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To Grow and Celebrate

“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day. It’s a new life…” Nina Simone

I suppose it would be more conventional to write chapters 1-25 first, if I were to write a chapter per year of how horticulture has informed my life. With a nod to how we all began,  I’d like to let you know what we’re planning for 2014.

Chapter 1: Chris and I began Avant Gardens when we were asked to install a cut flower and herb garden for a local bistro. That was more than 25 years ago.

Chapter 26: (the first paragraphs…)

Grow. Isn’t that an optimistic word? What other word or phrase has the same meaning?  Move forward, awaken, gain awareness, obtain height, expand.  Grow? a simple powerful four letter word,  and it perfectly sums up what Chris and I chose to do with our lives after we were hired by that bistro owner mentioned in Chapter 1.

We can’t help but grow at Avant Gardens in 2014. It’s a given…we will have many new plant offerings to tempt you.  As always, there is an emphasis on uncommon selections which will look good for a long time in your garden. Besides plants, we are growing new ideas and new ways of sharing them. We are in the process of redoing and are just weeks away from debuting our new website. Not only will our online plant catalog have a beautiful new look with very useful search features; our new website will begin to showcase the evocative garden landscapes and stonework which Chris Tracey has designed and installed in recent years.  We also want to share some beautiful images of our own innovative, ever changing planting schemes and stone features here at Avant Gardens.

I have been feeling a growth spurt of my own. Many of you know me as the head honcho at the nursery and the main voice behind this blog. Recently, I have become more involved with the garden design services of Avant Gardens. After taking on a few sweet projects this past year, I realized that as much as I have invested my heart and soul in operating a nursery, I really miss designing and planting new gardens. There has been one obstacle: I need time. In order to free up more time for client meetings and executing drawings, we are going to have a more limited visiting hours schedule.  We will keep hours much the way other mail order nurseries function: Open House Weekends through out the season, and always, be open by appointment. As in the past, we encourage our local customers to place will call orders with their preferred pickup date if they would like us to reserve special plants for them.

There are more growth spurts calling me (which may provide some lively blog discussions). I’m considering keeping bees, I really want to have a more ambitious vegetable garden, I’m hoping to make time to practice my  painting skills and pay homage to what’s in season by creating “out of the garden” botanical arrangements. All too often I have been a gardener who can get  so bogged down with the chores that I am not enjoying the wonder that surrounds me. The growth spurts which are calling me are actually ways I will address this. Each is an expression of garden celebration. My new year’s resolution is to make a regular practice of celebrating our garden…winter, spring, summer and fall.

Now tell me,  how do you plan to grow and celebrate in 2014?

Winter Wreath Making Tips

Hinoki Cypress Wreath with Elkhorn Cedar. Love the little cones on the Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) and the undersides of Elkhorn Cedar  (Thujopsis dolobrata) are fabulous!

Mixed Greens Wreath. Dwarf Blue Spruce (Picea glauca ‘Montgomery’), Littleleaf Boxwood (Buxus sinica ‘Justin Brouwer’), plus several cultivars of Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa cvs. ‘Confucious’, ‘Crippsi’, and ‘Jade’)

Mixed Greens Wreath with Golden Berried Blue Holly (Ilex meserve ‘Golden Girl’), Littleleaf Boxwood (Buxus sinica ‘Justin Brouwer’), Various Hinoki Cypress

Littleleaf Boxwood  (Buxus sinica ‘Justin Brouwer’) with Blue Holly (Ilex meserve ‘Blue Princess’ ) plus wreath making supplies

After 25 years of planting unusual evergreens on our property, I feel our plants now have enough growth to afford plenty of interesting options for creating winter wreaths. This year’s crop provided me with lots of interesting material, and while I was taking cuttings I was also pruning at the same time.

I’d rather not make the same composition twice, so each wreath has a character of its own. I’ve used various wreath making forms in the past, but this year I went back to using wire forms which I covered with moistened long fiber sphagnum moss secured with a 22 gauge florist wire.

Here are a few tips:

  • You will need a lot of material for even a small form, especially if you want big fat full wreaths. The amount shown in the metal tub was just about enough to create a 16″ wreath.
  • If  your base is 12″ wide, expect the finish sized to be about 18″ or more in diameter, depending how far out your branches extend.
  • Broadleaf greens such as Boxwood, Holly and Rhododendron desiccate  quickly, especially if they are placed in a warm space or in a sunny spot. Using a base that has moistened sphagnum and tucking in the branch tips of the bunches helps keep them hydrated. Mist or soak your boxwood or holly wreath often. Also, applying an anti desiccant helps prevent the leaves from drying out.
  • Holly berries are often growing along the inner lower branches. Try to position the cuttings so you can see the berries, then trim back as necessary.
  • Repetition of your assorted bundles helps you create a balanced circle.
  • After you create your wreath, hang it and step back to see where it may need editing. You can always trim back or tuck in more cuttings.
  • Weather resistant ribbons add a touch of color to simple wreaths made from one or 2 plants, such as boxwood or holly. I prefer not to use ribbon when I have a lot of interesting leaves and cones to admire.

Succulent Wreath How-to

Our Succulent Wreath Workshops on Saturday June 16th were a great success. I promise we’ll do another one before the summer is over, but we need to get more growth on all of our stock plants because of the tremendous number of cuttings needed. In the meantime, for all those who asked, here’s a quick “how to” in case you have a supply of cuttings on hand from your own garden and containers.

First, gather lots of cuttings. Select a variety of sizes and shapes: rosettes from Sempervivum and Echeveria, filler plants such as cuttings from low growing hardy and tender Sedum. Remember that these plants will take root and begin to grow in the sphagnum wreath form, so you don’t want to select from plants that want to reach tall proportions. It seems all succulents mix and match well, but try to select light medium and dark tones so your wreath has dimension and contrast.

Begin by soaking a sphagnum moss wreath (we used a 9″ premade form) in water. Start by using the larger rosette forms if you have them, distributing them equally around the wreath. Use a pencil, bamboo skewer or other pointed utensil to poke a hole for the succulent stems. Remove any lower leaves off the stems if necessary to position your rosette in the hole. Use topiary pins to help secure your cutting in place, but try to make the pins discreet.

Continue adding material…filler plants like creeping Sedum album, sichotense and pachyphllum in between the larger rosettes. The creepers will take root faster and cover the moss quickly.

Be sure to tuck creepers on the inner and outer sides of the formso that they take root and hide the moss.

Continue to use up your cuttings. It’s really hard to screw up here. If you still see moss when you run out of cuttings, don’t worry, these babies will take root and spread. If the cuttings spread more than you like, snip them back (which you will have to do eventually).

Carefully move your wreath into a sunny warm spot where it can remain undisturbed until the cuttings root.  When the sphagnum form feels dry, you can soak the form in a basin or spray with water (in the morning or at the end of the day, so water spots don’t sunburn the leaves) . It will take approximately 4-6 weeks for the cuttings to root in. Do not over water. Wait until the cuttings are rooted before you fertilize. Do not over fertilize. We recommend using a Seaweed/Fish Emulsion. If you hang your wreath, you will want to rotate it occasionally so that the plantlets don’t all start reaching for the sky. You can also periodically lie the wreath flat in a sunny location to prevent “stretching” from occurring.  Enjoy!

Kits Available for Purchase

Boltonia asteroides ‘Nally’s Lime Dot’

No, he’s not the star of the September Garden, but Boltonia ‘Nally’s Lime Dot’ should be a nominee for best supporting actor in the mixed border. He’s a curiosity, for sure, with his loose sprays of 1/4″ green disk flowers, but one can’t help but notice how his little green buttons enhance the other plants around him, whether in the garden or in a vase.

Boltonia asteroides ‘Nally’s Lime Dot’ is in the Aster family (Asteracea) and was selected by a Mr. Nally, thus the name, who noticed how all the flowers presented were minus the typical white ray petals. ‘Nally’s Lime Dot’ has a tendency to get too tall (5-6′) and flop over with the weight of  his blossoms, unless he is cut back in mid summer. (We usually do this by mid July, and then plants grow to a sturdier 4-5′.) He looks quite appealing in the garden paired with Smooth Aster (Symphyotrichon laevis ‘Bluebird’) or in a vase with a bouquet of Dahlia.  ‘Nally’s Lime Dot’ grows well in full sun or perhaps a little shade, and will readily form easily divided clumps. The hardiness range is zone 5 -8 (possibly zone 4 we’ve heard, but can anyone confirm that?).

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Boltonia 'Nally's Lime Dot with Dahlia 'Corona'