Category Archives: Winter Interest

plants that add interest in the winter landscape

Gardener Portrait: Jonathan Shaw

Jon and Eugenie Shaw

I’ve always been curious about a plant’s namesake.

About half dozen years ago I had acquired a handsome dwarf Rhododendron with brilliant purple flowers named ‘Jonathan Shaw’. As coincidence would have it, not long after I was at a Horticultural Club meeting and heard this name mentioned in a discussion at the next table, and I was all ears. Mr. Jonathan Shaw, a fellow member, was not at that table, but the folks who were had been discussing his fabulous collection of Galanthus (Snowdrops).   Not hundreds of one or two cultivars, but hundreds, thousands of many, many cultivars.  I knew right then that I wanted to meet Jonathan or Jon as he prefers to be called, and perhaps get invited to see this magical collection.

Jon is a soft spoken gentleman with a lifetime of accomplishments in both horticulture and education. His first career was as a teacher and school administrator. His second career, (yes, I tell my sons, you can have more than one) was as an administrator of two Botanic Gardens, first the New England Wildflower Society in Framingham MA, and next, in a totally different locale, the Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida. If you read between the lines you can deduce that horticulture and gardening activities were part of Jon?s life long before his second career began.

Much of Jon’s childhood was spent in Sandwich MA, at the splendid Victorian home that belonged to his great grandmother, and in which Jon and his wife Eugenie now live. There were horticulture genes in his family tree: a great great uncle had a nursery in Boston and acquired some of the first Ginkgo trees in the US (one of which stands 70′ tall in the Shaw Garden in Sandwich), another uncle who was a science editor for Time Magazine  and who presented a young Jonathan with a sapling Metasequoia  (Dawn Redwood) , which up until that time had been considered extinct. And of course there was Jon’s mother, who, like many others, planted a Victory garden during WWII and encouraged Jon to make a plot of his own.

It’s rare that a gardener is interested in only one genus, but often a particular group of plants seduces him or her, and he/she wants to seek out as many examples of this group as possible. Jon admits to be a recovering ‘Rhodoholic’. He has grown and hybridized many Rhododendron cultivars, (although ‘Jonathan Shaw’ was not his selection but one a friend made at his suggestion and named in his and his son’s honor).  When he realized that some of his specimens had reached proportions of 30′ in height and width, he had to accept that space was becoming limited. Jon then moved on to a group of plants with smaller proportions, the genus Galanthus.

Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’, Jon’s Favorite Snowdrop

Jon and his wife Eugenie share gardening duties. Eugenie, who is from Norway, is an enthusiastic vegetable gardener, and is devoted to cultivating her berry crops. Jon tends the vast collection of ornamental plants. A visit to the the Shaw garden in late winter is enchanting: tens of thousands of snowdrops, many quite rare. They carpet the garden under ancient trees, and invite the up and coming Crocus, Iris reticulata and Eranthis to compete for attention. If Jon must pick a favorite, it would have to be Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’, a particularly robust selection.

Galanthus guarding the entrance to the Fairy Door

The Snowdrops in the Shaw garden are a testimony to the promise of a glorious New England Spring. I asked Jon if he had any encouraging words for the novice gardener and this was his reply: “Have fun! Do not make your garden a hospital for sick plants which require constant care and chemical treatments. Dispose of them.  And last but not least, develop a special garden interest and discover all you can about it!”

Galanthus 'Cordelia'

Galanthus ‘Cordelia’

Tower Hill Botanic Garden, an escape…

Limonaia

Succulent display in The Limonaia

….from winter

That silly groundhog doesn’t know anything. February may be short but it is still winter, and March is usually a big tease. If you’re like me, you must be tired from being cooped up and could use a green escape, perhaps to see and smell something verdant.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to travel very far. I  grabbed my camera, hopped in the car and within an hour and 15 minutes, I was at Tower Hill Botanic Gardens in Boylston, which is located in central Massachusetts just northeast of Worcester.  What a tonic for the senses.

As you enter the Stoddard Visitor Center, you are greeted with many options: a book/gift shop to browse, a cafe where you can refuel, a series of glass windows and doors which offer views and access to the newly installed winter garden, and immediately to your right, the beautiful Limonaia, a cathedral like conservatory featuring succulents, camellias, bromeliads, palms and you bet, citrus in bud and fruit.

It just so happened that on the day of my visit, The Worcester Horticultural Society’s annual event Flora in Winter was taking place at both Tower Hill and the Worcester Art Museum (so I made a date with an old friend and caught that show too, but I won’t digress further!) On display throughout the visitor center were exotic floral arrangements by both professional and amateur designers.

But enough talk for a moment, let me show you what I saw.

Billbergia nutans, an epiphytic bromeliad

Camellia ‘Mabel Bayard Thayer’

Acacia….love!

Another species of Acacia

Abutilon megapotamicum, aka Chinese Lanterns

Asparagus densiflorus, Foxtail Asparagus Fern… Love, again

Flora in Winter Arrangement Detail

Winter Flame Dogwood, and a chilly statue overlooking the Winter Garden

A corner view of the Winter Garden

It is amazing to see the evolution that has transpired at Tower Hill since its inception some 26 years ago. The first planted area was the Harrington Apple Orchard, a collection of heirloom varieties that would someday be lost if it were not for the stewardship here. Numerous new garden areas have been created over the years, and the latest, the Winter Garden, was opened to the public in November of 2010. The bones are in place and already the plantings are taking shape. Come visit for ideas on which hardy plants will add winter color and form to your landscape.

Tower Hill is open year round, Tuesday through Sunday, 9-5 (Closed Mondays). Admission is free with membership, otherwise, $12 per adult (seniors $9).

For much more information, including upcoming events visit: http://www.towerhillbg.org

or call:  508.869.6111

Desperately Seeking Sunshine

Boronia crenulata ‘Shark Bay’…An Australian native that is never out of bloom.

I don’t feel old, and I’m not, really, ( figure I have a little less than half my life ahead.)  The thing is, I have noticed I get into an old person funk during January and February.  I sulk and grumble when I never use to, especially when the sun’s not shining. No doubt that’s why some older folks make the winter exodus to warmer and sunnier climates. They are seeking optimism, the kind that plentiful sunshine allows.

But self-pity is unbecoming…and I’m a take action kind of gal. I know the best remedy is to get out and absorb some sunlight when the winter skies allow. Today the sun is bright, and the reflection off the pre-New Year’s Eve snowfall made my eyes squint. It’s 15 degrees F outside, so perhaps I won’t plan a long walk, maybe just once around the garden, and then into the greenhouse where we overwinter all of our tender plants.

Ahhh…the the luxury of a winter greenhouse. We keep a 100′ poly house heated to 50 degrees at night, and in it are stored all of our tender succulents and stock plants. Mostly, plants are in a semi dormant state, and are not very pretty, waiting for longer days to spur growth. The greenhouse is packed to the brim. Each time I walk in, I feel the promise of spring, plus a few midwinter surprises: plants (often from the southern hemisphere) that choose to bloom in January and February.  The little Boronia above is in bloom. Here is what else presently greets me.

Mimulus sp. from Western Hills…blooms all year!

We still have this Mimulus selection brought back from the now closed Western Hills Nursery in CA. It blooms on new growth all year round, but can be a little temperamental if kept too wet or too dry. It also ships poorly, so if you ever want one,  come visit us at  the nursery.

A lovely Epiphyllum (Orchid Cactus) whose name is “?”

Anyone know the name of this orchid?

Rhipsalis capilliformis, funky and fun, soon to be in bloom

 You gotta grow everything to really appreciate funky plants like this Rhipsalis. Specifically bought one of those face pots where this can be planted as the wig, come spring.

Kalanchoe thyrsiflora (now luciae) erupting into flower.

All the succulents that we buy as little plants take on larger proportions with age. This Paddle Plant erupts into bloom in winter.

Our office needed a replacement plant for the window sill, so I brought in this BeschnorneriaBechnorneria are commonly called False Agave, and are hardy to about 15-20 degrees. We bought this unspecified selection from Cistus Nursery a good 6-7 years ago , and at last it has bloomed. It’s a shorter form with narrow tubular pink/red/green blooms.

Beschnorneria sp. from Cistus Nursery years ago, finally in bloom.

We’re not open for visits during the winter months.  Perhaps there is a little greenhouse operation near where you live, or one kept open at your local public garden. Plan a winter visit to support them, and get your sunshine fix. Your purchases and membership dues help pay the heating bills, and they offer you a retreat when you can’t make it to a southern climate.

There’s still time to deck the pots with….

I was trying to ignore the holidays this year. A visit to the west coast for our son’s mid year college graduation filled our calendar in early December.  I had started to rethink the winter containers before I left, but didn’t get very far. Upon returning home there was a ton of unfinished business to attend to. We aren’t hosting a Christmas gig this year. No little children to dazzle and excite. A part of me said why do you want to give yourself more to do?

Then, last night, while driving home, passing house after house decked with holiday lights and showy front door entries, I really felt shamed pulling into our driveway. No lights to greet me, no glow of a Christmas tree inside.  Does anybody live here?  That was the message our place was saying. Not a good one.

Here’s what I got done so far this morning.

The before picture: Why not leave the Euphorbia?

The after picture: Cut Greens, Red and Yellow Twig Dogwood. Simple!

Detail: Red Twig and ‘Winter Flame’ Dogwood’ with Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’

Winterberry Pot: Red Twig Dogwood, Winterberry, Hinoki Cypress, Christmas Rose, and Variegated Mondo Grass

Detail: Helleborus ‘Jacob’ with Ophiopogon Pamela Harper and Winterberry

Finished the wreath for the front door. It’s not good lighting to take a photo right now, but maybe tonight, with a few Christmas lights!

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Winter Solstice Greetings to all!

Stewartia pseudocamellia var koreana

Stewartia_koreana_flower500It would be a difficult choice, but if I had to select one deciduous tree for my garden, it would have to be the Korean form of Stewartia pseudocamellia, and this is why: here is a small tree (25-30′) with striking interest in all 4 seasons. In winter, a mature Stewartia pseudocamellia var koreana shows off its handsome narrow pyramidal shape, which broadens a bit with age, and lovely exfoliating bark, exposing shades of tan, pink and gray. In spring, it breaks anew with fresh dark green elliptical leaves, arranged alternately along its branches. In early summer, lovely 3″ white camellia like flowers are displayed. Each blossom only lasts a short time, but there are so many produced over several weeks that you never feel it is not performing.  In autumn, Stewartia pseudocamellia is truly mesmerizing, flashing you with foliage in shades of brilliant red, orange, gold and green.Stewartia_koreana_fall

Stewartia pseudocamellia is native to Japan and Korea, and the Korean form is generally considered a bit hardier. The Korean form tends to have a more narrow pyramidal shape than the species found in Japan. In its native habitat, it is found growing with Clethra barbinervis and Enkianthus campanulatus, both exceptional large shrubs or small trees, with multi season interest.  Stewartia pseudacamellia var. koreana grows best in sun or partial shade in a humus rich but well drained soil, out of strong wind. It is hardy to minus 20F and grows well in zones 5-8.

stewartia_bark

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Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’

Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow'Those of us in northern climates are suspicious when we’re told showy evergreen Euphorbia are hardy for us (zone 6), with good reason. Arctic winds and lack of snow cover often dessicate the foliage and those the early blooms. Well we’ve had mixed results with the fabulous Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’, and what we’ve learned is it’s all about siting. That being said, we’d grow this plant regardless of winter hardiness because it looks good for the entire growing season, from early spring into December.

Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ is a selection of E. x martinii. It boasts beautiful gold and green variegated foliage tinged with coral red, especially on the new growth and when temps are cooler. Multiple red stemmed branches form 18-24″ mounds. Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ blooms on new and old growth, with adorable variegated bracts exposing tiny red flowers. I’ll say this again, this plant looks fabulous the entire growing season here in New England, and because of this it is equally as wonderful in containers as it is in open ground.

Now in regards to siting: we used Ascot Rainbow in container plantings at an urban restaurant, where they looked so fabulous at the end of the winter  that we left them in for the spring display. Really! In this protected spot, surrounded by buildings radiating heat, the Euphorbs were quite happy. In open ground we’ve had mixed results. In a raised bed with good drainage the plants came through, although we had to cut back the sad looking evergreen foliage after the winter. Snow covered much of the ground during the winter of 2010 and 2012  and our plantings came through unscathed. The recommendation: good drainage, protection from wind,  in sun or partial shade.

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Better early than late: Spring in February

Iris Katharine Hodgkin'

Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’

February came in like a lamb, and it’s trying to muster a roar as it takes advantage of leap year’s extra day of winter. Signs of green are everywhere, despite the official start to spring still weeks away. Northern gardeners like us know that the joke could be on us if we get too accustomed to this mild weather, before March has played out. But how can we not be giddy when a walk about the garden revealed these beacons of spring heralding the new season?

Galanthus

Nodding Double Snowdrops

Helleborus 'Wester Flisk'

Helleborus ‘Wester Flisk’

Helleborus 'Jade Tiger'

Helleborus ‘Jade Tiger’

Almost Black Helleborus

Almost Black Helleborus

Hamamellis ‘Feuerzauber’

The Galanthus (Snowdrops) are not too big a surprise, but little Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ usually waits until late March to show off. Helleborus foetidus ‘Wester Flisk’ looks rather well this year, thanks to the mild winter.  Helleborus ‘Jade Tiger’  which we planted last year, proudly displays his first flower, but an older clump of an almost black Hellebore is not quite sure if it’s safe yet. For the past 3 weeks, the witchhazel Feuerzauber’ has been emitting the sweetest perfume. What little gems do you have in bloom in your garden right now?

Spanish Impressions

The courtyard at Casa del Herrero with various tilework and paving.

The Northeast has many wonderful gardens but the ones that stand out as must see destinations are not built with plants alone. These gardens display structural materials and contours which challenge our formed perspectives in unexpected ways.  It is easy to slip into the parochial mentality of using traditional materials in traditional ways.  The best remedy for this is traveling! Nothing inspires and excites like unfamiliar architecture and a different climate, which imprint their unique personality upon the landscape.  This winter we explored, once again, southern California. Three places stood out, not only for their plants collections and designs, but for their use of decorative stone, tile and brick.

Detail showing band of tiles.

In the community of Montecito, Santa Barbara County, we visited Casa del Herrero.  Situated on a 7 acre trapezoidal site, this Spanish Colonial Revival is center stage to the surrounding gardens. While it is impossible to separate the house from the landscape as a unified whole, there are still individual vignettes and motifs that can find translation in New England gardens.  During our mid winter tour, Kathy remarked that the grounds were wonderful, even without many blossoms. Molly Barker, the executive director replied, ?Our tiles are our flowers?.  Though our cold climate gardens may never have the exquisite tilings of Casa del Herrero, it would take only a few to add flavor and personality to any courtyard or entry garden.

Use of tile as risers in brick steps at Lotusland.

Inlaid pebbles adorn the surface of the platform for this garden orb.

Pebble Mosaic Paving at Lotusland

Ten minutes from Monticeto, is Santa Barbara, home to Lotusland, the estate and garden created by the late Polish opera singer, Madame Ganna Walska.  Married six times to a series of wealthy husbands, Madame obviously never thought enough is enough.  This is equally evident in the gardens, dramatic and lush, living stages set sooo over-the-top that you forget where the bottom is. This stunning, fantastical landscape is another world, which is saying something since, in Santa Barbara, over-the-top is ?whateva!?.  Handsome and playful tile work is seen throughout, but the decorative stonework, constructed of small rounded stones (beach pebbles) set in mortar is spectacular.  This stone integrates well with many other hard surface materials: brick, cement, natural stone, bluestone and schist.

The Blue Iguana that greets you at the Inn.

Patio Paving Combination at the Blue Iguana Inn in Ojai.

Another stop on our tour was the Town of Ojai, CA, which shares a personality similar to Taos, NM.  Each is ripe with creative energy that manifests in house, garden, public and private space, culture and lifestyle.  Throughout southern California, water availability is an ongoing concern and Ojai is no exception.  This is, no doubt, one of the reasons that tiles and decorative stone craft play such an important role in the landscape.  The aesthetic contribution is colorful and constant.  While in Ojai, we stayed at The Blue Iguana Inn.  Here they used beach pebbles in several ways: to create the motif of the reptile, to simulate the shadow of a tree in a sitting area, and as a face on stair risers. As New Englanders we never tire of looking at stone, but finding new ways to use it is essential to expand the New England landscape vernacular.

–Chris Tracey, Avant Gardens

Lotusland: Our midwinter visit

Lotusland. Just pics.Words can’t capture what can only be described as the ultimate fantasy garden in America. The images speak much more eloquently. A reminder of what midwinter is like in southern CA.

The dramatic weeping Euphorbia ingens off Mme. Walska’s residence

One of the Cactus Beds. Note the mountain backdrop, yet we’re within minutes of the Pacific.

The pond view in early February.

Orange Aloe arborescens with the arching flowering stems of Agave attenuata.

Imagine this space in early morning light. OMG!

Epiphyte Ensemble

Year round succulent planter

Barrel Cactus

Late afternoon sun back lighting Cacti.

Imagine the scent of the lemon blossoms

Lotusland is open by appointment only. Please contact the reservation office for dates and times available. A limited number of guests are allowed at one time.

Hedges: Lines first, Color later

Carpinus hedge in winter

Ho Ho Ho! January 2012 began with bright sunshine and 55 degrees here in Massachusetts. It was hard not to feel giddy. But as the old saying goes about weather in New England, “Wait a minute, things will change.” And so it will, with the arrival of an arctic blast predicted for this evening.

So, no, it’s not spring yet. Which is good. We need to indulge in the luxury of spending lazy Saturday mornings with coffee, catalogs, and laptops at hand to start planning for the garden year ahead. One goal we have is planting more hedges. This may sound dull, but every time we visit a garden with good walls or hedging it makes us realize their importance in defining the shape and personality of an outdoor space. Hedges bring a sense of order, whether they are neat and tidy (think Boxwood, Holly, Yew) or slightly more casual (a wall of Viburnum, Weigela and Spirea, or even Clumping Bamboo).  By defining the lines of garden space, we can allow distinct personalities of each outdoor room to develop, and these lines provide the structure that will then allow us to get a little out of control later.

Buxus ‘Green Mountain’

So many plants make good hedges.  First you need to decide whether you’re in the need for one that is evergreen or deciduous, and also the height/width you’d like to achieve and maintain. There are so many new cultivars of common hedging plants that don?t take on giant proportions. Consider Thuja ‘Holmstrup’, ‘Yellow Holmstrup’ or ‘Yellow Ribbon’, forms of Arborvitae that stay in the 8-10′ range in height and 3-4′ in width. Buxus ‘Green Mountain’ is a hardy box with an upright habit of 4-5?. The Japanese Hollies Ilex ‘Sky Pointer’ and ‘Sky Pencil’ have narrow shapes as well, and will not need big equipment to keep them in bounds. On the other side of the coin, very low hedges are useful for defining edges. Think dwarf Boxwood, Germander, or dwarf Yew.

Fargesia robusta hedge

Fargesia ‘Green Panda’ and ‘Green Screen’ are 2 forms of Evergreen Clumping Bamboo that grow quickly and provide a soothing back drop of foliage, and will not run amok in your beds. Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’, with it’s upright shape reaching between 6-9′ in height and only 2-3′ in width, has fine textured foliage that drops in the fall to reveal an equally attractive winter silhouette. Trees with fastigiate habits such as the tall 40? Columnar Beech, Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’  the 20′ Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Twombley Red’or the 8′ Carpinus betulus ‘Nana Columnaris’ create natural fencing with the interplay of their branches, plus their foliar presence changes with the seasons. If you really like to play with pruners, consider subjects that lend themselves to espalier, pollarding or coppicing.

Color inside the walls, outside the lines

Winter is a good time to study where you could use walls in your garden, whether it is to separate space, create vertical planes or enhance views by creating openings in walls that lead you to a horizon. Get out the graph paper and start planning. And remember, you have to have lines to color outside them.