Simple and pretty.

Zinnia Double Zahara White (TM), Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Little Bunny’ and Alternanthera cultivar

Check out this sweet Zinnia marylandica Double Zahara White (TM), which blends lime-green and cream into a 16-20″ mid-border or container option that won’t require staking.

Combined with the fountain grass- Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Little Bunny’ and a soft burgundy Alternanthera cultivar (another wonderful, under-utilized annual), it is a departure from my usual cacophany of color- a study in black and white.

Despite my past revulsion of the idea “gardening with children”, I think my granddaughters will dig the cute little seedheads on the grass. And, in a total 180 from my past self, that’s suddenly important to me! In fairness, when I began to garden it was my respite from caring for kids. Within reason, I am game to let my grandchildren in on the pleasures of having a garden.

Don’t judge me…

A Fresh Start

Trees that provided great scale. And zero privacy.

We took a big leap this spring. In the early 1960s the family that lived in this house brought in live trees for Christmas, then planted them out to grow along the property line. Time intervened and the lower limbs died, leaving us with large scale trees and a virtual uninterrupted sightline into our neighbor’s bedrooms. Note that the first 15 feet of trunk are devoid of foliage. What to do? Well, we took a deep breath and removed them.

The “after” is scary. But we have a plan. Sort of.

Continue to follow this blog along and see the newly installed planting. We’re heading into it with an eye toward lower maintenance. In addition, we’re striving to create a habitat of native plants hospitable to pollinators. One major shift is the reality of the change in stewardship from a young gardener with good knees to one who is now in her sixties. The plan will lean on some interesting new trees mixed with shrubs and ground covers to create plant communities that provide privacy and beauty.

Deck the Halls.

Glitter & Greens

I love to decorate with fresh-cut greens in the winter. I go a little nuts arranging branches and tchotchkes on mantels and in arrangements. This year I wanted a winter woodland vibe in the house for New Year’s and much of ski season. Of course, a little sparkle never hurts! The bronze glitter “snowflakes” were part of my outdoor decor in 2017. I decided they looked wonderful in the “transition space” that has become central to our mountain home. The focal point is a woodland tree I placed in a glittery Faux bois vase. Said tree and vase are each over 5 years old. So fun to re-imagine for this winter season! White pine and cedar branches inserted into floral foam tie the vignette together.

Macro view of the old kitchen, now a transitional space at Hidden Valley.

Imagining the Space

Did I mention “transitional space?” When we linked the original 3-bedroom A-frame to a new addition this space took shape. Take a look at the white plaster ceiling. Imagine a kitchen within those dimensions- 10 x 12 feet, with about 9 feet of functional counter space. Oh, and think about regularly cooking dinner for 12 plus! You’re looking now from our original (and current) living room into my amazing new kitchen- honestly, the raison d’etre for the addition. With a gracious dining space unseen in this shot, it provides a generous gathering spot for our growing family.

One of my favorite features in decor magazines is a big entry hall anchored by a center table, adorned with flowers or books. While there is no grand entry in this house, I jumped at the chance to create a place that set the mood for our home. First, I found the Sandberg wallpaper, which was a perfect blend of whimsy and woodland. A rustic mirror and sconces from Currey and Company provide a year-round backdrop for seasonal arrangements. My husband built the console with a slab of live edge oak harvested from fallen tree at our Pittsburgh home. The comfy Gabbeh tree-of-life rug from O’Bannon Oriental Carpets anchors the space and provides a nice spot for dog lounging and baby play.

Creating Magic

Our mountain home renovation was a labor of love. But, the fun of decorating it throughout the year is a bonus. The vignettes change seasonally. It’s a space where I indulge my love of floral design. I hope my grandchildren experience it as a place for wonder, magic and memories.

Resilient Plants: Hardy Mums

November. From a weather perspective it’s pretty much my least favorite month. Sure, we might get a couple crisp fall days in the 50’s, but it’s typically gray, rainy, foggy or raw. Add to that, we lose an hours of evening light. One bright spot in this dreary month are the blooms of hardy chrysanthemums (botanically Dendanthrema species). Not the lumpy mums sold alongside pumpkins- pretty as they are, but true hardy chrysanthemums.  Long-lasting, late-blooming and impervious to the vagaries of November weather, their lanky foliage quietly graces the border until the shorter days spur them to bloom.

This bright pink beauty is ‘Cambodian Queen’ a tough, drought resistant daisy with a crisp white eye. In a month when we’re retreating to indoor projects, hardy mums are a bright spot in the garden. They make great cut flowers, bloom for 3-4 weeks, return faithfully every year and are pretty much pest and disease free. Make room for these in your garden, maybe paired with a native switch grass, for nice contrast in texture and a spot of late season interest in the garden.

PS- November is not without its charms. My middle daughter and my twin granddaughters celebrate birthdays in November…so I’d definitely keep it on the calendar!

It’s all about that vase.

 

One of my favorite parts of gardening is pairing plants and containers to create artsy compositions on my deck and at my front door.  I choose flowers and foliage that complement the color or design of the pot, enhancing both. The same concept relates to cut flowers. I have a cupboard filled with vases- or vessels- as a good buddy refers to them. I fill them with flowers from my garden, the grocery store, or florist and try to always have fresh-cut flowers indoors.

Always the “flower snob”, a dear friend brought flowers from a great Pittsburgh florist after I had knee surgery.  The bouquet was filled with cool colors- from the enormous blue hydrangeas to hot pink roses. On the color wheel these pinks, blues and purples lie side-by-side, or are “analogous”.  Adding more interest was the contrasting mix of floral forms, from large spheres to the spikes of blue veronica and larkspur. While it looked really nice in the simple glass container, I pulled the entire arrangement out of the vase and plunked it into a blue transferware pitcher. This pitcher complements most anything from lilacs to sunflowers, but it perfectly echoed the lovely arrangement and made it distinctly mine!

Late Season Loveliness

Salvia splendens Pennisetum rubrum

Bidding adieu to the 2018 growing season. It has been bittersweet for me, as my joints are telling me I must garden differently than I have for the past 30 years. July/August/September bled together into one oppressive humidity marathon. Worst of all, I suffered the loss of my trusty groundhog hunting dog- Ares, my companion for the past 8 years in the garden. He succumbed to cancer in late June, and the dreaded herbivores devoured my zinnias, coleus and coneflowers. A killing frost sounds pretty good right now!

Despite disappointments, a spring planting has created quite a show in front of my house as October winds down. I anchored a copper urn on the left side of my walk with a ‘thriller’ of annual purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum cultivar), definitely not a dwarf, clocking in at over 3 feet tall. It’s been unflagging through heat and drought, but any signs of the ‘filler’ and ‘spiller’ I planted alongside it are gone. They’ve been swallowed by the robust grass. It’s enormously out of scale, but I adore the fluffy wands that are glowing in the slanting rays of October sun.

Across from the urn is a contemporary shallow bowl, centered in a little bed that has held several dwarf trees, all doomed by snow removal from our driveway over the years.  After years of wanting a permanent feature in the bed, I concluded that a seasonal planting was the best way to go. This year it held a canna whose tropical leaves contrasted nicely with the grass across the way. As summer heat subsided, the canna has taken a backseat to its companion, one of my favorite late season bloomers- pineapple sage (Salvia elegans). Deer ignore its crushed leaves that smell like its common name. It’s taken center stage now, smothered in red flowers that sway with the breeze. I cut some branches to enjoy indoors, but leave most of the bright red flowers that perfectly complement the fountain grass.

No matter that the path to my front door is nearly blocked by container plants, they look wonderful and lush. They force my focus to the positive and, thankfully, the rest of the garden fades to the background. Like plants, old gardeners must adapt. Next year will bring some needed change, and some hired help, to my garden. Until then, I’ll plan and dream of next year’s garden.

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Surviving the Dog Days

fullsizeoutput_2475Coming off of our recent run of hideously hot and humid weather, I’m just going to admit my garden looks awful. The weeds have won. A groundhog has binged on the coleus, zinnias and sweet potato vines in my garden. My basil is kaput. A brave blogger would take a picture of the depressing scene, but I’ll spare you. I’d rather post some prettiness. This little pave’ arrangement is contained within a funky little ceramic container that accurately mimics the matte finish of a common cardboard berry box. It features a pretty bi-color dahlia and two exceptional annuals for the cut flower garden. The pretty purple/blue puffs are Ageratum houstonianum ‘Blue Horizon’ and the hot pink at the top is Gomphrena globosa ‘Fireworks’. Both are terrific deer resistant plants that make awesome cut flowers.

It looks like the HHH weather has broken, and I’ll post some garden pictures soon. That means after I have several days when I can work outside without becoming cranky from the heat and pull the weeds that have overrun my garden!

When inspiration strikes.

A standard bit of advice is to head to the nursery, list in hand- specific to your garden, so you don’t return home with a carload of plants and no idea where to place them. BUT, if you’re planning to make broccoli yet you discover the stalks chilling in the produce section are pale and flabby, you must look to an alternative. Be open to plants that inspire and don’t cleave to that list at all costs. Like this pretty thing, found nowhere on my list:fullsizeoutput_21f6.jpeg I have a terra-cotta pot in my garden that is always anchored by a lime cypress, which I typically surround with high contrast colors. This year a local grower had healthy specimens of Lavandula x intermedia Phenomenal™ (Phenomenal lavender). Offered by White Flower Farm at a hefty $21.95 per gallon, this soft gray lavender was loaded with buds and became a new accent for my old pot this year at a reasonable $7.99. I mean, if the broccoli sucks and the asparagus is fresh and crisp…toss the list!

Out went high contrast and I ended up with a monochromatic container of purples and gray. I combined the lavender with Calibrachoa Superbells® ‘Miss Lilac’ (million bells) and  lacy Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost®

I’ve never embraced lavender because of its woody growth habit, but this cultivar has won accolades for strong performance from growers worldwide. After spending this season in a pot I will move it to a sunny spot in with the best drainage I can provide, hoping it will make a permanent home in my garden.

 

 

Support your local nursery

Spring has FINALLY arrived and even the most reluctant homeowner will head out to buy a few geraniums or fresh basil for their garden. “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” has become a clarion call for farmers. Your local plant growers warrant similar support- with good reason. Growing plants is labor intensive and requires skill- and most local growers aren’t doing it for big money. It is their passion. The choices at big-box stores pale in comparison to what your local nursery offers and their wisdom is indispensable for choosing plants that will thrive once you get them home. Why go local before you head to a big-box store? Where does a plant obsessed Master Gardener go for plants?……2kty4yonr96g2kcwnccica.jpg

  • The selection of plants at big-box stores is skewed to those easy to propagate, cheap to source in quantity and shippable from long distances with little plant loss. That mind-set means you can get a crappy Bradford pear prone to ice damage, a mis-marked rhododendron or a tomato plant in late April on the cheap. A local nursery owner might not even stock Bradford pear (thank you Best Feeds!), will know that the rhodie they’re selling is purple not pink, and would caution you that soil temperatures aren’t warm enough for tomatoes until late May.
  • Local nurseries can be tuned into the zeitgeist of their horticultural community. They may have plants that are native and perfect for pollinators and VERY hard to source. Thank you Quality Gardens.
  • If you ask for a plant you have a chance that the nursery will order it in for you. Try that at the big box- where one size fits all. Thank you Dan from Michael Brothers Nursery. I could soak in his knowledge for days and he’s never steered me wrong.
  • If you live in deer infested areas many local nurseries sell plants that they’ve installed in local gardens and have thrived i.e. they know the palate of the local herd. Thank-you LMS Greenhouse and Nursery. (Sad post-script- I just learned they are closing because they can’t get anyone to work the hard labor of garden maintenance. The H2B Visa program has fizzled away).
  • When you walk into a greenhouse whose owner has lovingly selected each and every cultivar of plant, grown them from seed into nice healthy specimens, carefully placed them in a greenhouse and watered, fertilized, cut-back and tended them like their own children, you’ll be planting with the very best head start. Compare that to the rack upon rack of hastily potted annuals shipped to the box store and meant for purchase within 5 minutes or the odds of watering or liberation from their stacked confines can be days or weeks. Pisarcik Greenhouse, pictured above has some of the healthiest, stockiest young plants and one of the most neatly organized greenhouses I’ve ever seen.
  • Sometimes you’ll read about new plants and won’t be able to find them. One of Pittsburgh’s rock-star nurseries is Brenckle’s Greenhouse. They always have the latest offerings from growers and the younger generation has taken up the mantle of their parents. Their selection is always amazing- if you read about a flower in a magazine you’ll find it at Brenckle’s.
  • Every nursery I’ve mentioned above has staff that knows their plants. For a novice gardener, that expertise is indispensable. We’ve got to support them or they’ll be gone. Our only plant choices will be that suck-y Bradford pear, invasive barberries and flats with barely rooted baby annuals. We can’t let that happen.

Choose plants that light up the garden during prime-time.

If you head to the nursery in May, clouds of white and pink flowers bedecking cherry, crabapple and Bradford pear trees dominate the scene.  Rhododendrons clad in purple and raspberry flowers will vie for your attention, making a perfect palette for a pretty spring garden. That’s fine, but think about when you are actually IN your garden. Grilling on the the July 4th? Playing badminton on a sunny weekend in June? That pretty purple rhododendron calling your name in the spring will be a quiet spot of green in the summer or early fall, when you are likely hanging out in your yard. Meanwhile, languishing in the nursery are the plants like bottlebrush buckeye (described below) that will take center stage in mid-summer.

Aesculus parviflora

Take a look at this beauty! It’s bottlebrush buckeye or Aesculus parviflora, a grand shrub reaching a height of up to 8-10 feet with about equal girth. It tolerates full sun through nearly full shade. For the giant candelabras of buckeye flowers in this image, give it at least 4 hours of sun. Unfussy about soil and usually unbothered by deer, the coarse foliage creates a weed-proof spot perfect for the woodland edge or tucked under large deciduous trees. In my landscape, a sunny hillside with unamended clay soil was planted with gallon pots of bottlebrush buckeye over 20 years ago. Today, they create a dramatic show, covered with bees and butterflies, making the garden gorgeous when we’re outside sipping rose’ and listening to the BOOM of fireworks on the 4th of July. The bottom line- ask your local nursery staff to steer you toward plants that will make your garden shine when you are outside enjoying it with your family and friends.