2018, November 2018, Plant-of-the-month

Plant-of-the-Month: The Sourwood Tree

IMG_1033 2

Sourwood, or Oxydendrum arboreum, is a sorely underused tree. Native to eastern North America, it is probably at its northernmost limit here in southern New Hampshire, as it is only hardy to Zone 5, but we are so lucky to have it here! Sourwood is a slow grower, but will top out at 30 feet if given time and space and a moist but well drained environment. It performs best in full sun, but doesn’t mind part shade.

But those are the boring details – I haven’t told you the best part yet! Sourwood flowers in late summer, and covers itself in delicate sprays of fragrant, white, lily-of-the-valley-like flowers. Those flowers are enough to recommend it, but wait! There’s more! The flowers persist into fall, when Sourwood’s leaves turn a screaming red. IT is almost wrong, it’s so red. Then, for a little while, you have both the flowers and the red leaves, until the leaves finally fall and only the seed heads remain to decorate the bare branches.

If you have the space, I urge you to give one a try. It is an eye-catching addition to any garden and a must-have if you like unusual plants!

 

photo 2 (3) 3
A mature Sourwood.

DSCN3177 4

 

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

Montauk Daisy

IMG_1030

The Montauk Daisy is a plant with the rather regal mouthful of a botanical name, Nipponanthemum nipponicum. As botanical the name suggests, it is native to Japan, but it has done so well in places like Long Island, NY, that its common name is a lot more close to home.

The first time I saw a Montauk Daisy, I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at. First of all, it was October, when most of the plants like Shasta Daisies are about finished flowering. Secondly, the plant was huge, almost 4 feet tall and wide, and the flowers were bigger than your typical Shasta. On closer inspection, I could see that the leaves were  leathery and glossy, nothing like any other daisy that I knew. What was this thing?

Eventually someone told me what it was, and I was able to learn more about it. Although it looks like a daisy, it actually isn’t, and is in a genus (Nipponanthemum) all to itself. It doesn’t really act like a daisy, either, since it is more shrub-like than anything else, given its size and shape. If you have the room, though, it’s well worth having in the garden, as it is deer and rabbit resistant as well as being drought and salt tolerant. So if you live on the water or like a beach-themed garden and, like many of us, have deer around, this plant is for you. Provide it with well drained soil, and full sun, and prune it in summer (see blog post from July 12 on how to best do this) and you will get a really pleasant surprise come fall!

2018, September 2018, What to do in the garden

A good time to plant

DSCN1849

I get asked a lot if fall is too late to plant trees, shrubs, and perennials, and the answer is a resounding “No”. In the fall, they are starting to get ready to retire for the winter, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the strength to establish themselves- quite the contrary. In the fall, perennials, trees, and shrubs don’t have to spend their energy on making leaves and flowers and attracting pollinators, so what energy they have can be used for root growth and getting settled in their new place.

Some caveats apply – if the summer has been very dry, and the plants seem stressed in their pots because they haven’t gotten enough water, you might want to pass them by and find others that have been better cared for. You don’t want to start with a stressed plant.

Also, if it’s a dry fall, and there is water rationing, it’s better to wait until spring when hopefully more water will be available. Just like any other time that you are planting, the new plants need to be well watered for several weeks in order to do well.

In New England, it’s best to stop by Halloween. But until then, as long as there is enough water, you can have great success with new plants. And sometimes they are on sale, because nurseries are often looking to get rid of stock so they don’t have to overwinter it. Win-win!

IMG_0212DSCN5418Microbiota 2

2018, Plant-of-the-month, September 2018

Plant of the month: Japanese Anemones

IMG_1028

Japanese Anemones, or Windflowers, are invaluable plants in the late summer garden. Not only do they suddenly appear when other things are looking tired, but they seem to fill a void without seeming to take up a whole lot of space. They can be described as “see-through” plants, meaning that the bulk of their leaves are near the bottom of the plant, while the flowers rise on tall stalks, creating a light and airy look.

Japanese Anemones grow to be 36-48 inches tall although they don’t seem as big, and have really interesting round buds which compliment the flowers. They prefer part shade but will be ok in full sun, and come in shades of rich pink like ‘Bressingham Glow” to white like ‘Honorine Jobert’ or ‘Whirlwind’, and every shade in between. Divide them in the spring, then forget about them and be pleasantly surprised when they show up in the fall to freshen things up!

anemone

 

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?

path 1

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.

stepping stones

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?

 

2018, June 2018, Plant-of-the-month

Daylilies

IMG_1021

I have to admit that for a long time I was not a fan of Daylilies. I think that was because, until I started to get really serious about plants, “Daylily” to me meant those orange tiger lilies that you see growing everywhere from peoples gardens to roadsides. Not that a huge drift of tiger lilies isn’t a spectacular thing; but they just didn’t do it for me.

Fast forward a couple of decades, (or maybe three) and they are now one of my favorite flowers in the garden. First of all, there are just so many to choose from! They come in just about every color but blue. Some are scented. Some are long blooming, some are short, and some are tall. Some are single, some double, and some even like a little shade. All have great, green, strappy foliage that contrasts well with just about everything you put them with.

Check them out at your local garden center. Some of my favorites are the “Returns” series, because they bloom almost all season long. There is ‘Happy Returns’, a mid sized yellow one, “Rosy Returns’, a pink version, and ‘Fragrant Returns’, a buttery yellow one than, you guessed it, is perfumed!

Try them out! Red, Pink, Yellow, Green, Peach, Purple, and White is the new orange!

100_0631

 

 

 

 

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:

small garden 1

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:

small garden 2

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:

small garden 3

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.