Pruning The Boxwood

boxwood hedgesThe day that Melissa and her crew comes to prune my boxwood is my favorite day of the gardening year. First and foremost, their pruning is extraordinarily true and square. So precise. It takes a while to set up all of the level lines that will serve at a cutting guide. But beyond the string lines is a skill that is astonishing to watch. The coordination between the eye, and a heavy pair of shears held either horizontally or vertically takes strength, patience, experience, and talent. Loads of talent. I so admire their skill, concentration and resolve. Pruning my boxwood takes the better part of a day.

Secondly, that pruning is a natural extension of the intent of the design. The pleasure I derive from my primarily evergreen landscape is a simple one. I like what weather does to the landscape. Weather acting on the landscape changes the look and experience of it, day after day. The sunny days create shadows that highlight the forms. Overcast days emphasize the contrast of the leaf texture with the volume and mass of the shapes. The random leaves falling from the trees in October provide as much fresh interest as a dusting of new snow. Rain makes all of the evergreen surfaces sparkle.

The boxwood is the most formal element of the landscape, as both the placement and pruning is formal. That hand pruning makes all of the forms clear. That snip snip snip goes on all day long. The sound is regular, and musical. The painstakingly trimmed boxwood is a beautiful contrast to the big wild growing hydrangeas. Boxwood left to its own devices has a beautiful and gently shaggy appearance. That look can work well in a variety of circumstances. But I favor a look that is orderly and defined. I find that clean crisp look relaxing. It is the feeling I want, when I am in the garden.

Melissa and her crew take what I have taken great pains to grow, and prune them into distinct shapes. It is amazing how much they grow out in a year’s time. The pruning timing can be tricky.  I do not like to prune before the spring flush is finished. Pruning too early means it will take another round later on to keep them neat. So later in June, in my zone. I also like to prune before the weather gets too hot.  Pruning on a 90 degree day will insure that the tender growth underneath that has been completely shaded will burn in the blazing hot sun. Pruning is a call to grow, so I try not to prune later in the season.  Evergreen plants should begin the shutting down process in August, so when the winter comes, they are completely dormant.

Most of these boxwood are better than 20 years old. Clearly they cheerfully tolerate this type of pruning. Not all evergreens like this.  Yews especially can die out on the interior if they are pruned into densely formal shapes.  They need some air and light to penetrate to the interior.  All of the spreading yews on my property have a natural look to them, for exactly that reason. A healthy plant is a beautiful plant. If I am looking for a hedging yew with a formal shape, I choose a cultivar that grows that way, naturally. Taxus media “Mooni” is a formal grower, and rarely needs much pruning to keep it in shape.

At days end, I still like the composition decades old. And I know that, as Henry Mitchell once wrote, great gardens are the result of the intensive care of the present. The care my landscape gets might easily be more important than the design. Well cared for is always a good look. Mow the grass, pull the weeds, and prune the shrubs.

I drive Milo and I here every day after work. For several years now, I have parked in front, and ushered my dogs up the front steps. Howard needed help going up even a single step. This was the easiest way in for him. I could lift him over the two sets of two steps. He passed away in late May, but Milo and I still enjoy coming home, and walking up to the front door. How this looks after the trim makes me happy to come home.

I do have a secondary entrance to the side garden. Trimmed boxwood hugs the grass ramp up. The design here makes much of the foreground boxwood, the midground hydrangeas, and the far ground container in the side yard. In the background is a glimpse of the Princeton Gold maple trees. This is a good summer look, but it looks good no matter the season. And no matter the weather.

The side yard boxwood is accompanied by an old hedge of thuja nigra, and a stand of Princeton Gold maple trees to the east on the lower level. I like all of the green. From the trees down to the grass. Peaceful, this.

These side yard boxwoods are at least 20 years old. All trimmed up, they do my head, heart and eye a world of good.  The edger strip enclosing the gravel at their base has been in long enough to go wobbly. But the boxwood is as level straight and true as can be.

See what I mean?

Buck, Milo and I come up here every night to talk over the news of the day. This years news? The boxwood has grown out enough to be flush with the raised steel edger strip. It has taken many years to get to this point, but I am loving the look. The big idea? Those simple pleasures in a landscape can mean so much. Simple is good for the three of us. Well maintained makes every garden maker feel better.

As a designer, I take a good bit of time trying to find out what clients want from their landscapes. That is key to providing them a good design. This client has some big boxwood in her future.

 

Planting The Summer Pots

The day I go home to plant my pots for summer is a happy day indeed. I like planting my containers at home. But more importantly, it means that all of my client’s pots are done. Being last in line has its advantages. There is time to mull over a scheme. Having scouted and purchased plants for a number of projects, I take stock of what plants are out there that look interesting. Rob buys plants for the greenhouse at the shop. I shop my own shop too. A trip to pick up some trees for a landscape project may net an especially good looking specimen of an ornamental grass. When buying perennials for a garden, the future of that plant is primary. When buying perennials for containers, a handsome and well grown specimen makes that container planting look all the better. And there is time to think over the pots from last year. Surprisingly, the perennials, shrubs and trees in last year’s pots proved to be one of my favorite plantings ever. The plants grew much more than I thought they would. And the green color scheme proved to be a relaxing and refreshing change from flowers. I was inclined to try a new version of that idea.

We did plant containers well into July this year.  Part of that is routine.  Many of my clients have us plant spring pots.  In a good year, they are good into July. This year, very cold and rainy weather suited those spring pots just fine. But for those awaiting their first container planting of the season, the cold and the rain was very tough to take. Clients were not the only unhappy people. Growers had to run their heat longer than they wanted to. The gray skies meant none of the seasonal plants were growing much. The daily relentless rain kept people away.

The tropical plants we did put into containers in late May had a tough time of it. Most of them are native to hot climates. They have a strong distaste for cold soil. Some were puny to begin with.  Not that we lost any plants. But they sat there, and didn’t grow. Unhappy plants takes with wind out of a summer container planting. The pots we planted in June were better. The pots we planted later in June took off growing almost immediately.  My plants?  I had been collected them over the course of 6 weeks.  They sat in the shop greenhouse, under Karen and Chelsea’s watchful eye. On a 60 degree day, that greenhouse would be 80 degrees inside. The tropical plants were flourishing in that environment.

These pots were planted July 7. The plants had put on a tremendous amount of growth, not being planted in my pots. They were not root bound either. The cool May and June kept the root growth slow, and by the time the warm weather finally got here, they were ready to put on a substantial amount of top growth. Especially grateful for the time in a warm greenhouse were the caladiums. They sit and sulk until the weather truly warms up. Planted out in cool soil, they may even lose ground. The variegated scented geranium column pictured above spent the winter in a greenhouse. Brought to the shop, and placed outdoors, it blew over and out of its pot a number of times.  Once placed in our greenhouse, it began to grow. The tarantula shaped succulent in the bottom of the olive jar was purchased for a client who liked the hairy beast. I knew we would be left with the rest of them. I like finding homes for left over plants.  It is a challenge to make them work. And I am exposed to plants I would otherwise have passed by.

Did I like having empty containers until July? It was not half bad. Planting pots non stop for clients in the busiest part of our season did not make me long to come home to more container fussing and watering. It is not a time of year to relax in the garden and putter. It is a time to wash my hands and face, and unwind. I walk right by these containers with barely a glance, and sit in the shade next to my fountain pool. I have no scientific evidence to prove the following, but I feel annual plants that go in later in the spring and early summer can prosper into October.

There are some issues to address with a late planting.  These Kimberly ferns can take a good deal of sun providing they get enough water, but they have been grown in the shady part of the greenhouse.  I will cover these with floating row cover for a week or so. This will give them time to adjust to a drastic uptick in the amount and quality of light.

Some annual plants, notably petunias, can get leggy if left in a small container too long. Combining upright white with trailing white petunias helps to mitigate the look of those legs.

This umbrella pine spent the summer in this very pot last summer. That means stashing it somewhere for the winter, as this plant is not really hardy in my zone. It spent the winter inside my my landscape building without heat or light, and seemed to tolerate this treatment just fine. It is possible to take perennials and shrubs out of containers in the fall, plant them in the ground, and mulch them well. In ground planting in Deptember will allow a little time for new roots to form. What kills plants that go in the ground late is the ground heaving in the spring.  As frost comes out of the ground, that heaving action can literally pitch plants up and out of the ground.

Zinnias become very root bound in 4″ pots.  They are big growing plants, and they grow fast. Though they are difficult to handle once they get tall, it is amazing how readily they will root into a container and keep on growing. Other summer annuals are not so obliging in this regard. If it is a plant that you must have, a little judicious pruning of the top might encourage new growth. If the roots have grown around and around in a circle, some untangling or ripping could be beneficial. But plants do have a shelf life. Whenever I shop for plants, I will gently knock the plant out of its pot to see if there is a good root system. Plants that have been repeatedly over watered can have compromised root systems.  Rotted roots means a plant cannot absorb any water, no matter how much is available.

Let the summer begin.

The 2019 Garden Cruise

On Sunday July 21, Detroit Garden Works will host its 12th Garden Cruise to benefit the Greening of Detroit.  If you have never taken or heard of our tour, it began in 2009 when I became a member of their board of governors. Not being one to happily participate in meetings and such, I decided to put my effort into raising money for them. Since 2009, the tour of gardens and landscapes of my design or influence has raised close to 156,000.00. I could not be happier about this. Both Detroit Garden Works and Deborah Silver and Co pitch in to make the cruise and reception a reality. 100% of the proceeds of the ticket sales goes to the Greening. We pick up all of the expenses. And the project pictured above? It has been under construction since July of 2018, and yes, it will be on this year’s tour.

Nothing helps to to bring a landscape project to a close faster than a deadline.  I like deadlines, actually. They provide a framework around which to work. All of the contractors involved, myself included, have a personal interest in seeing this particular project come together. The client has everything to do with that. GP Enterprises handled the planting of all of the large trees, and an extensive drainage system and grading project. Ian Edmunds Irrigation is responsible for a very thoughtful watering system largely based on a network of drip zones. Mountain Pavers Construction, owned and operated by Mike Newman, built all of the terraces, retaining walls and steps and steppers, and a beautiful exposed aggregate driveway. The Branch Studio built a number of structures, containers, fencing and rails especially designed by me for this project. The landscape design was the first in, and the close of the installation of that landscape will be the last out.

We are in the process of sodding all of the grass areas.  That dirt you see in the above picture has a drain field and irrigation system underneath it. Countless yards of soil were added to make the grade flat. All of the landscaped portions of the yard are enclosed with aluminum edger strip. Over the course of several very hot days, all of the annual weeds have been scraped off, and the ground raked. My crew comes in at 7am when we lay sod. As much as can be done before the heat of the day sets in means the work of it is a little easier. I would think it would take every bit of the next three days to finish laying in all of the grass.  We will have it down in enough time for it to root in before the tour.

Much of the landscape was installed late last summer, and throughout the fall.  A collection of roses was custom grown for this project at Wiegand’s Nursery farm, and delivered 6 months before the installation date. A rose arbor from the Branch Studio will provide support for four Canadian Explorer roses known as John Cabot.  This very long lived and heavy blooming climber will give this arbor a run for its money. All of these other roses are fairly large growing shrub roses, thus the double wide border of Green Gem boxwood. Green Gem is incredible hardy in my zone. It will eventually be box pruned in a traditional and formal shape.

A quartet of steel boxes from Branch will hold flowers for cutting. That plant palette may change every year, depending on my client. This year’s plants were my choice. A new tall angelonia cultivar called Steel Blue is accompanied by the bicolor angelface angelonia and perfume white nicotiana.

What is my superintendent Dan S. doing here? He is digging over a drain line so he can cover it with landscape fabric, so the drain never clogs up with soil, and quits working. A landscape plan that includes a long range plan for watering and maintenance is a good plan. I always give my clients the option to prepare today for the future of the landscape. I know from my own experience that it will not get easier to tinker with my landscape as I get older. Planning for its care means I will always be able to enjoy it.

This mass of flowers will thrive in these raised beds. What gets cut for a vase in the house will hardly be noticed. The 5′ by 5′ boxes were set in a graveled spot to make cutting the grass around them a breeze.

The first round of grass transforms the look all of the work we have done on this landscape since last August.  This curving grass swath is a very wide path from the driveway, through the rose arbor, and over to the cloister pergola fabricated by the Branch Studio. Anyone who is interested in what the studio is capable of should take the tour, and see for themselves. This very large and complex structure is an incredibly beautiful anchor to the landscape.

The circle is a dominant theme in the landscape. The major landscape bed lines in the rear yard are portions of circles.  Those three radiused curves contrast and complement the rectilinear shapes of the cloister and raised planters. The center curve ends in spherical Green Gem boxwood of considerable size. A boxwood dot. Behind the boxwood? Limelight hydrangeas on the side curves, and Oakleaf hydrangeas in the center curve. The rear yard landscape is in large part evergreen, with a nod to a summer garden. Roses, hydrangeas, and more roses. The shadier parts of the garden feature perennials, dwarf shrubs and groundcover. Fragrance played a prime role in the selection of all of the plants. Roses, Peonies and phlox will perfume the garden. Even the pink snakeroot has a distinct fragrance, as does the sweet woodruff.  Dwarf button bush, lilacs, Viburnum Juddii and mock orange will add scent to the air one season after another.

That wood structure in the middle of the cloister? A fountain pool lies at the center of the cloister. The wood structure is overlaid with a tarp when there is a threat of rain. My client brought photographs of this house for me to see, after I designed the pergola and fountain. The original house had a reflecting pool, and wooden arbor in this location. In 1920. What a pleasure to see that what was on my mind had been expressed on this property close to 100 years ago.

This area was a grassed ditch when I first saw the property. The ground sloped down sharply from the foundation of the house and garage. This area now has two levels, both of which are flat and usable. Though I have previously posted about the fabrication and installation of the cloister,this picture provides a glimpse of how that structure will be integrated into the overall landscape. It also illustrates how the double walled structure with a roof overhead with create shade on the perimeter. Though the structure is comprised of many tons of steel anchored to 32 individual footings, and shadows cast are delicate and airy.

The fountain is tiled in its entirety.  The walls, steps, the bench, and the floor. The color variations are reminiscent of fountain tile of this era. The top 3 courses of tile have a strong geometric raised profile. I could not imagine this fountain coated on the interior with pebble tec, a common to swimming pools. This tile respects the architecture and era of the house. Gillette Pools has done an incredible job of installing a state of the art fountain/spa with the craftsmanship required to echo a previous era. My client and I fussed and fumed over the tile selection. What I see here seems just right.

The John Davis climbing roses are small yet, but they obligingly bloomed.  Each John Davis has a Guernsey Cream clematis to go with.

Yes, the tour is less than a month away, but this new project will be ready. I think the newness of it will enchant visitors in much the same way as I am enchanted. The beauty of the moment, and the hope for the future-every gardener knows about this. This is by far one one of the most exciting and rewarding landscape projects it has ever been my privilege to design and install. Thank you, H.

French pots on the upper terrace planted with braided ficus and white New Guinea impatiens

side yard curving landscape

Branch Studio planter boxes on a terrace

the front door

garden cruise 2019My photographs of this project do not do it justice. It will look very different on the 21st.  As in finished and ready for company. If you are interested and intrigued, buy a ticket, and see it for yourself in person. It will be worth the effort, and the Greening of Detroit will appreciate your support. The 2019 Garden Cruise has 5 other really terrific landscapes and gardens to visit as well. Hope to see you on the 21st.

Cornus Kousa

From the Missouri Botanical Garden website, read the following about the kousa dogwood. “Cornus kousa, commonly called Kousa dogwood, is a small, deciduous flowering tree or multi-stemmed shrub that typically grows 15-30’ tall, with a vase-shaped habit in the early years but eventually maturing to a more rounded form. Bloom occurs in late spring. The showy parts of the Kousa dogwood “flower” (3-5” across) are the four narrowly pointed petal-like white bracts which surround the center cluster of insignificant, yellowish-green, true flowers. Flowers are followed by berry-like fruits (to 1” diameter) which mature to a pinkish red in summer and persist into fall. Fruits are technically edible, but are usually left for the birds. Oval, pointed leaves (to 4” long) are dark green, but usually turns attractive shades of reddish-purple to scarlet in autumn. Mottled, exfoliating, tan and gray bark on mature trees is attractive in winter.

This matter of fact description does not begin to address the beauty of a kousa dogwood in full and glorious bloom. I doubt I have ever written about them in the 10 years I have been publishing my garden design journal. Primarily as I have never ever seen them so spectacular in flower as they are right now. The kousa dogwood is native to Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan.  They are rated as hardy and thriving in zone 5 to 8, but my experience suggests they can act a little hostile towards our baking summers, and heavy clay based soil. They seem to favor thin compost rich soil on the acid side that drains in a twinkling of an eye. I do find they perform better than American dogwood (cornus florida) in general.

My theory seems to have some support. This has been the rainiest and coolest spring I can ever remember. We have had many more rainy than dry days. It was 48 degrees this morning, and barely 60 degrees this afternoon. The ground is completely drenched. I make an effort to stay out of the garden, even if it means the foot tall weeds are getting closer to 2 feet tall. The grass is squishy. For the Kousas to put on such a rare show of extravagant bloom says there is definitely something in the air that they like.

The actual flowers are small and insignificant.  All of the show comes from the four stiff bright white bracts that surround the flower. In a stellar year, those thousands of bracts overlap one another to produce a solid sheet of white. Even at maturity, a kousa dogwood is small enough to comfortably place in an urban landscape. Sited with some afternoon shade, a routine source of water and great drainage, all a gardener has to do is wait for that one year when all the stars align for a super bloom.

Should you be one of those people who drives the neighborhood to look at holiday lights, a cruise might be in order.  You can spot them for at least a block away. Out of flower, they have handsome foliage, and even more handsome exfoliating bark when they are older-but the star of the once in a blue moon show are the flowers.

In 2009, a hybrid of Cornus Kousa, and the Pacific coast dogwood, Cornus Nutallii, was introduced from the breeding program at Rutgers University. Again, from the Missouri Botanical Garden website:  the dogwood “Venus”  These four trees planted in the tree lawn at my house are young, but they will grow. Even at a 2″ caliper size, I can spot the flowers from several blocks away.

This hybrid is hardier than either parent.  They thrive in full sun, and grow fast when they are happy. The flowers can easily reach 6″ to 7″ in diameter. We have probably planted better than 100 of them since 2011, with only a few losses. They are a little shy to bloom until they have been in the ground for a year or two, but once they start, they are stop you dead in your tracks gorgeous.

They rival the magnolias for the showiest spring flowering tree.  As with Cornus Kousa, Venus flowers in June, avoiding late spring frosts that so often damage the flowers of magnolias.

A pair of small trees I planted 3 years ago are covered with flowers this year.
This shade garden planted some 4 years ago for my clients features a pair of Venus dogwoods. They are especially happy to have them this year.