Monday, July 7, 2014
The summer solstice marks the peak of the rose season here in Southern New England. Of course, most of my rose bushes will continue to bloom until frost. Their flowers, however, will be smaller and less abundant as the season progresses and inevitably their aging foliage will lose its glossy sheen.
Last year I neglected to feed my rose bushes. This spring, however, I spent an afternoon working a granular rose fertilizer into the soil around the base of each plant and was rewarded with an abundance of bloom.
Roses are notoriously heavy feeders and an application of fertilizer just as the first leaves are unfurling can make a huge difference in their growth and subsequent flowering. Many rosarians recommend a feeding once a month, but with all my other chores I never seem to find the time. It's also much easier to apply granular fertilizer in the spring before the garden has filled in. Still, there are many liquid fertilizers on the market today, so I really have no excuse for not following a more stringent regiment of fertilization.
Truth be told I usually turn a blind eye to my rose bushes once the Japanese beetles arrive in mid-July. It's simply too disheartening to watch the rose buds being devoured by hordes of hungry beetles. Thankfully their feeding frenzy subsides in early September along with the oppressive heat and humidity and I always look forward to a crop of fresh flower's in autumn.
Although I've had no luck with Hybrid Tea Roses, I've had great success with David Austin's English Roses. Othello, the variety pictured above, has thrived in my garden for almost twelve years and it seems almost indestructible. For a satisfying display I generally plant shrub roses in groups of three or five and space them about three feet apart.
Fifteen years ago I planted eight Sea Foam roses on the slope in my Blue and White garden. The cascading bushes are smothered in clusters of small, white blooms for more than a month each year and throw a few additional sprays when the weather cools in the fall.
I realize that roses have a reputation for being fussy, troublesome plants. It's true that pruning and feeding them in the spring, not to mention dead-heading the spent blooms later in the season, can be time consuming. Never the less I've found that many varieties are quite easy to grow. For the most part the effort expended is well rewarded. After all, very few shrubs fill the garden with color and perfume for weeks at a time. I for one wouldn't be without their luxurious blossoms or the beauty and fragrance of a vase filled with roses and sweet peas.
Thursday, June 5, 2014
The blossoming of the azaleas in my Blue and White garden is one of the highlights of spring here in Seekonk. This year the long awaited event miraculously coincided with the flowering of the dogwoods, my white redbud tree (Cercis Canadensis Alba) and my white tree peony (Paeonia Suffruticosa).
Redbuds usually have pinkish purple flowers, but I am particularly fond of the white cultivar pictured in the upper left corner of the photo above. Redbuds are medium sized understory trees that thrive in partial shade and don't object to be being planted beneath larger hardwoods. As with our native dogwoods, their flowers emerge along graceful branches before the leaves unfurl. The tree peony (pictured in the lower left corner) is a relative of the more frequently grown herbaceous, garden peony. Despite it's exotic beauty this small shrub is of relatively easy culture. There are a host of different varieties available today, many with breathtaking, enormous double blooms that come in almost any color imaginable.Tree peonies may be grown in light shade or full sun in fertile soil. Although they're pricey they are quite long-lived, producing more blooms each year. Sadly, the delicate blossoms last only briefly in the spring garden and are easily ruined by heavy rain. To hedge my bets I usually cut a few of the flowers and enjoy them indoors.
The two splashes of white in the center of the photo above are produced by the foliage of Salix Integra Hakuro Nishiki. A member of the willow family, this fast growing almost indestructible shrub has become quite popular and is often bought as either a bush or a small topiaried tree. I keep mine in bounds with a hard pruning in the spring and at least one additional shearing in mid-summer. The white leaves take on a pinkish cast as the weather warms and may brown in hot dry weather, but for a consistent burst of white, they're hard to beat.
The charming, small vine pictured above is Clematis Maidwell Hall. Its sky-blue flowers open in mid-spring and last for a few weeks. I'm training this one up one of the arches in my cottage garden. This cultivar is rather hard to find and I wish I had bought a few more when I stumbled across it at a garden center a couple years ago. Sadly, after many years my beloved Clematis Montana Rubens has succumbed to some blight or other.
I sorely miss its cascade of pink flowers tumbling across my roof.
Last year I planted it again on the steel gazebo behind my farm pond, but the blight seems to have followed it there. A few weeks ago I watched the bud-laden stems wither just as the flowers were about to open. I must confess that it's heartbreaking when long-time favorites unexpectedly die or a new pest or disease strikes out of the blue.
Still, as I'm fond of saying, gardening isn't for the faint of heart. It's best to roll with punches and focus on the big picture.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
For those of us who live in New England, spring has certainly been slow in coming this year. On the bright side we've had more than ample rainfall and although the cool weather has delayed flowering, it has also extended the bloom time of many early season favorites like the Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia Virginica) pictured below.
I first encountered this delightful shade lover in Bennington, Vermont, where I discovered the nodding bells under a stand of sugar maples on a client's property. In my garden they flourish beneath the deciduous branches of a large oak leaf hydrangea in the corner of my Blue and White garden. Over the past decade three small plants have multiplied rapidly and now cover a substantial area. Sadly, Virginia Bluebells go dormant quite early in the summer, but by then their browning foliage is hidden by the hydrangea's dense canopy. Pulmonaria Highdown (pictured below) is another spring bloomer featuring pink buds that open to reveal much coveted blue flowers.
Pulmonarias or Lungworts, as they're more commonly known, are also shade lovers that thrive in moist, acidic, woodland conditions. Unlike Virginia Bluebells, however, their leaves remain attractive until autumn. Highdown has spotted leaves, but there are newer varieties with even showier, silver foliage that veritably glows in the shade. As the leaves are covered in a rather prickly fur the plants aren't bothered by snail or slugs, a huge plus as far as I'm concerned. In my garden I've combined pulmonarias with hostas, ferns and astilbes to good effect.
Erythronium Pagoda (pictured above) sports some of the largest flowers in the Trout Lily clan. When grown in part shade, this bulb spreads to produce a dense mat and shows to great advantage when planted at the base of tulips. Like many other spring bulbs it goes dormant in the heat of the summer. Still, I wouldn't be without the cheerful yellow flowers that dangle above it's lovely mottled basal leaves.
I love the smell of hyacinths, but find the common varieties better suited to pot culture. Out of doors their heavy, flower stems look clunky and tend to break easily. A few years ago, I discovered multi-flowering Festival Hyacinths and I've quickly become a fan. Each bulb produces a number of flower stems, with fewer more delicate flowers but the same wonderful fragrance. The pink, white or blue blossoms are also wonderful in bouquets and since they are produced in abundance, I don't feel guilty about cutting them.
Of course if I could only plant one type of spring bulb it would be the narcissus or daffodil. There are countless varieties with a tremendous range of colors, sizes, and flower forms.
And unlike tulips which must be replanted every few years, daffodils seem to last forever, producing more flowers each spring.
My only regret is that I'm almost at full capacity and am quickly running out of places to plant them. Never the less, I'll probably order a few more this fall. After all, even my self control has its limits.
Friday, January 3, 2014
As I compose this post the wind is howling outside my windows and a drift of snow is piling up against my front door. In my sunroom, however, pots of Hibiscus, Colocasias, Hedychiums and Oleanders await warmer weather and a return to the garden. I don't have enough room to winter over all of the tropical plants that add color to my summer landscape, but each fall before frost sets in, I dig and pot some of my favorites or at least the ones that haven't grown too large to move.
On a table near my breakfast nook a large terrarium has much the same affect as the sunroom albeit on a much smaller scale.
Requiring little more than a pretty, glass container, potting soil and a few small plants, terrariums are miniature gardens that need very little care once established. As with any garden if a particular plant fails to thrive or outgrows it's tiny world, I simply replace it with a smaller counterpart. In my sunroom I have an enormous Maiden Hair fern that I bought as a tiny specimen and grew for a few years in this terrarium. When inevitably the soil gets tired or the composition begins to look a bit stale, I simply start over with a new group of plants. Terrariums do best when situated in bright indirect light and are the perfect home for small leaved ivies, ferns or other diminutive tropicals. For a splash of color I'll often include a miniature African Violet in bloom, though I know the flowers will be short lived.
As many of my readers know, from early spring until late fall I regularly cut blossoms from the garden and arrange them in vases indoors. In the winter I rely on the cheering affect of flowering plants like the Paperwhite Narcissus pictured above. A tender cousin of the common daffodil, Paperwhites are one of the easiest bulbs to force into bloom in the house. All that is needed is a container and some water. The bulbs, which can be purchased online or from local garden centers, can be planted in soil or simply placed in a pot on layer of pebbles. I prefer to rest them on a layer of moss in a container with high sides that help to support the foliage and flower stems.
I add just enough water to reach the bottom of the bulbs and in a matter of days roots sprout and weave their way into the moss. With consistent watering, in as little as a month the fragrant white flowers open and last for few weeks. There is no point in keeping the bulbs once they've finished blooming since it is unlikely that they'll ever flower again. Instead I toss them out and plant another batch. In the fall I usually order fifty or more from a supplier like the John Scheepers bulb company (johnscheepers.com) and store them in my refrigerator's crisper until I'm ready to plant them.
As with Paperwhites, Amaryllis like the ones pictured above can be grown in water and pebbles. But I prefer to grow them in groups of three in pots with soil, which I dress with moss that I collect in the woods. Another tropical bulb, Amaryllis are literally foolproof and will produce dramatic flowers in about eight weeks with a modicum of care. Unlike Paperwhites, it is possible to get the bulbs to rebloom every year if a few cultural requirements are followed. These include rich soil, water, fertilizer and full sun from the time they sprout until late fall at which point the foliage should be cut off and the bulbs given a rest for at least six weeks in a cool, dark room. Following this period of dormancy the bulbs can be repotted and returned to a sunny room. Unfortunately Amaryllis foliage isn't particularly attractive and so I rarely grow them on once they finish flowering. Besides there are so many lovely varieties on the market that I look forward to trying new ones each winter. In addition to the large flowered varieties their are also smaller flowered types like the ones pictured below.
I admire the delicacy of the smaller blooms, which are more ethereal than their larger cousins. There are also double flowered forms but I find them rather stiff and ungainly. To extend the life of the individual flowers I remove the pollen the moment the buds open. This is a trick that works with lilies as well and has the added advantage of keeping the bright yellow pollen from staining one's clothes.
When I worked as a floral designer in New York City in the late eighties, orchids were an expensive, specialty item purchased from select wholesalers. Now it's possible to buy Phalaenopsis Orchids like the one pictured above for ten dollars at Home Depot. It's true that as orchids go they have become common place. Still, they remain one of my favorite flowering house plants because a single plant can bloom for literally months on end. I always search for plants with at least two flower stems and check to make sure that the unopened flower buds are healthy and that the foliage is firm and unblemished.
Phalaenopsis Orchids are generally grown in a porous medium like bark chips. Recently they've been marketed as "Ice Orchids" because it's possible to water them by letting ice cubes melt onto their roots. However, I prefer to place the pots under the tap in a sink for a few minutes every five days or so. Although I've read that it's easy to get the plants to rebloom every year, I haven't had much luck in that regard. Since the plants themselves aren't particularly showy, I generally relegate them to the compost heap once they've finished blooming. Perhaps that's callous of me, but after all, if I kept every orchid I bought, I wouldn't have room in my house for anything else.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Earlier this year I met with a home owner who pointed balefully at her shady backyard. "Nothing grows here," she remarked with a look of frustration. After quickly taking stock of what she had installed beneath the tall oak trees, I realized that almost all of the plants were sun-lovers. In my experience most casual gardeners are more familiar with species that flourish in full sun. There are, however, a number of plants that prosper in the shade. Most ferns fall into this category and while they don't produce showy flowers, their lacy fronds come in a delightful variety of heights, colors and textures.
In addition to creating swathes of beautiful foliage, ferns are virtually pest free. Deer and groundhogs find them unpalatable and even snails avoid them. Some, like the Hay Scented Ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) pictured above, rapidly create a weed defying mat that is remarkably tolerant of dry conditions.
Most ferns, however, prefer an evenly moist or even damp soil. I've planted the Cinnamon Ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea) pictured above in shady backyards and along stream banks, where their dense fibrous root systems deter erosion. The stiff upright fronds are delightfully architectural and are complemented in the spring by the cinnamon colored wands that give the plant its name. Produced throughout the growing season, the young coppery fronds of the Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) pictured below will also add a touch color to the shady garden.
Like most woodland plants, ferns prefer a soil high in organic matter like leaf mold, peat moss or compost. I spread a few inches of shredded oak leaves over my fern beds every fall and let the leaves rot down during the growing season.
For sheer size (three to six feet) and almost tropical impact, I'm particularly fond of the Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) pictured above. Years ago, while working in Vermont, I dug some Ostrich Ferns, named for their tall plumage-like fronds, from the woods on a client's property and planted them in her shade garden. I'd heard that ferns were difficult to transplant. But despite the fact that it was mid-summer, the plants flourished. After I purchased my house in Seekonk, my client gave me a few of the ferns for my shade garden. Here they have prospered almost to the point of invasiveness and I in turn have given many away to friends.
The Painted Fern (Athyrium Pictum) shown above is one of the showiest in the genus and is undoubtedly one of my favorites. New varieties with ever more tempting colorations regularly appear on the market. Despite its delicate beauty this plant is practically indestructible and seeds itself about my garden with great abandon. For winter interest I rely on the Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) pictured below. It's stiff waxy fronds are evergreen and show to wonderful advantage under a dusting of snow. I've also used Christmas Ferns in outdoor urns, where the foliage stays green for most of the winter.
Ferns make wonderful companions for other shade lovers like the Carex Ice Dance pictured below. Ice Dance has lovely cream edged foliage and makes a dense mat that is impervious to weeds.
With their lacy foliage and airy flowers Astilbes show to great advantage when backed by tall ferns. The ones pictured below are pink, but Astilbes come in a range of shades including red, white and purple.
And of course hostas like the one below with its broad, puckered leaves provide a striking textural counterpoint to a fern's lacy fronds.
Ferns also combine beautifully with shade loving shrubs like the Hydrangea Incrediball pictured here backed by the green and white leaves of Cornus Ivory Halo.
The next time you find yourself staring in dismay at a bare patch of shady ground, instead of cursing the darkness, plant some ferns and enjoy their lacy beauty.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
D is for Dahlias that never cease to amaze!
D is for Dahlias that fill every vase!
It's hard not to wax poetic when the air is dry, the sky is a clear, crystalline blue and the sun outlines every leaf and petal with tracings of gold. In case you hadn't guessed, this is my favorite time of year. Not simply because of the weather, but because my dahlias, autumn's greatest gift, are in full bloom. Never has a homely potato-like tuber required so little and given so much. Sun, a little bone meal and well-draining soil are all that is needed to produce towering giants with enormous flowers or more diminutive blossoms better suited to the mixed border. I scatter groupings of dahlias throughout my gardens. Like the pink blooms pictured below, I think they show to best advantage when planted in groups of five or more.
After a killing frost when the stems are blackened, I cut them down and dig up the tubers, storing them in the cool, dry crawl space beneath my office. The twenty or so yellow dahlia plants that tumble over the nepeta that frames my cottage garden came from three tubers I purchased years ago. In May, after dividing and planting all that I can use, I share the wealth and give the rest away to friends.
Dahlias combine wonderfully in the garden with late season perennials like Asters ( the pink flowers pictured to the right of the photo above), Perovskia, Sedums, Grasses, and a host of other annuals. Below I used them in a vase with Zinnias, Hydrangea, white Mandevilla, trumpet vine and roses.
Some varieties like Bishop of Llandaff sport striking, reddish foliage that is a welcome addition to the palette of my hot colored garden. In addition to shades of pink and white there are an abundance of dahlia varieties with orange, yellow or red petals. There are even some that exhibit a combination of all three colors on each flower.
Unfortunately dahlias struggle in my Blue and White garden, where they flounder in the shade or succumb to the predations of snails.
Despite all my efforts I haven't been able to rid my garden of the hard-shelled pests. Thankfully the creatures, which I refer to as the crawling plague, didn't wreak havoc with the begonias that I planted in my urn.
The tall white flowers to the right of the urn belong to Cimicifuga Brunette, a late blooming perennial with burgundy foliage and an exquisite fragrance that perfumes the early autumn garden. I like the look of its white wands, but it's worth growing in part shade for the fragrance alone.
The ageratum-like blue blossoms pictured above belong to Eupatorium Coelestinum, a relative of the more well-known Joe Pye Weed. I was a bit startled to discover that E. Coelestinum self-seeds with nuisance-like abandon. Still it's fairly easy to rip out and it fills the garden with hazy blue flowers when little else is in bloom.
The rate at which some plants seed themselves about my beds makes me feel more like an editor than a designer. In recent years the look of my gardens is determined as much by what I pull out as by what I plant. Not that I'm complaining. I always look forward to the Nicotiana Sylvestris seedlings that appear in mid-summer. Their fragrant, white trumpets, pictured by the arch above, are a welcome addition to my autumn garden.
I'm hoping for a late frost this year. In fact I'd like nothing more than to be out in the garden cutting flowers until the end of October. I know, however, that despite global warming and other climactic vagaries winter's bite is inevitable. Perhaps that's why I'm so fond of my dahlias. Their glorious blossoms are a reminder that the growing season is almost over and that I should treasure each remaining day.