Call it an obsession if you will, but I am continually searching for the biggest and boldest plants that will wow our guests when they enter Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. One way of doing this is to bring in plants that many have possibly never encountered before. With a touch of the exotic in the garden, it makes garden visitors oooh and awww at the presence of something new in their midst. These oooh’s and awww’s can have a little special twist when these new plants look somewhat familiar. I can already anticipate the responses from avid gardeners when I tell them that the 5 foot tall plant in front of them is a geranium. “A geranium?!? Well, I thought it did look a bit like a geranium but there is no way that one could ever get this big.”
This time of year is such a treat. It is so full of beautiful flowering trees and shrubs that it is hard to take it all in and really feel like you have enjoyed it before it fades into the green of summer.
My own garden boasts a Cercis canadensis (Eastern Red bud) that is just about to burst open with flowers, a Heptacodium miconioides (Seven Sons Tree), a gorgeous burgundy blooming crabapple of unknown variety, a hand full of voluptuous Pierus (andromeda) and a few “flowering weepers” (so-called by the previous owner who insisted that this was their proper name when I tried to get the bottom of their actual variety). It’s a nice mix, but I’m a connoisseur of the out of the ordinary and special – I believe there are quite enough Bradford pears in my corner of the world and that I am doing no one any favors by planting more. Rather, I like to surprise and experiment and with that in mind I have a lot of lists with a lot of constantly evolving plant ideas.
At the top of my ‘Spring flowering Tree List’ are the following….should I happen across one of these in the nursery at a good price it will surely find its way home with me….
Halesia is such a delicate tree that reminds me the handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrata) (which I am similarly obsessed with). Halesia’s flowers are bell-shaped and it likes my naturally acidic soil. I’d honestly take any variety (there are some that have larger flowers, some that are tinged pink and other interesting varieties) as all I really care about is being able to stand beneath it and look up into the warren of pretty dangling flowers.
Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ was a tree I fell in love with back in my London Days. I lived in a Street called Greencroft Gardens in West Hampstead and on the way to the tube station was a huge hawthorn across from a similarly large Ceanothus. The two were such focal points for the whole road, my husband and I couldn’t help but remark about them daily. At the time I was unfamiliar with the Hawthorn and had no idea what it was – I called the giant mini rose tree (as the clustered flowers are just like roses and literally cover the tree). I’ve never seen one here in New England I’d consider it quite a find to discover one.
After a winter that we will be talking about for winters to come along the East Coast, everyone is delighted more than ever to see spring arrive. One of the ways that we have come to welcome spring is with the arrival of flowering bulbs. Daffodils are of course the easiest, tulips are indeed the divas of the bulb world, and then there is a plethora of other bulbs to catch people’s attention.
One of my favorite spring flowering bulbs is the yellow crown imperial or Fritillaria imperials ‘Maxima Lutea.’
Have you ever heard of Ellen Willmott? She was an heiress who blew through her fortune on gardens and plants. Hailing from the UK, she spent vast sums of money on building gardens in Europe, staff to maintain these gardens, and plants to fill the garden beds. Several sources report that she had approximately 100,000 different types of plants in her garden. Her inheritance funded numerous plant exploration trips in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s. From these trips, newly introduced plants were named with willmottiae or warleyensis in honor of her name and her garden, Warley. Willmott was eccentric and obsessed with the art of gardening. Another source reported that she would fire gardeners if they missed a weed in the mixed border. Unfortunately, near the end of her life, she had to sell off most of her property and possessions to pay off her debts. Her garden and home at Warley were eventually razed although now the area is a nature preserve.
Her legend lives on in the plants named in her honor and most notably, Eryngium giganteum. This species of sea holly is silver blue, reaching heights of nearly 3 feet when in flower. Eryngium giganteum is a short-lived perennial, usually dying after flowering. It is a self-seeder in the plant bed so it will come back from seed even after it dies. Ellen Willmott so loved the giant sea holly that she typically carried seed around with her wherever she traveled. Miss Willmott felt that a garden could always use a giant sea holly so she would freely toss out seed in others’ gardens. The seeds would germinate and turn into plants, earning the common name of Miss Willmott’s Ghost. Can you imagine inviting a horticultural celebrity over to your home only to find out later that they threw out seeds of a spiny, silvery plant in your garden? That is exactly what she did and people began to associate the presence of an Eryngium giganteum with a visit from Ellen Willmott. After searching on-line, Miss Willmott’s ghost appears to be more popular in the United Kingdom than here in the United States.
I am working on a garden design for a naturalistic border here in Maine where I would like to contrast the fine texture of Heavy Metal panicum with the bold, spiky foliage of Miss Willmott’s ghost. I have never grown this Eryngium before so it will be fun to see how this combination works out later this summer. Have you grown any of the Eryngium species before? If so, have you tried E. giganteum?
Last summer was a bit depressing because I believe I saw one monarch butterfly. As the summer wore on, everyone started noticing that the monarchs had decided not to come to the nectaring party here along the eastern United States. We laid out the buffet but no one showed up for dinner. Because of habitat destruction, climate change, and removal of milkweeds with herbicides, the number of monarch butterflies have been drastically reduced. In response to the noticeable absence of monarch butterflies, many gardeners and butterfly lovers have been asking what they can do to help.
A group from the University of Kansas called Monarch Watch have developed a monitoring and habitat development program to bring back the desired population of monarch butterflies. Anyone can apply to have their garden become a certified “Monarch Waystation” through Monarch Watch. The waystations will provide the food and nectar that the monarchs need to make the migration from Mexico up through the United States and back again. After explaining this process at work, one of my co-workers asked, “how much does a monarch weigh?” No, these are WAY-stations, not WEIGH-stations.
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens went through the application process of becoming a certified monarch waystation and we received our notification last week that we had passed the test! There is a ratio of nectar and food plants to garden area that has to be met in order to be considered a certified site. Our entire horticulture team spent the winter looking for which plants would provide the best plants for not only the monarchs but all pollinators. This is because our educational theme for the summer is on pollinators. We put a lot of effort on attracting the monarchs so we could become a waystation. In order to meet this certification, we are planting a ton of milkweed in the garden beds. Specifically, Asclepias curassavica in our containers and annual plantings. Asclepias curassavica is a tropical milkweed, originating from the American tropics. It will not be cold-hardy for us here in Maine so we will not plant it out until the soil warms, probably after Memorial Day. Monarch butterflies love Asclepias curassavica as a nectar source for adults and as a food source for the caterpillars. In our Bosarge Family Education Center and in our behind-the-scenes greenhouse, we are building growth chambers where we will also raise monarchs caterpillars with a veritable Asclepias curassavica salad bar. Once the caterpillars pupate, we will release the monarchs into the gardens for all to see and enjoy.
I cannot wait to see the garden this summer, ablaze with the oranges, yellows and reds of the milkweeds and the fluttering wings of the monarchs. It will be wonderful to see these butterflies back into the gardens and I hope the combined efforts of all of us working to bring their numbers back will pay off this summer and in the years to come.
Do you have an area of your garden devoted to butterflies? Are you adding any milkweeds this year to aid in the migration of the monarchs?
As a designer I am not immune to creative dry spells – but the key to maintaining a steady stream of ideas is to know how to re-inspire yourself. I gather inspiration from nearly every thing in my life; I never know when something is going to strike me in a way that causes new ideas start flowing. But when I am in a pinch and feeling the need to force the issue…I have to actively go looking and often I find the answers in the art of others.
When I was in design school we had to study plants in depth – and a huge part of that study was learning a way to use them that was not only effective and practical in the garden, but also in a way that was artistically distinctive to each of us as designers. The idea was that if we could strike on signature groupings, we could begin to define our distinctive styles as well as make the design process easier (by providing ourselves endlessly repeatable templates).
Do you have a signature planting look in your garden?
If you don’t, it would be an interesting exercise to go through at the very least so that you can re-inspire yourself. Here is what I do when I am trying to come up with something new and interesting:
- Find an inspiration source. I like art; maybe you might pick something that is already hanging on the walls of your home.
- Study the piece for composition, pattern, and notable personality elements and also pull out the colors that appeal to you.
- Using these reference points to start, look for plants that reflect the work. Let the list of possibilities ramble – maybe use a pinterest board to collect the ideas.
- Narrow it down. Once you have a pool of ideas, start refining a plan based on bloom time (if you want your plants to play together – they probably need to bloom together), habitat (they need to be able to survive side by side) and individual characteristics as they meet your needs.
I’ve been playing with the collection above and it started with this painting by Carolyn Swiszcz (if it appeals to you as much as it appeals to me – you can buy it as 20×200). The Coleus ‘Alligator Tear’s is a unique version of this plant – its feathery leaves reflect the pattern in the rug and the colors of all three plants are inspired by the painting. I also want the planting to consist of things that are good for cutting and arranging….so that helped me to eliminate other options. I am still working on this — and I think that I might add something that is the softest shade of peach pink….like perhaps a Verbascum ‘Southern Charm’. And once I get it planted…perhaps it will be become something that works well and I can use it again elsewhere and in future projects – this is how I grow as a designer and gardener.
This collection is as quirky as the original inspiration and I am pleased that I have captured that. How about you — have you used art (or anything else) to inspire planting? What image might you use to do the same?
Art: Garden Hallway, Grand Rapids, MI by Carolyn Swiszcz
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Proven Winners. I am not an employee of Proven Winners and all opinions are my own. See the other posts in this series.
This weekend was something we have been waiting on for a while. After a pipe broke in our ceiling in January, we have been living in a nearby summer cottage while our downstairs was being renovated. For two months, we lived in someone else’s home. We are extremely thankful that we had somewhere else to go but still, it was a bit unnerving to know that a continuous stream of contractors came in and out of our home each day. We are back into our home and it is better than ever. We have the most wonderful contractor who renovated the downstairs into the home we have always wanted.
Saturday was moving back in day and boy, was it beautiful! We had temperatures in the low 50′s with sunshine here along the Maine coast. It has been months since the air was so warm. This teaser for spring had everyone out, excited to know that longer, warmer days are in our future.
Then, today, a friend sent me a picture from New Orleans. They wanted to know if I knew a flowering vine they had found on a fence near their winter home. Ok, several things to rub in this cold winter: 1) winter home in New Orleans and 2) they already have flowering vines! The flower looks like a gorgeous clematis. Now, if mother nature could get back to business up here in Maine, we could have some flowering vines before, say, September.
Seeing this picture of a clematis reminded me of a striking and unusual clematis that we grow in our Alfond Children’s Garden at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden. Growing on an arched trellis is Clematis ‘Roguchi.’ During my first summer at CMBG, I had several guests pull me by the arm and show me the puckered, bluish-purple flowers and ask “what is it?” Without fail, when I told them it was a clematis, they would respond, “No!” The nodding, bell-like flowers are a deep purple. Since we have a fairy village at CMBG, I like to imagine that these are the skirts that the fairy ladies wear to their summer, formal events.
Clematis ‘Roguchi’ is a hybrid of C. integrifolia and C. durandii. The growth habit is that of a perennial, dying back to the ground each winter. Once spring comes, Roguchi clematis twines out of the soil to reach a height of 4-6′ by autumn. In Maine, our plants start to flower in mid-summer, just as most of our guests start to visit. We have our plants growing in full sun in rich soil amended with compost.
Here’s to spring! Here’s to the changing of seasons and getting back to the business of life and gardening. I optimistically know that all of this melting snow and rain is going to provide ample moisture to give us a summer full of clematis flowers. Are you growing clematis in your garden?