Instead of writing about a particular plant or plant group, this week I thought I would talk about one of my favorite horticultural pruning techniques. The first time someone mentioned to me an “aerial hedge,” I envisioned puffy clouds of boxwoods floating through the air. But that would be weird and strange (like this week’s episode of Mad Men – yes, I am a big fan). Then, on a trip to Hampton Court, I saw a screen made from a quadruple cordon of hornbeam trees. A cordon is literally “cable” or “line” in French. It is also a horticultural term for a horizontal line of a topiary. As for these trees at Hampton Court, the hornbeam trees were growing out of a hedgerow of Taxus. The hornbeams were trained into four cordons and then tied together to make a big screen around the parking lot. It was beautiful and precise. Right then and there, I fell in love with the concept.
Years later, on a visit to France, a group of us visited Versailles. It was there that I saw miles of trees pruned into hedges. In some spots, the trees were limbed up from the ground so you could see across the plane but the tree canopies were pruned into long rectangles. Aha! This was the infamous aerial hedge. If you look at the competition gardens at the Chelsea flower show, one designer always goes for the aerial hedge. Maybe it is a European thing (like the man-purse) but aerial hedges never seem to catch on here in the US. I, for one, really dig aerial hedges (and messenger bags but not man-purses) and wish that more gardens would include them. Yes, they take time and someone has to work for years to prune and shape them but the resulting form is fun and really defines a garden. I can count on one hand, the gardens that I have seen in the United States that feature aerial hedges:
- Longwood Gardens (Tilia or little leaf linden)
- Dumbarton Oaks (Carpinus or hornbeam)
- Old Westbury (Tsuga or hemlock)
- Lotusland (Pittosporum)
- Heronswood (a really awesome, arching display of trained hornbeams)
There have to be other gardens that I have missed. Are there aerial hedges that you recall seeing here in the States? Why do you think that they have not caught on here as they have in Europe? If ever given the chance to design a Chelsea garden, I would design a satirical garden featuring an assortment of aerial hedges using plants that one would never expect to see grown this way.
Images: The Creative Flux, Jan Henry, Garden Drum
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?
Images: Images courtesy of proven winners, and my instagram images are from one of my all time favorite design books – The Conran Ocotopus Garden Color Palette.
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.
I found this really sweet bean tunnel over the winter and I’ve been dying to make one of my own ever since! April from Wahsega Valley Farm has an incredible backyard vegetable garden, and as soon as I saw this bare garden structure, I knew it would be a even cooler once the vines started to grow.
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I thought I would revisit an old post today. Originally written back in 2008 when I first started this blog – I had the year before bought and installed raised beds from from The Farmstead. I was a big fan then and I am still a big fan now. I am finally able to start to clean up and get the garden ready for spring….and in 2014 – I can happily tell you that these garden beds (now over 6 years old) are still in great shape.
Original Post: There is many a raised bed system that will serve the purpose, but being the anti-plastic purist that I am, there is only one product that I can wholeheartedly endorse and that is those of Tony Davis at The Farmstead in Leverett, MA. They ship these all over the country so don’t feel like you have to be close to get them.
Made simply of White cedar, you can stack them to help with mobility or create a more dramatic look, and they can fit in almost anywhere. I use them in my own garden instead of spending months of back breaking effort eliminating all the rocks.
The bottom picture is an herb garden tucked in behind an old New England tavern that gives a place for the chef the grow fresh goodies for the restaurant.
These go together in minutes. Fill them with rich soil and you are ready to go. No tools required, and you can trust that they stay together and last – becoming more beautiful and charming with age.
I am probably late to the party, but a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across ‘Café au Lait’ dahlia. Have you grown this cultivar before? Holy cow! The colors are exquisite. The best way to describe them is like… a café au lait. I take my coffee black but my wife, Carrie, has to have a bit of milk and a spot of cream in her coffee. The color of coffee with milk and cream is dreamy. I remember as a kid seeing my parents’ coffee and thinking that it must taste like a caramel square. After one sip, I realized otherwise, although I did like to dip vanilla wafers into their coffee.
There is something about that soft, caramel color that draws us into thinking about sweet smells, gingerbread, and now this magnificent dahlia. Everywhere I read about this plant, people rave about it. The center color of this dinnerplate dahlia can range from the a fore to mentioned cafe au lait into shades of tawny peach. Towards the outer parts of the petals, the flowers transform into a near white. Over the course of the summer, these plants can reach a height of nearly 4 feet in height. As summer heats up, these gargantuan flowers are borne on long stalks. This combination of color, large flower, and long stalk makes Dahlia ‘Café au Lait’ a hit for floral designers. The lovely Floret Flower Farm blog has a wonderful post on harvesting these beauties as cut flowers.
As with most dahlias, do not plant the tubers until June when the soil really warms, making sure to lift the tubers again in the fall before frost. If you live in warmer parts of the country, say USDA zones 8 and higher, then you are probably ok leaving dahlias in the ground. During the winter, store the tubers in a cool, dry spot, being sure they do not freeze or get too wet.
Admittedly, I am starting to go through a dahlia craze phase. These beauties produce enormous flowers in late summer into fall which serves as the perfect juxtaposition to the wicked winter we are inching our way from. I am dreaming of walking past our Café au Lait dahlias with a cup of coffee from our local coffee shop. A slight fog wrestles with the sun in a yen and yang morning, while the dahlia blossoms stand erect, like a victory flag. We have conquered winter and our victory is summer! What better way to celebrate than with a gigantic dahlia flower. I plan on cutting the blossoms and scattering jars of them among the garden’s buildings at CMBG for all to revel and enjoy.
Images: Floret Flower Farm, Stanford
As the winter drudges on, my patience for a lack of greenery has started to come to a head. I don’t think I mentioned that the polar vortex did some real damage to my over-wintering porch plants. Normally, things don’t get so cold in the back porch that I can’t keep my citrus, a few orchids, and some succulents alive in a sort of mock greenhouse, but this year while everything took a hit, my poor succulents an cactii got the worst of it and turned to a limp soggy messes after some of the bitterest days.
Feeling deprived of my ‘green room’ I thought I would gather some bits and pieces into a table top garden (that isn’t in the porch) to take the edge off. I know I might be abnormal when it comes to having things just laying around, but if you become a regular gatherer, you will find that you too might be able to whip up something like this pretty easily. At the very least, you might have to take a short hike to gather the bulk of the materials.
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It’s January, Are you in planning mode? Yeah, me too.
I’m planning windbreaks and barriers, berry gardens, possibly some new trees too, and the completion of my patio and arbor.
You might remember this post about black slats from last summer (you know where I was all talk about getting the arbor over the patio done – but then it didn’t get done….well this time I mean it). I mean it so much I am planning the containers that will sit at the base of all those gorgeous black stained posts and slats (Note: My optimism about the completion of this is overflowing now that we have decided to hire a carpenter to finish the job rather than doing it ourselves – sometimes you just have to be realistic).
As I plan out the pots and accessories, I am so tempted to add a strong thread of another color, but green and black and white are just so great together that I have decided (at least for this year) I must resist.
I’m big on clusters of pots that go but don’t match; different heights and shapes and one type of plant per pot. Keeping the plants separated from each other – each in its own little manageable world – always seems to work better for me and I can re-arrange much more easily.
What do you think of the mix? Here is my thinking on each choice:
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