Category Archives: Garden Musings

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.

Hygge…& Celebrating Winter’s Gifts

chokecherries2

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

acylinderpot_fall2016

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.

aironurn_fall2016

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’.

agreendrum2_fall2016

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.

asignpot_fall2016

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

agrecianurn500

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….

xcylinder

Cylinder Pot 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

xironurn

Iron urn 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

xdrumpot

Green Drum Pot 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

xsignpot

Sign Pot 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

xgrecianurn

Grecian Urn 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

xhummerspot

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.

xgrassbowl

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.

xwinterberrypot

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.

xzenbowl72

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.

xtrough

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.

stonewall2_500

xlatticeplanter

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…

stonewall2_500

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.

hydrangea_peewee500

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

crambe_maritima91916-1

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

agastache_blackaddeer540

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

lespedeza_gibralter_fall2016-1

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

eucomisdarkstar540

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

signpot1_540

Succulents by the road fended for themselves admirably

giant_pumpkin_fall2016-1

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

cutflowers_fall2016-1

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?

zinnia_queenlime_fall2016-1

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

dahlia_detail-1

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)

ahs-heatzone_map500

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?