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.

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.

n1u5nPKHSXC6yqBqwqnzng.jpg

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.

 

 

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.