Archives for August 2011

Petunias Popping

I was asked recently if I had any tips for growing great petunias-this from Ann who writes the Plumsiena blog.   If you have not read it, give it a try. I enjoy her point of view. But back to the petunias;  my first tip-if you love petunias, keep growing them until you get the culture down pat.  I really like the fragrance.  I like the shape and simplicity of the flower.  I like all of the colors.  White, cream, yellow, orange, red, all the shades of pink, cerise, lavender, purple-and don’t forget the bicolor petunias.  They come single and double.  They come mini, standard, and trailing.  What do I like?  I put my effort behind this.

The Surfinia Blue Sky petunia is one of my favorites.  It is a lavender unlike any other lavender-very blue.  Blue flowers are in very short supply in a Michigan garden.  Cornflowers, and bellamosa delphiniums about wraps up the list. I am having a great run with this petunia this year.  I keep them as dry as possible.  I lift up the foliage with my forearm, and water the soil only.  I keep my fingers crossed that summer will be short of rain-as it usually is. What usually is-I cannot depend on this.   

No kidding, I lift this skirt of petunias up so my water hits the soil, and not the plants.  I never put water to the foliage.  This plant likes dry-I try to oblige.  Rain and high humidity-your petunias will pout.  I have had them rot and die overnight in wet weather.  I trim the stragglers right along.  Hard pruning a petunia means many weeks of recovery.  I try to trim a little at a time.  Every trailing stem gets a little haircut, frequently.     

It helps to choose the right cultivars.  Misty lilac wave petunias are my favorite.  The color of this petunia reminds me of the species, while rewarding my efforts with vigorous growth and easy care.  Double petunias are leggy-plant them with a frothy friend, like euyphoriba Diamond Frost.  Some petunias need a buddy to shine.   

Misty Lilac wave petunias-when they are happy, I am happy.  Petunias may be the most common of annual plants, but they have an uncommon beauty.  When they are good, they are very very good-and when they are bad, they are horrid.   

No one knows what weather a summer season will bring.  The National Weather Service predicted a wet summer for my zone.  Did I lay off the petunias?  No; I was willing to take my chances.  Any garden planting is about taking chances.  Sometimes a season cooperates.  Sometimes a season rewards my efforts such that I feel blessed.  Some seasons challenge all of my good intentions, and leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. 

For the moment, my petunias are happy. This planter hosting yellow cannas is underplanted with Surfinia blue sky and Royal Velvet petunias.  They mix via an alternate planting of scaveola.  I am happy about what I see happening here.  How did this happen Ann?  I have no secrets.  Just a big dose of hope, and persistence.     

I almost always mix my container plantings.  I like to hedge my bets.  No matter how well I garden, I am always behind that 8 ball we call nature.  Plant what you love, tend your garden to the best of your ability, and hope even more for the best.     
My petunias-they look great.  Am I responsible for that?  Not really.  I do the best I can.  Madame Nature either helps me, or dashes my efforts.  Ann, some years my petunias are terrible.  Other years, like this year, they prosper.  I am not in charge of anything in the garden.  The best thing I have going for me is my hope, and my persistence.  I give all of the plants in my garden my best effort.  I learn new things all the time, and add that to the body of my experience.  When things do not work out in spite of my efforts-I do not like it, but I accept it.



I greatly admire any expression that is airy, artless, graceful, breezy, unstudied, beautifully accidental or subtle- underwrought.  What do I admire this?  I greatly admire that which is the most difficult for me to achieve with a planting.  Luckily, I have help from the plant kingdom.  I have never loved the look of hosta flowers.  Sometimes I go so far as to cut them off before they bloom-reckless, I know.  But in a sunny spot, the grey/lavender of these flowers is beautiful.  The stalks going this way and that-artless.  Both nicotiana mutabilis and dward cleome have wispy flowers that flutter in the slightest breeze.  Anchored with  a solidly blooming base of petunias, this planting is a meadow in a pot.  This planting had a lot of help from nature. 

The pale pink nicotiana in the outside pots on this porch-who knew how pretty they would be with a pair of white dieffenbachia.  A few spiky leaves of green New Zealand flax unexpectedly echo that dieffenbachia color.  The variegated ivy is a casual and airy compliment to those stiff paddle shaped leaves.  This planting was better than I thought it could be.  I credit the plants for that.

Mandevillea is one of my favorite summer plants.  Vining plants have a way of growing that sets a planting free.  They will grab any airborn support.  Lacking support, they will vine down and out.  Variegated licorice has stiff stems-but they grow every which way.  I call it the cowlick plant.  It provides some stiff horizontal support to the mandevillea vines that wander.  Some of the red mandevillea flowers appear to be floating, do they not?

Plants with subtly colored flowers and foliage have that airy look, no matter their habit.  Succulents and herbs tolerate close planting, as long as I am careful not to overwater.  Closely planted plants make a community of one, as long as I do not interfere too much.  Plants left to weave in and out of each other make their own statement.  This staement is infinitely more interesting and beautiful than anything I could engineer.  

Pots placed on porches, pillars, pedestals and promenades make a studied design statement before they are planted.  A pot set in a garden bed comes out of the gate with an entirely different attitude.  This entirely formal French pot from the Poterie Madeleine has a planting that reflects the garden.        

Some clients like that wispy, artless look.  They like subtle colors.  They like the air as much as they like the flowers.  Small flowers nurture that airy look.  How hard is it to make a dahlia look graceful?  You know the problem. 

Verbena bonariensis wrote the book on airy, breezy and cloudlike.  I plant it every chance I get.  In containers, it can loosen up the most formal of landscapes.  It can define the airspace above an urn.  It needs very little in the way of staking.    

Verbena bonariensis in the ground-stellar.  Imagine this space planted with impatiens-ho hum.  This clean and crisp terrace furniture is all the more striking given the contrasting cloud of verbena in the background. 

Gardeners may think what they have to work with is the soil.  But in fact, they also have an airspace just asking for some attention.   

What overflows, what moves in the slightest breeze, what grows in out and around-this is a look I treasure.  Loose and lovely.

At A Glance: Making Changes

This client added a roof over her front door in 2005.  Since then, the front door plantings have been different every year.  What can be seasonally changed in a landscape is part of my enduring interest in gardening.  





This front door got a new walk, and an updated landscape in 2006.  It took a while to find just the right pots for the space.  So much a part of knowing what to do is the willingness to try different things. 





6:56 AM

Rob’s plane headed for Paris took off from Detroit at 3:30 yesterday.  At 6:56 am our time, he was about to land in the south of France. This picture-via his iPhone. This view of the coastline-magnifique.  I am sure he has plans for the rest of the day that do not include sleep.  Shopping like this is not for the faint of heart.  His very first buying trip to France in 1993 he managed without a phone, or any help from a computer or a Garmin.  I think he was in France for 3 days before he found a phone he could use to call me.  The connection was so poor all I got from the conversation was that he was in France, and ok. 

The trip was loosely planned around what I read in books, and what I could glean from French design magazines.  There was so little information readily available pertaining to European sources of ornament for the garden, that these early trips were as much about exploration as they were about buying.  He had dinner with what he could find at a gas station, and hoped to find lodging when it got dark.  In his 3 weeks overseas, I may have talked to him two or three times.  I knew next to nothing about what he bought, until the container was delivered, and opened.  That first collection-stunning.

There would be pictures, once he got home, and his 35mm film could be developed.  Many of them related to his experience and exploration of the French landscape.  He travelled extensively, absorbing as much as he could of what he saw.  Garden ornament represents the culture, environment and landscape from which it comes.   

There are other stories from those early trips.  It was a month later that he told me he was lost in the Swiss Alps in the middle of the night, trying to drive from Italy to France.  There were almost no road signs, and the major road had a large tunnel that was permanently closed;  it had collapsed.  This he did not discover until he was 100 feet from the tunnel entrance.  He saw no one else travelling that night; somehow he managed to get to France. Like I said, he is an explorer of a very special sort.

As poor as our clues were, Rob took the situation in hand once he was there.  There were poteries producing garden pots the likes of which I had never seen, save in Cote Sud, the French magazine.  Once there were names and places put to the few pictures we had seen, he was ready to shop.  That he spoke not one word of French, he did fine.  Rob has a way of making friends first, and doing business later. 

Though the landscape and culture of France is very different than ours, the history of their gardens is very much part of the language of ours. Gardeners value that history.  A garden table of age and presence such as this one can organize an entire garden. If you are an afficianado of classical landscape, a table such as this would enchant your eye.   

There are many poteries in the south of France, each producing its pots with native clay, and distinctively regional designs.  Many of the poteries have been producing pots for hundreds of years.  Ancient gardens were very much about utility.  Olive trees and citrus were grown in pots, not to mention  herbs.  Olive jars were just that; containers for olive oil.  But the French have a way of endowing the every day business of living with great beauty and style.   

At this end of this first trip to France, Rob did manage to reach me by phone.  He was interested in a sculpture which had been exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1883.  The cast iron sculpture came with a stone pedestal that had been hand carved especially for the sculpture.  It was breathtaking in more than one way.  The purchase of this sculpture would take more than half of our entire budget.  When he told me that, I hung up on him.  Three days later he called back, did I wish to speak to the dealer about the provenance of the piece?  Needless to say, he persuaded me to buy the sculpture.  It took 3 years to find a buyer, but the three years it sat just inside the front door of the shop said everything about our point of view about the landscape.  It was a defining purchase in a lot of ways.  

Not everything he bought would be that costly, but shopping overseas, and shipping from Europe is complicated and expensive.  These French pots are handmade, not made by machine.  They had to be crated prior to shipping.  That became part of the price.  Lots of things enable Rob to shop more efficiently now.  Making beautiful things available to keen gardeners is a passion of Rob’s; visiting the shop makes that clear.  

I have no idea what Rob will speak for; this is what he does, and he does a beautiful job it. I have nothing to add to this, except my interest and support. I do not experience the shop how my clients do; I come here every day, and have done so for 15 years. I have worked with him for almost 20 years now.  But when he leaves on a European shopping trip, I look at what is already here with fresh appreciation, and great anticipation for what he will bring to the shop next.