Category Archives: Featured

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?

Forgiving “House Plants”

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Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern is a current fav!

So what makes a plant a good “house plant?” My criteria is: 1. The plant does not go dormant (or semi dormant) in winter, so it provides foliage year round. 2. It can survive indoors with winter’s lower light levels. 3. It can tolerate the arid conditions our heated homes provide, and 4. It should be fun to look at.

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Baby Spider Bonnie

One of the easiest,  and most forgiving (if you forget to water), is the Baby Spider Plant, Chlorophytum ‘Bonnie’. This form has smaller spiders with tightly curled variegated foliage. ‘Bonnie’ freely produces arching manilla colored stems with many offsets.

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Humidity loving variegated Boston Fern with the ‘Neon’ Devil’s Ivy.

At a connoisseur plant auction last winter, I bid on and won a beautiful variegated Boston Fern,  Nephrolepsis exaltata ‘Tiger’. AlasI quickly learned that this beauty disliked our home’s dry heat as well as my neglectfulness about watering…After watching it go downhill, it was banished to the greenhouse for recovery. It didn’t regain its original lushness until summer finally settled in.

But there are other choice ferns available which are not so persnickety indoors,  for example the  Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern, Phlebodium pseudoaureum (formerly Polypodium areolatum), pictured above.  Phlebodium pseudoaureum has an almost prehistoric thing happening, with it’s wide lobed blue foliage. It spreads by stolons led by fuzzy amber brown “rabbit’s feet”. Grows 12-20″ tall, and is hardy in zones 8b-11.

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Cwebe Asparagus Fern

Not a fern, really, despite its common name, Asparagus Fern  is a member of the lily family. Still, you can say this group of plants offers fernlike foliage, and there are few plants which can match their sturdiness. Asparagus densiflorus ‘Cwebe’ is a form that is vigorous and boasts tawny amber new growth, a perfect color for autumn. The arching stems spill 18″ or so, and plants will expand with age.

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Ming Fern

Ming Fern,  Asparagus macowanii, has a delicate Bamboo like presence. Starburst clusters of medium green fine foliage are borne on sturdy wiry stems.  Ming Fern can get tall if  you have a plant for some time, but it can easily be kept in a smaller pot where you can clip off any far reaching stems if they are not wanted.

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Plumosa Asparagus Fern

And there’s yet another Aspargus fern that is tres forgiving …Asparagus setaceus plumosa. Such  a valiant and durable little fern, it has become a mainstay in the cut floral trade…which means you can have a lovely cut green to add to your arrangements. This fern can get quite tall in its native habitat, but for those of us growing indoors in smaller pots, it usually grows 18-24″.

More plants which are good candidates indoors: Snake Plants, (Sansevieria) the Ivies,  (Hedera) and the aroid trailer Devil’s Ivy, (Epipremnum). These are all attractive, tolerate the low light requirement and are forgiving if you forget to water.

Which indoor plants would you recommend for good looks and ease of care?

 

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?

The Blue Garden

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Newport RI.  The middle of a cloudless summer day is usually not the best time for landscape photography….but a garden so elegantly composed with formal beds, pottery, pergolas, and pools, mirroring the sky above and lined with exquisite blue/green tiles, is a photo op waiting to happen. And here I was, courtesy of Candace Morgenstern and the Tiverton Garden Club, delighted with the opportunity to walk the grounds of The Blue Garden, a private property not open to the general public.

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Originally created in the years1911-1913, the legendary Blue Garden was designed by The Olmstead Brothers firm for  Arthur Curtiss and Harriet Parsons James. The James’ left no heirs, and the property, willed to the Catholic Diocese of Providence, fell into disrepair over the years. In the 1970’s the large property was subdivided into several large lots.

In 2012, the property where the Blue Garden once thrived was purchased by philanthropist Dorrance Hamilton. She commissioned the landscape architectural firm of Reed Hilderbrand to undertake restoration plans based on the Olmstead original drawings.

Many firms and individuals were involved with the success of this project, including Landscape Historian Arleyn Levee, and Sarah Vance, who is now the property director.  Much more information is available on The Blue Garden website.

All images taken by Katherine Tracey

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Summer Meadow Rues

As the 4th of July rolls around, the early June show of Baptisia, Peonies, Iris and Cranesbill is fading, and its time to focus on high summer performers. I could not be without the dreamy clouds of  the summer blooming Meadow Rues, or botanically speaking Thalictrum, with their sprays of dainty small blossoms on tall stems, creating a seductive haze above the knee high plants in the garden.

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Thalictrum ‘Splendide’

First there is ‘Splendide’, the first of the French breeder Thierry Delabroye’s introductions with its slightly larger soft lavender flowers. ‘Splendide’ is statuesque…it can reach 7′ in a rich soil, and may need staking when the branched stems are heavy with buds.

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Thalictrum ‘Splendide ‘White’

Thalictrum ‘Splendide Whiteis perhaps my favorite. Another selection from Thierry Delabroye, this white selection takes the place of Baby’s Breath in the border with its 3′ to 4 .5′ stems above delicate Columbine like foliage. Sprays of pearly buds  burst into 1/2″ 5 petaled blossoms with greenish white stamens. Blossoms continue for weeks, and make exquisite cut flowers.

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Thalcitrum delavayi ”Hewitt’s Double’

And then there is this older form of the species, T. delavayi,  ‘Hewitt’s Double’, which bears its inflorescence on 3-4′ stems above dainty Maidenhair fern like foliage. It has shown a preference for excellent soil drainage in winter, but enjoys an evenly moist soil during the summer months.

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Thalictrum rochebrunanium

Last but not least, is the most familiar form Thalictrum rochebrunanum ‘Lavender Mist’ which can easily grow 4-6′ tall in a rich somewhat moist soil.  Sprays of lavender buds open to show 4-5 petaled blossoms with prominent yellow stamens in July and August.  T. rochebrunianum can self sow where it is content.

Thalictrum are members of the Ranunculus family which includes, Anemones and Buttercups. They enjoy average to rich soil with ample moisture during the growing season and full or half day sun. T. delavayi is hardy in zones 5-8, and the rest are more cold tolerant and are hardy in zones 4-8.  And oh, yes, they are not favored by deer or bunnies.

Buy online

 

Containers 2016, the Before Shots

iron_urn_detail-1I always think I’ll get my containers planted by Memorial Day, but that doesn’t happen often, so I shoot for the Fourth of July. My goal each season is to come up with fresh combinations that are easy care and will still be looking sweet in September.  Of course, I use a lot of succulents because they always deliver. Here are the end of June images. Check back for the end of September shots.

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Grasses gone wild pot…Stipa tenuissima, Carex flagellifera , Chocolate Cosmos, Heuchera ‘Champagne’, Oregano ‘Kent Beauty’ and Sedum ‘Angelina’

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Iron urns…succulent mix of Beschorneria, Aeonium, Sedum mackinoi ‘Ogon’, Crassula and String of Pearls Senecio

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Succulents in Embossed Terra Cotta: Crassula argentea variegata, Sedum adolphi, Graptosedum ‘Alpenglow’ and Senecio ‘MIni Blue’ with sedum mackinoi ‘Ogon’

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Hypertufa Low Planter with Succulents: Echeveria imbricata and ‘Black Prince’, Senecio lineare, Sedum mackinoi, and x Sedeveria ‘Hummelli’

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Under the Sign Pot (a hot neglected area): Succulent mix…Aeonium ‘Kiwi’, Sticks on Fire Euphorbia, Senecio cylindricus, Aeonium ‘Zwartkopf’ and ‘Lilypad’, String of Bananas Senecio and Sedum mackinoi ‘Ogon’

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Drum pot with Phormium ‘Evening Glow’and assorted succulents

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Succulent Detail: Echeveria ‘Swirl’ with Aeonium , x Graptoveria ‘Debby , Graptopetalum hybrid and Blue Leaved String of Bananas

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Tall Pot with Melianthus major, Kalanchoe behartii, Senecio cylindricus, Echeveria hybrid, Aeonium urbicum and Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’

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Out of the way pot  (always forget to water!): Sansevieria, Aeoniums ‘Kiwi’ and ‘Tip Top’ with Tradescantia ‘Pale Puma’

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35″ Zen Bowl with Succulents (as always.)..but with a new mix.

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For hummers and part shade: Abutilon ‘Kentish Bell’, Fuchsia ‘Debron ‘Black Cherry’, Phygelius ‘Sunshine’, Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’, Heuchera ‘Steel City’ and Hedera ‘Amber Waves’

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Also for pt. shade: a new white Begonia boliviensis from seed, plus Eyelash Begonia and Asparagus Fern (Plumosa)

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For a Shady spot (gets a little early morning sun) Asparagus densiflorus myersii and densiflorus ‘Cwebe’ with a short Silver Sansevieria, Begonia ‘Concorde’ and trailing purple Alternanthera….

Asparagus Ferns to Know and Grow

Perhaps your grandmother had a big hanging basket of Asparagus Fern on her shady porch…you probably didn’t think much about it, but there it lived, thriving with little care, living in the same pot for what seemed to be years on end. Yes-sir-ree…a testimony to a plant which could thrive on neglect.

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Just planted….Asparagus setaceus plumosa, with 2 begonias in an 8″ square pot.

Despite their fernlike ambience, this group of foliage plants are not ferns at all, but members of the Lily family (Liliaceae). An inspection of the root system reveals a mass of bulb-like tubers, (think lily bulbs). Being pot bound doesn’t discourage their vigor and although they like bright light, Asparagus Ferns can exist satisfactorily with quite a bit of shade. They do not need a constant supply of moisture, and prefer a soil that is sharp draining. Take note: Asparagus Ferns make great companions to Begonia  which like similar conditions… bright light to shade, and a soil that doesn’t stay wet.

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Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’ (L) and densiflorus ‘Myersi’ (R)

The most familiar species is A. densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’, known for it’s arching stems of apple green narrow leaves. (For those who need to be on top of all things botanical…the genus is now Protasparagus, but that may be too much information for some. ) The next most commonly encountered form is the Foxtail Asparagus, A. densiflorus ‘Myersi’, with its  gorgeous chunky plumes.

Now, let me introduce you to  a few siblings, which offer variety but require the same easy care, and of course are suitable as cut greenery for arrangements.

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Clockwise from upper left: A. densiflorus ‘Cwebe’, A. setaceus plumosa, A. setaceus pyramidalis, and A. macowanii

Asperagus densiflorus ‘Cwebe’ is not dissimilar to Grandma’s form, but ‘Cwebe’ tends to be more upright, growing, to 18-20″ tall, and has an interesting bronze tint to the new growth. Asparagus setaceus plumosa is  very lacy,  and is familiar to those who purchase cut greens for arranging.  Asparagus setaceus pyramidalis also has lacy, fine textured foliage with an upright thrust. Perhaps the sweetest of all is Asparagus macowanii, commonly called Ming Fern, with very delicate forest green foliage. As a young plant A. macowanii  is quite small in stature, but if grown in a conservatory or outdoors where it is hardy, it can reach a height of 5’ at maturity.

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?