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.

 

 

Monday Opinion: Labor Day

Labor Day 2015 (9)More than once have I had reason to expect that the warm and sunny momentum established by my summer season would blast by Labor Day in a hot fit of defiance.  Given that the forecast for today is 90 degrees, might Mother Nature forget that today is Labor Day?   Every year I hope nature will be distracted by some warm September weather, and fail to note that the season is due to change.  Have my hopes of a summer that streams on for 4 months instead of 3 ever been fulfilled?  No. This bout of hot weather aside, there are signs that the summer season is slowing.

Labor Day 2015 (2)We’ve had a few cool and foggy mornings. The sun is lower in the sky. The morning light is coming on later, and the evening darkness earlier.The seeds on my dogwoods are ripe and red; the leaves have a considerable red tinge to them.  The hardy hibiscus have more seedpods developing than flowers. The Rozanne geraniums look the best they have all season – typical. The lily of the valley leaves  are singed with their usual end of summer fungus. The Limelight hydrangea flowers are showing some pink. The flowers on the hyssop have gone gray; the plants are dropping their lower leaves.

Labor Day 2015 (3)Some of the plants in my containers have moved past the thriving stage to the tired place. They have that pale foliage color that speaks to exhaustion. Some plants have gone limp from a summer’s worth of exertion growing. A week ago I cut back all of my nicotiana, and fed them. They have been lackluster all summer; I am hoping for a fall flush. The dahlias have not been happy this summer either. I am not sure if I will get a decent bloom before the mildew takes them down. My other containers are so root bound they need soaking, not just watering. The laurentia around the fountain grew too tall in the heat, turned yellow, and flopped over. I took them out.  The fountain is turning green with algae, right on time, in time, for Labor Day.

DSC_3264But there are plenty of containers which are right at what I call that “super nova” stage. Like a star that glows prior to imploding, they are at their most beautiful best – right now.  They are as glowingly good as they ever will be. All of the plants have grown out, and matured.  Each container has an overall shape-like it or not. Some plants have engulfed their containers.  Rob’s container of Russian sage, lamb’s ear and several thyme varieties-any ideas about what the container looks like? Me neither. This planting, right now, is at its most glorious best. Our window boxes stuffed with silver foliaged plants are looking just about as good.

angel-wing-begonias.jpgThese angel wing begonias are bowed over from the weight of all of their flowers. They have been beautiful all summer, but now they are at that very big and beautiful stage that foretells summer’s end.

wasabi coleusBut no summer container plant can come close to that Labor Day super nova size like coleus. The range of colors and leaf types is astonishing. Their willingness to grow is unparalleled. I enjoy growing them, partly as it is possible to shape them by pinching. I find this entertaining. If you think I am a dull girl, you are probably right.  This coleus Wasabi was grown from 3 4″ pots. Given a benevolent September, it will reach the ground. This pot I have not touched.  All the joy in it has been watching it grow.

DSC_3388These chocolate coleus feature a brown and cream cordyline that is almost invisible now. Were you standing directly over them, you would see that I had pinched out the top to reveal the cordyline.

Labor Day 2015 (18)This modestly sized Italian terra cotta rectangle is home to a hedge sized coleus.  We pinched the bottom out, to give the impatiens some breathing room, and some light. Labor Day 2015 (19)chocolate coleus, Kingwood Red coleus, and pink polka dot plant

Labor Day 2015 (17)This pot with an orange and green phormium at the center, pink polka dot plant and heuchera bears no relation to coleus, except that it has been thriving in the same vein all summer.

Labor Day 2015 (6)coleus peaking.  the petticoat below-maidenhair fern.

Labor Day 2015 (20)coleus Amora, coleus Alligator, and a subtle dash of pink polka dot

Labor Day 2015 (12)a coleus “Tilt a Whirl” standard, under planted with hens and chicks.  The accompanying lemon cypress grown on from a 6″ pot-looking good.

DSC_2215So what am I thinking about this Labor Day? That Labor Day usually signals the start of the end of my summer gardening season, of course.  But more importantly, that a working American gardener named Rob has gone the distance every day, day after day, since the middle of May to bring all of these container plantings along to this moment. If you live nearby, and haven’t seen them in person, they are well worth the trip. As for you, Rob, have a happy and well deserved Labor Day.