The Hydrangeas

Little Lime hydrangeasSometime between mid July and mid August, the Limelight hydrangeas come in to bloom. It is a moment worth waiting for. The fast growing large leaved plants bloom profusely on the current year’s growth. They are easy to cultivate, asking for not much more that some decent light and some regular water. The spectacularly large flowers are a gorgeous mixture of lime green and white. Limelight hydrangeas are known for their sturdy stems, which keep those flowers aloft in all but the stormiest weather. They do need a lot of room. A single well grown shrub can grow 8′ tall by 8′ wide. Hydrangea “Little Lime”, pictured above, is a hybrid of Limelight that only grows 4-5 feet tall, and as wide. They make themselves right at home in an informal or cottage style garden. But its relaxed habit of growth can look just as interesting in an alternative universe –  a more formal planting.

Little Lime hydrangeasThis mature size is not only friendly to smaller gardens, it looks great in a mass planting. This landscape is situated on a very steep slope, so these Little Limes are responding to the force of gravity. Some gardeners may find their sprawling habit unruly and irritating. Others will find them charming, even beautiful. They certainly endow the late summer garden with their willingness to bloom. All of the pictures in this post but one were taken on days with temperatures above 90 degrees.

hydrangea LimelightMy Limelights are 12 years old, or more.  Some years I prune them down to between 24″ and 30″ inches.  Some years I only remove the old flower heads and 6″ of stem. I always prune them in the spring, when the leaf buds begin to swell. The final result in terms of the flowering and height is fairly uniform, year to year, no matter how I prune. This illustrates the important of choosing shrubs whose mature size will fit the space that is available. I have been watering them twice a week for the past several months, as we have had very little rain.  The group to the far right in this picture get the least water, as they are difficult to reach.  They are shorter than usual, but they have plenty of flowers. How reliable they are to grow and bloom is a very good reason to plant them.

after the rainYesterday morning, after an exceptionally heavy and blustery rain, the water soaked flowers had fallen over in to the path. We’ll see what happens once they dry out. There is no staking hydrangeas at this stage.  If you are bound and determined to keep them upright, very stout and tall tomato cages need to be put in place in the spring. If the flower heads do not spring back up, I will cut some, put them in water, and let them dry indoors.

limelight hydrangeaLimelight hydrangeas can provide an easy going and breezy sense of enclosure. My hydrangeas are planted in a block, not in a single row.  Though the shrubs are very open growing, multiple staggered rows provide a dense green screen which makes my front yard garden quite private.

hedge of limelight hydrangeasGiven enough room, a generous sweep of Limelight hydrangeas can be quite architectural in feeling. Once these hydrangeas are pruned in the spring, they are not pruned again until the following spring.  Few deciduous shrubs can tolerate or perform well having been sheared. Hydrangeas are no exception. Prune to the best of your ability in the spring, and then turn loose of them. Looking for a rule?  The plants will tell you a very detailed story. Very few things bother hydrangeas.  They will bloom in part shade, but not as profusely. The flowers will be smaller, and the leaves will singe on the edges if they get too dry. I mulch them with bark fines in the spring after I prune. I water infrequently, but regularly. Outside of that, I just enjoy them.

limelight hydrangea Limelight is a hybrid of hydrangea paniculata.  Paniculata refers to the fact that the flower heads of these hydrangeas are comprised of hundreds of individual flowers arranged in a cluster around the flower stalk-this flower form is called a panicle. The individual florets will acquire a pink tinge as they age. When the temperatures cool down in the fall, the flowers will age to rose pink. I water the plants more in the early fall than I do in late summer. Truly?  The sure sign of a plant that has gone too dry are flowers that brown before their time. I do everything I can to extend the hydrangea season. I do leave the flower heads on all winter – why not?  Most of them stick tight throughout the winter for me.

August 10,2016 (64)I do not grow hydrangea Little Lime at home, but I have planted plenty of them elsewhere. Their shorter stature means there are flowers at eye level, on top of this retaining wall.  Had I planted the much bigger Limelight in this location, I would be looking in to the stems from the lower level. I recently planted a row of Little Limes in front of an old hedge of Limelights.  This will insure flowers from top to bottom.

August 10,2016 (71)The Little Limes smaller size makes them quite companionable to a host of other perennial and annual plants.

hydrangea BoboHydrangea Bobo is not related to either Limelight or Little Lime, but it is a panicle hydrangea.  Hybridized by Johan Van Huylenbroeck, the same breeder that developed the Pinky Winky hydrangea,  was patented and introduced by Proven Winners. Topping out at 3′ tall by up to 4′ wide, it is beautiful in a mass. Though this group has only been in the ground for 2 inhospitably hot and dry months, they are blooming.  By next year, the chances are good they will completely cover this large sunny area. I can cross this group of Bobo’s off my list of plantings to worry about. They’ll be back.


















Independence Day

July 4 2016 004The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. I like the story of how America came to be independent. I like anyone who has a mind to think and act independently. I like even more that I live in a culture that places a premium on freedom. That freedom came and continues to come with a very big price. I so respect any person who contributes to what it takes to let freedom ring. Today I am thinking about those people who valued independence and freedom above all. The 4th of July is a holiday that celebrates the best of what Americans can be. There is always a lot of impassioned discussion about what constitutes the best we can be. I like any idea delivered with passion and conviction. Bring it on-I am listening.  What did I do over the celebration of this 4th? I spent a lot of time thinking about how lucky I am to live in America. I went to the shop at 7am to feed the dogs, and check on MCat. Once Rob arrived to water the plants at the shop, I knew I could go home with no worries. I came home. Buck and I had lunch on the deck at noon.. Home with family is good.

July 4 2016 001I weeded, dead headed, watered, and greatly enjoyed being outdoors at home. I took pictures.  I rarely have a chance to be home during the day-I so enjoyed this. The corgis despise the booms from fireworks.  I have one hand on them, and the rest of me thinking about how great it is to be home, and to be free.

July 4 2016 025To follow are pictures of my garden from today. I hope you are enjoying your fourth as much as I am enjoying mine.

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FullSizeRender (9)I have a little fireworks of the gardening sort going on today.

Some Like It Hot And Dry


Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 6.11.57 PM_zpsv6bhufehChoosing plants for summer containers can be complicated, especially if you are as serious about them as I am. I have to be serious, as I plant them professionally for a wide range of clients. But lacking any clients, I would still be serious about them.  They are seasonal expressions of the landscape confined by a finite world known as a container. The idea of this enchants me. A great container planting is a condensed expression of color, mass, line, texture, mass, shape and mood. Like the best chocolate mousse you ever ate. The thoughtful landscape and garden builds and endures and reinvents itself from year to year. Like a great stew. Seasonal containers provide an opportunity to express an idea or point of view that needs no more commitment than one season. If this year’s annual containers do not satisfy, the next summer season is not so far away. Landscape design and installation can be a lengthy affair.  The road to maturity is long, and not always easy.  The death of a tree is momentous; a petunia lost is no cause for alarm.  That container plantings last for one season is such a blessing. As much as I embrace the tough and long road designing and implementing a landscape, I value those gestures that are quick and true. I design containers by instinct. Every season, a plant that interests me, or a group of plants that seem like they will create a neighborhood gets my attention.  But long before I shop, I scout the long range weather forecast for my zone.

Floret FarmsA forecast for much above average temperatures, and dry conditions means I started paying special attention to those seasonal plants that will thrive in those conditions months ago. I have always been a fan of those old fashioned cutting flowers-the zinnias.  If we have a rainy or very humid summer, they are a magnet for mildew and all manner of fungal disease. Reading the forecast in March, I started researching zinnias. A dry hot summer would be the perfect moment to plant lots of them in front of the shop. I was especially interested in unusual forms, vigor, resistance to disease, and and that old fashioned charm they are known for. In reading about zinnias, I came across a blog post from Floret Farms.  They grow armload after armload of the most beautiful cut flowers I have ever seen-just like the cut zinnias you see in their picture above.  I did take some of their recommendations to heart. Interested in the article?


DSC_6426Zinnia Queen red lime has very unusual and muted coloration-unlike many of the varieties that feature intense color.

DSC_6433It’s sister cultivar, Queen Lime, is a much improved version of the old lime green zinnia “Envy”.

Zinnia elegans 'Queen Lime' (2013)Benary Lime tends towards the greener side of lime. From the Johnny’s Selected seeds website:  A classic and superior strain of zinnia originating from a historic German seed company, the Benary’s Giant Series features large, double blossoms of approximately 4–5″ in diameter, in multiple magnificent colors. Recommended by the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers for their vigor, uniformity, productivity, and carefree cultivation across a range of growing zones and conditions.  From Swallowtail Garden Seeds: The 3-4 inch, double chartreuse flowers are superb for cutting, blend with almost any color. Outstanding massed in the landscape; the flowers are jaw-dropping in mixed bouquets. Plants are rain, heat, and mildew resistant. Somewhat shorter than others in this series, growing 24-26 inches tall.

DSC_6423I first read about this zinnia at Floret Farms.  Uproar Rose is a hot pink zinnia that is reputed to produce flower heads at 5″-6″ across all summer.  It makes an excellent cut flower, and is resistant to fungal diseases. Floret favors this zinnia, as it has lots of side branching – meaning it will bear lots of flowers.  I added this zinnia to my collection.

DSC_6435The Zinderella series, in both peach and lilac represent a very unusual anemone type form. I see not every flower on the stalk is quite as double as the ones in my pictures, but that is not enough to discourage me from growing them. They grow about 24 inches tall.  I mixed all of the sizes and colors of zinnias for a loose look, and I have twice as many lime zinnias as all of the other colors. That lime will make it so much easier to appreciate the color and shape of the other varieties.

DSC_6434Zinderella Lilac

zinnia Polar BearA little splash of white is the perfect accent for a garden with lots of bright color. This is the tallest of my zinnias, topping out at 40″. Polar Bear white is an appropriate name.  It cools off the collection.

Canary Bird Zinnia Zinnia Canary Bird rounded out the tall zinnia group.

51985-pk-p1I did not want to neglect the shorter and more compact zinnias.  I did opt to grow the Zahara series.  From Park Seed:  The Zahara series introduced in 2009 immediately became famous for its resistance to mildew and leaf spot, its nonstop blooms, and its larger flower size.These blooms are fully 2½ inches wide. Renowned for its ability to withstand heat, humidity, drought, and just about anything else, Zahara is the first bedding Zinnia that can truly claim to be disease-resistant. Mildew is a traditional enemy of the Zinnia, but Zahara’s got it licked!

F_Zinnia_ZaharaStarlightRose Zahara Starlight White is especially beautiful.

DSC_6431The wicker pots out front are planted with elegant feather, tall yellow marigolds, marguerite daisies, pink petunias and lime licorice.  We dug around the stone plinth, and planted Zahara zinnias.

zinnias at the shop (1) a fist full of zinnias

zinnias at the shop (2)Yes, I planted them on the roof too.  We’ll see how we do with them.



The First Container Planting

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Every year, the prospect of having a full roster of container gardens to plant makes me want to black out. I spend the first three weeks of May utterly certain that I cannot plant one more pot.  That I am out of ideas. Luckily, time passes by, and and I start shopping. A client I have worked for as long as this one is easy to shop for. I had a pair of giant banana plants to pick up at our farmer’s market at 5:45 am. I was ready at 7am to let Dan know that we would need two pallets-130 bags –  of our custom container soil blend, and 30 bags of bark. We would need moss fabric for a pair of wire urns, and a ladder to tie the mandevillea to the steel plant climbers.

annual planting (12)I had shopped with David and Riley on Friday.  They put all of our plants on racks, and loaded them onto our trucks.  At the end of the day Friday, I was ready in the plant regard.  I had an inkling of an idea about what I would plant. Of course I was going over that inkling, critically. I had from 6-8am Saturday morning to print the photographs from last year, and write on them what materials we would use in them this year. Two hours gives me enough time to change my mind. Once my crew is ready to load, I am too.  I take extras and alternates, just in case.

annual planting (5) Once every pot had gotten filled with bark for drainage, and our container soil mix, all of the centerpieces get planted.  Then I lay out the scheme for the rest of the pot.  I was entirely absorbed and focused on how each plant would grow out, and interact with its neighbor. I favor containers that have a beautiful overall shape by the time they mature.  My favorite part of this planting for a group of Italian terra cotta pots? Orange geraniums. Geraniums, as they provide an incredible amount of color when properly grown.  They are heavy feeders. But more so than the bloom habit, that orange would contribute an interesting variation to a warm color palette.  The red mandevilleas and red geraniums are a bluish red. The orange geraniums have just enough yellow to make the combination interesting. My client is keen about the drama that can be created by intense color.
annual planting (6)This pair of Italian pots can handle the size and textural drama of a pair of large scale bananas. Not yet visible are a collar of strobilantes, or Persian shield plants that will ring the trunks of the bananas.  The chartreuse leaved Persian Queen geraniums and misty lilac waves petunias will highlight the iridescent red-violet of the Persian Shields.

annual planting (9)Lime green is a key color in this planting scheme. All of the warm colors are all the more intense, by their proximity to lime green. The red represented in this container is red sunpatiens. They will grow quite large.  The lime licorice will lighten that load of red.

annual planting (7)This big scented geranium will have pale pink flowers intermittently over the summer.  But they are primarily grown for their bright apple green foliage that can be clipped into shapes.  We gave this geranium the most rudimentary clip.  My client has a lot of formally trimmed shrubs maintained by the company that prunes our boxwood at the shop.  Her crew will put a skilled set of hands to the spherical shape of this geranium.  It is under planted with an orange geranium of a different sort than the big growing zonal geraniums.  Caliente geraniums come in a wide range of colors, and are extremely easy to grow. The pink and white bicolor trailing verbena “Lanai Twister Pink” is a beautiful addition to this series.

annual planting (11)There are two containers in fairly dense shade.  The color of the lime dracaena “Janet Craig” brightens any shady area.  The dracaena is under planted with bird’s nest ferns.  The leaf form is simialr to the dracaena, but is a darker green.

annual planting (8)A boxwood topiary on standard is under planted with Persian Queen geraniums, red geraniums, and vista fuchsia petunias. The low terra cotta bowl features hot pink XL dahlias, black cherry supertunias, and a bicolor trailing verbena.

annual planting (10)3 terracotta boxes get identical treatment.  Hot pink zonal geranium towers, and lime creeping jenny.

annual planting (14)This old cast iron rectangular cauldron sits in a garden bed which is so shady that very little grows there. It is planted with a a pair of lime green fleck leafed dieffenbachia “Camouflage”, Janet Craig dracaenas, and Black Gold Xtreme sansevieria. The sansevieria in the box is repeated in ground at each end. This planting will thrive all summer long with next to no water.

annual planting (1)By 2pm, you would never know we had been there. It was a splashy beginning to our container planting season.