Category Archives: Garden Musings and Tips

Thoughts on Fall Plantings

Late May in the mixed border with Allium, Baptisia and Symphytum

One of the first lessons of garden making is to plan and act now for future results. Garden making asks us to be patient; it may be months, (sometimes years) before we see the desired results. Planting in autumn requires an added measure of trust. Unlike in spring when we are rewarded with an explosion of top growth, fall planted trees, shrubs and perennials focus on growth below ground.

“Plant a spring garden in the fall.”  I remember receiving this advice from a seasoned gardener when I first fell in love with plants. Embarking on a new planting project may take some motivation after a hot dry summer. Still, there are solid arguments why you should consider establishing most hardy plants at the end of the growing season.  The most compelling reason is how little time we actually have to accomplish plantings once spring does arrive. 

Late April snowfall tormenting poor Epimedium

In recent years, it seems like our autumn weather lingers, with a killing frost not causing harm until almost Thanksgiving. Winter gets a late start, but then tends to hang around longer and longer, which means spring is late too. Just like a hangover, March rolls in, often tormenting us with one snow, wind or ice storm after another.  April is a tease, with signs of early plant growth stalled by frosty nights. Gardeners can only commiserate.  By the time the soil becomes workable and is warm enough for root growth, it is already May, and there is so much to do in May! Beds and borders need spring cleanups and fertilization, plus the container, vegetable and cut flower gardens need to be planned and planted as well.  Even with careful planning, everything always seems to happen at once.

Reasons to plant in the fall.

Fall blooming Vernonia lettermanii with Yucca ‘Color Guard’ and Crambe maritima in foreground

1. Warm soil temperatures allow for root growth and plants are well established once spring actually arrives.

2.  Rainfall tends to be more reliable and cooler temperatures mean there is far less time devoted to watering chores. Also since foliage is dying back or dropping  altogether, there is less top growth that needs sustaining.

3.  This is the best time to dig and divide most spring and early summer blooming plants. All species of Iris, for example are much happier if divided in early fall, as they set roots quickly in the warm autumn soil.

4. You may consider planting more late season plants! When plant shopping, gardeners are always attracted to plants that are in showy bloom. Folks who do their plant shopping primarily in spring tend to have gardens with lots of early bloomers. The opposite also rings true. Our own garden is heavy on late summer and fall interest plants, because many of our beds get planted then (out of necessity…we have so little time in the spring).

Important Gardening Tip:

If you live in an area which gets extreme winter temperature fluctuations, (most of us do in northern climates) it is a good idea to use a protective winter mulch on newly planted beds (and established beds as well). Sterile hay, evergreen boughs or shredded leaves placed over the earth after the ground freezes helps protect the soil from repeated thaws and frost heaving. Remove the mulch once the weather promises reliable springtime temperatures.

 

Fields of Gold

Have you ever wandered through a reclaimed woodland and come upon an abandoned homestead? Perhaps all that is left is a stone foundation and a few time-tested plants, such as a peony, century plant or Solomon’s Seal which manage to survive for decades without human care. And have you ever wondered, what will become of the plants that you’ve tended to all these years, once you are no longer around?

Back in my high school days, I came upon this open field of daffodils while exploring the woodlands off the road that I lived on. There may well have been a no trespassing sign, but all I can remember was being as enchanted as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I  had no idea whose property I was on, nor who was responsible for this field of gold.

Guess what? That field is still there. And fortunately, you won’t be trespassing if you visit today. In 2005, this 32 acre parcel was donated to our local land preservation group, Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust, aka DNRT, by its last private owner, William Parsons. Thank you Mr. Parsons, and thank you DNRT!              

Now, it wasn’t Mr Parsons who planted all those narcissi; it was a gentlemen by the name of Raymond Pettey. The story I‘ve since been told is that Mr Pettey decided to plant the daffodils during the 1940’s as a cut flower crop, when the supply of spring flowers from Holland was cut off due to World War II. Once the war ended there wasn’t much of a demand for locally sourced cut flowers. The daffodils remained and multiplied.

The daffodil field property is now known as the Parsons Reserve and the fields and trails are maintained by DNRT. The main entrance to the property is on Horseneck Rd. in Russell’s Mills Village. The Reserve is open to the public, but a modest $2.00 donation during daffodil season is requested to help offset the cost of maintaining the trails and fields . There are things to consider before you visit. Parking is very limited, and more and more people make a pilgrimage each spring. There is a slight hill to climb, and it takes about 8-10 minutes on foot before you reach the fields. As you would expect, you  are not allowed to pick bouquets. Visit DNRT’s webpage for more detailed information of this and other properties, and of course, support their efforts if you can by becoming a member.

When is peak time? I was able to capture these images early in the morning last April 15th (2017). Our prolonged 2018 winter has meant we’re having a late start to spring, and my guess is that the daffodils will probably be at least a week late this season.

Thank you Mr. Pettey. You probably had no idea that your fields of gold would delight and inspire so many years later.

 

Holding winter at bay, the Danish Way

Haveselskabets Have, Horticultural Society Garden

Ordinarily, December isn’t the month you’d consider for visiting gardens, but the curious gardener welcomes any opportunity to observe new plants and planting schemes, even in winter. Earlier this month, Chris and I had the good fortune, along with dear friends Elin, Lasse, Nicole and Marc, to visit Copenhagen, and we had to make time for checking out the various public gardens.

at the University Botanical Garden

Melianthus major, a zone 8 plant

red and white berried Mountain Ash (Sorbus)

There were many surprises: most importantly, the climate.This Scandinavian country has milder winters than we have here in Massachusetts, with the average low of 32F, or 0C.  Yes, this means they can grow zone 8b plants like Melianthus. Summers are cool, with average temperatures of 67F (17C).  Temperatures like this allow for plants which dislike summer heat, such as Mountain Ash (Sorbus) to flourish. Being at a higher latitude means that winter day length is short, and the reverse is true in summer. This has a big effect on plant growth, and there are far less dramatic day to day temperature fluctuations due to the maritime climate.

yellow fruited crabapples and benches

formal gardens at Rosenborg Castle

Danes are eager to be outdoors year round, no doubt to absorb as much natural light as possible, and design their gardens and landscapes to have strong winter interest. Evergreens, fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, grasses and seed heads add structure, color and form. One thing that struck us was the balance of formal and naturalistic plantings working together. Trees are routinely pollarded. Boxwood is commonly sheared into geometric forms. Clipped plantings are mixed with billowing shrubs, masses of grasses and herbaceous plants. While I would not feel at home in a rigidly formal garden this blending of treatments was fun and unexpected.

clipped yews with naturalistic yucca

The Maiden statue, with water feature

Garden structures and hardscape play an important role in Danish gardens. Planting beds tend to have squared off geometry rather than wavy lines. Sculpture plus a strong role. Outdoor seating its always considered, in both open or intimate settings. In this often overcast climate, brick buildings are often stained in shades of orange or gold to brighten the otherwise neutral grays and browns of winter.

orange stained brick, with yellow fall foliage

in the window at Tage Andersen, a florist shop

Seasonal containers included plantings of Christmas Rose, (Helleborus niger), Heath, (Erica), Boxwood (Buxus) and Ivy (Hedera), accented with cut branches of Winterberry and Evergreens. Popup street vendors were selling potted winter interest plants including Skimmia, Hellebores, forced hyacinth, and Amaryllis along with branches and boughs of holly. A particularly magical floral shop Tage-Anderssen, had exquisite window displays, showcasing carefully crafted centerpieces using plant based materials.

Chris Tracey, having a “hygge” moment outside the succulent greenhouse

Danish interior design is world renown, celebrating geometry and simple lines. But what this gardener couldn’t help to notice were the many plant based accents, in the form of cut flowers, forced bulbs or potted succulents, used to soften and add warmth to living spaces. During the short days of winter, the Danes decorate interior spaces with white lights and candles, a particularly “hygge” thing to do.

winter solstice greetings!

As we head approach the solstice, with weeks of colder weather before us, I’ll hold onto my Danish experience. Today I brought in cut  branches of holly and boxwood, and will illuminate the darkness with candles and strings of lights, to drive the cold winter away.

Tips for Fall Containers

Black Mondo Grass with hardy succulents

Are your summer planters in need of a fall makeover?  Are you thinking you would rather invest in perennials than toss away non hardy plants at season’s end? There are many fall-flavored hardy plants which will provide you with texture, form and long lasting colorful foliage. Plants to consider include Ornamental Grasses, Ophiopogon, Hardy Succulents, Heuchera, Euphorbias, Ivies, Dwarf Evergreens, to name a few.

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Heuchera ‘Caramel’ with Orange Sedge, Euphorbia Ascot Rainbow, and Purple Tradescantia

  • Here are a few tips.
  • 1. To achieve a fuller affect, use more plants than you would in the spring or summer.  We don’t want to think about this now, but the days have been getting shorter, nights cooler, and plant growth is slowing down or ceasing.
  • 2. Select plants that have a variety of tones that will contrast and set off each other, (think amber Heuchera and black Ophiopogon).
  • 3. Remember a pot of mums looks fresh for 3-4 weeks at most, then the show is over. Showy foliage will carry on and on.
  • 4. Note that the fall foliage on evergreen Sempervivum (hens and chicks), Sedum ‘Angelina’, and Sedum album cultivars change and develop more dramatic color once the temperatures stay cool.
  • 5. If you must have flower power, consider long and late blooming Salvia, Cuphea, or fall pansies.
  • 6. When a night time temperature drop is forecasted, have light blankets, large pots or even an empty trash barrel handy to cover your container and protect the plantings from frost.
  • 7. As November passes, he time will come to  disassemble your planter. Tuck your hardy plants in a nursery bed or empty space in your vegetable garden plot to hold them over until next spring.
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Cuphea ‘David Verity’ with Heuchera ‘Champagne’ and Oxalis

Tip: It’s time to pinch!

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Chrysanthemum ‘October Glory’

You may have already done this, but if not, now is  the time. In order to encourage many more  flowering shoots from perennial Chrysanthemums, pinch back stems to 4-6″ at the beginning of July. This encourages more stems to shoot resulting in many more blossoms, and perhaps tidier plants. (Of course, if you prefer the blousy look of tall stems that billow forth, by all means leave your plants be.)

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On the left are a few budded shoots but there could have been many more…on the right, ‘Hannah’s Double White’ with numerous blossoms.

You can also cut back the taller fall Asters and their relatives, such as Boltonia, to keep them neater and in proportion to their surrounding neighbors. For example, Aster ‘Vasterival’ reached 5′ last September, and it was just too much Aster for the nearby Caryopteris and perennial mums.

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Tall willowy stems of Aster ‘Vasterival’ before cut back, and in flower.

Uncommon Pollinator Plants

As more and more of us understand the importance of beneficial  insects, we want to host plants in our gardens which welcome and provide food for all of them, plus bees, butterflies and birds. Here is a short list of lesser known plants which add varied ornamental interest as well as lure many more of the good invertebrates into your garden

ascspeCU500Asclepias speciosa

One of the earliest Butterfly Weeds to bloom, Asclepias speciosa, or Showy Milkweed ,has umbels of white to mauve pink flowers in late spring and early summer, with attractive gray linear foliage. Its flowers are a nectar source for all butterflies and its foliage is food for monarchs.  Asclepias speciosa can grow up to 3’ tall and 1-2’ wide. Native to dry uplands of western N. America, it is drought tolerant. Hardy in zones 3-8.

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Parthenium integrifolium

Wild Quinine or American Feverfew is a Missouri native with 8-10” tobacco like basal foliage, and  2-3′ stems bearing clusters of white fuzzy yarrow-like flowers in midsummer. Beneficial wasps and butterflies are often seen hovering over its blossoms. Parthenium integrifolium was grown in years past for its medicinal qualities,  and it makes a nice addition to the dry wild border. Hardy in zones 5-9.

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Pycnanthemum muticum

Mountain Mint spreads, so think of it as a ground cover for butterflies and bees. Beginning in mid summer and continuing into September,  Pycnanthemum muticum displays showy silvery bracts surrounding a central disk rimmed with tiny pale pink/white flowers. Drought tolerant once established, plants will grow 2-3’ tall and are the first pitstop for my honeybees when they leave the hive. Hardy in zones 5-9.

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Silphium perfoliatum

“Cup Plant”, so called because water is held in the reservoir created where the stems pierce through the opposite leaves, provides a watering hole for birds, bees, and butterflies. This Sunflower like plant is useful at the back of a border, where it bears yellow daisies on 4-8’ stems during July and August . I particularly like Silphium perfoliatum’s  green seed heads as cut material for fall arrangements. Hardy in zones 4-8.

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Stokesia laevis

Stokes’ Aster is a showy native with 23” double lavender blue daises on 18-24” plants. Plants begin to color in late June and early July and carries into August. Beautiful as it is as a cut flower, you may want to leave the blossoms undisturbed to enjoy the dance of the butterflies above them. Grow Stokesia laevis in average to dry soils. Note: It resents winter wetness. Hardy in zones 4-10.

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Aster ptarmicoides (formerly Solidago ptarmicoides, and NOW to be botanically correct: Oligoneuron album)

Formerly White Upland Aster or White Goldenrod depending who you askedbut with its new genus classification,  Oligoneuron,  who knows what to nickname it?  Anyway, we first saw this plant at Wave Hill 20 years ago (labeled as Aster ptarmicoides), where it looked crisp and clean on a hot August day. Years later we were finally able to hunt down a seed source for it and now have it in our garden. Tidy plants have 4-5″ dark green linear leaves, and bear sprays of small papery white asters on 15” stems  in mid-late summer through early fall. Yes to bees and butterflies, plus goldfinches love the seeds! Hardy in zones 3-8.

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Symphyotrichum (Aster) laeve

We have grown the strain ‘Bluebird’  of Smooth Aster for years, with  its 1-2” orange yellow centered, clear blue daisies born in September and October.  Symphyotrichum laeve is a plant that is very happy in our mixed borders, self seeding here and there, but is easy to relocate should it pop up somewhere where it is not wanted. Plants grow 2.5-3’ tall and are about 18” wide. Happy in average to dry soil in zones 4-9.

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Spring Succulent Rehab

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Remember your gorgeous succulent containers from last summer? Did you take the time to bring in and care for all those tender
plants over the winter? And, now, do they look overgrown and leggy, or a little scruffy to say the least? You have company…mine do too! Here are some suggestions on what to do to give these babies a new lease on life.

echeveriaset

Give your succulents some fresh soil!

First, give your succulents some fresh soil for new roots to grab into. Remember to use a sharp draining mix formulated for succulents…a basic everyday potting soil will stay too moist. Loosen up the roots, and shake off some of the old soil. Remove any old browning leaves that still cling to the lower stem. Repot in the same pot or a pot that is slightly larger.

If you are rehabbing a large container of mixed succulents that were part of an ensemble and want to give it new life, unplant everything and do the same thing. You can top dress the soil with a fine gravel, chicken grit or uncolored aquarium sand, which will prevent low lying foliage from staying in constant contact with moist soil.

Rosette forming succulents often elongate during short winter days and low indoor light, or they may just be prone to doing so anyway, with age. You might like to have the height that tall gangly stem offers, and if so, just leave the plant be. On the other hand you may want to offset the top heaviness. There are a couple of options.

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Aeonium with aerial roots….

Option 1:  Bury Her. Notice that a lot of bracing aerial roots have developed along the stem of this Aeonium ‘Cyclops’. Last year I tried this unorthodox remedy. I found a deep clay container and replanted the Aeonium low in the pot. Succulent soil mix was used  in the lower half, but then I topped the upper pot portion with perlite. This allowed good aeration for new roots to develop off the main stem.

aeonium2

Option 2: Off with her head! This may cause you to hesitate, but you will have to cut off the  Aeonium’s top rosette, (you can then root the rosette to form a new plant).  The stalk will hopefully break anew with fresh growth and branch out, but I should warn you this takes a while to happen.  As for that top rosette, let the cut edge air dry for a few days to “heel” or callous over. Then fill an appropriate sized pot with perlite or a mix of perlite and sand, insert the cut end of the rosette into the pot and water frequently.

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Echeveria with elongated stem

These methods work for elongated Echeveria too. Repot in a tall tom, or cut off the top rosette and try rooting it. Note: You may or may not be able to encourage side rosettes off that main stalk (depends on what type of Echeveria hybrid it is), but hopefully your rosette will root in to form a new plant.

Mystery Echeveria…purchased as 'Fleur Blanc'

Echeveria ‘Fleur Blanc’

Many succulents bloom in late winter and early spring, and these blooms are quite lovely, as seen above in Echeveria ‘Fleur Blanc’. The blooms often help identify plants that you may have acquired without a proper name.

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Look-alikes. x Sedeveria ‘Letitia’ on the left, and ‘Sleepy’ on the right.

For example, these two very similar x Sedeveria are often mixed up in the nursery trade. When not in bloom they do look quite alike.  Now in flower, I can tell that the one on the left is Sedeveria ‘Letitia’ (pale yellow/white) and on the right is Sedeveria ‘Sleepy’ (orange/yellow). Also, notice some plants like these Sedeveria have offsets forming at their base. These offsets can be severed and rooted or potted in small pots if roots have already formed.

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Cuttings left to heel, decayed foliage must go, leaves sometimes root too!

Recap:

  • Cut back leggy growth.
  • Let cuttings air dry for a few days to seal the cut ends.
  • Lie or stick in a sand/perlite rooting media.
  • Groom aging  and decaying foliage.
  • Repot all plants in fresh succulent potting soil to give them a new lease on life.
  • Top dress newly potted succulents with fine gravel, aquarium stone, or chicken grit
  • Note (and photograph if you can) what the flowers look like on your plants to confirm their identity.

With longer days and fresh soil, your repotted succulents will show you how happy they are in 4-6 weeks. Once the weather warms, transition plants outdoors on mild days, first in a spot which has just morning sun, and then gradually allow them full day light. Too much strong sunlight on a warm day after plants have been indoors may cause the leaves to get sunburned.

For other posts on Spring Care of Succulents see:

In bloom: Tender Succulents

Rehabbing Succulent Containers

 

 

 

 

Hygge…& Celebrating Winter’s Gifts

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Aronia arbutifolia “Brilliantissima’ with the first snowfall

Last week’s arctic blast brought temperatures in the single digits and truly announced that winter had arrived. Ready or not, garden chores were a wrap and the time had come for most of us to give ourselves permission to chill…indoors! 

We gardeners are naturally inclined to follow the rhythm of the seasons, and the shorter days of winter are a check for us to slow down and restore our energies. You, like I, may resist going into full hibernation mode, but why not take cues from Scandinavian folks, who endure even shorter days than we do. For example, the Danes practice hygge (pronounced hoo-guh) as part of daily life. Hygge can’t be translated into English with a single word, but imagine feelings or activities that promote coziness enhanced by candles or firelight….think warm socks and woolen sweaters, friendly gatherings before a roaring fire, warm beverages in your hands, looking dreamily at snowy scenes through frosted window panes, and late afternoon nature walks to catch the last rays of light.

The words of many secular Christmas carols promote feelings of hygge. There is no need to stop at the Yuletide’s end; we should make it our practice to continue hygge through the long winter. Take back the darkness by continuing to light candles or drape strands of white lights, then sit in your most comfy chair under a coverlet and lose oneself in a good book or listen to music, or finish knitting that scarf you started last year. All too soon spring will arrive, and the garden will beckon.

What interpretations of  hygge do you practice in winter? Would you like to share?

Now Revealed

weetamoo_berries2There is much to observe in the winter landscapes surrounding us here in New England. This past Sunday, Chris and I revisited nearby Weetamoo Woods in Tiverton RI. The deciduous trees have mostly let go of their leaves, and what is now revealed might go unnoticed earlier in the season or be at a totally different stage.  For example, above, the pesky green briar offers subtle beauty with its zigzag lines and blue black orbs of fruit against the waning light.weetamoo_woods_bark_moss_lichen_stone500Now, without the distraction of spring’s brilliant greens or autumn’s blazing red and gold tones, natural stone, tree trunks and moss become the main attractions…weetamoo_woods_stone500Look at this end of a wall formation embossed with aged lichen and liverwortsweetamoo_woods_ferninrock500There are colorful surprises…even at some distance, this olive green Rock Fern, happily embedded in a fissure of this sculpted stone, stood out.weetamoe_woods_ferninrock_detail500A closer view of the fern’s habitat.weetamoo_woods_stonewall500A dry laid stone wall still stands proudly and has developed a patina money can’t buy.weetamoo_woods_stream500Life and sounds emanating from this creek announced the remains of an old saw mill nearby.
weetamoe_woods_arch_bridge_chris500 Chris, a master stone wall artisan himself, inspected an ancient arched stone bridge which spanned the creek further ahead.weetamoo_woods500The vertical rhythm of tree trunks countered the soft crunch of oak leaves on the forest floor. Note to self: How simple, how peaceful.weetamoo_woods_wall1_500Dry laid stone walls, like this handsome and still structurally sound example in Weetamoo Woods,  acted as boundaries for livestock in earlier days, and now mark “rooms” throughout the property. Here and there, a tree might take root at its base, but a caregiver has seen to it that bramble hasn’t obscured its presence.

We can all be thankful for the simple beauty of our local woodlands, preserved with sensitive editing by the stewards who care for them. Imperfections, such as a wall slightly tumbled, may not be tolerated in some of our more cultivated gardens but are celebrated where the natural landscape rules.

Is there a special woodland walk near you which you find restorative? Perhaps you would like to share a special place with our readers.

From my window…

2016_nov_16outmywindow2webI love an autumn that lingers, that gently let’s go of leaf and blossom, that holds onto color made more vivid against a changing gray sky. A day or two or three of mild temperatures can make us forget that the naked garden of December and January awaits.  Right now I am enjoying this picture from my window, as it about to change, and yet will continue to offer interest in the cold months ahead.

What do you see when you look out your window? Are you pleased with your view? Does it include evergreen plants which add bold mass and keeps some color happening? Is there a nicely pruned tree whose silhouette can show off the tracings of winter snow? And do you notice branches that take on red or gold or purple pigments when temperatures drop, adding subtle hues, (but color nonetheless).

Do your plantings also invite the activity of birds? Will you catch the scarlet flash of a cardinal, who finds refuge in a dense evergreen, or the business of chickadees, who flit from one branch to the next, waiting for safe moments to descend upon the feeder.

From my window, the Hinoki Cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa compacta, provides a dark green screen from the road, and the winterberry, Ilex verticillata, adds brilliance for at least another month. The Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ will let go any day now, but we’ll suspend a feeder from its branches for the birds. The Forest Grass, Hakonechloa macra, will change from gold to tan. And then in late winter, the scene will flush anew reminding  me that spring is on its way, with color from early bulbs and Hellebores.

What plants are your favorites for winter interest?