Spring For Some Color

April 25 2014 (92)Our spring so far has been cold.  As in damp April 42 degree cold.  I spent the day outside with my crew today-I am chilled all the way through.   Of course I expected a stellar spring, given the extreme length and depth of our winter.  Silly, that.  Our spring is hung over in the worst possible way from an arctic style winter. Landscapes from house to house are troubled.  Only yesterday did I see a forsythia in bloom.  Thin bloom, by the way. Today I have a magnolia stellata at home blooming-a month late.  The flowers are small, but there are lots of them. This is the good part of the bad and the ugly.

spring-container-planting.jpgThe residual effect of a winter such as we have had may mean that the spring and early summer may be cold.  Gardeners in Michigan are well aware of this.  The Great Lakes still are 40% ice covered.  Air moving over our very cold lakes means we may have to live with chilly conditions for a while.  Maybe quite a while.  My reaction?  Plant like crazy for spring.

annual-planting.jpgHad I known that this winter would prove to be so relentless and lengthy, I might have planted more spring flowering bulbs.  More hellebores.  A group of hamamelis.  Hindsight is twenty-twenty, yes.  Never has some spring color meant so much to these winter weary eyes. We have been planting spring pots non stop since the first week of April, and for good reason.  Nature has not seen fit to let go, and move on.  I am not inclined to hang back, and do without.  Anyone who loves the garden is ready to see something grow and bloom.

container-planting.jpgI can think of no better year to plant some containers for spring.  My guess would be that the reliably warm weather is many weeks away, and that the early part of the summer may stay cool.  I have no science whatsoever to back this up, but I see that the transition from one season to another always takes a month or better.  A transition from a brutally cold winter to summer indicates a transition that may be protracted.  I hate to predict, as predicting the weather is a skill vastly beyond my abilities, but I will say I feel my area may feature residual cool weather.

planting-with-lettuce.jpgLots of plants tolerate, and thrive in cool weather.  On the thriving side, cool weather vegetables such as peas, as sweet peas,, pansies, violas, parsley, chard and alyssum.  On the tolerant side, osteospermum, rosemary, sagina, lavender, dill, angelina and dusty miller.  I would bet there are lots of plants I have missed.  One only needs enough cold spring tolerant plants to assemble a palette. And plant.

spring-planting.jpgI will do whatever it takes to add a big splash of color to a spring planting.  This lavender preserved eucalyptus and yellow-green preserved lepto adds a big splash of color to a landscape which is by and large still dormant.  Thank heavens for the pansies.  That live and vibrant color is strong medicine for anyone who is garden starved.

eucalyptus-centerpiece.jpgI did plant the window boxes at the shop for spring.  This one features sweet peas Rob bought on a plant buying trip out east this past week. The trailing violas and phlox intensia will grow.  The centerpiece of this window box is an arrangement made from preserved eucalyptus, hakea, lepto, and curly pussy willow.  This centerpiece of preserved and fresh materials will make a generous statement about spring until these plants take hold.

spring-planting.jpgSpring containers in my zone are plant challenged.  Cold weather means the cold tolerant plants may take a while to take hold, and represent.  The alyssum and creeping jenny will soften the edges of these urns.  By early May, these plants will be thriving.  They may still be thriving, come the first of July.  In the meantime, the centerpieces for these urns will provide both color and scale.  Containers do a great job of providing a little drama ahead of a garden just waking up.

contaner-planting.jpgPansies,, alyssum and creeping jenny are sure harbingers of spring.  But they have a modest profile, like many cold tolerant spring plants.  No need to ask them to make a splash.  Making a splash of a punch of spring color is entirely in your hands.

spring-container.jpgAny material you have at your disposal can dress a spring container planting. Cut forsythia branches, or pussy willow in a spring container-beautiful.  You cut branches might root in the pot.  Green leaves breaking from branches may be all you need to move on from the winter.

spring-centerpiece.jpgEvery gardener celebrates the spring differently. Every spring is different.  My landscape is on a schedule all its own.  Biut when I am ready for spring, I do not dog my landscape to come to.  What good would that do?  The plants in my landscape will make their program known over the next four weeks. In that meantime, I plant spring pots. Should your garden still be really sleepy, a container planted up for spring could make for some sunshine.  Try it.


The leaves of trees and woody plants are solar cells that convert the energy from the sun into food that enables a plant to grow and sustain itself.  This is a gardener talking-not a botanist.  I observe that once a leaf is no longer able to perform its job, that leaf is shed from the plant.  The fall is a very long process of abscission beginning in August, and ending once winter comes.  Hellebores do not truly part company with their leaves until the spring following.  Once the flower stalks push forth and bloom, then the hellebore concentrates its energy on new leaves.  The leaves from last year pictured above-I am surprised they look as good as they do, considering this past winter. I will cut last years leaves off soon, so as not to disturb the flower stalks about to emerge.  Hellebore foliage cares not one whit for abscission.  They hold their leaves until the new season’s flowers are up and representing.

014The mechanism by which deciduous plants shed their leaves is complex, and very interesting.  Anything a plant no longer needs to survive, it sheds.  Linden trees in water stress will shed their interior leaves in order to preserve the health of the tree.  Yellow leaves on the interior of a deciduous tree could mean it is in stress from a lack of water.  Fewer leaves needing water may help in a drought.  Any tree needing water will shed any leaves it needs to, to preserve its life.  The life central of a tree may direct that tree to shed unnecessary leaves.    An evergreen tree in great and life threatening stress from environmental conditions may produce an incredible number of cones. Plants are engineered by nature to survive.  Survival marks and engineers all of life. Gardeners one and all enjoy the process of fall color, and the dropping of leaves.  Some trees, such as parrotia and beech, hang on to their leaves until the emergence of the new leaf buds in the spring push the previous years leaves off.  My parrotias are still full of leaves, albeit brown leaves.

013 I am not so anxious to remove the leaves and stalks from my perennials in the fall.  I like the look of the snow on the remains of the garden.   I also believe this detritus helps to shield and cushion my plants from fierce winter weather.  I am content to let the garden go down in the fall, with every stalk and stem intact.  I only do a spring cleanup.  In the fall, every plant is shedding and covering its own.  I don’t see the need to disturb that.  Winter is a tough season.  Our past winter was brutally cold and snowy.  I am glad I left the garden be this past fall.  The European ginger under this bench is virtually evergreen.  It hangs on to its leaves with a vengeance.  I never remove the old leaves; I leave them be.  What I leave be in the garden eventually becomes compost.  If you ever have the urge to clean up every leaf in the fall, think about the forest floor.  The forest floor is a healthy and vibrant environment-just what you would want for your garden.

011None of my roses shed their leaves this past fall.  The leaves survived a terribly cold snowy and windy winter, intact. The leaves are still hanging on, this first week of April.  We have only had temperatures above freezing for a few days.  I cannot tell yet if my roses survived this winter.

008The leaves still attached to the roses-I have no idea what this means. I have seen lots of deciduous shrubs with the fall leaves still intact from last fall. Did the winter come to us so quickly that the process of the leaf drop was interrupted, detained?

007Though nature can throw a mean and deadly curve ball when I am least expecting it, I know this spring could be just as tough as the winter we just experienced.  I sat in the rose garden tonight for the first time since last October.  Yes, I had on my hat and coat.  I have no idea what is to come.

012Should you have any idea why my roses never shed their leaves last fall, would you write me, please?  I have never seen this.  I do not know what to make of it.  I am prepared for the worst.  I am a gardener, first and foremost.  Dealing with the worst in a garden is ordinary.  Dealing with an unknown worst-keep me company, please.

Sunday Opinion: A New Season

Even though our winter has a grip on my landscape I can barely comprehend, I am thinking about how it feels to be poised on the cusp of a spring season.  Every season has its memorably quiet or triumphant moments, and its disasters. I remember a bygone season in lots of ways.  Who came when, and for what reason.  People I meet, over dinner in the garden.  The storm the likes of which I had never seen before.  Something in the garden I had never noticed before.  Some things that go unnoticed for a while are treasures-others are unexpected setbacks.  A plant new to me opens a whole new line of thinking.  A material I never paid much attention to suddenly becomes a material of choice. A new client brings something new to the design process.  Something I read changes my mind about a whole host of previously held ideas.  Other ideas I am reluctant to give up are verified by a gardener I respect.  Something I see working gives me confidence.  Things I see not working feel like a test for which I am ill prepared.  Some great days feel like they will keep on glowing, and never end.  Some bad days seem like they will never end, period.

But the gardening season does end.  Nature has the idea to let every gardener down slowly.  Summer comes to a close, almost imperceptibly.  The trees and woody shrubs begin to go dormant in August.  The fall is a season just as long as all the other seasons.  It is a good time to plant, or transplant.  In a generously long fall, the slowing down is a long sigh lasting throughout November.  Many gardeners are most active in their gardens in the fall.  It is easy to haul compost or stone when the weather is cooler.  It is easier on any plant to be transplanted when the weather is cooler, and the rain more regular.  Our fall color is sometimes more brilliant than anything the summer garden has to offer.

Once the winter comes, there is time to reflect on the season past.  My containers did not make me so happy last season.  I was more than ready to let them go.  And very appreciative that I would have a chance to do them differently, the next time around.  This time.  Though the winter can be depressing and seem endless in Michigan, I appreciate that there comes that day when the gardening stops.  Having time to rest and reflect is a time I need.  Having the time to review, and plan anew is an opportunity I treasure.  I like reading catalogue descriptions of tomatoes, and climbing plants.  Reading about the garden and garden design is just as important to me as gardening.

I know spring is on the way.  I know it will be as fine as a new coat of paint. I know it will be disappointing in ways I cannot yet imagine.  I have bridges to cross that I have not yet begun to build.    But no matter what nature has in mind, I am excited for the new season.  A new project at home-I am thinking through several possibilities.  A new design project gets the old blood moving like nothing else.  Detroit Garden Works has a look and focus it has never had before.  New, for the new season.  The Branch Studio has some fountains close to a finish the likes of which we have never done before.  That’s what a new season is all about.  A fresh start.

A second chance, a chance at a fresh start, is nature’s most extraordinary gift.  I personally plan to take her up on that offer.  I can leave behind what I should leave behind. I can make changes-for the better.  I can confidently stand pat, if I so choose.  The opportunity to choose is indeed a precious opportunity.  I would say that gardeners I know anticipate whatever the spring has to dish out.  The joy that is the garden waking up trumps all the dishing.  Gardeners are hard digging people more than ready for the chance to go around again.  Count me in.

Helleborus Festivalis


Detroit Garden Works plans to hold its first ever spring festival the weekend of March 21, 22, and 23.   We are calling the event the Helleborus Festivalis, in celebration of one of our most favorite spring flowering perennials, the hellebore.  Rob has spent weeks traveling to and ordering from nurseries all over the US and Canada, in order for us to have a collection available that will enchant both gardeners unfamiliar with hellebores, and long time serious collectors.  I have had lots of emails requesting more information on exactly what plants we have available, and in what sizes.  This post is some about our love for hellebores, and more about the specifics.  600 hellebores have been delivered over the past 2 weeks-to follow is a the Helleborus Festivalis preview.  Helleborus Onyx Odyssey, pictured above, is certainly one of the most striking varieties we have been able to obtain.

Helleborus-Black-Odyssey.jpgThis very dark and inky wine red double hellebore was bred by Marietta O’Byrne in Eugene, Oregon, and and introduced into commerce in 2008.  We have 20 in bloom 1 gallon size stocky plants available.  This cultivar is most definitely not the helleborus orientalis my Mom grew.  The O’Byrne’s breeding program has turned over the hellebore world.

helleborus-orientalis-hybrids.jpgOther 1 gallon size hellebores, pictured above from left to right, helleborus Spring Promise Conny, which features white blooms with distinctive dark wine red speckles.  Also pictured,  Spring Promise Elly, a double rose pink, the heavy flowering single flowering Merlin, and Spring Promise Bridget, a frilly single pink.  As with helleborus Onyx Odyssey, these hellebores are all blooming.  Have the idea to scout what cultivars you might want to grow or add to your collection?  We have other hellebores in bloom.  Mahogany Snow.  Icebreaker Fancy.  Icebreaker Prelude.  Our Icebreaker Corsica is already sold out-sorry.

helleborus-Snow-Frills.jpgSnow Frills is a semi double to double pure white.  Breaktakingly beautiful, the flowers of this hellebore.  This sturdy plant comes in an 8″ pot with multiple blooms, as pictured.  Snow Frills is that new cultivar of hellebore which features outfacing or upfacing flowers.  If you like white flowers in the spring, this cultivar may interest you.

one-gallon-hellebores.jpgBoth Snow Frills and Merlin are substantial blooming plants in 8 inch pots.  Merlin is a single blush pink, and clearly a heavy bloomer.

Helleborus-Spring-Promise-Elly.jpgThis picture is a closeup of the bloom of the Spring Promise cultivar known as Elly. The double flowers are astonishing in color and form .  We have a limited number of 1 gallon blooming plants available.

spring-promise-hellebores.jpgWe have a select group pf 4.5 inch pots of hellebores ready.  Though these are smaller plants, many of them are blooming.

helleborus winter-jewel-Golden-Lotus.jpgGolden Lotus is a strain of double flowered yellow hellebores exhibiting subtly different characteristics.  Though every plant is distinctly individual, every member of this seed strain group is stellar. All of our 4.5 inch plants are blooming.

helleborus-Black-Diamond.jpgBlack Diamond is just that-jet black.  None of these 4.5 inch plants are in bloom.  If you have a mind to have faith in a long history of breeding and a plant not in flower, we have healthy lustily growing plants available.

perennial_m_Helleborus x hybridus Winter Jewel Cherry BlossomWe have  four flats of 4.5 inch helleborus Winter Jewel Cherry Blossom available for purchase.  Only one plant has a flower. This cultivar is a must have, in my opinion.  Most nurseries offer just a few cultivars for sale, in their green state.  This makes them easy to miss.  Hellebores grow slowly.  Few cultivars grow on to blooming size in one season.  If you are a gardener willing to take chances, sign up for a Cherry Blossom.  Next spring, the anemone flowered blooms will enchant you.

helleborus-festivalis.jpgIn this picture, Spring Promise Bridget is sharing the stage with flats of English daisies.  We do have a number of other spring flowering perennials in stock as companions to our hellebores.  Bellis, double flowering primroses, and several cultivars of auricula primroses are available along with dwarf daffodils and hyacinths.

helleborus-Pink-Frost.jpgWe do have some 2 gallon pots of hellebores available.  Joseph Lemper is a white hellebore blooming very early in the spring.  The Pink Frost Hellebore pictured above- big plants.

perennial_m_helleborus x hybridus winter jewel golden sunrise9

This Winter Jewels Golden Sunrise-we have this plant in one gallon size.  Though our plants are not flowering, the promise of what is to come is clear.  We also have good sized divisions of the pale yellow hellebore, Spring Promise “Sally”.

helleborus-festivalis.jpgThis has been a very long and very trying winter.  Detroit Garden Works has the idea to jump start spring. Helleborus Festivalis-a week from tomorrow. With a collection of hellebores and accompanying plants that are eminently garden worthy.  If you are a collector, or a gardener willing to gamble, we have a few divisions of rarer hellebores available.  White Lady, Frilly Kitty, Tiffany, Valerie, WD Elegance White, WD Pale Pink, Winter Jewel Sparkling Diamond, Winter Jewel Double Painted, Winter Jewel Jade Tiger, Winter Thriller Green Gambler-email me for details. We are ready for spring-what about you?