Archives for October 2012

At A Glance: The Boston Ivy


September 2

October 14

October 18

October 14

October 20

October 21

October 21

October 22

October 28

Putting Your Foot Down


Advising people about pots and containers for their homes and businesses has been part of my job for going on 17 years.  Those same 17 years have put me in contact with a vast selection of antique, vintage, modern and contemporary containers from many different periods and countries.  Does this make me an expert?  I would hesitate to go that far, but I will say I have had considerable exposure.  Exposure to and knowledge of garden containers helps me advise  the right pot for the right place.  One aspect of container design that interests me the most is how that pot meets the hard surface on which it sits.  These French glazed pots have a  stepped base, or foot, that supports the body of the pot.  These big bodied pots would look clunky indeed without their bases.   

The shape of the bottom of a container, and how that bottom meets the oorch surface or terrace, greatly influences what I recommend.  I am sure you have seen an Olympic gymnast perform a complicated routine, and unerringly land on their feet.  Squarely on two feet.  That flawless two footed landing is enormously important.  A urn, pot or planter that has a foot keeps a large container from looking heavy.  A hefty container from bottoming out.  These English arts and crafts period limestone pots are both massive and hefty.  The claw feet make them feel lighter, and more graceful.    

The squashed ball feet under these orangery boxes do more than just lighten the look.  Pots need to drain; growing plants in soggy soil is a challenge to both the plants and the gardener.  Pots that sit flat on a perfectly smooth flat surface can impede drainage.  If water does seep into that space between a pot and a hard surface, prolonged contact with water can make marks or stains on the hard surface.  If ytou put a spoonful of soil into a cup of water and stir, you will see what might eventually be absorbed by your front porch surface.

Modern and contemporary pots feature crisp and simple lines.  In the case where “feet” would disturb the visual appearance, we may place spacers underneath the pots.  The spacers do not interfere with the geometry of the pot shape, but they do permit water to drain away quickly.  Bluestone is especially prone to absorbing stains from soils with a high compost content, and from natural drainage materials such as bark.  Water stains can appear in the form of white rings-this a result of the minerals and salts dissolved in the water.

These classic French orangery boxes hve many beautiful details, not the least of which is its cast iron finials, hinges, braces and foot assembly.  The painted oak boards fit down into the base, and are held in place by a pair of braces.  The arched base with squared off feet is as functional as it is beautiful.  The wood never comes in contact with the ground.  Wood is very durable in the landscape, provided water drains away.  Wood that sits in water will soon rot.  When we place wood containers in a landscape bed or lawn,  we install a gravel base underneath it, so water drains away quickly.

These English lead pots have a very small foot.  But what is not evident in the picture is that the bottom of the pot is recessed, so the drain hole never comes in contact with the terrace.  Lead may be very dense, but it is very soft.  The flat bottom of a lead container will eventually conform to the exact shape of the surface on which it sits.  Old lead urns sometimes collapse onto their own footed bases. 

A fiber pot, made primary as a biodegradeable container for the nursery industry, makes a great and inexpensive container.  A rose in a fiber pot can be planted pot and all-the fiber soon decomposes.  A fiber pot used as a container is most vulverable at the bottom.  This galvanized steel stand with feet keeps the pot off the ground.  This greatly improves the longevity of the pot.  The feet also give it a more finished and graceful look.

I had this pair of tapered steel pots in the fountain yard for the summer.  The design is reminiscent of a classic Italian vase, but taller and thinner in proportion.  I decided to plant them for fall, and asked Buck to make matching socles for them.  A socle, or low base or plinth, puts this pot on a different footing. The driveway is a large enough space to visually accomodate a pot that sits flat on its surface, but the socle gives it a much different look.

Elevating the pot off the surface of the drive makes the tapered pot seem more elegant and light.  The height is good in contrast to the height of the wall.

Providing a foot need not be a complicated matter.  This low terra cotta bowl looks much more lively, given a steel pot stand.  There are lots of considerations involved in the selection of a pot-the size and shape, the style, the price, and the materials are just a few.  How it sits in relation to the ground is another.

Danger Garden Part 2: White Nose Syndrome


white nose syndrome in bats

Though many people abhor the thought or the presence of bats, gardeners and farmers know that bats in North America are our friends.  They consume many many times their weight in insects-insects that devastate garden plants and crops.  I am sure they have been a model for many a horror film character, but they actually are great friends of the garden.   

white nose syndrome

 A fungal disease first identified in New York in 2006 infects the skin of bats-all species of bats.  In the final stages of infection, the fungus grows on the muzzles of bats-thus the name White Nose Syndrome.  The origin of the fungus is unknown, but it is known that it thrives in moist places, and cannot tolerate temperatures above 68 degrees.  This means that the fungus is active and irritating to the bats when they are hibernating.  During the hibernation period, bats “wake up” periodically just to do a systems check-and then the quickly fall back to sleep.  The energy it takes to rouse them from their torpor and power up to make this check comes from their fat reserves.  The fungus makes them wake up much too often, as it is an irritant, and a wakeup call to their immune system. What should be an intermittent check gets to be a life threatening event.

 From a radio program on Stateside, “It wakes bats up from hibernation too frequently, once every week.  In order to go from a hibernating temperature of 45 degrees, raise their body temperature to 99 degrees, and go back down to 45 degrees takes as much energy as they would use in 60 days of continuous hibernation.  Because they wake up frequently, the run out of fat by early February, and die of starvation.

I have read about this in some detail. There is disagreement about whether our Michigan bats have been affected yet, but it is known that the mortality rates in infected caves can be as high as 95%.  A bat who has run out of energy, whose fat has been entirely used up fighting this fungus, may be forced to wake up, and fly.  On the fly in February, there is no food available for them.  Our landscape is usually blanketed with snow in February.  The opportunities to eat are few and far between.  Bats that come out of hibernation too early-enormous danger, dead ahead.

The danger faced by any living thing in a natural world- an ordinary event.  A disease that is known to kill vast numbers of bats may be ordinary, but it is alarming.  Many of the bats in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan hiberate in the caves created by mining in the west.  Those caves are remote.  One can only hope they will escape what poses a very serious threat to all species of bats that live in North America.

The danger this fungus poses to bat populations is terrifying.  I have read some articles that suggest it could wipe out entire species of bats.  These little creatures rarely bother anyone.  If I am outside on the deck in the summer after dark, I see them flying around-feeding on those bugs that would otherwise bedevil my garden.  Bats cannot really protect themselves from disease.  They do not have internists with whom they can make an appointment.  This plague on the bats has been on my mind for the better part of two days.  As for the fungus, it has a life and a niche too.  Passing by the blackspot on the roses, or the mildew on the phlox is not that tough.  However a world without bats-not good.  It is not only dangerous to garden, it is dangerous to live.

  I so hope someone will be able to help the bats.

The Garden Designer’s Roundtable: Danger Garden

There is danger lurking in every garden.  It doesn’t take much of a brush with poison ivy to sideline the most passionate gardener.  A horde of angry bees can do the same.  The leaves of tomatoes and datura are poisonous-never mind the mushrooms that spring up here and there.  But given my zone that features a long and often bitter winter, my focus is much more about the dangers that pose a threat to my gardens.  The landscape around me, both public and private is on fire now-it is the fall season.  A good client tells me that the intensely fiery fall color is nature’s way of apologizing for what is to come.          

Leaves are green when the leaf is actively producing chlorophyll.  Leaves convert the energy from sunlight into energy that is food fore the plant.  This is a vastly oversimplified and maybe not so perfectly accurate account, but it helps to tell the story. 

Yellow, orange, red and hot pink pigments exist in leaves, but that color is masked while the plant is in active growth, and producing chlorophyll.  Once the days begin to shorten, the plant responds to this slowing down of the growing season by reducing, and finally ending its production of chlorophyll.

Would that gardeners had a mechanism that sophisticated for dealing with the season coming to an end.  I am outside cruising the garden now in a coat and hat, shivering, in an effort to stave off the inevitable.  I value those cold temperature stalwarts the pansies as much in the fall as the spring.  My Rozanne geraniums and my Japanese anemones are in full flower right now.  None of their leaves are on fire-they are green as green can be. 

Perennials need much less time to prepare for winter than the trees.  Giant plants take months to slow down, so onc the ground is frozen, they are but a breath away from a dormant state.  Hopefully they have stored plenty of energy which will sustain them throught the winter. 

Our fall is associated with the fruits of the harvest.  Brilliantly orange pumpkins are available everywhere right now.  At market, the red, yellow and orange peppers add lots of visual heat on chilly days. The color Chinese lantern seed pods is a comfort.

Our fall color in a good year is sensationally beautiful.  It is hard to believe that all of this warm color comes at a time of year when the overnight temperatures are steadily dropping.  This magnolia in full fall color is an expression of yellow that rivals forsythia in the spring.   

Nyssa sylvatica is a very architectural tree.  Simple and unobtrusive in shape and leaf, the fall color is its glory.  The tangerine and yellow orange of these leaves is a standout in a fall landscape.

This leaf from a Princeton Gold maple is singed by cold, and fungus.  The process of the slowdown of chloropyll production is obvious.  Danger-winter dead ahead. 

Sugar maples are noted for their fiery fall color.  Someday I would like to take a fall color tour in northern Michigan, or New England.  But trees all over my neighborhood do a great job of making the beginning of the end of the garden bearable.

All five of these leaves came from one of my yellow butterflies magnolias. They illustrate the process by which a green leaf matures, and drops.  The danger ahead?  A winter that threatens the life of even the best prepared of plants.  It can happen. 

Gardening in a zone with harsh winters has its dangers, for plants and gardeners alike.  All of the fiery signs are out there.

For more on Danger Gardens,  check out the posts of other members of the Garden Designers Roundtable, and our guest writer this month, the very talented gardener Loree Bohl :

Loree Bohl : Danger Garden : Portland, OR

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM