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

 

August

Did I spend weeks designing and specifying plant material for the shop garden this past February? No, absolutely not. I rarely think about the shop plantings until our work for clients is coming to a close. That means that I scout what seasonal plant material is still available in late June or early July. I actually don’t think it matters that much what we plant. What matters is that we plant. I am a fan of any person who plants. And doubly so for those who plant and plant again. I have no need to weigh in about what is good to plant. Anyone who plants trees, vegetables, perennials, shrubs or season plants in any configuration or design – I thank you and respect you for planting.  Planting is work, but it is entertaining and satisfying work. Making something grow is a good use of time in every sense of the phrase.

You might be aghast that the shop seasonal garden design and installation hinges on the left overs at those greenhouses where we shop, but I am used to this arrangement. I do not mind in the least bit being last in line. I relish the challenge. Any skilled designer should be able to make sense of an impromptu collection of plants they never expected to put together. Surprise is a vastly underrated design element. Surprise without angst, that is. I can always tell if a seasonal planting has been thrown together in a panic at the last minute. Last minute panic usually has that aura.  But last minute does not necessarily imply a lack of design. Designing from a very limited palette of plants available in equally limited numbers is my idea of a good time. Of course some outcomes are better or more interesting than others.

What is the most important factor in a beautiful planting? Well grown and maintained plants have to be at the top of that list. Some plants are not so much to my taste, but any well grown plant has a beauty that is undeniable. It takes effort not to admire a well grown and mature stand of shasta daisies. It is easy to pass over a planting that has had haphazard care, no matter how interesting and extraordinary the plants. The care and maintenance, as in on time watering, grooming, feeding, deadheading, dividing and weeding, is key to a beautiful planting. The window boxes pictured above get a good deal of attention over the summer. As we are in love and in business over the garden, I insist that we take great care of our plantings. The star of our show in the window boxes is a new Proven Winners angelonia known as “Steel Blue”. My grower got a number of cuttings in late, and when we were ready to plant they were looking extraordinarily good.

I am very impressed by its performance. They grow tall on sturdy stems, and they seem to handle hot and humid weather without skipping a beat. That pale carmine color is beautiful. That color so echoes the striking color of bordeaux petunias. Summer snapdragon-what a charming common name for this seasonal plant. They relish the heat, and they bloom profusely. They look especially good paired with nicotiana “Purple Perfume”, which is an all-America selection. An All America selection? Look to this designation for plants that are likely to perform beautifully throughout our summer season. The All America designation is not awarded to many. It is conferred upon plants that thrive. Lime nicotiana and creeping jenny is companionable with almost any color scheme. Green is a neutral color in the garden.

This yellow and carmine purple scheme looks great on a sunny day.

This cream yellow and lavender bicolor verbena named Limoncello tells the story of our pale yellow and purple color scheme. It is a new plant for us.

The petunias further represent the surprise combination of colors thematic to the summer planting at the shop. The color contrast is soft, and engaging. Our grower’s good supply of petunias played a substantial role in the design.

Four pots outside the front door of my office are planted with Limelight hydrangeas on standard. Those creamy and greenish white hydrangea flowers coming in to bloom are the star of the show. One pair is under planted with yellow petunias and lime licorice. The pots are large enough to permit more frequent watering the hydrangeas.

The planting on the roof is just starting to come in to is own. All of those pale yellow supporting plants? Pale yellow marigolds. Splashes of yellow cannas. The coleus “Wasabi” is planted in the back row, as it gets quite tall. It is amenable to being grown in full sun, as long as it gets sufficient water. The color is a sunny yellow – quite different than its lime green color in shady spots. Lime licorice, bordeaux and misty lilac wave petunias round out the planting. The roof boxes have automatic irrigation, as getting up there in person requires a very large and heavy extension ladder. That said, either Chelsea or Karen go up there twice a week to check on everything.  Yes, we plant. Every chance we get.

The shop garden in August.

The 2019 Garden Cruise

The twelfth Garden Cruise was surely one of our best ever. The hot weather broke just in time, the rain was minimal, the gardens looked great, and our after tour reception was a summer delight. The best news was the fact that we raised more for the Greening this cruise around than ever before.  Dave tells my that by his accounting, we raised $37,275.00 via ticket sales and donations.  Every penny of that will go to the Greening to use as they see fit. I am especially proud of the collective effort. There is the garden making. My crew and I do that part. But then there are the clients who agree to permit touring, the last minute maintenance on said gardens, the tickets sales, those gardeners keen to take our tour, and the sprucing up at the shop-all of which culminates in a day for every ticket holder spent viewing gardens, and an early evening reception. It was a perfect moment.

I have had requests to publish pictures of the gardens on the tour, which I am sure I will do eventually. I was at home for the tour-I enjoy talking to gardeners about gardens. I did spend the evening at the reception at the shop, so I spent some time touring our shop gardens. Planting the shop for summer comes in those spaces between the days. This means we design and plant for summer at the shop whenever we have a few moments. That planting is an ongoing process in June.

The planting in the ground comes first. That planting time takes far less time than what it takes to devise a planting scheme based on what plant material is available. I always design for the ground first. I like working from the ground up. All else comes as a result of what is planted at grade. Once the ground is planted, the pots and the boxes on the roof get planted in concert with, and in reaction to what we have growing.

The night of our tour reception, the garden at the shop looked so beautiful.

A color scheme involving pale yellow, lime, and various shades of red violet makes a statement about summer.    The Garden Cruise reception was entirely orchestrated by Rob. He set the stage, and managed to be at the gate welcoming guests. The big idea? Rob shops for Detroit Garden Works. Every year he presents a collection of interest to any gardener. But this day, he put on a party.

To follow are pictures of our Cruise reception. Enjoy them. Next year, think about taking the cruise.

I could not have been more pleased about this tour.

The 2019 Tulips

A few days ago I drove to Metamora to see a client. For those of you not in my area, it took over an hour and a half to make the trip out and back. I only saw tulips blooming in one place that entire trip.  A group of 30 or so bright peach tulips outside a business were easy to spot, even though I was driving 55mph. They looked glorious.  Nearer to my client’s property, miles on a country gravel roads, I saw nary a one. How disappointing, given that we are coming up on peak tulip season. There are so many species and groups from which to choose. A smattering of every class of tulip could keep a gardener in tulips for 6 weeks or better. But planting tulips has been in decline in our area for quite some time.

I am sympathetic to gardeners who are having to deal with exploding populations of deer. They are incredibly destructive to landscapes and gardens alike. They can mow down an emerging collection of tulips in no time at all. Once the flower bud has been eaten off, that is it. No secondary bloom stalk and bud will replace the first. To see them destroyed is frustrating. It will be a year before there is an opportunity for a second chance.  I would guess that declining tulip planting is in direct proportion to increasing deer populations. We have them at the shop, even though we are in an urban area. The vacant field next door is hardly what I would call a friendly habitat for deer.

We do drench the young tulips from the time they break ground with Deer Scram or Liquid Fence.  We have a number of deer repellent sprays, and we alternate them. We also fortify the perimeter of the bed with Plant Skydd. I find that deer repellents work, as long as we are possessed with applying it often and consistently. Of course this is a nuisance and an expense – but less so than the prospect of no tulips. Every tulip that came up is either in bloom, or about to bloom.

The first year following a fall planting of tulips is always the best. We plant number one grade bulbs that have been patiently grown on to that size by growers in Holland. A number one grade bulb results in a number one grade flower. A tulip bulb will divide itself after the first year. A smaller grade bulb produces smaller flowers, and in many cases, no flowers at all. So yes, a planting of tulips is not a forever planting, unless you limit your choice to the early flowering species tulips that are known for their persistence. If you should decide to defy nature, and provide optimum conditions for a repeat bloom the following spring, the foliage must be left intact until it completely matures. This can take a month or more. The process of photosynthesis enables the bulb to store food for next year’s flowers.

The length of flowering has everything to do with the weather. A warm spring means a brief flowering period. A long cool spring means the flowers will last longer. This is true for every spring flowering bulb or ephemeral. Unlike the crocus, or the double bloodroot, who have been known to bloom and drop their petals over the course of one day, there will be that moment when the tulip flowers are perfectly glorious. That moment of great beauty is not much different in duration than the lilacs, peonies, redbuds, dogwoods and magnolias-brief, but so sweet.

Tulips come in a wide range of colors.  Just about every color, with the exception of blue. Gardeners in my zone who value blue is the spring have to content themselves with forget me nots, brunnera, lobelia, nigella and delphinium, among others. Choosing a collection of colors and succession of bloom can be a lengthy process, as there are so many possibilities. The flowers are large and striking, to say the least. This means they may not play well with other plants whose flowers are not so large or spectacularly showy. They can be tiresome in their demand for attention. In much the same way as peonies, delphiniums, lilies, hibiscus-you get the drift.

I have tried to dispassionately cover all of the reasons why not to plant tulips, but I would not dream of not having them myself. From the time they emerge from the newly thawed soil to the bloom a month later, their rapid growth is an enchanting process to watch. The leaves are beautiful in volume and form. Newly opened tulip flowers grow larger with every passing day. They brave the wind, cold temperatures and the occasional spring snow with aplomb. Even the tallest varieties stand upright without assistance. They make terrific and long lasting cut flowers, given a cool spot indoors. The variations in flower and leaf form, height, color and bloom time make them one of the most versatile of all spring flowering plants.

I plant a collection of tulips at the shop every year. This moment has been many months in coming, and is so welcome after a long drab winter.  A lot of pictures get taken. Parents photograph their children with them in the background, and friends who come to shop do the same. I never see anyone walk by them without taking a good look.

The bloom is just about at it peak moment, should you be inclined to take a look. As for the trouble it takes to get to this moment, none of that interferes with the experience. Did I mention that fresh spring fragrance?

stunning, this.