Archives for October 2017

Fall Planting

If you garden in southeastern Michigan, your garden is drenched. We have had the kind of steady hard rain spanning a good many days that I call mushroom rain. I see them popping up everywhere. I am not complaining. We have had a very dry summer, and a hot and dry early fall. The cabbage and kale at the shop have needed daily water. My pots at home needed water just about that often. I have worried about the dogwoods that need water in September to set good buds for the following spring, and the evergreens that need to be water loaded and juicy before the ground freezes. I know from my large tree contractor that our ground is dust dry, down deep. The trees he has been digging with a large tree mover have dry rootballs. This has made me very uneasy about what a very cold and windy winter might mean to a plant that has not had sufficient water during the growing season. Few perennials, shrubs or trees are prepared for the winter having gone through the summer and fall bone dry. But for those few plants that rely on dryer winter conditions for survival – though I am sure there are plenty, I am thinking some species of iris, and lavender that do not tolerate wet winter conditions –  most plants like a little stored water and nutrients before they have to face the winter. Perennials whose tops die back to the ground in the fall still have a robust and juicy root system that sustains them through the winter. Deciduous shrubs shed their leaves in the fall-yes.  But their living stems will need to survive all the harsh conditions that a winter has to dish out, and enough stored energy left over to leaf out in the spring.

The dormant/winter season for plants is nothing like my winter sleep. My blankets and a dose of house heat keeps me warm. Nothing about me or around me freezes. A usual night’s sleep is 8 hours or so. A temporary respite. Mammals that hibernate the entire winter season astonish me. They do not come out of hibernation especially ready to face the day. They have lost a lot of weight, and are very hungry and thirsty. Hibernation is not at all like a good night’s sleep. I am reminded of the time a surgeon advised me that I would not be “asleep” for my surgery. I would be unconscious, and all of my normal functions paralyzed. A machine would breathe for me. The surgical team would see to it that my life was sustained. Though I appreciated his candor, I was frightened by this. No plant has a surgical team standing by. Their condition going into the winter will either be enough to sustain them throughout, or not. Our winter is not a big sleep. Dormant means shut down. Strong winter winds and low temperatures take their toll on plants whose only defense against the winter was a kindly summer and fall season. Needless to say, I have been watering like crazy.

I have no idea if the torrential rains we have had the past week will be enough to sustain my shrubs and trees through the winter, but it can’t hurt. I have not dug down to see how deep this rain has penetrated, but I know enough to be happy for every drop we have had.

Our fall is usually cool, and the rain is somewhat regular. It is a perfect time to plant. The weather is mild. The plants are no longer in active growth, so moving them is less stressful. Unlike the spring season, when planting conditions can be less than ideal. The soil is freezing cold even though the ground has thawed. Sopping wet spring soil can be a poor environment for newly planted plants. The act of planting compacts the wet soil, driving out much needed air. The night time temperatures can swing up and down without warning. Spring is a sweet season for established plants, but can be very tough on new plantings. Who in Michigan has not witnessed tulips in full bloom encased in ice, and snow on the ground? So many times, my hope to plant a landscape in late March has had to wait until May. Michigan summers can be brutal. The heat and dry in the summer can be hard on transplanted trees, shrubs and perennials. No matter how much I water, the plants look grief stricken. Fall planting is a recipe for success in my zone. Though the daytime/night time temperatures are cool, the soil is much warmer than it was in the spring. The water from the sky seems like it is packed with vitamins and minerals, doesn’t it?

I am delighted with the prolonged rain. I hope that water has made some inroads on our dry soil. Cool fall temperatures mean that rain does not evaporate very quickly. The effects of our heavy rains will surely persist. I could have never delivered this volume and quality of water from my hose. My container plantings are most certainly coming to the end of their season. But the recent rains have endowed them with some saturated fall color.

A rain drenched garden is a good looking garden. Even these drought tolerant variegated kalanchoes look invigorated by the rain.   I can think of only a very few times when my garden was threatened by excessive rain. In most cases, water distress has more to do with poor drainage than too much rain. Our parched ground may not be restored to a normal moisture content by our recent rains, but every drop of it is appreciated.

Chilly, windy and rainy fall weather-bring it on. We have more to plant.

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Bred In The Bone

Though we have had a long string of warm days, the fall season is well underway. For Rob, the first whiff of fall means it is time for him to seek out and assemble a striking and unusual collection of pumpkins and gourds that will enchant gardeners who frequent Detroit Garden Works. Though it might be hard to believe, we ship his pumpkin choices nation wide this time of year. Unsurprisingly, he has a following. His pumpkin seeking has taken him several hundred miles in every direction from Detroit Garden Works. I greatly admire that focus and sense of purpose;  his travels represent lots of love, and lots more labor. I doubt he is aware of the hours passing. He has a big love for these fruits of the fall. And a bigger love and respect for those serious breeders with whom he has established a relationship. Countless times I have spoken to him while he was in the field. The excitement in his voice about what he was seeing was contagious. When did I fall in love with pumpkins and gourds? Just past that moment that he fell headlong for them. The colors, the patterns, the shapes, the surfaces- what is not to appreciate about these gorgeous fruits of the fall?

One of his favorite hybridizers is a gentleman close to 70. He and his wife have farmed for decades. Semi truckloads of their carving pumpkins are picked up weekly during the season, bound to markets far away from Michigan. He is also a hybridizer of considerable repute. His breeding crop, better than 30 years in the making, is under contract with seed companies that hope to be able to introduce some of his varieties. His interest in the future of pumpkins is bred in the bone serious. I suspect that Rob’s enthusiasm for a crop that he has devoted a lifetime was the beginning of a friendship based on mutual interest.

The average pumpkin field is bee hybridized. Pumpkins and squashes readily cross pollinate with each other. Bees gone wild! This means that every pumpkin field you visit will have pumpkins, squashes and gourds that are particular to that field, courtesy of random bee pollination.  Many of the pumpkins Rob selects for the shop are the result of a lifetime of work from a farmer turned plant breeder. Their pumpkins are a result of a breeding program that is strictly controlled. Many of the crosses are made in a greenhouse, to prevent any stray pollination from influencing the breeding goals.

Truth be told, Rob primarily buys pumpkins from two breeders. They are best friends, though they are many miles apart. They trade seed. They grow the most beautiful and interesting pumpkins I have ever seen. Of course the seed companies get first dibs on what they want. The blackest of the dark green pumpkins are usually put on reserve, as well as any bicolor pumpkins that feature strong and non-fading color contrast.  Rob brings in truckload after truckload of them once they are released for local sale. Rob has his interests and standards too. The very tall pumpkins have to stand up on their own, before Rob will buy them. The stems are stout and long. Many of the characteristics of a stem might actually become part of the upper surface of a pumpkin.

I did have the idea that I would discuss in this post the science involved in the hybridizing of pumpkins. Ha! That science is complicated.  I could not begin to discuss what is involved in breeding pumpkins. Suffice it to say that anyone who breeds pumpkins has a big love for nature, and loads of patience.

We had plenty of visitors for our fall fete this past weekend. I think I am accurate in saying the range of shapes, colors and textures was considerable. As in, something for everyone. I enjoyed watching people go through the process of making up their mind which pumpkins they would speak for. I understand this issue.  I like them all.

I feel fortunate that my home state is one of the top 6 states in pumpkin production in the US. This means I have the pleasure of being swamped with them. To follow are a few too many more pictures of Rob’s pumpkin picks.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

 white pumpkin with green blush

pumpkin shopping

terrific, aren’t they?

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Fall Favorites

Fall is a favorite season. I like reflecting on all the efforts made in the garden imagined in the winter, begun in the spring, and realized during the summer. Once the fall arrives, there is the beauty of the harvest to be appreciated. There is an entire season of hard work that is coming to a close. There is a sense of accomplishment in the air. Many plants, have emerged from the ground in the spring, grown, and bloomed. Many will exhibit striking fall color, in defiance of the garden going quiet. The well tended summer containers planted in late May and early June can look their very best before a hard frost. The fall represents the culmination of gardening efforts that have gone on in some form or another all season long. That said, there are those seasonal garden gestures that just hit their stride in the fall. The fall window box pictured above features the trailing creeping Charlie that grew in this box over the summer. The late season harvest of broccoli, cabbage, onions and brussel sprouts look great in this box with ripened gourds and pumpkins. The grapevine provides motion and rhythm to the arrangement. In a long chilly fall, an arrangement like this will last for weeks.

The fall container plantings have a limited palette. I do not mind that. A limited palette of plants means the arrangement created by the gardener in charge is all about that ability to combine and recombine familiar elements to create something new and fresh. The ornamental cabbages and kale are my favorite fall container plant. Our custom grown crop of cabbage and kale is the best it has ever been my pleasure to plant. The pots pictured above have cabbage that were grown three plants to a single pot. It did not take many plants to give these containers a generous and overflowing fall look. A cabbage cuff, as Rob said. A favorite element of broom corn are those long leaves that dry so beautifully to a pale green. Though the front entrance and porch pictured above is quite formal, the fall pots are exuberant and not too tailored. They do a good job of representing the idea of fruition that characterizes our fall season.

I am always grateful for the chance to fill large pots, no matter the season. This fall container stands out in the landscape. Soon the foliage on “Ruby Slippers” oakleaf hydrangeas will color up a deep wine red. This part of my clients’ landscape will shine once our temperatures drop.

Fall container plantings can represent any aesthetic. This fall planting is very trim, and simple.

This fall container planting is exuberant.

This Belgian stoneware container is planted for fall in an architectural, rather than a traditional way.

Gardeners of very different persuasions represent their gardens for fall in very different ways. I applaud this. It makes the landscape all the more interesting.

Of course we plant pots for fall at the shop.

Those shop plantings frequently have some fall fruits selected by Rob to accompany them.

fall planting with broom corn and redbor kale

As the nights cool, this kale will turn a dark rich purple.

trio of fall pots featuring coral queen cabbage.

These containers are at their English border style best at the end of summer. The obelisks from Branch lend structure to the planting.

Changing out containers one season to the next is a satisfying way to spend time in the garden.

the last of the summer

Planting containers for fall is a way to celebrate the beauty of the season.

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