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Design Demystified: Bone Structure

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At this time of year, when the plants have gone dormant and are building strength for the spring, we once again get to see the understructure of the garden. Evergreens that may have been eclipsed by brighter perennials, stone steps or pathways that have been used but not noticed, and the shapes of borders suddenly take center stage again. Without them we would not enjoy the things we take for granted in the garden so much, like the way our eye moves from one part of the garden to another, or the easy access to a favorite seat. When the garden is in full bloom, some of the framework gets lost. But then winter comes, and once again we see the bone structure.

This is a chance to see what we like and don’t like, where things might need fixing, or adding to. Perhaps a boring corner of the garden could use a fun path, or maybe an evergreen would be just the thing to look out the kitchen window at on a cold winter morning. Now is the time to assess.

“Ok”, you say, “but now you’re getting all designer-y on me, and I have no idea what you’re talking about.”  Fair enough. Here are some pictures to try to help explain. 

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This garden is a mess at the moment. (It’s mine, so I can say that.) But it does have things that are interesting even when the plants have gone dormant. The boxwood “gatekeepers” where you exit the garden add color and form to the garden. The statue in the middle and the path configuration are interesting to look at. While some tidying is in order, you have to admit that you do spend a little time looking around before you decide there are better things to look at. 

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This small garden at the Denver Botanical Garden (The DBG is worth going out of your way to see, by the way) has something of interest in every season. Predominantly hardscape, it has a balance and structure that is pleasing to look at.

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Also at the Denver Botanical Garden, this Japanese-style garden does the opposite of the formal hardscape garden. Here, evergreens of different textures that are trimmed to be formal, yet natural, and sweeping beds of mulch vs areas of lawn create the structure. A rock adds contrast, the way the minimal plantings in the hardscape garden did.

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This rock garden isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it is interesting, and gives a texture to what would otherwise be a rather boring hill. And in the summer when the plants are in bloom, it’s a riot of color!

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And finally, here’s a way to create an interesting pathway, complete with swirls and eddies that make you think of water. The fallen leaves look like jewels against the grey, and can you imagine it with a dusting of snow? It also massages your feet if you walk on it in thin soled shoes. 

So look out of the window this winter. Wander around and see if everything flows like you want it to. Now is the time to make mental notes about what you like and don’t like about the garden, without all the flowers. After all, around here, it’s a long winter. Shouldn’t the garden be fun to look at all year? 

2019, Gardens of the World, Uncategorized

Armchair Travellers’ Gardens: Eze- an exotic garden town on the French Riviera

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I am lucky enough to have seen some interesting gardens in my travels, and in 2019 am going to share one of them with you each month. So without further ado, let’s go to France!

Less than 6 miles  from Monaco, along the Middle Corniche, lies the town of Eze, one of the diamonds in the extravagantly bejeweled crown that is the French Riviera. Built on a cliff about 1400 feet above sea level around the ruins of an ancient château, Eze has a medieval section which  is comprised of tiny streets which are at most about 12 feet wide, and therefore, there are no cars. These streets rise steeply uphill and curve and split off from each other like a maze, with surprises around every corner: a café, a shop; a wall completely covered in blossoms, or a quiet, shady corner with a seat.  The slope of the streets makes for an unhurried climb, with time to notice these things and enjoy them at leisure (Unless, of course, you are a UPS man or a valet bringing luggage up to the luxury hotel at the top, both of whom I saw and felt rather sorry for!)

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Eze itself is like a well built garden, complete with patios, walls, and pergolas, and planted with trees and vines that we, here in New England, can only dream about growing. Bougainvillea and Plumbago foam from every opening, tropical vines scramble up walls, and olive trees have been trained against the walls so as not to impede the flow of foot traffic. Although it is now a town, you can see how it was once private property, and there is a distinctly home-like feeling to it. As a visitor, one feels quite at leisure to explore, discover, rest, and enjoy it all.

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For those with a sense of adventure and a head for heights, the climb up to the very top of the town to the Jardin Exotique d’Eze is a must. The view from the top, looking out over Monaco to the east, and Nice and the Côte d’Azur to the west, is stunning. The garden, created in the 1950’s by the designers of the Jardin Exotique de Monaco, is full of Cacti and Succulents from all over the world. There are collections of Agave, Aloe,Yucca, and Euphorbia, to name a few, and Cacti of every shape that you can imagine, including ones that look like they could be rather comfortable to sit on, until you get close enough to see their two inch spines.

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The Jardin d’Eze is a definite must if you are ever in that area of the world; bring your curiosity and comfortable shoes!

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2019, Plant-of-the-month, Uncategorized

Plant-of-the-Month: Winterberry Holly

 

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People are often surprised that Winterberry Holly, or Ilex verticillata, is a holly at all, because it doesn’t have the glossy, spiky leaves that you think of when you hear the name Holly. And unlike the traditional Holly (Ilex meserveae cvs), it loses its leaves in the winter, which also seems foreign to “Holly”. While this is often seen as a bad characteristic, in this case it is when Winterberry shines, as the female plants are covered from head to toe in bright red berries. A hedge of Winterberry Holly can be a real showstopper in the snow, and the berries persist a long time- or, at least, until the birds are done with them or you have picked them for holiday decorations!

‘Red Sprite’ Winterberry grows to be about 3-4’ x 3-4’ and us very compact. It is hardy to Zone 3, so will tolerate some pretty cold conditions. ‘Sparkleberry’ is similar, but is bigger, at 8-10’ x 8-10’. Both plants will produce more berries if a male is somewhere in the vicinity, so get a ‘Southern Gentleman’ or a ‘Jim Dandy’ and stick it somewhere inconspicuous, as there are no berries and the flowers are inconsequential.

Winterberries prefer full sun to part shade and can be used in wetland areas as well in places with normal amounts of moisture. They won’t do as well in very dry conditions, although I have been surprised before.

Try some! They will make you happy when the landscape begins to look a little forlorn.

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Pruning Lilacs

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Lilacs are the NH State flower, and at the end of May, the air is thick with the scent of them. They can live a long time, but as they age, they will start to flower less and less and may need some pruning. One thing to bear in mind is that if you prune at the wrong time, you will sacrifice the next crop of flowers, since the plant won’t have time to  recover from the pruning AND create new flowers. So prune them just after they have finished blooming.

While looking around for some good lilac blooming diagrams, I found this article by Fine Gardening, which sums up the pruning process so well that, rather than re-invent the wheel, I am adding a link to it here.

Happy pruning – enjoy your renovated lilacs!

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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!

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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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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.

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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!