Archives for May 2012

The Caliente Geraniums

tree ferns

I am sure you can tell from the dearth of posts this week that I am in the thick of the spring planting season. Every year at this time I have the opportunity to experience in fresh detail the meaning of the word seasonal. Though I have a number of landscape projects underway, and the shop is incredibly busy, I make time to plant summer annuals for clients. These tree ferns which have belonged to my clients for years come under the heading of annual flowers, as we have to winter them indoors in an unheated space. They are a very unusual and unlikely summer annual-I like this about them. The wild lime coleus planted underneath, and the begonias in the chimney pots will have much more to say in 6 weeks than they do now.

waxleaf privet topiaries

We have wintered this pair of waxleaf privets for the past 10 years. I think this is the last year for them-in these pots. I love how overscaled the tops are as opposed to the green glazed bottoms, but I have root pruned them for the last time. I dare not go one bit further with that. We were barely able to get the lavender scaevola and lime licorice skirt in the pot. I advised my client that she either needed bigger pots, or new topiaries. Somehow I doubt she will give up the privet standards.

growing herbs in containers

The largest of the two second floor decks has a number of containers which we plant with herbs. What herbs? Lots of sweet Genovese basil, lemon basil, several kinds of variegated culinary thyme, gold marjoram, garlic chives, oregano, and both flat and curly parsley. These are her favorites. At the corners of the big pots-strawberries. They do not bear for long, but the leaves and trailers are beautiful in herb pots. One pot not seen in this picture is entirely taken up with an old rosemary. Just for punctuation-some flashlights millet. They will take a while to grow on.

cedar planter boxes

That old wild rosemary is visible in the top left of this picture. We store this plant over the winter; the storage is worth the trouble. The big planter box, which separates the deck from the walkway that traverses the entire rear of the house, gets flowers. As I had a request for lots of color, the box is planted with red and dark red violet dahlias. The cool color of variegated licorice and lavender star verbena makes all that color seem all the more saturated. As I like my mixed colors in threes, the border also includes Caliente Dark Red geraniums.

planting containers with annuals

Several years ago, at the Independent Garden Centers convention and trade show in Chicago, I heard Alan Armitage speak. He trials bedding plants at a garden at the University of Georgia in Athens. There were lots of plants he had issues with-as in poor color, substance or performance. But he was highly complimentary of the Caliente geraniums. If he liked them, I was sure that I would too. Interestingly enough, he recommended that gardeners in southern states plant them with afternoon shade.  I wondered if they would tolerate a little bit of shade that marks the locations of these boxes.

caliente geraniums

I asked my grower to grow 10 cases of each color for me last year. I planted lots of the orange variety in my roof boxes. They bloomed non-stop in that very hot and very windy location. They were virtually self-cleaning. That vivid color was readily visible from the street. Caliente geraniums are a cross between an ivy geranium, and the mop headed zonal geranium. They are vigorous growers; the colors are clear and intense. The flower heads are loose, like a typical ivy geranium.

annual planting patterns

Years ago we built 2 very long boxes that are attached to the outside of the†railing of the walkway. This means the boxes drain to the terrace below, not onto the deck walk. This year I planted caliente geraniums in dark red, coral, orange and pink. The flower heads are much more informal than those of zonal geraniums, but I wanted an even looser look. I planted diamond frost euphorbia between each geranium. The edges of the box are planted with white and lavender star verbena, variegated licorice, misty lilac wave petunias and creeping jenny.

English lead boxes

The landing of the staircase that goes to the ground floor has a pair of English lead pots. A pair of Daniella are ringed in pink and red solenia begonias. They will easily handle the part sun conditions of this terrace. The lime green variegated leaves will have some company from the creeping jenny in the boxes above, once it grows in and starts to trail.

lead planter boxes

So many places I plant have pairs of pots in different light conditions. I try to pick plants that are the tolerant sort. These plants will grow in a fairly uniform manner, though one box gets noticeably more sun than the other.

second story decks

The small terrace at the far end of the house is off the master bedroom. An old varigated abutilon with peach flowers in the pot on the left came out of winter storage. A red mandevillea is paired with a new petunia variety whose petals are splashed with pink and lime yellow. The center pot is stuffed with a dahlia favorite-Hypnotica lavender. This dahlia is about the strongest performing dahlia I have ever grown. The right hand pot features an Orange Punch canna, accompanied by lime nicotiana.

kidney shaped swimming pools

On the ground floor, a swimming pool is encircled by roses, perennials, small growing shrubs, and old viburnums. We added verbena bonariensis, sonata white and Rosalita cleome, lime nicotiana, heliotrope, and surfinia sky blue petunias. They are steadfast in delivering color all summer long, while the perennials come and go. Will I come back later in the summer to take pictures? Of course.

Monday Opinion: Memorial Day

There are those landscapes which are nothing like mine or yours.  Nothing like a botanic garden, or a city park.  Nothing like a dairy farm, or an orange grove.  Nothing like a national park, or nationally protected land.  Nothing like the Chelsea Flower Show.  Nothing like gardens which are protected by the National Trust, nothing like Huntington Gardens.  

Memorial Day landscapes commemorate the lives of those service people who gave their lives for their country.  We live in a free country; the price of that freedom is steep.  It is not my idea to discuss war, history, or politics-I would be way out of my depth.  But I have seen pictures of the cemeteries in Europe, the final resting ground of many thousands of American service people who gave their lives in World War II.  I have visited Maya Lin’s memorial to those American service people who gave their lives during the Vietnam war.  I have looked at lots of pictures of National Arlington cemetery.  I have visited some of the battlegrounds of the Civil War.

I am old enough to have some personal connection with landscapes of this sort.  My father was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed.  Though he survived, he never really recovered.  All of his children knew the human cost of war.  Some of my college friends lost their lives during the Vietnam war.  I had a chance to trace their names with one finger on the face of Maya Lin’s memorial.  The landscape she did here-brilliant.  Brilliant, in that everyone who visits can trace their own story,  bow their heads, leave a rose,  and be comforted.  Someday, the grass on the top of that granite wall will grow over and down, and bury all of that grief. 

American service people are a breed all their own.  They stand watch, so I don’t have to.  They put themselves in  harm’s way.   They protect and preserve, so I can go on making gardens and designing landscapes.  Oh yes, I think about them, this Memorial Day.   

 The landscape of conflict and grief is different than any other landscape.   The landscape of graves-frightening.  Orderly, terrifying, and sad. Those crosses go up and down and around the grassy hills or create grids on acres of flat planes of grass. The vast number of  lives lost, and the grieving families left behind, impossible to comprehend in any rational way.  Thus the landscapes we experience as hallowed ground.  My city has a number of old and very beautiful cemeteries, though few are maintained as they should be.  One in particular has many old trees.  It is a quiet place to grieve and remember.         

I regret the loss of every life given in defense of our country.  But I do value the freedom I have had to pursue the life of my choice.  It is appropriate to maintain these simple and stark landscapes in memory of of those who paid the ultimate price such that others could live free.  It is the least we can do, to honor their lives.  Our service people-what would we do without them?

Memorial Day Weekend

Italian terra cotta pots

Both of my crews combined yesterday to plant annuals in containers and in the ground at one of our big jobs.  We finished up about 3:30.  It was the consensus that my pots could be brought out from the garage, and filled with soil-an end of the day job.  I was delighted with the offer.

Italian terra cotta pots

Next to the pruning of the boxwood, this is my favorite day of the year.  The pots come out of storage.  I move them a few inches this way or that.  I may reconfigure them altogether.  I have next to no warning when that moment for the placing and filling of my pots will be-good thing.  The pressure of the moment is sometimes my best effort.  When I have too much time to think and rethink, I can stall and move right into a tail spin.   

Italian terra cotta

I do not like my crews glaring at me, waiting for a decision.  They want to get the work done-with dispatch.  Needless to say, all of my pots are out and placed now, and furthermore chock full of soil.  It takes my crew only moments to get this part done.  It takes me many more moments to make a decision about what to plant.  I walked by these dirt filled pots many times late yesterday afternoon.     

container planting

That I am home in the afternoon at the end of May is a rare day indeed.  Of course I took advantage of that moment. I toured every square inch.  Though what I will plant in my pots this year is so much on my mind, I enjoyed what has been going on in other parts of my garden, in my absence.

Jeanne Le Joie

My roses are starting to bloom.  They are early this year.  The climbing roses, the dwarf Jeannie Le Joie, and the big flowered climber Eden, were not a bit fazed by our terrible April frosts.  They are coming into bloom, as though all was well with the world.  My Griffith Buck roses-another story.  The buds are small.  The extreme heat we have had the past few days means some flowers have come into bloom, and shattered in less than a day. 

dwarf climbing roses

Our late April frosts are still haunting my garden.  But it was hard to be discouraged.  I was in my garden on a sunny afternoon the end of May.  This means I was on holiday. 

late spring

I was happy to be home, unexpectedly, on the Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend. 


Planting The Annual Flowers

container gardening

I plant better than 80 annual plantings every year.  Some are as simple as a pair of pots on the front porch.  Others involve multple containers, and in ground planting.  I enjoy each and every one of them.  That said, the work of this chases me from late May until the end of the first week of July.  My late June clients are looking to replace their spring plantings.   As Detroit Garden Works is not a full service nursery, I shop for all of my clients, individually. 

annual plantings

That shopping takes me to lots of local nurseries and my local farmer’s market.  One nursery custom grows a lot of material which I like to use.  Whether that material involves new varieties of caladiums I grew last year, or nicotiana cultivars, specialty and unusual plants make the difference between a rote container scheme, and a freshly imagined and exciting planting.  

annual planting beds

The shopping is the first part.  Pickups of plants, and arranging for deliveries is a job in and of itself.  Some plantings are so large I arrange for delivery to the site the day of the planting.  No matter if I am picking up, or having plants delivered, planning for the job comes first.  The planning and designing takes a lot of thought and detail, so the installation goes smoothly and quickly.  Once the plants and my crew meets at the job, the first move is to clean up.  The spring tulips and weeds may need to be cleaned out.  The pots need fresh soil.  Steve arranges for our custom blend of soil for containers to be mixed.  That soil is delivered to a company who provides bagging, and shipping.  We go through 2 semi truck loads of our custom container soil mix a season. 

planting annual beds

Once the pots get a new planting, and the annuals are planted in ground, we sweep up, and water thoroughly-at least three times.  We water until we are blue in the face.  Newly planted plants have no ability to take up water from the surrounding soil until their roots reach out.  A really good soak makes for a really promising beginning. 

English made lead

The next two days calls for temperatures in the 90’s.  We were especially careful today to soak every pot thoroughly.  Though this picture seems hardly worth posting, what I like is how wet everything looks.  The landscape installation here is 4 years old now.  All of the woody plants have taken hold, and are thriving.  The flowers add a finishing detail that makes the landscape seem like home.   

container planting

I make trouble for myself.  I will not plant too early.  Most of my clients understand this about me, and don’t fuss.  I am not so concerned about frosty air temperatures.  I am interested in the temperature of the soil.  If the soil is too cold, the annual plants are stopped dead in their tracks.  Most annual plants are native to tropical locales.  They know no cold. 

variegated abutilon

It is hard to wait, given how many plantings there are to get done.  But a tropical plant which is planted into freezing soil will be set back.  The growth may be stunted.  It might take weeks for them to recover from the insult.  They may never recover.  I like planting in soil that has thoroughly warmed up.  This makes the transplanting process take no longer than a blink of an eye. 

container gardening

Coleus and impatiens hate cold soil.  Massed plantings of impatiens and fibrous begonias at my local shopping center in early May shrivel before they ever make a move to grow. Looking at these plantings makes me wince. Some clients will call, concerned that they do not have their plantings before Memorial Day.  I tell them they are one of the lucky ones.  No annual planting before its time means their plants will take hold and grow like crazy. 

This may be foolishness on my part with no basis in science, but I do believe that annuals that are planted too early peter out too early.  I usually plant my own pots the end of the first week of June.  I still have them growing strong into October.  If your annual pots give out the end of August, you might want to look at your planting date.

solenia pink begonias

I understand the urge to plant early.  Who isn’t ready for the summer gardening season by late April?  But April and May means spring in Michigan.  The weather can be dicey.  Those clients that have to have early plantings miss out on some great plants that will not tolerate the cold.  Caladiums, coleus, New Guinea impatiens, heliotrope, angelonia, and begonias all abhor cold soil. 

nicotiana mutabilis

Newly planted containers do not give up what is to come.  These boxes will be overflowing with nicotian mutabilis, and nicotiana alata white in another month.  The pink petunias which are so much in evidence will be but a foot note, once the nicotiana get going. No annual pot in my zone looks great in June.  If you have an idea for a party or event in late May or June, plant for spring.  The annual flowers are just getting up a head of steam in late July.

The first order of business on this pool deck is to get the pots out, locate the irrigation lines, and fill the pots with soil.

container gardening

I photograph all of my annual plantings when they are planted, and when they peak.  I draw the design for each pot on the back side of last year’s picture.  I use these pictures to tune up my choices in plants.  Success with container gardening involves a gardener, a particular location-and whatever else nature has in store to dish out. I try to keep a visual record from which I can learn.

Planting the container gardens is much different than designing the landscape and gardens.  But what I especially like about the containers is that they represent the finish.  The finishing touches make a landscape very personal. The annual flowers.  The right arbor, and that special bench.      

espalier crabapples
I never met anyone who did not like or respond to music.  Nor have I ever met anyone who did not respond to to the beauty that is a flower.  The summer growing and flowering tropical plants are a taste of Eden in the northern gardens I look after.  I plant lots of them at home, and enjoy them every day.   

container gardening

At the end of the day, I would plant pots-the more, the better.