Yesterday I opened my inbox to find an email from Danny Cullerton from Aristata Land Arts. He sent along a series of before & after photos from one of his recent projects in Portland, OR and I know you guys are going to love the makeover! The landscape surrounds a beautiful old Victorian house and the re-work definitely brings out a ton of character in this lovely house! Read the full post
Summer is the time for vacations, warm temperatures, and flowering hydrangeas. Among the things that New Englanders come to count on in summertime include ice cream and hydrangeas in flower. Just in our small town of Boothbay, never have I seen so many hydrangeas planted. Due to our mild summers, hydrangea blossoms here along the Maine coast are enormous. It must be the ample moisture, warm days, and cool nights that lead to the huge flowers. Everyone loves to see big hydrangeas in the garden but lurking in the shadows is a lesser-known, herbaceous relative: Deinanthe caerulea. This native of China has the incredibly creative common name of “false hydrangea.” Come on guys, can’t we think up a better name than that for this strangely attractive plant with eye-catching blue flowers? How about “ground-cover hydrangea?” Or “little blue rarity that nobody else has?”
We have a healthy grouping of Deinanthe at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens planted in the shade of a mature larch tree. A friend was admiring the clump this past weekend and suggested that we move some plants to a sunnier location as they would get larger. I have a couple of spots in mind as right now, they are really tucked away so only the plant connoisseurs will recognize them. For those who do catch a glimpse of them, they will see what look like small hydrangeas with nodding, light cerulean blue flowers. Our plants are around 2 feet in height and slightly more in width. In researching this post, I see that there is also Deinanthe bifida along with hybrid between D. bifida and D. caerulea. I definitely will look to add these to the gardens this year as well. Have you grown any of the false hydrangeas? If so, what has been your experience with the plants?
Images: Rodney Eason
Occasionally, I will get the urge to obsess over a group of plants. I have gone mad for Magnolias, frenetic for Fothergilla, hysterical for Hydrangea, but now I am going crazy for a rediscovered genus. That genus is Cuphea or cigar flower (get it? on fire for Cuphea).
Cuphea takes me back to my college days and plant identification class. We had to learn two different Cuphea: C. hyssopifolia and C. ignea or Mexican heather and cigar flower, respectively. Cuphea hyssopifolia was marginally hardy where I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and in mild winters, it would sometimes come back from the roots. I always thought they were cute but not show-stopping plants. A couple of years later, during a summer internship at Walt Disney World, I got to see Mexican heather growing in its full glory in Orlando. Over the 20 years since that summer internship, Cuphea and I would occasionally cross paths but never engaging in a deep conversation.
This year, I am starting to develop a Cuphea crush. The warm weather we have been having in New England has made our plants ignite. We are growing Cuphea llavea and C. micropetala. C. llavea is a small, mounding plant covered with small flowers that have a deep purple center and red tips to the petals. The bi-color effect is what gives it the common name of “bat-faced cuphea.” Cuphea micropetala is turning into more of a small shrub with erect flower stems producing yellow and orange flowers.
I am just starting to do some more research on the genus and see that there are 260 different species, all native to the Americas. Next year, I cannot wait to try as many Cuphea as we can find. Some of these newer plants are truly show stoppers with guests in the gardens asking “what is that plant?” Are there any Cuphea that you recommend I trial next year in our gardens?
Images: Rodney Eason
For this week’s Before & After I have a lovely front yard transformation that I found over at Foodie is the New Forty. This sweet little ranch house begged for a yard that would make its mid century-esque exterior sing, but the homeowners knew it was going to take a lot of hard work and a hefty budget, as well as the help of a landscaping crew. Optimista (which is the moniker she goes by on her blog) was tired of the weeds and general frump-factor radiating from the exterior of the house, so she decided it was finally time and enlisted the help of Dearen Landscapes. Read the full post
I think this Summer has been absolutely fantastic here in Maine. So far, there has been plenty of sunshine and enough warmth to make everything grow and prosper. The plants have leapt from the slow, cool spring to seemingly take in all that summer has to offer, just like the throngs of tourists that visit Maine. Several times per week, I walk through the gardens here at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, taking notes on how gardens look, how plants are performing, and how weeds can grow at the rate of Dr. Bruce Banner morphing into the Incredible Hulk. I have mentioned several times about the winter of 2014 and how rough it was in New England and for many along the eastern coast of the United States. The cold winter and afore to mentioned spring have led to what I am calling the Monty Python effect. Remember that scene from “The Holy Grail” when a couple of men are removing the dead from a Middle Ages village? They pick up the one guy and attempt to place him in the cart when he responds: “I’m not dead yet!”
For a couple of months, I felt like there were an entire cluster of these plants that were not exactly dead yet. They had succumbed to the plague of frost and sub-zero temperatures. It seemed that daily, I was scratching the bark with my fingernail or gently cut a small branch with my Felco #2′s to see if there was any evidence of green. It is now mid-July and we have mostly removed all of the dead and pruned back all of the near-dead branches.
The flip-side to the Monty Python effect are the plants that have prospered from the cold and now mild summer. Besides the weeds, I am blown away by the colors and the growth rate of many of our hardy, perennial plants. I am going to go out on a limb and say the MVP (most valuable plant) of 2014 thus far has been Gillenia trifoliata. This fantastic, native perennial leapt from the ground in mid-spring and has been flowering for well over a month. The airy, 5-petaled, white, star-shaped flowers are soft and borne en masse above the leaves for a dramatic effect. The flowering stalks will top out at 3-4 feet in height so this is formidable perennial. The leaves are trifoliate and vary between a deep green and light green depending on exposure, soil moisture, and nutrition. Most references list this as plant for partial shade but we can get away with more sun here along the Maine coast. The stems provide a nice contrast as they are a deep, unobtrusive red. As the temperatures start to decline and the season changes to fall, Gillenia trifoliata leaves turn a brilliant red color. The common names for this MVP are Bowman’s root, Indian physic, and fawn’s breath. These common names crack me up as the first two are masculine and mysterious while the fawn’s breath has me visualizing Bambi hiding down inside of it on a frosty morn just before it wakes up and eats the entire plant down to the ground. That was just a joke. I have no idea if deer like Gillenia trifoliata. Given that it is in the rose family and somewhat related to Spiraea, deer may eat it if given the chance. I would appreciate any feedback if deer do like Bowman’s root.
In addition to being a wonderful plant in the garden, the flowers work well and hold up as cuts for arrangements. Also, after the flowers fade, the red calyces persist on the stems, adding to their seasonal interest. That finest of countries which gave the world Monty Python, has also given Gillenia trifoliata the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. This is one of the highest awards that a plant can receive from the RHS.
Now, I beg your pardon, when are you adding Gillenia trifoliata to your garden?
We’ve been in Belgium for two weeks now – filling our time slowly with the treasures of the region. We are staying in Brugge, and I’ve been fascinated with often seen medieval houses that usually have a name and number printed on the side. These ‘Godshuizen’ tend to also have pretty little gardens attached, so I spent a day riding my bike to all that I could find here and made a study of them.
Literally translated, Goshuizen would mean ‘Houses of God’ but this translation is a little misleading. They are not churches or places of worship but rather they are houses for the poor and needy. They are in fact housing for the poor, needy, elderly and widows and widowers that were built by rich families and corporations as early as the 14th century. Sometimes the houses were constructed by corporations or guilds, for their members who had lost their income or were unable to work because of illness, handicaps or other mishaps.
Most of the time these houses form a complex around an inner courtyard where the inhabitants can get their water and grow vegetables in little gardens (though most of the ones I saw, contained many more flowers than edible crops).
They also typically have also have a chapel where the people are supposed to pray for the souls of their benefactors – but this is the only religious obligation.
Many of these remain today and many of them have the sweetest most charming gardens.
Click through the gallery below to see more!
image by rochelle greayer
This week I want to take a break from writing about all of the cool plants that I am surrounded by each week to reflect on what it means to be a gardener. When I use the term gardener, I am using it loosely to describe anyone who passionately associates themselves with a garden as their career. This weekend, I turned 42. Do not ask me why this birthday felt so monumental and has caused such a reflection on my life. By reflection, I don’t mean “mid-life crisis” kind of reflection. I will never have “a mid-life crisis” because I generally have one every 3-4 years. During our 16 years of marriage, Carrie and I have had 4 kids, moved 9 times, I’ve had 5 different positions, and found a couple of years in there to squeeze in a graduate degree. My point is: why should I have a mid-life crisis? Our life has been nothing but constant change, some expected and some unexpected – i.e. the twins, but the two constants have been our marriage and my profession.
A couple of weeks ago, the national conference for the American Public Gardens Association was in Denver, Colorado. This is the one time per year when colleagues at gardens across the country are able to come together and share stories and ideas about working at a public garden. This is also a time when we are able to see how much we enjoy gardens and plants along with how much we enjoy other people who work at gardens. There is something about those of us who choose gardening as our profession and passion. We love being outside, working with plants, and sharing that passion with others who visit our gardens. I love the example of Fergus Garrett, head gardener and director at one of England’s most famous gardens, Great Dixter. Fergus will sometimes go for weeks without responding to a single email. He once said that he makes sure that he checks email at least once every two weeks, whether he has to or not. He would rather be out in the gardens, working on the plantings, training his staff, and interacting with the public face to face who will travel across the world to see their garden rather than responding to someone electronically. Read the full post