Tag Archives: winter interest

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.

Giving Thanks

As much as gardeners quickly express frustration about weather, insect pests, or deer browsing, we really are a thankful lot. We are thankful more often than we acknowledge :  for sunshine, rain, snow cover, good bugs, birds, rich earth….Most importantly,  I think we are grateful for the plants which grace our gardens.

After yesterday’s much needed torrential rainfall (thankful!), this morning’s view from my window is tranquil except for the activity at the bird feeders. I’m viewing a corner of our garden which is designed with plants that provide winter interest: Hinoki Cypress Chamaecyparis obtusa, Japanese Forest Grass Hakonechloa macra, Little Bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Blue Heaven’, Hellebores Helleborus ‘Golden Lotus’, a beloved Japanese Maple Acer palmatum ‘Katsura‘, a Wheel Tree Trochodendron aralioides (recently planted, fingers crossed…putting it through the hardiness test) plus the showiest plant right now, Winterberry, Ilex verticillata ‘Berry Heavy’ which like all of the hollies this year, is heavy with fruit.

Soon the birds will pick off the winterberry fruit, and this picture will change as it will again and again throughout the year. I am reluctant to see blossoms fade and watch leaves fall, but then I realize I am truly grateful that this picture from my window is always changing. A new day, a new season awaits which will provide new gifts to be thankful for.

 Happy Thanksgiving!

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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Helleborus niger ‘HGC Jacob’

You may be curious about Helleborus niger. It is the botanical name for the legendary Christmas Rose, but its Latin name translates to “Black Hellebore”.  A little confusing to us in modern times, since we see white flowers. During the Middle Ages it was commonly called Black Hellebore (a name also applied to other European Helleborus species) to distinguish it from White Hellebore (Veratrum), both of which had medicinal, if not toxic, properties.

The other common name comes from Christian mythology. The story goes that a young girl’s tears falling onto new fallen snow caused a group of Hellebores to burst into bloom, providing her with a gift for the newborn Christ Child, and thus, H. niger became known as the Christmas Rose.  The trouble with this story is that the old varieties of Hellebrous niger rarely bloom sooner than mid January, and that is only in mild winter areas, so perhaps this was a belated gift.

Now, thanks to the busy German breeder Hueger, a new cultivar has been introduced which blooms as early as Thanksgiving, with a good display of 2-3″ pristine white single rose flowers in full display by mid December. This compact new cultivar, growing to  roughly 12? x 12?,  is being marketed under the name Helleborus ‘HGC Jacob’. (HGC stands for Helleborus Gold Collection, and but I think they should ditch the monogram for marketing reasons). It is hardy in zones 5-9.

Culturally this evergreen perennial prefers a well drained rich soil that is slightly alkaline. Site ‘HGC Jacob’in a protected area, so that winter winds do not desiccate the foliage and flowers, in partial shade. As an insurance measure, apply a mulch of fallen leaves around this little Hellebore, and on mild days, pay him a visit as he peaks through his protective layer. He will put a smile on your face.

Heptacodium miconoides

Our theory is, if a plant looks fantastic in the September garden, it merits attention. And if it has winter interest, grows quickly to a reasonable size and is easy to keep happy, then you should absolutely consider finding a spot for it. As I was driving though our little town of Dartmouth the other day, I had to pull over when I saw a picture perfect candidate of such a plant, Heptacodium miconoides, gracing a small streetside garden.

Heptacodium miconoides, or “Seven Son Flower” is relatively new in cultivation here in the US, having come ashore from China in the 1980’s. It bears attractive green foliage, resembling peach leaves, and finally in late summer and early fall, it produces panicles of fragrant, jasmine scented white flowers, which last for a couple of weeks, after which showy rosy red bracts remain. The common name “Seven Son Flower” refers to the 7 branches of blossoms of each panicle. We acquired our first specimen as a plant dividend at the Arnold Arboretum’s Fall Plant Sale in 1989. To our delight, it grew quite quickly, putting on as much as 3′ in a season. We learned after a bit that Heptacodium wants to be a multi stemmed shrub, unless pruned to one or several strong leaders. Our preference was to show off the handsome exfoliating bark, so we removed all but the strongest 3 trunks. If you would prefer to have a single trunk, select a young plant and stake one stem for straight growth.

Heptacodium merits attention for its adaptability to a variety of soil conditions, including soils that remain dry for some time, although occasional supplemental watering wouldn’t hurt. It is tolerant of salt spray, making it useful near the seashore. Other big plusses: Heptacodium is deer resistant, and the butterflies and bees absolutely love the blossoms. Provide it with lots of sunshine. Pruned as a small tree it can be the focal point of a small garden, or planted en masse it would make a showy hedge. It’s perfectly hardy in zones 5-8.

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Environmental Sculptor: Ron Rudnicki

“To the illuminated man or woman, a clod of dirt, a stone and gold are the same”….Bhagavad Gita

Rudnicki's Pedestal Basin

Rudnicki’s Pedestal Basin

A man reaches for the end of a strap hidden within a pile of stone. From a void his hand appears with the strap.  Now cradled in the strap is a mass of stone. This stone, the fertile ground to where our sculptor, Ron Rudnicki, brings his tools, is now just a great mass. All acquaintances left behind, soon it will be freshly minted and asked to play in ensemble. For now, all is in flux, all possibility: Ron and the stone standing still between reflection and rotation.  The only certainty is that a new relationship will develop. Now a piece, formed from Ron’s reflections and memories, will inform his admirers, his clients and their communities. Perhaps some of Ron’s reflections will become theirs, but the overwhelming presence of the piece will remain, bridging generations, creating new communities. Prescience from a pile of stone.

Ron Rudnicki portrait

Ron Rudnicki

Ron’s sculpture gardens invite interaction. He places stone, found and composed, or tooled and contrived, into the landscape. Often it is both. He builds sculpted garden environments with stone that create a sense of permanence, perhaps because his work sometimes appears to have been uncovered rather than constructed. These gardens, united with their sites, honor existing and future stewards where stone is not seen as a static, unchanging mass. Stone is an active participant in the garden construct and will continue to find new expression through the eyes of the viewer.  Stewards of these gardens may enjoy these spaces framed through their windows, observing the changing light through the course of the day and the seasons. Others will find repose within these spaces.  No single right or wrong connection can be brought to these living, breathing, rhythmic spaces, dynamic in themselves but which allow those of us with stronger biological rhythms to draw out new meanings as we continue to engage them.

You shouldn’t be left thinking that no plant can grow where stone is so dominant. Though Ron confesses nomenclature isn’t his strong suit, he instinctively integrates  strong architectural plants, whether they be bamboo, hellebore or forest grass, into his stone environments.The individual who becomes the caretaker of his sculpture gardens may want to play with companion plantings. Ferns, grasses and the occasional burst of color are welcome suitors in spring and summer.

Ron’s work is part of the permanent collections at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, MA and Jack Lenor Larsen’s Longhouse Reserve in East Hampton, NY, as well as in the gardens of private collectors.

Snow-laden Recovery

Lucky for us, we didnt have anywhere to go, so we could take it easy and appreciate the wintry scenes provided by our day after Christmas snowstorm. It was a heavy wet snow which coated and caused most tree and shrub branches to bow with excess weight. And, no, despite adding it to our list of winter preparations, we never did get around to truss up the fastigiate plants like Ilex ‘Sky Pencil’.

snowyrhus72

Sturdy guys like Rhus ‘Tiger Eye’, looking even more like reindeer antlers, were unfazed, but the Limelight Hydrangea, whose blossoms still clung to its bowing tips, curtsied and created cover for the darting chickadees. The wind was gusting to 30-35 mph. We crossed our fingers.

Hydran 'Limelight'gea paniculata

The next day we walked about the garden to see what damage there was, and to our relief, there wasn?t much. The hardy clumping Bamboo, Fargesia rufa ”Green Panda’, which had been standing 6? tall, was laying flat on the ground under an 8? heavy white cover, but that wasn’t cause for alarm.

Snowladenbamboo72

A day or so later, sure enough, the branches began to boing back one by one. As the snow melted over the next three days, the Fargesia had completely returned to it’s orignal height, and there was no evidence of it flattened state. This brings to mind a special usefulness for ‘Green Panda’ as a foundation planting subject. Here we have an evergreen that will not be damaged by heavy snow falling from rooftop eaves. Fargesia ‘Green Panda’ may temporarily concede to snow loads, but will not suffer severe damage as some Boxwood and Japanese Holly might.

Fargesia risen

Upright and unharmed Fargesia rufa

Illumination

Winter Barn at Chatfield, Denver Botanical Garden

We always think of the first day of a new season as a holiday, one of nature’s holidays, a marking of time which reminds us to take stock of what is important. This year, Dec. 21 marks the Winter Solstice when all living beings in the northern hemisphere experience the fewest hours of daylight. For thousands of years, societies around the earth have celebrated the Solstice by having feasts, making merry with song and drink, and keeping an ever burning fire. Many of our favorite rituals of the Christmas holidays had their origins in Winter Solstice Celebrations.

As gardeners we have reason to celebrate light. The sun is essential for growth, and the winter months restrict us by limiting daylight. Sure, you can are argue that we need this down time to rest, to contemplate. But the sun is our source, and we can easily turn moody and feel depleted until ample light returns.

MeadowLight170

Why give in completely? We came across a website created by a group of Canadian artists, who know a thing about illuminating long winter nights. Their adventurous spirit can provide inspiration for us all. Why not ward off the darkness by bringing light into your garden? You don’t have to be elaborate, and the display doesn’t have to come down the day after New Year’s. Some thoughts: Adorn a garden structure with a strand of lights, illuminate a lovely tree with a ground spotlight. Create a blaze in your fire pit or line a walkway with luminaria. It will make your heart, and the hearts of  those passing by, glow a little too.

Ilex verticillata

December is the perfect month to enjoy this eyecatching deciduous holly whose brilliant berries, clustered on bare branches, provide splashes of color to the early winter landscape. Commonly called Winterberry, this North American native is found in the wild from Nova Scotia to Florida, usually growing in low lying areas, since it doesn?t mind wet feet. It is nonetheless adaptable to many soil types and will be happy enough in dryer locations. A large number of clones have been selected for their eventual stature, as well as for variation in fruit color and size.

As you probably know, the genus Ilex is dioecious, meaning there are different male and female flowering plants, and they have to tango for fruit set. Take note that there are earlier and later flowering selections of Ilex verticillata and it is a good idea to plant a male counterpart that blooms at the same time as the female clone.  Some of the earlier blooming female clones such as ‘Red Sprite’, ‘Berry Heavy’ and ‘Berry Nice’ should be pollinated with the male clone ‘Jim Dandy’. Use ‘Southern Gentleman?’, a late-blooming male pollinator for ‘Winter Red’, ‘Winter Gold’, ‘Capacon’, ‘Sparkleberry’ and the other later blooming girls.

Ilex verticillata waits until fall to become a star when the berries begin to color, so it is best sited in a spot where it does not have to be commanding all season long. Remember Winterberry does sucker, but this can be useful where you want to create a screen to attract wildlife. A number of years ago, we used it in repetition behind one of our beds that borders a wet area, and the planting now provides us with a bounty of branches for cutting.  Eventual plant size is dependent on which cultivars you select, and they range from 3-4′ to 12′ or more. Plants enjoy sunny or partially shaded exposures, soil that is acid to neutral, and are hardy through zone 4.

Day After Thanksgiving Plans?

As tempting as Black Friday Shopping is (or isn’t), why not plan an alternative activity on the day after Thankgsiving. Have a thermos with hot cider ready and invite a couple of friends or family members to wander about your garden to gather greens and branches for wreaths and decorating. You’re bound to find a varied selection of evergreens and branches, bare but structural, or decorated with berries and seed pods.

Don’t restrict yourself to the traditional selections…Holly, Boxwood and Pine. You’ll be surprised how well unexpected clippings work. Junipers provide blue-gray foliage and often have attractive blue fruit. Chamaecyparis offer a wonderful array of foliage colors ranging from gold through amber, bronze and dark green, and I love clipping the branches that are adorned with artful cones. Consider twigs with interesting bark or an attractive zig zag habit which will twinkle when coated with morning frosts. Red and gold twig dogwoods offer colorful linear accents, while birch branches can often be found dripping with catkins.

Word of caution: When cutting for arrangements, first be sure you observe how your pruning will effect the shape of the plant. Stand back and view the subject from different angles. You can prune/improve the shape of the shrub and have branches for arranging at the same time.

Display these cut branches in an outdoor container ensemble right away or wait. The smaller cuttings need not go to waste; they can be used to construct a wreath for your door. If you?re not quite ready to decorate, the greens and cut branches can be stored in a cool space until needed. Indoor arrangements created now will become quite brittle and shatter by Christmas, so you may want to wait or plan to do two sets of arrangements, one for now and one for later.