Category Archives: Featured

Pruning Basics: 201

This is the second in a series of blog posts leading up to our April 17, 2011 pruning workshop.  These posts will address things you should be familiar with before you take pruners to plants.  If you’ve signed up for the workshop, we encourage you to read through blog posts.

In the blog entry Pruning 101,  you were asked to identify the plants you are intersted in pruning.  With plant names now in hand, you next need  to decide which of the following woody plant groups your tree/shrub falls under.

Opposite Branching

  • Conifers deciduous e. g.  Larix (Larch), Metasequoia (Dawn Redwood), Taxodium (Bald Pond Cypress)
  • Conifersevergreen e. g. Pinus (Pine), Picea (Spruce) Abies (Fir)
  • Broad Leaf Evergreen e. g. Rhododendron, Ilex (Holly), Pieris (Andromeda)
  • Deciduous Tree e. g. Acer (maple), Quercus (Oak), Stewartia, Fagus (Beech)
  • Deciduous Shrub e. g. Rosa (Rose), Viburnum, Salix (Willow), Spirea, Vaccinium (Blueberry), Lavandula (Lavender)

These 5 groups are your launching off point: each embodies of group of plants that generally have specific growth/branching habits and regenerative responses/capabilities.  We will leave the regenerative processes for the next blog.

alternate branches

Alternate Branches

Growth and branching habits are responsible for growth patterns in all plants and they fall under one of two groups,  alternate or oppositeAlternate branching occurs when only one new shoot/leaf node develops along a plant limb at any given point while the next developing shoot/leaf node occurs at a different point on the opposite side of the limb-see example. Opposite branching occurs when two new shoots/ leaf nodes develop at the same point along a limb, but on opposite sides of the limb-see example.  Although the examples here are clear, it is often less so because there can be a considerable amount of variation.  Make an attempt to differentiate these patterns on your own plants, while noting their variability.  We will examine what this variability means to the pruning process when regenerative responses are discussed in the next posting.

Pruning Basics 101

This will be the first in a series of blogs leading up to our April 17, 2011 pruning workshop. That stated, this article will help everyone on there way to pruning, even if they can?t join in the fun on April 17th. These blog posts will address things you should be familiar with before you take pruners to plants.  Make the most of our upcoming workshop by reading through thisseries of  blog posts. For questions, address Chris at  ctracey@avantgardensne.com.

Styrax japonica in winter

Every plant has a name, both Latin and common. For a beginner, knowing one or the other is crucial. If you don’t know either, then it’s impossible for any professional to tell you how to prune it. Photographs will help to identify it. Let’s assume it is the off seasons, late fall through early spring, when all our deciduous plants are posing unclothed, their bare limbs shivering. You will snap 2 or 3 photos: one of the entire plant, and one of an individual 8 -12″ section of an outer limb, and perhaps one of the trunk or base of the plant.  If you think that the bark or the terminal buds (the very end of the branches) is unique, than snap a photo of that too. Make notes about anything you recall it doing in the previous year, e. g. “It bloomed white on Mother’s Day” or “the fall color was butter yellow”.  Send this information to Avant Gardens (or a good local nursery) via email and we’ll help you out (you might want to reference this blog to let us know you’re not sending spam; we get nervous opening up attachments from senders we don”t know). Don’t be shy. People in the plant trade love to share information!

If the growing season has begun and  plants have leafed out, take three photographs: one of the whole plant, one of the plant in flower (if it does bloom), and one showing a small segment of branch with leaves attached. Does your plant has some other distinction, like mottled bark, unique cones, columnar habit, scent, etc? Snap that picture or make  notate these observations.  Make note of anything you remember about that plant that will help identify it. ( A note that your mother-in-law gave it to you probably won’t aid in identifying it, unless of course she remembers what it is– and it is not a problem to ask her. )  Remember that you can always ask us at Avant Gardens or check your local nursery.

Examples of helpful shots are:

Styrax bark

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Fernleaf Gold’

Chamaecyparis branch

Winter Escape to Huntington Gardens

Almost everyone we know is getting weary of winter and shoveling snow. If ever there was a year to retreat to a warmer climate this has been one. We must have had an intuition when we booked flights to San Diego/LA back in December. The first week of February couldn’t come soon enough.

Aloe in Bloom

The weather was perfect….60 degree days with incredible sunshine, 40 degrees nights. There was a light frost in the valleys one night, but signs of an early California spring were everywhere. We had a list of nurseries, greenhouses and gardens to visit, but there was no way we’d be able to get to see them all in a week, so we prioritized. Our first stop was Huntington Gardens just north of LA, and we timed it just right to see the Aloes in bloom. Huntington has an incredible succulent collection, and the size of the specimens along with the colors and textures was breathtaking.

chrisathuntington400

If any one color predominated in the early February landscape, it was coral, which was vividly offset by its opposite on the color wheel, teal blue. The Aloe’s coral red pokers were often seen en masse, like emphatic exclamation points. We got busy snapping photos and jotting down botanical names so that we could fact check/identify some of the unnamed specimens sitting in our greenhouse back home, or perhaps to seek out in one of the nurseries we planned to visit. But enough of this chatter. Pictures tell the story so much better.

Barrel Cactus and Succulents

Barrel Cactus and Succulents

The late winter beauty of the Asian garden was effective because of the well placed structural elements.

Asian Garden

Asian Garden with Chinese Scholar Stones

The Camelias were just passing, and seeing them made us envious…if only we could enjoy them in our winter landscape. An unnamed flowering plum was in full bloom and we took solace in the fact that in a month or two, we would see a similar display in Massachusetts.

Flowering Plum in bloom

Attending The Guardian

Winter Silhouette of our Ancient Oak

We are the brief, but committed stewards of one of the oldest trees in our town.  A Quercus bicolor, commonly known as Swamp White Oak, spreads its majestic limbs, covering 6400 sq. ft of garden in the lower area of our property.  It stands as a venerable member of an ancient clan, reaching its many arms, some 50 feet long, in all directions, from a trunk with a robust 12 1/2 foot caliper.  Although it is no more than 60 feet high, an understatement for a 200+ year old tree, it’s sublime presence creates a complete and awe inspiring space. Stand in the welcoming shade of  its vast crown, place your hands on the deeply furrowed face of its trunk, letting your fingers feel the wrinkles of 200 hundred years, raise your eyes to wander into this living sculpture, home to thousands upon thousands of flying and crawling insects, not to mention dozens of birds, proving a feeding ground for so many more creatures; one of many children not of our own womb, but generously lent to us by the most grand and trusting mother, Earth.  Everyday, we take care of this grand old tree, and in return, it takes care of us.

Come and share this sacred space when you visit, if only for 5 minutes. When the time comes for you to plant an heirloom tree, you will see the road of time stretching out before you , and on it, your loving, grateful heirs and when you look behind, the beautifully wrinkled and wise faces of your ancestors.

Illumination

Winter Barn at Chatfield, Denver Botanical Garden

We always think of the first day of a new season as a holiday, one of nature’s holidays, a marking of time which reminds us to take stock of what is important. This year, Dec. 21 marks the Winter Solstice when all living beings in the northern hemisphere experience the fewest hours of daylight. For thousands of years, societies around the earth have celebrated the Solstice by having feasts, making merry with song and drink, and keeping an ever burning fire. Many of our favorite rituals of the Christmas holidays had their origins in Winter Solstice Celebrations.

As gardeners we have reason to celebrate light. The sun is essential for growth, and the winter months restrict us by limiting daylight. Sure, you can are argue that we need this down time to rest, to contemplate. But the sun is our source, and we can easily turn moody and feel depleted until ample light returns.

MeadowLight170

Why give in completely? We came across a website created by a group of Canadian artists, who know a thing about illuminating long winter nights. Their adventurous spirit can provide inspiration for us all. Why not ward off the darkness by bringing light into your garden? You don’t have to be elaborate, and the display doesn’t have to come down the day after New Year’s. Some thoughts: Adorn a garden structure with a strand of lights, illuminate a lovely tree with a ground spotlight. Create a blaze in your fire pit or line a walkway with luminaria. It will make your heart, and the hearts of  those passing by, glow a little too.

Holiday Gift Ideas

The holidays are approaching, and it’s hard not to feel frantic. One place we try to avoid is the shopping malls. If you have gardeners to select gifts for, that?s easy. Consider a few alternative gifts that will continue to give throughout the year. (hint/hint: you may be the only gardener in the family so “cc:” this webpage to the Secret Santa who pulled your name for the Gift Exchange). Here are a few ideas that offer inspiration and support and that don’t have to cost a lot of money.

Gift Memberships to a Plant Society, such as The North American Rock Garden Society, and The Hardy Plant Society, or a Local Botanical Garden. In our area there is The Arnold  Arboretum, Blithewold, and The New England Wild Flower Society. Memberships in plant societies and botanical gardens provide the recipient with excellent and often free (or at a reduced price) lectures, seed and plant exchanges, opportunities to buy rare plants, periodicals on horticultural topics, and a chance to chat it up with other plant-o-holics. Memberships are a great way  to support these valuable institutions as well.

Quality Garden Tools. Quality does make a difference. These tools last, making them sustainable. Felco Pruners are a must have for every plantsman.  Also, check out Red Pig Garden Tools for hard to find implements. Birdbaths, Handsome Pottery and Containers are all low maintenance focal points that add a sense of place. What about a hammock or garden bench?

Gift Certificates to Favorite Nurseries. Is this too hard a sell? The long cold days of January will soon put us all in a funk, and dreaming of new plants and new gardens is one way to get through the early part of winter. Of course we’d be delighted if plants from Avant Gardens helped your favorite gardener fulfill his or her dreams.

Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’

Little has been written about this lovely late summer/fall blooming Asian Aster. It came into our possession last November, via US Mail, swaddled in newspaper and still covered with blossoms. The return address cited Margie Mott as the sender, an old friend and plant huntress who scours every nursery and garden center on the eastern seaboard. She had lost the plant’s name tag but thought she had acquired it from Asiatica Nursery, which, you may have heard, sadly closed their doors this season.

Well, we made some divisions and took lots of cuttings, which quickly formed husky plants, and by late July this handsome Aster was already blooming away. It is exhibiting a very long season of bloom and we hope it will continue to be colorful into November. The ¾” composite flowers have violet petals surrounding golden disks and are displayed on branched 2′ stems. We’e noticed this Aster develops runners, much like Asteromoea and Kalimeris, and expect it will form a thick stand in upcoming years. Use ‘Ezo’ as a handsome skirt in front of fruit laden Viburnum or as a companion plant to fall blooming Sedums and ornamental grasses.  Like most asters, it will perform best in lots of sunshine and we expect it to be hardy in zone 4.

UPDATE 2015: This Aster has not been reclassified as Kalimeris

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An Aster by Another Name

raydon

Symphyotrichum ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ with Dendranthema ‘Sheffield Apricot’

Are you confused? We were. Asters were one of the easy botanical names to remember, since the common name was exactly the same as the Latin name, until maybe a decade ago.  We started to notice that certain wholesale sources were listing many common fall aster species as Symphyotrichum (pronounced sim-fy-oh-TRY-kum). This brought up questions. Will this name take hold with the gardening public? Should we reclassify the plants we were calling Aster? And which asters were considered in the genus Symphyotrichum? Would our customers know to look under this new genus name when seeking the fall blooming asters?

Upon research we discovered that once botanists began comparing the DNA of Eurasian Asters with North American species, they found that the asters native to North America were more closely related to other native genera, especially Boltonia, Solidago and Erigeron. To be brief, the North American Asters included in the Symphyotrichum group are the species: cordifolius, dumosus, laevis, lateriflorum, novae-angliae, novi-belgii oblongifolius. Two New World Asters, divaricatus and macrophyllus are now considered to be Eurybia species.

Some of the Eurasian species have been reclassified into the genera Crinitaria, Galatella and Bellidiastrum, (few of which are commercially available here in the US) while others still remain in the genus Aster, including Aster amellus, ageratoides and tartaricus. The question remains as to what would be the correct nomenclature for Aster hybrids, such as the new selection Aster x ‘Blue Autumn’, recently introduced in the US by European breeders as a cultivar of Aster laevis, incorrectly we might add. We’ll keep you posted when we know for sure.

Time to Plant Fall Containers

Pennisetum with Heuchera ‘Caramel’, Cuphea and Calibrachoa

One of the pleasures of container gardening is that you can create fresh arrangements to complement each season?s landscape. The colors of Fall Chrysanthemums have been selected for just this effect, but isn?t it dull to limit yourself to just a single plant? Consider the wide selection of cool season “annuals” that are at their prime in September and October, offering at least 6-8 weeks of color. There are ornamental peppers, salvias, grasses, million bells, abutilons and cigar plants, just to name a few. Don’t forget the perennials with outstanding foliage, like Heuchera ‘Caramel’ and Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora)  which add contrast and can later be transplanted into the garden for next year?s display. And then there are shrubs with fall interest, such as Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lime’ (aging  blossoms), Cornus ‘Arctic Sun’ , and Ilex verticillata (Winterberry), which will add height and weight to bigger pots. Here are two more tips for pulling it all together.

First, remember to select a variety of bold and fine textures. The bold punch of a large leaved Heuchera, or Ornamental Cabbage adds much needed weight and contrast. This is the season of ripening fruit, so take advantage of the ever widening selection of Ornamental Peppers or consider shrubs with a nice berry set, such as Viburnum or Winterberry. Grasses add height and movement, and you can always use hardy grasses besides the more showy annual Pennisetum.

Second point: The growing season is slowing down here in the northeast, so start with larger plants and/or use more plants to fill up the container right away. There is not a lot of time now for plants to put on added growth. Think of assembling your container as you would a flower arrangement, except that this composition will last for weeks as opposed to just a few days.

Tricyrtis formosana ‘Gates of Heaven’

Just the common name, Toad Lily, sparks curiosity and invites close inspection. The delicate blossoms of this attractive cultivar of Tricyrtis formosana resemble small orchids and have distinctive spotting on the blue-violet petals. Flowering interest begins in early August, but the golden yellow foliage adds color early in the season. Plants are stoloniferous, forming small clumps 12″ high, making it suitable for the front of a border. Small Hosta such as ‘Wogon Gold’ and Japanese Forest Grass Hakonachloa macra make excellent companions.

Grow Toad Lilies in a soil that stays uniformly moist, yet well drained. The foliage tips will brown if the soil becomes too dry, and although not lethal, will make the plants less attractive. Tricyrtis ‘Gates of Heaven’are unappetizing to deer, and are hardy through zone 5-9.