Plants

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.

Sanguinaria

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.

Bloodroot

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.

Rodney

Images: Oehme van Sweden blog, A Study in Contrasts

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.

halesia tree by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.comAt 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 (creative commons  by A. Barra.)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. 

Read the full post

My strawberries hate my strawberry tower. They literally run from it.

Last year in my book writing garden absence, I let them run as they wished as I was failing the time to reign them in. Subsequently, if you drive by my house this weekend you will see a sign at the end of the driveway that says this: “Free Strawberry Plants – You Dig”

Strawberry tower by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.comI have decided not to fight them on this tower issue anymore. Instead I am going to let them have some of the pathways that they insist on taking over. They seem to be ok with me walking over them on occasion and I appreciate that they are a pretty effective at choking out any other weed that might want to take hold. Plus there is the profusion of home grown strawberries.

But I am unsure of what to do with the tower. I have a few thoughts…the first is to fill it with a succulent garden. I think that would be a stunning focal point, but my reality is that I live in Massachusetts – not Southern California, and the selection of hardy succulents is limited – so much so that I that think this plan would likely turn out to be nothing more than a study in Hens and Chicks. The second is to fill it with herbs – an idea that I also love, but frankly – given the extreme amount of herbs I have planted throughout the rest of my garden – is something that I really don’t need. So I think my last idea – to fill it with a striking collection of annuals is where I am going to end up.

Yellow color study planting by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.comI am not so big on mixed containers and find that single plant containers are easier for me to manage.  Plus, I prefer a more modern look – but I think this is the place for an exception of sorts. The layers are calling out to me, they seem to be asking for a color study in ascending stripes. I am choosing yellow and plan to work a gradation from white to deep yellow over the five levels (I will let the strawberries have the bottom since it is what they insist).  I have a little worry that the nemesia will not like the position (being a shade lover) but this is a tricky sort of thing since one side gets way more sun than the other.  I am looking forward to seeing how this experiment works out over the season.

If you want to know more about each plant, here are the links to each choice: Diamond Frost EuphorbiaNemesia CoconutLantana Luscious LemonadeFlambe Yellow Chrysocephalum apiculatumGoldilocks Rocks Bidens hybrid.

If you want to read more about my strawberry tower, check out these posts.

Images:  Images courtesy of proven winners and rochelle greayer.

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. 

 

Heronwood

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.

aerial hedge versailles

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)

Living-walls-Pleached-trees-Marianne-Cannon-

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.

-Rodney

Images: The Creative FluxJan Henry, Garden Drum

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. 

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. 

beantunnel1

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.

Read the full post