Archives for March 2012

At A Glance: Thought We’d All Drop By Early

The European ginger sprouting in mid March is a bit of a shock.  I would say this is definitely 3 weeks earlier than usual-maybe 4 weeks early. 

Clematis sprouting in mid March?  Unexpected.  Unusual. Ok, no kidding-astonishingly early.

Roses leafed out in March

Delphiniums making an appearance in March

Very dry winter.  Cracked earth in March.  Who waters their garden in March in my zone?  All of us serious gardeners in southeatern Michigan-that’s who.  Mother Nature-any water coming our way from the sky soon? 

Big weeds in the isotoma-not to mention the grass growing like crazy

Magnolia Stellata-blooming March 14.  Dropping petals, March 16

Hellebores blooming

Magnolia Soulangiana, the third week of March

March spring -down the street

The neighborhood, March 2012.  Today was distinctly chilly.  What’s ahead?  I have no idea-I am just a girl with a passion for the garden. The passionate part means that I will stand tall and be stubborn.  Most importantly, I will roll with the program. I like playing a small part in a bigger picture.  What could be better?

Easy Does It

helleborus hybrids

If you are experiencing a spring astonishingly fast forwarded as I am, you have a garden usually sleepy in mid March that is marching dramatically on to a drummer you have never met before. I am struggling to keep up. I have 2 areas in my garden devoted to the cultivation of hellebores-why wouldn’t I?  Their leaves are evergreen until late winter.  Their flowers are intricate; the sepals are astonishingly colored.  Once established, they make big gorgeous clumps, even in fairly shady locations. It is the first perennial to break ground and bloom for me in the spring. This is one of my most favorite moments of the gardening year. 

helleborus orientalis

The leaves are stubbornly stalwart-they do not go brown until late in the winter.  The bare flower stalks emerge early in the spring; the new leaves will come later.  Just when gardeners are about to go mad from the endless grey and cold of the winter, they deliver.  The flowering stalks of helleborus orientalis emerge early in the spring-this usually means early April.  The sustained 80 degree temperatures had thrown my hellebores into full bloom in mid March.  My magnolias, PJM rhodendrons and maple trees were not far behind.  I have flowers everywhere, at a time I usually associate with the last of the winter.  

No matter how much I might write about the natural order of things, the real news is that I have hellebores blooming way ahead of my usual spring cleanup.  The late winter tattered leaves in concert with new bloom stalks-not my idea of a good look.  The early spring has caught me by surprise.  To say I was not ready for the hellebores to represent is putting it mildly. 

 My impulse was to clip and clean up-fast.  But how could I?  I am used to cutting off all of the dead foliage on a plant with one swipe, as I usually do this before the bloom stalks stir.  This year I had to proceed with caution, for fear I would mistake a bloom stalk for a leaf.  I did cut off two flowering stalks-how irritating.  One of my greatest spring pleasures has become a marathon I had no chance of winning.      

A fast cleanup given the very early and unseasonably warm weather might rake away a moment you do not want to miss. This clump of crocus was buried undeneath last years hellebore foliage.  Any carelessness on my part would have been disastrous. I am happy to say this little crosus clump was beautiful for 2 days, until the heat made it collapse in a heap.  But 2 days was better than no days.  I knew enough to take a picture, that this flowering would be ephemeral.  Beyond my shears, the only tool I put to this cleanup was my fingers.  Any garden accumulates leaves and sticks and other garden memorabilia over the winter.  Each bit came out of this garden one cautious handful at a time. 

 The new and tender shoots of your hellebores might benefit from those gentle fingers-they are so easy to break. New growth is as extraordinarily tender as it is beautiful.  Easy does it is the only way to do it.  So for 2 nights after work, and two weeks late to the game, I cleaned up my hellebore patches. 

My old hellebores are sprouting from seed like crazy this spring.  How pleased I am about this!  A gentle spring cleanup does not dislodge the babies.  My hellebores are grown with sweet woodriff, and crocus.  I interfere as little as possible with what goes on here.  I do not worry them about anything.  I water when they need it-that’s all.     


Rob’s Ivory Prince hellebores are planted in myrtle.  This taller vining groundcover can make the spring cleanup all the more time consuming.  He tells me the hellebore cleanup is finished-and on to the next part of his garden that needed cleanup a week ago.  Both of us have held off on any pruning-sure enough, night temperatures in the mid 30’s are forecast for next week.  The ride could get bumpier.  We’ve have snow and freezing temperatures in April plenty of times. 

My hellebore patch looks much better now.  Now on to the roses which are completely leafed out, and still sporting dead blooms from last fall.  And then there are the 6″ tall weeds in the isotoma and herniaria.  And the emerging leaves of Jack Frost brunnera encircled by their winter remains.  Have I mentioned that my holiday wreath and magnolia garland are both still in place?  And that the greens in my winter pots have gone brown with the heat?  My delphiniums are a foot tall.  My Magnolia Stellata started dropping petals after one 88 degree day in bloom.  My Yellow Butterflies magnolias are showing color.  My maples are blooming.  I have talked of nothing else to Buck for 2 days.  In celebration of my out of season garden and my attending hand wringing for the last 2 days,  he drummed up some of his favorite Christmas music for me last night.  What else could he possibly do for me?  Funny, that guy.  Not so funny, this weather. 


Permanent Structures

Most landscapes have basic structures, as in driveways and walkways.  This under construction landscape project features site specific architectural elements that address certain needs. The lower portion of this steel fence will soon be hidden by a row of yews matching the lakeside planting.  This fence and gates enclose a dog run, and were specifically designed to keep a local population of coyotes out. The horizontal vineyard bar in the top portion of the fence repeats the branch motif of the privacy fencing on the lot line.  The plan for the garden includes drifts of shade tolerant perennials, and lots of groundcover.  A single pot that splits up the gravel path through the garden is tall enough to keep the dog from rummaging through it.  A tall planting will be visible from outside the the run.    

cane bolt handle

Though the fence has a specific purpose, that does not mean it can’t be designed for some visual interest.  A cane bolt is a long piece of steel that goes down into the ground.  This keep one of the two gates in a fixed position.  The bolt needs to be lifted up to release the gate.  The handle on this bolt is not only easy to grasp, but it is friendly to the eye. The curves echo the circular staircase which connects the lower level terrace to a second story terrace. There are lots of structural elements in this one area of the garden-not the least of which is a covered porch with stone-clad columns.  I like iron and steel as a material in the landscape, as it can be very light and airy looking, as well as strong and stury.   

steel fence

The top of the fence culminates in an iron shelf.  I have never designed a fence with this feature before, but I have never designed with coyotes in mind either.  The shelf will hold rectangular wire baskets, with summer plantings.  Apparently coyotes do not grip and climb-they leap over fences.  The hedge of flowers 6 feet in the air will be much tougher to leap over that a fence.  The double hedge of yews is 6 feet wide.  Any coyote hoping to get in here will have to get up a full head of steam, and leap 8 feet in the air, and sail a considerable distance before they land.  I am by no means sure this will work, but it’s my best effort and securing the space.  Not to mention that I think flowers on top of the fence will look great.

garden pergola
Landscaping a lakefront property poses challenges relating to the view of the water.  Most people who live on lakes prize their views of the water-that seems only natural.  The placement of trees are restricted in some communities, so no neigfhboring views are compromised.  This pergola will be planted with roses and clematis, and perennials in the gravel.  The steel structure will not only be softened by the plantings, but it will eventually provide shade underneath from a source alternate to a tree.  Even when the plantings mature, they will never obstruct the upstairs views of the water.   They will frame specific views from the terrace and library.  Between the pergola, and the neighbors iron fence, a hedge of small growing trees will screen the lot line.   

wood arbor

Hard structures in the landscape can take many different forms, and are built for all kinds of reasons.  Some structures are built whose primary utility is a personal expression about beauty.  I enjoy this part of gardening as much as I do the plants, as I value seeing the evidence of the human hand, and the hand of nature, in concert.   

cast iron fountain

English cast iron fountain

garden dining

decomposed granite terrace

antique French iron gloriette

garden gates

steel garden gatesfaux bois arbor

concrete faux bois birch log arbor

alfresco dining

garden dining table and chairs

fountain pot

fountain and antique Doulton face pot overlooking the lake

antique faux bois

antique faux bois bird cage

stucco wall

stucco wall with integral shelves

stained concrete pots

acid stained concrete pots

garden furniture

garden furniture

bluestone terrace

dining terrace

stone walls, pergolas, fountain and terraces under construction

antique faux bois

antique French faux bois garden bench

wood pergola

wood pergola

Valders stone

This fountain is one of my favorite things about my own garden.  I built it with money my Mom left me 10 years ago.  It reminds me of her, as she was an avid gardener who also encouraged me to take some time off now and then-you know, maybe go to the beach.   It provides me with a place to unwind, and take a little time off.  In addition to the history behind it, I like the look and the sound.  I like to get in it when it’s hot.  This is a big structure in my small garden that gives me a lot of pleasure.

Structuring Perennial Gardens

Structured perennial gardens-the phrase is something of a contradiction in terms.  Perennials die back to the ground with the frost, and do not reappear in my zone until 6 months later.  Certain perennials, such as asparagus, butterfly weed, some ferns and grasses have a strong winter presence as their stems dry and persist.  Some gardeners leave their perennial gardens as is in the fall.  Others cut all of the perennial plants back to the ground.  The butterburr bed pictured above (enclosed below ground by a 24″ barrier of galvanized sheet metal, I might add)  is a dirt space for the winter. The big stems and leaves collapse and turn to mush, once exposed to a frost. However, they do a fine job of screening the scraggly lower branches of the arborvitae hedge in the background.  I wedged them into the rooty ground as best I could.  True to their invasive nature, they covered the space by the second year.  Their giant leaves are very architectural in the summer, their absence in the winter is mitigated by by other large woody plants nearby.  The structure of this garden comes from the repetition of a single plant, in a defined shape.         


Perennial gardens can be organized by plants that require similar conditions, by color, and by form.  This garden is relatively small, so it features plants with spike like flowers, or a narrow habit of growth.  This means bulb lilies, delphinium bellamosa, platycodon, and phlox.  Most of the plants are white, and shades of red violet, pink, and purple.  The mature clumps of Sum and Substance hosta provide a visual foil for this organization.  Its mass anchors the garden, and the lime green leaves light up the shadiest part of the garden.  The garden was placed between a pair of trees, and is backed up by a row of Annabelle hydrangeas.  This provides the garden with a context. garden structure

This perennial garden is planted with a collection of mixed perennials and annuals.  Locating a perennial garden in a traffic island can be a dicey move, but this planting has a few things going for it.  There are a couple of small trees.  There is a children’s playhouse (not visible from this angle), a good bit of stonework, and a fountain that help weight the garden.  The elevation of the soil, and the massing of both perennial and annuals give the garden visual heft.  Big annuals planted in a perennial garden can provide season long color as ther perennials come in and out of bloom.  This garden benefits from the fact that it has one clear idea. Lots of color, and bloom time has greatly influenced the selection of plant material.  Big stands of Monarda, shasta daisies and phlox celebrate the summer season.  Focusing on a single season means that season has the potential to be stellar, and the other three-quiet.   

pots in the garden

A perennial garden gains visual stature when associated with a favorite pot, a beautiful arbor, a fountain, or a sculpture.  An ornament for the garden can provide that garden with atmosphere. 

decomposed granite

This garden backs up to a large stone wall, and is faced down with a generously proportioned decomposed granite walkway.  These hard surfaces enclose the garden-both on the ground and in the air.  The mass of the Annabelle hydrangeas is a good match for the mass of the wall.  The lavender petunias surround a fountain pool; the rounded front of that pool is repeated by the petunias, the gravel, and the lawn.  The petunias are more than just petunias.  They are a shape that makes sense with the entire garden scheme.   


 This decomposed gravel path is large enough to accomodate seating in the garden.  The gravel is contained by aluminum edger strip to keep it from migrating into the garden.  However the perennials are planted close enough to that edge to encourage them to spill over.  This giving the garden a relaxed and low key feeling without loosing its strong sense of shape. 

perennial gardens

Any garden is green, most of the time.  Shades of green can be contrasted; a garden where all of the greens match or are similar can be very striking.  The textures, sizes and shapes of leaves can be contrasted with one another.  The relationships forged between individual plants can be more important that this individual plant or that one.   

 The flowering of the roses and the peonies is glorious, and short lived.  That said, I still would not dream of foregoing either pleasure.  Some years they bloom at the same time.      

rose gardens

Though the roses, clematis and peonies have a place all their own, they belong to a bigger group known as Janet’s garden.