Flowers

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. 

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.

Clematis Roguchi Easton

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.

clematisroguchi

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?

-Rodney

Images: Val Easton, Portland Monthly Magazine

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

snowdrops by Henry Bush via www.studiogblog.com

If you live along the east coast of the United States and especially in New England, you are probably ready for spring. As I type, it is a balmy 12 degrees outside. Thankfully, we have had a few weeks without snow and with enough sunlight to begin melting the snow. We even began mulching and adding compost to the plant beds in search of something to do outside in the garden. The ground is still solidly frozen. I know because I went around with a pickax yesterday in search of any spot of softened ground. Unfortunately, the soil is tightly intertwined with ice crystals and does not want to awake from its winter slumber. As I posted on my Instagram yesterday, spring, it is time to get your butt out of bed! We need you!

snowdrops via www.studiogblog.com

We do have a few spots where the snow has melted and the soil has warmed enough for the delightful little snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, to emerge and flower. I know a lot of folks consider the witchhazels the first plants to flower but I consider that status as an asterisk. Yes, witchhazels are pretty but snowdrops give us that broader petaled flower that we so much need after a long winter. Once a few clumps were spotted as flowering, most of our staff at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden took off to see them. There is another patch near our home in East Boothbay that always flowers before anyone else’s. I knew that it had come into flower when friends and neighbors started posting pictures of the clumps in flower on Facebook.

Snowdrops en masse

Growing up in North Carolina, I never truly understood the appeal of Galanthus. Because of the mild winter, we always had so many other things to look forward to seeing including camellias. Now that we live in the sub-tundra (depending upon the year), having the little Galanthus waiting for us as soon as the snow melts is a needed welcome. When we lived in North Carolina, I even attended an hour long talk detailing all 19 species of Galanthus and their native habitats. It was interesting and the speaker was fantastic but again, the market was not there with so many other plants outside in flower. This year, if I was a bulb farmer, I would be snapping pictures of snowdrops all over the landscape as well as images of just how brutal this winter has been. Then this fall when everyone is pulling together their bulb orders, I would blast images reminding us of how bad everything was and how welcome the little flowers were.

If you are new to growing snowdrops, plant your bulbs in the fall as the ground starts to cool and before the soil freezes. You can purchase Galanthus bulbs from many different mail-order sources. Be sure to plant the bulbs in an area that is moist yet well drained. Along the edge of a pathway or in a rock garden are ideal spots as they are small plants. If you really want them to flower early, pick a south-facing, warm spot to plant the bulbs. Then smile in the spring when the clumps of white flowers melt away the memories of the white stuff that coated the garden all winter.

-Rodney

Images: Henry Bush at Flickr CC – 2.0  SnowdropInfo. Vancouver Sun

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. 

Again, blame it on this long, drawn-out, cold and snowy winter but I am really digging into certain groups of plants and wanting to add more and more of them to the garden. One genus that we already have in abundance at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is Epimedium. The more I study and look at Epimedium, the more I find to love. This rather large genus has 54 different species distributed around Asia, Europe and Northern Africa. It is in the barberry family but please do not let that make you think that you will see thousands of Epimedium seedlings around your garden like you would with a barberry. The seeds on Epimedium are small and slow to germinate. Epimediums slowly spread by way of stolons, with some species spreading faster than others. Do not expect the rapid spread of a bamboo, these plants, also called barrenwort or bishop’s cap, are slow to multiply. The best way to propagate the barrenworts is through division in late summer after flowering.

epimedium acuminatum night mistress-DS6_0603

If you want to divide your plants, dig them after they flower and divide the clump using sharp, bonsai shears. Once you have new divisions, cut the leaves back by one-third to encourage new root growth. More details about cultivation, species, and propagation can be found in this article by Tony Avent.

Exactly what is the draw to Epimediums? I would have to say it is the combination of drought and shade tolerance, deer-resistance, evergreen foliage in warmer climates, and dainty flowers that from a distance, resemble some orchids. Yes, they are deer resistant! Which is a good thing because I would hate to see what would happen if deer developed a taste for the plants. One of the other common names is horny goat weed. You can actually buy horny goat weed in the supplement aisle of your local, fancy health food supermarket. Legend has it that a Chinese species of Epimedium was growing in an area where a goatherder was allowing his flock to graze. After browsing on a patch of epimedium, the goats suddenly became more “active,” if you know what I mean. The plants contain icariin, which acts in a similar fashion to the active ingredient in Viagra. Since this is a family show, I am going to stop this analysis right here and again say that I am glad that deer do not like the plants.

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Circe'DS5_7722

Getting back to gardening, the flowers are spectacular. Even though they are small, usually no larger than a couple of inches in diameter, when planted en masse, the flowers make a tremendous impact in the garden. Flower colors range from white to yellow and violet, with many bi-colored flowers. A mass planting of barrenwort gives off an almost misty appearance because the flowering stalks are extremely fine, resembling stiff wires. The flowers dangle above the coarse foliage, with the foliage serving as the perfect back drop to the flowers. The foliage is the perfect complement, coming in different shades of green, with some plants having tinges of red or even some dark purple colored cultivars. One of my favorite species, Epimedium wushanense, has protruding “spines” from each of its leaves. A particular cultivar, ‘Sandy Claws’ has really pronounced “spines” and dark chocolate leaves in the spring. I have written about the species before and now am falling in love with the entire genus.

Barrenworts are still gaining in popularity as a plant to add to the garden. They are slow but steady. If you have a spot where few other flowering plants will grow, give one of the Epimedium a shot this spring.

-Rodney

Images: William Cullina

"In an English country garden" by darkcompany via www.studiogblog.comComing off last week’s intense book editing jag, I am finding it really hard to get back into my rhythm – plus I always feel profoundly exhausted after throwing myself wholeheartedly into something….the end of an intense period of work never feels as good as it seems it should and always comes with a little bit of a let down feeling – bottom line is that I need a good kick in the pants and some inspiration!

What do you do when you need a creative jolt?

I’ve got various strategies – I checked out a few interesting books from the library.  The Ecology of Eden by Evan Eisenberg (have you read it?)  promises to be an interesting discussion of humankind’s role in nature.  I also grabbed Phenology: An Integrative Environmental Science and Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) (because you have to counter the heavy with the light).  And there is nothing like a little variety to get your creative juices flowing right?

❘❘❘ always attracted to threes. by sarah siroky  via www.studiogblog.comBetween pondering if humans were ever in harmony with nature and being totally shocked that I was not the only kid who briefly had a pet raccoon (yes this is true not just of Jenny Lawson, but me too) I’m hopeful to find my mojo.

I’m also stalking people on instagram.  These images by DarkCompany (top), sarahsiroky (middle) and mckenzie_powell (below) are so appealing but I think my slightly dark mood is showing up in my preferences.

giant tulip magnolias by mckenzie powell via www.studiogblog.com

If that doesn’t work, Zippy and I will extend the frequency and duration of our walks. Maybe some (still bitingly cold) fresh air with help me stir things up?

Do you ever hit a creative walls? How do you peel yourself away from them and start running in a new direction? 

-Rochelle