Category Archives: Featured

Early Summer Container Report

My goal each season is to plant containers that are easy to maintain and will carryon summer through fall. For sunny areas, I’ve come to look at succulents as such reliable performers. They always oblige… often looking even more fabulous at season’s end. For areas with more shade, I lean towards Begonias and other plants with great foliage. This season I’m starting to play with Bromeliads more.
An older  28″ cast stone bowl on a pedestal mixes up various  larger succulent specimens with trailing Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’.The intriguing dark finish on this ceramic pot from Campania has nuanced tones of lavender and light green. The Echeveria ‘Dusty Rose, Mangave ‘Inkblot’, Trailing blue-green Sedeveria and String of Pearls pick up this coloring….and for fun, (because I just cut them from the bed behind), dried allium stalks add a little height.This blue salt glazed version of the previous pot has been planted with succulents which pick up its color tones. Senecio (now Curio) cylindricus is usedfor height, with Aeonium , Echeveria, Pachyveria , Othonna ‘Ruby Necklace’ and Sedum album.

This tall gray cylinder pot mixes up a large specimen Aeonium ‘Blushing Beauty’, with dark leaved Echeveria, Kalanchoe, Sedeveria ‘Sorrento’, Senecio cylindricus, and trailing Dichondra.Our pair of iron urns now get dappled shade much of the day. Here I used some succulents that can take less sun: ‘Aeonium ‘Kiwi’ and Rhipsalis. Other plants that like the same conditions are Iron Cross Oxalis and Coprosma ‘Evening Splendor’.A non-succulent ensemble similar in coloring (it is right near the Iron urns) has a Cordyline ‘Cha Cha’ with the everblooming Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’ ,yellow leaved jasmine and dark leaved Begonia ‘Ebony’. A specimen of Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’ keeps it company in a classic rolled rim pot. This spot gets morning sun and afternoon shade.In a different part of the garden is this cast stone urn that gets morning sun for a fe w hours.  Begonia ‘Art Hodes’ is backed by the bromeliad  Vriesea (Flaming Sword) and has Maranta (Red Prayer Plant) skirting its base.Bromeliads make great  shade plants in warm climates. This is the first time I have used  them in mixed containers. In the is large Grecian style urn, the showy Aechmea fasciata comes into spectacular bloom paired with a Begonia ‘Escargot’ (which I hope doesn’t become a problem). Trailing Callisia elegans and Dichondra (it does well in some shade) spill over, and for added fill there’s a couple of small Athyrium ‘Pearly White’ ferns.Not all of our pots are large and busy… this old 14″ terracotta bowl has a simple pairing of Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’ with Tradescantia ‘Sitara’s Gold’ hidden behind.Finding the perfect plant that works with the personality of the pot is always fun. Here the ruffly leaved Echeveria ‘Topsy Turvy’ (curiously called Mexican Hens and Chicks) fits the cavity of this cast stone Chicken Planter.The always popular clamshell container features plants that have that under the ocean feeling: Crassula undulata, starry little Sedum album,  and trailing Rhipsalis which does kind of resemble Kelp…

Yes, I always come back to succulents since they are so easy and reliable. The various tones of the succulents chosen match the coloring on this 13″ ceramic pot .One challenge using succulents is finding complimentary plants which tolerate the same conditions that can add height. The colorful linear leaves of Phormium work well with this mixed composition of Echeverias, Graptosedum and Sedum tetractinum

There are more pots, which you will see if you visit. Look for the End of the Season blog post to see how they look in late September.

Hopeful Anticipation

The Hellebore hybrids are consistent early performers that really show off when early spring temperatures moderate.

We are several weeks into spring 2021, and so far, no surprise snow storms! Actually, we have even had a few days when it felt like it was the middle of May. Oh it’s so easy to get giddy when the skies are calm and blue and the temperature reaches 70F. Still, this New England gardener has had more than a few stinging memories of drastic temperature swings, when garden and nursery plants were nipped in the bud (literally and figuratively).

Jeffersonia dubia taking in the early morning sunshine on April 8th.

This unseasonal warm spell we just experienced did push growth on the earliest blooming perennials, and buds of many trees and shrubs have begun to swell (in our protected front garden our Katsura Japanese maple is beginning to leaf out weeks early). Except where voles and chipmunks have unearthed and/or eaten roots of choice Epimedium and Hakonechloa, it looks like there are fewer overwinter losses. The chipmunks especially love creating their tunneled habitats in the stone wall raised beds that Chris has built around the property. We’ve come to resign ourselves that we just have to share the gardens.

Chipmunks’ burrowing tunnels exposed the roots and created air pockets around dwarf Solomon’s Seal and Epimedium, and we are not sure who to blame for the gnawed below the crown of the Japanese Forest Grass.

One thing that has us already concerned is that 2021 has been unseasonably dry here in southeastern Massachusetts. You may not be experiencing a lack of precipitation in your region, or have no need for concern yet, but with last week’s warmth, we already began dragging hoses around to soak our planting beds.

This leads to the question, “What type of growing conditions should we plan for this year?” Last summer was horrifically dry for us (at least our succulent collections were happy).  Although there is still  time to catch up on rainfall totals, it would be wise to add a protective layer of compost/mulch on garden beds to help conserve moisture. Also, selecting adaptable but more drought tolerant native plants is advice that no one could argue with.

Aster ptarmicoides (Upland White Aster), native to the midwest, is a durable plant for the front of the sunny border.

Gardeners are optimists. In April,  we anticipate regular rainfall and kind growing conditions for the year ahead. That being said, those of us who have been at this for a while know to have a backup plan in place in case our positive outlooks become challenged. Yes, that adaptability thing…plants, human expectations…it is key in being a happy gardener.

How did your garden fare this winter? What are you most hopeful  for this season?

Holiday decor in the time of Covid

Amaryllis ‘Wedding Dance’ and Begonias with cut greens and lights

Yep, this year is different. Fear of Covid has canceled holiday gatherings, and the urge to go all out with decorating is met by some with the question, “should I bother?” The answer is yes, even if it must be simple. This year, we absolutely need to illuminate the long nights with strings of lights and candles, but maybe we can take a break from lugging boxes of Christmas ornaments from the attic. (The thought of putting it all away is a chore no one relishes!) Instead,  we’ll focus on bringing nature indoors with decor that is  gathered from the garden and (lucky us) , the greenhouse.

Succulents in shades of red, green and white sit on a tray with gathered moss. Even the Aloes have festive names: the tiny one in the foreground is ‘Christmas Sleigh’, just behind it is  Aloe ‘Blizzard’, with blue green Echeveria setosa dimunata flanking on either side.

a brilliant Guzmania with red spikemoss

fresh evergreen wreath cut from conifers in the garden.

So, yes to winter wreaths on doorways, garlands, and arrangements of cut branches with pine cones. Yes to forced pots of Amaryllis, Christmas roses and red and green leaved Begonia. We may bring in a potted evergreen from the nursery and simply dress it with lights. Some classic holiday music will set the mood, along with the scent of cookies baking in the oven.

catch early morning light in the garden

a fire brings light and warmth

a fire brings light and warmth to end the day

This may be the year when we can’t physically gather with friends and family, but we can find peace and hope in nature’s gifts. Be outside as much as possible: take an early morning walk to catch the bird song or build a fire at dusk. Perhaps these simple ways of acknowledging the season,  more akin to the ancient winter festivals of northern Europe, will become a new tradition.

bottom lighting sets off this white Amaryllis

Peace and joy to you all!

Stay well!

Container Report: late September 2020

Two words sum up this summer’s weather here along the coast of southern New England: hot and dry.  Here at the end of September, our parched gardens are still waiting for the rain predictions to materialize.  Sigh.

The gardens are looking tarnished  but the container plantings held up better since their watering needs are more easily met. As in previous dry years,  our containers planted with succulents were the stars. (Check out the recent article NY Times garden writer Margaret Roach covered on succulent containers).

You may recall the June report post  which shows the “before” pictures. Now I’ll show you what some of these look like 3 months later, chewed up, cut back foliage and all.

The Drum Pot: Melianthus major grew taller and the Helichrysum ‘Limelight’  (Licorice Plant) needed to get cut back after the American Lady Butterfly caterpillars made dinner of most of its foliage…what we do for the butterflies…The Jewels of Opar didn’t show off as much as I hoped, and was cut back a few weeks ago. The Tradescantia sillamontana did fine, but this planter combo won’t be repeated.

We have a pair of these iron urns that are always planted to match. They are in dappled shade most of the day. One of the pair really was over by the end of August (the one that I photographed in June). It did get a bit more afternoon sun. Its complement held up better…. here the Helichrysum took off after an early cut back, as did the Copper Glow Oxalis. The Oxalis ‘Iron Cross’ is now fading, Begonia ‘Ebony’ bloomed well and its dark foliage added height and contrast, but the golden Moses- in-the-cradle (Tradescantea spathacea) just couldn’t hold its own, and is in hiding.

Another shady spot. Begonia thurstonii grew well, but held off putting out any flowers (not surprisingly). I used two 6″ pots in this vase, and probably should have used just one. The  mostly gold Plectranthus ‘Limelight’ is not a strong grower, and wouldn’t cascade down the pot as  hoped. The Oxalis ‘Zinfandel’ always does well and the ruby leaved Alternanthera did fine until some critter nibbled  its trailing stems.

No complaints with this shady ensemble…Phlebodium aureum is my go to bold foliage shade container plant. Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’ is providing an end of the season supply of blossoms as is the Gold Leaved Mexican heather Cuphea hyssopifolia aurea. The golden jasmine vine’s foliage simply glows.

A pair of these hypertufa bowls, in the shade of our giant oak tree, were planted with ‘Moonglow’ Snakeplant (Sansevieria), Dichondra Silver Falls’, Pilea glauca and Liriope ‘Okimo’  (all selected for durable attractive leaves. The white flowered form of Black Eyed Susan Vine was the flower power plant, and it bloomed well until a  couple of weeks ago.  Figured a few mini pumpkins could add a little fun now.

And now, for the sun and heat loving succulents! This beautiful container, in itself, is eye candy….the foliage colors of the succulents were selected to complement it, and all did fine except for the tall Aeonium that had a mishap and lost it’s tallest stems. Blue Senecio talinoides and beige-pink Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’ obliged by filing in much of the horizontal space.End of day light and cooler night temperatures bring out the glow of Sticks on Fire, Euphorbia turicali, with the Mangave ‘Desert Dragon’ added dark contrast. Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’ on the far left, yellow leaved Sedum mackinoi ‘Ogon’ and blue gray pink Graptosedum ‘Francesco Baldi’ filled in the foreground.  This will look good right up until the frost. (Please, frost, wait until November.)

Someone purchased the seashell planter shown in the June post, but we did another version for a client.  This image was taken at at the end of August, but the ensemble is still looking fabulous.Succulents can play with other plants that  tolerate the dry well drained soil…Here Coprosma ‘Pink Splendor’ (Mirror Plant)  works well with Sedum adolphiiSedum mackinoi ‘Ogon’ and Pachysedum.

Our tall cylinder pot, each year planted with a different  array of succulents, caught visitors’ eyes when they entered the parking area. Everything did extremely well with just an occasional watering, although some creature nibbled and pulled out some of the trailing Othonna capensis ‘Ruby Necklace’.  The tallish green succulent with the arching branches is the large leaved form of Elephant Plant, Portulacaria afra macrophylla. Adding an array of pumpkins helps carry this container into the fall season.

In summary, we had a hot and extremely dry summer, and one group of plants, the succulents, met this year’s challenge beautifully.  I realize this blog post reaches folks in all parts of the country, and your area may have benefited from  more summer rain. If so, what plantings were you most impressed with this year ?

Houseplants’ Summer Vacation is Almost Over

Doesn’t it happen so suddenly? One week temperatures are in the 80’s with nights still mild, and then one morning you wake up to find that the overnight temperatures dropped below 50F.  If your tropical houseplants have spent the summer outdoors, this is your cue to start bringing them indoors.

First: Groom and Assess for Pests

Your Peperomia, Ferns and Snakeplants have probably put on nice growth over the summer, benefitting from the good air flow and more humidity. Now, as the days become both cooler and shorter,  your houseplants may be begin to let go their oldest leaves. Groom and assess for pests. Pest problems that are minor outdoors become a bigger deal inside.

I find that there are often a few slugs or snails hanging out under the pots. Remove them. We began using a food grade diatomaceous earth to deter slugs on our container plants and recommend it. The teensy particles are sharp enough to inflict cuts on their bodies. It is advisable to wear a mask so as not to inhale the small particles when applying. Dust the soil and even the foliage if you notice that your leaves have been munched on. The diatomaceous earth also seems to deter other pests.

Be on the lookout for aphids on fresh new growth, whitefly on the leaf undersides and mealybugs in leaf/stem crevices. Sometimes a forceful spray with the hose can take care of things, but I recommend a follow up using a safe organic pesticide like Insecticidal Soap for aphids or a Neem Oil product  which can control not only aphids but whitefly, some mites, caterpillars and scale.  Use rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip to swab and kill mealybugs. (Inspecting regularly and catching the first signs of activity is the best defense; if you discover a plant has a bad mealy problem it is best to just ditch that plant).  Be sure to follow the instructions on the product label, and repeat at the recommended intervals as a preventative for any new hatching. Do isolate any problem plants. 

Hold back on the fertilizer

All plants will slow down in growth, so you may want to wait to repot any oversized plants until spring. Slow down on fertilizing unless you have  a plant that is a heavy fall or winter feeder.

Most succulents can take cooler nights than the tropicals, but don’t let them get bitten by a frost. For more info on succulent wintering over I’ve written  more extensively on this topic at  this blog post link.

 

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. 

End of the Season Container Report

Shady Planters with Mini Spider Plant, Pilea glauca and silver Sanseveiria...the white begonias  originally planted pooped out, and were replaced with white pumpkins a few weeks ago.

It’s October 20th, and although we’ve flirted with temps in the low 30’s…we haven’t had a frost yet! We had reasonable summer weather, although not much rain in August and September. The containers we planted in June have held up well, although a few plants had to be edited out or cut back midseason. Once again, the containers based on foliage plants and succulents fared the best.

One of our go-to combos: Phormium, Echeveria, Aeonium and Silver Falls Dichondra

Pelargonium tomentosum overwhelmed one side of the drum pot, but we didn’t mind as we love to rub the minty scented leaves as we pass by. The Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’ held its bracts all summer.  Plectranthus neohilis ‘Gary Hammer’ added its own aroma.  And Erigeron karvinskianus received a cut back a few weeks ago and has decided not to perform anymore.

Phlebodium aureum (Rabbits Foot Fern) is an easy solution plant for shade containers. The yellow leaved jasmine ‘Fiona’s Sunrise‘ trailed about, the purple Oxalis triangularis carried on as did the Tolmeia ‘Cool Gold ‘.

This planting received ooh’s and ah’s when I shared on Instagram back in June….then everything grew out of scale quickly;  both the Abutilon and Coleus were pinched back regularly.

Phormium ‘Evening Glow with Sedum ‘Firestorm’ and various Echeveria and Kalanchoe planted at its base.  Looking just fine in mid October.

This was NOT the best pairing this year…..the Eucomis never bloomed and we knew the Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender ‘ would bloom late, but it proved rather lackluster when it finally did. We used last year’s stock plant and it never kicked in the way a fresher, young plant does. The yellow-leaved jasmine did its thing well, though.

The tall cylinder container with succulents put on a show all summer…the Sticks on Fire did get rather tall and we discussed but could not decide whether to clip it back or not. Love the lacy Rhipsalis that trails in the front!

This collection of greenhouse foliage plants in our Zen bowl did well, (except for the Begonia boliviensis that succumbed to a bad case of fungal leaf spot and had to go). Synadenium grantii put on some height . Light conditions: mostly shade except for 2 hours of mid-late day sun.

I really liked this Euphorbia turcalli , Begonia kellermanii, Oxalis combination. It is situated where it received 2-3 hours of the midday sun, and then its all shade. There’s also a Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’, a Ming fern and Echeveria tucked in for added from and contrast.

What combinations did you try this year? Which plantings would try again?

A Versatile Fall Aster

Heath Aster planted itself in the dappled shade of our oak tree.

I take no credit for planting the occasional surprise of native Symphyotrichum ericoides (heath aster) in our gardens…they just appear and often in just the right spot. Unobtrusive all summer, but a delightful accent when flowers form in mid-September, Heath Aster presents 1-2′ stems bearing hundreds of tiny white daisies with yellow centers, creating a frothy foam in both sunny and even somewhat shady areas.

Synphyotrichum ‘Bridal Veil’…a Chicago Botanic Garden Introduction. ( image courtesy of CBC)

There are selected forms out there….‘Snow Flurry’ stays quite low at  6-8″ with 2′ branches that hug the earth, making it a useful native ground cover for the edge of a border or in the rock garden. A new selection ‘Bridal Veil’, introduced by the Chicago Botanic Garden, is believed to be a naturally occurring cross of ericoides and “?”. It produces strong 2′ arching stems with copious amounts of blossoms and forms vigorous clumps.

All forms of Heath Aster prefer well-drained soil and are quite drought tolerant once established. As I mentioned we’ve had plants pop up in even shady situations, but I think you get more flower power with full sun. Deer resistant and pollinator-friendly and hardy in zones 5-8…yay!

Two Plants to add a little Fall Excitement

All summer long Plectranthus ciliatus masquerades as a khaki-colored Coleus. Come early autumn, all of a sudden floral spikes extend and open up into chunky spires of lavender-blue flowers.  It does need to be protected from frost. but we’ve solved this problem by covering plants with a blanket on those pre-Indian Summer nights when the temperatures dip. Easy peasy to grow indoors for the winter, as it can get by with indoor lighting.

Folks always admire this succulent Senecio early in the season for its display of blue-gray tufts of foliage. However, when late summer rolls around flowering stalks emerge and open up to showy 1″ red-orange buttons. Use Senecio ‘Blazing Glory in a pot by itself or mix with other succulent goodies. Yes, it is a plant that needs protection from frosts., but it is super easy indoors on a sunny window sill.

 

Quick Container Rehab

Nothing stays the same, and this is especially true with gardening. A container planting can look great for 2 months and then an issue arises…a focal point plant gets leaf spot or melts with the humidity, or it just stops blooming.  This doesn’t mean you have to ditch the grouping. You just need to edit.

Blame it on the humidity or uneven watering, or gardener’s neglect (I’ll be honest) but the showy orange Begonia bolivinensis just began to look awful with leaf spotting. Spraying with a fungicide would only prevent new leaves from being affected, so the only thing to do was to remove this sad plant and find a worthy replacement. Sad because the hummingbirds sure did visit frequently.

This spot gets a few hours of the afternoon sun, and we’ll have summery weather for at least another 6-7 weeks, so I decided on using orange flowered Cuphea ‘David Verity’ (for the hummingbirds) which never disappoints and will flower until a hard frost. I also had enough space to tuck in a dwarf variegated papyrus  (Cyperus albostriatus) , (you can always count on foliage plants). Although it likes moisture I’ve found it can tolerate dryish conditions.

I am guilty of overplanting a container, in case some plants just don’t perform, figuring I can always thin out the planting later. This pot with Verbena bonariensis, Lantana montevidensis, Gomphrena ‘Truffula Pink’ and Euphorbia Diamond Delight needed editing. The Angel Wings Senecio candicans really started to go downhill once the humidity arrived in July.First  I brought down the height of the Verbena bonariensis by removing the tallest stalks. I cut back the Lantana and the Gomphrena to allow the Euphorbia to own more space. And out came the Angel Wings…lesson learned…not a plant for southern New England summers. Next, I fertilized with fish emulsion to give a nourishment boost to the planting.

Later, I’ll post how these containers fared when I do the end of September evaluation.