Thursday, December 27, 2012


Some of my readers may recall that last winter I shared a few of my favorite garden plants in a post entitled "Top Ten". Continuing the tradition, I'm including another group of indispensable selections. They may not be the most exotic subjects, but they have all proven their mettle. This year's list includes perennials, shrubs and vines all of which I have used both in my garden and in designs for my clients. Without exception they have performed superbly with a minimum of care.
1) Deutzia Nikko

This small, spring blooming bush covers itself with pure white flowers in late May or early June. I often use it in in large groups or as an edging plant in full sun. It also mixes quite well with perennials. There is a larger version as well, but I prefer this petite selection.

2) Clematis Montana Rubens

Although I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't had much luck with large-flowered clematis, Montana Rubens never disappoints. Here I'm growing it over my roof, where its pink blooms put on a wonderful display that compliments the last of the daffodils. This is a sturdy vine that requires some space in either part shade or full sun. At my mother's house it covers a large arbor beneath a old, sugar maple, which is a testament to it's tenacity. The new foliage and stems have a lovely reddish caste and the flowers smell faintly of vanilla.

3) Echinacea Hot Papaya

Not that long ago Echinaceas came only in pink or white single flowers like large daisies. Recently,however, new colors and flower forms have become available. I've tried a number of these introductions only to be disappointed by their performance and longevity. Hot Papaya is an exception. If planted in full sun the plants bloom for months. I use this variety in my hot colored garden where its bright reddish-orange flowers make a dramatic display that is anything but demure. Unfortunately groundhogs find the flowers as irresistible as I do.     

4) Digitalis Ambigua

Most foxgloves are biennials that form a roseate of leaves their first year and flower spikes the second. After blooming the plants set seed and die. The yellow flowered Digitalis Ambigua is a relatively long-lived exception. In full sun or part shade the plants, which have few pests and are ignored by deer, flower heavily in early summer and often bloom repeatedly until frost. They are also prolific self-seeders, increasing their numbers at a bountiful rate. They make a wonderful addition to the perennial garden or more naturalized plantings like the one pictured below, which I created for a client a few years ago. 

5) Hydrangea Coerulea Lace

Many wonderful new hydrangea varieties have appeared in recent years but this old-fashioned beauty is still one of my favorites. It blooms abundantly in full to part shade and makes a terrific companion for ferns, hostas and astilbes. Unlike other hydrangeas it never fails to bloom and the flower color isn't affected by soil acidity. In the picture below I've paired it with Hydrangea Quercifolia (another old-time favorite) and hostas in my Blue and White garden. 

6) Ligularia The Rocket

Ligularias form a wonderful group of shade loving plants and at almost four feet tall, The Rocket, makes a bold statement in the garden. Without ample moisture the leaves wilt when struck by the sun, but soon recover when shade is reestablished.

7) Hosta Sum and Substance

The large, crinkled, chartreuse leaves pictured above belong to Hosta Sum and Substance. While there are countless wonderful hosta varieties available today, this variety remains one of my favorites. Over time it takes on almost shrub-like proportions and the foliage becomes increasingly textured as the plants mature. Tall stems sporting blue flowers crown the plants in late summer, but this variety is grown primarily for its dramatic leaves, which are impervious to snails and slugs. As shown here, If given ample moisture this hosta will tolerate full sun, but it prefers a sheltered position and makes a superb addition to the shade garden.

8) Cornus Ivory Halo

A smaller version of the more common variegated red twig dogwood, Ivory Halo makes a nice compact addition to the shrub border. Its leaves retain their silver edging all summer and in winter its brilliant red stems make a bold statement against the snow. It seems equally happy in sun or part shade and thrives in damp soil. As pictured below I have used it to great effect en masse in wetland gardens, where it flourishes even when subjected to periodic flooding.

9) Clematis Maximowicziana (Sweet Autumn Clematis)

The mass of small white flowers completely covering the arbor above belong to the Sweet Autumn Clematis. This somewhat rampant vine is a late-season workhorse and though its flowering is brief, the blossoms come at time when little else is in bloom. Equally at home in sun or part shade it will scramble over walls, along fences, up trees or across a pergola. Some pruning might be required to keep it in bounds, but the wealth of fragrant flowers is well worth the effort. 

10) Rosa Peach Drift

The Drift series of roses form a relatively new addition to the landscape rose category. In addition to peach they come in pale pink, white and red. They are virtually trouble free and at barely two feet tall and wide can be planted in small spaces where larger rose bushes would be problematic. Because they bloom from early summer until frost and are incredibly sturdy they have quickly become one of my favorite landscape roses. Planted en masse they make an unbeatable addition to the garden or shrub border. 

Well there you have it, ten more of my favorites, both new and old. Perhaps you'll find a home for one or more in your garden this spring.

Happy New Year!     

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Home Grown

2012 has certainly been a banner year for dahlias. From the enormous blooms pictured above to the smaller blossoms that give my late summer gardens a much needed boost of color, my dahlias have never been more prolific. I'm not certain what confluence of events has produced such an abundance of flowers. Perhaps it can be attributed to the summer's heat and humidity combined with periods of dryness followed by heavy rain. Whatever the reason, I'm enjoying the bounty. For weeks now my house has been filled with bouquets.

As many of my readers may know, Dahlias are one of my favorite annuals. The tubers that produce these sumptuous flowers are inexpensive and require minimal care. Full sun, good soil, adequate moisture and sturdy stakes for the taller varieties are all that is needed to ensure success. Although marauding snails may nibble on young shoots and leaves, they don't seem to cause any permanent damage. This of course is an added bonus in my garden.

Like tulips, the number of dahlia varieties available on-line through reputable growers is almost infinite. As one may well imagine, the countless choices are both a blessing and curse.This spring, after deciding that it was easier to buy tomatoes and basil, I converted my small vegetable garden into a dahlia bed. The dahlias I planted there have grown so tall that I need a step ladder to cut the flowers. For every dahlia I plant in the spring I'm rewarded with as many as ten additional tubers in the fall. Since I dig and store my dahlia's in a cool dry place each winter, I've literally run out of space to plant them all. Not that I'm complaining, these are problems that a gardener can only wish for.

Some of you may have noticed that I generally photograph my farm pond from the uphill side with a view toward my house.

This is because the view from the opposite direction isn't nearly as satisfactory. Recently, however, I purchased a gazebo that rectifies this situation.

It's made out of steel and although it looks old, it is actually not an antique. I believe it was made in China and I'll be forever grateful to the dear friend that spotted it at a local dealer. I'd been looking for just such a structure for sometime and think it suits this spot perfectly. Now all I need is some comfortable seating. The current bench is terribly uncomfortable. In fact my friends are fond of remarking that none of my outdoor furniture is conducive to relaxation. They're right, but then I never relax in the garden. There's simply too much work to do.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Back To Front

Some of my readers may recall that a year ago I received a commission from an English couple that had recently relocated to Scituate, MA via the Middle East. Their new property included a seasonally marshy area and a water feature that had fallen into disrepair.

During our initial consultation my clients expressed interest in replacing the broken pump system that had previously produced a waterfall. In addition I suggested that we redesign a large area of lawn, brambles and weeds surrounding the pond. Sharing their countrymen's famed fondness for gardens, they readily agreed.

It has been a little more than a year since we embarked on the transformation and the new plantings are flourishing.

For this large new garden area I selected plant material that can tolerate consistently damp to marshy conditions as well as periods of dryness. Due to one or two miscalculations involving seasonal moisture some of the plants had to be rearranged following the initial planting and my clients subsequently revamped a drainage system to accommodate the heavy downpours that often flooded the low-lying areas. For the most part, however, the plants have settled in quite nicely.

Beginning with Japanese Irises in the spring, the garden is in bloom until frost and the red stems of Cornus Ivory Halo along with the berries of Ilex Verticillata provide winter color.

Ilex Verticillata
Cornus Ivory Halo
Additional plantings include hydrangeas, clethra, swamp azalea, viburnums and a host of perennials such as astilbes, hostas, foxgloves, grasses, daylilies, physostegia and chelone.

I installed the various species in large drifts to give the final composition a naturalistic appearance that complements the pond and a dramatic twenty-foot waterfall. One might assume that having completed such an extensive project, my clients would take a moment to  rest on their laurels. This summer, however, they decided to revamp the front of their house as well.

My clients had their hearts set on a flower-filled front yard reminiscent of a classic English garden, a choice that I thought perfect for their lovely Tudor home. My first challenge, however, involved coaxing them to remove the narrow strip of lawn that bisected the front yard.

To keep the overall maintenance to a minimum I suggested that we choose primarily flowering shrubs and roses rather than more labor intensive perennials. I also swapped out the rectangular bluestone steppers and installed a path of rustic, irregular field stone.

For a touch of formality I lined the front walkway with Ilex Crenata ( a boxwood look alike) underplanted with silvery lambs ears, which should fill in nicely over time.

Although newly installed and recently battered by torrential rain when these photographs were taken, I'm looking forward to seeing the plantings mature. In a year or two I'm confident that the soil will no longer be visible. Instead the front walk will be awash in dark green, silver, pink and white.

On the home front, my gardens here in Seekonk are muddling through the dog days of summer and I have embarked on a new project. I am currently hosting a television show for a local cable station. The series entitled "In The Garden" is taped at my home and currently airs in southern MA. If you live outside of my area and would like to watch an episode or two google Seekonk Channel 9 and select schedule. You should be directed to the station's website. Select ON DEMAND and type in "In The Garden". You will be able to watch current and future episodes on your computer.

So far I have shot four episodes and plan on filming at least two more before the end of the season. It's a fun and challenging endeavor and I welcome your comments and feedback. Who knows, perhaps my series will be picked up by a larger network.

In the meantime, I'm honing the skills I cultivated in my twenties while pursuing a career as a dancer/performer in New York City. I guess that like the seasons, things have a way of coming around again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Count Your Blessings

The other day I was bemoaning the fact that my garden never seems to live up to my expectations. Despite careful planning and conscientious care nature conspires against me. Whether it's disfiguring snails or woodchucks that mow entire plants to the ground or unforeseen blights or too much rain or too little rain, there always seems to be something that mars the perfection I had envisioned.

Last weekend, however, I had a sudden epiphany. Two dear friends from college had visited from Vermont and we were spending a lazy afternoon relaxing in the shade beneath my Tupelo tree. Through its branches we marveled at the sunlight glinting on a patch of black-eyed susans growing in the field. I hadn't planted them, they had simply appeared, a gift from nature.

Later it occurred to me that I had never planned many of the most cherished elements in my garden. Some, like the cattails that grow by my farm pond or the white woodland asters that bloom each autumn in my Blue & White garden, simply appeared one day, growing from seeds carried on the wind. Others like the masses of Lobelia Siphilitica
Lobelia Siphilitica
Eupatorium Coelestinum 
and Eupatorium Coelestinum that provide late summer color are the offspring of a few plants that have self-seeded with great abandon. Each spring the seedlings pop up in unexpected places, filling bare spots and creating surprisingly artistic combinations.

Ruella Humilis
Even the Ruella Humilis that edges the walkways of my front garden was a welcome surprise. I had never intended to use the plant as an edging. But when its seedlings sprouted against the cobbles, I liked the effect so much that I left them there.

In light of these revelations I've decided to curtail my litany of complaints and give credit where credit is due. While it's true that nature's hand can be harsh at times, her input has greatly improved the look of my gardens.

And in the spirit of giving credit, I should thank my gardening chum, Tish Hopkins, for suggesting that I grow sweet peas up the teepees that support my dinner plate dahlias. For the past six weeks I've enjoyed filling vases with their delightfully fragrant flowers.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Everything Is Coming Up Roses

In previous posts I've included photographs of my entire property. For this installment, however, I thought I'd focus on the front garden, which has been awash in roses for the past few weeks. I have more than twenty different varieties of roses planted on my property and this time of year their impact is undeniable. Many people shy away from planting roses because they have a reputation for being difficult. I admit that my foray into growing tea roses has produced less than stellar results. Still, perhaps more than any other shrub, I rely on my roses for color and fragrance throughout the growing season. I consider varieties like "The Fairy", "Betty Prior" and " the David Austin Series of shrub roses" to be indispensable landscape plants.

In addition I highly recommend the "Knock Out" and "Flower Carpet" series of roses, which are tough nearly indestructible landscape plants. I've also had great luck with the new "Drift" roses which are suitable for smaller gardens. Granted these varieties may lack the charm and fragrance of their fussier counterparts. It's also possible that their recent appearance in strip mall parking lots may eventually consign them to the same category as stella d'oro daylilies. Nevertheless, if one is searching for a low maintenance plant that will provide months of color, they simply can't be bettered. I rely heavily on these varieties in my design work and clients are invariably happy with the results.


This spring as an experiment, I decided not to fertilize any of my roses and the lack of additional nutrients hasn't impacted their flowering. Perhaps my soil is already rich enough.


I would be remiss if I didn't mention that even the easiest roses benefit from a good pruning in the spring and dead-heading throughout the summer. Dead-heading encourages repeat bloom and keeps the shrubs looking fresh and healthy. With a few exceptions I make a habit of removing all of the spent flowers in my garden and find it a relaxing pastime. Last week a local cable television show shot an episode on my garden and this week I will shoot another on the correct way to dead-head roses and peonies. I'll keep you posted on show times in case you'd like to tune in.


Unfortunately, not everything in my garden is coming up roses. While driving about last year, I noticed that one of my favorite spring blooming shrubs, Kerria Japonica, was looking surprisingly ratty. Smugly I attributed the condition to poor horticultural practices on the part of the home owner. This year, however, the two plants in my garden have succumbed to the same condition. After a bit of research I discovered the cause,which turns out to be a mold, Blumeriella Kerriae. The mold produces brown spots on the leaves, which soon wither and fall. If untreated, eventually, the entire plant may die. I'm still waiting for my arborist to spray my bushes with a fungicide, but the rain has made his work difficult. And of course, the snail onslaught continues unabated, despite the hours I spend collecting and crushing them underfoot.


Still, I try to take pleasure in the garden's successes, like the vase of sweet peas and Eden roses pictured above.