A Landscape For A Gardener: The Plants

plants (2)The focus of the landscape in the rear yard was and still is the pond. The informally planted pond gardens, surrounded by old scotch pines and punctuated by a small barn, look and feel as though they have reached a mature state of natural equilibrium.  I am not fooled.  A devoted gardener created this garden, and spends lots of time and effort caring for it. The new garden pictured above occupies the mid ground space, which separates the formal pool deck from the sprawling pond landscape. Since this garden will primarily be viewed from above, a collection of equally small growing perennials will feature the flowers, framed by foliage.

plants 2 (6)The arrangement of the different varieties is informal and random.   The modest height of the plants will not obstruct the view to the pond. The bed is anchored by the dwarf white hydrangea, “Bombshell.  The firepit garden includes hemerocallis “Citron”, an Al Goldner variety, and amsonia heubrechtii. The bed on the near side of the stone walk from the pool deck to the pond (not yet installed) is planted with small growing shrubs- spirea “Tor”, rhus aromatica “Gro-Low”, and clethra Ruby Spice.

plants 2 (1)
Perennial cultivars include alchemilla mollis, astilbe “Fanal”, Buddleia “Lilac Chip”, Leucanthemum “Snowcap”, Coreopsis “Moonbeam, perovskia “Peek-a-Boo”, Geranium “Tiny Monster”, Carex “Emerillo”, lavender and blue moss phlox, allium “Millenium”, nepeta “Persian Blue” and monarda “Grand Parade”.

plants 2 (4)Turning the corner from the south side garden to the rear yard, a group of columnar liquidambar “Slender Silhouette” frames the view to come.  Viburnum “Shasta”, viburnum “Mohican”, aesculus parviflora, and variegated red twig dogwood are underplanted with variegated solomon’s seal, and epimedium “Frohn Leiten”.

plants 2 (2)The columnar sweet gum is a great choice for a tree of substance that will grow comfortably in a small and narrow space. The informally growing shrubs bring the pond garden to the foreground, and smooth the visual transition from the more formal house gardens towards the pond.

Plants 2 (14)The landscape has 12 espaliered trees.  8 katsuras provide a lot of screening on both the north and south lot lines without taking up much in the way of space.  These espaliers will be grown into and maintained as a solid green wall.  The north and south perimeter of the front yard landscape is planted with hydrangea “Little Lime”.  Small properties ask for plant material small and narrow in scale.  A pair of old silver maples in the tree lawn had to be removed.  Giant girdling roots eventually did them in.  We replaced the street trees with honey locusts.  Though they fill the bill as street trees, their canopy is open growing, and their roots are friendly to the well being of companion plants.

the plants (14)The south side garden includes fruiting pear trees, and a run of arborvitae, planted for privacy.  The garden includes Macy’s Pride rose, Sunny knockout rose, hyssop, astilbe “Sprite, and the dwarf Russian sage, “Peek-a-Boo”.  Towards the rear, the pear espaliers are underplanted with brunnera “Jack Frost”, and pachysandra.

the plants (6)The brunnera wraps around the side, where the garden is shaded by an overhang.  The sunnier areas are planted with herbs, both perennial and annual. Pots were added at the last for tomatoes, and flowers.

fence gardenIn the front yard, a garden was planned for both sides of the iron fence.  Given the low height of the fence, the perennials are correspondingly short.  The garden is anchored with a number of helleborus “Jacob”.  Added to this, more dwarf buddleia, anemone “Snowdrop”, sweet woodriff, aster “Wood’s Blue”, Salvia “Marcus,  heuchera “Venus”and Euphorbia polychroma.  This garden will be planted with small spring flowering bulbs this coming month.

the plants (8)The fence actually follows the line set by the sidewalk, which is not parallel to the house.  This width of the garden on either side of the fence varies depending on the location.  This helps to create the impression that the fence runs parallel to the house.  Why would I think this was important?  This space is more formally designed.  I am usually reluctant to plant perennial gardens in a front yard. If I do plant them there, I like the effect to be compact and tailored-not a look that nature is particularly inclined to.  Perennial gardens only look as good as the quality of the maintenance devoted to them.  But this client loves, and looks after her gardens.

the plants (7)This garden also solves the issue of how the fence interacts with the landscape. Mulch or stone under the fence-rather bleak.  Grass up to the fence is very difficult to maintain in a beautiful way.  This fence is an architectural feature of the yard-the garden says so.

July 17 2014 (67)The front yard features two types of dogwoods.  A pair of cornus kousa “Venus” will growing to a height of about 15 feet, and features large white flowers in June.  A pair of variegated cornus kousa “Samaratin” are planted between the boxwood describing the curved stone wall, and the fence garden.

succulent-garden.jpgA narrow strip of a bed separates the driveway from the walk to the front door. That garden is entirely comprised of hens and chicks and sedums.  Sedum Vera Jamieson, Dazzel Berry, Mr. Goodbud, John Creech, Matrona and angelina were outfitted with drip lines, so they could be watered on an appropriately infrequent schedule.

the plants (13)Columnar Bradford pears on the north lot line will provide a little large scale company to the house.

the plants (10) The garden at the front is planted with azalea “Stewartsonii, and a collection of blue leaved hostas of varying sizes. The cultivars include  hosta sieboldiana elegans, krossa regal, Halcyon, Regal Splendor, and Mouse Ears.  Regal splendor is a krossa regal variety with cream edges.  By mt client’s special request, a few rhododendron “Nova Zembla”.

the plants (9)Of course the pool yard has a more serious fence and gate-this is code.  But the iron work is light, and permits a glimpse through to the pool terrace pergola.

the plants (4)The last of the planting? Due to the location of several underground mechanical boxes, this area could not be planted in ground.  A frost proof Belgian stoneware pot would be planted with a dwarf Japanese maple. We will most likely drop-pot the maple, meaning we will drop in into the container, plastic pot and all, for the spring, summer, and fall. The maple will be stored in the garage for the winter.  Once in a while I am fortunate enough to have a client who wants a landscape filled with gardens. She has a very special way with plants.  This landscape will shine, given her care.

Structuring Perennial Gardens

Structured perennial gardens-the phrase is something of a contradiction in terms.  Perennials die back to the ground with the frost, and do not reappear in my zone until 6 months later.  Certain perennials, such as asparagus, butterfly weed, some ferns and grasses have a strong winter presence as their stems dry and persist.  Some gardeners leave their perennial gardens as is in the fall.  Others cut all of the perennial plants back to the ground.  The butterburr bed pictured above (enclosed below ground by a 24″ barrier of galvanized sheet metal, I might add)  is a dirt space for the winter. The big stems and leaves collapse and turn to mush, once exposed to a frost. However, they do a fine job of screening the scraggly lower branches of the arborvitae hedge in the background.  I wedged them into the rooty ground as best I could.  True to their invasive nature, they covered the space by the second year.  Their giant leaves are very architectural in the summer, their absence in the winter is mitigated by by other large woody plants nearby.  The structure of this garden comes from the repetition of a single plant, in a defined shape.         

 

Perennial gardens can be organized by plants that require similar conditions, by color, and by form.  This garden is relatively small, so it features plants with spike like flowers, or a narrow habit of growth.  This means bulb lilies, delphinium bellamosa, platycodon, and phlox.  Most of the plants are white, and shades of red violet, pink, and purple.  The mature clumps of Sum and Substance hosta provide a visual foil for this organization.  Its mass anchors the garden, and the lime green leaves light up the shadiest part of the garden.  The garden was placed between a pair of trees, and is backed up by a row of Annabelle hydrangeas.  This provides the garden with a context. garden structure

This perennial garden is planted with a collection of mixed perennials and annuals.  Locating a perennial garden in a traffic island can be a dicey move, but this planting has a few things going for it.  There are a couple of small trees.  There is a children’s playhouse (not visible from this angle), a good bit of stonework, and a fountain that help weight the garden.  The elevation of the soil, and the massing of both perennial and annuals give the garden visual heft.  Big annuals planted in a perennial garden can provide season long color as ther perennials come in and out of bloom.  This garden benefits from the fact that it has one clear idea. Lots of color, and bloom time has greatly influenced the selection of plant material.  Big stands of Monarda, shasta daisies and phlox celebrate the summer season.  Focusing on a single season means that season has the potential to be stellar, and the other three-quiet.   

pots in the garden

A perennial garden gains visual stature when associated with a favorite pot, a beautiful arbor, a fountain, or a sculpture.  An ornament for the garden can provide that garden with atmosphere. 

decomposed granite

This garden backs up to a large stone wall, and is faced down with a generously proportioned decomposed granite walkway.  These hard surfaces enclose the garden-both on the ground and in the air.  The mass of the Annabelle hydrangeas is a good match for the mass of the wall.  The lavender petunias surround a fountain pool; the rounded front of that pool is repeated by the petunias, the gravel, and the lawn.  The petunias are more than just petunias.  They are a shape that makes sense with the entire garden scheme.   

 

 This decomposed gravel path is large enough to accomodate seating in the garden.  The gravel is contained by aluminum edger strip to keep it from migrating into the garden.  However the perennials are planted close enough to that edge to encourage them to spill over.  This giving the garden a relaxed and low key feeling without loosing its strong sense of shape. 

perennial gardens

Any garden is green, most of the time.  Shades of green can be contrasted; a garden where all of the greens match or are similar can be very striking.  The textures, sizes and shapes of leaves can be contrasted with one another.  The relationships forged between individual plants can be more important that this individual plant or that one.   

 The flowering of the roses and the peonies is glorious, and short lived.  That said, I still would not dream of foregoing either pleasure.  Some years they bloom at the same time.      

rose gardens

Though the roses, clematis and peonies have a place all their own, they belong to a bigger group known as Janet’s garden.

More On Perennial Gardens

This past Sunday, my opinion post had much to do with my 16 year old Hicks yews, failing.  This current northside view of my house makes me wring my hands.  Five old and very tall yews died-I had to remove them.  For years they screened the view to my kitchen door from the street.  The densiformis yews that faced them down are fine.  I stared at this view until I was blue in the face.  What should I do?

In the far left of this picture taken from the house side-those yews, just days before I removed them.  As to what killed them, no one knows.  I already knew that I wanted to dig out these panicum virgatum grasses, and plant a perennial garden.  How so? This space once was a meadowy mix, but over time, the panic grass grew lustily at the expense of the other perennials.  I knew this grassland would grow to 5 feet tall, and promptly fall over into the path.

I have really good soil in which to plant.  I have always mulched with bark fines-ground hardwood bark.  It deteriorates quickly, and adds loads of organic material to the soil.  Even Tim from Westside Forestry was complimentary on my friable soil.  What now?

Of course Steve wasted no time throwing down both gloves.  Apparently I have a great opportunity to do something unusual here-don’t blow it on shasta daisies and coneflowers.  He can be infuriating.  As much as I admire a well-grown stand of shasta daisies, there are other things I like better.  The very first decision?  What season garden did I want?  A late July through fall garden I would have time to enjoy, and fuss over.  In the spring and early summer I am too busy to look, and definitely too busy to maintain something.  This is a small and irregular space; I needed to edit.

So what do I like, besides the late summer and fall?  I like good looking leaves.  I like purple, lavender and white. I like flowers that grow on vertical bloom stalks.  I like single flowers, and flowers that wave in the breeze.  This meant the following:  Veronicas of several types, stachys monieri, Russian sage, monarda fistulosa Claire Grace, hyssop Blue fortune and adenophora Amethyst.  The white phlox David is very disease resistant, and it one of my favorite fragrances in the garden.

Planting this Summer Skies delphinium is probably ill-advised, but I have never tried to grow them before.  This blue is tough to resist.  I plan on watering them as little as possible and ignoring them unless they really seem to need some fussing.  Gary Bopp, the grower for Wiegand’s nursery farm told me not to plan on having them longer than 3-5 years.

A blue Siberian iris and some blue-eyed grass were my only concessions to early flowering plants.  I just like both of the these plants.  A front border of lady’s mantle, Geranium Rozanne, and catmint would look good all summer long-both in and out of flower.  Both the geranium and the catmint will rebloom, provided they get haircuts. The Veronica Purpleicious-I couldn’t resist.  I alternated it with another paler Veronica whose name I cannot remember.  Veronica breeding has come a long way; this plant habit is anything but weedy.  I know they will look great with the white platycodon I had picked out.  Balloon flowers are slow to establish, but when they are happy, they are really happy.  The simple shaped flower I find beautiful and appealing.

The shopping I did for plants took weeks.  I could see it would take Steve a couple hours to plant. This is as it should be.  I am not a buy a plant and find a spot for it gardener.  I do not have the luxury of that much space.  I shopped for a tall plant that would provide at little screening from the street.  I settled on white hardy hibiscus.  I like their presence; the big leaves and flowers are striking.  I also appreciate how they stand up on their own.


My favorite plant purchase was this stachy monieri “Hummelo”.  The flower stalks are thick and sturdy; the leaves are large and have a great texture.  It reminds me some of primula denticulata.  As I knew nothing about it, I read.  It is incredible-the amount of information on plants and gardening that is available courtesy of the internet.  If you see something you like, it is so easy to check its habits, vigor and persistence.  At the very least, if you want to take the trouble to grow delphiniums, you can find out what’s involved. This photograph came from Visions Pictures and Photography-my plants do not look like this yet.

I like the overall look from the driveway.  This area is informally planted with dogwoods, ivy, hosta, creeping jenny and spring flowering bulbs.  What has gone into the garden seems in keeping with this, though the perennials have been planted in rows of alternating plants.

It is easy to see in this picture that the bed widens at the far end.  In this case, I wrapped the taller plants around in a more circular fashion, but kept the front border straight.  All of this geometry will disappear as soon as the plants grow in, but the end of the garden will have a more finished, rather than abruptly linear look.  The spots that appear to look empty are the spots for adenophora; they had been cut back to the ground.


Once the perennials were planted, they were immediately mulched with hardwood bark fines.  By this, I mean ground bark.  It will conserve moisture, and looks great with perennials.  In my area, this bark is available at State Crushing, in Auburn Hills. I will keep an eye on the water and tinker with them some the rest of the summer.  No doubt some things will not work out at all, but that will be part of the fun it.  Planting a garden is just the beginning of the fun of it.

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