Category Archives: Garden Design

thoughts on garden design

Stachyurus chinensis ‘Celina’

Shrubs and trees which flower on old wood, just before the leaves unfurl, have a special charm. Think Witchhazel, Native Dogwood, Redbud. One that we especially love and isn’t so well known is Stachyurus chinensis ‘Celina’. This shrub bears pendant racemes of creamy white/yellow flowers in early spring (April for us). We have ‘Celina’ planted in a sheltered spot  from winter winds, which can desiccate the flower buds. This area is shaded by a Japanese Maple and gets 4-6 hours of sun. Our 7 year old plant is about 4′ tall with arching branches from the base, reaching to about 6′ in width. We expect it will grow to 8′ x 10′ eventually. Fall color varies year to year, but we’ve seen it take on yellow and orange tones. hardy in zones 6-9.

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The Best Underutilized Plants 

Acanthus hungaricus

As a garden designer and nurserywoman, I am always scouting for uncommon plants that have a long season of interest and are not fussy about care. And when I say “long season of interest”, I mean plants which have a bloom period of 6 weeks or more, or have outstanding foliage for much of the growing season. If these plants are deer resistant and attract pollinators and butterflies, they score even higher.

I offer these exceptional underutilized plants for your consideration.

Acanthus hungaricus  Bear’s Breeches. Hardier for me than the better known Acanthus mollis, this selection has thrived near our stone wall in hot full sun and well drained soil (that’s your tip!) for 20 years. In early summer, stunning 3’ spires of two toned white and lavender flowers erupt and carry a show into August. Its big and bold dark green foliage is thought to be the inspiration for the design on Corinthian columns. Plants spread where happy, and I have found the foliage is a perfect foil for dying bulb foliage. Zones 6-9.

Calamintha nepeta

Calamintha nepeta ssp nepeta  Calamint. This remarkable long blooming sun loving shrubby mint is one of my all-time favorite perennials, yet it is still not widely grown. Plants form tidy mounds (read: do not run!) of rounded mint scented foliage in the spring, and begin to send forth many stems bearing tiny white flowers from mid July through September here in New England. C. nepeta ssp nepeta has faithfully performed for us for over 20 years, regardless of whether summer weather is hot, dry, cool or moist. We have never had this selection self-sow in our garden. If you are fluent in Greek, you might note that its generic name translates to beautiful mint.  Zones 5-7.

Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’

Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’  As much as I am wowed by voluptuous blossoms, I like to champion the strong garden performers which have quieter charm. One plant whose charm seldom disappoints is an Asian Aster relative called Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’. This little number grows 15-18″ tall and 18-24″ wide, and begins its production of 1 1/2″ lavender blue daisies in June, carrying on into autumn (I kid you not.) ‘Blue Star’ forms tidy clumps; it does not run, unlike some of its relatives. Grow in full sun in zones 5-9.

Ruta g. ‘Jackman’s Blue’

Ruta graveolens ‘Jackman’s Blue’  A desirable and durable Rue, once relegated to the herb garden, but deserving a more prominent spot in the landscape.  ‘Jackman’s  Blue’ has a tidy growth habit with the prettiest aromatic blue gray pinnate foliage providing a decidedly  lacy effect. In late summer citron yellow flowers appear on stems just above the foliage which attract a myriad of butterflies and pollinators. Interestingly, I see ‘Jackman’s Blue’  featured  regularly in British garden periodicals. With a hardiness arrange of USDA zones 4-9,  there’s no reason not to use this plant more prominently here in the states. Grow Rue in a sunny spot in well drained soil. Yes, it is deer resistant.

Athyrium otophorum

Athyrium otophorum There are so many great ferns! Here’s one you should know about. Eared Lady Fern impressed us so much last year, we are still gushing about it. Easy to grow in average to moist soil (provide supplemental watering in dry spells to encourage fresh new frond production), this Athyrium put on nice growth in one season and stood out for it’s limey green fronds with deeper wine markings . Plants grow 15-24″ tall and wide, and are hardy in zones 5-9.

Brunnera ‘Diane’s Gold’

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Diane’s Gold’  Siberian Bugloss. Yellow foliage plants are so valuable in the shade garden for their consistent golden glow. In the short time I’ve grown ‘Diane’s Gold’, I have been impressed how quickly she established  after planting and thrived in a dappled shade bed. Although her  floral display of sprays of tiny sky blue flowers is most effective in late April and May,  ‘Diane’s Gold’  was still sending out an occasional flowering stem in July and August.  Foliage clumps stay under 12” tall but can easily grow 18-24” wide. Zones 4-9.

Disporum flavens

Disporum flavens  So easy, so stunning, so under planted…the sight of Korean Fairy Bells in the early spring garden always makes me smile. Sturdy shoots which resemble Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum) emerge in April and extend to 2’, with canary yellow pendant blossoms in small clusters at the stem tips.  Disporum spread slowly by rhizomes and it may take a few years to form impressive clumps, but are long lived and deer resistant. Grow in part shade. Zones 4-9.

Peucedanum ‘Daphnis’

Peucedanum ostruthium ‘Daphnis’  Greater Masterwort. Upon first glance you might think what a refined Goutweed this is, but upon additional study you might notice that the foliage is larger and has more substance, with an attractive creamy yellow to white  variegation.  Plants do spread by rhizomes, but I would not call this invasive.  In early summer, 15-20” stems bear white umbels resembling Queen Anne’s Lace. I always cut back the flowers as they fade, as this encourages new foliage growth.  Grow in part shade.  Zones 5-9.

Clematis ‘Paul Farges’

Clematis fargesii ‘Paul Farges’ . Most gardeners are drawn to the big flowered Clematis hybrids, which tend to sulk after planting until their roots are well anchored. I appreciate a Clematis that doesn’t need coddling and ‘Paul Farges’ never asks for a fuss.  1.5-2” white blooms resemble a larger form of Autumn Clematis, but bloom time is June-August.   Flowers are born on both new and old an old wood (Group 2 in the Clematis books), so if you want to control its vigor, cut plants back to 12” in the spring. If left unrestrained, ‘Paul Farges’ will easily extend 15-20’. Use him over stone walls, fences, or to cover a pergola as well as scramble up a medium size shrub or small tree. ‘Paul Farges’ is hardy in zones 5-9 and is deer resistant.

Eleutherococcus sieboldianus vareigatus

Eleutherococcus sieboldianus ‘Variegatus’ (aka Acanthopanax sieboldiana variegata) Five Leaf Aralia.  As a nurserywoman, I always cringe a little when  plant names change…new gardeners become confused and long time gardeners have trouble finding  the plant listed under its old name. (And may I complain about genus names with more than 5 syllables?)

If you can get past the pronunciation, you will discover that this is one tough shrub for almost any situation with average to dry soil:  sun, partial or deep shade.  Eleuthorococus sieboldianus ‘Variegatus’  has quite showy  white edged palmate leaves on arching branches which can really illuminate a shady corner. Flowers  are produced in spring but they are inconspicuous. Take note that it does have thorns, which help to deter unwelcome creatures, like deer.  Plants can grow 6-8’ tall and wide rather quickly.

Clethra barbinervis

Clethra barbinervis  Japanese Clethra is waiting to be discovered. Yes, our native Clethra alnifolia, also known as Summersweet, is a great plant but this Asian species has a few extras going for it.  C. barbinervis is a plant for all seasons, boasting fragrant mid summer blossoms, yellow-orange-bronze fall color, plus exfoliating bark in winter. If left unpruned, C. barbinervis will grow as a multistemmed shrub, but I prefer to see it trained as a small tree with single or 2-3 leaders, with lower limbs removed, so that the showy bark can be better appreciated.

Flowers form in July, bearing twisting 4-6” racemes of sweetly scented white flowers, which drip from the branches into mid August. It prefers a well-drained, neutral or slightly acidic soil with adequate moisture and can grow 15-20’ tall in zones 5-8. Clethra barbinervis grows well in dappled shade, although it will tolerate and bloom abundantly in full sun, if watering needs are met.

Are you growing any of these plants in your gardens?

End of the Season Containers

It’s been over 3 months since I posted the “Before” Container Shots. We’re now into October, and luckily the weather has been mild, with a few chilly nights. All in all, the containers depicted in the early summer post are looking as good if not better.  My goal each year is to come up with combos that are easy care and will look fabulous until frost.  Here are this year’s end of the season shots.zenbowl_detailazen_bowlt_9302017oct72Succulents rule! The Aeonium noticeably is more green than bronzy, and  this space where the 36″ Zen Bowl is located is getting more and more shade…perhaps now only getting 3-4 hours of afternoon sun…it’s getting limited for succulents. I think we’ll have to reconsider what type of plants to use here next year.aaeoniumpot_9302017_72The Aeonium ‘Cyclops’ in the drum pot, with Sedeveria ‘Harry Butterfield’ and String of Pearls spilling over the sides, is still looking pretty awesome. I will be sad when we have to dismantle this container.cylinderpot2017The Cylinder Pot in front of the garage is pretty much doing a repeat performance of last year. The big Kalanchoe beharensis started to overwhelm his neighbors, and was trimmed back several times.white_pots17_72The larger white pot with Cuphea ‘David Verity’, Digiplexis ‘Illumination’ and Ruellia b. ‘Purple Showers’ needed watering attention, but is still blooming away. Not missing a step,  the smaller pot continues to look good with Heuchera ‘Cherry Cola’, Phormium and Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’.xgreekurnThe Grecian Urn on the pedestal was one of the shade ensembles, with Begonia ‘Art Hodes’, Cyperus ‘Starburst‘, Oxalis, and Callisia congesta variegata, which needed to be cut back more than once. I know, I know, I put way too many ingredients in this pot.silverfernpot17_72Here’s another shade planter, mixing hardy and tender plants. Maidenhair Fern, Black Mondo Grass and hardy Begonia grandis, are paired with tender Sansevieria ‘Moonshine’ and Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’. This planter was in dappled shade all day, and notice how well the Dichondra grew!
papyrus (1 of 1)Papyrus + Papyrus  + Callisia = … To begin with, I selected too small a pot in June, so what did I do?  In mid summer, I lifted the plants that had filled the pot and moved them into a much bigger container. When the Ornamental Oregano had done her thing, then the Callisia was very happy to take over the pot.ironurn17 (1 of 1)One of the iron urns is getting more shade than in previous years… probably just 4 hours of good sun, and then it’s in dappled light. Here is what it looks like now… the Beschorneria and Golden Ivy seem happy still.whitebegonia_72Someone bought the head pot…so I can’t show how it fared, but instead here is another shady planter. Never took the “before” picture, but I thought this green trough was successful. The white form of Begonia boliviensis seemed happier this year than in the past, and is paired with trailing Pilea glauca, Pilea microphylla variegata, Ornamental Oregano, and  Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern, which is now pretty much hidden.brownterrabowl17 (1 of 1)Last but not least, the brown terra cotta bowl wants to show off even more now that it is autumn. Assorted succulent foliage looked great all summer. Now, in October, the  Euphorbia tirucalli (Sticks on Fire) is beginning to deepen in color and Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’, bursting forth with orange red blossoms, is ending the season with a bang.

What easy care combinations worked best for you this summer? Have you been using succulents in your container plantings?

Generous Fall Asters

Symphyotrichum (Aster) ‘Vasterival’

Some might consider the term “generous” a euphemism for invasive…but I have my own take on certain vigorous spreaders and self sowers. I say, sometimes a plant with ground covering capabilities is a good thing…it won’t be long before you have a nice swath of color plus the plant’s vigor keeps weeds at bay. Here are 5 Asters that command attention and are easy peasy.

( A little botany note: The taxonomists have reclassified Aster  into several distinct genera in recent years. For example, the genus Aster encompasses species that are specific to Eastern Asia, while the term Symphyotricum includes Asters native to N. America and parts of Europe.)

One plant that really draws comments in our September garden is  Symphyotrichum x ‘Vasterival’, a hybrid of unknown origins. 3/4″ daisies in a  sweet shade of pink/lavender are born in loose sprays on tall dark tinted stems. You could  pinch plants back in early July to control height, or let them do  their thing, and have stems that can reach 5′. ‘Vasterival’ is a perfect plant for that “garden gone wild” look. Plants spread by stoloniferous roots.

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Symphyotrichum x ‘Mary’s White’

Another Symphyotrichum selection that has proven quite vigorous is ‘Mary’s White’, which was selected by British nurserywoman Beth Chatto and named for her daughter. 1″ white daisies are carried on sturdy 3-4′ stems during September into early October.

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Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Muraskai’

The Asian Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’ is the boss in a bed where we once had  plants with meek dispositions. We  let ‘Ezo Murasaki’ fulfill its ground covering mission, and moved its less vigorous neighbors. Yellow centered violet 1″ daisies are born in  clusters on 18″ stems from late September into November.

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Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’

Some Asters self sow nicely.  Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’, commonly called Smooth Aster, is one we allow to seed about and establish informally in beds where a little autumn color will be welcomed. Quarter sized flowers have lavender blue petals with yellow centers open up in stages in loose sprays. ‘Bluebird’ grows 3-4′ tall, but bows gracefully around its neighbors.

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Symphyotrichum ericoides with Elscholtzia and Kolwitzia

Another promiscuous seeder is the Calico Aster Symphyotrichum ericoides. Height can vary, but most often  plants are in the 18-24″ range. Don’t you think this Aster picked the best spot to establish itself, here between the Chinese Mint Shrub, Elscholtzia stantonii alba, on the left, and the golden leaved Kolwitzia on the right?

 

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