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

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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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!

Microbiota 2.jpg

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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Uncategorized

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.

Uncategorized

A Blog is Born

I started my first blog, the garden-travel blog Garden Room Inked, because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I wasn’t sure that blogging would be anything that would excite me, as I felt that my life, in general, was much too busy and interesting to be stuck at a computer writing things for strangers to read. I have found that it is, instead, one of the most fascinating things that I have dabbled in lately. Watching it spread throughout the world has been quite mind blowing, as it has been read, now, in more than 47 countries located on nearly every continent on Earth. (Anyone reading this from Antarctica, please check it out; your continent is the only hold out!) Anyway, I find that I now want a place in which to write things that, although still plant related in some way, deviate from the “travellog” format of Garden Room Inked. I’d also like to be able to share other articles/blogs that I think are interesting.

And so, The Sunny Side has been born, and is now in its infancy. What would you like to hear about? In the mean time, stay tuned… I expect the future will include some useful gardening advice, design tips, and perhaps a story about a small frog who went on an adventure…

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