Category Archives: Garden Musings and Tips

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’s 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.

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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.

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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?

Early November Journal

I began keeping this blog as a garden journal, documenting what is in color at particular times of year,  and capturing the surprises along the way. As we begin November, the show continues.ilex_wpeacockmaple72Despite the drought, there is a very good berry set on Ilex verticillata, with the Peacock Maple, Acer japonica aconitifolium echoing red in the background.enkianthus_showyl500Enkianthus ‘Showy Lanterns’ can’t decide which color to turn and is simultaneously taking on shades of yellow, orange, red and maroon.cotoneaster500Cotoneaster franchetti (grown from seed shared through a seed exchange) has a good fruit set this year.euonymus_sp500Prettiest time is now for  Euonymus carnosus, Chinese Spindle Treeaster_ageratoides_ezo500Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’ (or has the name changed to Kalimeris?) has already put up with 28F temperatures and is still offering color. Note that this Aster likes to spread!chrysantheum_sheffield500Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield’, a peachy pink classic, offering pollen to honeybees and other insects.chrysanthemum_rhmbasp500Perennial Chrysanthemum ‘Rhumba’ (formerly Dendranthema) picking up the autumn toneschrysantheum_doublespoon500This mum was a gift from a friend who found this in her travels and swears this baby is winter hardy in zone 6…we shall see.mahonia_charity500Posed to flower, Mahonia ‘Charity’ will illuminate with citron yellow candles later this month.

What plants are about to show off for you this November?

September Report: Containers 2016

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a winner…the tall cylinder pot aged gracefully, don’t you think?

Here it is, the very end of September 2016, and at last we are finally getting the rain we’ve begged for all summer. Good thing, but I’ve been waiting for a cool crisp sunny day to capture images of the end of the summer containers, and with a prolonged rainy spell in the forecast I probably should not wait any longer. As you would guess after a summer bereft of rainfall, the containers planted with succulents and drought tolerant plants held up beautifully. In my July 1st post I posted the “before ” shots.  Now for the “after images”.  First are the top five, in my humble opinion, plus more of the before and after images shown side by side.

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The cast iron urn, with Beschorneria ‘Flamingo Glow’ and other succulents, grew in a spot with about 4 hours of midday sun.

Really really love the Agave substitute Beschorneria ‘Flamingo Glow’.

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The green drum pot, with Phormium ‘Evening Glow’ and more assorted succulents: x Graptoveria, Echeveria, Aeonium, Senecio, and more.

I’m suddenly realizing that areas which once in more sun are now getting more shade. Interesting to discover which succulents still do well.

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Out by the road, and under our sign, a spot with heat, and little attention. Succulents again rule.

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the Grecian Urn received only a few hours of early morning sun: Two types of Asparagu ferns, a silver leaved Sansevieria, Begonia ‘Concorde’ and Alternanthera

And now for the side by side transformation after 3 months….

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Cylinder Pot 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

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Iron urn 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

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Green Drum Pot 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

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Sign Pot 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

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Grecian Urn 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

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Hummer’s Pot 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

Planted with Hummingbird visitors in mind, the Phygelius bloomed tirelessly, but is now at its end. The Fuchsia gave up during the August heat, but the Abutilon ‘Kentish Bell’ picked up where the others left off.

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Splendor in the Grass Bowl 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

This grass combo in a big bowl with Chocolate Cosmos and Ornamental Oregano held on right through August, but the Cosmos needed consent deadheading, and the Heuchera became smothered by the Stipa and Carex.

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Winterberry Pot 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

This planter only gets a few hours of midday sun…but the combination of tall Sansevieria, Aeonium ‘Kiwi’, and Tradescantia ‘Pale Puma’ thrived. The small dark Aeonium Tip Top, melted, so I replaced it with a silver green Echeveria.

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Zen Bowl 6.29.16 and 9.29.16.

The Zen bowl gets only afternoon sun. Everything grew well, but we are still waiting patiently for the orange tassel blossoms of the Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’ to provide an end of the season show.

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Footed Trough 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

Hypertufa troughs are usually planted with alpines, but  they are also great containers for smaller succulents. On its own, this planter isn’t a superstar, but it worked very nicely as an accent on the ledge of Chris Tracey’s stone wall.

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Terra Cotta Planter 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

This 18″ planter does not look worse for wear after a lengthy drought. Again, succulents rule!

Was your summer as hot and dry as ours here in New England? What container plants held up best for you?

As summer ends…

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A+ rating for drought tolerance…Yucca ‘Color Guard’ with Jackman’s Blue Rue, Succulents, Sedums and dwarf conifers. Oh yes, and the amazing yet vicious Solanum quitoense.

Not sure if I am truly sorry to see the summer of 2016 end. There have been days that I’ve thought that an early frost would be a blessing as I dragged hoses about, trying to coax vibrancy into a garden getting more tarnished looking by the day. The forecast for rain never proved to be true, and the number of very hot days set a record. Still, the optimistic gardener within always wins out. Yesterday, I walked about the garden to see what plantings held their own despite the cursed weather. Here’s what I saw.

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The Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Peewee’, with flowers aging to russet brown, but with fresh foliage, despite no irrigation.

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Crambe maritima (Sea Kale) thrived, and swallowed up the younger plants nearby.

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Agastache ‘Black Adder’, with nearby Amsonia hubrictii beginning to turn golden for fall.

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Deep rooted Lespedeza ‘Gibralter’ could have cared less about the drought.

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Little Eucomis ‘Dark Star’, petty in flower and in leaf, with nearby red Heuchera

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Succulents by the road fended for themselves admirably

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Fruit finally formed during  the 3rd week of August on the giant pumpkin. We’ll see…..

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Our overly ambitious cut flower garden….did I know I wouldn’t have extra time for fresh arrangements, ands  planted Celosia and Gomphrena which could also be cut and then dried?

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You are not seeing the mildewed foliage (intentionally), of the lovely Queen Red Lime Zinnia…

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The blush pink beauty of Dahlia ‘Cafe au Lait’

And so, as I prepare for fall, certainly all was not lost. The garden gave us butterflies and bees, and yes, beauty, in addition to many challenges.  I am game for next year…are you?