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.

winter landscape

2019, January, To Do

It’s a long winter… Or is it?

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Happy New Year to everyone! I hope that this finds you all in good health and that the holiday season has treated you well. Here in Northern New England, the weather has been weird, to say the least. Two measurable snowstorms in November, followed by a month of rain, has left everything covered in slime, including people’s spirits as we try to avoid getting weather whiplash. What I think I know for sure, though, is that the weather this winter will undoubtedly result in our staying inside quite a bit. So what’s a gardener to do, besides look longingly out of the window and dream of flowers and mulch and fresh vegetables?

Luckily for us, the seed catalogues will come soon, to add some amount of reality to our daydreaming. But if that’s not enough, there are some wonderful escapist videos out there. Here are a few of my favorites. They are available on Netflix or Amazon Prime (as specified), but are probably also available on other platforms. 

Currently on Netflix: 

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Big Dreams, Small Spaces.

This is a series of garden transformations, hosted by the impeccable Monty Don. Don is an English gardener and presenter who is probably one of the most well known tv personalities in the UK. In this series, he oversees gardens that are transformed by their owners, or by friends for friends. It is very down-to-earth and interesting to see what can be done in small gardens.

 

 

If garden history and virtual garden touring is more to your taste, try Monty Don’s French Gardens and Monty Don’s Italian Gardens. Yes, Monty Don again. He is very prolific!

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For a show with instant gratification, try Love Your Garden, hosted by Alan Titchmarsh. Second only perhaps to  Monty Don in the Garden Presenter Hall of Fame, Titchmarsh chooses people whose gardens have gone to rack and ruin for one reason or another and swoops in to create a new garden for them, almost overnight.

Available on Amazon Prime, but not on Netflix at this time, are other beauties:

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Great Gardens of England brings you on a tour of National Trust Properties.

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The Secret History of the British Garden (Monty Don again!) is a wonderful historical series with lots of eye candy.

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For something closer to home, try The Gardener, a documentary about Henry Cabot’s Les Quatres Vents, in Quebec. It’s a fascinating look at an intriguing garden!

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This Beautiful Fantastic, while not a documentary, is a wonderful escapist film about unlikely characters bonding over a garden.

And somewhere out there Audrey Hepburn has a series on gardens, but try as I might I can’t find it again. But if you can find it, watch it. Or any other Audrey Hepburn film, really.

There! By the time you have gotten through all those, it’ll be spring, and you’ll be absolutely bursting with ideas for your garden. Do you have any favorites? Please share any others I have missed- there are so many good videos out there!

2018, July 2018, What to do in the garden

When do I water?

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The dog days of summer are upon us and it’s time to check in with our chlorophylled friends to see how they are doing. If there hasn’t been any rain of significance, our plants would probably love some help, since in the heat, the moisture in their leaves evaporates and  the roots can’t take in water to replace it if the soil is dry.

Sometimes it seems like there has been a lot of rain, but when you actually check, only the very surface of the soil has any moisture to it. This won’t do the plants any good. Even if the top inch of soil is wet they will need additional water, because if their roots can only get water at the surface, that’s where they will develop, and the result will be a plant that is unstable and can’t fend for itself when the surface is dry but there is adequate ground water. Ideally, plants need about an inch of water a week, which equates to a deep watering.

“How on earth do I know if there has been an inch of water?” you ask. That’s a good question, especially since knowing how much watering to do is part learned, and part instinct. I usually recommend that people get a rain gauge, a container that collects the rain and is marked in inches so you can see how much has fallen. (For an example, click here) They are inexpensive, and take most of the guesswork out of rainfall amounts. You can also dig down between  the plants and see how the soil feels 6 or more inches below the surface, but a rain gauge is much easier!

Plants will often survive a drought, but they won’t thrive. So making sure that they have adequate moisture is an important way to protect your investment and to make sure that you garden continues to look its best. And if the plants are new, water is absolutely critical to their continued existence because they haven’t developed a deep root system yet.

Leonardo da Vinci got it right when he said, “Water is the driving force in Nature.” Happy watering!

 

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Have fun with it!
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It’s preferable to water the soil rather than the plant, but you can’t fault this young gardener’s earnest attitude!

 

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:

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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:

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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:

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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, 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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March 2018, What to do in the garden

How to Prune Roses

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I often get asked how and when to prune roses. Roses can be a little daunting, that is true, but once you know the general principles of how to prune them, you should be able to tackle almost anything. And many of the principles of rose pruning apply to pruning other plants, too, although you should read up on what it is you want to prune before diving in. Anyway, the most important thing to know about pruning roses is that it will be fine. Most roses are very forgiving. We all do a butcher job at one time or another, and seldom does it result in death.

The main reasons to prune roses are as follows:

  1. To cut out diseased, crossing and damaged growth
  2. To maintain a pleasing shape
  3. To allow for a healthy amount of air to circulate within the plant.

That’s it, really. You want to get rid of any dead bits or bits that are black or distorted from disease. You also want to get rid of branches that cross so close that they rub against each other. When they rub each other’s bark away, they leave openings for disease to get in. You also want a rose bush that has a pleasing shape. So you might end up cutting off a perfectly healthy branch because it messes up the symmetry. That’s ok. And finally, roses are prone to diseases, so if you can cut out stalks that clog the interior of the plant, you will allow more air to circulate in the middle and that will help keep those diseases away.

That’s WHAT to cut. Now, WHERE to cut.

Remember that every time you make a cut, the plant will react to that cut by sending growth hormones to that spot. So if you cut your rose above a bud that is facing outward, that bud, being the last bud on the stem, will now be told to grow, and it will grow the way it is facing. So it stands to reason that, if you don’t want the branches to grow inward, (see reason to prune #3) you should cut just above an outward facing bud. Are you with me so far?

Next, HOW to cut. For this, it’s easiest to show pictures. It all has to do with the angle of the cut in relation to the bud. Here goes:

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WRONG. This cut points toward the bud, so rain etc will roll right down the cut and onto the bud, making it vulnerable to disease.
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WRONG. This cut slants the right way, but it is too close to the bud, and so doesn’t give it enough support. Thus, it will always be a weak place on the plant.
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WRONG. There isn’t anything horrendously wrong with this cut, but it’s a little too far from the bud and cut straight across. An entire rose bush pruned like this will have a stumpy appearance.
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This cut is just right. It is angled away from the bud, and not too close, yet far enough away to give the new branch support.

And finally, WHEN?

I usually prune my roses in late winter, while they are still dormant. At least, I do the main prune then. I will sometimes shape them in the summer, or cut off a branch here and there. The main thing is not to prune when winter is coming and there is about to be a long period of cold. Since pruning tells the plant to react, you don’t want it to send out a lot of new growth, only to have it killed by a frost.

Hopefully this has demystified things a bit. If you are confused about anything, please post a comment on this blog post and I will try to help make things more clear.

Happy Pruning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 2018

What will you grow?

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Believe it or not, it’s time to start thinking about ordering seeds for the garden. It will soon be time to start things like tomatoes and pansies indoors, and you can put peas and Nasturtiums in  as soon as the frost is out of the ground. So while the time to plant outside is still a little way off, it pays to do a little thinking in advance so that you have the seeds when you need them.

The seed companies may have already filled your mailbox with their catalogues, but in case they haven’t, here are some of my favorites. Your local garden center or Agway will probably have them, too. Have fun choosing!!

Territorial Seeds

Seed Savers Exchange

Harris Seeds

Renee’s Garden Seeds

Johnny’s Seeds

Park Seed

 

If you just can’t wait to have plants in your life, then I recommend an Aerogarden. This is a small hydroponic system, and you will be amazed by what you can grow in just water! I have grown herbs and lettuce, and even started perennials like Lavender. Right now I have Petunias in it, because I have been dying for some color in my studio. They sell a wide range of kits, but if you want to try things on your own, you can also buy seedless starters and use the seeds of your choice. While the Aerogarden system is a bit of an investment, you can use it over and over again, and the mental and physical health benefits are priceless!

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P.S. Neither Aerogarden nor any of the previously mentioned seed companies pay me anything to recommend them; I have just had positive experiences so I want to share their names.

 

P.P.S. You’ll notice that none of the companies that I recommended are represented in the seed photo. That’s because I haven’t ordered my seeds yet and so all I have are some packets left over from a vacation to Alaska, some freebie Cosmos, and a couple of packets left over from last year that I kept because I liked the artwork.

To check out Aerogarden, click here.

What are your favorite things to grow in winter?