Category Archives: Garden Design

thoughts on garden design

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.

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.

 

5 Plants for the Late Summer Shade Garden

Sunny borders can be wonderfully colorful, but when the heat of summer settles in, it is the comfort of the shade garden that I am drawn to. Hosta is now excluded from so many gardens due to its “appetizer for deer” reputation, so you might want to consider this short list of shade-tolerant plants that shine in August.

Hydrangea  arborescens ‘Haas Halo’... This lace cap selection of Smooth Aster boasts sturdy stems that can bear the weight of the large white blossoms.  This native shrub is a favorite of pollinators and grows 3-5′ tall and wide. Hardy in zones 3-9.

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’.…. It’s hard not to be impressed by a glowing golden specimen of Sun King Spikenard. This Aralia grows 4-6′ tall and we have 6-year-old clumps that are easily 6′ across.  (It might take a few years, but be ready…). In late summer white “Sputnik” flowers top the tall stems, followed by showy black fruit. Pollinators love this plant and the deer don’t. Hardy in zones 4-9.

Kirengeshoma palmata… I remember the first time I saw  Korean waxbells, looking very shrub-like in front of an antique farmhouse, fresh and in flower in August. Bold Maple like leaves are its main feature, but it does have soft yellow somewhat bell shaped flowers.  Slow growing at first,  but in about 4-5 years you will have a clump 4′ tall and 5′ wide. Oh, and yes, it is deer resistant. Hardy in zones  5-9.

Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’ Toad lilies tend to get resentful if the soil isn’t evenly moist, but I have found ‘Autumn Glow’ more forgiving than most. The extra-large foliage has a wider band of gold than the other variegated forms, and the purplish orchid-like flowers are produced in profusion during August and September. Hardy in zones  5-9.

Hakonechloa macra aureola Japanese Forest Grass is simply rewarding. It clumps up, not too quickly, to healthy expanses  2-4′ across and its yellow and green variegated leaves brightens up shady corners and adds contrast to other bold foliage plants. The deer are not fond of Hakonechloa, but we are learning that the bunnies like to nibble its young shoots in the spring, so an application of repellent is in order by those who are being pestered. Hardy in zones 5-10.

Do you have a favorite late-summer plant that tolerates some shade? I’d love to hear your comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Containers 2019…The June Images

A shade tolerant planter that gets its zing from foliage color, with blossoms as a bonus

My goal, when designing containers, is to come up with combinations that are easy care, not too thirsty and will look fabulous right through September. As followers of this blog know, I am a big fan of succulents which you will see featured in many combinations.   Here are some of this season’s ensembles.
An older black cast stone urn features a new plant (for us) Angel Wings Senecio, with Phormium ‘Shiraz’, Aeonium, Echeveria ‘Afterglow’ and Dichondra Silver Falls. Yep, I’m mixing succulents with other drought tolerant plants! This urn receives more shade every year, but it does get strong afternoon sun.

Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’, a Coleus relative, has dark green leaves with purple undersides and lavender-blue flowers. She’s paired with the Pineapple Lily Eucomis Oakhurst, Oxalis triangularis, Foxtail Asparagus, and yellow leaved Jasmine.

Nearby, in the teal green drum pot, I’ve used Pineapple Lily again with Phormium ‘Evening Glow’ , Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’, and the ever so sweet Santa Barbara daisy Erigeron karvinskianuplus Peppermint Geranium.

This rather wild planting in a 20″ cast stone bowl includes Feather Grass Stipa tenuissima with Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’, Gaura ‘So White’ , Ornamental Oregano and the Santa Barbara Daisy again.

This basalt gray trough is about 28″ x 10″ wide by 7″ deep. Perhaps it’s overplanted…we’ll find out. Cardoon Cynara cardunculus is the centerpiece, flanked by Luzula ‘Solar Flare’,Pelargonium sidoides , white Lantana montevidensis ,Santa Barbara Daisy and Dichondra.

A large brown terra cotta bowl is planted with a variety of succulents and Phormium ‘Evening Glow’ which adds height to the center.

The Martini pot makes an appearance again, featuring, of course,  succulents

Found this great pumice rock planter at Snug Harbor Farm in Maine! Black Mondo Grass adds dark contrast and texture to this succulent planting,

A 20″ dark gray stone bowl is planted with succulents which pick up the coloring of the stone wall in the background.

Visitors to Avant Gardens are greeted by this tall planter featuring some of my favorite succulents. Super easy, so reliable, so drought tolerant!

A closeup detail…featuring a choice Echeveria,  powder blue Sedum clavatum, and amber Sedum adolphii and Rice Plant.

This arrangementin front of our little summer house which is quite shady, plays with gold, variegated and burgundy foliage.  The perennials Tolmeia ‘Cool Gold’ and Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ contrast with Coleus ‘Dark Heart’,  and Abutilon ‘Gold Dust’ offers color with its melon colored blossoms. The Abutilon will probably need regular pinching. I can handle that.

A large urn , which now only gets a couple of hours of morning sun. I’ve had good luck growing the various Asparagus and Rabbit’s Foot Ferns, as well as the purple leaved Alternanthera in this spot. New additions for this year are Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’ and the trailing variegated Bermuda Grass.

Another shady spot combo: Golden leaved Jasmine ‘Fiona’s Sunrise’ will trail and perhaps climb the cedar rail. Rabbit’s Foot Fern will add height, Oxalis triangularis adds dark tones while Tolemia ‘Cool Gold’ echoes plantings in the bed behind. Last year we had Begonia grandis in this pot, and it looks like seeds dropped and came up at the base of the stone wall. Maybe I should tuck one into this pot again.

I used to plant this huge 38″ bowl with succulents, but nearby trees have grown and shaded this area quite a bit. This year’s experiment is a mixup of shade tolerant plants that are not very thirsty. Here is a partial list:  Begonia boliviensis ‘Santa Cruz’ dominates with orange color, Begonia ‘Ebony’ adds dark angel wing foliage, Black Mondo Grass adds contrast. Rice plant Rhipsalis cereuscalaRhipsalis rhombea and Ming Fern Asparagus macowanii will trail, and  Begonia bowerea will creep and fill. I had to add a  gift plant from my friend Suzanne,  Synadenium grantii. Can’t wait to see it grow…it is a succulent Euphorbia with red infused foliage and will obtain some height…observe and learn, I say.

This embossed cast stone pot gets only a few hours of sun, but it happens right in the middle of the day. I’m using plants that can take the heat, and hopefully some shade too. Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’ adds height and Euphorbia turicalli (Sticks on Fire) adds a warm glow, while Oxalis ‘Iron Cross’ will be filler, along with Begonia kellermannii and Ming Fern.  Echeveria agavoides adds some weight. Oh, and I tucked in a String of Pearls too! It doesn’t ask for much, and more is good.

Check back in early October when I report back on how well these containers carried on through the summer.

2019: A Spring to Remember

A favorite vignette with Enkianthus c. ‘Sikokianus’ and Acer palmatum ‘Chishio Improved’

It’s been a while since we’ve had a cool, moist  (wet…maybe really wet) lengthy spring.  Most years, April gives us a wintry mix; we get 2 weeks of spring in May, and then summer-like weather hits us by Memorial Day and we soon start praying for rain. Not this year. The flowering trees and shrubs have been putting on a show unlike any other year in recent memory.  Here are a few joyful images from the past 6 weeks.

Arisaema fargesii foliage emerging

Glaucidium palmatum, the lovely wood poppy bloomed for us for the first time!

Art imitating Life

Clematis recta ‘Lime Close’ growing up through Kolwitzia

Leucosceptrum ‘Gold Angel’ effectively disguising Allium foliage!!!!

Kolwitzia ‘Dreamcatcher’, aka Beautybush’

Epimedium ‘Domino’ has continued to throw off flowers since late April, and here it is mid June!

Paeonia ‘Bartzella’

Right now the variegated Cornus kousa ‘Wolf Eyes’ is stunning with thousands of 3-4″ flowers.

What plants totally blew you away with their beauty this spring?

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. 

closeup

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’

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containers 2018… the after shots

The summer of 2018 presented many challenges to gardeners here in the northeast. Some folks had mind-numbing amounts of rainfall. We had the heat and HUMIDITY but missed most of the storms until September, when we began to catch up with the precipitation….a good thing for the trees and shrubs,  but after a summer of high humidity, the succulents which s often end with a grand tra-la, began to falter.  On the other hand, containers that loved tropical conditions thrived, and I wish I had planted more.

I present to you the before and after pictures:

Brown terra cotta bowl, June and then October…a number of succulents like the yellow and copper Sedum melted with the humidity and late season wetness.

The turquoise jar held up admirably, with Echeveria ‘Afterglow’. The after picture was taken in mid-September.

We never caught them in action, but think some birds decided to have a go at pecking on the succulents’ foliage and breaking off strands from the Rhipsalis which trails over this gray cylinder pot.

Still looking as good as it did in June, this urn with Beschorneria and tender succulents put on a little more growth.

Shade Pot 1. The white form of Begonia boliviensis continues to send our flowers with the Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern and trailing Alternanthera ‘Gails Choice’ is still holding up well in early October.

Time of day and time of year affect lighting so much. This was a fairly successful shade planter with Begonia ‘Concorde’ filling in nicely, and the golden-leaved piggyback plant Tolmeia ‘Cool Gold’ adding color contrast. The Maidenhair fern fronds had a tendency to brown out.

Happy happy tropicals such as the dark red Caladium and Black Elephant Ears aren’t ready to quit. Trailing over the pot is variegated Bermuda Grass (Cynodon dactylon)

 

How did your containers perform this season?  Did you try a combination that worked well all summer and is still showing off now?

Vernonia x ‘Southern Cross’

Do you have room in your garden for a late summer/early fall blooming perennial that attracts butterflies galore? This Ironweed has dreamy clouds of composite purple flower clusters on sturdy stems 3-4’ tall beginning in August and its handsome narrow foliage looks fresh all season long. Discovered by Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennials, ‘Southern Cross’ obviously has the species lettermannii in its heritage. This selection combines beautifully with ornamental grasses such as Sorghastrum, Schizachyrium and Eragrostis.

‘Southern Cross’ appears to like extra moisture the first season but becomes more drought tolerant once it is established. Plants are hardy in zones 4-8 and should be deer resistant.

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Containers 2018…the before shots

May I present to you the “before” shots of our 2018 containers? My goal each year is to create easy care combinations, showcasing some unique specimens, which will continue to look gorgeous right up until frost. Since I love succulents, and they are so super easy, drought tolerant, and look outrageous into the fall, you’ll notice more than a  few combinations.  Above is a 28” wide brown terra cotta bowl with a succulent array , including Aeonium ‘Blushing Beauty’, Senecio cylindricus, Senecio Mini Blue, Sedum “Firestorm’, Sedum mackinoi ‘Ogon’, Sedum pachyphytum, and a peach flowering painted Echeveria hybrid. This container and the next were planted on Memorial Day, and have already knit together nicely.  Many of the other planters were put together this past week.

The tall cylinder pot has a 24” opening and stands 44” tall. It showcases a few really choice succulents that I’ve been growing on for several years. The ingredients in this planter are: Aeonium urbicum, Senecio barbertonicus, Euphorbia turicalli, Crassula ovata ‘Gollum’Echeveria’ and ‘Hummel’s Sunset’, plus Echeveria ’Chocolate Prince’ and ‘Blue Prince’, Sedum ‘Firestorm’ and trailing over the side is Rice Plant, Rhipsalis teres v. capilliformis.a closeup of the forms and textures.

This 8” terra-cotta pot ensemble picks us some of the colors in the other planters. We’re enjoying this unknown Echeveria pulidonis hybrid with erect stems bearing peach colored flowers, and the flower color is fun with the golden Sedum adolphii and the tiny creeper Sedum album ‘Athoum’.

We’ve been growing on these false agave ‘Beschorneria ‘Pink Flamingo’ plants for several years now and they are quite impressive in size. Underplantings include Echeveria agavoides, Sedum mackinoi ‘Ogon’ and ‘String of Pearls’ Senecio rowleyensis. The iron urns are about 15″ across and are in an area which gets half day sun.

A client who lives by the sea brought in these cast stone rectangles and wanted a planting that is easy to care for and that could tolerate lots of wind and sun. We’re glad she likes these sea and sky colored succulents.

To have interesting shade planters, you really do need to seek out unique foliage plants. Here I’ve used Phlebodium pseudoaureum (Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern) with the white form of Begonia boliviensis and purple trailing  Alternanthera ‘Gails Choice’ plus the mini spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum ‘Bonnie’ which will eventually cascade down this urn as well.

Another shade container, planted once again with Maidenhair Fern Adiantum pedatum, plus Begonia ‘Concorde’ adds dark foliage contrast and pink flowers, and the new trailing perennial piggyback plant, Tolmeia menziesii ‘Cool Gold’. This container has an 18” opening and gets dappled light.

In a dark corner, and paired with a yellow orchid, chartreuse colored Hosta ‘Designer Genes’ is the focal point, its wine red petioles adding contrast. I like the way the rising flower stock has an interesting foliar accent.  Ming Fern,  Asparagus macawonii, is used to give an airy feel, and golden Piggyback Plant will spill over the sides of the pot. 

Imperial Blue Plumbago is a gorgeous color that is sometimes hard to play with. To be on the safe side, it’s paired with white Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ and the chartreuse form of licorice plant, Helichrysum ‘Limelight’.

Coprosma ‘Pink Splendor’ is a tender evergreen shrub with pastel variegation. Here it is paired with chenille plant, Acalypha pendula and a trailing flowering maple, Abutilon megapotamicum, in a 10” wide tall tom pot. This container would enjoy a spot in full sun or part day shade.

White Begonia boliviensis steals the show in this 15” terra cotta rolled rim pot, but this container wouldn’t be as much fun without Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ and the teal/silver trailer Pilea glauca. Phormium ‘Sundowner’ adds a vertical thrust. For sun or part shade.

This impressive 38” zen cast stone bowl has always been planted with succulents, due to it’s shallow depth and ease of care (it’s in a spot a distance away from a water source). The problem is, this area has become more and more shady, (only about 3-4 hours of good sunlight). This selection of succulents is thought to be more tolerate of some shade….we’ll see how they fared at summer’s end.

Peachy-pink and lime green Phormium ‘Jester’ adds the vertical in this succulent combo, which includes  a golden leaved Portulacaria we found at The Ruth Bancroft Garden a few years ago, plus ‘Echeveria ‘Blue Prince’, Crassula ‘Hummell’s Sunset’, Sedum ‘Limeglow’ and  Sedeveria ‘Blue Elf’ and Sedeveria ‘Jetbeads.

The color of this 18” ceramic container reminds me of the ocean on a clear sunny day. Succulents contribute to that under the sea feeling….the large growing Echeveria ‘Afterglow’, with the tall Senecio cylindricus, Pachyphytum ‘Blue Haze’ , Crassula ovata undulata, and a mystery x Graptosedum hybrid.

I’ll be taking photos again of these containers in late September and we can compare these early shots with “After Pics”. Stay posted.