Cutting Garden

defining your garden style - plant partners from www.studiogblog.com

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:

  1. Find an inspiration source.  I like art; maybe you might pick something that is already hanging on the walls of your home.
  2. Study the piece for composition, pattern, and notable personality elements and also pull out the colors that appeal to you.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Hallway by Carolyn Swiszcz via www.studiogblog.com  - how to create a planting collection from art. 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. 

Bouquest by the green dandelion via www.studiogblog.com

I have been meaning to share this arrangement for days now – but it (once again) has been one of those kind of weeks.

The Green Dandelion designed this and it has me planning to rip up some grass to plant huge rows of rare marigolds that we can use in similar farmers market arrangements later this summer.  Arrangements that will also use all the inevitably gangly volunteer seed grown tomatoes that will pop up in the garden this spring. In all my spring optimism, I can assure you it is going to be perfect.

I just can’t work out what those cat tail like things are and the dark purple cosmo-like flowers.  Ideas?  I want to plant the whole thing  in my garden.

-Rochelle

image: The Green Dandelion

Lavender vs Catmint. Which do you use for the Perfect Purple Haze?

Whether you have visited the south of France or just seen pictures you know how seductive those mounded purple rows of lavender can be.  But the pictures don’t even tell half the story, the scent of lavender in the air on a hot  day in July is simply the essence of summer.

I have a rather odd shaped driveway that makes a sharp right as you get to the top and make your way into the garage.  The transition between the asphalt driveway and the gardens that greet me at the top of turn have always stumped me.  It has a particular set of challenges as on one side there is the home of the annual snow plow dumping ground (which is on top of a perennial garden) and on the other there is a country version of a hell strip – the area between the asphalt and a rock retaining wall.

About 8 years ago I planted a lavender hedge on both sides – hoping to add the beauty and scent of the plant to my landscape.  It sort of worked….until 2 years later the lavender on the snow mound side completely died over one winter. I lost 20 plants in one fell swoop.  While I have never really (for sure) gotten to the bottom of why this happened, my suspicions lie in a winter snow melt that lasted too long and caused the plants to have wet feet for longer than they could tolerate.

But now that I had a one sided driveway (because I had no problem on the non-snow mound side) I needed a plan to bring back the glory of two sided purple haze.   Fearing a repeat catastrophe, I opted to replaced the lavender with Catmint and left the (still happy) lavender on the hell strip side – and the plan is working!

Some in depth plant studying reveals why this plan worked:

  • Lavender doesn’t like wet soil.
  • Lavender also is evergreen and doesn’t die back (making it an easy target for the snowplow who piles it on)
  • Lavender doesn’t like fertile soil (so the downhill side of the driveway, which has an edge that tends to be a trap for leaves and rotting debris, is not a great place)

Conversely -

  • Catmint is much more tolerant of wetter soils.
  • It also doesn’t mind a little fertilization every once in a while.
  • And it dies back in the winter leaving nothing for the snow plow to catch and in dry winters nothing for the wind to whip.

But there are a few other things to consider here.  I laid out this design about 9 years ago and since then, there have been substantial improvements in both Lavender and Catmint.  Catmint used to have problems with maintaining its mounded shaped – often falling open in the middle and making it a less viable sub for lavender. Newer varieties, however, like Nepeta ‘Cat’s meow’ doesn’t have this problem.   Also, many lavenders that were on the market 9 years ago had a tendency to become woody and gnarly if not regularly pruned but improved varieties like Lavandula ‘Sweet Romance’ and others  are less inclined to have this issue.

So if you are looking for the perfect purple haze which do you choose…catmint or lavender?

In my case the answer is both.

-Rochelle

Images: courtesy of 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. 

Cafe au Lait Dahlia Floret Flowers

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.

Dahlia Cafe au Lait Stanford

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.

-Rodney

Images: Floret Flower Farm, Stanford

Lavandula Phenomenal
There are two songs that I have been playing over and over this winter. One is by Andy Grammer and the other is by Ben Howard. The refrain from both songs is “Keep Your Head Up!” It has worked wonderfully until last week. I have been loving this winter with all of its snow and cold even though many are complaining about it. I know there is nothing that I can do about the weather other than keep my head up. What has put this mantra to the test is what we found after coming back from a wonderful vacation to Raleigh, Atlanta, and Walt Disney World. We drove down in mid January to see my mother in Raleigh. It was great to see her and catch up on things in my hometown even though the snow and cold followed us southwards. Then, we went over to Atlanta for the Junior Theater Festival. What a wonderful time and event. If you have children from late elementary to high school age, seek out and get them involved with junior theater. I could go on about the benefits but we love seeing what our kids are doing. After the fantastic festival, we headed south for a long-awaited family vacation in Walt Disney World. Carrie and I wanted to take our kids down as they are at that perfect age and we also wanted to celebrate the fact that we met at Disney as horticulture interns some 20 years ago.

The reason I am telling you this (I am getting to the plants, I promise), is to set up what awaited us when we got home. One day near the end of vacation, we called a friend to check in on our home. He called and said, “Whoa, it is really cold in your home and the water does not work!” Shoot! Turns out, the circulation pump on our boiler burned out and so our home had lost heat for several days. As we were waiting for the Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios, I am on the phone with the boiler repairman. Well, he fixed our boiler but the freezing of the pipes caused two sections of pipe to burst above our dining room. The water break occurred in the ceiling above our fan, which we had left on for air circulation. The ceiling fan acted like a water sprinkler and spread the water all over the dining room, living room, and into parts of our kitchen.

This week, we are living in a neighbor’s summer home as contractors repair our floors, walls, and ceiling. At the same time, we are tracking down all of the things we lost or were damaged (Carrie’s framed painting from David Armstrong that had a personal note to us on the bottom had water damage to the matting but hopefully, we can get the matting replaced). Every little thing, is gonna be alright, to quote Bob Marley.

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Yes, I am opening this week’s blog with a line from that famous 80′s hit by Men at Work. He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich.

To follow-up on that song which you will now have stuck in your head throughout the day, let me introduce you to a fantastic evergreen, perennial plant from the land down under (an annual in our climate). Kangaroo paw or Anigozanthos, is a wonderfully showy and somewhat exotic flowering plant from southwestern Australia. From what I can tell, Anigozanthos has been grown in California for sometime as their climate is the most similar to Australia’s in the continental United States.

Anigozanthos flower

I first encountered this plant while touring nurseries in California and in the conservatories of Longwood Gardens. The foliage consists of green, strap-like leaves that emerge from the base of the plant. In the spring and again in the fall, plants produce a flowering stalk up to 6 feet in height. From these flowering stalks, the plants earn their nickname from the tubular flowers that resemble a kangaroo’s paw. The flower buds are coated with tiny hairs that give them a rather unique appearance. They somewhat remind me of candied fruits. The flowers are brightly colored in shades of red, yellow, orange, and green along with the more unusual white and black. Once the buds open, they have small, 6-petaled flowers. The flowering stalks also work well as cut flowers in floral displays but truth be told, I would have a hard time cutting the flowers because they are so unusual.

anigozanthos_flavidus1

What’s really cool is that a couple of nurseries are now offering Anigozanthos cultivars as annuals for us here in the eastern United States. I noticed today that both Sunny Border and Landcraft are listing kangaroo paws in their 2014 availabilities. Most of these plants are hardy down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit so they are just fine with a late spring or early fall frost. Grow Anigozanthos in full-sun, well-drained soil, with moderate water and nutrients. If the plants dry out too much in a hot summer, they will go dormant. Summer dormancy is an adaptation to survive in their natural habitat.

I am adding Anigozanthos to my plant list for this summer’s displays. I am hoping to combine it with darker Phormium and maybe complement it with a Black Madras ornamental rice. Have you grown kangaroo paws before?

-Rodney

Photos: fi.wikipedia.org, UBC Botanical Garden

Last week, one of our staff, Will, called me in to show a new plant he had found. As I was first entering his office, I could see a plant on his computer screen that looked a bit like a small, pastel colored Gladiolus. He described to me a new plant that he wanted to try called Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame.’ Wow! It looked beautiful but I had never heard of the plant before. Turns out that this is a relatively new bi-generic hybrid combining Digitalis purpurea with the non-hardy Isoplexis canariensis. We had grown and killed many Isoplexis canariensis while I was at Longwood Gardens so immediately I became skeptical of the plant. Isoplexis is a gorgeous, shrubby plant with orange flowers from the Canary Islands. It is not hardy along the eastern United States so it was grown in the conservatory. Even there, the summer humidity of the mid-Atlantic region was too much for Isoplexis to thrive.

Digiplexis close-up
That said, Charles Valin from Thompson and Morgan in the United Kingdom, had the notion to cross Digitalis purpurea with Isoplexis canariensis back in 2006. He was able to make a gorgeous bi-generic hybrid with bi-colored, foxglove-like flowers. The resultant plant had a lot of wonderful characteristics: foxglove flowers in unusual colors (orange throat with pinkish purple outside), dark green foliage, bushy habit with multiple flowering spikes, and it flowers from May until September. That’s right, flowers from late spring until early autumn. No foxglove can do that.

Illumination Flame Digiplexis
The one drawback is that it is only hardy to USDA zone 8, which for us along the east coast of the United States would mean from the southern coast of Virginia and points south. It has shown to be vigorous (a grower’s guide recommends growing in a 2 gallon pot) so it might make for a fantastic annual for us here along the Maine coast is USDA zone 6a. The ultimate size of the plant should be around 30″ in height and slightly less in width.
Look for Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’ to be the plant to get for 2014. It has already won the Chelsea Flower Show Plant of The Year in 2012 and Greenhouse Grower’s 2013 Editor’s Choice award. What other plant do you know of with its own website and Facebook page?

-Rodney

Images: greenhouse product news, random acts of gardening