Grape Hyacinths

Muscari_armeniacum2In my opinion, a drift of grape hyacinths in full bloom is one of spring’s  crowning moments. They may be small, but they pack a big visual punch. The muscari group is one of the most charming and most reliable of all of the small spring flowering bulbs. The tiny corm, planted only 3″ below the surface of the soil in the fall, will give rise to a pair of thin strappy white striped leaves, and a flowering raceme the most brilliant shade of cobalt blue.  That blue makes a spring garden worth growing.

grape hyacinths (2)From my  favorite on line horticultural reference for the Midwest, the Missouri Botanic Garden Plant Finder, I read the following:

“Muscari armeniacum, commonly called grape hyacinth, is an early spring-blooming bulbous perennial that is native to southeastern Europe (including Armenia). It features conical racemes of slightly fragrant, tightly packed, deep violet blue, urn-shaped flowers atop scapes rising to 8” tall in early spring. Each bulb produces 1-3 scapes with 20-40 flowers per scape. Each flower has a thin white line around the rim. Dense inflorescence purportedly resembles an elongated, upside-down bunch of grapes, hence the common name. Scapes rise up from somewhat floppy clumps of narrow, fleshy, basal, green leaves (to 12” long) that appear in autumn and live through the cold St. Louis winter to spring when the plants flower.”

This description tells me that Muscari will grow well in my garden, but I would like to add that they are simple to plant. All you need is some decent friable soil, and a finger to push them below ground. I have seen corms left laying on the surface send a few roots into the soil, and bloom on their sides the following spring. They are willing.

grape hyacinths (3)Grape hyacinths will come up and thrive just about anywhere you plant them.  I would avoid soggy soil that would rot the corms, and dark places fit only for ferns. They come up through a lawn without complaint. They are incredibly hardy. I have never done anything to mine, except plant and enjoy. They are persistent year after year, and can make substantial clumps. The only difficulty?  You have to buy and plant them in the fall.  Preferably in 50’s or 100’s. If you are willing and able, they will be too.

DSC_5201A new landscape project I am about to install involves the installation of a fairly large partial shade garden. My clients are very fond of blue flowering plants, and especially blue spring flowering bulbs. The rustic stone walk was finished in late October.  The coast was clear to plant bulbs, which we did fairly late in November.  It was cold, but as long as the ground is not frozen, spring flowering bulbs can be planted. Since the planting would be late, we stored the bulbs in a cool place, so they would not suffer from being out of the ground so long. Muscari cultivars seldom grow talled than 8″, so planting them near the walk made sense.

DSC_5204We planted a variety of muscari cultivars, all the the blue and white range. We planted the tried and true muscari armeniacum, and  Blue Magic, Atlantic muscari, Magical Mixture, and superstar. Lots of cobalt blue, light blue, with a smattering of white. We also planted several types of camassia, and chionodoxa forbesii Blue Giant, to extend the blue spring bloom period. Later yet, there will be some smaller growing alliums.  These muscari blooming make a quite a statement, even though they are blooming in an ocean of bare dirt.

DSC_5199The planting of this woodland garden got a head start last fall.  The locations of these bulbs will direct the height and bloom season of what I plant with them. We will plant sweet woodriff and European ginger. Were the soil not so sandy, I would plant forget me nots. I will plant more Virginia bluebells to the patch that is existing, Jack in the pulpit, Dutchman’s britches, anemone sylvestris, campanula porscharskyana, lamium white nancy, and so on.

DSC_5197We also have planned for a few Venus dogwoods in the sunniest places, a few witch hazel, and a few Canadian hemlocks. Blue leaved hostas, big and small. If we plant any astilbe, it will be a loose and airy growing version. A stand of goatsbeard is a good choice for the back of the shady border. Like snakeroot,  they take some time to establish and grow – but they are well worth the trouble.

DSC_5196Right now, this is a garden of possibilities.  What a pleasure to be at that point, in early spring. If you are planning a garden in our zone right now, check out the Missouri Botanic Gardens opinion about your choices. And leave some spaces and places for grape hyacinths.

the Plant Finder

Hellebore Hardy

hellebore hardy (1)Would that every plant in my garden could be hellebore hardy. Hellebore hardy? Hellebore hardy is that state of plant being which is as tough as nails, bud and bloom hardy, every day in hostile weather, as in every crappy spring wild card day hardy. We have had crazy cold and blustery weather the first 12 days of April. As in daytime highs of 28 degrees, and some night time lows at 19 degrees.  If it were January, or February, or even the first part of March, these temperatures would not bother anything in my garden.  At that time, every plant is dormant, and oblivious to the day to day changes in temperature. This kind of cold in the spring can damage emerging flowers and leaves. Our espaliered fruit trees are very close to blooming.  I am hoping they hold off for a week, as below freezing temperatures can easily damage or wipe out those flowers. The flowering stalks of my hellebores emerged from the ground a month ago. The have been growing steadily, in spite of a lengthy bout of really cold and windy weather.

hellebore hardy (3)The flowering stalks of the hellebores usually come out of the ground in my zone in mid March. They are programmed to come out of the ground, fighting. How they fight to bloom enchants me. March and April are politely known as transitional months in Michigan.  As in 2.5 parts winter dueling fiercely with .5 parts of spring.  Hellebores bloom in spite of that conflict-  I admire that cheekiness about them. Their ability to withstand cold, snow, ice, freezing rain and wind when they have broken dormancy and begun to grow is remarkable.  All the more extraordinary is their ability to shrug off this hostile weather while in full bloom. This picture was taken at the end of the day on April 10. I was worried that every flower would be at least damaged, if not obliterated by morning.

hellebore hardy (2)It was not an idle worry. My white flowered magnolia stellata is full of white flowers gone to brown mush.  The early flowering magnolias are not hellebore hardy. Their flowering can be laid low and obliterated by cold April weather.  I don’t love them less for this.  I just know that a tumultuous spring has its disappointments, and its survivors. My stellata blooms well 2 out of 5 years.

hellebore hardy (8)The hellebores are survivors.  They do not need any help from me if the beginning of spring is deadly cold. They never ask for much of anything, actually. As for April 11, my hellebores revived. Once the snow and ice melted, and the air temperatures warmed up, my hellebores got back to the business of blooming. My old clumps are sensational this year.

hellebore hardy (12)This big clump, one of many of the old Royal Heritage strain that I grow, is unfazed by inclement weather.

hellebore hardy (5)It is hard to believe that these flowers survived night temperatures ranging from 19 to 27 degrees, over a period of almost 2 weeks.

hellebore hardy (6)Hellebore flowers are big and showy.  What is just as showy is how they handle the late winter weather. Showier still is that these plants are still growing strong, despite their age.  Most of my original group was planted well over a decade ago. I do not often see the Royal Heritage strain offered for sale – pity that.

hellebore hardy (9)To follow are some pictures of my hellebores – both old and new.  I appreciate every one of them, especially given that most of the rest of the garden is still biding its time, hoping for a clearer sign that spring is here.

hellebore hardy (7)Royal heritage strain

hellebore hardy (17)Conny is a newer variety.  This is its 3rd spring.

hellebore hardy (10)Royal Heritage strain

hellebore hardy (11)Royal heritage strain

hellebore hardy (14)Royal Heritage strain

hellebore hardy (18)This spotted double is a newer variety whose name I cannot remember. Lovely, and sparse.

hellebore hardy (16)My newest group of more recently bred hellebore hybrids are gawky and thin. I am hoping to see them put on some weight this year. It is too soon to determine whether they will form big and persistent clumps. The Royal Heritage Mix may not have the interesting shapes and the clearer colors as the newest varieties that are available, but they are reliable. Should you have an interest in this discussion regarding hellebores persistence, I would invite you to read an essay from the well known English gardener and garden writer, Noel Kingbury. His column is a regular read for me. He worries that the new cultivars are not as vigorous as the old fashioned varieties.  His life is a world away from mine, but his commentary on the garden is of interest to me.

Favorite Perennials: The Daisies

Bellis_perennis_dsc00906It is no accident that the subject of the painted floor at the shop is bellis perennis, or English daisy. Daisies are a favorite perennial plant of mine. Bellis is the original plant to which the name daisy was applied. This daisy spread throughout Europe and eventually made its appearance in North America. The yellow disc like center with a star of radiating petals is characteristic of all daisies. As you can see in this picture from Wikipedia, the flowers are the small yellow structures you can see at the edge of the yellow disk in the picture above. The flowers are surrounded by white bracts, radiating all around. Daisies are a member of the aster family. The word aster comes from the Greek word meaning “star”. The aster family is commonly known as the family of daisies.

oxeye daisiesThe aster family is reputed to make up almost 10% of all flowering plants.  That is a staggering number. Not every member of the aster family looks like a daisy.  Sunflowers and echinacea have that daisy look, but artichokes do not. The English daisy is a lawn weed for some that I greatly admire. In my garden it is charming, and not so much weedy.  Just as weedy is the perennial oxeye daisy. Leucanthemum vulgare acts just very much like its name.  It is a tall rangy grower that will eventually flop over if it does not have support from its neighbors. It is native to every state in the US, and all of Canada.  I would call that willing. This native roadside daisy is prohibited in some states-mostly for agricultural reasons. They can act as a host for viral diseases of crops. Cattle avoid eating them. That said, I have planted them. This loosely configured perennial garden on the lake features the oxeye daisy, as well as chasmathium latifolium in the shadier areas. The taller species asters are still quite short at this time of year. The amsonia “Blue Ice” is short, but scrappy.  The other perennials in this garden were chosen for their ability to withstand the advances of the daisies.

551 from monroviaI love our wild daisy. It is fresh, sunny spirited, and uncomplicated. Should you not require a plant that behaves in an adult like manner in an unmowed meadowy spot, they will persist. They may migrate, but any day with daisies blooming is a good day. It is hard to dislike them, even when they are a nuisance. I do not farm crops or raise cattle, so I do plant oxeye daisies-primarily the cultivar known as “May Queen”. Do not plant an oxeye daisy if you want order in the court.  If introducing a wild daisy with a long agenda to your garden makes you uneasy, the wild shasta daisy, leucanthemum maximum, is a better mannered choice. The first hybrid shasta daisy was bred by Luther Burbank, who spent 15 years crossing various wild daisies, in search of a worthy garden plant. They all feature big white star like flowers with yellow button centers. Not every gardener has the space or patience for wilding daisies.

July 23, 2013 (13)The shasta daisy “Becky” is a sturdy and persistently perennial improvement over the classic tall shasta “Alaska”.  I say improved, as I like the somewhat shorter height of Becky. In this garden, it is entirely companionable with the white tall phlox “David”. They make great cut flowers.  They don’t ask for much in the way of care.  White flowers in the perennial garden provide punctuation to the sentence “This is a garden”.  That white is visible from a great distance. The flowers are not fancy.


wayside gardensThis cultivar, chrysanthemum superbum “Real Neat” is available from Wayside Gardens, is a daisy whose breeding has gone over to the fancy side. The best part is that gardeners of all persuasions will be able to find a daisy to their liking.

chrysanthemum sheffield pinkChrysanthemums are in the aster family.  Certain varieties of chrysanthemums have a distinctly daisy-like appearance.  This variety, Sheffield Pink, is the latest perennial to bloom on my block. It was planted underneath a tree in my neighbor’s yard.  The tree died a few years ago, but this daisy mum still comes back and blooms in October, just like it has for at least 15 years.

October 29 2015 080Sheffield Pink is not only hardy, it is persistent. I do not see that it gets any special care, but for the fact that my neighbor mows carefully around it. It gets water from the sky, or maybe the hose on occasion. I never see any evidence of disease or ill health. Many daisies are like this.  Given a good start, a well grown stand of daisies is sure to come.

daisiesThis poster via Wikipedia illustrates the great range of flower forms and colors in the aster family. No matter the particulars, daisies thrive with a minimum of care and fuss, providing they are sited in decent soil, with reasonable water, good drainage, and in full sun.

photo by Jack DykingaThe persistence of the daisy could be no better evidenced than in this stunning photograph taken by Jack Dykinga recently in Death Valley. An El Nino that brought rare fall rains to the desert has resulted in a Death Valley super bloom.  Thousands of dormant seeds of geraea canescens, or desert gold plant, germinated following the rains. This annual daisy-like flowering plant is a member of the aster family, and is sometimes known as the desert sunflower. The article about the Death Valley super bloom is beautifully documented on the National Geographic website.    Death Valley Super Bloom

photo by Jack DykingaThere are few flowers as buoyant, sunny natured, and persistent as a daisy.  See what I mean?



Garden Design Magazine 2016

Garden Design MagazineDetroit Garden Works has been on hiatus since January 15. Anyone who comes to our door is welcome to come inside, but most of what there is to see now are the repairs we’ve made to our old block walls and roof, the new paint throughout, and clean surfaces all around. What Rob has selected for our 2016 gardening season is beginning to arrive. It will take every bit of the next two weeks to put the shop back together for our March reopening. But there is another sure sign of spring. The early spring 2016 issue of Garden Design Magazine is set to ship the beginning of next week. If you are a gardener of a certain age, you probably recognize the name. Garden Design Magazine, in its previous life, was published between 1982 and 2013.  Jim Peterson, entrepreneur and risk taker, decided to buy the rights to the magazine from the Bonnier Corporation shortly after they ceased publication.

Garden Design Mafazine Early Spring 2016Though his primary interest was in establishing a new innovative digital presence for Garden Design, gardening aficionados all over the country spoke strongly to their appreciation for the printed page. Who knows what possessed him to commit to bringing that print publication back to life in an incredibly beautiful and signature way, but he did. I greatly admire this about him. Jim called me to ask if Detroit Garden Works would consider carrying his new magazine. I loved how he was willing to take his passion as far as making his case for his new magazine personally to people in the retail garden community.  I admire any gardener that creates magic from dirt, and Jim Peterson is no exception. Of course I said yes. I am an American landscape designer. A publication devoted to American landscape and garden design is a resource I would treasure. I take great pride that my practice was featured in their first issue.

photograph by Rob Cardillo

Garden Design Magazine is easy to like. Each of the four yearly issues are much more journal than magazine. The early spring issue which will ship the first of next week is 148 pages, none of which are devoted to ads. The paper is of such a substantive and fine quality that the photographs represent beautifully-more like a monograph than a magazine. The beauty of the photo reproductions do justice to the beauty of the photographs themselves. This highly evocative photograph by Rob Cardillo speaks volumes about composition and color in a garden. Who knows what article is in store that will feature this photograph. The quality of the photographs in every issue is matched by articles bound to be of interest to anyone and everyone who gardens – either personally or professionally.

photograph by Rob CummingsI had occasion to speak with Thad Orr, editor in chief of Garden Design, at some length last week.  I was interested to hear him talk about his approach to the work of creating a magazine that would encourage wide readership in the gardening community. He is clearly keen to represent three broadly brushed and overlapping areas of interest. The individual gardener, who designs and tends their own garden, will find articles that speak to a personal scale, scope and interest. The professional landscape and garden designer, whose practice is a life’s work, and those with an abiding interest in horticulture either as a grower or a practitioner round out the trio. This photograph by Rob Cummings speaks not only to the hard work of garden, but the artistry that can accompany every aspect of great garden making. It also speaks to other groups in the gardening world-those who design and make tools, furniture, garden gear, or ornament.

photograph by Jason IngramThe magazine is willing to celebrate any aspect of garden making. There is no stultifying narrative about what gets to be called gardening, and what doesn’t. Their tent is a big one. The benefit to readers is whatever topic they choose to cover, they address with some depth. A new gardener might fill their first containers with geraniums, as they are ubiquitous in nurseries all over the country.  I love them – they are the little black dress of the container plant world.  But this pot, photographed by Jason Ingram, features a geranium I am not familiar with. There will be those who are interested in the plants in this pot.  And those who are interested in the design of it.

photograph by Pia ClodiGrowing and arranging cut flowers appeals to everyone who has ever been enchanted by flowers. I have no idea in what context this scrumptious but simple arrangement of anemones, lisianthus and carnations was photographed by Pia Clodi, but I will be finding out next week.

photograph by Bob StefkoGarden Design does a great job of telling stories about people who garden in one form or another.  This part interests me greatly, as every person has a different point of view. And most surely a point of view worth learning about. As a landscape design professional, I am naturally interested what other people in horticulture and design are doing. Bob Stefko’s portrait of Roy Diblik, well known American plantsman, grower, author and designer tells me an interesting story is on the way. If you gardener, and are not familiar with his work, there is a golden opportunity to get acquainted.

photograph by Robert YuI do believe there is some great landscape design being done in the US.  Photographed by Robert Yu, this contemporary landscape is absolutely stunning. It is not a landscape I am familiar with. Garden Design is a forum for landscape and garden design that I appreciate having available to me. I might not otherwise see this garden. I am keenly interested to read more about it.

photograph by Ngoc Minh Ngo30 years have passed since since I last grew bearded iris. This astonishing photograph by Ngoc Minh Ngo not only makes me want to grow them again, it makes me want to grow these.

photograph by Rob CardilloAs much as I appreciate this garden and fence, as photographed by Rob Cardillo, what strikes me the most is the idea that a landscape and garden can be a gateway to a way of life that is good for people. Garden Design makes this case in many different ways.  If you do not already subscribe, I would recommend you do so. Subscribe now, and you get the early spring issue from which all of these photographs were taken, free. Check it out:  subscribe to Garden Design here Yes, I have a good bit of enthusiasm for this magazine. It is the only magazine of its kind. I would like to see them continue to cover horticulture and design for a long time to come.