Archives for May 2013

Planning The Pots



Reluctantly, I planted my first pots, this past Friday..  I was reluctant, as the overnight temperature was 46 degrees.  At 9am, just 52 degrees.  But this particular client spends most of the summer on the east coast.  She needs an early planting, so I am happy to oblige.  She knows there could be damage from cold-she is willing to risk it. She has every hope that when she gets back in late summer that her pots will still look good. What looks good early that goes on to look good late-that is a tall order.  I choose the plants that go in her pots carefully.  This means plants that can shake off the cold.  Plants that have staying power. And a great soil in which to plant.  No begonias or coleus or caladiums for her.  Good planning in the beginning makes for good results.  The big idea here-know your habits, your inclinations, your summer schedule, your availability to look after them-then plan to plant your pots accordingly.

summer planting

I am very concerned that whatever gets planted produces good results.  I am sure you are wondering why I am so interested in results-as if planting summer pots was a competition.  But there is a very real competition going on.  A love of the idea of a gardening life-lots of people favor this.  But then there is the reality.  The expense and trouble versus the effort and the result-every gardener has had that moment when they weigh the effort against the results.   A summer planting that falls down and fails is discouraging.  A successful planting encourages a gardener to keep going, and expand their relationship with the garden.  I like the idea that successful container plantings can encourage people to garden on.  Abject failure makes the time and money involved the most important issue.  I like the benefits of gardening to be the most important issue.

summer-planting.jpgGreat container plantings revolve around three issues.  First and foremost-who are you?  Are you a do it yourself gardener?  Do you work a job, or have kids? Are you a professional designer with clients who expect you to handle the summer season for them?  Are you a person that loves green best of all?  Do you have the time to individually and carefully water, or are you interested that your irrigation system do the watering work?  Are you all in?  Are you new to an interest in the garden?

summer annual planting

This why I favor advance planning.  I like to know how my clients see the garden.  This helps me to plan for them.  A planting that answers the needs of a specific gardener is the right planting.  If you are planting for yourself-ask the same questions.  Ask lots of questions of yourself-before you buy the first plant.   Answer them, as true as you can.  The second issue-where have you placed the containers?  At the front door under a porch roof?  On the pool deck?  In a shady bed?  Narrow your plant choices to those plants that will thrive in the conditions that you have. At my shop, the sun plants are in the sun, and the shade plants are in the shade-this makes choosing the right plants easy.  Most nurseries do the same that I do.  Most plants have care tags in the pots-read, before you leap. Plants are very specific about what they want, and if they don’t get it, they will languish.


Are you a good and faithful waterer? Do you relax, deadheading and grooming your pots?  Do you have little time to devote to the maintenance of your summer plantings?  Are you easy going about the relationships that develop in a container planting, or are you interested in being in charge start to finish?  Do you have pots big enough to handle a day without watering in the heat of the summer?  Do you have easy access to your window boxes?  Will you look after those pots as soon as your family has been looked after?  Are you up north in the heat of the summer?  This is the third issue-are you on top of the maintenance of summer annuals?



Detroit Garden Works-everyone who works for me is ready and willing to help you with a summer planting scheme. But no one knows your summer life better than you do.  Every gardener’s summer  is different.  I so value the diversity expressed by the gardening community. This said, tell your story.  Your story, and our story, in concert, might make for some really  beautiful summer containers.  This is a fancy way of saying that my group likes meeting people face to face.  I will repeat this, as it is so important.  Be willing to tell your story.  A story understood mean a plan with success in its future.

window box

The plants are growing fast-how I love how they look.  I am thinking non stop-what will I plant?    What will you plant for summer this year?


At A Glance: Enjoying The Spring Season

Maystrawberries and phlox

spring dayespaliered apples

spring potsspring pots

dogwood and azaleasdogwoods and azaleas

spring basketspring basket


spruce and helleboresspruces and hellebores

spring plantingbok choy

late tuliplate tulip

new hosta leavesnew hosta leaves

Flowers For Cutting

I arrange lots of cut flowers for clients intended as Mother’s Day gifts. It may be old fashioned or expected, but I do believe the gift of flowers or plants is so appropriate for a Mom.  My Mom was a scientist.  Her view of the world had to do with experiments, statistics, dispassionate reasoning and disbelief without solid verification.  But she did in her own special way nurture me.  We had a very long and very intense relationship over the garden-once I got old enough to understand that gardening, and a love for nature and all growing things was a way of life-not always so pretty or stylish, but genuine and connected.

cut-flowers.jpgJulia died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2001.  For 2 months, I turned every light on in the house before I went to bed.  I could not sleep, unless the house was ablaze with light. I finally went to see my doctor-she told me everyone expresses their grief differently-I should not be concerned.  I eventually turned the lights off.  As much as everyone expresses their grief differently, everyone expresses their joy and appreciation differently.  The shop was jammed over Mother’s Day weekend-we did our best to help every person express their feelings in a way that satisfied them. Mother's Day flowers.jpg

I also do cut flower arrangements for clients.  Any orders I have for Mother’s Day flowers, I take seriously.  There is a son, a daughter, a husband, a niece, a friend, wanting to express their feelings via the flowers.  I order flowers in season, and fresh for these arrangements.

cut-flowers.jpgThe Dutch do a vastly better job of growing Dutch iris than I ever could.  A California farm has delphinium belladonna available.  The white sweet peas-I confess I do not know where they came from.  The white tulips-from my own garden. The mix says spring. Hello, and Happy Mother’s Day.  Thank you for all you have done for me.  All my love to you.  The arrangement is densely flowery, in a fairly formal shape .

cut-flowers.jpgThe arranging of the floral orders for Mother’s Day-I spend a fair amount of time with them.  Why so?  My clients are asking that I interpret their caring in a way that accurately represents them.  I understand they are entrusting me with an important message.  I take the time.  And I enjoy it.  Working with cut flowers is time well spent.

Mother's DayWhether the arrangement is big or small, formal or casual, subdued or bright and sassy in color, the message is fairly universal.  Thanks for helping me to bloom, Mom.

Mother's DayTulips, Dutch iris, and bupleurum

pink vaseLisianthus, white dendrobiums, pale yellow gerbera daisies, and lavender freesia

cut flowerswhite ranunculus, iris, and bupleurum

May flowerstulips, ranunculus, and orlaya

Mother's Daywhite Dutch iris, yellow and white ranunculus, belladonna delphinium

white cut flowersIf you arrange your own flowers for your home, or as a gift, proper conditioning is really important.  I recut every stem on a steep slant, and put them in fairly deep water which is lukewarm.  I try to find a very cool spot to set my buckets for 24 hours.  This treatment gives the stems time to take up water.  Cut flowers are delivered to me in boxes-they need to take a deep drink.  This step is especially important if the flowers are arranged in floral foam, as opposed to a vase filled with water.  The foam will quickly obstruct the pores of the stems, and impede the uptake of water.  The stem and flower should be juicy.

anniversary flowers I cut each stem again, as it is arranged.  Taking the time to condition the flowers will give them the longest possible life in the vase.  This is true whether you buy flowers from a florist, the grocery store-or if you cut flowers from your own garden.  A bouquet from fresh flowers from the garden makes a very personal and thoughtful gift.  What spring garden flowers make great cuts?  tulips, grape hyacinths, spring flowering branches as in dogwood or viburnum,, hellebores, peonies, iris, delphinium, sweet peas, early clematis, trollius- the list is plenty long.

flowers from the gardenIt is not only a pleasure to be able to bring the garden indoors, it is a pleasure to share it with someone near and dear.




Monday Opinion: Freezing

Our weather forecast called for 27 to 33 degrees overnight Sunday.  The prediction for 33 degrees is for downtown Detroit-my yard is 30 miles due north.  I must have stared at the Accuweather frost zone map for at least 15 minutes.  It appears that my yard is in the center of a frost warning zone spanning 11 states.  The chances of a hard freeze overnight look incredibly good.  I shouldn’t be surprised.  May in Michigan is spring-not summer.

If you are an experienced gardener in the midwest, you know that frost is possible until the end of May.  The most reliable table for determining frost dates comes from NOAA-our national weather service.  You can check their frost tables for many cities in all the 50 states here:   National Climatic Data Center   Their date shows that Detroit Has a 90% chance of a frost on or prior to April 21.  A 50% chance of a frost on or prior to May 10.  And a 10% chance of frost on or prior to May 28.  The fact that I live 30 miles north of Detroit, in a much less densely built area than Detroit, tells me those frost figures may be a little optimistic.  Growers that I know with farming roots tell me that they do not rule out the chance of frost until the date of the May full moon-which is May 25 this year.

At 6 am this morning, it was 30 degrees-this constitutes a freeze.  Cold tolerant spring flowers, such as pansies, violas, ornamental cabbage, spikes, annual phlox, osteospermum, spinach, chives, peas, and alyssum are not bothered by this.  The blossoms on fruit trees and ornamental flowering trees, new soft perennial growth and the like can be damaged, but not killed by this.  Very cold sensitive annual and vegetable plants can be severely damaged, disfigured, or killed by a 30 degree night.  I did mist my pear tree, which is in flower, and my delphiniums which have shot up in the last 2 weeks.  I felt everything else could handle the chill.

What I do not have in my yard, or at my shop are very cold sensitive plants.  Basil, coleus, lantana, begonias, New Guinea impatiens, bananas, mandevillea, bean vines, caladiums-tropical plants cannot taking freezing weather.  Ditto for tomatoes and beans, and a slew of other vegetables and herbs.  Yesterday we had several mini-hail and snow showers.  Even assuming that the late spring temperatures are sufficiently high that plants won’t die, there can be lingering effects from planting too early.

The air temperature is not nearly so significant as the soil temperature.  If you put your finger in the soil, and that soil is cold, you can be sure that a tropical plant that is native to Florida or South America is not going to be happy being planted.  I believe that cold soil can stunt plants such that they take weeks to recover.  Or they never really recover and prosper at all.  I see this too early planting most often in commercial locations-flat after flat of fibrous begonias planted in early May that look like they are shivering.  These plants actually seem to get smaller, the leaf color paler.  They will at best languish until the soil warms up.  At worst, they don’t really grow much, and give up growing early.  However I have seen houses with pots full of summer flowering annuals on the front porch recently.

I understand that irrepressible optimism that fuels every gardener.  But in this case, planting early in hopes of getting a jump on the summer season can actually put those plants behind.  I do not usually plant my pots at home until the first week of June-sometimes later. I may plant earlier, but I have to be convinced that the night temperatures are consistently going to stay above 50.  The forecast tonight-39 degrees.  Better that the tropical plants have the benefit of a warm and sunny greenhouse for a while longer.  Our very cold spring means that many of the summer plants are really small still.  An annual plant that has not put on much growth yet is even more likely to suffer from cold weather.

There are benefits to waiting to plant for summer until the soil has warmed.  You can focus on enjoying the tulips, pansies, and the lily of the valley.  The flowering crabs and the apple trees blooming.  The redbuds, the hellebores, the moss phlox and the wildflowers.  Give the spring season its due.  If your yard does not have much in the way of spring bloom, you could consider adding some things-no need to starve yourself.  The need to see something flowering after a long winter is a real need. There are ways to satisfy that need in a successful way. I plant a lot of summer containers and annual gardens every year.  Those that get planted when the time is right take off quickly, and grow well.