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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The Plantings At The Shop

No matter how many container plantings we do in a given year, planting the shop for the summer is a given planting. I put this close to home project off until the great majority of our clients are planted. Some might think that I take the winter to plan what I will do in the summer shop garden, but I do not. Once we start bringing in annual plants for sale, I keep looking until something triggers a decision. Rob plants a lot of containers for the shop, and this year’s collection is especially good. I could characterize how he composes and plants in the following way. He favors green above all, but lavender, rosemary, and all the the herbs to go with run a close second. He gravitates towards annual plants that are relaxed in habit and subdued in color. A wood box may be filled from start to finish with Grosso lavender. An Italian terra cotta pot may feature a Malabar spinach vine trailed up a rusted rod steel sphere. A vintage galvanized steel trough might be planted with tomatoes and herbs. Slatted wood boxes lined with coir, and planted with verbena bonariensis, peach dahlias and pale yellow marguerites are as casually elegant as they are unstudied. His shade container with bird’s nest ferns and selaginella fly out the door. All of his container plantings are reserved. His touch is light. This year’s shop planting is in admiration and recognition of that work. My idea in the big planting bed was to plant a collection of summer blooming annuals in mixed colors, in a a random and relaxed pattern. Nothing too flashy or fussy; think cream colored marigolds. A strip of brown paper towel down the center of the bed would establish a no plant zone. Weeding a wayward and unstudied planting asks for access.

This planting is dominated by 70 some 1 gallon pots of Sonata cosmos. Of course we laid out those cosmos first. As casually as we imagined Rob would place them. We had no idea if the pots were mixed colors, or a single color. Next to come, lots of the airy growing  nicotiana suaveolens, nicotiana perfume bright rose, lime and white, a few purple angelonia, and cream white marigolds. None of these plants truly meadowy-these are all hybrid tropical plants. But mixed in a casual way. It took my crew all of five minutes to grasp the idea.  In less than 2 hours, we had a garden. I am sure Rob would have never plant the nicotiana Perfume Bright Rose-that was my idea.

Once every plant was in the ground, we watered, and watered again. Watering new plantings is nearly a daily job. Hot weather can be deadly to a plant that has not yet rooted into the surrounding soil. Many annual plants are grown in soilless mixes.  Once that small rootball dries out, look out. Annual plants in the ground or in containers regularly watered with take hold and thrive. Once established, sun loving annual plants are remarkably unfazed by dry soil.

Regular rain and moderate temperatures early in the growing season resulted in a dramatic spring flush on the boxwood. We have held off pruning, as our current temperatures have been in the high eighties. Next week is slated to be much cooler, and Melissa and her crew will prune. A gently geometric pruning will provide a pleasing contrast to the planting.

New this year- we covered the entire planting with a mulch of  ground bark fines.  This will help conserve moisture in the soil, and discourage weeds, although who knows.  Maybe the weeds will look good with the planting. Decades of professional gardening and maintenance has made me a weed pulling, plant staking, dead heading, raking and wash down the driveway kind of gardener. When I say nature bats last, I am also saying that this gardener bats in the clean up position. Having just turned 67, I doubt I will be making any substantial changes to the way I work. This planting is not what I would have done, left to my own devices. But having done it, I will try to leave it be, and see what happens.

The window boxes have a similar feeling, but include some plants not in the ground garden. Dwarf cleome, sky blue petunias, variegated sage and white trailing verbena have been added to the mix.

But for that far too bright rose pink nicotiana, this has something of the feeling of Rob’s compositions.

Those of you who are able to visit Detroit Garden Works know that we have galvanized metal planter boxes that traverse the entire length of the roof that faces our street. From this vantage point, it is easy to see that the boxwood has at least 8 inches of new growth. It will take Melissa and her crew all day to prune it. The plants chosen for the garden are in the 24″ high range. The garden will not be visible from the street. To see it, you will have to walk up the driveway and look in. I have always planted this garden taller than the boxwood. Why? Tradition, for good or for ill. This hedge is now in its 20th year, and despite the ravages of two really terrible winters, is quite something in its own right. It will be the star of the summer show, especially given that both the composition and plant choices are plain and simple. Metaphorically speaking, my gardens usually wear shoes and socks. This garden is decidedly less formal than that.

But back up to the roof garden. The boxes were made to sit on the parapet wall that runs across the front. They are outfitted with irrigation, as climbing up here, hose in hand, requires a substantial extension ladder and no small amount of nerve. It is a hot and windy place. The boxes hold 3 rows of plants. The back row is planted with the lemon lime leaved pineapple sage, and a new white, pink and blue angelonia. This hybrid has very thick stems, and was originally developed for the cut flower trade. Both of these plants like full sun and heat. This new angelonia is reputed to grow 40″ tall. If it does, this row of plants will help to mitigate the effects of the wind for all.

The middle row is comprised of 3 colors of vista petunias, interspersed with white and pink Gaura. The white tinged pink petunia cultivar “Silverberry” was planted in the two center boxes. Then moving towards the edges on both sides, Vista “Bubblegum”, and finally Vista “Fuchsia”. Petunias are the one of the most ordinary annual plants, but this cultivar is a vigorous grower seldom bothered by any problems. We try to stay away from problems on the roof. In the front row, a thick planting of the annual white variegated vinca vine.

We are ready just in time for summer.

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