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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!)

 

 

2018, March 2018, Uncategorized

The Show must go on!

As we have done for the last two years, we participated in the Seacoast Home and Garden Show this past weekend, and had a great time! It’s is always so much fun to talk to people and hear what they are looking for in their landscapes, and to feel like spring really is on its way. (Even though there usually is a snow storm around the time of the show!)

Below is a slideshow of our display, from concept to completion. Enjoy!

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2017, Uncategorized

2017

Untitled_ArtworkAs 2017 is about to draw to a close, and 2018 is waiting to take its place, I thought I’d take a moment to put together some pictures of some of our favorite projects of the year. I see that I need to put “taking after-pictures” on my list of New Year’s Resolutions… Thanks to the guys who shared a few of theirs with me. Wishing you all a Happy New Year – Here’s to 2018!

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An Unexpected Guest

This winter I experimented by planting some plug plants, the idea being to grow them to maturity by planting time, and save money. In January the box of plugs arrived from Florida with much fanfare. I opened the box and was greeted by the optimistic foliage of some diminutive perennial geraniums, a ray of hope that pierced the heavy grey skies of a very long winter.

I set about planting them into larger pots right away. I was working in my studio, as the greenhouse was much too cold for the tender new arrivals, and had settled on the floor with everything that I needed to complete the job. Suddenly, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye, and when I looked around, there was a tiny frog, about the size of a quarter. A stowaway! What to do… I wasn’t sure how to overwinter him, and so put a pot over him so he wouldn’t escape and started to build him a house out of an old terra cotta pot in a sheltered place outside. Once the frog condo was complete, I brought him out and showed him his new home.

Sometime later, I crossed paths with a representative of the company which had sent the plugs. I thanked him for the bonus frog, and without missing a beat, he said, “Oh! You found Leroy!” I then had to tell him the rest of the story.

About five minutes after I had put the frog in his new home, I thought better of it, and decided that he would probably have a better chance of survival if I put his new house in the greenhouse, where it was marginally warmer. But by the time I got outside, it had been ransacked. Looking around, I saw one of our dogs licking her lips…

Poor Leroy.

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Why I love my Job

Garden Room Inked

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Imagine a job where you get to learn how to fly, and to travel through time. A job where you take something less than ideal and turn it into something both beautiful, and practical; something which makes people feel good. A job in which you get to solve puzzles. A job which combines music, art, sculpture, and dance all in one. And, you get paid to do it, to boot.

Sound too good to be true? Well, it isn’t. It’s my job, the job of landscape designer. My job brings me to interesting places, and in contact with interesting people. It begins in a place where there is a problem to solve; a muddy back yard, an ugly view, or no usable space for the kids to play in. I get to hear people’s dreams and hopes for their leisure time, and in doing so, learn about them and the…

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The Tree Strangler

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I was going to write this blog entry about a gardening tool that I am particularly fond of, but I have become obsessed with the Strangler Fig lately and so I’m going to write about that instead and will leave writing about my favorite tool for another time.

 

Once, I read a book whose first line read, “My earliest ambition was to become a missionary-bishop and in due course to be eaten by cannibals.” The rest of the book was rather anticlimactic in comparison to that intriguing statement, but how could you not keep reading a book which begins in that way? I was similarly drawn in by the Strangler Fig (Ficus aurea), but in contrast, its story is just as interesting as its name. It begins life as an epiphyte, a plant that lives on a host plant but gets its sustenance from the air, rain, and airborne debris, rather than feeding on the host itself. Quite a benign start – but one that quickly becomes rather sinister. After attaching itself to the host (usually a tree and often a palm because of the grooves in the bark), it begins to grow. Aerial roots grow downward to attach to the soil and thicken. Others grow upward and tangle themselves around the leaf buds, preventing them from opening. Still others wrap themselves tightly around the trunk, keeping it from increasing in girth. As the Fig gets bigger, its thick canopy of leaves covers the host tree and blocks out any light. The host tree eventually weakens and dies, leaving a hollow centered, self supporting “tree” that is largely made up of Strangler Fig roots.

 

Since it starts its life near the top of the tree – its seeds having been deposited there by a bird – the Strangler Fig  has the advantage over trees growing directly in the soil, as it starts out much closer to the light. Being able to survive on air and rain means it isn’t dependent on the soil except as an anchor when it has become bigger than its host. It is not unusual, where these plants are found, to see a perfectly healthy tree with a strange growth of Strangler Fig clinging to the side, perhaps shooting out an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers-esque” appendage to grapple onto a nearby limb and hold it in its clutches. And we already know how the story will end, with a big knotty tangle of roots, some perhaps two feet in diameter, squeezing the life out of the poor tree that the Fig has landed on. No wonder it is sometimes called a “vegetable octopus”, or the “boa constrictor of the plant world”.

 

The strangling of a tree can take decades, if the host is big and strong, a lot less time if it is smaller. But it will happen, and the tree will eventually die and rot away, the rotted trunk then fed on by the Fig. The host has, in effect, been eaten by a vegetative cannibal. The only way to stop it is to get the Strangler Fig while it’s young and cut it out of the tree. In fact, that tool that I was going to write about would be just the thing for that job… But that’s for another time.

 

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If you look at the top of the picture, you will see the palm tree that is being swallowed up by the Strangler Fig.

 

 

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What it looks like at the bottom.