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?
There are plants that people love and then there are plants that people hate. Some of the plants that a lot of people love, have a few detractors as well. One plant that I have found most people really like and enjoy in their garden is the columbine. I have always thought that columbine is a beautiful plant with its light green, somewhat fleshy leaves and stems. The foliage is beautiful in its own right, having a somewhat fern-like appearance because of the dissected leaves. Depending on the plant, the leaf color can vary between a light green to almost blue because of the waxy coating to the leaves.
The real beauty of the columbine are the bell-shaped, spurred flowers that are held above the foliage on long flower stalks. The foliage forms a clump well over 2 feet by 2 feet, with flowers held up to 3 feet high. There are usually many flowers on a well-grown plant which makes for a festive and beautiful appearance in the garden. All of the columbines that I had ever seen were either yellow, red, or shades of pastel colors. This past weekend, I was working in the garden at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden when a friend pointed out a certain columbine. Wow, was my immediate reaction! I had never seen a columbine so unusual with tall, dark flowers and a central, white tube. The plant was Aquilegia vulgaris ‘William Guiness.’ William Guiness sets itself apart from other columbines by having dark-purple flowers with a white corolla. Have you ever grown this columbine? Most of our guests who walked by the plant were talking and pointing at it. “What is it?” “It looks like a columbine.” “I have never seen a flower so dark before.” were some of their responses.
Plant William Guiness columbine in a rich, moist, and well-drained garden soil. Full to part-sun is needed for northern latitudes while areas farther south will require some shade for it to grow. Add this columbine to your garden and watch your friends stop and ask you what exactly is that plant in flower.
My dad’s latest engineering feat has been to install a hydroponics growing system in the spare bedroom of my parents home. Yes, they live in Colorado, no, they don’t seem to have new snack cravings or large sums of cash flowing in — this is a straight up tomatoes, lettuce and peppers operation (and hopefully strawberries to come). (I mentioned the origination of this project at the new year in my weekly column on Apartment Therapy)
Here is a little before and after of the progress….
Taken April 3rd, 2014
(my mom started these little guys from seed in March)
Taken May 5th, 2014
Note how not only have the tomatoes grown immensely in just one month (hydroponic growth rates are nothing short of amazing!!), but that there is also a whole other rig? This is how these things go in our family (I think it’s an engineer dad thing) — in addition to this, a trellis growing system has been built-in the basement for peas and other vining plants — you see how these things spin right out of control…right?
I’ve been working with Ebay to help promote their collections and I used the tools to gather Hydroponics related gear as part of a campaign related to Fathers Day. As hobbies go— this is one for the engineering, tinkering types of dads with the side effect of getting great produce as part of the bargain. Check out the collection here.
And if this isn’t quite right….maybe the music lovers collection I created (As inspired by my husband) is more apropos. My guy is teaching himself to play the guitar and the banjo (the playing of instruments all started with the purchase of a toy store ukulele a few years ago – things have a way of spinning out of control in this house too — we now have a wall full of beautiful instruments…). Thinking of father’s day gifts, I know he will appreciate anything in this set.
This blog post was written as part of my collaboration with eBay. All images taken by my dad.
It is late May here in Maine and we are in the midst of a long, cool spring. The temperatures have only risen above 70 degrees a couple of times which has prolonged spring. Our tulips are still in flower as we are about to flip the calendar forward to June. Hopefully, soon the 70 and 80 degree days will be commonplace and summer colors will dominate the landscape for months.
I am not complaining about the cool spring. I spent 28 years growing up in North Carolina with many sleepless nights because the temperatures never went below the mid eighties. Along with that heat, we never truly enjoyed the spring colors provided by tulips and other ephemeral spring plants. One plant that has really caught my fancy this spring is bloodroot or Sanguinaria canadensis. Bloodroot grows in most areas of North America east of the Rockies but I never had encountered it until we lived in Pennsylvania. This small, woodland gem can be found sporadically in old woodlands. Bloodroot does not like to grow on disturbed sites and I am told it can be difficult to transplant. I asked Peter Beckford from Rebel Hill Farms in Clifton, Maine about the best way to grow Sanguinaria canadensis. Peter recommends collecting bloodroot seed as soon as it is ripe and sowing immediately. He has an outdoor seed bed where he sows the seed directly. It takes about a year for the seed to germinate into new seedlings.
Have you seen bloodroot in flower? The small, bright-white flowers are usually borne sometime around Mother’s Day here in Maine. They resemble small, petaled poppies which provides a clue to their family, the Papaveraceae. The 2″ flowers are produced above the grey-green, lobed leaves. Once the flowers are pollinated by ants, they drop their petals within a couple of days. Then, the foliage continues to grow, reaching almost a foot in height before going dormant for the summer. Different forms of bloodroot can be found in nature including doubles and a fantastic pink strain that we have at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in the Alfond Children’s Garden.
I have come to admire and prize this woodland beauty. Sanguinaria canadensis is unlike any other native plant in the eastern United States. If you have a wooded area in your garden, it is well worth the effort to seek this gem out and add it to your garden.
This week I have been pulling together plans for a white garden to be installed this summer at a client’s home. I have been adding a lot of white to my own garden lately as I think it is such a great way to brighten some of the shadier areas in a sophisticated way. But this garden is in full sun and will be more of a classic cottage floral feast.
A white garden obviously includes lots of white blooming plants but I think it is important to not forget the other elements that will make the whole thing come together. This is my basic recipe for pulling one together:
Start With The Background Structure.
When I’m looking to fill space and provide a backdrop in a white garden, I look to easy shrubs like Hydrangea ‘Limelight’, Buddleia ‘Inspired White’, and white blooming varieties of Spirea (all prolific bloomers). In this case I am also adding in a Sweet Autumn Clematis to climb over an adjacent railing. These shrubs will be the biggest plants and will ensure that something is always saying “I am a white garden”.
Add In The Evergreens
The next big thing to go in are the evergreens. My project has a number of existing plants that we will be re-arranging. We have some Buxus ‘Graham Blandy’ which are the tall skinny boxwoods, as well as a handful of mid-sized mounded boxwood and a dozen small globe boxwood. Normally I would add something else like perhaps a pretty blue/silver Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ or other evergreens, but we are trying to re-use as much as we can here so I am sticking with what I already have. Evergreens not only give shape and structure in the winter, but bright white looks oh-so-good with its back against lush green.
Layer in the White Bloomers
There are millions (I am not exaggerating) of options for white blooming plants. Look for the word ‘alba’ on types of plants that come in many colors — this will generally indicate a white flower. But this is by no means the only way to find white blooming plants a walk through the garden center or any handy plant reference book will fill yout head with options. Just to get you started, here is a list of white bloomers that I am using in this garden (I’ve noted where we have strategically gone for something almost white – I think this is a nice way to add interest to this type of garden…IMO a wink of purple and blush of pink add charm).
- Alcea rosea Charter’s Double White
- Alcea rosea annua ‘Lemon‘
- Dianthus deltoides ‘confetti white’
- Dianthus ‘Fancy Knickers’ (it is an annual and it will help to fill in for the first year)
- Digitalis ‘Pams Choice’ (it has a little purple mixed in with the white for some relief)
- Liatris ‘Floristan White’
- Iris ‘Immortality’
- Peony x ‘Duchess de Nemours’
- Peony x ‘Shirley Temple’ (it is light pink but again, we aren’t being purists on this project….)
- Leucanthemum ‘Banana Cream’
Finish With Textural Stars
A white garden needs a final touch to bring it to life. These are the plants who, when set among all the white bloomers, add texture and a breath of something a little different. My favorites are always grasses and in this mix I am using two old standbys - Pennisetum alopecuoides ‘Red Head’ and Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue‘. Don’t worry, the combination of red and blue with all the white will not come across like some sort of all-americana garden…but rather, the sophisticated shades of the grasses will gracefully add just enough contrast. On top of the grasses, this garden is also getting a handful of silvery Stachys – kids live in this place and these ever-soft leaves never fail to be a hit with this demographic. Silver is a great addition to a white garden, generally achieved through silver leaved plants – you get the color in a nice mass but generally you don’t have deadhead.
If you want to check out some more white garden ideas (from modern to traditional) take a look at this pin board: Garden Style: White Gardens
images – Proven Winners
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.
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?