I design containers using uncommon plants which will look great all season with a minimum of care. Here are the early summer images of containers for sun, shade, and of course succulents, our favorites! Check back for the September report to see how well they performed.
Those of us who live in colder climates may be thinking it’s time to rehab last year’s tender succulent containers. Over the winter, these planters have been trying to soak up as much sun as possible on windowsills and in sunrooms, but it’s a sure thing that by mid spring many of your plants have become unbecomingly leggy. You have two options: disassemble the planter, plant by plant, then cut back and replant in fresh soil, or if the planter is not overcrowded or out of proportion, you can see if just trimming back is the answer.
I’m encouraging you to be ruthless when you cut back. After cutting off their heads these plants won’t look happy immediately, but the alternative could become down right ugly. Any cuttings from pinching can be stuck in sand and rooted for more plants. You may find that some of the spreading succulents have exceeded their bounds and need to be lifted and divided . Use these little divisions to tuck in around the container where their are “plant gaps”. Fertilize your planter with a seaweed/fish emulsion. It will take a number of weeks and some warm sunny weather for your planters to start to perk up.
Vertical Succulent Gardens are often in need of cutting back and editing. We usually leave our vertical planters horizontal on benches during the winter, to minimize stretching. Still some plants such as the rosettes of Sempervivum or Echeveria may have become overwhelmed by creeping Sedum and Delosperma, and need to be replaced. We take fresh cuttings and secure them in place with floral pins. Fertilize with seaweed/fish emulsion , keeping the wall planter flat while the new cuttings root in, and move outside as soon as nights stay in the 50’s or above. In a few weeks, growth will begin to fill in the empty spaces, and then you can hang.
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My summer came and went with little time off for recreation and leisure. When an opportunity for a seaside escape to hang with my son Phil at his beach pad in San Diego arose, I said “Yes, Sir”! As you may have heard, San Diego weather is pretty easy to take.
Yes, New England fall color is hard to beat, but I was perfectly happy taking in the autumnal color of sunny southern CA.
Stops at local craft breweries… San Diego has the most!…quenched my thirst, and the farmer?s markets nourished my appetite.
Of course I always have plants on my mind, and with some online research plus great recommendations from noted succulent author Debra Baldwin, I went off seeking new varieties and inspiration.One of the most charming little places I found was Peter Loyola’s Succulent Cafe in Oceanside. Yes…right up my alley… excellent coffee and special succulents for show and sale. His creations are some of the best I’ve seen.
I visited several great nurseries…Desert Theater, Waterwise Botanicals, Oasis Plants, Kartuz Greenhouse...but I was surprised that we possessed many plants in our collection here at Avant Gardens already . One group, the Agaves, beckoned to me though. Agave are used extensively in San Diego landscapes and their size and vigor compared to how we grow them in MA was humbling. Yes, I bought a second piece of luggage to haul back two special specimens: Agave ‘Blue Glow’and Agave ‘Cream Spike’. I wish I had brought home the beautiful blue cactus Pilocereus pachycladys, but the only ones I could find were a bit too big for my suitcase.
It was the end of a long dry summer so it wasn’t the best time to photograph gardens in the San Diego area. Where irrigation is used plants obviously looked fresher. Most people are practicing water conservation. Succulents and planters composed of succulents held up best after such dry weather and obviously are the way to go. Foxtail Asparagus Fern was a fun addition to succulent combos which I’d like to try.
On my last morning I had a little time to kill before my flight back to MA, so I visited this vertical garden installed by Jim Mumford of Good Earth Plants. I had attended a talk he gave at Waterwise Botanicals on Saturday, and he was straight with his info. His company’s work is mostly large scale. Yes there is an irrigation system in each piece with a low fertilizer feed; yes he uses a soilless media called a Brownie; yes there is regular maintenance involved. His installations are both indoors and out, and the plant choices vary from succulents to perennials to tropicals. Jim had encouraged a visit to his Kearny Mesa Location, but my time was up.
Goodbye Summerland. San Diego, I’ll be back!
New England’s weather challenges even the most experienced gardener. The summer of 2013 certainly gave this gardener a dose of humble pie. Spring arrived late but was quite lovely for several weeks. June was cool and adequately moist (some folks in western New England were deluged with rain, but we were happy here with what we received. July was tropical. Hot, humid, humid, did I say humid? And there are plants that loved the tropical weather: Colocasia, Coleus Papyrus, Canna. Unfortunatley I hadn’t planned on hot humid weather, so I didn’t plant many of them this year. No this year I couldn’t plant enough succulents; in the ground, in containers, in vertical gardens. It could have been a better summer for growing them, but they managed to carry on sullenly and perked up when August proved to be cool and dry. And now we are here, at the end of the season, to judge which of the containers held up the best over the 3 month period. (See the June article: The Before Pictures for evidence of how containers transformed.)
Coleus ‘Odalisque’ dominated this planter, Begonia thurstonii has held its own, but can’t say the same for the Begonia ‘Elegance’ (there is a glimpse of what’s left of it). Our Begonia boliviensis hybrids and and most of our Fuchsia really pooped out early this year.
This partial shade planter wasn’t shown in the June post, but it has been quite lovely all summer. Plectranthus ‘Velvet Elvis’ is really starting to bloom now. Why don’t people grow more of the interesting trailing ivies?
Once the Eucomis bloomed, that was that, and then the Lantana montevidensis with its profusion of lavender flowers on wiry stems took over. Oxalis triangularis never disappoints, and Tradescantia ‘Blue Sue‘ filled in nicely.
We have planted this classic stone bowl with succulents for the past few years, but this year’s growth was the least impressive. Not bad, but look what it did last year.
Only the Senecio cylindricus put on growth. I think all the other succulents just sat there. At least they didn’t melt.
This bowl was planted around the 4th of July, with a mix of hardy and tender plants. The Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’ is beginning to bloom with it’s bright orange buttons. I like the hardy Sedum ‘Turkish Delight’ but next time would leave out the Sedum ‘Xenox’.
We moved our famous River Pot to a more prominent spot. What wouldn’t look great in this pot?
The vertical garden is still looking sweet. The Crassula schmidtii has been in bloom for weeks, and the Echeveria ‘Atlantis’ continues to want to send up flowers. I made several versions of these vertical gardens, experimenting with just hardy plants and mixing lots of different tender succulents. Some succulents grew well despite the weather, others were more temperamental.
What was your summer weather like and how did your containers fare this year?
After the lazy days of August, September can seem like the busiest month of the year. So many neglected chores, both inside and out, await attention. For a lot of us, the summer containers gracing our entryways need a makeover. You can buy a pot of mums or……
You can plant succulents.
Followers of this blog must know by now that I am a big succulent fan, and even after a wet and extremely humid spell, I can still say the succulents planters we did up earlier not only still look sweet, they are going to get better as the night temperatures become chilly. Cool night temperature bring out deep and rosy tones in the blue, olive and bronze foliage colors of the many non hardy succulents. Many tender forms such as Echeveria ‘Black Prince‘ and Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’, begin to bloom as do many hardy species of Sedum such as S cauticola ‘Lidakense’ , ‘Turkish Delight’ and‘Dazzleberry’.
Succulents are mix and match plants. Of course, they all like the same sandy, well drained soil mix, and the colors all work well together. I’d like to add that the most interesting combinations include plants which have light, medium and dark tones. In this pair of planters, I’ve used Euphorbia tirucalli var rosea, commonly called ‘Sticks on Fire’ (guess how it got its common name) for height, the blue gray rosettes of Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’, a coppery orange tinted Sedum nussbaumeranum, the soft yellow Sedum makinoi ‘Ogon’ and an olive tinted Sedum tetractinum to spill over the sides. Tucked in for added dark tones is Sedeveria ‘Jetbeads’.
1.When you group succulents together you can pack them in quite close together. They do not need a lot of nourishment nor water, and they don’t grow very fast.
2.The selections that are not hardy in your area will need protection when temperatures dip below freezing, and here we sometimes get a really cold night in late October, followed by a spell of Indian summer. Either move the pot inside if a frost is in the forecast, or cover with a large tarp or blanket.
3. Once it becomes apparent that temperatures will be below freezing at night on a regular basis, bring your container into a frost free area that gets bright sunlight. If your container is too big to bring indoors, dig out the specimen plants you would like to keep and pot them up in a sandy quick draining soil mix. I plan to do a blog post about what to do about wintering over succulents in a month or so.
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Each year in recent history, I have been documenting with images some of the containers I plant up here at Avant Gardens. I like to take images within a few weeks of planting, and then again in September. The September shots will show which containers still look incredible. Plant selections with minimal care requirements are used in each of these groupings. Below, you will find combinations for shade, part shade and sun.
For shade/pt. shade:
Begonia ‘MK Elegance’ with Hedera ‘Little Diamond’
for part shade/sun:
Fan favorite: Classic Bowl with Mixed Succulents
Senecio cylindricus dominates this large basalt bowl (22″)
My favorite pot with Aeonium, Euphorbia and Echeveria
The vertical garden was planted in late March, and now little Delosperma ‘Firespinner’ is beginning to flower
You can mix succulents with other plants which don’t mind dry conditions (like the combination above). Even though we have had an unusually large amount of rainfall lately in the northeast , all of our succulents and begonias are still thriving because we use a sandy well drained soil mix. If you use a regular or rich potting soil, you chance disappointment from plants rotting away.
Check back in September, when I post the “after” shots!
Over the past few years there has been a lot of buzz about vertical gardens. Patrick Blanc, the French botanist, has created some amazing spaces on a large scale, using a wide variety of plants to transform whole buildings. Of course there is more to his vertical gardens than meets the eye. His crews construct huge freestanding armatures with built in irrigation systems, which is a necessity for the types of plants he uses. A big concern for me concerning his designs is plant hardiness. This is not a problem with his indoor or tropical climate gardens, but how does one sustain these plantings in northern climates without huge plant losses?
We considered how we could turn this concept of using vertical space into something more practical that most gardeners could implement on their own. What type of plantings would not need an irrigation system built in? Chris and I decided we could create sustainable vertical gardens using rot resistant wood for the boxes and plant them with drought tolerant succulents which will survive quite well without lots of water. They hold up well the entire growing season on a sun filled south facing wall, and could be taken down for the winter. The boxes could either be brought indoors if they were planted with tender succulents, or if planted with hardy succulents, laid on the ground, covered with a winter mulch. Here?s a quick how to:
Rot resistant wood such as cedar or mahogany.We used 1 x 4’s for the box and frame, and 1 x 8’s for the backing.
Wire mesh with 1-2″ openings
Well drained succulent potting soil and assorted low growing succulents
Decide what your dimensions will be and build your box. Fill with a well-drained succulent potting soil.
Lay a wire grid over the soil. This will help secure plants in place while they root in.
I always start by first placing the showiest plants. You may need to cut wider openings in the wire mesh to allow for bigger roots.
I then fill in around my focal point plants with other low growing succulents. Be careful not to select plants that tend to grow tall.
Your best choices are plants which are going to stay under 4″, especially ones that stay under 2″.
After the planting is done, you can attach the frame.
Plants will establish good root systems in 6-8 weeks, or even more quickly in warm weather. Some plants may overtake their neighbors, so a little trimming back could be necessary. You may also want to tuck in a cutting here and there to refine your “painting” as it grows out.
Watering can be done by spraying the plants with a hose early in the day (be careful not to water when the sun is strong or you will get water scars on the foliage). Or, remove the box from its mount, lie flat and give a good soak. Succulents are not plants that need a lot of fertilization, but if you think it’s necessary you can use a diluted fish emulsion to give them an occasional boost.
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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.
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.
Anyone know the name of this orchid?
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.
Our office needed a replacement plant for the window sill, so I brought in this Beschnorneria. Bechnorneria 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.
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.
Here is a little plant that is versatile, super hardy and foolproof (as long as you grow it in sun and well drained soil). It hasn’t been in the US very long, but already has acquired the common names of “Chinese Stonecrop”, as it hails from Asia, and “Coral Reef” , (still not sure what the Coral Reef reference is). Sedum tetractinum grows only 1-2″ tall, and spreads modestly, rooting into the soil as it creeps along. It is especially dramatic spilling over edges: retaining walls, pottery, troughs, you name it.
Sedum tetractinum is also lovely enough to use in mixed succulent planters. Its rounded olive green leaves turn a lovely copper bronze shade in the autumn, and this color change contrasts well with other shades of succulent foliage. In the planter you see here it is paired with tender Sedum adophii and Euphorbia tirucalli, but it could easily accent hardy Sedum ‘Angelina‘ and Sempervivum. Pale yellow flowers appear in summer, but the blossoms are not the highlight. “Chinese Stonecrop” takes temperatures as cold as minus 30F (zones 4-9).
Before frosts and falling leaves tarnish my memory, I need to do this post. Here are a few plants that were just AWESOME this season, despite extremely variable weather. (here in MA: Frost free March, 80 degree April days followed by 25 degree nights, very dry spring, hot dry July, cooler wetter August, near perfect September, and thus far, a cooler gray October).
Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ is a new annual Globe Amaranth that dramatically surpasses your expectations: it is tough, extremely floriferous, hardly needs deadheading, and is still in full glorious bloom in October from a 4th of July planting. You can learn to love cerise.
Cissus discolor commonly known as Begonia Vine, is an old fashioned conservatory plant that is quite happy to be growing and performing outside of a glass house during frost free weather. It is a vine, so it needs either a tripod or obelisk to climb, or perhaps a big moss basket to cascade from, but however you display it, there will be oohs and ahs from those who walk by. Cissus discolor loves the shade, but can take 1/2 day sun as well.
Meet Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Little Henry’. We’re big fans of end of the summer blooming perennials, and have grown this “little” guy’s big brother ‘Henry Eilers’ for some time. ‘Little Henry’ is not that little…he’s 3-4′ tall, but compared to the 5-6′ his big brother gets, he fits in to more intimate garden settings, (or at least doesn’t spill over as much). ‘Little Henry’ began blooming in late July and even now in October he is still making us smile.
Caryopteris clandonensis ‘White Surprise’ is the perfect small shrub for a sunny well drained spot. The foliage, a lovely aromatic forest green edged in creamy white, is attractive all summer, and in August, when you feel like your garden is starting to lose that “je ne sais quoi “, ‘White Surprise’ surprises you with cerulean blue flowers appearing in whorls along the branches.
Cercis canadensis ‘The Rising Sun‘ has superb heart shaped foliage. The newest leaves emerge a warm coppery amber, brighten to yellow and then age to yellow green. Yes it is a Redbud Tree, and it will get pretty pink blossoms before the foliage breaks in spring, but they seem to pass all too quickly. Why we’re smitten with Rising sun is that it continues all season with this fabulous foliar display. Fall color is a more coppery orange. It is not as weak wooded as other Cercis, and has a small rounded habit, more shrublike than tree, growing 9-12′ tall and 8′ wide. It lends itself to coppicing (above the graft!).
Despite humid conditions in August, when even some of our hardy Sedum flopped and melted in the garden, the container displays of “tropical” succulents just kept getting better and better. The closeup image was taken on Oct .12th when the Euphorbia tirucalli rosea was just beginning to take on fiery tones.
What plants were outstanding in your garden this season? I’d love to hear.