All posts by Katherine Tracey

Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’

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Let us reacquaint you with an underutilized evergreen plant for cold climates.

Bold, colorful, architectural evergreen foliage. Dramatic creamy nodding lily flowers in early summer. Deer and rabbit resistant, it grows in poor and dry soils, and is perfectly hardy in zones 4-9. Why oh why don’t more landscapers and gardeners plant Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’?

Yucca ‘Color Guard’ provides northern gardeners with a brightly colored vertical accent for mixed border plantings. Plants attain a foliage height of  24″, and when ‘Color Guard’ chooses to bloom, those creamy white lilies are held on 4-5′ tall towering stalks. Hummingbirds almost swoon over the plants in pour garden. We have it planted in a hot dry bed, with Acanthus hungaricus, Crambe maritima   Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ and dwarf evergreens.

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The Slow Flower Challenge

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A possible collection of stems and fruit inspired by Slow Flowers

Yesterday, I did the perfect thing on a rainy November day. I attended a thought provoking lecture by Debra Prinzing , author of the best selling book Slow Flowers at Blithewold Mansion and Gardens annual fundraiser luncheon. The phrase Slow Flowers is a take on the Slow Food Movement embraced by the food industry with its focus on sustainability, using local crops and food products. By supporting the Slow Flowers movement Debra is encouraging us to not buy imported cut flowers from South America, Europe, Israel etc. (just think of the fuel costs, pesticide use, and more). We should look to what is in season. Much material is waiting to be picked in our backyards, on our windowsills or being grown by local flower farmers and in nearby greenhouse operations.

In her book, Slow Flowers, Debra illustrates how she took on the challenge of creating flower arrangements using only locally sourced material each week of the calendar year, including winter. I think her title is a bit misleading;  some of the plant material she uses, especially during the winter months, is in the form of foliage, branches, fruit and seed pods, when flowers are more limited. Totally cool…sometimes limitations make way for creative thinking. Yes, Debra is from Seattle, a climate which is kinder than what we have here in New England, and one would expect she has more plant options. Still, I left feeling committed to take on this challenge. Maybe not a different arrangement every week, but once or twice a month could be doable.

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TOP L-R: Asparagus, Aster ‘Ezo Murasaki’, Stewartia, Hakonechloa.  MID: Hydrangea quercifolia, Viburnum, Cardinal Candy, Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’, Hydrangea paniculata.  BOT: Spirea ‘Ogon’, Chrysanthemum ‘Wil’s Wonderful’, Kolwitzia ‘Dreamcatcher’, Acer shirasawanum ‘Jordan’

So today, November 7th, I began the challenge. I gave myself a half hour to select plants. A walk about the garden revealed a vast array of choices. I decided to limit my palette to these 12 selections.

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November 7th arrangement

Here’s the result. When it comes to botanical arrangements, I prefer the “just picked from the garden” style…not contrived or fussy, but exuberant in that cornucopia kind of way, with some unconventional stems tucked in for surprise. Maybe when winter cuts my supply short, I’ll explore the more minimalist style of Ikebana. Are you inspired to take on this challenge? Let me know what discoveries you find locally and that are in season.  

I plan to post an image of what I find and come up with for my next arrangement on the Avant Gardens Facebook page in a couple of weeks. “Like” us if you haven’t already done so to follow my postings. I’ve also been asked by Debra Prinzing to post images at #slowflowerschallenge # slow flowers on Instagram. You can enter your slow flower arrangements there too.

Collecting Seed for Seed Exchanges

Clockwise from top left: Cynara cardunculus, Galtonia viridiflora, Talinum  paniculatum

Clockwise from top left: Cynara cardunculus, Galtonia viridiflora, Talinum paniculatum

A few of the various Plant Societies which I belong to have seed exchanges, and I made a pledge to myself to get my seed collecting done, cleaned, sorted and packaged into little envelopes to meet this year’s deadline, which is usually Nov 1.  Time always has a way of getting ahead of you, so I was relieved to learn on the Hardy Plant Society’s webpage that they have extended the deadline this year to Nov 15, and I can fill out the donation forms online and mail the seed in later! The North American Rock Garden Society is not being so lenient; they want the list of seed being donated by Nov 1st, although they will allow a grace period until Dec 1st to package and send your seed in.

Yes, it does take time to process and save seed, but let me tell you why it is worth all the trouble. First, if you want to grow more of the plants, especially the annuals, which you enjoyed in your garden this year, why not collect the seed and save yourself a few dollars. Second, you may not be able to find a particular seed variety next year. I have found this true when it is an unusual variety that commercial growers do in limited numbers, or more likely their source dried up or had a crop failure. Third, you are bound to collect more seed that you can use, so why not  share the bounty by participating in a seed exchange? Most seed exchanges work this way: You become a member of the group, such as the Hardy Plant Society, which collects and pools the seed, then makes the seed available to its membership at a very inexpensive price ($.50). A big plus: seed donors get first dibs at the selection,  and get to select an extra 10 packets for their efforts. Groups like the Seed Savers Exchange allow you to purchase seed without becoming a member, but membership has its perks….lots of information, discounts and member’s only offerings, plus you’re supporting an important organization.

There’s a lot to know about collecting seed, but it is beyond the scope of this blog post to get into a lot of detail.  Besides, there is so much information now on the internet that you no doubt will find  answers to particular seed questions in a web search. I just want to pass on some basic tips.

  • Collect seed on a sunny dry day. Wet seed pods can harbor spores which may encourage mold ands spoil the seed.
  • Label your seed correctly, especially if you plan to donate to a seed exchange.
  • If you grow several varieties of certain plant and they are within close range  of each other (for example: several different forms/colors of zinnias) your seed will not come true to type. You may get some interesting variations and colors, but you should label it as such. Also, seed from most F1 Hybrids will not come true.
  • Watch seed pods daily for maturity. You want to capture them just before they explode all over your garden.
  • Store the seed in paper bags in a dry spot until you have time to clean and sort.
  • Separate the chaff from the seed when packaging.

Here are  links for more information on joining a few Plant Societies.

The Hardy Plant Society–Mid Atlantic Group

The Hardy Plant Society–UK

North American Rock Garden Society

The Seed Savers Exchange

Pumpkin Succulent Arrangements

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I have a confession. I am obsessed with pumpkins and gourds, and can’t drive by a farm stand without stopping and selecting a bushel full to add to my collection. To me, they are sculpture in an amazing array of forms, sizes, shapes and textures. Those of you who have followed this blog or have visited Avant Gardens know that one of my other obsessions is succulents. I wasn’t the first arranger to think of combining these obsessions, but clearly gourds and succulents pair well.

Timing couldn’t be better. With frost imminent, I have just dug dozens of succulents out of pots in the garden and will soon run out of space in the greenhouse. As an advocate of the “Slow Flower” movement, extolled in Debra Prinzing ‘s book by the same name, I’m always looking for ways to use plant materials in arrangements which are in season and on hand in my garden or windowsill. Thinking that  you might want to create your own succulent arrangement, I’m passing on this quick tutorial.

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Materials needed: a pumpkin or gourd, dry long fiber sphagnum moss, floral pins, spray adhesive and tacky glue, plus an assortment of succulents in an array of shapes and sizes in coordinating colors (that’s not hard..most coordinate so well with each other.)

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First, use the spray adhesive on the top of the pumpkin so that the sphagnum moss can cling to it, and loosely extend the moss over the crown. (Note: I didn’t do it here, but would recommend removing the pumpkin stem). The moss acts as the “planting medium”, and will later be sprayed with water to hold moisture. Next, using floral pins and if necessary, tacky glue, secure the trailing succulents onto the moss.

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Next begin to add the larger succulent cuttings, like the rosette forming Graptoveria shown here. Apply a little bit of the tacky glue to the base of the stem and carefully arrange in the moss, using a floral pin to secure in place. Continue with the smaller succulents to fill in the bare spots. It will take awhile for the tacky glue to securely dry, so let the arrangement rest overnight, and check the next day to see if the cuttings seem well attached. If a few stems are loose reapply glue. Carefully transfer your pumpkin to a spot where all can admire it.

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Your arrangement will look terrific for weeks. The succulents will hold up well for awhile without water, but you can mist the arrangement with water if they become a little shriveled. The sphagnum moss will hold just enough moisture to keep the arrangement fresh. Since you are not hollowing out the pumpkin, the fruit will not quickly decay (as hollowed out pumpkins tend to do).  The little pin pricks from the floral pins do minimal damage. Keep the arrangement in a bright cool spot (too much warmth and darkness will encourage decay).

You may find 6 weeks from now that your gourd or pumpkin is beginning to go bad, but the succulent cuttings are still fine. Remove them from the arrangement and try to root them in a tray of sand and perlite.  Keep them in a sunny window and you just may have a collection of plants for next year’s garden.

Purchase Cuttings for Arrangements.

Tips for Wintering Over Tender Plants

Echeveria 'Afterglow' with Aptenia cordata ,Foxtail Asparagus and Phormium 'Sundowner' in a 14" pot.

Echeveria ‘Afterglow’ with Aptenia cordata ,Foxtail Asparagus and Phormium ‘Sundowner’ in a 14″ pot.

Very soon, a frosty night will be threatening. If you haven’t already, now is time to think about which tender plants you want to preserve for next year. You may have limited space and if you have collected a lot of plants, you will want to prioritize your selections. Here are links on recent blog posts on wintering over tender plants.

Wintering Over I: Taking Cuttings

Wintering Over Tender Perennials Indoors 

Wintering Over Roots of Tender Perennials

Wintering Over Succulents

the Allen C. Haskell Public Garden

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I have really really good news, and I know many of the customers we shared with the late renowned horticulturist, Allen C. Haskell, will be especially delighted to read this: Allen’s 6 acre New Bedford MA property will once again be open to visitors.  The Massachusetts land trust organization, the Trustees of Reservations purchased the property from the Haskell family in 2013. Under the Trustee’s stewardship, with Kristen de Souza at the helm as Superintendent of the Haskell property, the gardens and grounds are being restored and reinvented as the Allen C Haskell Public Garden.  The official opening day is Oct 26, 2014.

I spoke with Ross Moran, Southeast Engagement Manager for the Trustees, about what has transpired since the transfer of ownership and what is planned for the future. Utile Inc along with Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architects of Boston were brought in as design/planning consultants. The gardens at the front of the property remain as they were. Gone is the nursery area and several of the big greenhouses. In their place is an expanse of newly planted lawn, known as the Common, which will be an area for children’s play, picnics, and performances.  Some of the space will be allocated for parking.  The glasshouses are still there, but it has not been decided yet how they will be used.

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The gardens were in need of an overhaul (as any gardener will tell you, it doesn’t take long for plantings to get out of control) and there was much pruning, pruning, (did I say pruning?), thinning, transplanting,  and weeding.  In less than a year, Kristen de Souza, along with her seasonal staff and volunteers, accomplished so much. Many wonderful aged specimens remain on the property, including Metasequoia (Dawn Redwood), Acer palmatum and griseum (Japanese and Paperbark Maple) and pruning has given them new life. The bluestone walks, cobble and stone work still provide excellent bones for the landscape.

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The charming small brick buildings, covered with Ivy and Parthenocissus, will be repurposed as a visitor center, the superintendent’s office, and much needed rest rooms. The Hathaway House, where Allen last lived, will serve as the superintendent’s residence, and the other home on the property may be rented. Plans are to use some of the greenhouses for teaching gardening techniques.

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You will also be delighted to know that Gene Bertrand, Allen’s long time partner and nursery manager, has been brought on as an advisor. The engaging Gene will be on hand on Opening Day to give one of several guided tours.

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More about the Opening Day festivities: Date/time: Oct 26, 2014 from 11am-3pm. The ribbon cutting ceremony will be at 11:30 am and the staff , volunteers, donors and stakeholders will be recognized for their contributions.  The afternoon promises music for varied tastes: performances by the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra (classical), the Jethro’s, (lively, feel good music), and even a local hip hop artist. Gourmet food trucks will be on hand. There are numerous children’s activities planned.

The Allen C Haskell Public Garden will be open year round, although winter hours may be more limited. If you can’t make it to the opening, plan to visit another time. For those of you who have never been, it is located at 787 Shawmut Ave. New Bedford MA. Contact southcoast@ttor.org for the latest information.

 

September Containers, the after shots

Each year I take pictures of container combinations in June (see post) and then again in late September, to document and evaluate  for good looks and ease of care.  No 2 growing seasons are alike here in New England, so its difficult to say for sure that plants that showed off this year  will do so next. What started off being a moist summer ended up quite dry here in Dartmouth MA. We haven’t had measurable rain now for 6 weeks or more, and  August was particularly cool.  A few of the containers in the June post did sell, and I’m hoping they fared well. I added a few combos planted with late summer and early autumn in mind.

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Phormium ‘Pink Stripe’ with Pelargonium sidoides, and Dichondra, an effortless combo, and look how much the Phormium has grown!

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Phormium ‘Apricot Queen’, with Lantana montevedensis, and Tradescantia ‘Purple Heart, probably should have been cut back a bit, but I swear the only upkeep we have provided is watering.

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Begonia thurstonii, with Foxtail Asparagus Fern, Fatshedera x lizei, and Coprosma,…The Begonia grew a lot but is going through a quiet flowering spell.

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This planter for shade was really about foliage, although the dark leaved Begony ‘Ebony’ is still flowering, and the Hemizygia is about to dare the frost with spires of soft pink blossoms. Other plants featured are Pellonia repens (Watermelon Begonia), Pilea m. ‘Variegata’, and Begonia ‘River Nile’

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The Agonis ‘After Dark’ (Peppermint Tree) put on some growth, the succulents grew a little, and although this container stills looks good, it didn’t transform much.

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I’ve has this shell embellished pot for years…this turned out to be the best pairing yet…succulents…this combination of colors and textures match the patina. Included are Echeveria ‘Melarco’, Pachysedum ‘Blue Pearl’, Crassula, Sedum adolphi and dasyphylluym, and Senecio ‘Mini Blue’.

Echeveria 'Afterglow' with Aptenia cordata ,Foxtail Asparagus and Phormium 'Sundowner' in a 14" pot.

Echeveria ‘Afterglow’ with Aptenia cordata, Foxtail Asparagus and Phormium ‘Sundowner’ in a 14″ pot.

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Planted this up in August for a fall Container Class, using some hardy perennials: Sedum sieboldii, Schizachyrium ‘Carousel’, & Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’ plus a few tender succulents: Aptenia cordata and a pewter gray Graptoveria.

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All hardy plants in this display: a 1 gallon Hydrangea ‘Little Lime’, with Hakonechloa ‘All Gold’, Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’, Heuchera ‘Frosted Violet and ‘Circus’ plus Ajuga ‘Black Scallop’…this contain will put up with frosts and look good into November.

How did your containers do? What were your favorite combinations?

Schizachyrium scoparium

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Schizachyrium ‘Blue Heaven’…summer, early autumn, late winter

Little Bluestem is an often over looked native yet very ornamental grass. This may be due to its intimidating Latin name but I suspect its because it is hard to document its charm in photographs…perhaps a video could capture its grace in motion. We’ve grown the selection ‘Blue Heaven’ in our garden (seen above) for a half dozen years, and it continues to impress us with its upright narrow foliage that transforms in color: almost powder blue in spring and summer, changing to plum wine tones in early fall, and becoming a stunning amber gold in early December.  We’ve been impressed with how well it holds up to snow loads, springing upright as the white stuff melts away.

There are now a number of selected forms to choose from. ‘Standing Ovation’ is a bit shorter (3’-4’) than ‘Blue Heaven’ (closer to 4’). ‘Standing Ovation’ turns a very rich coppery red in the fall, later aging to a warm caramel color in winter. ‘Carousel’ is more compact and wide growing, growing 3’’ x 3’’, and its light blue green foliage takes on pink to wine tones in mid summer, with a multi color effect, of pink, wine, and mahogany tones in the fall. We are excited about offering two new forms in 2015: ‘Schizachyrium ‘’Smoke Signal’ ‘ and ‘Twilight Zone’’. ‘’Smoke Signal’’, maturing at 3-4’’ begins to turn red in late summer, but as the fall unfolds the color becomes a dark purple. ‘’Twilight Zone’’ gets a bit taller 48-54””, with a narrow upright form. It holds its silvery blue color longer, developing dark purple highlights in autumn. These new forms reportedly share the same non flopping characteristics as ‘‘Blue Heaven’’  (aka MinnBlue).

Do you need more convincing to grow this grass? Here you go: Little Bluestem is drought tolerant once established, deer resistant, tolerant of windy sites, adapts to a wide range of soil types except very wet soils, and is exceptionally cold hardy…zones 3-9.

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Early evening at Hollister House Garden

Verbena bonariensis enhances this setting…so easy so beautiful

Verbena bonariensis enhances this setting…so easy so beautiful

Copper cauldron with waterlilies

Copper cauldron with waterlilies

Reds and Purple and Gold

Reds and Purple and Gold

I spent the weekend in western CT, participating in the plant sale at Hollister House Garden. Garden structures, walls, walkways, rills and other water features are the backdrop (or focal points) for exuberant plantings in the English Garden Style. It’s formal and casual at once. It’s the garden so many of us wish we had.

Thank you George Schoellkopf for creating this masterpiece and sharing it with so many.

For more info on visiting the garden, follow this website

Tricyrtis hirta ‘Tojen

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Tricyrtis hirta ‘Tojen’

A must have plant for the late summer/fall shade garden is Tricyrtis hirta, commonly known as Japanese Orchid or Toad Lily. There are numerous cultivars; one I am especially fond of is the selection ‘’Tojen’’ , with has unspotted lavender, orchid like flowers held in loose sprays on sturdy stems above large lush foliage.

Toad Lilies enjoy a soil that is rich welled drained soil that stays adequately moist in the growing season. ‘’Tojen’’ is more forgiving or drier soils than other cultivars, but I recommended keeping the soil irrigated to keep plants at there best in late summer when they really show off. ‘Tojen’ grows 24-30”” tall by 30”” wide and is hardy in zones 5-8. Some great companion plants are Kirengeshoma palmata, Begonia grandis and late blooming Hosta such as ‘Red October’.

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