Category Archives: Garden Musings

Desperately Seeking Sunshine

Boronia crenulata ‘Shark Bay’…An Australian native that is never out of bloom.

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.

Mimulus sp. from Western Hills…blooms all year!

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.

A lovely Epiphyllum (Orchid Cactus) whose name is “?”

Anyone know the name of this orchid?

Rhipsalis capilliformis, funky and fun, soon to be in bloom

 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.

Kalanchoe thyrsiflora (now luciae) erupting into flower.

All the succulents that we buy as little plants take on larger proportions with age. This Paddle Plant erupts into bloom in winter.

Our office needed a replacement plant for the window sill, so I brought in this BeschnorneriaBechnorneria 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.

Beschnorneria sp. from Cistus Nursery years ago, finally in bloom.

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.

There’s still time to deck the pots with….

I was trying to ignore the holidays this year. A visit to the west coast for our son’s mid year college graduation filled our calendar in early December.  I had started to rethink the winter containers before I left, but didn’t get very far. Upon returning home there was a ton of unfinished business to attend to. We aren’t hosting a Christmas gig this year. No little children to dazzle and excite. A part of me said why do you want to give yourself more to do?

Then, last night, while driving home, passing house after house decked with holiday lights and showy front door entries, I really felt shamed pulling into our driveway. No lights to greet me, no glow of a Christmas tree inside.  Does anybody live here?  That was the message our place was saying. Not a good one.

Here’s what I got done so far this morning.

The before picture: Why not leave the Euphorbia?

The after picture: Cut Greens, Red and Yellow Twig Dogwood. Simple!

Detail: Red Twig and ‘Winter Flame’ Dogwood’ with Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’

Winterberry Pot: Red Twig Dogwood, Winterberry, Hinoki Cypress, Christmas Rose, and Variegated Mondo Grass

Detail: Helleborus ‘Jacob’ with Ophiopogon Pamela Harper and Winterberry

Finished the wreath for the front door. It’s not good lighting to take a photo right now, but maybe tonight, with a few Christmas lights!

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Winter Solstice Greetings to all!

Never the Same Picture

Just took a break from fall cleanup chores and went to grab my camera to capture a few images.  I went to upload into my November 2012 image folder, and noticed the November 2011 folder right next to it, so I had to look. Same day, same garden, different year. Yes, we did some garden editing this spring, but what struck me is the dramatic color difference in the Japanese Maple Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’.

Outside my office door, Nov. 11, 2012

Outside my office door, Nov. 11th, 2011.

Most “”Bang for your Bucks”” Plants 2012

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.

September Report: Successful Containers

I have always thought that what makes great visual art is when an object or painting compels you to look at it again and again. I feel the same way about plants and gardens, and containers. Of course, plants are constantly changing, so plantings are ephemeral compositions. Perhaps that’s why we want to take in their beauty all the more. Here are some planted containers that have looked good all summer, and still do in mid September.

Large Succulent Bowl on a pedestal, perhaps more beautiful than ever.

Composed of odds and ends succulents left over from last season, this ensemble has married well.

Aeonium ‘Schwartkop’ was the highlight of this tall river pot.

Syngonium ‘Neon’, an easy and lovely shade foliage plant.

Begonia ‘Chocolate Pink’ with Pilea and Cissus discolor

Peachy Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’, with the adorable curly Spider Plant and a white Syngonium…great, easy pot for partial shade.

The Chocolate Mimosa Tree, Albizzia ‘Summer Chocolate’, makes a fast growing subject for container, adding height, texture, and dark coloring.

We did a posting of some planted containers in early July. A number of these containers sold, and we hear they still look smashing. As you can see, it’s mostly about foliage. What are your favorite container combinations from this season?

Succulent Wreath How-to

Our Succulent Wreath Workshops on Saturday June 16th were a great success. I promise we’ll do another one before the summer is over, but we need to get more growth on all of our stock plants because of the tremendous number of cuttings needed. In the meantime, for all those who asked, here’s a quick “how to” in case you have a supply of cuttings on hand from your own garden and containers.

First, gather lots of cuttings. Select a variety of sizes and shapes: rosettes from Sempervivum and Echeveria, filler plants such as cuttings from low growing hardy and tender Sedum. Remember that these plants will take root and begin to grow in the sphagnum wreath form, so you don’t want to select from plants that want to reach tall proportions. It seems all succulents mix and match well, but try to select light medium and dark tones so your wreath has dimension and contrast.

Begin by soaking a sphagnum moss wreath (we used a 9″ premade form) in water. Start by using the larger rosette forms if you have them, distributing them equally around the wreath. Use a pencil, bamboo skewer or other pointed utensil to poke a hole for the succulent stems. Remove any lower leaves off the stems if necessary to position your rosette in the hole. Use topiary pins to help secure your cutting in place, but try to make the pins discreet.

Continue adding material…filler plants like creeping Sedum album, sichotense and pachyphllum in between the larger rosettes. The creepers will take root faster and cover the moss quickly.

Be sure to tuck creepers on the inner and outer sides of the formso that they take root and hide the moss.

Continue to use up your cuttings. It’s really hard to screw up here. If you still see moss when you run out of cuttings, don’t worry, these babies will take root and spread. If the cuttings spread more than you like, snip them back (which you will have to do eventually).

Carefully move your wreath into a sunny warm spot where it can remain undisturbed until the cuttings root.  When the sphagnum form feels dry, you can soak the form in a basin or spray with water (in the morning or at the end of the day, so water spots don’t sunburn the leaves) . It will take approximately 4-6 weeks for the cuttings to root in. Do not over water. Wait until the cuttings are rooted before you fertilize. Do not over fertilize. We recommend using a Seaweed/Fish Emulsion. If you hang your wreath, you will want to rotate it occasionally so that the plantlets don’t all start reaching for the sky. You can also periodically lie the wreath flat in a sunny location to prevent “stretching” from occurring.  Enjoy!

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Better early than late: Spring in February

Iris Katharine Hodgkin'

Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’

February came in like a lamb, and it’s trying to muster a roar as it takes advantage of leap year’s extra day of winter. Signs of green are everywhere, despite the official start to spring still weeks away. Northern gardeners like us know that the joke could be on us if we get too accustomed to this mild weather, before March has played out. But how can we not be giddy when a walk about the garden revealed these beacons of spring heralding the new season?

Galanthus

Nodding Double Snowdrops

Helleborus 'Wester Flisk'

Helleborus ‘Wester Flisk’

Helleborus 'Jade Tiger'

Helleborus ‘Jade Tiger’

Almost Black Helleborus

Almost Black Helleborus

Hamamellis ‘Feuerzauber’

The Galanthus (Snowdrops) are not too big a surprise, but little Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ usually waits until late March to show off. Helleborus foetidus ‘Wester Flisk’ looks rather well this year, thanks to the mild winter.  Helleborus ‘Jade Tiger’  which we planted last year, proudly displays his first flower, but an older clump of an almost black Hellebore is not quite sure if it’s safe yet. For the past 3 weeks, the witchhazel Feuerzauber’ has been emitting the sweetest perfume. What little gems do you have in bloom in your garden right now?

Spanish Impressions

The courtyard at Casa del Herrero with various tilework and paving.

The Northeast has many wonderful gardens but the ones that stand out as must see destinations are not built with plants alone. These gardens display structural materials and contours which challenge our formed perspectives in unexpected ways.  It is easy to slip into the parochial mentality of using traditional materials in traditional ways.  The best remedy for this is traveling! Nothing inspires and excites like unfamiliar architecture and a different climate, which imprint their unique personality upon the landscape.  This winter we explored, once again, southern California. Three places stood out, not only for their plants collections and designs, but for their use of decorative stone, tile and brick.

Detail showing band of tiles.

In the community of Montecito, Santa Barbara County, we visited Casa del Herrero.  Situated on a 7 acre trapezoidal site, this Spanish Colonial Revival is center stage to the surrounding gardens. While it is impossible to separate the house from the landscape as a unified whole, there are still individual vignettes and motifs that can find translation in New England gardens.  During our mid winter tour, Kathy remarked that the grounds were wonderful, even without many blossoms. Molly Barker, the executive director replied, ?Our tiles are our flowers?.  Though our cold climate gardens may never have the exquisite tilings of Casa del Herrero, it would take only a few to add flavor and personality to any courtyard or entry garden.

Use of tile as risers in brick steps at Lotusland.

Inlaid pebbles adorn the surface of the platform for this garden orb.

Pebble Mosaic Paving at Lotusland

Ten minutes from Monticeto, is Santa Barbara, home to Lotusland, the estate and garden created by the late Polish opera singer, Madame Ganna Walska.  Married six times to a series of wealthy husbands, Madame obviously never thought enough is enough.  This is equally evident in the gardens, dramatic and lush, living stages set sooo over-the-top that you forget where the bottom is. This stunning, fantastical landscape is another world, which is saying something since, in Santa Barbara, over-the-top is ?whateva!?.  Handsome and playful tile work is seen throughout, but the decorative stonework, constructed of small rounded stones (beach pebbles) set in mortar is spectacular.  This stone integrates well with many other hard surface materials: brick, cement, natural stone, bluestone and schist.

The Blue Iguana that greets you at the Inn.

Patio Paving Combination at the Blue Iguana Inn in Ojai.

Another stop on our tour was the Town of Ojai, CA, which shares a personality similar to Taos, NM.  Each is ripe with creative energy that manifests in house, garden, public and private space, culture and lifestyle.  Throughout southern California, water availability is an ongoing concern and Ojai is no exception.  This is, no doubt, one of the reasons that tiles and decorative stone craft play such an important role in the landscape.  The aesthetic contribution is colorful and constant.  While in Ojai, we stayed at The Blue Iguana Inn.  Here they used beach pebbles in several ways: to create the motif of the reptile, to simulate the shadow of a tree in a sitting area, and as a face on stair risers. As New Englanders we never tire of looking at stone, but finding new ways to use it is essential to expand the New England landscape vernacular.

–Chris Tracey, Avant Gardens

Perennial Chrysanthemums

Dendranthena 'Hannah's Garden'

Chrysanthemum from Hannah’s Garden

We are often asked, #1, “What is the difference between a perennial mum and the hardy mums sold in pans in the autumn?”

Another question is  “What is the difference between Dendranthema and Chrysanthemum?”

We understand the confusion. If it’s hardy, it must be perennial, right? The answer to #1 is “Yes, but…” And as for the Genus classification, more confusion exists. In 1999, the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature announced we all should be calling the reliably perennial forms (or Korean Mums) Dendranthema.  Now we’ve been told the term Dendranthema is being axed, and we need to classify all mums under Chrysanthemum.

The mums sold in the fall, offered in kaleidoscopic colors, are hybrids of Korean, Chinese and Japanese Chrysanthemums. It is believed that the forms that survive in the coldest zones, 4 and 5, are of the Korean lineage (formerly Chrysanthemum indicum).  What we’ve also learned is that many of the “pan mums” could actually winter over in zones 5 and 6, but fail to do so, because they are planted so late in the season (Nov., Dec.) when we empty our containers. Their shallow root systems get desiccated or exposed to deep freezes and excess winter saturation. To be successful, you should plant your mums by early fall, and/or mulch heavily for root protection.

More of what you need to know: Chrysanthemum set buds when day length shortens, usually in October. If your mums start to bloom in August or early September, it might be due to long periods of overcast weather. Chrysanthemum tend to grow to 3′ in height or more and are quite floppy, unless pinched back. We’ve always followed the rule of cutting mums to the ground on or around the 4th of July to keep them compact, multi branched and floriferous. Each new shoot will bear clusters of blossoms, so the more shoots, the more flowers you will have.  (The pan mums are essentially many rooted cuttings pinched back to ensure a burst of flower power.)

We’ve acquired a small group of perennial Chrysanthemum that winter over well for most of us in zones 5-8. One very special cultivar was given to us by a customer, whose grandmother had kept it growing in her garden back in the 1940’s. We’ve been unable to track down a cultivar name, so we’re offering it as Chrysanthemum from Hannah’s Garden.

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P.S. An interesting read on Training Cascading Chrysanthemums can be found on Longwood Garden’s blog