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.
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.
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.
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.
Would you like to meet ‘Lawrence Crocker’, the easiest little Daphne we know and grow? It was discovered and named for one of the founders of Siskyou Rare Plant Nursery, and thought to be a hybrid of D. arbuscula and D. collina. Daphne ‘Lawrence Crocker’ is a little gem for the tiny urban garden, alpine or otherwise, as long as you can provide it a well drained soil, adequate moisture to establish and at least half day sun. ‘Lawrence Crocker’ was one of the first specimens we planted in our rockery (20 years ago, at least), and it continues to charm us each spring with its fragrant dark pink blossoms.
Remember this is a diminutive plant. It is suitable for trough gardens, but in the open garden it can grow up to 12″ tall and up to 18″ wide. It has proven durable and hardy for us in zone 6A.
It’s hard not to have an inferiority complex when you are visiting the West Coast. Everything happens so much earlier here. We took an opportunity to escape New England’s enduring winter, and discovered signs of spring at Filoli, a beautiful estate garden just south of San Francisco in Woodside CA. We were able to get in some picture taking in between the downpours.
Some history. William Bowers Bourn II, owner of one of California’s richest gold mines and president of the Spring Valley Water Company, which supplied water to the city if San Francisco, built Filoli between 1915 and 1917. The Georgian style dwelling sits on an estate of 654 acres, of which 6 acres are cultivated gardens. Ownership changed hands in 1936 when Mr. and Mrs. William P. Roth (Lurline Matson, heir of the Matson Navigation Company) purchased the property. Mrs. Roth saw to the establishment of many of the gardens we see today. She added the woodland copse, the swimming pool garden and the screened-in teahouse, and built Filoli’s botanic collections of camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas.
Lucky for us, Mrs. Roth donated the estate in its entirety to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1975, including a healthy endowment to help support operating expenses. It is open to the public February through October, 10-3:30 pm. Filoli is closed on Mondays. For more info visit their website.
You wouldnt know it by looking out my window today, but this past Sunday afternoon it hit 50 degrees. I walked about the garden taking inventory, and just as I had hoped, buds were beginning to swell on spring flowering trees and shrubs. To my delight, the Hamamelis (witch hazel) blossoms were beginning to open. It was a perfect time to cut some branches for forcing indoors.
Forcing is not difficult, but it helps to understand a few basics. Many woody plants (trees and shrubs) set their flowering buds during the previous growing season. They must undergo a dormant period (about 6 weeks) of cold temperatures. A sustained warm moist spell following this dormant period will break dormancy. You need to mimic this warm moist spell to trick your cut branches into thinking it is spring.
1. Walk about your garden in search of subjects, observe, and prune
You can actually tackle some pruning as you search for stems for forcing. As you select branches, remember to consider the shape you want your tree or shrub to grow. Prune on a mild day, preferably in the afternoon. The day’s warmth will aid the plant in taking up water and sugars from the roots. Branches force more easily if they are less than 1/2 inch in diameter.
One of the easiest plants to break dormancy is Forsythia. Other plants to consider are Willows (Salix), Witch hazel (Hamamelis), Winter hazel (Corylopsis), Quince (Chaenomeles), Viburnum, Dogwood (Cornus), Flowering Cherry (Prunus). I thought I would experiment a bit while I was taking inventory , so I also cut branches of Spirea, Magnolia and Birch (Betula).
2. Hydrate your stems
After you have gathered your array, fill a deep bucket or large pan with warm water, (for really big branches a bathtub works quite well). Submerge your cut branches in the warm water and leave them in a warm spot overnight. You can add a small amount of lemon-lime soda or even Listerine (approx. 1T per quart of water) which will act as a preservative. The next day, under very warm running water, make fresh cuts to your branches. If you have thick branches (1/2 or more), you can split and splay the stems an inch or so for better water absorption. Begin to arrange, or keep these stems in a cool space (45-50 degrees) for a week or so, until you are ready to arrange them.
3. Create your arrangement
In a fresh vase of water with a bit of preservative, create your arrangement. Some branches will burst open immediately, but others will need more coaxing. Remember your first attempts are about experimenting. Branches which have an interesting shape or color will look fabulous even if they do not force (I’m thinking about the curly willow I used). Every week or two venture outside and select more branches. Take notes on what stems forced well in early February, and which ones might require more time outdoors as winter weather transitions into early spring.
I will post an image of this container in about a week, and you can see how successful I was.
Once or twice a year, during my grammar school days, our class would get to go on an adventure…a field trip! One school outing which often comes to mind was a trip to a natural history museum housed in a quaint rural church. Inside were small rooms filled with closets and cabinets containing preserved specimens of local flora and fauna: insects, butterflies, seed pods, feathers, all labeled and stored in jars or boxes. There were slightly morbid taxidermy specimens…I seem to remember a fox, who I felt so sorry for, and a bat. This cataloging of the natural world enthralled me. I saw it (and still do) as an art form. I would fantasize about mushrooms and beehives and dried flowers, and dreamed of becoming a botanical illustrator when I grew up.
It is so interesting now, in our age of cyber intelligence, that the influence of the natural world is playing such a big roll in home decor and design. Found branches become coat racks, massive gnarly roots become table pedestals. Flower arranging has seen a resurgence as we all want to see more natural objects of beauty in our complicated modern lives.
A book which is developing a loyal following is Debra Prinzings Slow Flowers. Debra wants us to let go of our preconceived notions of floral arranging. She encourages us to walk past the grocery store bouquets imported from a location thousands of miles away. Instead we should all look at what is available out side our back door; to seek and use ornamental twigs, unusual foliage, seed pods and lichen, and to look again at plants which we shelter in a greenhouse or windowsill (Im seeing a gorgeous begonia leaf on mine). No matter the season, there is beauty in the local flora to celebrate .
This brings me to an event I went to this past week: Flora in Winter, a fund raiser held at the Worcester Art Museum in MA. Talented floral artists selected a classical work of art and interpreted the work in an arrangement. I have to say I was impressed. Yes, many of the arrangements incorporated imported flowers and foliage, but many could easily be interpreted at different times of the year with natural objects found in your neighborhood.
If you havent already, I encourage you to walk about your yard or nearby fields and woods to see what treasures you come upon. Perhaps you may want to introduce a new tree, shrub or flower to your garden so you will always have a local source. Remember to cast aside any old rules and preconceived ideas about flower arranging. Just have fun and experiment.
“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day. It’s a new life ” Nina Simone
I suppose it would be more conventional to write chapters 1-25 first, if I were to write a chapter per year of how horticulture has informed my life. With a nod to how we all began, I’d like to let you know what we’re planning for 2014.
Chapter 1: Chris and I began Avant Gardens when we were asked to install a cut flower and herb garden for a local bistro. That was more than 25 years ago.
Chapter 26: (the first paragraphs…)
Grow. Isn’t that an optimistic word? What other word or phrase has the same meaning? Move forward, awaken, gain awareness, obtain height, expand. Grow a simple powerful four letter word, and it perfectly sums up what Chris and I chose to do with our lives after we were hired by that bistro owner mentioned in Chapter 1.
We can’t help but grow at Avant Gardens in 2014. It’s a given…we will have many new plant offerings to tempt you. As always, there is an emphasis on uncommon selections which will look good for a long time in your garden. Besides plants, we are growing new ideas and new ways of sharing them. We are in the process of redoing and are just weeks away from debuting our new website. Not only will our online plant catalog have a beautiful new look with very useful search features; our new website will begin to showcase the evocative garden landscapes and stonework which Chris Tracey has designed and installed in recent years. We also want to share some beautiful images of our own innovative, ever changing planting schemes and stone features here at Avant Gardens.
I have been feeling a growth spurt of my own. Many of you know me as the head honcho at the nursery and the main voice behind this blog. Recently, I have become more involved with the garden design services of Avant Gardens. After taking on a few sweet projects this past year, I realized that as much as I have invested my heart and soul in operating a nursery, I really miss designing and planting new gardens. There has been one obstacle: I need time. In order to free up more time for client meetings and executing drawings, we are going to have a more limited visiting hours schedule. We will keep hours much the way other mail order nurseries function: Open House Weekends through out the season, and always, be open by appointment. As in the past, we encourage our local customers to place will call orders with their preferred pickup date if they would like us to reserve special plants for them.
There are more growth spurts calling me (which may provide some lively blog discussions). Im considering keeping bees, I really want to have a more ambitious vegetable garden, Im hoping to make time to practice my painting skills and pay homage to whats in season by creating out of the garden botanical arrangements. All too often I have been a gardener who can get so bogged down with the chores that I am not enjoying the wonder that surrounds me. The growth spurts which are calling me are actually ways I will address this. Each is an expression of garden celebration. My new year’s resolution is to make a regular practice of celebrating our garden .winter, spring, summer and fall.
Now tell me, how do you plan to grow and celebrate in 2014?
Hinoki Cypress Wreath with Elkhorn Cedar. Love the little cones on the Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) and the undersides of Elkhorn Cedar (Thujopsis dolobrata) are fabulous!
Mixed Greens Wreath. Dwarf Blue Spruce (Picea glauca ‘Montgomery’), Littleleaf Boxwood (Buxus sinica ‘Justin Brouwer’), plus several cultivars of Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa cvs. ‘Confucious’, ‘Crippsi’, and ‘Jade’)
Mixed Greens Wreath with Golden Berried Blue Holly (Ilex meserve ‘Golden Girl’), Littleleaf Boxwood (Buxus sinica ‘Justin Brouwer’), Various Hinoki Cypress
Littleleaf Boxwood (Buxus sinica ‘Justin Brouwer’) with Blue Holly (Ilex meserve ‘Blue Princess’ ) plus wreath making supplies
After 25 years of planting unusual evergreens on our property, I feel like now our plants have enough growth to afford plenty of interesting options for creating winter wreaths. This year’s crop provided me with lots of interesting material, and while I was taking cuttings I was also pruning at the same time.
I hate making the same composition twice, so each wreath has a character of its own. I’ve used various wreath making forms in the past, but this year I went back to using wire forms which I covered with moistened long fiber sphagnum moss secured with a 22 gauge florist wire.
Here are a few tips:
- You will need a lot of material for even a small form, especially if you want big fat full wreaths. The amount shown in the silver pan was just about enough to create a 16″ wreath.
- If your base is 12″ wide, expect the finish sized to be about 18″ (or more in diameter, depending how far out your branches extend).
- Broadleaf greens such as Boxwood, Holly and Rhododendron desiccate quickly, especially if they are placed in a warm space or in a sunny spot. Using a base that has moistened sphagnum and tucking in the branch tips of the little bunches helps keep them hydrated. Mist or soak your boxwood or holly wreath often. Also, applying an anti desiccant helps prevent the leaves from drying out.
- Holly berries are often tucked along the inner lower branches. Try to position the cuttings so you can see the berries, then trim back as necessary.
- Repetition of your assorted bundles helps you create a balanced circle.
- After you create your wreath, hang it and step back to see where it may need editing. You can always trim back or tuck in more cuttings.
- Weather resistant ribbons add a touch of color to simple wreaths made from one or 2 plants, such as boxwood or holly. I prefer not to use ribbon when I have a lot of interesting leaves and cones to admire.
As much as gardeners quickly express frustration about weather, insect pests, or deer browsing, we really are a thankful lot. We are thankful more often than we acknowledge : for sunshine, rain, snow cover, good bugs, birds, rich earth….Most importantly, I think we are grateful for the plants which grace our gardens.
After yesterday’s much needed torrential rainfall (thankful!), this morning’s view from my window is tranquil except for the activity at the bird feeders. I’m viewing a corner of our garden which is designed with plants that provide winter interest: Hinoki Cypress Chamaecyparis obtusa, Japanese Forest Grass Hakonechloa macro, Little Bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Blue Heaven’ , Hellebores Helleborus ‘Golden Lotus’, a beloved Japanese Maple Acer palmatum ‘Katsura‘, a Wheel Tree Trochodendron aralioides (recently planted, fingers crossed…putting it through the hardiness test) plus the showiest plant right now, Winterberry, Ilex verticillata ‘Berry Heavy’ which like all of the hollies this year is heavy with fruit.
Soon the birds will pick off the winterberry fruit, and this picture will change as it will again and again throughout the year. I am reluctant to see blossoms fade and watch leaves fall, but then I realize I am truly grateful that this picture from my window is always changing. A new day, a new season awaits which will provide new gifts to be thankful for.
A wintry mix of weather blew into town this week, but Ligularia ‘Last Dance’ didn’t want the waltz to end. This recent introduction from Itsaul Plants looked smart all season with glossy bronze purple round foliage accented by slightly pointed lobes. To add Halloween contrast, it sent forth bright yellow composite flowers in October and is still blooming away as of 11/14. Hardy and Tropical looking…hmm. First disclaimer…it did winter over in our zone 6 garden last year, but during the coldest period we were blanketed with snow. Ligularia x ‘Last Dance’ is a hybrid of Ligularia (Farfugium) hiberniflora and Farfugium japonicum, two species from Japan and Taiwan, but the Farfugium japonicum can’t be trusted in zones colder than 7.
Ligularia ‘Last Dance’ is being marketed with plant tags saying it is hardy into zone 4. I’m thinking this is a stretch. Reports from commercial growers say it is growing and wintering in Zeeland, Michigan (Zone 6) and Philadelphia (Zone 7). If you do want to grow this for its end of the season burst of color, here is the data: Foliage height is about 12″ high, and can grow to 2-3′ wide. Yellow blossoms are held on 1-2′ stems. It does well in sun or partial shade in a moist soil, but seems as happy in average conditions.
I think this season I will put down a winter mulch to protect my investment. Should it prove not to be Zone 6 hardy, I say it should get 100 points for being a stunning sun or shade container plant. Would love to hear from anyone else who is growing Ligularia ‘Last Dance’.
My summer came and went with little time off for recreation and leisure, so when an opportunity for a seaside escape to hang with my son Phil at his beach pad in San Diego arose, I took full advantage. As you may have heard, San Diego weather is pretty easy to take.
Yes, New England fall color is hard to beat, but I was perfectly happy taking in the autumnal color of sunny southern CA.
Stops at local craft breweries… San Diego has the most!…quenched my thirst, and the farmers markets nourished my appetite.
Of course I always have plants on my mind, and with some online research plus great recommendations from noted succulent author Debra Baldwin, I went off seeking new varieties and inspiration.One of the most charming little places I found was Peter Loyolas Succulent Cafe in Oceanside. Yes…right up my alley… excellent coffee and special succulents for show and sale. His creations are some of the best Ive seen.
I visited several great nurseries…Desert Theater, Waterwise Botanicals, Oasis Plants, Kartuz Greenhouse...but I was surprised that we possessed many plants in our collection here at Avant Gardens already . One group, the Agaves, beckoned to me though. Agave are used extensively in San Diego landscapes and their size and vigor compared to how we grow them in MA was humbling. Yes, I bought a second piece of luggage to haul back two special specimens: Agave Blue Glow and Agave Cream Spike. I wish I had brought home the beautiful blue cactus Pilocereus pachycladys, but the only ones I could find were a bit too big for my suitcase.
On my last morning I had a little time to kill before my flight back to MA, so I visited this vertical garden installed by Jim Mumford of Good Earth Plants. I had attended a talk he gave at Waterwise Botanicals on Saturday, and he was straight with his info. His companys work is mostly large scale. Yes there is an irrigation system in each piece with a low fertilizer feed; yes he uses a soilless media called a Brownie; yes there is regular maintenance involved. His installations are both indoors and out, and the plant choices vary from succulents to perennials to tropicals. Jim had encouraged a visit to his Kearny Mesa Location, but my time was up.
Goodbye Summerland. San Diego, Ill be back!