Category Archives: Garden Musings

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?

Summer Hardiness–which plants survive the heat?

Yucca 'Color Guard', Vernonia lettermanii and Crambe maritima have performed despite the heat and drought .

Yucca ‘Color Guard’, Vernonia lettermanii and Crambe maritima have performed despite the heat and drought .

Well, we know we’re not alone, but here in southern New England, we’ve had an exceptionally hot dry summer. The amount of precipitation in our area has varied due to isolated showers, but I would guess here at Avant Gardens we have totaled less than 1 inch during the past 75 days. Lack of rainfall plus high humidity, coupled with daily temperatures in the high 80s and 90‘s can have an effect on plants. (Many plants begin to suffer physiological damage when temperatures remain above 86F or 30C)

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This brings up the classification of plants rated for Summer Hardiness. The American Horticultural Society (AHS) has created a Summer Heat Zone map of the US.  Regions having less than 1 day with temperatures above 86F (30C)  are classified as zone 1, and on the other end of the spectrum, the areas having the most days with high temperatures are classified as zone 12. This may correlate with the familiar USDA Winter Hardiness Zone Map (which rates average lowest temperatures) but in some cases it does not. Folks in the southern US have learned that Summer Heat Zone Hardiness is definitely a criteria when selecting plants. The above map will need regular adjustments now that global warming is causing extreme temperatures worldwide, and northern gardeners will have to pay heed to which plants will survive/perform with higher summer temperatures.

We’ll be ruling out more plants that do well in our gardens in the future, I’m afraid, as climate change continues to affect what we can and cannot happily grow.

Have you come to the conclusion that some plants, which once thrived in your gardens,  no longer will? Which plants have you found best withstand our ever warmer drier summers?

Blue Plumbago…Problem or Not?

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Blue shades, clockwise from the top: Clematis, Lavender, Baptisia, Nepeta, Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Campanula ‘Sarastro’, Wisterla ‘Amethyst Falls, and Plumbago auriculata

Funny thing…this favorite color, the color of the sky above… true blue-baby blue is not the easiest color to mix and match. Think of the blues in the garden…most shades have red in them…the violets have a darker red, lavenders can have that pinkish tint. Blue flowers also look so different depending on the light…take a picture of a blue flower on a cloudy day, or at  midday, and at dusk and notice how the hue changes.

I have a challenge here…I’m trying to decide which plants I can use to complement a lovely blue Plumbago auriculata in one of my containers. My aim, as always, is to have the container look great now through September, and have it be pretty easy care.

First if you are unfamiliar with Plumbago,  it is a tender perennial/shrub producing powder blue phlox like blossoms endlessly all sumer.  Plumbago forms sizable shrubs where it is hardy, but for those of us growing here in the northeast, expect plants to grow to 2’-2 1/2’ in a season in our gardens or pots.

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One thought I had was to play with complementary colors….light orange and light blue are color opposites. I found a consistent apricot in Heuchera ‘Champagne’, and I thought  of adding some light yellow/lime…perhaps the Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ or Oxalis ‘Copper Glow which has tints of orange too. A green ornamental grass like Hakonechloa macra can add a different texture and natural feeling. A possibility, but then I realized I didn’t have a pot this group works with.

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I did have this white handled jar. Blue and white is a classic combination. Gaura ‘So White’ adds a wispy vertical, Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost is an all purpose filler with an aura of baby’s breath , and for bold punch, the glossy foliage of Angelica pachycarpa which can be set out in the garden in the fall. Needed something to trail so I tucked in a Teardrop Ivy.

What do you think? What would you pair Plumbago with?

Spring/Winter Flipflop

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Snow-kissed Magnolia Buds

Argghhh! So much for an early Spring in New England. March began with May temperatures, but the weather decided to chill out after April Fool’s.  Trouble is… all those  warm days and mild nights encouraged the garden to wake up early.

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Early April Buds 2016/End of April Glory 2015

Normally, the plants in our gardens know when they are being teased with a few mild days, and hold off bursting prematurely.  The image above left was taken 4-4-16, the one on the right: 4-28-15.

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The show from Jeffersonia dubia probably won’t continue after this cold

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Maybe this cloche will help.

Jeffersonia dubia , the Asian form of Twin Leaf, became too excited and emerged with color last week. The next few nights will have temperatures dipping into the mid teens, and we have  one cloche on hand to add a little protection. Trouble is, we can’t do this for every early bloomer.  And, unfortunately, there is not enough snowfall so far (more is predicted, but…) to insulate before the arctic cold blows through.

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Epimedium, budded and shivering.

Epimedium, with new foliage and budded flower stems….we’re not too optimistic for a later show, but we can only wait and see.

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Helleborus viridus will take it in stride.

Hellebores and the bulbs not yet in bloom will take this in stride, but the Narcissus and Grape Hyacinth which are already showing color might not be focal points  after this big chill is over.

Buttoned Up, with blankets and heat.

Buttoned Up, with blankets and heat.

In the nursery,  many plants have started to leaf out with tender new growth.  For added protection, we’ve covered them with microfoam blankets and added portable heaters inside our frost frames to counter the low night temperatures.

Gardeners are always being challenged by the weather. It will be interesting to see which plants come through this cold snap unfazed. How is your garden faring with the early start to spring?

San Diego Plant Cache!

Mike Kartuz, with our box of Begonias.

Mike Kartuz, with our box of Begonias.

Lucky us! Chris and I booked it out of MA just before the deep freeze earlier this month and caught some rays in San Diego, where our oldest son Phil now lives. And, since our business is our pleasure (PLANTS!), we always make it a point to visit a few regional growers of rare succulents and begonias.

A must stop for us was Kartuz Greenhouses in Vista. Mike Kartuz, who is 88, left Massachusetts 4 decades ago to grow tropicals, especially Begonias, in a much kinder climate. Mike, along with “begonia volunteer” Brad Thompson (check out Brad’s Begonia webpage) have hybridized some of the most fascinating Begonias we have come across. Plants are sold in 2” pots, and they ship when the weather permits, but we always find selections on our visit that never make it to the Kartuz website.

Brad Thompson talking plants with Chris

Brad Thompson talking plants with Chris

Our next excursion was into the hills of Fallbrook to meet up with Dick and Kraig Wright, who breed Echeveria and Aloe  almost exclusively. Dick who is also 88, has been hybridizing Echeveria since the 1950’s, and if you have collected a few Echeveria you no doubt have at least one of his hybrids. Some of Dick’s most coveted selections are named after family members; we came home with Arlie Wright, named for Dick’s mother,  plus many, many more.

closeup of Echeveria 'Arlie Wright'

closeup of Echeveria ‘Arlie Wright’

While Dick and Kraig are still seeking out unique “Ech” forms with impressive size, they are experimenting more and more with miniature Aloe, which command premium prices in Japan and Korea. I was astonished that the Wrights do not hold patents on their selections but make them available to collectors who can try their own luck at propagating. Here is a link to their website .

Preparing newly acquired plants for travel

Preparing newly acquired plants for travel

After visiting these gents, we figured we almost had a full suitcase but that didn’t mean we couldn’t look a little more. The San Diego area nurseries are well stocked and we wanted to see if we could possibly identify some forms that were mislabeled or nameless when we acquired them. We asked  and took label images but still left with questions!!!

At another nursery, 2 different Echeveria tagged Arlie Wright ..the one on the right is someone else!

At another nursery, 2 different Echeveria tagged Arlie Wright ..the one on the right is someone else!

Plants being sold with incorrect names are a big problem, and we do understand how easily it can happen. Many look very different in their youth than they will at maturity, and changes to foliage color occur with different temperatures and humidity.  Oh, well…Phil and his girlfriend Annique seem to really like San Diego living, so we have good excuses  to return and fit in more plant i.d. excursions,