Category Archives: Featured

Winter Escape

euphorbi tirucallii

Euphorbia tirucalli

On our annual winter visit to CA to visit our eldest son, we always make time to check out nurseries and gardens in the San Diego area. Above,  a large specimen of Sticks on Fire caught the light at Waterwise Botanicals in Escondido.


Succulent Minstrel

The San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas always has fun with succulents.  This topiary minstrel had company; there were at least a half dozen life sized figures adorned with succulents nearby.


Arrangement at DIG in Santa Cruz

We headed north for a 2nd week, spending time around San Francisco and points south towards Santa Cruz. Saw some arresting succulents at the lovely home and garden shop, DIG, in Santa Cruz.


Salvia africana-lutea form

Check out this uniquely colored form of the winter blooming Salvia africana -lutea...(my guess, there was no tag nearby).

euphorbia rigida

Euphorbia rigida

Euphorbia love the San Francisco climate. They also play nicely with all the Aloes now in bloom.

Aloe at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

Aloe at the Ruth Bancroft Garden


Echium fastuosum

Coming into flower is this amazing bee magnet: Pride of Madeira.


Eucalyptus caesia

A pink flowered form of Eucalyptus caesia.


Magnolia campbellii detail


Magnolia campbellii backlit

The Magnolia  were  beginning to bloom at the Strybing Arboretum/ San Francisco Botanic Garden. Love M. campbellii, which is hardy in zones 7-10.

Magnolia _denudata

Magnolia denudata

This lovely Magnolia  at the Strybing is listed  hardy in zones 5-8, but it is NOT always reliably bud hardy here… blooms too early for us.


Bergenia sp. at the San Francisco Botanic Garden

We’re so happy that we can grow Bergenia…a great evergreen perennial that blooms in late winter and early spring.


Begonia fuschioides

The glasshouses at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers were filled with treasures. We later found (and brought home) this dainty Begonia at a local nursery.


Bulbophyllum ‘Louis Sanders’

From dainty to over the top drama, flora never cease to amaze…discovering this orchid was one of the highlights of  our trip.

What  favorite gardens, arboreta and nurseries do you visit when you”re on the west coast?


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?

Forgiving “House Plants”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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’.


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.


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


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….


Cylinder Pot 6.29.16 and 9.29.16


Iron urn 6.29.16 and 9.29.16


Green Drum Pot 6.29.16 and 9.29.16


Sign Pot 6.29.16 and 9.29.16


Grecian Urn 6.29.16 and 9.29.16


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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…


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.


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


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


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


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


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


Succulents by the road fended for themselves admirably


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


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?


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


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)


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


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.


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


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.

thalictrum_splendide2 (1 of 1)

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.


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.

thadelhd (1 of 1)

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.


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.

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