January 2018

What will you grow?

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Believe it or not, it’s time to start thinking about ordering seeds for the garden. It will soon be time to start things like tomatoes and pansies indoors, and you can put peas and Nasturtiums in  as soon as the frost is out of the ground. So while the time to plant outside is still a little way off, it pays to do a little thinking in advance so that you have the seeds when you need them.

The seed companies may have already filled your mailbox with their catalogues, but in case they haven’t, here are some of my favorites. Your local garden center or Agway will probably have them, too. Have fun choosing!!

Territorial Seeds

Seed Savers Exchange

Harris Seeds

Renee’s Garden Seeds

Johnny’s Seeds

Park Seed

 

If you just can’t wait to have plants in your life, then I recommend an Aerogarden. This is a small hydroponic system, and you will be amazed by what you can grow in just water! I have grown herbs and lettuce, and even started perennials like Lavender. Right now I have Petunias in it, because I have been dying for some color in my studio. They sell a wide range of kits, but if you want to try things on your own, you can also buy seedless starters and use the seeds of your choice. While the Aerogarden system is a bit of an investment, you can use it over and over again, and the mental and physical health benefits are priceless!

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P.S. Neither Aerogarden nor any of the previously mentioned seed companies pay me anything to recommend them; I have just had positive experiences so I want to share their names.

 

P.P.S. You’ll notice that none of the companies that I recommended are represented in the seed photo. That’s because I haven’t ordered my seeds yet and so all I have are some packets left over from a vacation to Alaska, some freebie Cosmos, and a couple of packets left over from last year that I kept because I liked the artwork.

To check out Aerogarden, click here.

What are your favorite things to grow in winter?

Design ideas, January 2018

Winter Interest

Here in Northern New England, winter interest in the garden is a must.  Just because three of our seasons are “almost winter, winter, and still winter” (the fourth being “road construction”), it doesn’t mean that we have to stare out the window at nothingness much of the year. Creating winter interest is a more subtle art than designing riotous garden beds, but it is absolutely attainable, and the good news is that it can co-exist with the summertime plants without lessening any of their splendor.

Plant choices are important, but structure is even more so, so I will start with that.

STRUCTURE: The “bones” of the garden are made up of things like walls, pathways, trellises, large trees, and the patterns created by the flowerbeds. They are the framework against which we place the plants, rather like a cake before it has been decorated. Good bones give the garden visual balance and make it interesting to look at. The picture below has good bones. Although it’s not a garden, per se, but a field covered in snow, it’s far from boring to look at. The trees in the middle ground and in the background have an interesting shape, and the low hedgerow dividing the fields breaks up what could otherwise have been a rather dull expanse of snow. And the curly iron gatepost and frosty weeds add a lot of interest to the foreground. In the summer that same gatepost would probably be almost invisible, and we would be walking right by it, only registering a rather weeds patch by the side of the path.

In winter, the bones really get a chance to come into their own!DSCN2749 (1)

Here is another picture, but of a real garden this time. However, the principles are the same: Trees placed in the foreground, middle ground, and background, with the space divided up into sections by low hedges. The wall adds interest, too.

winter garden

If you are wondering how to achieve this in your own garden, or if you aren’t quite sure how it will look in the winter, try this trick: Take a photo of your garden and change it to black and white on your phone, or make a black and white copy of a printed photo. Without the distraction of the color, you will be able to see the shapes much more clearly, and imagine what the garden will look like when the flowers have gone away. Then you can adjust, if necessary.

COLOR: Once you have structure in the garden, you can start adding some of the cake decorations- the plants. Plants with brightly colored stems, like Cornus sericea, (Red-twig Dogwood) or Salix alba var. vittellina (A shrubby willow), make a stunning display. Ilex verticillata, or Winterberry Holly, is covered in bright red berries. Neither is all that exciting in the summer, but they make a nice backdrop for other perennials, preferring to  pull their weight in the winter.

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Salix alba var. vitellina, I think, at the Eden Project in Cornwall, UK.

winterberryWinterberry Holly. You’ll need a male as well as females to get a lot of berries. Ask at your garden center.

TEXTURE: Interesting textures that catch the frost or fine snowflakes can also add a lot to the garden. Leave the seed heads of perennials like Echinacea, or the tall Sedums for their unusual shapes. The birds will thank you, too. Just yesterday I had at least a dozen Juncos eating the seeds of the Liatris that I never got around to deadheading. Who knew? And now I get to feel righteous instead of lazy!

Grasses of all shapes and sizes can look splendid in the winter. Tall, plumy ones like Miscanthus add great structure (!!), Medium Pennisetums like ‘Hameln’ add a fountain of foliage to the landscape, and a waterfall of Hakonechloa (see picture below) is hard to beat after a frost.

Grasses in snow

Play around with these elements and you will find that your winter garden is far from boring. Now, if we could just figure out what to do about road construction…

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January 2018, What to do in the garden

What to do with your Christmas tree?

Christmas is over, and by now most of us have taken down our trees. They have served us well, but now what? Some towns have recycling programs, but what if you want to recycle them at home? Here are a few ideas. Let us know what you do with yours!

1.Strip off the branches. Some perennials, like Lavender, for example, like a little protection in the winter. Christmas tree boughs are just the thing. They have enough body to them to hold the snow off the plants a little bit and create a cocoon around them, while allowing air to flow.

2. Use the trunk as support. A stout Christmas tree trunk can be used in all sorts of ways – as a support for beans or clematis or other climbing plant (the little nubs left from where the branches were really help them get started climbing) or cut up and used as a decorative border around a plant. I even knew someone once who had an entire fence made of Christmas trees!

3. Let the trees be a winter home for wildlife. Like plants, many animals and birds need shelter from the harsh winter winds. By laying your tree somewhere protected, you can create a much needed escape for them.

Chickadee

 

IMG_0359Photo by Ben Rowland c. 2017

IMG_0363Photo by Ben Rowland c. 2017

Design ideas, January 2018, Plant-of-the-month

January Plant-of-the-month: Microbiota

Microbiota!

Microbiota

I have long been a fan of Microbiota decussata, or Russian Arborvitae. While they definitely have their place, I have never warmed up to the host of evergreen, prickly things out there, like Junipers or some of the dwarf spruces. They just aren’t friendly to hands or shins and can get really rangy if left to their own devices. But Microbiota’s flat sprays of foliage are soft and supple and interesting to look at. Its tiny cones, which are some of the smallest of all the conifers, are so small that they rarely hold more than one seed.  The branches look beautiful in arrangements, and in the summer are the perfect backdrop for perennials. In the winter, they turn a wonderful purple-bronze, which adds subtle color to the winter landscape.

 

Microbiota grows to be about 1-1.5 feet  in height in New England, and about 4 feet in width, although it can grow much wider under the right conditions. It doesn’t take over, though, and can easily be kept within the confines of your garden plan. It prefers sun to part shade, and needs good drainage, but otherwise is relatively maintenance-free. It works well on bankings, or in a place where an elegant groundcover is wanted. And, as it’s a zone 3-8 plant, it can be used in a lot of different climates.

 

Try it with Daylilies or plants with lighter, broader foliage like Echinacea or Peonies, or plants with strong colors like Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia). Enjoy its soft waterfall of foliage – and leave the chain mail suit in the house!

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