2018, September 2018, What to do in the garden

Time to order bulbs!

bulbs

It’s hard to believe that it’s that time already, but it is, in fact,  time to think about ordering bulbs so that they can be delivered at the best planting time. At this time of the season, when the garden is still pretty full, it’s hard to think about where to put them, or why you would even want them, really. But try to remember that feeling that you had in March, of wanting spring to come, and how nice it is to see the first snowdrop, or have daffodils outside your front door, or to see a drift of Grape Hyacinths at the edge of your walkway or patio, and consider adding to the display. It’s a gift to your future self.

crocus

As for where to plant them, that’s a little trickier, when the garden is full. So here are a few tips:

-Plant some near the front door, or the garage if that’s your main entrance, or where they can be seen from a window that you look out often. It’s often too cold or rainy or muddy in the spring to explore the out-of-the-way parts of the garden, so they will be wasted if you put them there. Put them where you can enjoy them.

-Don’t plant bulbs where you usually have piles of snow from the plow or underneath the roof where snow is likely to pile up. Those places will melt last and the bulbs may never get a chance to do their thing. (I know this from experience!) Likewise, don’t plant them in a shady, north facing place – same problem.

-Think about planting them next to your fall blooming plants. That way, the spring bulbs will have come and gone before the fall plants start to get going, and they won’t compete for space.

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In a month or so I’ll write about how to plant your bulbs, but in the mean time, check out your local garden center and see what they have to offer, or try some of the mail order sources below. One word of advice – when it comes to bulbs, bigger is better, and it’s worth spending a little extra money for a bigger bulb of the type that you are looking at. Those have greater food reserves and will produce a more robust plant.

Have fun!

White Flower Farm

Burpee

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2018, July 2018, What to do in the garden

There are always flowers…

Henri Matisse said, “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” At this time of year, it’s easy to get so caught up in our lives that we forget to stop and look at the garden and what it has to offer, so this week I thought I’d post some flower pictures from around the virtual garden. I encourage you to stop and spend a few minutes enjoying your own garden, or that of a friend – the summer goes by so quickly…

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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, May 2018, What to do in the garden

Planting Perennials

Path 2

Memorial Day Weekend is a great time to plant perennials since, for most of us in the Northeast, the threat of a frost is over. It’s time to go to the garden center and spend a little money. Or a lot of money! Regardless of the amount spent, we all want to protect that investment, and one of the ways to do that is to make sure the plants are planted correctly. The small amount of extra time that it takes to plant a perennial correctly pays off generously in the long-term health of the plant. And it’s very simple, once you know how.

 

Basically, what you are doing is creating an ideal environment for a new plant to grow in. This means making it easy for it to put out root growth, and giving it enough water deep down so that the roots to grow down, not up. Because if you have a good root system, the plant is much more likely to thrive. Here’s how:

 

1)     Dig a hole about twice as wide as the plant, and maybe 1.5 times its depth. The reason for this is that the soil that you put back in will be looser and it will be easier for the plant to grow roots into. Save the soil that you took out. Once upon a time, it was thought that putting back fresh, enriched soil was the thing to do, but studies have found that it makes such a pleasant place for the plants’ roots to be that they don’t venture into the adjacent soil, causing the it to be less stable. So the soil that you took out should go back in again, except for exceptional circumstances.

 

2)     Take the plant out of its pot and inspect the root system. If the roots look like they are densely packed, or are circling the bottom or sides of the pot, then they need to be loosened up. Scratch all the way around the root area, allowing the roots to spring free from the shape of the pot. If they are really stubborn, use your garden clippers or even a knife to slice them.

planting perennials 1

3)     Backfill some of the removed soil into the hole, and check to make sure that the soil level around the plant is the right height. Place the plant in the hole, and backfill around it until it is about halfway up the sides of the root ball. Water deeply. This ensures that there is plenty of water available at the bottom of the plant, and gets rid of any air pockets that may be lurking in the soil.

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4)     Backfill the rest of the way. If you can, make a shallow ring around the plant with a little bit of soil so that water gets trapped there and can sink in. Water deeply again.

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And there you have it! Your plants’ roots will have an ideal place in which to grow and be well watered. Mulching will help retain water loss, so that’s a good idea as well. Just keep the mulch away from the place where the plant meets the soil, or moisture could settle in and the plants could rot.

 

So now, you know. Happy planting!

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.

2018, May 2018, What to do in the garden

Peony Hoops

Peony 1

This is more of a reminder than a blog entry. For those of us who grow Peonies, it is time to start paying attention to them and thinking about putting up the Peony hoops. When in full flower, the flowers can be so heavy that the stems flop over, squashing the plants around them and making it impossible to enjoy the flowers. A Peony hoop, a support consisting of two rings held up by three legs, keeps the plants upright and allows you to really enjoy them. They don’t cost very much, and are well worth the investment. Here’s a link to them on Amazon, although they are probably also available from your local garden center.

 

Peony
Young Peonies

 

The downside is remembering to put them up. In the spring, Peony shoots are very straight and  don’t look like they will ever need staking. They tend to be one of the first things up, so you notice them. Then other plants start to grow, and you tend to forget about the peonies, until they are so big that wrestling them into the hoops requires two people and a stiff shot of Whiskey.

 

So although it may seem like too much and too early, put the hoops on when the plants are young. They will soon be hidden by foliage, and it’s SO much easier! Save the Whiskey for congratulating yourself on a job well done.

peony 2

March 2018, Plant-of-the-month

Scilla

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This month we are featuring Scilla siberica, or Siberian Squill (Or just Scilla), a delightful little woodland wildflower, whatever you choose to call it. It will spread, but since it goes dormant in late spring and virtually disappears, this can be a blessing rather than a curse. And as long as they aren’t planted in soil that is constantly wet, they will grow with very little help from us, which can be an advantage in our busy lives.

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Personally, I find them so lovely that I can’t imagine myself being sick of them, especially since the show that they put on in the spring is just what I need after a long winter. But I’ll let you be the judge!

If you decide to grow them, buy a few bulbs in the fall and plant them in a partly sunny place in groups of 3 or 5. Or, for a more natural look, just toss them in the ground and plant them where they land.  Before long you will have a spring carpet of blue to enjoy, sometimes even in the snow.

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