2019, Design ideas, Garden ramblings, What to do in the garden

Garden filmography

No, I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth. It’s been a crazy winter and an even  crazier spring, so I haven’t been writing as much. However, this weekend I’m out in my garden for the first time this season, taking stock of things, and what I’m finding has motivated me to write.

It was a tough winter and spring for plants. The early freeze last fall damaged a lot of Rhododendrons, and the deer got at many of the rest. On NH’s Seacoast, there was precious little snow cover, so the plants didn’t get insulated from the freeze-thaw cycles that followed, and then the spring was so wet that things rotted. The deer, who will usually stay away from certain plants, munched away indiscriminately, despite the fact that without the snow, much more food was available and they could have been choosy. It was the worst winter for deer damage that many have ever seen.

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In my garden, I’m noticing gaps where things are missing. My Shasta daisies, which we usually refer to as “cockroaches” because they will survive anything, are shadows of their former selves, if they are there at all. The Lavender is history. My Nepeta is mostly gone-  Nepeta! Another cockroach! It boggles the imagination. Weirdly, the roses are looking lovely, and the ferns have gone bezerk, perhaps because they enjoy the moist “English” weather. The irises are everywhere, now.

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The Tree Peonies are having a banner year.

 

Professionally, clients are confused. Some are upset, understandably, that their investment has been eaten, or rotted, or just not come back as healthily as we all would have liked. I feel their pain. Unfortunately, neither landscape designers nor landscapers can predict what sort of unusual weather will come next these days, or what the deer will eat or not eat. I used to feel that I could put plants in a garden that would reliably be left alone by the deer; not any more.  The landscape, quite literally, is changing.

So what is a homeowner to do? Well, I would politely ask that first and foremost, they not blame their landscaper or landscape designer. While we can certainly be blamed for bad planting decisions like placing  a hosta in full sun, we can’t control weather or animals, and are always struggling to contend with both. However, we can be your best source of information when it comes to keeping up with the changing times. We read articles. We talk with colleagues and friends about what has and hasn’t worked in the garden. We discuss this A LOT. And most importantly, we are in gardens, either our clients’ or our own, each and every day and we see what is going on from all different perspectives. We see that Mrs. Smith’s catawbiense Rhododendron got eaten by deer, but Mrs. Jones’ yakushimanum Rhododendron didn’t. We will notice that boxwoods did well in one spot but not another. And we know about plants and their needs and are able to draw conclusions from these observations, and adapt accordingly. So while we aren’t able to guarantee the success of replacement plants with respect to animal damage and extreme weather, we can certainly help with choices that will have the best chance of doing well. We are your best front line of defense.

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In my own garden, while I’m sorry to see plants go, I consider every death an opportunity. The loss of a large stand of Shasta Daisies allowed me to plant a funky evergreen called Thuja ‘Whipcord’, a funny looking, dreadlock-covered shrub that looks like it’s about to scuttle across the garden muttering darkly to itself. It makes me happy in ways that the Shasta Daisies never would have. And while there is all that space devoid of plants, I’m taking the opportunity to lay down cardboard to smother the Goutweed which thought the winter was just fine, thank you very much, and is making an enthusiastic bid to take over the world.

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I’m letting the buttercups flower this year. They are pretty, and I can deal with their invasiveness later. In the mean time, they are filling the gap left by the Nepeta. I keep reminding myself, and others, that gardening is a film, not a still picture. Weather patterns change. Gardens become more or less shady, and so the growing conditions can cause one plant to die out while another thrives. This transience is one of the reasons I love gardening and designing gardens, because there is always a chance to try something new. So don’t worry, it will be all right. Go with the flow, ask the advice of experts, and don’t forget to enjoy the movie!

(PS. There’s a lovely Iris called “Buttered Popcorn” that you can even have with it.)

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Lots of gaps, lots of opportunities.
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Happy Pulmonaria, even with the obligatory Goutweed photo-bomb.
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Nothing seems to faze Bleeding Heart.

 

2018, October 2018, What to do in the garden

Time to transplant?

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For similar reasons to why it is a good time to plant plants in the fall, it can also be a good time to transplant them. (See the post from Sept 27th for why.) With transplanting, however, the plants aren’t neatly in pots, dying to be planted,  they are already growing in your garden, so you have to give a little more thought as to whether it’s a good idea to disturb them or not.

A decent rule of thumb is to transplant/divide spring blooming plants in the fall, and fall blooming plants in the spring. When a plant is blooming, it has just expended a lot of its energy to make those flowers, and will expend even more in the near future to set seed, so it doesn’t have a lot of spare energy to rebuild itself in a new place. So if you really wish that your Asters were in a different place, make note of it, and do both of you a favor and move them in the spring. But if your Lady’s Mantle has outgrown its space, by all means, cut it up and move it around.

Dividing perennials is an involved subject in itself. Tools needed can range from a simple trowel to an axe or a saw (I’m not kidding!) And it’s always preferable to do a quick Google search on the particular plant that you are about to divide, in case it has any peculiarities. (Baptisia, and other plants with tap roots, for example, do not like being transplanted or divided much at all, so it’s best to know that going in.) But in general, when you divide something, you need to make sure that you have a decent amount of both root and shoot (stems) on each piece that you plan on putting back in the soil. That ensures that there are enough food gathering parts (the leaves) and water gathering parts (the roots) to help get the plant established.

 

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Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is an ephemeral, which means that it blooms in the spring but then goes completely dormant in the summer, dying down below the ground. This needs to be divided after flowering, or you’ll never find it again. I recommend putting in some sort of marker once you have transplanted it so you don’t dig it up again by mistake.
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Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) is the plant with the chartreuse flowers in this picture. This plant flowers in June and can be divided easily in the fall. The Geraniums in the picture (the magenta and purplish-blue ones) can also be divided in fall.
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This is one of the tall Sedums – ‘Neon’, maybe? Sedums flower in the fall so would be something to transplant and divide in the Spring. They take to division really well, although I’d recommend a nice sharp horticultural knife or spade to help you along, unless you have very strong hands!
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Japanese Anemones don’t really like being divided much, and don’t really need it more than once every 10 years or so. When you do, do it in the early spring, when the first leaves start to emerge, so that the plant can have a good long time to recover.

 

As with any new introduction to the ground, an important thing is to water, water, water! As plants go into winter, they need a good store of moisture in their cells to help them survive. Transplanting and dividing on a rainy day is a great start.

So if you’re in a “tidying up” frame of mind, and want to move some things around, the next week or so is a great time to do it for certain plants. (It’s no coincidence that I send these blog entries out just before the weekend… 🙂  )

Design ideas, January 2018, What to do in the garden

Spring Scavenger Hunt

 

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Snowdrops, one of the earliest spring bulbs.

 

It won’t be long before we will start to see new things popping up in the garden every day, and we will start to reap the rewards of those cold hours in the garden planting bulbs. As well as just being a lovely time to enjoy new life, this is also a great time to analyze the early spring garden, and think about what we might like to have there next year, because, let’s face it; by the time bulb planting time comes around again, we will have forgotten where everything is.

This time of year, the “homework” is simple. Look around. If the snowdrops make you happy, make yourself a note to increase their numbers, or plant some more somewhere else. If there is a place by the door that is bare, make a note of it, so that next spring you can have some color there to welcome you home. Set a reminder on your phone for Late July, when the bulb catalogues tend to come out, and sometime have sales. Then set another reminder for October, when you can buy them at your local garden center, just in time for planting. It’s a simple thing to do, and it pays off just when you want it most.

 

March 2018, What to do in the garden

Time to Force Forsythia!

The season is moving along, and we are getting close to spring. But it’s still rather inhospitable outside, so why not bring some of the garden inside, to be enjoyed where you are warm and comfortable? Like forcing Witch Hazel (see post from Feb 8th), forcing Forsythia is as simple as cutting a few branches and putting them in water in a warm room. In case you forget what Forsythia branches look like, here is a picture:

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This is a picture of it blooming. Ironically, I don’t have any in my garden (thanks to friends who are willing to share theirs) so I’m not able to run out and take a picture, but this picture gives you a good idea of its shape. Look for clusters of buds, branches that are opposite one another, and  bumpy openings called lenticels on the stems and you can’t go wrong. And once you recognize it, you will recognize it forever. The arching habit of the shrub is a dead giveaway from a distance, too:

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Once you have identified it, just cut off a few branches, put them in water, and wait! Soon your home will be filled with a great preview of spring.

2017, Design ideas, What to do in the garden

The Power of Potential

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Christmas Eve. A magical day, even more so than Christmas, in some ways. Christmas Eve is all about potential. Christmas itself is still ahead, in its entirety, and none of it has been used up yet. It’s rather like the last few hours of work just before you stop and go on vacation. The possibilities are endless, with the thing that you have been looking forward to lying there in the near future, whole and untouched, ready to be enjoyed. if you have done your preparations right, you will soon reap your reward.

The winter ahead is a little like Christmas Eve, in that it is the preamble to celebration that will eventually come. Spring gives us a fresh start in the garden. The weeds we never got around to pulling up, the flowers we never deadheaded, and all the other chores that we put off have been forgiven. The garden can now be anything. Under the snow, the plants are storing up their energy for the season ahead, and while they rest, we can prune and tame them so that they will wake up looking better than ever. We can sharpen our pruners, look through the gardening magazines that we were too busy to open over the summer, and dream. By the time spring starts to stir, we will be poised to act.

Winter, while it can be a trying time for the gardener, can be a gift if you use it to rest and let your mind wander through the garden while it is free from the distractions of jobs that need to be done. Enjoy the blank slate… it is nothing but potential.

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