The Garden In August

I have a hot mess of a perennial garden at home. I have tinkered with it for 20 years, and it still is a hot mess. Not that I mind the mess. Minding a garden is an ongoing experience like no other. The moves I have made towards a reasonably good design are as follows. My work life is incredibly busy in the early part of the season. I realized I have little time to tend or appreciate a perennial garden at home until later in the summer season. A summer or late summer garden would better suit my life. A garden that would look good very early in the morning, or very late in the day would even better suit my life. I go to work early, and come home late. Given this, I have been aiming for a late summer flowering garden replete with white flowers. I did cheat a little by planting some white David Austin roses, Winchester Cathedral, that bloom in June, but the majority of this garden looks its best in late July. That part makes sense. But why white flowers? White flowers shrug off the heat. They look cool and collected, even on a 90 degree day. They never look frazzled. I would not want a garden that looked like me at the end of the day. White flowers read beautifully from a distance.  And they are showy at dusk. This means that when I am fixing coffee at 5:00 am, I can see through the window what is happening in that garden. I might take a second look when I am cleaning up after dinner-at dusk.

I do have clients that favor white flowers in their containers, for no other reason than they like white flowers. I understand this. The white is crisp, and cooling to view. They are as striking and simple in a contemporary garden as they are in a traditional one. White in the garden provides a beautiful and strong contrast to every shade of green. The purple petunias in this container are more visually lively, given some white.

This Limelight hydrangea standard has flowers that are a creamy pale green. The bright white background provided by the house makes the subtle color of the hydrangeas pop. Pale and pastel flowers can provide the same punch as white flowers. Pale colors read strongly; the eye spots them first.  Containers to be viewed from the street, or gardens to be viewed from a distance benefit from the inclusion of some pastel blooming plants.

To my mind, nothing says summer in Michigan better than white petunias. They always look fresh.  Though some gardeners find them pedestrian, they can provide strong visual support to a composition.

Euphorbia Diamond Frost has to be one of the most beautiful and versatile white flowered annual plant for containers that it has ever been my pleasure to plant. I love how light and lacey it is. The thin stems and diminutive flowers lighten and loosen every plant in its vicinity.

See what I mean? Double petunias are scraggly and awkward growing plants. The euphorbia hides all of those ungainly stems. It could be that the pale green buds of this petunia are more beautiful than the flowers. The white helps that subtle color read clearly.

My color scheme for my containers this year was lime, pink-and white. These begonias are called Apple Blossom. The reverse of the petals is pink. The yellow centers of the white begonias relate to the yellow brick behind them. Pink and white begonias, white and pink Gingerland caladiums, lime green dieffenbachia, lime green ferns and variegated tradescantia – I have so enjoyed the various shades of green, the white, and the dashes of pink.

This color scheme is interesting and restrained.

apple blossom  begonia

I planted this annual garden at Cranbrook in 2005 for an evening event. At dusk, the forms of the plants and the flowers were easy to see.

white annual garden

white caladiums in the late day sun

The white caladiums highlight the dark rose pink color of the nicotiana in front of them, don’t they? White flowers and leaves in the background will highlight and better describe and illuminate darker colored plants placed in front of them.

This photograph of the front of the shop taken yesterday is not so sharply in focus. But that soft focus illustrates how white flowers can punctuate and enliven a garden.

Night before last I was late to tour the garden. The white and light flowers lighted my way. Truth be told, there was a time when white, light and pastel flowering plants did not much interest me. I am sure every gardener has that moment when their taste changes. White flowering plants in the landscape is an idea that has become more important to me, especially given my aging eyes.

So pleased to be able to see this.

 

 

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Sizing Up The Situation

We are a good week or so into our container planting season. The location of the planters or the light and available water drives the selection of the plants. Sizing up the situation is key to successful container plantings. This pair of planters are tall and wide, as they needed to be,  placed in front of substantial stone pillars. Their narrow depth is friendly to the fact that they are placed on a walkway. It is easy to see why my clients selected them. What plants did they ask for? These triple ball eugenia topiaries came in a 1 gallon pot. They would fit. Their shape addresses the formality of the entrance, and they add some much needed height and scale set against the mass of stone. Eugenias are also very tolerant of the shade cast by the north side of the house. There were at least 3 good reasons to plant them. When designing and choosing plants for containers, spend some time assessing your conditions.      The interior of this front porch has a very high roof overhead. Add a northern exposure to the roof overhead means the shade here is serious shade. The porch is massive, and overscaled. Lots of stone and iron flank a pair of dark wood doors. This location asks for very shade tolerant plants with bold texture and good size that would soften and complement the architecture.  The leaves of the lime dracaena “Janet Craig” will burn with the slightest exposure to sun. But in a place like this, they will thrive. The chartreuse leaves brighten the shade. They are striking in an architectural way.

The purple and white flowering streptocarpus is a relative to African violets, and likewise thrives in low light. Given its diminutive size, it is most effective in a mass, as a supporting cast member in a container. The bird’s nest ferns are tropical, meaning they are not hardy in my zone. They offer big and strong mass, shape, and texture to a container planting, while asking for little in the way of light. The black tubes on the porch steps are irrigation lines which will provide water to the containers.  No rain falls here given the roof, so all watering must be done mechanically, or by hand. We run the tubes through the bottom and out the top when we plant the pots as a courtesy to the irrigation contractor. Last but not least is the selection of the containers.  They are of simple shape and smooth texture, which contrasts to the visual complexity of the stone, iron, and glass.  The dark color echoes the dark wood doors, and visually defers to the plants.

This deeply shaded and constantly wet spot was the perfect place for a large scale container. Everything that ever got planted in this ground promptly drowned.  The caladiums and ferns tolerate the the shade, and their striking texture and color help to keep all eyes off the soggy dirt. I have on occasion planted sanseverias in the dirt. They never looked entirely happy, nor did they grow, but they lived. A container is a great idea for a place where nothing else wants to grow. Consider containers for those stubbornly bare spots. A soil and drainage structure above ground can circumvent poor conditions.

This painted brick chimney features a very interesting brick applique, quite unlike any I have ever seen. It thus asks for an arrangement of containers and plants that will not obstruct a view of that feature. The green and white under plantings emphasize that white brick. The triple ball Green Mountain boxwood topiaries can be planted in the ground for the winter, and will only get better with age. I would guess that these boxwood topiaries would would be fine in these lead pots for a number of years.  The white mandevillea will loosen up the look a little, although I will advise my client to clip every once in a while.

This contemporary landscape is dominated by a long and tall corten steel wall. Both the steel and the stone will absorb a lot of heat.  The mid century modern pots are mid sized at the top, and small sized at the bottom. This situation calls for drought resistant plants. As for style, the wild and rangy rosemarys are good against the geometry established by the wall, bench, and terrace. The wide growing small felted leaves of the variegated licorice, and the cloud of tiny blooms from the euphorbia at the bottom will soften the look, without obscuring the shape of the planters.

A container all on its own, well away from a porch or wall, asks for some volume and mass. Once this Limelight hydrangea topiary grows out and blooms, this 24″ by 24″ container will have a living tall and wide presence.  The petunias, white phlox and variegated licorice will provide a wide and soft cushion below, in contrast to those big coarse hydrangea leaves. As the container is 30″ tall, there is room for the roots of a shrub to go deeper than the typical annual plant. The grass, ground cover, gravel, and stone are all on the same level-the ground plane. A tall container and a statuesque central and defining plant that represents the landscape on an entirely different level is particularly effective. Formal landscapes ask for equally formal container plantings.

This client owns a pair of particularly fine and detailed bronze urns. The recent planting was designed to never obstruct or impinge on the view of the urns. The white mandevillea will grow up, and provide some green company to the porch columns. The white sunpatiens will flush out, and grow wide.

This small front porch does have a roof, but it does face south. This tall pot has a very small planting area.  A tree form fuchsia with long and graceful arms readily fits in the small space. The petunias and licorice will not thrive to the extent they do in full sun-but in this situation, restrained growth will be good.

This delicate wire planter on legs is also placed on a covered porch, facing east. The pink caladiums will flush out, as will the button ferns. This will soften the blocky look of the walls and floor. The container is light enough to be taken out for some overhead light once in a while. The creeping jenny will cascade. A little judicious pruning will help keep that jenny narrow.

These large Italian terra cotta pots occupy a partly shady corner on a terrace that occupies most of the floor space. Small beds permitted the planting of Boston ivy, and climbing roses, but containers provide an opportunity to really warm up the space. The fuchsias will bloom all summer in this protected location, as will the sunpatiens. These containers were planted on May 9 for an event on May 12. There would be no time for growing.  So we planted gallon pots and baskets rather than 4″ pots. This is an equally good strategy if you need to plant seasonal containers late. Many greenhouse 2 or 3 crops a season, or an edited selection of annual plants in 6″ or 8″ pots. A new terrace, a birthday gift of a pot, a new house, an engagement party-there are plenty of good reasons to plant late.

In the meantime, all of the containers we planted for spring look terrific right now. These plants are thriving in our cool weather. I like to plant seasonally. By this I mean the best place for heat loving annuals right now in my zone is a greenhouse. Deciding when to plant is an important decision.  I will do most of my container plantings in the next 3 weeks.

Rob placed this basket full of white gerbera daisies next to this antique stone cistern. I think he did a great job of sizing up this situation.

 

 

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Spring Beauty

Once our season finally and resolutely turns away from winter and embraces spring, there is enough fresh heaven to make any gardener’s heart beat faster. The early blooming ornamental trees light up the springtime sky with masses of flowers overhead. The flowers of the magnolias, crab apples, cherries, apples, and dogwoods bloom with abandon.The lime green flowers of maple trees against the blue spring sky sing spring. The buds on the bare branches of deciduous shrubs swell, break dormancy, and begin to leaf out. The garden coming back to life is pure joy to the heart of a gardener. The wild flowers have been holding forth for at least a month. That substantial group we know as spring flowering bulbs are in the thick of their bloom. The lilacs are beginning to bloom; bravo, beloved syringa! Everywhere a gardener looks, there are plants growing and blooming. Intoxicating, this moment.

Our April may be and usually is rainy and cool. All the plants drink up the April weather. Every plant has its own schedule – no surprise here.  Plants are very specific about what conditions they want to survive, grow and bloom. At this moment, every plant in the landscape is making their much anticipated yearly debut. Every individual voice is contributing to that symphony we call spring.

PJM rhododendrons tolerate our hot summers and frosty winters better than the big flowered and big leaved rhododendron maximum that grow like weeds to 15 feet in the warmer woods and gardens in Pennsylvania.  I will confess I have a few of those big rhodies in my garden. I coax them along. But the PJM hybrid grows and blooms reliably.  The flowers are an electric shade of light purple. If you like your spring served up with a side order of splashy, plant some.

One of spring’s most breathtaking moments is an espaliered fruit tree in full bloom. Melissa and her sister own a celebrated landscape design/build and maintenance company in my area. She bought this espalier from Detroit Garden Works years ago, and has spent a good many more years training this tree to embrace her chimney at home. She put many years of thoughtful pruning to make this expression of spring what it is – sensational. I have never seen better. The big idea here is that an espalier of this caliber can be grown by anyone who is into the garden for the long haul.

A mass of yellow and white tulips is as cheery as it is striking. Though the bloom time is fleeting, I cannot imagine a spring without tulips. This is a very dressed up and showy spring moment, whether you plant 60 or 600.

The dogwoods are just now coming in to flower, and they are spectacular this year. Only one year in 3 or 4 do mine bloom this profusely. As long as the weather stays cool, the blossoms will hold. Cool spring nights lengthens the life all the early bloomers, much like a floral cooler extends the life of cut flowers.

The peonies are not blooming yet – they will be the star of the June garden. But they are in season as cut flowers. These Coral Charm peonies bring the spring indoors. I was able to watch them open from the bud stage top the full blown flowers for over a week.

The Branch Studio has a new line of contemporary pots and garden tables. Nothing says new better than a wall of Boston ivy leafing out, and ostrich ferns unfurling. Weeks ago we planned to photograph them in front of this wall as it was emerging. This early spring moment is to be treasured.  Though I am as anxious as anyone else to be outdoors enjoying warm weather, the spring season is as much a time to appreciate the process of the greening, as it is a time to plan and plant.

This block of Himalayan white barked birch planted 15 years ago is beautiful in every season. The spring show is about the catkins, or flowers.  Hundreds of tiny flowers are arranged around a drooping spike. A catkin is as subtle as can be, but many thousands of them create haze of green that hovers above all of those stark white branches. A quiet kind of spring beauty, this.

For a gardener who is looking to make changes in the design of their landscape and garden, now is the perfect time to focus intently on the part that plants play in creating structure and shape. The bare bones are greening up, and the perfect time to plant is just ahead.

 

 

 

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At A Glance: Recent Work

spring boxes featuring lavender around a fountain

blue eucalyptus

porch planted for spring

fresh cut pussy willow

at the front door

window box

pussy willow and pansies

oval urn

spring pot

mixed cool wave trailing pansies

purple and white

yellow pansies and yellow/violet bicolor violas

blues and purples

blue and lemon pansies, with cream yellow alyssum

vintage crate with lavender and blue violas

pussy willow and ocean pansies

 

 

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