garden in August (1) By the time August comes around, I am ready to take a vacation from the work of my garden, and just enjoy it. In May I might renovate a spot that has gotten a little tired or overgrown. I added a new strip of pachysandra this year in the fountain garden. The yews have grown a lot, and the grass is not happy in their shade. For better or for worse, I make decisions about what to plant in my pots, and get them planted.  In June, the problems generated by the previous winter become obvious.  Replacements go in the ground. 4 all but dead rhododendrons get removed. In the case of my rose garden which finally completely succumbed to the insult of two bitterly cold winters, I decided to do nothing. We not only need a new roof this fall, we need a place to shovel off the old roof.

garden in August (2)
When the weather finally warms up in July, I might start watering here and there. I do not run my sprinkler system on a regular program.  I water what I think needs to be watered.  I only rarely run all of the zones at once. Once the water goes on, broken heads, or a need for a change in coverage become obvious. Sprinkler repairs-July work.The seasonal pots begin to settle in, and put down roots.

garden in August (6)Once August comes, I want to take the time to enjoy the garden.  The watering and maintenance of the pots is not a chore.  I enjoy that.  It is a perfect way to wind down from the day. I water. I tinker with this or that leaf that needs to be removed. The maintenance of the pots is about falling in to the pleasure of a garden. I sweep up all of the maple helicopters.  I make the effort to appreciate what is there, and not worry about what should be there.  Fall is a much better time to make changes in a landscape. Mid seventies during the day, and upper fifties at night is not the norm for Michigan in August.  Why not enjoy that? A temperate August in Michigan is a gift that should be treasured. Buck and I visit each garden every day after work. The corgis come along. This August is temperate.  We are eating outdoors every night.  No matter the menu, there is always Michigan grown corn and tomatoes.

garden in August (3)Even the simplest spots that are completely familiar look good to me. Most of the plants have been there a long time, and seem happy.  Those that aren’t will be dealt with some other time.  Right now is for what is good about it. I feel like I am on vacation when I am home, and that seems like a good thing.

garden in August (4)So why is my August garden vacation on my mind?  I met with a client late last week who just days ago moved into a new house.  The house she left was a beautiful turn of the century home on a big piece of property.  She had invested an incredible amount of time in the landscape and gardens. The decision to move was a family decision.  Decisions like this are made by people all the time, including those people who have a passion for, and work the garden. Most people have important obligations and commitments, and that includes gardening people.

garden in August (5)She has only been in her new house for a few days. The property is astonishingly large. There are some old trees, and lawn as far as the eye can see. The house is almost completely obscured by overgrown shrubs. A typical suburban foundation planting had been left to its own devices. In one spot was the largest and tallest stand of Canada thistle I have ever seen. The house had not been occupied for quite some time, and that landscape had been neglected.      garden in August (12)She did tell me quite a bit about the garden she had just left. How she had planted all of the landscape and gardens herself, and how she managed to maintain it, in addition to having a job and family to look after. That discussion was about more than her loss.  It was about helping me to understand what had been important to her. I did not ask her what trees, shrubs and perennials she liked.  I did not ask her about color or style.  I wanted to know why she called me.

DSC_2446She answered without hesitating.  She told me she was a gardener, and not a designer.  What she was looking for from me was a plan.  An outline of how to go about creating a landscape and garden that would make her new house feel like a home. A way of making sense of 2.5 acres of wide open space. She knows as well as I do how much time and effort that will take. She already has a plan to remove all of the overgrown foundation plantings this fall.  Her August will be very different than mine.

garden in August (13)That said, I could sense her resolve. I could tell that she has the energy to take on a project of this size, and see it through. She is a gardener, after all. With some time and thought, I think I can provide her with a place to dig in. She is counting on me for that, and I plan to give it to her.

DSC_2431Her situation is not unknown to me. When I was her age, I had a new house and property.  For years I did nothing to it.  I was too busy getting Detroit Garden Works off the ground, and tending to my landscape practice. But there came a time when I wanted to make time for it.  That was all it took.  If this client wants to make time for it on day two of her possession of the new house, you can rest assured she is serious. She will make something beautiful and interesting of her property.

garden in August (8)
When I got home later that day, I was glad I had persisted over a period of years making a landscape and garden.  It was, and is, worth it. On top of this, a new client whose love of the garden is a call I will do my best to answer.

garden in August (14)On my deck today, many shades of green. On my mind, an avid gardener with a new house lacking a landscape.

garden in August (9)
Tonight, I have little in the way of obligations. On a Sunday in August, I do my best to enjoy the fruits of all of my work. The deck pots look good to me.

DSC_2410boxes on the north side

DSC_2413bird’s nest ferns

garden in August (15)a  big spike, growing.

DSC_2200the side garden

garden in August (11)hydrangeas coming into bloom

garden in August (16)lantana on standard

garden in August (18)This is the August news from #35.


hydrangeas and boltoniaNo discussion of a summer landscape in the mid west is complete without a a discussion about hydrangeas. Simply said, a hydrangea is a large leaved blowsy shrub noted for its spectacularly showy flowers. I should preface my remarks about hydrangeas with my point of view about shrubs in general. I am keen for any shrub that can endow a landscape. I find that shrubs perform year after year, with a minimum of maintenance. Some medium sized shrubs-as in spirea-not only tolerate being cut to the ground in the spring, they spring back and bloom without missing a beat. Other shrubs not only tolerate uninformed pruning, they thrive in spite of it. New cultivars of dwarf shrubs-I am thinking dwarf butterfly bush – amiably adapt to small gardens. Big shrubs can screen an untoward view.  Shrubs have a decently long life span. They ask little, and provide a lot.

limelight hydrangeas They bridge the gap between the perennials that are below eye level, and the trees that are above eye level.  A yearly pruning takes the place of the long list of care requirements that perennials require. Shrubs do take a lot of room, so if you garden is small, be discriminating in your choices. Hydrangeas are as friendly to a perennial garden as they are to a stand of trees. They can add weight to a garden. Lime Light hydrangeas sport greenish white cone shaped flowers that can back up a perennial garden. They have a long season of bloom.  Their twigs are sturdily upright.

hydrangea Annabelle (2)The hydrangea Annabelle has been in bloom since June in my zone.  This is a stellar year for them.  Everywhere I see them, they are standing up fairly straight, and loaded with blooms.  I have never been a big fan of the Annabelles. Their tendency to flop over demands careful staking way in advance of the growing and flowering. What a nuisance.  This year, all those giant white blooms look great wherever I see them.  Staked, and not staked.  In sun, and in shade.  I suspect our heavy and regular rain has been really good for them.

the landscape in July (2)I planted 3 rows of annabelles and 2 rows of Lime lights in this garden this spring-so the hydrangea bloom time will be long.  5 rows of hydrangeas is an embarrassment of riches in hydrangeas.  The Annabelles, to the left, gracefully drooping over a rustic boulder wall, start blooming in June. The taller and more vertical growing back stop of Lime light hydrangeas begin to bloom in late July. This garden is at least 150 feet from a rear terrace.  All of that white will read well from a distance. Unseen in this picture-a perennial garden with a lavish white coat of hydrangeas backing it up.

hydrangea gardenI placed the 3 rows of Annabelle hydrangeas just behind this rock wall.  Their inclination to droop will soften this wall. They will provide a graceful and warm backdrop to the perennials in front of the wall. The Limelights in the rear were invisible when they were planted.  But by next year they will provide another taller layer of white to the perennial garden.

hydrangeas needing waterHydrangeas do not like dry soil. These Annabelles are in sore need of water. They may flower, but the flowers will burn without regular irrigation.  If your hydrangeas have leaves that are turning yellow and dropping on the interior, get out the hose and soak them.

hydrangea BoboI also grow Little Lime hydrangeas, which top out at 4-5 feet, and the shortest of the Limelight series-Bobo.  At 30 inches tall, they are perfect for a small garden. Or for a foreground garden that needs to be low. They are a good choice for those moments in the landscape that asks for a plant that is short and wide. This hydrangea takes to perennial neighbors like a duck to water. The white flowers highlight and set off all of the other colors in a garden.

limelights 2013 (7)I prune my Lime lights in April.  I wait until I see the buds swelling.  I usually prune my 50 plants back to 30″ tall – give or take. Every other year. I do not prune them down near the ground. Really hard pruning results in fewer, and bigger flowers. I am not interested in bigger flowers. I like lots of medium sized flowers. I like my Lime Lights at home very tall-they are faced down by an old hedge of Hicks yews.  Some years I snip the old flower heads off, and leave them be.  Light pruning means you will get long woody legs. The following year, I may take them down to 30″  My yews cover those old legs.  If your hydrangeas are front and center, take them down closer to 30″. Irregularly.  Prune each branch individually, so every branch has its own air and light space. You can prune down to 14″ above ground-if you dare.  Do not go lower than this.  Forcing growth from below ground is hard on a shrub.

August 28 2013 (8)I have had a lot of questions regarding the proper spacing of Lime Light hydrangeas. I would say there is no proper, or right spacing. The spacing chosen has to do with the design intent. I space them at 30″or 36″ on center, if my intent is to create a dense and homogeneous hedge. Close spacing means that the entire length and width of the hedge grows and prospers as one organism.  The individual plants intertwine, and become one. I have never seen a hydrangea hedge that resented this spacing.  A spacing at 6 feet is an option.  But this row will never read as a hedge.  It will read as thick and thin. Wavy. I have had clients space them at 6 feet one year, and add an intervening plant the next year.

September 19 2014 (64)Hedging hydrangeas make a very strong statement.  A lone hydrangea as a foundation planting always looks alone, and gawky.  Great landscapes gracefully integrate individual plants in service of a greater whole. I like to mass hydrangeas. A showy shrub such as this-plant lots of them. Build your gardens around them. Be generous.

hydrangeas in SeptemberIn late September, the Lime Light blooms will begin to pink up. This color is a sign that the season is coming to a close.

Oct 17 2011 001In October, the pink deepens.  This view out from my rose garden is a view I treasure from  July through October.  The dry flower heads stay put all winter long. The list of plants that do well in my zone is long, and varied.  The delight this shrub furnishes to me is very long and varied.  I would not do without them – the hydrangeas.




At A Glance: More Silvery Leaves


July 28 2011 005

silvery (34)

September 1, 2014 (32)

Sept 21 032

nicotiana and company

May 1, 2015 (33)

August 29 2014 (5)

blue agaves

silvery (3)

the shop 002

May 21, 2014 (9)

Sept 6, 2012 029

DGW  12

June 7jt 2012 047



DGW 2006_08_10 (19)

silvery (37)

fall planting 004

Aug 5 2012 060



Aug 22 020



Silver Leaves

silver foliage (12)Cynara cardunculus, or cardoon, is also known as an artichoke thistle. It is a member of the sunflower family, and is native to Mediterranean climes. The giant coarse toothed leaves are architectural in form, and incredibly dramatic. A lot of that drama comes from the fact that those leaves are a very bright silvery gray. These silver leaves, in the right light, have a decidedly metallic cast. This amazing photograph of a cardoon is from  Great Plant Picks is an educational program of the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden which debuted in 2001 with the first recommendations for a comprehensive palette of outstanding plants for the maritime Pacific Northwest.  No wonder this cardoon has such a fascinating and an exotic look to me.  I do not garden in the Mediterranean, or in the Pacific northwest.

silver foliage (13)Silver leaved plants are not coated with some natural form of metallic silver. Many of them have leaves which are covered with very fine hairs that reflect light.  That reflective quality makes the leaves appear silvery.  According to the Plant Delights website, “The silver color is not a pigment, but rather some type of mechanism that scatters and reflects light. Some plants with silver foliage have a thick coat of foliar wax. Others are covered with fine hairs. A few silver perennials get their luster from blisters that separate the outer and inner cell layers of the leaf.” Silver leaved plants by and large hail from regions that are very hot and dry. That silvery surface is an adaptation – a means by which the plants can survive high heat and drought. Though I garden in a zone which gets regular rain, and infrequently has temperatures over 90 degrees, I love the look of silver leaved plants. This year’s window boxes at the shop-a celebration of silver leaves.

silver foliage (14)In the window boxes this year, I have planted artemesia “Valerie Finnis”, a blue/silver eucalyptus whose name I do not know, Cirrus dusty miller, a lavender with silver leaves, kalanchoe “Flapjacks”, the trailing artemesia “Silver Brocade”, an unknown silvery white succulent, and artemesia absinthium-or wormwood. I think I have identified these accurately, but maybe not. My knowledge of the names of exotic plants is sketchy. I was not shopping names for these window boxes.  I was shopping color.

silver foliage (15)Some of these plants might be hardy in my garden, provided they were planted in poor, gravelly, and fast draining soil.  Others are strictly seasonal for me, as they would only survive the winter in a very mild climate. Some would thrive and return the following year,  only given the absence of a winter.

silver foliage (17)I am not generally drawn to succulent plants, only because they seem so out of place in a Michigan garden. But my container plantings can be comprised of any collection of plants that interest me. The best part of a seasonal/summer container planting is that I am not restricted by what would survive my winter. Most of the annual plants I use in containers come from tropical regions. I do use perennials hardy in Michigan in containers, provided their habit, texture, form and mass is such that they will look interesting all summer long. A columbine, or lupine in a pot has a very short season of interest. The coming of the hot weather – especially the hot nights – takes a toll on them. The tropical plants can handle the heat, should it come.

silver foliage (16)As long as I have been gardening, much has been said about the hardiness of lavender.  Early on, I planted no end of so called hardy lavender, without much success. My longest relationship with a lavender plant-4 years, and 3 winters. Hardiness is not exclusively dependent on winter temperatures.  My area is known for its heavy clay soil.  Lavender likes perfect drainage – light soil. Drainage is a surprisingly big part of winter hardiness. A new lavender from Peace Tree Farm shows a great deal of promise.  From their website:  “One of the hardiest lavenders seen throughout Europe and the United States, ‘Phenomenal’ has exceptional winter survival, as it does not have the winter die back that other varieties like Munstead and Hidcote commonly demonstrate. Lavender ‘Phenomenal’ has also shown tolerance to extreme heat and humidity, and is resistant to common root and foliar diseases. Most commonly popular for its silvery foliage and consistent growth with uniform, mounding habit, ‘Phenomenal’ has an elegant flower presentation and fragrance, perfect for fresh and dried arrangements and oil uses.”  Hmm.  I will have to buy some plants.  What summer garden seems like a summer garden without lavender?

silver foliage (1)For the moment, I plant lavender in containers, never expecting I could plant them in the ground in the fall, and winter them over. This silver leaved plant is just as Mediterranean in its roots as the cardoons. I am happy to have them, one season. Lavender seems very happy, planted with other plants of like persuasion. The range of silvery colors from bright silvery gray to silvery blue gray in this iron cistern all seem visually compatible. I suspect all the plants enjoy the heat absorbed by the cistern.

silver foliage (2)Proper watering will be key to their success. At Detroit Garden Works, we group all of the silvery leaved and succulent plants together on a table that is a do not water zone.  Euphorbia “Diamond Frost” will deteriorate quickly from too much water.  The leaves of helicrysum-licorice-will pucker and decline from too much water. Water the silver leaved plants as infrequently as possible, and then some. Your restraint will reward you.

silver foliage (3)Some of our echeverias only get water from the sky, when it comes.  Otherwise, nothing, and certainly nothing from the hose. It may not have been the best year to decide to plant a collection of silver leaved plants.  We have has lots of rain, dating back to early spring.  Today, it rained all day, and it looks like it will continue to rain all night. My magnolias and parrotias have that lush green tropical look about them. The high temperature today-59 degrees. Not exactly Mediterranean.

silver foliage (11)Silver, blue, and gray leaved plants are beautiful in containers. The teucrium fructicans, or silver bush germander, in the center of this container, was lovely all summer long.  I wintered it over indoors successfully for 3 years.

silver foliage (8)Plectranthus “Silver Shield” makes a beautiful seasonal groundcover.  This small bed on a pool terrace is hot and dry in the extreme.  I have never been able to get a perennial groundcover to winter over in this spot. The silvery gray is so beautiful with the pale pink roses, and white washed wall.

silver foliage (9)Though the miscanthus grass in the center of this container is white, all of the silver leaves surrounding it makes those white leaves glow.

DGW 2006_09_05 (1)My most successful cardoon planting ever was in a tall container the top of which measured 14″ by 14″.  Once it was established, it was happy to be hot and dry.

silver foliage (4)Some silver leaved plants do well in the shade.  This silvery green begonia with silver blotches is underplanted with Shadow King gray begonia, and Pilea “Silver Tree”.  Pilea “Silver Cloud” is equally as lovely. Silver leaved plants-I am happy to have access to them.

silver foliage (10)silver leaves

silver foliage (5)silver thread leaves

silver foliage (7)dusty miller

silver foliage (6)These are the silver gray leaves from a partridge feather plant.  Have you ever?