Lay In Some Lavender

Our early September has been surprisingly chilly. As in 48 degrees early this morning. My tropical plants in containers look insulted by the turn of events-both at home, and at the shop. I am not especially ready to give up my summer containers. I regret any face off with nature, as 100 percent of the odds are against me. We’ll see how long I can keep them going. The weather turning this quickly from summer in to fall has me thinking about plants that gracefully survive that transition. Rob planted a number of pots at the shop with lavender this spring. They were as tolerant of our cold April as they are of this chilly September. They are shrugging off the chill as if it were nothing more than a tiny blip on a very big screen. Maybe I need to lay in some lavender.

Lavender is an iconic garden plant treasured by gardeners world wide. The soft and subtle bluish green or gray foliage is topped by equally subtle flower stalks sporting diminutive flowers in white, lavender and purple. I hear tell of varieties that have pink flowers. The plant, and the plant blooming on thin stalks that wave in the breeze, is self effacing. Lavender speaks softly to the charm of a cottage garden. It speaks loudly to those precisely laid out fields of lavender in France and England. Even in pictures, those rows and rows of lavender blooming enchant. What is not subtle about lavender is the the strength of its fragrance. That powerful and unforgettable fragrance speaks to the garden in no uncertain terms. It speaks just as clearly to the romance that is the garden. I have seen countless pictures of American, English and French gardens planted with lavender. I imagine those gardens are all the more to experience, given that familiar and pungent fragrance.

I like romance in the garden, no matter what form it takes. This means I would plant lavender with a lavish hand-if I could. But as much as I like lavender, it does not like me, or my garden. My zone is the northern most range of its hardiness. Our poorly draining and intractably dense clay soil is a poor home for all of the cultivars of lavandula. Lavender thrives in a freely draining soil, especially in the winter. I have had individual plants thrive fore 5 years or better, as long as they were perfectly sited, and if I only pruned it in the spring. Late summer of fall pruning in my zone is an invitation to disaster. A dead lavender is heartbreaking. I know. Several attempts at borders or drifts of lavender in my garden invariably resulted in random failures. My hedges always had holes, and replacement plants were never the size I needed. I was young when I pulled out all the stops trying to get lavender to thrive in my garden. Though the idea is intoxicating to this gardener, I never plant it in in the garden now. I find that lavender is much happier in my zone in containers.

Rob plants no end of containers with lavender in the spring. It is very tolerant of the cold weather that accompanies the spring. Some of his summer containers that were not snapped up in the spring feature lavender that had been planted very early in the season. All summer long, that lavender prospered. The chilly early fall weather has not endangered any of those plants.  For gardeners looking for container plants to span the spring, summer, and fall season, you might consider lavender.

Rob likes lavender well enough to plant pots full of it. He buys 1 and 2 gallon pots of it in the spring by the truckloads, as well as lavender trained in to topiary forms. Every pot looks good, loaded with lavender.

Lavender and thyme like similar planting conditions, and do well in a pot together. This subtle and restrained planting reward anyone brushing by. The fragrance of lavender and thyme mixed together is delightful.

This lead container had a pussy willow centerpiece, lavender, pansies and ivy planted in it for spring.  When I came to do the summer pots in late June, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of all that lavender thriving.  This particular cultivar is called Grosso.

A client who was opening a restaurant loved Rob’s idea to plant wood crates and pots full of lavender. This container planting will have a very long life. I suspect it will look great long into the fall.

These containers looked beautiful-today. Though planting lavender directly into my garden has never worked out very well, these pots of lavender and thyme are entirely satisfactory. So pleased to have a little lavender in my gardening life. To follow are pictures of lavender that make my heart beat faster. Click on what is written below each picture for details and pictures credits.

  Lavender “Grosso”   

lavender “Phenomenal” from Peace Tree Farms 

lavender angustifolia “Munstead” from RHS plants

lavender “Provence” from Annie’s Annuals and Perennials

Lavender “Platinum Blonde” from American Nurseryman Magazine

lavender “Anouk” from American Meadows

There are so many varieties of lavender available. Make a place somewhere for this plant. You will appreciate the romance.

Interested in a good overview?

A more detailed discussion of lavender

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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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Planting Containers In June

Waiting to plant seasonal containers until the soil and night temperatures warm up in our zone is an idea of considerable merit. For those of you that read this journal regularly, you already know my point of view. Here me out, again. If you are a client, you have heard me talk about how the best place for tropical plants in May is a greenhouse. Tropical plants that hail from tropical environments have evolved to not only withstand a tropical climate, they thrive in it.  Michigan is anything but tropical. Just a week ago we were having night temperatures in the mid to low 50’s. Tropical plants do not like nor are they likely to adapt to our brisk spring weather. Our spring is just about the equivalent of winter weather to an alocasia, or a solenia begonia in May. May is when gardeners want to plant their containers, but June is better.Tropical plants that go into the ground in anticipation of better weather to come will sulk, be set back, or refuse to grow. I shudder, and have to avert my eyes when I see those huddled masses of fibrous begonias bedded out in commercial settings the first freezing week of May. I am a proponent of planting containers, if only a few key containers, for spring – in an effort to stave off that longing for a summer planting until the time is right. The summer solstice, or longest day of the year, in the northern hemisphere is June 21. Planting summer containers in June helps make a success of all of the work of planting those containers.

Nothing tells a story more succinctly and simply than a picture. These boxes, as well as all the rest of this client’s containers, were planted on June 2. In 28 days, all of these heat loving plants have grown exponentially. Calocasis, begonias of several types, caladiums and licorice like warm soil, and warm temperatures. A good bit of the pleasure of tending containers comes from a collection of plants that are healthy, happy, and growing. In the healthy, happy and growing department, a lot of credit goes to my client Fred P. He is in charge of the watering of all of their container plantings. His watering skill is obvious. The only condition under which begonias fail to thrive is too heavy watering hand. He waters the solenia begonias only when they are truly dry. Their thick succulent stems will rot with too much water.  He tells me it takes all of his willpower to water each plant in this series of boxes individually, but his restraint has paid off. He tell me that he precision waters of of their containers. He never blankets any of his containers with water.  The gorgeous state of all of his container plants is a sure sign of his attention to the individual needs of his seasonal plants. These planters look sensational. It is my opinion that when he waters, he focuses only on that task at hand, and nothing else. Another word for that is relaxation. Another concept for this is that growing plants is good for people. A June planting, a master waterer, and some warm soil and heat-voila.

No plant hates the cold and windy weather more than tomatoes. The size and health of these plants makes it obvious the conditions for growth were right. The basil looks terrific. These tomatoes were 18″ tall when we planted them. The basil were maybe 4″ tall. Summery conditions have enabled them to grow.

The Black and Blue salvia in the centers of these two boxes grow to 40″ tall, and need nearly a season’s worth of time to get to their peak. But I see some signs of early blooms. Happy salvia. As long as the solenia begonias are not over watered, they will bloom profusely into the fall.

New Guinea impatiens are as notoriously adverse to cold weather as are calocasias. Unsurprisingly, New Guinea impatiens are native to New Guinea – the second largest island in the world which is located the the southwest Pacific Ocean. Needless to say, New Guinea is a tropical place. These New Guinea natives look incredibly happy here. Planted green in 4″ pots, they have grown an incredible amount in 28 days, and are now blooming profusely.

There are so many types of gardening-too many to list. To name a few: There are those growers of dwarf conifers, and those gardeners who grow vegetables, and those farmers who grow cut flowers or broom corn. Those people for whom a perennial garden is a continuing source of interest and delight rub shoulders with those gardeners who grow bananas, palms and herbs. Do not forget those who plant trees, or roses, and those who collect cultivars of hydrangeas. Those who plant seasonal containers, and those who plant shade or wildflower gardens have the same issues as those who grow dahlias, rock garden plants or meadow gardens.  The common thread? Plants are very specific about what they need. A gardener who is alerted to and caters to the requirements of the plants will be a successful gardener.

A June planting was an optimal time to plant this particular collection of plants. The plants have responded in kind to that early summer date. Even the view from the outside is a treat.

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At A Glance: Rob’s Pots

To follow is a very lengthy collection of photographs of Rob’s container plantings, but I think the numbers are justified, considering how beautiful the work is. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

French fountain planted with fernsgold sage, gold marjoram, and a glass float

lavender and violas; lettuceWasabi coleus, pinched into a broadly oval shape, and myrtle topiary

bird’s nest fern, lobelia, and creeping jenny in one of his grow spheres.

rosemary, pink marguerites and cream alyssum

herbs with a tilted Russian sage

This galvanized pan with rosemary and herbs got wheeled in and out of the garage on a cart until it was safe to leave the basil outdoors.

tree fern with streptocarpella

coir lined wood crates with verbena bonariensis,  dahlias, marguerites, cream zinnias, angelonia and sweet william

collection of lemon cypress pots and herb pots

eugenia topiaries with yellow petunias

Who knew lettuce could look this good?

pennisetum, yellow celosia and yellow petunias

variegated lavender, marguerites and alyssum

tomatoes and herbs in twig boxesrosemary topiary, lavender and lobelia

coral bells and streptocarpus

containers designed and planted by Rob

ferns and streptocarpus

bok choy, marguerites, osteospermum and cream alyssum

bird’s nest fern, lime selaginella, hosta Sum and Substance, green selaginella

succulents and herbs

tomatoes and weeping rosemary

shade planting at the shop

lettuce, parsley, and violas

rosemary and alyssum

meadow flowers in a wood trough

Strawberries in a moss lined galvanized wire box, looking good.

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