Author Archive

The before images: Containers 2014

I design containers using uncommon plants which will look great all season with a minimum of care. Here are the early summer images of  containers for sun, shade, and of course succulents, our favorites! Check back for the September report to see how well they performed

Phormium, Dichondra, Oxalis, late June 2014

Phormium, Dichondra, Oxalis, late June 2014

Tradescantia, Pelargonium Janie, with Abutilon 'Kentish Bell' and Phormium

Tradescantia, Pelargonium Janie, with Abutilon ‘Kentish Bell’ and Phormium

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Cobalt blue pot with everblooming Lantana montevidensis

Begonia thurstonii with Fatshedera, Coprosma, Foxtail Asparagus and Ivy

Begonia thurstonii with Fatshedera, Foxtail Asparagus and Ivy

Hemizygia, Pilea Pellonia and Begonia 'Ebony', June 2014

Hemizygia, Pilea Pellonia and Begonia ‘Ebony’, June 2014

A special pot of smaller succulents

A special pot of smaller succulents

Colorful tropical succulents…they'll be even better in autumn

Colorful tropical succulents…they’ll be even better in autumn

Zen Bowl with a mix of Hardy and tender Succulents

Zen Bowl with a mix of Hardy and tender Succulents

Tall vase with Agonis, Phormium 'Ed Carmen' and choice succulents.

Tall vase with Agonis, Phormium ‘Ed Carmen’ and choice succulents.

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Succulent Wreath in a moss form

 


Plantiful inspires Garden Abundance

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Plantiful, the term Kristin Green coined for the title of her new book, should be entered in the New York Times Magazine’s “That should be a word” column. In a word it perfectly describes the lushness and exuberance that the best gardens display. Plantiful’s byline, “start small, grow big with 150 plants that spread, self sow and overwinter” is especially encouraging for new gardeners on a budget, yet it provides worthy information for seasoned gardeners too.

In just over 200 pages, Green, an interpretive horticulturist  at Blithewold Mansion Gardens and Arboretum in Bristol RI, describes how to make more plants from what you already have. She packs in all types of propagating tips for home gardeners and answers the important questions on what to do when, where and how to do it. She goes on to list 150 plants that will easily multiply in your gardens.

verbena200Green espouses a give and take philosophy on gardening, allowing for the garden’s abundance when plants spread or self sow, but cautions that when you have too much of a good thing, you must edit. This is an important lesson once you’ve created a garden, and it is often a tough decision for the new gardener who is still so thankful that plants survive. Take heart that there are alternatives to tossing surplus plants when your garden gives back too much: plant swap with friends, or place in a holding bed until you find a new home for this progeny (hmm…reminds me of how our nursery  got started).

There are many good photographs to illustrate Green’s prose, taken in various gardens including her own, the beautiful grounds of Blithewold, and there’s even a few images taken here at Avant Gardens. (Disclosure: Kris and I have been horticultural chums for at least a decade.)

Plantiful will inspire you. It will make you a passionate plantsman (woman) if you’re not already one. Use it as a primer for creating your intimate haven, where the generous nature of the garden will be your partner in its serendipitous design.

Plantiful. By Kristin Green. Published by Timber Press, available online or better yet, ask your local book seller. If it’s not in stock, I’m sure the proprietor will order a copy for you, and stock the shelves with additional copies. Kristin also posts amusing and informative garden essays on her blog Trench Manicure.


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Gladiolus dalenii ‘Boone’

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You won’t think funeral parlors when you see this lovely species of Hardy Gladiolus. That’s right…I said hardy. For the past 6 years ‘Gladiolus dalenii ‘Boone’ has not only wintered over, (including our recent epic one)  but has multiplied, producing many bulb offsets in one of our raised planting beds. Elegant 3′ stems display apricot yellow blossoms make lovely cut flowers in early-mid summer. It thrives in full sun and for the record, I will state it is hardy in zones 6-9 when grown in a soil that is well drained in winter. Add a few shovels of sand and mix in your soil when planting, and for insurance it would be a good idea to lay a protective mulch of sterile hay or evergreen boughs in zone 6.

In colder climates (zones 1–5) you could easily lift the bulbs for winter storage in a cool dry space that stays above freezing. Gladilolus dalenii ‘Boone’ can easily be grown from seed, and we have noticed some variation in color from seedlings…ranching from the softest of yellows to slightly deeper pale oranges, sometimes with darker orange highlights.

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Persicaria polymorpha at dusk, photo by Paul Clancy

Persicaria polymorpha

Persicaria polymorpha at dusk, photo by Paul Clancy

Persicaria polymorpha at dusk, photo by Paul Clancy

Mention the name Persicaria in horticulture circles, and you may raise a few eyebrows. Persicaria, has a very bad cousin: Polygonum cuspidatum, commonly  known as Japanese Knotweed or sometimes Running Bamboo (it is not a bamboo!), and this cousin can spread DREADFULLY. But please read on…

Our Persicaria polymorpha has a common name too, Giant Fleece Flower, and this common name  describes it well. Within a few seasons, Persicaria polymorpha will reach 5′, maybe 6′ tall and form imposing clumps, increasing in width each season to 6′ or more. Talk about taking up space! In June and July, white Astilbe like plumes adorn the plant and the blooms seem to last and last. This is a great plant for a long distance view (think about its size and white color) and is wonderful viewed in the early evening light.

Here are the facts: Giant Fleece Flower likes average soil, or moist soil, or even very dry soil once established. It loves full sun but will grow in partial shade. It is a bold perennial and and adds contrast to the finer textured plant sin the garden. Like Baptisia, it is one of the first herbaceous plants to attain good height in the spring garden.  It is deer resistant and long lived. I have yet to discover seedlings about, although it can be propagated by seed. Persicaria polymorpha is hardy in zones 4-9.

Consider Persicaria polymorpha when you are in need of a big, bold, hardy, long blooming, deer resistant plant.

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Kalimeris incisa 'Blue Star'

Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’

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Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’ at Avant Gardens

 

As much as I am wowed by voluptuous blossoms, I like to champion the strong garden performers which have quieter charms. One whose charms seldom disappoints is an Asian Aster relative called Kalimeris incise ‘Blue Star’. This little number grows 15-18″ tall and 18-24″ wide, and begins its production of 1 1/2″ lavender blue daisies in June, carrying on into autumn. (I kid you not.) ‘Blue Star’ forms tidy clumps; it does not run, unlike some other Asian Aster relatives that we have tried such as Asteromoea and Aster ageratoides.  Use Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’ in the front of the border, paired with other favorites, such as Calamintha nepeta sp nepeta, Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetails’ and Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lime’ for an easy  long blooming ensemble.

Grow ‘Blue Star’ in full sun in a soil that has good drainage, and it doesn’t hurt to thank this star performer with a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer a few times during summer.  It is hardy in zones 5-8.

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Rehabbing Succulent Planters

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A succulent planter in mid April…ready for rehab.

Those of us who live in colder climates may be thinking it’s time to rehab last year’s tender succulent containers. Over the winter, these planters have been trying to soak up as much sun as possible on windowsills and in sunrooms, but it’s a sure thing that by mid spring many of the plants have become unbecomingly leggy. You have two options: disassemble the planter, plant by plant, then cut back and replant in fresh soil, or if the planter is not too overcrowded or out of proportion, you can see if just trimming back is the answer.

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3 weeks later….the plants in this pot have begun to flush with new growth

I’m encouraging you to be ruthless when you cut back. After cutting off their heads these plants won’t look happy immediately, but the alternative could become down right ugly (and, any cuttings that are pinched back can be stuck in sand  and rooted for more plants). You may find that some of the spreading succulents have exceeded their bounds and need to be lifted and divided…but you can use these pieces to tuck in around the container where their are “plant gaps”. Fertilize your planter …we use a seaweed/fish emulsion. It will take a number of weeks and some warm sunny weather for your planters to start to perk up.

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After cutting back the creepers, replace with fresh cuttings to fill holes and balance the design of your vertical planter.

Vertical Succulent Gardens are often in need of cutting back and editing. We usually leave our vertical planters horizontal on benches during the winter, to minimize stretching.  Still some plants such as the rosettes of Sempervivum or Echeveria may have become overwhelmed by creeping Sedum and Delosperma, and need to be replaced. We take fresh cuttings and secure them in place with floral pins. Fertilize with seaweed/fish emulsion , keeping the wall planter flat while the new cuttings root in, and move outside as soon as nights  stay in the 50′s or above. In a few weeks, growth will begin to fill in the empty spaces, and then you can hang.

Vertical Garden ...3 weeks later

Vertical Garden 3 weeks later

 related posts….

Wintering Over Tender Succulents

Growing Vertically


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Lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal’

lavxphe500Growing Lavender en masse here in the northeast has often been a risky thing to do. Lavender would suffer winter damage, and we would often find we had to replace plants here and there every winter. The good new is that after this past cruel winter, which caused more than its share of plant casualties, a recent Lavender introduction came through unscathed. Lavandula ‘Phenomenal’, in fact, is looking pretty phenomenal.

Here’s the data. ‘Phenomenal’ was introduced by Peace Tree Farm Nursery in PA, after the folks there observed it for years in their trial beds. ‘Phenomenal’ tolerated extreme heat and humidity in summer, making it a good choice for hot summer areas, and was resistant to root diseases which often plague lavenders where winters are cold and wet. ‘Phenomenal’ begins blooming in late spring and carries on through July, with masses of intoxicatingly fragrant lavender blue flowers. Plants grow slowly at first, but reach large proportions…24″ tall and 36″ wide in several years time. Deer and rabbit resistant, it also attracts butterflies and grows best in full sun and well drained soil. Plants are super hardy too…wintering over in zones 4-8.

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Beesia deltophylla in bloom in early June

Beesia deltophylla

Beesia deltophylla in bloom in early June

Beesia deltophylla in bloom in early June

We shouldn’t be surprised many people do not know or grow little Beesia. This Buttercup relative was brought into the U.S. from China by Dan Hinkley of Heronswood Gardens fame, less than 20 years go. Sometimes thought of as a west coast plant, we have found that when sited in a protected spot it has thrived for half a dozen years in our zone 6A garden.

Beesia deltophylla is semi evergreen for us, but in mild winter climates folks can enjoy its glossy dark green heart shaped foliage all year round. The silvery veining adda a nice accent, and in late spring and early summer it sends up 10-15″ stems bearing dainty white flowers. We have included it with Hellebores, Epimedium and Hakonechloa in an understory planting under our ancient oak tree.

To grow Beesia well, provide a well drained soil that is rich with humus, and irrigate during dry spells. In cold climates like ours, let the fallen leaves acts as a winter mulch or spread sterile straw over the plants to protect from cruel winter winds. We suggest using it in urban gardens, which are often protected and shaded by tall buildings.

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Symphytum x uplandicum ‘Axminster Gold’

symxagLooking for a bold foliage plant that is cold hardy through zone 5, deer resistant and is one of the first to show signs of life in the spring? Meet this form of Variegated Russian Comfrey,  a naturally occurring hybrid of S. officinale x  S. asperum.  ‘Axminster Gold’ will form robust clumps of 14″ creamy yellow edged lanceolate leaves, 18-24″ tall by 2-3′ wide. In late spring and early summer, pink lavender “bluebell-like” flowers will bloom on nodding on 4′ tall stems and attract a myriad of butterflies. Once the blooming period is over remove the aging stalks to promote fresh foliar growth.  Last summer we saw ‘Axminster Gold’ in a garden paired with Periscaria ‘Firetails’, and want to duplicate this combination.

 Grow ‘Axminster Gold’ in full sun or partial shade in a soil that is rich and somewhat moisture retentive.  Axminster Gold’ can be quite vigorous once established in the garden but is somewhat scarce in the trade due to propagating difficulty. For some reason plants propagated from root cuttings will be solid green , so divisions must be taken from the central crown in order to ensure you’ll be getting the gold variegation.

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Hopeful Assessments

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Helleborus multifidus ready to unfurl

If you’re like me, once the snow retreated you walked about your garden searching for hints of growth. For me the first signs came from the snowdrops and now the crocus are showing color, as well as the narcissus which are sending forth their green pencil shoots. We’ve cut back the old Epimedium and Helleborus hybridus foliage. Ah yes, there they are: the tightly curled flower buds just waiting for a bout of milder temperatures.

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Trochodendron aralioides (Wheel Tree)

Our conifers are all looking okay, and right now the tropical looking Trochodendron we planted last summer is looking pretty darn good (fingers kept crossed). On the other hand the Bamboos, both the Fargesia rufa and Phyllostyachys aureasulcata, took a real beating. The browned foliage will be replenished with new growth, but the thing is that won’t happen until mid May…. can we really stand looking at it for that long? We have no choice but to live with our brown Phyllostachys forest, but we may just have to cut the Fargesia to the ground and spare ourselves the view of winter’s scourge. It means we’ll sacrifice some height this year, but I’m sure we’ll get at least 3’ of it back this summer, and next year the Fargesia should reach 6’ or more.

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Fargesia rufa ‘Green Panda’, the one that suffered the least this winter.

It’s still too soon to tell with most perennials. Unless the evidence is an obviously mushy crown, it’s really just a wait and see. We’ve had many a plant resurrect itself from deep roots in late spring, once the earth has sufficiently warmed.  Good news is the Beesia deltophylla, covered with a blanket of fallen leaves for the winter is promising growth.

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Beesia deltophylla shoots looking promising.

Here’s what I recommend. Take pictures of the what your garden looks like now, and then document again in 6-8 weeks. Keep these images as a record  of reference for the future, so when things look skeptical in early spring, you have hope.