At A Glance: In The Same Genre

Rob has planted so many herb/flower and vegetable pots-to follow is a big selection that compliments my last post.

Rob’s genre-I like the sound of that.

Sustaining

My apologies to all of you who read my essays. Two days ago, the server for all of our associated websites and this blog crashed. All is rebuilt now, but my latest post, this post named “Sustaining” was a casualty, but for the beginning two paragraphs. The original version cannot be restored. To follow is a rewriting of that post. For those of you that were able to read before the crash, I hope this version will be tolerable, or better. For those of you seeing it for the first time, this is the first in a series I hope to write about planting containers for the garden. It’s that time.

The instinct to sustain comes standard issue with all living things. Animals strengthen and support their newborn young with mother’s milk, a home, and protection from danger of all sorts. That Mom supplies her young with all of the necessities of life, whether it comes from her, or from  a source of water, shelter or food nearby. Some parents with no innate directive to protect or feed their young produce progeny by the hundreds or thousands. Sustenance comes in a lot of different forms. People, those most complex of all the creatures, do much the same, but in a more complex and individual way. Luckily, many kids lacking sustenance emerge with a will to grow, standard issue. Some seed within them grows. What is truly amazing is how many varied paths of affirmation work. Astonishing, this. Plants likewise have mechanisms to not only grow, but protect their own survival for generations to come. Even the most cursory study of seeds, and the conditions under which they germinate and grow, makes it clear that the urge to survive is a most basic tenet of life. The flowers have a grand purpose. Pollination and the the eventual production of seed insures the survival of the species. Those of us who treasure flowers whenever they appear are witnessing the story of how a species is sustained from one generation to the next – every bit as much as their ephemeral beauty.

Anyone who gardens has that instinct to nourish and nurture. That comes part and parcel with the urge to try to make something grow. The effort it takes to grow and sustain a landscape and garden is considerable. Aching backs, permanently dirty nails and sunburned noses, scrapes scratches, bruises, frustrations and failures tell the story. All that effort in search of that perfect moment. The gardener enjoying the garden they create and sustain. The natural world is a world in which every living thing jostles for space, breathes, and prospers, or not. The outcomes are not always predictable or positive. Every living thing is as capable of sustaining injury or damage as they  Anyone who gardens has seen treasured plants demolished by deer, or destroyed by an exceptionally hostile winter. The list of the plants that have died on my watch is a very long list. Those plants that have persisted are a source of great joy. Life and death in the garden is pure theater. Why else would gardeners come back for more, year after year? The spring season is anticipated for months, and the experience of watching plants break dormancy and grow is an experience like no other.

Gardeners of all description are in the full swing of it now. All because the relationship people forge with nature is sustaining. There are landscapes and gardens being cleaned up. There are new plants going in the ground. There are plans for a new terrace, or a fountain. Some older landscapes are getting a refresh. A garden bench is getting a fresh coat of paint. I for one have always enjoyed weeding;  its solitary and contemplative byproduct is a tonic. Pulling weeds does not require much in the way of concentration, so there is time to hear the birds.  In a frantic world, the garden is other worldly, and restorative. That spring move into the garden is the emotional equivalent of a trip to the cottage or the beach without any travel time involved. We mark the beginning of the summer gardening season by planting containers. It’s a specialty of the house.

Rob plants containers in May in his own inimitable and sustaining style. He puts up planters that combine herbs, vegetables and flowers in a relaxed and graceful way. His plantings strongly evoke the agricultural roots of all gardening. Planting crops that feed communities is life sustaining. A place for growing vegetables and herbs in the garden takes many forms. Some gardeners plant ornamental plants incidental to a working garden. Others want a few tomatoes and some herbs to cook with. No matter the form or extent, growing those plants that sustain life sustains a very basic emotional need – a working connection to nature of which we are all a part.  Rob is apt to purchase lots of containers that compliment these first container plantings. Baskets of all shapes and styles, wood boxes and crates, galvanized buckets and tubs all speak to the farm garden.  Even the contemporary stainless steel wire baskets with fabric liners pictured above pair remarkably well with a planting of herbs.

The herb pots come first for a simple reason.  They not only whet the appetite for the summer season to come, many herbs – basil excepted – are quite tolerant of unpredictably chilly spring weather. The pot pictured above is planted with a couple miniature petunias. They shrug off cold weather as well. The plastic liner in the reed baskets help improve their longevity.

vintage berry baskets planted with rosemary, variegated scented geraniums and anbual phlox

Will the grapes produced by this grapevine be sufficient for a few bottles of home made wine, or jars of marmalade? No. But planted up in a vintage champagne grape crate, this container planting is earthy in every regard.

Mint is an impossible thug in the garden. It will run everywhere, and is very difficult to eradicate or control.  But a planting in a bucket means this fragrant herb is available for seasoning lamb or as a garnish in a summer drink.

Topiary plant forms have long been a mainstay of the formal garden. The tin pots Rob chose for them recall that history. These lavender and scented geraniums on standard are a more cottage garden version that pair will with pots of herbs and flowers. These are under planted with alyssum and lavender bacopa.

basket of herbs

vintage oval bucket filled with basil

rosemary, variegated lavender, bidens, variegated thyme and alyssum

tomato under planted with gold oregano and thyme

for the love of lavender

a collection of associated vintage and new pots

Chicago figs and yellow petunias

tomatoes and herbs planted in terra cotta long toms.

handled bucket with strawberries, thyme, and white dianthus

Rob planted The Fed  in Clarkston with loads of lavender and herbs last year. He will be doing it again this year. These pots hit all the right notes, don’t they?

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.

Planting The Summer Pots

The day I go home to plant my pots for summer is a happy day indeed. I like planting my containers at home. But more importantly, it means that all of my client’s pots are done. Being last in line has its advantages. There is time to mull over a scheme. Having scouted and purchased plants for a number of projects, I take stock of what plants are out there that look interesting. Rob buys plants for the greenhouse at the shop. I shop my own shop too. A trip to pick up some trees for a landscape project may net an especially good looking specimen of an ornamental grass. When buying perennials for a garden, the future of that plant is primary. When buying perennials for containers, a handsome and well grown specimen makes that container planting look all the better. And there is time to think over the pots from last year. Surprisingly, the perennials, shrubs and trees in last year’s pots proved to be one of my favorite plantings ever. The plants grew much more than I thought they would. And the green color scheme proved to be a relaxing and refreshing change from flowers. I was inclined to try a new version of that idea.

We did plant containers well into July this year.  Part of that is routine.  Many of my clients have us plant spring pots.  In a good year, they are good into July. This year, very cold and rainy weather suited those spring pots just fine. But for those awaiting their first container planting of the season, the cold and the rain was very tough to take. Clients were not the only unhappy people. Growers had to run their heat longer than they wanted to. The gray skies meant none of the seasonal plants were growing much. The daily relentless rain kept people away.

The tropical plants we did put into containers in late May had a tough time of it. Most of them are native to hot climates. They have a strong distaste for cold soil. Some were puny to begin with.  Not that we lost any plants. But they sat there, and didn’t grow. Unhappy plants takes with wind out of a summer container planting. The pots we planted in June were better. The pots we planted later in June took off growing almost immediately.  My plants?  I had been collected them over the course of 6 weeks.  They sat in the shop greenhouse, under Karen and Chelsea’s watchful eye. On a 60 degree day, that greenhouse would be 80 degrees inside. The tropical plants were flourishing in that environment.

These pots were planted July 7. The plants had put on a tremendous amount of growth, not being planted in my pots. They were not root bound either. The cool May and June kept the root growth slow, and by the time the warm weather finally got here, they were ready to put on a substantial amount of top growth. Especially grateful for the time in a warm greenhouse were the caladiums. They sit and sulk until the weather truly warms up. Planted out in cool soil, they may even lose ground. The variegated scented geranium column pictured above spent the winter in a greenhouse. Brought to the shop, and placed outdoors, it blew over and out of its pot a number of times.  Once placed in our greenhouse, it began to grow. The tarantula shaped succulent in the bottom of the olive jar was purchased for a client who liked the hairy beast. I knew we would be left with the rest of them. I like finding homes for left over plants.  It is a challenge to make them work. And I am exposed to plants I would otherwise have passed by.

Did I like having empty containers until July? It was not half bad. Planting pots non stop for clients in the busiest part of our season did not make me long to come home to more container fussing and watering. It is not a time of year to relax in the garden and putter. It is a time to wash my hands and face, and unwind. I walk right by these containers with barely a glance, and sit in the shade next to my fountain pool. I have no scientific evidence to prove the following, but I feel annual plants that go in later in the spring and early summer can prosper into October.

There are some issues to address with a late planting.  These Kimberly ferns can take a good deal of sun providing they get enough water, but they have been grown in the shady part of the greenhouse.  I will cover these with floating row cover for a week or so. This will give them time to adjust to a drastic uptick in the amount and quality of light.

Some annual plants, notably petunias, can get leggy if left in a small container too long. Combining upright white with trailing white petunias helps to mitigate the look of those legs.

This umbrella pine spent the summer in this very pot last summer. That means stashing it somewhere for the winter, as this plant is not really hardy in my zone. It spent the winter inside my my landscape building without heat or light, and seemed to tolerate this treatment just fine. It is possible to take perennials and shrubs out of containers in the fall, plant them in the ground, and mulch them well. In ground planting in Deptember will allow a little time for new roots to form. What kills plants that go in the ground late is the ground heaving in the spring.  As frost comes out of the ground, that heaving action can literally pitch plants up and out of the ground.

Zinnias become very root bound in 4″ pots.  They are big growing plants, and they grow fast. Though they are difficult to handle once they get tall, it is amazing how readily they will root into a container and keep on growing. Other summer annuals are not so obliging in this regard. If it is a plant that you must have, a little judicious pruning of the top might encourage new growth. If the roots have grown around and around in a circle, some untangling or ripping could be beneficial. But plants do have a shelf life. Whenever I shop for plants, I will gently knock the plant out of its pot to see if there is a good root system. Plants that have been repeatedly over watered can have compromised root systems.  Rotted roots means a plant cannot absorb any water, no matter how much is available.

Let the summer begin.