Up On The Roof

Those of you who make a practice of visiting Detroit Garden Works are aware that we have planter boxes on the roof. Eight rectangular heavy gauge sheet metal boxes span the entire width of the front of the shop. Designing and maintaining the planting for those boxes is a challenge. The weather conditions up there are extreme. It is always hot, windy, and completely exposed to whatever nature has a mind to dish out. Furthermore, whatever gets planted in them has to make some sort of impression from the ground. How are impressions made from afar? Light or pastel colors always read better at a distance. Large leaves are helpful. But the biggest impression to be made in this instance comes from the mass. This is 40 linear feet of boxes. The mass possible in these boxes is always in my favor, if I take advantage of it.

The design is not the only issue. Growing and maintaining plants on the roof has its own set of issues. It isn’t very practical to drag a hose upstairs, so we do have automatic irrigation in the boxes. You would think that would eliminate all of the water worries, but it doesn’t. The need for water changes all the time. Its very difficult to determine the moisture in the soil from the ground, although I personally can spot wilted plants from a long ways away. We have to get up on the roof to groom the pots, and feed them, so it is easy to check the water in person. Chelsea was up there to dead head the green and white plectranthus, and she noticed that the soil was bone dry in a number of places.  It was easy to figure out that some of the micro mist heads had become clogged. Once they were cleaned, the water was flowing again.

The box is planted with two rows. The back row is planted with bouteloua gracilis “Blonde Ambition”.  Commonly known as blue grama grass, or mosquito grass, this hybrid of the species has chartreuse flower heads which gives way to blond seed heads. Those seed heads that resemble mosquito larvae hang from only one side of the flowering stalk. This makes for a horizontal seed head that is as beautiful as it is unexpected. Hardy in zone 3, it is happy in dry to moderate moisture conditions. The seed heads hold through the fall, and in to early winter. For the full rundown, see the entry from the Missouri Botanic Garden website:   grama grass “Blonde Ambition”  Between each grass is the annual blue salvia cultivar, Cathedral Sky Blue.  Salvias are not especially showy, but the color of this cultivar is captivating. Mealy cup sage, or salvia farinacea, is notorious for sporting lots of foliage, and less in the way of flowers.  The grama grass is a perfect companion. It all but obscures the foliage of the salvia. The airy seed heads hover over the the more dense and static salvia flower spikes. I was not expecting the combination to be so appealing.

 The row closest to the street has green and white plectranthus, and white petunias, alternating.  The plectranthus has thick juicy leaves, so this plant is fairly well suited for drier conditions. Petunias, once established like the heat, and moderate water. The plectranthus is already cascading over the edge of the boxes, and hopefully the petunias will grow and ride the wave of plectranthus. We usually have our first hard frost late in October, which means we have almost 3 months more time to go with this planting.

It is easy to see in this picture that white flowers have the best visibility of any color in the landscape. That white will help to draw attention to the cloud of seed heads behind them. The salvia is tough to see from the ground, but it does read as a pale heliotrope blue haze.

The plectranthus is beginning to wind its way into the grass. We will edit that, if it seems to be smothering its neighbors. I do not anticipate much of that, as the front of the boxes faces south. But there will come a point where we let it all go, and watch what results from nature’s free for all. The 4th quarter of a container planting can be its most interesting phase. Once a planting reaches its mature size, its overall shape will have a sculptural element, in addition to the color and texture.

This may not be the most showy of my roof box plantings, but it is most certainly my favorite ever.  I like how loose and informal it is. I love the color. I have David to thank for these pictures up on the roof-I do not go up there. Climbing up to the roof of the Works on an extension ladder is not for me.  How it looks in these photographs makes me think I may want to bring this scheme downstairs somewhere.

There is something about this that makes me glad to be a gardener. And appreciative of the opportunity to plants these boxes differently every year. I suspect Rob really likes them too.    the roof boxes

 

How Long Will It Last?

How long will it last? This question applies to no end of various and not necessarily garden related situations. To follow are just a few of those topics. How long will these things last? A moss basket, a new refrigerator, a manicure, a bad cold, the flowers on the hellebores, a fancy bar of soap, a pair of boots, a power outage, the rain, the bloom on the coneflowers, a headache, – you get the idea. The duration of any situation is of interest to everyone. Sometimes a brief duration or quick finish is perfect. Other times, a finish taking years to achieve is a treasured goal. Gardeners do make decisions based on longevity. Why wouldn’t they? It is an individual decision. Peonies and asparagus are very long lived-foxglove not so long. For those gardeners who would not do without foxgloves, the investment in the short term is worthwhile, despite their ephemeral nature. I know gardeners who plant oak trees that are 10 inches tall. They are in it for the long run. Those gardeners who plant peonies and asparagus also understand the long view. Those of us who plant seasonal containers know their time is exactly that-one season.

An investment in container plantings is considerable-both in materials, and time. That interest represents a love for a season that is but 3 months long, but incredibly satisfying. Some gardeners plants lots of containers-others avoid that planting and maintenance in the same way they would avoid trouble. In my opinion, they are missing out on one of the best parts of summer gardening. But every gardener in charge gets to choose how they wish to garden. I support individual expression-it makes the gardening world interesting.  But for those of you who planted containers for summer, I have a little advice. Though our summer season is fading, I do believe that containers well maintained throughout the summer are good to represent on into the fall.  A late spell of very warm weather has kept my container plantings happy. To the last, they look great. How long my summer containers last is not strictly weather driven. How long they will last is not a question that has an obvious or definitive answer. Seasonal containers that get great care from the start have a much better chance to thrive long into the fall.

Dead heading annual flowers is part of what keeps annual plants blooming into the fall season.  Annual plants bloom, and move on to setting seed. If the dead flower heads are removed, annual plants will set more flower buds. Their mission is to set seed. Your mission is a summer full of flowers. A duel-how I love drama in the garden! Cutting off dead flower heads is a tedious job, but the time it takes means more flowers, and an extended blooming season. This argyranthemum “Pure White Butterfly, or marguerite, will bloom heavily all season long, provided it has some encouragement.

Cutting the flower head off at the top is not enough. The stem needs removing as well.  Once a stem has budded, bloomed, and matured, that stem will not bloom again. Leaving the stem means the plant will put energy into curing the that stem-energy that could better be spent on flower production.

I save my dead heading work for a time when I have time to do a thorough job of it. A month ago I fixed a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning, and went to work. I had no plans. No place to be. This was a perfect time to focus, and cut away dead blooms and stems. I was interested that this container that I had planted in the spring would bloom on into the fall.

The petunias that had been planted as a skirt in May got a serious shearing. The short spring flowering white daisies that faced down the white marguerites got replaced with the foliage plant commonly called “icicles”. All of this thorough chop, and tune up took place a month ago.

The 20th of September, my daisies look fresh and vigorous. They are thriving, given the care they have had all summer long. I would not advise planting marguerites in your summer containers if you are not able to keep up with their blooming cycle. But if you have a soft spot for daisies, this one will soldier on with a little regular help from you.

September 21, this basket that was planted the beginning of May looks good to me. The big idea is simple. Whatever you put in to a garden, what comes out will surely delight you.

 

 

 

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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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Green And White

green and white (9)Green and white in a container garden can be spectacular. I have more than a few clients who request this cool and collected color palette. Summer in the mid west can be cruelly hot. A white garden always looks cool and crisp; white shrugs off the heat. White flowers read well from a distance, and are startlingly beautiful at dusk. When they are well grown, white flowers are stunning.  Among my favorites?  White hardy hibiscus, Visions in White astilbe, white anemones of any genus, white daffodils, white roses, need I go on?  Green is what gives a garden or landscape a living context. Living green is vastly different than green paint. Light endows green and white in a garden with as much visual energy as serenity. Odd, that. This client has a decidedly contemporary point of view, and a big love of white. I try to give that white to her with both reliable and unusual plants. The diminutive white and purple streptocarpus, the big leaved white caladiums and the white streaked watermelon pepperomia set the stage for this very shady set of boxes.

green and white (13)Birds nest ferns and variegated licorice provide the supporting cast. The white New Guinea impatiens are the most astrikingly white of the group, and they are thriving here.So happy to see them tolerating such a low light level.  This is the shadiest of my green and white containers for this client. I deliberately split up the white plants, to establish a lively rhythm.

green and white (8)The window boxes in front-I have no need to trick them out. A contemporary expression asks for simple.  White New Guinea impatiens in all of the boxes-perfect. Once they have a little time, and some more heat, they will thrive.

green and white (11)The rosemary standards were part of the spring planting.  There is no need to replace them.  The are growing.  I under planted them with scotch moss, just to give the trunks a little space. I have my fingers crosses that the water the moss wants will not be too much for the rosemary. Every container planting has its drama. The key will be thoughtful watering. The XXL dahlia series is the best medium height dahlias it has ever been my pleasure to grow. The stems are sturdy.  They are disease resistant.  They flower heavily early on. They are oh so showy.  White petunias in the front-ordinary as can be.  But paired with showy oregano, the relationship is a little more complicated and interesting.  green and white (14)My crew fusses that I post pictures during a planting.  They would rather I take pictures at the end, when everything is thoroughly watered and cleaned up.  I like the pictures with the dirt. I cannot really explain this, but I learned from my Mom that good friable soil that is loaded with organic material and drains well is clean. The dirt inside my socks and under my nails this time of year is a comfort.  It means all is right with my world.

green and white gardenThose dahlias laid out in a block awaiting planting are so incredibly beautiful. Showy white plants have their place in pots.  An ordinary container cannot hold enough Queen Anne’s Lace to make a statement.  Those airy blooming relatives of the common carrot belong in a field. Selecting white flowers for containers?  Try white dwarf cosmos or cleome, white angelonia, white New Guinea impatiens, Lanai white trailing verbena.  white geraniums-if you must. White zinnias, both dwarf and tall are great in containers. As a centerpiece, white mandevillea cannot be beat. Vinca vine-as ordinary as red geraniums. But skillfully used, it is a beautiful white accent in a container. We have on occasion wound it upwards on a plant climber.

green and white (6)This rosemary topiary did not ask for much fuss.  A collar of white petunias is enough.

green and white (2)I planted a tall cylindrical pot in deep shade with one of my favorite green plants-pepperomia. Trailing down the sides, the garden variety vinca vine, and a white variegated tradescantia. Once this grows out and up, it will do justice to this gorgeous contemporary Atelier Verkant container.

green and white (3)The mix of classical and contemporary containers here is striking.  A green and white planting is a great way to focus on the mix of container shapes and materials. In a month, the relationships the plants forge from one pot to the other will be much clearer.

green and white (10)This pot features a rosemary topiary surrounded by a giant collar of lavender.  I am quite sure that given some time, each of these elements will grow in to each other in an interesting proportion.  I do not mind the lavender in this green and white color scheme. A green and white rule is better when that rule is broken.

green and white (12)Should I ever plant a spike or a phormium in a container, Lucio ties up that cascading centerpiece, so he can plant all around it.  This is a picture not so much about design, but about how my crew and I work together. All of them to the last have a gift for planting and growing plants. This is his signature, which I greatly respect.

 

green and white (5)Every plant has a face. That face needs to be forward.  Every center plant needs to be perfectly placed in the middle. Every center plant needs to be oriented to the primary view. Some center plants need to be planted at the back of the container, depending on their placement. Some plants need to be pitched over the edges of a container. Others need to be planted vertically.  This is not so much about color, texture or mass as it is about planting technique. My crew never rushes a planting.  Watching them plant from a plan is the best part of my good life.

green and white (4)I am very pleased about this day’s work.

green and white (1)

green and white (16)Green and white. Pure delight.