At A Glance: Recent Work

Plenty of fall containers got planted this past week.  In looking over all the pictures, it is obvious that the star of the show (after Marzela, of course) is the story of the leaves. Ornamental cabbage and kale are known for their substantial leaves. This container is a mass of different types of large blue green leaves, as our fall weather has been too warm for the plants to have taken on their characteristic fall color. Once our warm spell comes to an end, color will become as prominent a feature as the size and texture of the leaves.

Other leaves play just as important a role in our fall containers. Eucalyptus branches have the remarkable ability to absorb both dye and glycerine. That color is a welcome addition to a fall container. Our broom corn stalks come with a wealth of strappy, corn-like leaves, in addition to their wiry seed heads. We hang the broom corn upside down for as long as we can, in our garage. As the leaves dry, they twist and curl in a way only nature could achieve. Those dry leaves contribute much in the way of rhythm to the arrangement.

Cabbage and kale leaves can be glorious, but they are static. The leaves of the Tuscan kale, broom corn and eucalyptus loosen up the composition. Now all we need is some chilly weather, for the colorworks to begin.

David does a terrific job with arranging the broom corn and dry leaves around a bamboo stake. All of the leaves get removed from the stalks, and are added back to the arrangement one at a time. Though his work has an artless, relaxed and tousled look about it, the actual process requires a lot of strength and concentration. If I need a tighter and more tailored look to the centerpiece, I ask Marzela to construct it. This way the both of them are able to exercise their own sense of construction and style. How materials get handled is how a look gets created.

enjoy the pictures.

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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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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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Planting Fall Containers

Our summer gardening season begins to wind down in September. Come Labor Day, change in the air. That change is refreshing and energizing. Towards the end of the month, the watering on the summer containers becomes a full time job. All of the soil in the containers is shot through and thoroughly congested with roots. Those abundant roots can absorb water as fast as it can be supplied. They invariably want more. A gardener has to have a big love for their summer containers to keep them thriving throughout September. By the time that fall sees fit to arrive, this gardener is ready.

Last week and the first of this was remarkable for its blistering and record setting heat. All the more effort was required to keep the summer pots going. Added to that, the care of first plants for the fall kept us really busy. Keeping up with the watering on our first shipments of fall cabbages, kales, pansies, lavender, thyme, lemon cypress and other fall friendly plants was not easy.  It was 92 degrees, the first day we planted a collection of containers for fall. Fortunately for me, my crews are utterly professional and focused. They came to work with coolers filled with bottles of water that had spent the previous night in the freezer. They soaked every plant before it was loaded. They were dressed for the occasion. They sweated it out with aplomb. We had set a date to plant containers for fall for this client, and we honored that commitment. All of the pots had been emptied of the summer plants, and the fall centerpieces constructed the day before.

I have a special affection for pots planted for the fall season. Even when my first taste of fall is hot as blazes. The summer is that time when every gardener has the opportunity to enjoy the work they put in place in the spring. The fall brings all of those efforts to fruition, and then to a close. Fall pots stuffed with the moments and memory of the harvest are enchanting. The colors, textures and shapes are specific to the season. The low in the sky slanting light saturates everything it strikes, producing what we know as “fall color”.

Tall elements for fall containers can come from a lot of places. Ornamental grasses come immediately to mind. Rob makes sure we have plenty of natural dried sticks, stems, and seed pods available. I am fortunate to have preserved and dyed eucalyptus in every color imaginable to place in fall pots. The cut stems of eucalyptus are able to absorb preservative and color up through the stems and into the leaves. As the color is absorbed and not applied, the stems are color fast outdoors, and are remarkably resistant to degradation from sun and rain.

But no material is as important as the plants. This year’s crop of custom grown kale and cabbage are the best it has ever been my pleasure to plant. The container above on the left is planted with redbor kale grown to an astonishing size. The companion planter features 3 Purple Queen cabbage, an edible red cabbage. It did not take many plants to create a fall container scene that will last well into November.

Coral Queen ornamental cabbage leaves are a beautiful shade of bluish green.  The centers of the plants will color up a deep magenta purple as the temperatures drop.

Tuscan kale, also known as dinosaur kale, has large, strappy and highly textured leaves. The nutritional value of kale is legendary, but it is also beautiful to look at.  Individual leaves may grow to 3 feet long.

fall container with Tuscan kale

fall container with millet and lavender eucalyptus

containers with Ruby Queen cabbage

kale and cabbage crop

the kale and cabbage from the roof

Let the festivities begin.

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