ramblings

Nature’s thermometer

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Do you have Rhododendrons at home? If so, you have a remarkably reliable thermometer right there in your back yard that you may not have ever noticed. The ubiquitous Rhody is not just a pretty face- in the winter, its leaves can tell you a lot about the temperature outside.

At the first sign of freezing temperatures, the leaves will start to droop. On an ordinary, above-freezing day, the leaves will be almost horizontal to the ground, but as temperatures drop below freezing, they will start to point downwards,  resembling shuttlecocks. As temperatures continue to fall, they will start to curl, until they are eventually rolled up tight, just as we all would like to be on a bitterly cold day.

The horticultural reason for this “thermotropic” movement is that when broad-leaved evergreens, like the Rhodendron, are exposed to cold, they protect themselves by rolling up. In this way, the underside of the leaf, where most moisture loss occurs, is out of the drying wind. Imagine that you are outside on a cold windy day – what do you do? You wrap your arms around yourself and huddle up to keep sensitive parts from being exposed to the cold. It’s not exactly the same thing as the Rhody, but the goal of self preservation is the same.

Regardless of the reason, looking at the leaves of a Rhododendron an excellent tool for us to gauge the temperature before we go out (or don’t.) So delete your thermometer app and plant a Rhododendron! Not only will it tell you when to bundle up, but it will bring you flowers in the spring. Is there an app that can say the same? (Don’t answer that.)

 

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A Rhododendron in the spring. See how the leaves are up and open to the sun?

 

 

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This picture was taken when the temperature was 2 degrees F. The leaves have dropped and curled up on themselves. 

 

February 2018, Garden ramblings

Witch Hazel

 

Witch hazel leaves
I hesitate to even post this picture because the fall foliage can be so much more spectacular. I’ll post a better one if I can find one.

 

 

Are you looking for a small tree/large shrub that has pretty fall foliage, interesting, scented flowers, and blooms in winter? Or one that blooms in fall, after most flowering shrubs have finished? Or maybe an interesting native plant? Well, look no further than the Witch Hazel, Hamamelis. Within this group of plants (called a Genus)  all those things are possible.

Hamamelis intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ has yellow, ribbon-like flowers that bloom in late February. You can force them inside as early as late January sometimes, where the warmth of a sunny windowsill will release their delicious scent. (See next week’s blog post for how to force them). If coppery-orange is more your color, try Hamamelis intermedia ‘Diane’. Both will grow to be about 12-15 feet tall (Arnold slightly larger) and approximately 10-15 feet wide, and both have spectacular fall foliage.

Hamamelis mollis, pictured in the drawing above, is similar to Hamamelis intermedia, but has more flowers and brighter fall foliage, if that’s possible.

If a fall blooming tree/shrub is what you’re after, try the native Hamelis virginiana. Growing to be 15-20 feet x 15-20 feet, this plant makes a wonderful shrub border.  Yellow flowers appear in October-November in the Northeast, with yellow fall foliage to follow.

In addition to being a great plant in the garden, Witch Hazel can also be used to make skin care products, some of which you may have seen in your local drugstore. Its attributes go on and on… If there was a downside, I’d say that it doesn’t do much in the summer. But there are plenty of other plants that will appreciate the lack of competition, so that’s barely a bad thing.

If you have the room, and want to stretch the growing season a little farther, give Witch Hazel a try!

Witch Hazel

Garden ramblings

Back Again!

Hello, and welcome (back)! My reasons for having been silent for so long include a wonderfully busy schedule, a need to grow and branch out in other areas, and sometimes just wanting to be in the garden instead of writing! Also, I haven’t gotten anything as near as exciting as a frog in the mail, lately, either. (See previous post if you think I’m hallucinating.)

The plan for this blog is to introduce you to new plants, give you some timely weekend gardening tips, and  to hopefully feed your imagination with ideas and pictures of gardens from around the world. As a landscape designer, seeing other people’s work is  a great tool – not to copy it, but as a springboard for other ideas. Yes, you can brainstorm with a picture. From time to time, I’ll also add pictures of some of the gardens that we have created.

So welcome to The Sunny Side! Weekly posts will begin starting the first week in January, but you never know what may show up before that. I’m glad to have you here.

Seasons Greetings,

Wickie Rowland

Landscape Designer/Creative Director

Labrie Associates, Design & Landscape Division, No. Hampton, NH.

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