Fall Front And Center

Just think about it. The summer gardening season begins to wane, and every passionate gardener begins to fret. The letting go is not easy. I know I dig in my heels and ignore the obvious signs of the passing. Letting go is actually incredibly difficult. Just the thought that close to a year will pass before summer comes again is just cause for a gardener’s grief. But nature has a way of scooping up the remains of the previous season, and recasting them in a dramatic reinvention of the season to come. Any gardener who has observed the process of leaves abandoning their juicy green for a whole host of fiery fall colors understands this: The evolution of a summer season into the fall is an extraordinary pageant. The anticipation of a new and exciting season to come helps mitigate the loss of the old one.

We plant lots of containers in celebration of the fall season. I am often asked about how long they will last. That question always seems tinged with an unspoken belief that the fall is a shorter season than the summer. Just as the winter season is perceived to be longer than the spring season that follows it. How gardeners adore the summer and dislike the winter. What comes in between the two is short lived, and therefore inconsequential. Well in fact, each season lasts a full three months, which is certainly a long enough time to enjoy them all. Though a beautiful landscape matures and provides interest in every season over many years, planting seasonal pots and displays are satisfying in the moment to create and enjoy. Beautifully planted and tended containers enhance any given season in a very personal way. Suffice it to say that Detroit Garden Works had 2800 various cabbage and kale grown for our fall season-we have very few left.

For some, the fall season is a favorite. Hot sticky weather is a thing of the past. The air is crisp, and breathable. The play of long low shadows against the landscape is especially beautiful. And of course there is the color. The most gorgeous in full bloom perennial garden in June is glorious, but a landscape in full fall color is spectacular. There is vibrant color everywhere you look, from the tops of the tallest trees, to the hostas coloring up on the ground. The evergreens in the landscape stand out in strong and stoic contrast. The last hurrah is nature’s most beautiful opera. I hear trumpets, don’t you? We try to express the bounty of the harvest with lavishly constructed centerpieces, and a variety of cabbage and kale grown to enormous size. Overstuffed pots are a very good look this time of year.

David is every bit of 6′ 3″ tall. That gives you an idea of the size of his creations pictured above. We have added some cream colored faux seed head picks and orange preserved eucalyptus to the mix.  Bunches of bare sticks provide a framework to hold all of the other elements aloft.  I have no idea how much these pieces weigh, but they are too heavy for me to pick up. They will be secured in the container with steel rebar and concrete wire.

The centerpieces are scaled appropriately to the size of the container. Large containers can make a huge statement in the landscape, but to fill them takes lots of material.

The centerpieces that seemed so large in the garage shop just seem proportional to the pots.

Not every centerpiece is of such a grand scale, and some container placements are in more intimate locations. But a smaller scale does not need to imply less impact.

Once these Osaka Pink cabbage color up, this container will come in to its own. The centerpiece is constructed of mahogany colored curly willow sticks, and two kinds of faux picks. Rob takes great pains to order in picks that have some reference to the garden. Some have very natural shapes, and others sport reproductions of seed heads that are remarkably evocative of the season. It is entirely conceivable that the cabbages will look fine in to January, as they are extremely cold tolerant. An ornamental cabbage in full color and coated with frost is quite beautiful.

This centerpiece is much more fanciful. This is for a household with children who are all in for Halloween.

The Halloween decor will look great with these pots.

This centerpiece is comprised of a bluish green preserved eucalyptus, arching stemmed picks studded with blue beries, and some rather stunning picks in the center representative of clematis seed heads.

Even up close, all of the elements are convincing.

fall pots garnished with Ruby Queen cabbages

blue door

It is a tribute and a indication of David’s great skill that is is able to achieve great height from bunches of bleached willow twigs that come 4 feet tall. It takes lots of patience and careful construction. In spite of all of the technical issues, he is able to create fall displays that appear incredibly graceful and natural.

brilliant, this.

fall container with Rosebud cabbage

Not all of our fall pots have centerpieces. There are places where they would not add much to the mix. These contemporary Belgian stoneware pots frame the view of the landscape and the front porch from the sidewalk. Everything about the beauty of this pot has to do with beautifully grown material whose care is entrusted to Lisa. She makes sure that the plants get adequate water and food. And the careful placement and intertwining of very large plants handled by Karen and Natasha. The leaves of mature cabbage especially can crack if improperly handled. They make what is a difficult planting look effortless.

To follow are a few pictures of some of our fall container arrangements. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as we enjoy creating them. There is no need for containers to sit empty, once the summer season wanes.

Bewitching!

The 2020 Hydrangeas

The hydrangeas in bloom this year have been beyond gorgeous. I have never seen them better, and I have been growing hydrangeas for a long time. The object of my affection and admiration are white flowering varieties that bloom on new wood. Blue and pink hydrangeas that bloom on old wood – this would be the bigleaf hydrangeas, or hydrangea macrophylla –  are not truly bud hardy in my zone. Unless they have a mild winter, whilst mulched from the soil level to the tops of the branches, the flowering will be sporadic and disappointing. If yours bloom profusely and reliably in Michigan, then count your blessings. The whole point of hydrangeas in bloom is the sheer splendor that comes from abundance. A happy hydrangea is so loaded with blooms the slender stems of the shrub will bend over from the sheer weight and volume of them. If you must have blue hydrangeas in all of their splendor,  then pack your bags for Nantucket, and read no further. The Bobo hydrangeas pictured above have astonishingly good care. The entire bed is on drip irrigation – essential when hydrangeas are in full sun – and that irrigation is monitored and updated frequently. I am quite sure they are fertilizing in late winter/early spring. Some apply Hollytone, by Espoma, or a slow release balanced fertilizer. The reward is an ocean’s worth of greenish white flowers.

That is not all. Later in the season those blooms will turn towards pink, and then rose pink. The fall display is every bit as beautiful as that in late summer. Add the yellow fall color on the leaves, and you have a visual treat that is quite spectacular. A good shrub provides interest in the garden over a long period of time. Hydrangeas are particularly generous with a long period of bloom. I leave the flower heads intact over the winter – why not? That cinnamon brown color is strikingly beautiful. Of course there will be those blooms that break off and blow around, but that cleanup is manageable.

This hedge of Limelight hydrangeas was planted for a client at their restaurant many years ago. I want to say at least 10 years ago, probably more. I am quite sure that they get watered; my clients takes great care of all of their plants.The soil is that typical Oakland County Michigan airless and non-draining clay-we planted them well above grade for exactly that reason. I have no idea what pruning and feeding care they get, but I can say their maintenance company was not permitted to work this year until May. So the spring care was fast and loose. Behind me in this picture is Woodward Avenue – a main road with 3 lanes going both north and south. It is packed with automobile traffic around the clock, in the 45-50 mph range. I would say the hedge is 25 feet off the road, and endures plenty of exhaust in the summer, and an equal amount of road salt in the winter. This commercial planting is stunning.

hydrangea Little LimeThis hedge of Little Lime hydrangeas is relatively new-it was planted 4 years ago. The flowers are at that fresh green stage, as they are just beginning to bloom. This exposure is westerly, which is a great location for hydrangeas. They need at least 6 hours of sun a day to bloom profusely. I am astonished at how many articles I read that suggest that hydrangeas do well planted in the shade. I have seen plantings in shady areas that range from sporadically blooming to passable, but I have yet to see a hydrangea thrive in shade. Of all the hydrangeas, the oak leaf is the most shade tolerant. Tolerant is the key concept here. No flowering plants, with a few exceptions, love shady conditions. They tolerate them. Find a sunny spot for your hydrangeas. These Little Limes get occasional supplemental water.

I get no end of questions about spacing. I have seen spacing recommended anywhere from 3′ to 8′. This hedge was spaced at 3 feet on center, with 2 rows of plants in staggered positions. The bed is 9′ in depth, and the Little Limes have filled that right up. An 8′ spacing on a Limelight hedge will produce a series of shaggy ball shapes. A closer spacing will produce a more uniform look to the hedge. I think spacing is primarily a matter of personal taste. If you are willing to wait a few years for a group of hydrangeas to grow together, then space them out. If you are after a densely growing hedge then space them closer. If there is a specific space to fill, then space to fit that particular space. Do I think one spacing is superior and produces more healthy plants than another – sun and water being comparable – ? No.

I have 2 blocks of Limelights at home that have been in the ground for close to 20 years. They were spaced at 30″. They have been healthy and heavy blooming every year. I have had Japanese beetle damage to the leaves, and scorch when I didn’t water enough, but they perform the same as a group spaced at 4 feet apart. I can vary the style and extent of my pruning every year, and not be able to see any difference in the blooming plants.  A good friend has planted and maintained miles of blocks of Limelights in the median on a major north/south road in my area.  They are the best blooming hydrangeas I have ever seen, in a year of great blooming hydrangeas.  I asked her about the care. They routinely feed with Hollytone, and they do water. The only difference this year was that they did not prune as hard as usual. Do I think this made the difference in the performance?  Maybe, or maybe not. Do I think the weather conditions were perfect?  Our season has been very hot and dry. Would I expect this to be great for hydrangeas? Not really.

Hydrangeas will tell you when they need water. Those big thin leaves clinging to the stems-as in the above picture of a hydrangea on standard – is a clear SOS. I do err on the side of water generosity, as I believe that plants stressed from being too dry perform at a less than optimal level. Newly planted hydrangeas need very careful monitoring for water. They grow so fast that most potted plants available for sale are root bound. If that root ball goes dry soon after planting, it is of no consequence how wet the soil is a foot away. The hose needs to be aimed directly at the crown of the plant.

This is all by way of saying that insofar as gardening with hydrangeas is concerned, various approaches to their cultivation can produce healthy and beautiful plants. They are so versatile in the landscape, as this pair of pots planted with Limelights can attest. Most and best of all, they are forgiving of neglect, and respond strongly to attention and care.

I have been enjoying them for weeks now.

A Good Year For Zinnias

Planting the summer garden in front of the shop this year was more about less than anything. Every supplier of seasonal plants was inundated with customers from the very first hint of spring. Plants I had custom grown, labelled sold, and roped off for gardens to be planted in June were a constant target of gardeners anxious to provide both beauty and interest to their outdoor spaces early in May. My plants needed feeding, watering, and a watchful eye. My grower sold through his entire June crop in May. He was not the only one. Astonishing, this. No wonder my stock of reserved plants looked inviting. I am not a fan of planting tropical plants in cold soil. But choosing to wait to plant had consequences. Needless to say, we were scrambling for material the entire month of June, and July was even worse. By the time all of our client’s work was complete, it was well in to July. So we planted the front gardens with what was left from what we had custom grown. Several varieties of white zinnias and angelonia “Steel Blue” would just about fill these steel raised planter boxes.

For the border, we managed to find some white petunias, and mixed them with the double pink cascade grandiflora petunia “Orchid Mist” – also custom grown for us. Those frilly petunia puffs are reminiscent of the tissue paper flowers made for homecoming floats in the 60’s. Given that association, it’s easy to see why those plants had not been snapped up sooner. Their habit of growth is awkward, lanky, and lax. The dead flowers persist on the plants for a long time. In spite of their shortcomings, I like double petunias. Every seasonal plant has their place in the sun. Paired with a stiff growing plant that can provide structure and support, double petunias in pink or white can be plenty gorgeous.

It was not surprising that we still had tall growing zinnias available in June. They cannot be planted too early in the greenhouse, as once the seed germinates, they grow fast. Timing crops to be ready when the weather permits and people want to shop is the black art of the greenhouse growing business. No planting crew wants to haul annuals to a jobsite that are 2′ tall in a four inch pot. I want my zinnias short and stocky. So the large growing zinnias were not available until later in the planting season. Few gardeners have the self discipline to delay planting a summer container until the zinnias are available.  Who would risk it, knowing the other plants to go with might be sold out by then. I am familiar with this logistical problem. If zinnias are well grown, and at a perfect stage to transplant, they are green. Meaning the plants are not in flower. A bench full of zinnias is an ocean of green leaves. If you are looking for a particular color, you have to read the tags. All these things work against the zinnias flying out the door. It is not really a May-ready plant.

For as simple as the big flowered tall zinnias are to germinate from seed and grow, they are heir to no end of troubles. If you are interested, see the following from the Handbook of Florist’s Crops diseases, pages 1-31.  common fungal and bacterial diseases of zinnias  Some growers want no part of this trouble, and chose to grow only disease resistant varieties such as the Profusion series. Gardeners don’t care for high maintenance annuals either. Lisa M, who does a terrific job of maintaining our seasonal plants and anything that grows on the shop property, prunes selectively to improve air circulation, squishes the sucking insects (notably grasshoppers) that transmit virus and disease via their chewing, and removes any leaves that show signs of bacterial leaf spot – and so on.

A well grown zinnia is a sure sign of high summer in the cutting garden. They don’t call the medium height zinnias “cut and come again” for nothing. They last impossibly long as cut flowers. Floret Flowers grows them by the semi truck load for the cut flower trade.   Floret Flowers   They come in just about every color imaginable, except for blue. They are old fashioned flowers, for sure. It is the one flower I can distinctly remember from my Mother’s garden some 60 years ago. Yes, the dahlia flowered varieties have a stiff and awkward look about them, but how I love their down to earth cheer and charm.

They are not at all showy like roses, dahlias, foxglove, peonies, delphiniums or orchids. They look most at home  with the daisies, sunflowers, feverfew and cosmos. The kitchen garden is an ideal place for them. It is tough to plant them meadow style with other looser growing seasonal plants in my zone, as they resent close quarters. Once you are not able to reach them to clean them up, the leaf spot, mildew and other mayhem will start to consume them. Someday I will try them with amni majus, Gaura lindheimeri, or the grass Bouteloua gracilis “Blonde Ambition”. The angelonia is a pretty decent partner. I would do that again.

A few weeks ago, the boxwood in front of the shop got their yearly haircut. The precision with which this is done is astonishing. M’s crew is a gifted lot, with an impeccable instinct for up and down, true and square. It’s as if the horizon line is embedded in their genes. The geometry of the boxwood is in sharp contrast to the zinnias.  Only a deftly pruned hedge of boxwood could make a planting of zinnias look graceful.

But the real purpose of this post is about the weather.  This year has been very hot and dry. Overall, the humidity has been low. Perfect conditions for growing great zinnias. Perfect conditions for growing all manner of seasonal plants that revel in dry heat. People may be wilting, but the seasonal flowers are very good looking this year. If you happened to plant some zinnias, that planting is exceptional right now. As no gardener has any control over the weather, the big idea here is about spending some time with the National Weather Service about their prediction for the summer in your zone, ahead of choosing what you will plant. The perfect time to grow zinnias is when a summer season will be perfect for growing them. If weather predicting sounds too tedious, then plant lots of everything. You are bound to hit the jackpot with something.

Those good years for crocus,magnolias, roses and hydrangeas are memorable. Memorable, as no gardener can count on a good year coming their way. All the terrible years for zinnias do not deter me from planting them. But this year, it was just about all I had available to plant. I do not think of the natural world as being the least bit just. This year I got lucky. lime and yellow zinnias

pink and orange zinnias

Benary Giant orange zinnia

  Pot full of zinnia “Zesty Fuchsia”

Container featuring zinnia Magellan pink

If for no other reason, stop in to see the zinnias. They are quite something this year.

Part 2: The Landscape To Go With

landscape drawingMy last post dealt in detail with the process of relocating a driveway for my clients. It was a huge investment both in resources and time-from early spring until late summer. Good for me that my clients are incredibly patient people. The property features lots of trees of considerable age. There was no interest on anyone’s part to change that. The landscape would be concentrated near the house and new drive court. The open area once occupied by the old driveway would be a sweeping arc of grass similar in shape to the arc of the driveway – but larger.  That grass arc would be punctuated by a few strategically placed specimen trees. Those new trees would have plenty of space to grow to their mature size.

The drive court is of considerable size too. The house is a long way from the road. Though the climb up is at a much easier angle than before, it is still a climb. So a drive court that could accommodate visitors coming and going was of paramount importance to my clients. On the plus side, it makes an admirable makeshift basketball court, and it is easy to park out of the way of the garage doors. The landscape embracing the drive court circumscribes it in a large radius, the size of which was dictated by a pair of retaining walls installed in tandem with the driveway. I can safely say that the only flat space on this property exists inside the walls of the house. All other flat and navigable space had to be created.

I was interested that the landscape have a strong, simple, and largely evergreen accompaniment. The formal nature of it accomplishes two things.  It is in striking contrast to the natural landscape which surrounds it. And it would be fairly simple to maintain. Blocks of buxus “Green Gem” in alternating sizes would need a routine and accurately timed source of water, and a yearly pruning.  Planting these 9′ by 9′ square blocks in an arc created plenty of suspense for those of us who installed it. There was a lot of site work determining just the right plant placement. It has unexpectedly proved to be the ideal nesting spot for a turkey. Green Gem is very hardy in my zone, and it tolerates very cold and windy winters. On the top of the hill, hale and hardy was an important criteria for plant selection.

At the same time, project manager and driveway builder Ralph Plummer, owner and operator of GP Enterprises, was hard at work doing what he loves the best.  The placement and planting of large specimen trees. If you need big trees, there is no better source. I feel sure that there are countless landscape contractors in my area who use his services. He has the resources, equipment, and experience to place large material in the landscape.  As so many of the existing trees were of considerable size, large trees were called for. Though the London Planes he planted for me on this project were 25′-30′ tall, they are still dwarfed by the older trees existing on the property. London Planes are one of the largest shade trees native to North America, and these three will have plenty of room to grow. There is a thought to the future too. Trees, like any other living thing, have a life span. They would be the beginning of the next generation.

A Norway spruce of comparable size was planted in addition to the plane trees. The large lawn area would have all the dressing up it would need. Watering new trees in a lawn area is not so simple. Irrigation meant to water a lawn does not provide the deep soaking required by large trees of recent transplant. A drip irrigation zone for the sole purpose of keeping these new trees adequately watered was installed.  The lawn irrigation zones do not overlap and water the trees. This takes careful planning and installation-just the kind of thing for which Ian Edmunds Irrigation is well known.

Of course I was imagining what the property would look like with grass. But we were a good ways away from that moment, at this moment.

The big trees did provide some privacy to the house on the hill. I took this picture from my car, driving by.

The blocks of boxwood feature Venus dogwoods. Those trees will provide better and better leafy contrast and size to the boxwood as they grow. They like a fair amount of sun, and are hardier than either of their primary parent trees – the Kousa dogwood, and the pacific coast species cornus nuttallii. When happy, they will put on a foot of growth per year.

retaining wall backfilledThe retaining wall created a substantial planting space on the house side of the driveway. We were happy for the good soil and easy planting conditions.  Per the plan, the house side of the drive court repeated the boxwood and dogwood pattern of the opposing side, but added several other elements. A columnar spruce, picea cupressina, will grow every bit of 25 feet tall, with a mature width of but 6 feet.  It will give the chimney a run for its money. This is a large house without so much available planting space. A strong vertical plant will help the landscape keep up.

That spruce is surrounded with a mass planting of the dwarf red barberry. That dark wine red color is very friendly to the color of the brick on the house.

This small area between the front porch and the person door in to the garage was a high visibility spot that lacked any appealing features.

Once it was determined that the only traffic to this door was from the driveway, the new landscape was installed accordingly. The window in this picture is one of the few that look out on to the landscape. That view out is better now.

It was always intended that the retaining walls installed in support of the landscape would be softened by a double row of Limelight hydrangeas. The white flowers on the mature shrubs would provide a stunning backdrop to the boxwood on the upper level drive court. A change of level provides great interest to any landscape, large or small. The fact that they will describe the entire upper arc of landscape means they will read strongly from the road. All of the big trees had generously sized edger strip installed around them. No need for a mower to brush up against them, or a lawn trimming tool to damage the bark. Of just as much visual importance here is the shape and sweep of the grass to come.

By the time that we were able to complete the front yard landscape with plantings at the road, it was very late in the year. A group of white pines that my clients had planted on their property had spent the summer heeled in to protect them.  They were moved to a pair of large beds at the driveway entrance off the street. A number of additional white pines were added to the original group, and all of the trees were under planted with the spreading juniper, “Calgary Carpet”. I am not a huge fan of junipers, but this one has a beautiful horizontal habit, and a lovely sheen to the branches. Culturally, they would be a perfect companion to the white pines.

It was December when we finally got to mulching all of the plantings.  It was the least we could do, given that a rainy late fall meant the grass would have to wait until the spring.

A pair of pots were selected for the front door, and arrangements for the holiday and winter season were installed.

Early this April we were able to sod all of those bare dirt areas. What a relief.

A few months later, the sod has knitted and rooted in. There is no sign of all of the work that went on most of the previous year. All of the large trees seem remarkably good, considering they were transplanted less than a year ago.

The curving beds of Limelight hydrangeas will be blooming soon.

new landscapeThe landscape near the house is thriving.

The entrance beds are taking hold. All of the white pines survived their first winter in this spot with little damage. As for the tire tracks on the grass, I stand by the design of how the drive meets the road. I am sure the damage is from the latest set of trucks and equipment.

Under construction now, the back yard. What you see here is a temporary stone access road. More on this later.