At A Glance: A Collection of Fall Pots

To follow is an embarrassing number of pictures of fall pots from previous seasons. For those of you who have seen some of these before, I hope seeing them a second time is warranted.  I actually like to look at all the fall container pictures as I am about to start the current crop of pots. It is much easier to spot what could be done better in a photograph, than looking at it in person. I cannot really explain why that is. Maybe putting a camera between me and the work enables me to step back. I hope you enjoy them.

We started the plantings in earnest today. Looking forward to the season.

Flowers For A Wedding

When I was young, I did a fair number of weddings. The cut flower part, that is. It is a job for a young person. It is a do it right and do it now  situation.  Bridal floral work come in all sizes and shapes, but all of it comes with a substantial dose of angst and anxiety. There is a deadline. Despite the best care, cut flowers can wilt and go down at the most inopportune moment. Every florist has opened a box of roses of a color other than what they ordered. Floral work is not especially conducive to learning on the job. It is physically demanding work. Moving and carrying buckets and vases full of water and cut flowers takes strength. Arranging flowers has its creative and romantic aspect, but there is a lot of just plain hard work. That backache has to be from standing and holding flowers aloft for hours at a time. Most of that work has to be done last minute. This is all by way of saying I am reluctant to take on a wedding now. But this was a client I have known for years. She lost her beloved to a lengthy, terrible, and cruel illness. Many years later and just a few months ago, she came in to say she had met someone she planned to marry, and would I do the flowers? I met with her at the venue of both the wedding and reception, and tried to dissuade her. I made several suggestions about where she might find a good florist. She wasn’t having that. She wanted me to do the flowers, would I?  Her only request was for hydrangeas. And that she would leave the rest of it up to me. How could I not say yes?

I ordered in a selection of flowers that I thought would be beautiful weeks ahead of time. I wanted to show her my selections, and I wanted to make a test run.  Hydrangeas are notorious for wilting soon after they are cut. I ordered the hydrangea “Florists White”. This cultivar is grown for the cut flower trade, as it holds better than most in a vase. 100 stems of white hydrangeas does not seem like that many, but each one had a water bag on the stem and an acetate hat that needed removal. Each stem got a fresh cut, and an immediate immersion in a bucket of clean lukewarm water. The flowers and leaves were sprayed with AquaFinish Clear – which hydrates and seals moisture in to both flowers and foliage. One of the miracle products of modern floristry. I could have skipped that step, but I would have needed to order more flowers. The flowers then have to sit, untouched, until they dry. Only then can they be placed in a floral cooler. This prep work is known as conditioning. I like to condition them overnight before I arrange them.  Lots of work is required to get cut flowers ready to arrange. Amni majus “Green Mist” was a wild card, but the airy texture of the leaves and flowers would be a great addition to the flower selections. As much as I love the reference to the late summer garden, it was a worry if they would hold. So I ordered extra bunches. The mini calla lilies would provide great curves and mass, and were a favorite of my client.

Of course I ordered in white lisianthus. This long stemmed multiflowered cut stem is the best antidote to wedding florist worry that I know of. The large flowers stay fresh for days. They are happy out of water for better than the duration of a wedding. The petals survive anxious handling. The buds are a gorgeous greenish color. They are a beautiful foil for the open flowers. The long stems make them suitably versatile for both tall and compact arrangements.

My client thought a wedding bouquet for her was not necessary. I thought differently. Once she told me her dress was olive green, I ordered in a clutch of green and white slipper orchids. I would capture these 25 stems with some olive green silk ribbon. As delicate as they are, they all held up perfectly in water. The bouquet would be kept in water until the last second. She had but to pat the stems dry, and go. I hoped that when it came time, this simple arrangement would appeal to her enough to carry them. At least she would have the option.

Weddings ask for flower arrangements here and there, but garlands can do a great job of knitting all of the individual pieces together. There were a number of places the garland would look great. Though baby’s breath is a traditional flower, en mass it can have a fresh and contemporary look. I bought in 4 kinds of baby’s breath garland, and tested their width, density and holding power. I ordered in the best quality of these garlands, and kept my fingers crossed. They arrived 2 days before the wedding, at Sunne’s insistence. If FedEx failed to show on Thursday, a Friday delivery would be in time for the Saturday wedding. We opened the plastic, and let the garlands air out. A local florist agreed to let me park these garlands in their cooler until I needed them on Saturday.

On Friday I did all of the 14 arrangements save two. As much as I like everything done before an installation, it would be so much easier to arrange the hydrangeas on site, and put them in place.

The packing up, transport, and installation is the second part of the job.  They boxed all of the arrangements, with an eye to protecting all of the petals. They laid the baby’s breath garlands flat on the truck shelves, as they had been stored rolled up. This is a very low tech delivery system perfect for a once in a great while florist. Three of my staff did the packing, driving, placing, tying, fluffing and cleanup. Most of my work had been done the previous two days.

Three tables got moved outdoors at the last minute. Cut flowers arranged in water can handle this sunny exterior location.  I like to arrange flowers in water as much as possible.

The garland needed a good shaking, and a little fluffing, once it was in place. The lisianthus on the mantle were kept in water until it was time for them to be added to the garland.

This was a small wedding – a perfect size for having the time to attend to all the details.

The wedding took place outdoors, between this pair of pillars.


The pillars needed to look dressed up from both sides.

a simple arrangement for the dessert table

I did hear from my client about the flowers this morning. She thanked me for all, and for insisting she have a bouquet. She thought it was beautiful and it was perfect with her dress. Happiest of all about this.

Gravel In The Garden

I have no idea what type of stone this antique English millstone was carved from, but I can attest to the fact that our skid steer could barely lift it. I averted my eyes when I saw the front tires of our loader leave the ground. Stone is incredibly dense, and heavy. If this millstone is granite, you can be sure that the carving process for this solid mass of stone was lengthy and exhausting. Stone is a treasured material in the landscape, as it is a natural material that takes just about forever to degrade. Its surfaces age beautifully. Crushed stone, including crushed granite, is a material much easier to handle and place, and is commonly known as gravel. These small shards of stone have endless applications in the garden, not the least of which involve the base and the top layer for a driveway. A giant granite millstone takes a machine and many people to move. Crushed granite can be dumped and  shoveled around wherever you need a hard surface. We have been shoveling.

Our decomposed granite display space and driveway is 24 years old. It has been subject to all manner of insults over the years, not the least of which is a near daily dose of heavy trucks going in and out. Add to that dirt spills from countless container plantings. Our graveled spaces were due for replacement.  How so? Decomposed granite comes with fines. As in granite dust. Those fines help to interlock the very small shards of granite, and harden up the surface.  But over the years, the foot and vehicular traffic drive the small granite pieces down, and bring up the soil and fines from underneath. Our gravel had become a dust fest on dry days, and a mud fest on wet ones.  It was time to replace it. As in dig out the old soil and sand contaminated gravel, and replace it with new stone.

The linden trees adjacent to the building are 24 years old. There would be roots to respect. Buried under our degraded gravel were the electrical lines for the lighting in the trees. This meant that all of the old gravel had to be loosened and dug out by hand, one pick axe and flat shovel full at a time. This was a big job, requiring both of my crews. The photograph above clearly illustrates the new gravel, some 4 inches deep, on the right, and the degraded gravel driveway on the left due for excavation and some new stone.

Our original driveway, circa 1995, was concrete. We removed all of that, save a two track of concrete to the rear. We eventually removed all of the rest of that concrete, and replaced it with a large scale crushed granite. Those large stones proved difficult to navigate, even in sneakers. They made leveling a pot on a pedestal time consuming. Big rocks are not so easy to navigate or manipulate. Little rock is much more forgiving. Our next go around, we switched to decomposed granite, 3/8ths of an inch and down with fines.  This gravel looked like sand when it went down. This miniature gravel with fines put up with our traffic for a good many years. As usual, the more moderate decision – an in between sized crushed stone –  would have been better choice.  Not too large, and not too small. The 3/8 inch and down granite gravel eventually succumbed to our traffic. I am happy to say, we are getting our chance at installing a granite gravel of moderate size this week.

I have known for a long time that our gravel needed to be taken up, and replaced. Late last week a decision was made to go ahead. We are in between jobs. The weather has cooled off. It was time to jump on this project. I am so pleased with the first signs of the results. Though it has taken lots of work to remove every object from the surface to be redone, putting it all back together has been a pleasure. Luckily, we have a home for that dirt laden gravel at our landscape yard. So we excavate and stockpile the old gravel out front, unload and install the new gravel, pick up the old and dump it at our yard-on our way for the next load of fresh gravel. How do we know when it is level? It is our best guess. Based on many years of experience engineering flat spaces. We’ll know we are close to dead on when the driveway drains properly. The mini gravel had become so compacted that water sat on top.  It took hours to trickle water the trees. It is worth it to breach that compacted layer, so water readily gets to the tree roots.

Everything in the landscape needs refreshing. Perennials need dividing. Shrubs need pruning. Soil needs a routine shot of compost. The work of the landscape is never really done. A landscape or garden is either going backward, or going forward. There is no neutral in a garden.  Fortunately a job of this magnitude only comes around once in a blue moon, but the transformation is satisfying.

I would guess we have a week left for the finish.  We excavate down to the original base layer. On this side of the drive, the lion’s share of the gravel exchange is done by machine.  But all of the spreading and grading is done by hand.

The center portion of the driveway will be done last. It is hard to spot in this picture, but the crown of the drive is too high. That crown never gets driven over. Water now drains towards the front door. In a very heavy and fast paced rain, water goes under the door and inside. A new permeable gravel driveway will correct that problem.

The new gravel at the shop has a fresh and pleasing texture. It is too big to be tracked inside. It will take a while to interlock and compact, but the crushed granite will eventually provide a stable walking and placement surface. Thinking some gravel will do for a drive, terrace or walkway?  My advice is to evaluate the size of the stone that would be appropriate for your project.

This gravel driveway has a base layer of 21AA crushed limestone, and a 3″ top layer of the same medium crushed granite we are using at the shop. The drive is a firm surface that shows no evidence of vehicular traffic, yet is is permeable to rain.

gravel driveway

exposed aggregate concrete drive with graveled edges

For those who would rather not deal with the maintenance of gravel, an exposed aggregate concrete surface provides the look of without the maintenance required of a paving material that moves. Aggregate concrete is a several part process that requires a highly skilled installation.

This driveway was beautifully done, and should provide many years of maintenance free service.

gravel terrace with exposed aggregate detail

decomposed granite terrace contained by aluminum edger strip

flagstone walkway with decomposed granite joints

concrete paver squares set in decomposed granite

limestone pavers with medium crushed granite

dramatic, the difference. Interested further in rock sizes?  The link below has pictures and descriptions.

stone and gravel sizes

 

Recent Work

We have been planting container projects daily, one after another, since May 15. With time outs for cold, and torrential rain. I do not ever remember a season quite like this one.  Very cold night temperatures, cloudy skies and relentless rains have been the order of the day.  A client remarked that we have had rain for 65 days of our last 90. That is an astonishing statistic. It has meant constant interruptions to our work schedule. Cold nights have meant we are hesitant to put temperature sensitive tropical outdoors. The gray skies mean plants have been slow to come on in the greenhouse.

I explained the situation to one client as a discussion about what constitutes providing a good home for a plant. A home is a warm, friendly and inviting place. Home for tropical plants far away from their native home means we wait for weather and soil temperature that approximates the conditions under which they thrive. Many of my clients for whom I plant begonias, coleus and New Guinea impatiens have had to wait. Who doesn’t hate to wait?   My suggestion is that their plants are thriving and growing in storage in a greenhouse.  Planted out in their pots in cold weather, they would languish. The temperature this morning June 11 at 5am, 48 degrees.

The cold has not been the only issue. Rain is essential to plant life. I doubt I need discuss that with any of you. Rainy weather working its foggy magic on a landscape is beautiful. A rainy day encourages introspection. Or at the very least a nap. I love the rain in all of its spirited and benign forms. But we have had rain day after day without much respite. This is rain of a different sort. Too much rain foments rot both above and below ground. Too much rain spoils blooms. Too much rain dampens the spirit. We have had all of the aforementioned. The most dramatic signs of distress have come from the mandevilleas. These vining plants like hot weather and dry conditions. They look beautiful in the greenhouse, and poor to middling outdoors. It is tough for plants to settle in and thrive when their medium is watery. And more watery.

All of our rainy days have been attended by clouds. Naturally. Growth in annual plants is directly related to sunny circumstances. This means we have been planting smaller plants than usual, in those moments between the rains, in the cold. Am I worried?  Not so much. Warmer and drier weather will come our way sooner or later. All of those container plantings will need some time to grow before the design and intent is clear. I have time for that, in my more rational moments. The day a container is planted is its first day –  not its best day. The best days are months ahead.

Postponing a planting can be the best strategy when conditions are hostile. This year’s conditions are obviously hostile. But in general, I do most of this planting in late May and June. May is a spring month in my zone. What looks good are the spring flowering bulbs, the wildflowers, and those shrubs and trees that thrive and bloom in cooler weather. The Venus dogwoods are glorious right now.  The geraniums, not so much.

One way to deal with lost time is to plant larger plants.  6″ pots instead of 4″. Hanging baskets in lieu of 6″ or 8″ pots. Growing summer blooming annuals from seed or cuttings is a lengthy process.  That is why growers have greenhouses, and grow under glass.  Many of the most cutting edge of those houses have very sophisticated lighting and watering devices. If warm weather, reasonable water and sun were not necessary to grow on tropical plants, growers would grow outdoors. That said, every greenhouse where I shop has run out of or are low on plant materials that I customarily use all the way through June.

We have a solid 2 weeks of planting still to go. Just like the weather, we are just getting warmed up.

I would not want to do without container plantings, whatever the weather.