Archives for June 2011

Planting For Events

We do plenty out of the ordinary garden plantings- given a special event.  Planning outdoor parties, and timely planting for outdoor parties don’t always go hand in hand.  Whenever a client asks for white tulips blooming for a mid-May outdoor wedding reception, I sigh.  Try as I may, I am no better at predicting when the Maureen tulips will be at their white peak than I am at predicting the outcome of a horse race.  Suffice it to say that I planted hundreds of pots of all kinds of spring flowering bulbs hoping some would be in bloom for our spring fair-not a one bloomed for the fair.  I have also stuck cut white tulips in water tubes into tulip foliage in the ground.  This is not cheating-this is going the distance to make an event visually memorable.  I had 3 weddings scheduled this spring- two on June 4 and and one June 19.  Several clients had graduation parties they planned to hold outside in mid June.  The spring did little to help me out; no end of cold and wet weather kept me from planting until I had no choice but to go ahead, and hope for the best.  Everything seemed to work out fine.  Late May and June is not an optimal time for a garden party in my zone, unless there are a lot of bulbs, and spring flowering annuals and perennials in place.  This client was hosting a wedding reception at home.  The Belgian oak boxes asked for a different kind of planting to celebrate that event.    

The fact is that no perennial, bulb, or annual planting will perform spot on and perfectly for an event.  I encourage my clients to use cut flowers to add to what is already going on. The florist’s rose known as Hollywood is the best white rose it has ever been my pleasure to use.  Though I order them up from my cut flower supplier, for all the world, they look and open like garden roses.  I order them to arrive several days in advance of the event, so I have time to condition them.  I recut the stems on a slant, and place them in room temperature water in a cool spot.  This encourages them to take up water;  proper conditioning can make cut flowers last much longer.  My plan was to add cut flowers to the annual planting. 

 I had planted the boxes with top grafted willow topiaries, and white caladiums.  Given a wedding reception, I stuffed stems of the roses, and white montecasino into the soil around the caladiums.  The pots looked dressed to the nines.  Hollywood roses last a long time out of water.  If the air temperature is cool, I stick the stems directly into the soil.  If the weather is hot, I may tube the roses.  Floral supply places carry pointed plastic tubes with perforated rubber caps that permit the stem of a flower to be pushed into an individual “vase”.  A rose can drink this small amount of water in a matter of hours, but often that is long enough.  The pointed end of the tube can be poked into the soil.  Once the reception was over, the roses are removed, and the caladiums grow on into the summer.   

The containers on the balcony were planted with white flowering annuals especially for this event.  A pair of white mandevillea vines were conspicuously green, but mandevillea likes heat to flower.  By June 19, we had had but a few really hot days, and night temperatures in the 50’s. But other plants made a little white statement. 

This box with its own antique scrolled iron panel is very friendly to a mandevillea planting.  The niche is warm, and protected from wind.  The vine will have plenty of places to wind around, and grow.  It will climb to the top of this panel in no time.  The placement was somewhat dictated by a giant downspout right in the middle of the wall.  Whomever designed this detail had utility on their mind-and not much else.  But as this balcony does not get any use in the winter,  the container helps to solve a visual problem. 

White salvia has never been a favorite.  But the new Cambridge series has more substantial and brighter white flowers.  The white Gallery dahlias have large flowers, as do the white supertunias.  Some white flowers I stay away from.  The blooms on white geraniums are so quickly spoiled by rain.  Plant them if you plan to wait on them regularly.

I have always liked white cleome, but this dwarf version called Spirit white is completely at home in a container.  Soon there will be white angelonia, and lanai white trailing verbena.  In another month, it will be the perfect accompaniment for a garden event.  June the 19th, it looked perfectly fresh and lively.

There are lots of great choices in white flowers-everyone has their favorites.  The not so often used white polka dot plant is a great supporting cast plant-it is best in shade.   It looks great with white caladiums. If you want to use it in full sun, as it is planted here with white dahlias, be sure it gets enough water.   Variegated licorice does a similarly wonderful thing for white flowers; its cool blue grey foliage makes white look especially crisp, fresh-and very festive.

A Favorite Day

It could be my most favorite day of the gardening year has nothing to do with me.  In early summer every year, Melissa comes to prune, weed, and otherwise do whatever my garden needs to look great. She and her sister Mindy run a business-M and M Flowers.  Their company ought to be named M and M Landscape Management.  These two women do a lot more than plant flowers.  Their idea of landscape maintenance is within a stone’s throw of perfection. They are expert in plant care.  They can spot a problem instantly-whether it be a tree, a flowering shrub, or a boxwood. They can replace, renovate, or add to just about anything in a garden.     

The level at which they are able to prune and otherwise maintain a woody landscape is unsurpassed-truly.  They are a gifted and utterly professional pair supported by well trained and efficient crews.  The day they come to trim my landscape-my most favorite day of the gardening year.  

Their formal pruning begins and ends with the horizon.  They drive stakes into the ground, and run lines utterly level.  Completely and unequivocably level.  My landscape is criss-crossed with level lines before any cutting takes place.  My job is to get all of my boxwood to grow as best I can.  The day Melissa comes to trim, I know I will see the results of my work, growing.  Boxwood and yew hedges take years to grow into a shape.  For this, I have patience.

Eight hours later, the 6 of them are gone.  The yard is spotless.  For one day every year, I have no weeds.  The boxwood and Hicks yews speak to a geometry close to my heart. The densiformis yews are loosely pruned, and look lush. 

Though my front yard slopes down to the sidewalk, the boxwood are absolutely level with the horizon.  I cannot really explain  why these precisely rendered shapes opposed to a natural slope are so dear to me.  Everyone has their own personal and specific idea of beauty-this is mine.    

The sidewalk level boxwood has been in two years.  They are just beginning to represent an idea about a change of level.  You can see in this photograph that the upper level of boxwood is precisely shaped.  The lower level needs another year or two to catch up.  That pruning is soft, as the growth is not there yet.  I have little patience for most things.  But for a landscape growing, I have nothing but patience.

Early this Sunday morning I was busy looking, and taking pictures.  Saturday after work I walked everywhere, but was too tired to photograph.  Were the work of doing this maintenance and pruning to fall to me, my landscape would never look like this. Melissa is much better at this than I. Better yet, she comes to shovel me out and get my landscape in shape at the end of my grueling spring season.  She puts enormous energy and time to my property when I am just about spent. 

Needless to say, my tour this morning delighted me. My work is completely focused on all of my clients-via the landscape company, and the shop. I have an idea to provide anyone who approaches me with a gardening experience that is beautiful, and successful.  This is hard work, and rewarding work.  The past six weeks have been work at an incredibly intense level.  This Sunday morning, my place looked beautiful.  Thanks, Melissa.  

My rose garden is not anything that would rate a picture in a book, but it pleases me plenty.  The space is really all about boxwood hedges, and Thuja Nigra.  Melissa deadheaded the roses, put the climbing rose arms blown down by wind back up on the wall, and weeded the gravel. She staked the roses.  She trimmed the curves in the arborvitae, and properly trimmed the boxwood.   My take on my visit this morning?  I do so hope heaven looks exactly like this. 
This view is much more about an answer to my very busy life, than a statement about formal landscapes.  This serene view satisfies what I need from my garden.  What you need from your landscape-this is the first question.

I was out in the middle of the street this morning, dancing around.  Taking it all in-taking pictures.  Thanks so much Melissa.

A Deep V


My neighbor down the street has quite the landscape going on.  I stopped by yesterday when I saw she was in the front yard working.  I told her I really liked the garden.  I will say she did not quit edging and weeding while we talked-how like a gardener.  But I do think she was pleased by my interest.  Gardeners are born with the willingness to share gene.  Hers is a small but very striking garden.  Trees and shrubs are entirely symmetrically placed on axis to the front door-as is a wood arbor keeping a pair of red climbing roses aloft.  But the most visually compelling element are the pair of triangular shaped beds that make for a deep V, intersected by the walk to the front door.  

I will say I have never seen landscape beds cut in this shape.  These diagonal lines are very strong and exciting.  The formal geometry of my garden is much more traditionally and quietly laid out in squares and rectangles.  These are bed lines that zoom, zoom. How they looked immediately made me long for a project where I might experiment with this shape. 

The gardens are a mix of perennials and annuals-I see a lot of confidence here in plant choices-it is clearly a collection of those things she likes best. Red flowers are a dominant theme-there are red roses, geraniums, and a pair of continus on either side of the front porch. We did talk a little about it.  She told me that working in the garden was a great stress reliever.  But I could tell she gardened for the sheer joy of it.

It turned out that she was a docent in my garden years ago, when it was on the Pontiac garden tour; we had plenty to talk about.  I do so appreciate that she has turned the better part of her front yard into a garden.  I drive by twice every day, so I can keep up with what is going on.  I told her the neighborhood was lucky to have her.  We have our share of abandoned houses with the grass a foot long; this I hate to see.  

Her garden makes me feel good.

Leaves With Largesse

My spring season has been notable for heavy and regular rains.  Every leaf seems twice its normal size, and twice as juicy.  As a result, I have been thinking about leaves with largesse-those leaves that reward a gardener’s eye with their generously scaled appearance.  Plants with big leaves always catch my eye; I love lush in a landscape. The Kong coleus series features big leaves.  But none of the series with color capture my heart like this green cultivar.  The leaves are like velvet-stunning.  

My photograph offers little in the way of scale, but these leaves are huge.  Bear in mind they are still growing in 4″ square pots-what will they do, given free range via an expanse of garden soil?  A case of 4″ pots takes up a lot of square footage-I think I will plant some of these coleus, somewhere.

Cannas have big blue green leaves.  This plant is a living sculpture-never mind the flowers.  They look dark green and juicy, even when the air temperature is close to 100 degrees.  This canna variety Orange Punch I planted in my roof boxes, and in the 6 pots in front of the shop.  I am intrigued by the color orange this year, but those big leaves will provide stature, volume, and scale appropriate to the size of the building.  The big green leaves of cannas-luxuriant. 

The heavy spring rains proved to be a big dose of multi-vitamins to my Sum and Substance hosta.  The leaves are so large this year they scrape the sides of my Suburban when I back out of the drive. Not so many plants that are hardy in my zone have that overscaled tropical look; large leaved hostas can grace large shady areas with hundreds of umbrella sized leaves.  All of these chartreuse umbrellas-looking good.

The coleus Rainbowe Festive Dance has extraordinary coloration.  Olive green, orange, hot pink-do you see the French blue green on the edges of those big leaves?  The coleus variety on the left side of this photograph has medium sized leaves, and muddy coloration.  This variety does not pique my interest nearly as much.  Big leaves, whether green or of color, are exclamatory statement in a garden.  I am talking about rhythm.  Big leaves slow down and engage the eye.  Use them where you want the eye to pause, absorb, and reflect, before moving on.  

My butterburrs-how I love them, and how I hate them.  The giant green leaves are a texture like no other in my garden.  The flip side-they are invasive, and impossible to eradicate.  Do not plant one, unless you have plans to live with it til death do you part.  I am forever chopping them out of places they do not belong.  Once I dug up this entire bed, and threw away every scrap of root I could find.  They came roaring back two weeks later.  I decided to go along with their program.  Early every spring Gary Bopp, the grower for Wiregand’s nursery, comes and digs out all of those plants that have wandered away from this bed.  He could easily come again-I see some popping up 20 feet away from this spot.  Their giant leaves make them worth having-just be prepared to do battle, regularly.     

The dracaena “Janet Craig” does not have giant leaves per se, but the width of these strappy leaves is considerable.  The chartreuse color makes it impossible to miss.  They are happy in deep shade; this makes them a very useful focal point in dark places. In fact, any sun whatsoever will burn the leaves.    

I have always planted caladiums in shady places.  Imagine my surprise seeing a municipal planting of this white leaved variety along a busy downtown street, in full sun.  They made such a strong statement in a visually confusing setting.  They were thriving-not a sunburn mark anywhere.  Some plants that ordinarily want some protection from sun can thrive in sunny spots, given sufficient water.    

Nicotiana mutabilis is one of my most favorite annual flowers.  I love that tall and airy look.  I usually pull off the giant leaves that growe at the bottom, so my underplantings can get some light.  This city of Birmingham pot I planted some years ago had no such maintenanace-and all for the better.  The giant leaves are as much a part of the beauty of this planting as the flowering stalks.   

Few plants have large leaves that could rival the beauty of this crested Farfugium Japonicum.  These giant, shiny and substantial leaves are an exciting visual study in big curves and flounces.  Would that they were hardy in my zone.  They are fairly easy to winter over indoors.  The yellow flowers, somewhat similar to their relative the ligularia, are not nearly so beautiful as the leaves.  Leaves such as these-a visual feast.