Archives for July 2011

A Little Sass With All This Sizzle

Usually I am a landscape and garden designer; this week I have been a prop delivering a steady stream of water at the shop, for clients, and at home.  Proper watering in extremely high heat can be tricky.  Annabelle hydrangeas, for example, wilt down at the the slightest provocation on a hot day.  This makes sense.  Their leaves are big, and very thin.  This means water is evaporating from the leaves at a high rate-thus the wilt.  This does not necessarily mean the Annabelles need water.  Avoid hosing down plants, thinking you will cool them off.  Fungus, and mildew can run wild in hot humid conditions.  Unnecessary water can aid and abet diesease. Check the soil that your Annabelles are growing in-water if that soil is dry. Ironically, I have seen more plants suffering from too much water in this heat, than too little. The New Guinea impatiens pictured above-water like crazy.  If they lack for water when the buds are small, those buds can drop, sending an entire plant out of bloom until new ones form.  I had this happen at home-Fiona Brinks from Bordines set me straight about it.     

Many annual plants have tropical origins.  They thrive in the heat.  Annual vinca will barely perform in Michigan-it needs heat Florida style to really perform well.  Though I am dropping over from the heat, many of the annual plants are thriving, provided they are properly watered.  This pot of coleus and lime irisine benefits from some shade at the hottest part of the day, and the petunias tolerate this condition. All of these plants are shrugging off the heat. 

 These pots look pretty sassy, in spite of the 96 degree weather we have today.  The New Zealand flax is quite tolerant of heat, sun, and shade.  The dracaena Janet Craig will burn in the sun, but it is very tolerant of heat.  The Solenia begonias have no problem in sun, provided the watering is dead on.  Too much water, and those succulent stems will rot.  Too little, and they will flop over.  Siting plants in conditions they like means your heat management will go better.

Thick foliaged and waxy leaved plants transpire less than thin leaved plants.  When a farfugium wilts, no doubt it is asking for water.  A phormium never gives any visual cue about whether it likes how you are caring for it.  The tuft of leaves that comes off with a slight tug from rot at the base usually looks perfectly healthy up top. Not every sign of trouble can you spot with your eyes.  You may need your hands, or your sense of smell, or your instincts.  Great gardening demands every skill you have, and then some.  

Observe your plants-get to know them.  Weeks after the planting, I am astonished by the size of this Persian Queen geranium standard.  It must be very happy-it has quadrupled in size. I spent a lot of time looking at this plant, and assessing its location.  Plants tell a story-take time to read that story.      

These tomato pots are thriving.  I did not see a single yellow leaf or blotch.  This client has what it takes to properly look after plants.  She’s met every challenge coming from from a season of one kind of unreasonable weather followed by another.  I am quite certain she gardens by eye, and by instinct. 

Annual plants in containers set on hard surfaces in the sun-choose your plants accordingly. These plants appear to be happy.  A summer annual garden can be such a pleasure-should you choose carefully, and water accordingly. 

This scotch pine on standard has an underplanting of creeping jenny.  The creeping J is entirely tolerant of of the shade, and the water necessary to keep these New Guinea impatiens thriving in the sun.  My advice?  Observe carefully.  Plan accordingly.  Should you be gardening in a state or region experiencing this recent record breaking heat-take notes.

The Garden Cruise

I will admit to being a little tired today-the garden tour is an all day affair.  It happened to be conducted in 93 degree heat-but I am happy to say we had a great turnout.  The gardens to the last looked fresh and well tended.  The annual plants are thriving on our heat.  I did go through 3 cases of water at my garden-most people come to my place in the afternoon.  But I had a little treat waiting for the hot and the tired who came after 2.

 My fountain is my most favorite feature in my landscape.  It is a pleasure to watch, and to hear.  But it turned out to be quite the cooler for my overheated guests.  I invited everyone to take off their shoes, and get in.  Almost everyone took me up on the invitation.   

Six of the seven gardens on tour featured water in some form or another.  A pair of beautiful swimming pools-one from the late 1920’s, and one from the 1970’s-each made a strong visual statement.   I myself would not want one.I have a scaled down, hybrid version of a swimming pool.  My fountain is filtered and cleaned with same equipment that cleans a pool or spa.  This means my fountain does double duty-when I have a need, I get in it, and cool off.  This fountain could be home to a hot gardener, but yesterday it was home to a school of goldfish and some water cabbage.    

Not everyone has space for a vegetable garden that consumes acreage.  This small garden has a trio of tomatoes, underplanted with various herbs.  What is better in late summer than homegrown tomatoes?  This very small garden made a big nod to the idea of good food from the garden.

This very contemporary home I landscapes probably 16 years ago.  The columnar beech are maintained at a level beyond my wildest dreams.  It is an intellectually ad toughly minimal landscape.  I was happy to hear the level of discussion that I did.

When someone calls me to design a Japanese garden for them, I direct them elsewhere.  I am a westerner by heritage, culture and experience.  Under no circumstances could I design a Japanese garden-I am woefully inadequate.  In this case, I did reluctantly design and plant a contemplative garden in that Eastern style.  There was much talk on the tour about this small space-unexpected, it was.  No kidding-it is the only landscape space I have ever done like this.

One of the Dearborn landscapes is freshly done-it has been in ground but 11 months.  The son of one of my oldest and most treasured clients got the bug for gardening from his Mom.  Many thanks, CB.  This house new to he and his family has been completely renovated.  A pergola with a solid roof is slated to go over his western facing rear terrace any day now.  This formal landscape with a decidedly modern twist-fresh and striking.

Perennial gardens,planted largely with white, purple and lavender hardy plants, got some help this first season from some verbena bonariensis. 

A Normandy style tudor on acres of land belongs to oted interior designer Linda Powers.  I had nothing to do with this old and established landscape.  I came late to the landcape conversation; I consult with her about her container plantings, and plant them.  Her garden was the subject of much conversation.  Her old Stewartia in full bloom-on every Iphone in the group.

It was a very hot day, yes.  But all manner of keen gardeners came out, and toured.  The reception afterwards-I had such a good time. At 5pm, Buck promised he would water the pots, so I could go that afterglow party.    I live a charmed life.

At A Glance: Company Coming Today


Can you tell I am excited for the day?

Garden Cruise Tomorrow

A few years ago this client in Dearborn put her garden on the garden cruise we sponsor every year to benefit the Greening of Detroit. If you are not familiar with the Greening of Detroit, in the past 21 years, they have planted thousands of trees, sponsored hundreds of urban farms, and made respect for the environment a mission.  Our tour raises money for them.   I had been working on her landscape for a good many years, and she was kind enough to agree to share it with others.  I am pleased to say that this year, her son Rich and her son-in-law Jason, have agreed to put their gardens on tour.

They are both young people; one landscape I designed and planted only this past summer.  Jason’s landscape and garden is entirely of his own design and installation-he goes so far as to grow his own flowers from seed under lights in the winter.  The landscapes represent very idividual tastes, and are entirely different.  What I like the most about them both is that young people are growing them.  I visited CB and her garden while I was in Dearborn checking out the tour gardens.  She and I both were struck by how the landscape suddenly seems mature and finished.  The landscape is looked after by Melissa and her crew from M and M flowers-her level of maintenance makes every landscape she tends look great.

I have wintered these wax leaf privet single ball topiaries in a greenhouse for the past 8 years.  With root pruning in the spring, we have managed to keep them in these glazed French pots for 8 summers.  The hydrangeas were originally planted in the front of the house.  I moved them here to take advantage of a bigger dose of sun.  They seem entirely happy now.  Planting a landscape is just the beginning.  Some things will not do well.  Other things ask for a different spot.  Moving things around is part of an garden experience.  Most everything thing can be better, if you have patience and resolve.  I try to own up to mistakes early on, so the moving is not such an ordeal. 

CB’s house is situated on a very steep lot; a deck upstairs spanning the entire barck of the house is her garden in the air.  Lots of containers help to create that garden.  On the far right, an old wild rosemary that spends winters in a greenhouse supplies the kitvchen.  On the left, 3 pots devoted to herbs-mostly basil.  To trail in the basil pots, everbearing strawberries. 

There are never many strawberries, but the idea of it is enchanting, and the texture of the strawberry leaves is great.  Tidal wave petunias, mandevillea and dahlias are thriving in the high heat we have had.

My only addition to the deck was to plan and build a pair of very long planter boxes installed outside the deck rail.  This keeps water and debris from the boxes off the deck surface.  Lavender, purple and yellow petunias are punctuated every so often with dark red violet potunias.  The trailing vinca maculatum will traill almost to the ground by the end of the summer.  There is very little maintenance to them. 

Several large perennial garden enclose the pool.  They have been struglling in recent years; the local deer polulation has exploded.  This year, Melissa installed steel post 4 feet tall all the way around the gardens, and strung them with three rows of fishline.  The deer have not touched a thing all season. I can hardly believe this is working, but it is. The lollipop Coralburst crabapple pictured is one of a pair that were planted in celebration of her son Rich’s wedding years ago.  They have matured beautifully. 

On the landing, two lead boxes with green coleus and orange begonias.  All of the containers have drip irrigation in them, and they stay in place all winter. The taupe colored terra cotta pots are frostproof terra cotta from Italy.  Each pot is elevated on feet, to prevent any water from collecting and freezing underneath.  I always enjoy planting these pots, and I enjoyed even more going back and visiting both the garden and my good friend CB. 

A small deck off the master bedroom is large enough for a pair of comfortable chairs, and 4 large pots.  The branches of some old Norway spruce in the backdround are a reminder of how high up in the air this garden really is. 

CB is an accomplished gardener, but today I am thinking about how much she has nurtured that interest in two young people in her family.   In my estimation, she has accomplished something very important.