Tag Archives: winter interest

Our winter visit to the Montreal Botanical Garden

Traveling always presents challenges…What to do when you have a 22-hour layover in Montreal? Book a hotel, get up early and take an Uber to the Montreal Botanical Garden, otherwise known as Le Jardin Botanique de Montréal…after all it is in the French-speaking province of Quebec. Yes, there was an icy layer of snow outdoors, but inside the 10 greenhouse complex, there was flora to excite even the most jaded botanist. Check out this sensational planted wall with Begonia, Pothos, Tillandsia, Prayer Plants and more.The orchid house was full of treasures. Epiphytic plants cascaded from the rafters.

Each greenhouse focuses on a specific plant group, with specimens arranged in an aesthetically pleasing manner.  Here is the view from the catwalk in the Aroid,  Cycad and Palm House.The Succulent Greenhouse … with Mexican themed architecturecloseup of the hanging Rhipsalis floccosa

More temperate plantings were found in the cooler Asian themed greenhouse.An  exquisite 45 year old Penjing specimen of Pyrancantha crenulataSweetly fragrant Wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox, which wouldn’t be hardy outdoors in Montreal or most of Massachusetts for that matter, was in full bloom indoors in January.There are many educational exhibits that are artfully conceived. Here cut stems of Red Twig Dogwood are inserted in a wooden platform, echoing the stems outdoors in the distance. Floating from the rafters above is a montage of recycled trash…yes…what we fill our landfills with.Another view of the recycled assemblage.Chris and I didn’t have time to walk the grounds, even though the winter landscape beckoned. The staff we spoke with were extremely knowledgable and quite proud of their garden, as well they should be.  If you are looking for a flora filled winter escape, the greenhouses here are exceptional. We definitely want to return this summer or fall. 

Heptacodium miconoides

Our theory is, if a plant looks fantastic in the September garden, it merits attention. And if it is attractive to pollinators, 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.

 

Late Winter 2019, Southern CA

Anza-Borrego Desert scene with Sand Verbena and Brown-eyed Evening Primrose.

Chris and I just returned from visiting southern CA, and it is hard not to be discouraged by the white, gray and brown landscape scene out my window. Spring WILL come. In the meantime, I’ll turn my attention to the splashes of plant candy the SoCa landscape provided.

closeup of Brown Eyed Evening Primrose, Chylismia claviformis

One of our first plant viewing excursions was to the Anza-Borrego Desert, about 2 hours northeast of San Diego.  It was an overcast day, okay for picture taking, but a more committed photographer would have been there at dawn to catch more dramatic light. It was the very beginning of the wildflower bloom, perhaps 2 weeks prior to peak bloom (which is happening right now, we’re told!) Tip: If you visit, a 4 wheel drive vehicle will get you on roads which take you to some of the most spectacular spots. Our car rental did not have 4 wheel drive, and we were limited to areas where we had time to walk from the parking lot. Here’s what we saw happening:

Desert Lily, Hesperocallis undulata

White Desert Chickory (Rafinesquia neomexicana) with Popcorn Flower (Cryptantha sp)

Chris, with towering Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) just showing color.

Ocotillo in bud closeup

Aloe capitata, on the grounds of Huntington Gardens

Our next outing was to the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino. We were there when the gardens opened at 10 and with 16 themed gardens and several museum galleries on 120 acres, we didn’t leave until the closing bell rang. Much of our time was spent in the Desert Garden, with Aloe bloom season in high gear.

Aloe striata, with a blue Agave and a carpet of Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’

A flowering Kalanchoe in the foreground with assorted Cacti in the background

The entry garden and rill with potted succulents.

Besides botanical gardens we had to check out nurseries and garden centers,  We scored some great plants at 2 of our go-to favorites, Solana Succulents and the Cactus Center in Pasadena, but wanted to check out places we had not visited before. Serra Gardens in Fallbrook had some impressive specimens with well-labeled plants. Upscale Rogers Gardens in Corona del Mar offers more than plants…outdoor living accents and furniture, gift and floral boutiques, as well as many planted containers.

Serra Gardens signage informed us that Kalanchoe hildebrantii also goes by the name of K. bracteata

Rogers Gardens Vertical Garden Planter

Rogers had benches of this blue Anemone coronaria and I was consumed with plant lust

Another trendy lifestyle nursery is Rolling Greens in LA, and we visited 2 of the 3 locations. The Culver City store was well stocked with plants and containers, with many potted combinations for those who dig succulents. We also checked out Rainforest Flora in Torrance to collect more Tillandsia and Platycerium.

Neatly organized pottery,  potted up with dramatic succulents at Rolling Green.

Platycerium species at Rainforest Flora in Torrance

Lavender Pergola with bare Wisteria at the Getty Center

A visit to LA is incomplete if one doesn’t stop at the Getty Center. It has been an unusually cool winter in southern CA, with a good amount of rain, and the Saturday we visited it was beautifully gray and misty. The grounds are designed to complement Richard Meier’ architecture, and a number of landscape architects, horticulturists and designers were consulted.  The outrageous lower level outdoor spaces were designed by Robert Irwin.

Natural Stone ensemble in round pool at the Getty

One view of the Roger Irwin designed garden with pollarded plane trees

Chris and I also spent wonderful times with family and friends in San Diego and Los Angeles, and there just wasn’t enough time to visit all of our favorite haunts such as the San Diego Botanic Garden, Kartuz Greenhouses, Waterwise Botanicals, & the Altman Plant Retail Store, but we hope to be back soon. Do any of you have any favorite garden-related stops when you’re in southern CA?

Growing and Forcing Witch Hazel

Hamamelis x ‘Feuerzauber’

Hamamelis x intermedia commonly known as Witch Hazel is one of the first shrubs to come into bloom in cold climates. We usually see our first flashes of color in February, (some nearby folks were reporting blossoms before this weekend’s arctic blast). Often you will realize they are in bloom as their fragrance fills the air. 

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Witch Hazels set their flower buds during the previous year’s growing season.  Outdoors, once plants have experienced a 6-8 week cold spell followed by mild moist weather, the spidery flowers will begin to open. It is after this cold stretch that you can take  cuttings. If you have a nice big plant in your garden, why not sacrifice a few budded branches for indoor arrangements? Simply take your cuttings, splitting the stem base for better water intake, put the branches in a vase with warm water and wait a few days. 

Hamamelis x ‘Arnold’s Promise’

If you are thinking about adding Witch Hazel to your garden, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Give plants room.  Slow growing at first, Hamamelis can get quite large with age. Expect plants to grow 8-10’ or taller and 10-12’ wide. They enjoy full sun or partial shade, and well-drained soil.
  2. Winter food for bees. Honeybees will seek out their blossoms during a late winter/early spring thaw. 
  3. Flower buds form in summer. If you cut back plants in summer and fall, you will sacrifice next year’s blossoms.
  4. These winter blooming varieties are hybrids of the Japanese (H. japonicus)  and Chinese  (H. mollis) forms, and are grafted on native Hamamelis rootstock. Sometimes strong branches will break below the graft, and you might notice, in autumn, that these branches will bear yellow flowers of Hamamelis virginiana. We recommend removing the branches that break below the graft because the fall blooming native plants are more vigorous and may overwhelm your winter blooming stock.

    Hamamelis x ‘Jelena’

    Buy online

Hygge…& Celebrating Winter’s Gifts

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Aronia arbutifolia “Brilliantissima’ with the first snowfall

Last week’s arctic blast brought temperatures in the single digits and truly announced that winter had arrived. Ready or not, garden chores were a wrap and the time had come for most of us to give ourselves permission to chill…indoors! 

We gardeners are naturally inclined to follow the rhythm of the seasons, and the shorter days of winter are a check for us to slow down and restore our energies. You, like I, may resist going into full hibernation mode, but why not take cues from Scandinavian folks, who endure even shorter days than we do. For example, the Danes practice hygge (pronounced hoo-guh) as part of daily life. Hygge can’t be translated into English with a single word, but imagine feelings or activities that promote coziness enhanced by candles or firelight….think warm socks and woolen sweaters, friendly gatherings before a roaring fire, warm beverages in your hands, looking dreamily at snowy scenes through frosted window panes, and late afternoon nature walks to catch the last rays of light.

The words of many secular Christmas carols promote feelings of hygge. There is no need to stop at the Yuletide’s end; we should make it our practice to continue hygge through the long winter. Take back the darkness by continuing to light candles or drape strands of white lights, then sit in your most comfy chair under a coverlet and lose oneself in a good book or listen to music, or finish knitting that scarf you started last year. All too soon spring will arrive, and the garden will beckon.

What interpretations of  hygge do you practice in winter? Would you like to share?

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?

February Postcards from Seattle

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Trees Dancing in the Arboretum

No, Spring had not officially arrived on our recent visit, but its signs were imminent…bulbs were beginning to shoot, the Hellebores were showing color, and ample precipitation had swollen tree buds. The most exquisite sights were the moss covered trees…..trunks and branches coated in almost day glow green.

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Arboretum Maple

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Volunteer Park Trio

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Hellebores

The beautiful glasshouse at Voluntary Park

The beautiful glasshouse at Volunteer Park as the sun broke through.

A feature of the Orchid show inside.

A feature of the Orchid show inside.

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Tillandsia were dripping

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In the Cactus house

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Erica in bloom at the Kubota Garden entrance

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A Kubota View

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Nature did it….Green Roof Bus Stop, Bainbridge Island

The images, captured in between showers, were taken along the roadside, at the Washington University Arboretum, Volunteer Park and inside the Conservatory, and Kubota Gardens. We missed out on The Bloedel Reserve and Heronswood because of the rain, but there will absolutely be a next time!

…wish you had a Winter Greenhouse?

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The Aloes begin to bloom in January

Maybe it’s a luxury, or maybe not…

One of the perks of running a nursery is that on any winter morning I can walk out to the heated 100′ greenhouse and smell the promise of spring. We can’t afford to have the heat cranked up….the thermostat is set at 55F in the warmer half, just enough heat to keep our Begonia collection from pouting . The rear 50′ section drops to 45F at night, and this is where we store our Salvia, Phormium, tender succulents, and plants for forcing.  As the daylight hours gradually increase, early blooming plants set buds and begin to unfurl.

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Today’s arrangement of cut and forced material, including Daphne, Hellebores, Echeveria, Aeonium , Begonia and Ivy

Up until a half  century ago, it was not uncommon for gardeners to have some form of greenhouse structure to protect tender plants, force bulbs and other flowers for arranging, grow herbs and to get a start on seed sowing. For the most part these were not formal glass houses, but homemade lean to’s and pit frames built into a south facing slope or dug into the earth to take advantage of geothermal warming. These “pits” were excavated to a depth of 4′ or more, with hay bales tucked along the perimeter for insulation. Recycled window sashes were used to allow light into the frames, as these were the days before plastic and polyethylene.

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A dear gardening friend, Elinor Malcom, who was one of our nursery’s first customers, loved her “pit” in Carlisle MA. where she wintered over many treasures including a collection of Camellias that belonged to her mother. Ellie’s mom had been an accomplished gardener and was good friends with Kathryn Taylor, who co-authored with Edith Gregg, the book Winter Flowers in Greenhouse and Sun-heated Pit, first published in 1941, now out of print.  My husband Chris was lucky to find a copy in a local used book store sometime ago. (PS…your library may have a copy!)

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pages illustrated with early photos of pit frames

This practical book does go into the how-to’s of small greenhouse growing, but I think the authors hit a happy nerve with their enthusiasm for solar pit houses. Ms. Taylor and Ms. Gregg showed how, with a little Yankee ingenuity and thriftiness, the average home gardener could have the luxury of blossoms and greenery during the winter months without electricity or heating units. The prose is entertaining and easy to understand and there are a number of good technical illustrations as well as charming B & W photographs.The women shared not only their successes but some of the pitfalls they encountered (no pun intended). The last chapters focus on recommended plants for winter forcing. I was greatly impressed with their expertise and ability to use materials  that were easy to be had without great expense, and I loved the simple but direct dedication at the book’s beginning: To the husbands who dug the holes”.

An online search indicated Winter Flowers in Greenhouse and Sunheated Pit is available as a used book on Amazon, but I would also recommend checking out second hand book shops.  For those who are interested in learning more about constructing a pit greenhouse, check out these links: Mother Earth News,  Inspiration  Green, and Solar Innovations. There are now many publications on the subject, some more suited to commercial growing.

Wouldn’t it help you to get through the winter if you could walk out your door after a snowstorm and bring in a gathering of fresh flowers and greenery?

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Mahonia x media 'Charity'

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

What shrub has evergreen foliage resembling both holly and fern, blooms in late fall/early winter with a candelabra of fragrant primrose yellow flowers, is drought tolerant once established and not a favorite of marauding deer? Answer: Mahonia x media ‘Charity, a hybrid of the two species, M. japonica and M. lomariifolia.

Ever since I saw a form of Mahonia  blooming in winter in the Plymouth MA garden of my friend Susanne, I have wanted to have this plant in my garden. Certainly, this is pushing the hardiness limits in our neck of the woods, so I have been  scouting for a very protected spot (thinking of a clearing in our now dense grove of Yellow Groove Bamboo).  ‘Charity’ is hardy to 0 degrees F, but we usually dip below that for at least a day or two each winter.

Of course all of you who live in balmier zones 7-9 should consider giving this winter interest plant a try.  It is a broadleaf evergreen, and so it would be prudent to choose a site with protection from winter winds and strong western sun. Plants develop a vase shape and usually grow to 5-7’ tall but can reach 10’ in mild climates, with a width of 3-6’. The flowers begin forming in late October, providing unexpected color when you need it most from late November into January. The multiple upright racemes of small flowers are magnets for bees, who may venture out on mild days. Rich blue fruit follow in spring, thus the common name Grape Holly,  and these are relished by birds. Older foliage may take on reddish tones in late winter, and tarnished leaves should be pruned once fresh growth begins to unfurl.

Mahonia can be grown in full sun or dappled shade, but if grown in full sun it it may require a bit more watering in dry spells. I should also add that the foliage has rather unfriendly sharp edges, and can deliver a “look but don’t touch” message to passerby.

Do you grow any forms of Mahonia and how have they performed where you live? Please share your experience.