Green And Good Looking

Our temperatures have gone back into the 90’s, topped with a big dollop of high humidity;  I am seeing signs of summer’s end in a lot of container plantings-including my own.  Crispy stems, mildew, and all manner of other trouble one can put under the heading of late summer malaise. Green plantings seem to keep their good looks, even when the late summer doldrums look more and more like the beginning of the end. To follow are some of my favorites this year.

Lime licorice, white polka dot, and a dracaena whose name I do not know-what a fresh look for August 30.

Lemon grass, variously underplanted with basil, parsley, and strawberries. 

King Tut, lime nocotiana, variegated licorice and cream petunias

Australian tree ferns, bromeliads, boxwood, pachysandra

Agave, datura metel

Eugenia topiary, parsley

datura metel, nicotiana mutabilis, gardenia standard, cirrus dusty miller, lime licorice

variegated ivy on standard, boxwood standard

Rosemary on standard, strawberries, fiber optic grass.  It is amazing how beautiful a collection of green plants can be, whatever the weather.

At A Glance: The Venus Dogwood

I was  fortunate to hear recently from Wolfgang Eberts in Germany; he apparently read my previous posts on the Venus Dogwood.  He tells me that this fabulous dogwood has proved to be very popular in Europe.  He accompanied Elwin Orton, the hybridizer of Venus, to the Chelsea Flower Show, where it took a well-deserved gold medal.  Wolfgang is a plantsman, and an European distributor of Venus.  His  nursery also sells other fine plants, including bamboo.  What fun to hear from him.  All of the pictures are courtesy of Wolfgang Eberts.

Wolfgang Eberts

from left to right; Wolfgang Eberts, Elwin Orton, hybridizer of Venus from Rutgers University, and Hugh Johnson-taken at Chelsea

trade show display of Wolfgang’s nursery about Venus

trade show booth

detail, Venus flower

fall color

Venus dogwood does not set much fruit here, but when it does, it is spectacular.  For more information on Wolfgang Eberts, try, and  What a pleasure it was for me to hear from him.



Stature is a concept everyone understands. Any human being 6.5 feet tall gets attention-just for being heads and shoulders above the rest of us.  A physical presence makes an unmistakeable impression.  Alan Armitage has made a life’s work of studying plants.  His shoulders-a whole body of work about what plants work, and what plants a gardener might consider passing by.  His head-he writes and speaks intelligently and passionately about that human activity close to those shoulders-gardening.  You may agree or not with him, but he has stature such that any serious gardener would give pause, and consider what he has to say.

Anyone of stature has the power to give pause. That the modern world is geared towards everything running at top speed, anything that slows me down has stature.  True stature has to do with size, persistence, experience, and longevity. Trees do a good job of filling that bill. They are very large plants. I have read that the standing weight of a 26″ diameter hardwood is 4.2 tons; a mature oak tree will have close to a quarter million leaves.  Some trees live a thousand years.  Others grow to towering heights.  Some grow in wild places never having had any care, and endure. 

 This columnar beech is almost 30 feet tall, and has been growing at a tree farm a good many years.  GP Enterprises sells and transplants big trees.  This is a very specialized part of the landscape industry, as the cost of the equipment which which moves those trees safely and successfully is astronomical to buy, operate and maintain.  Not everyone needs a tree of great size, but sometimes the stature they confer on a landscape makes a lot of other work unnecessary.  What a person might spend on shrubs or perennials over the years can come to a lot more than the cost of one large tree.

Any tree has stature potential; small trees are reasonable to purchase and take hold much faster than a specimen sized tree.  That said, the most difficult part of adding young trees to a landscape is the placement.  No one wants the expense of taking down a very large tree planted too close to their house, or their sidewalk.  A properly placed large growing shade tree can look lonely before it grows into its own. These 4 inch caliper Bowhall maples pictured above will eventually tower over the ground plane.  Planted at the corners of a 12 by 12 or 15 by 15 foot space, you will have a maple tent in not so many years.  Plant 8 or 12 trees, a  pergola big enough to entertain in.  You can see the potential for a landscape feature with stature in this picture.

Columnar carpinus has a natural growth habit that reminds me of an egg with a softly rounded top.  Columnar trees do not co-opt all the available sun, and they do a great job of screening out an untoward view.  Maturing at 40 feet tall, and 30 feet wide, they have an elegant form that appeals to me.
This older multi-trunked Amur maple has an entirely different look than the carpinus.  The carpinus I would call architectural, and imposing-the Amur maple is graceful and lovely.  This insouciant amur maple meadow is as visually successful as a formal landscape-just different.  The choice of a tree or trees can influence the atmosphere of a space. 

Ralph Plummer owns GP Enterprises, and though he landscapes, builds retaining walls, engineers drainage and grading, he has made a life’s work of moving and planting big trees. Even if he were not 6′ 6″ tall, he would still be a person of great stature.

Lolo’s Garden


I do not grow vegetables at home.  In my opinion, a vegetable patch looks messy and disorganized, even when it is anything but. Working gardens show evidence of that work.  I am not interested looking at work when I go home-I have already done that all day long.  Afficianados of growing food at home like Lolo are a hard working lot that have an astonishing range of knowledge.  Growing from seed, pairing plants, crop rotation-the depth of her knowledge is impressive.  Often there is a family history that includes growing food, cooking, family meals that is a way of life. I would want a working garden to be beautiful in a way it cannot be.  Sooner or later, every vegetable garden tends towards dissolution.

The vegetable garden can be designed in a very orderly way.  Raised beds permit making choices about soil composition.  There can be the designated asparagus, strawberry or raspberry patch.  Espaliered fruit trees, grapes, and a fig tree can be worked into the design.  A spot to grow cutting flowers-what a great idea.  But once I get to this point, I am not only over my head, but I have lost interest as I have lost control.  Fortunately most people who would devote part of their landscape to seriously growing food know what they need from a space.  Cultivating a vegetable garden is not for a weekend gardener-it is an every day committment. 

When the soil-making and daily tending and growing has been good, it seems like there is that moment when the the entire garden seems poised to overrun the space.  The paths get narrower; the squash has grown out of the box and heads for the road.  Is there a vegetable plant that does not not fall over in a heap? I have yet to see a vegetable garden not overrun with withies, stakes, towers, arbors and cages.

The potting bench surface is usually covered with tools, packets of seeds, a collection basket, the soil sifter, and the like. Vegetable people leave their hoses, stakes, Japanese beetle collecting cans and gloves out in plain sight-why wouldn’t they?     

Every plant is at a different stage.  The pea patch runs out and has to be replanted-as do the lettuces, spinach and radishes.  There are those bare dirt spaces hosting the seeds of the next crop.  The galvanized wire hats goes over what ever is being eaten by the birds, rabbits, deer, raccoons and woodchucks at that moment. 

All in all, a vegetable garden at harvest time is a gloriously messy affair. Never mind the work that is involved enlisting the help of others when the garden bears vastly more than what you can eat.  Is there any more ungainly looking plant on the planet than the brussel sprout plant?  I do understand that home grown food is the best food there is-I have been the lucky recipient of various harvest overruns.  I love OPVG’s-other people’s vegetable gardens. 

This tomato in articular whose name I do not know is incredibly great looking, and great tasting.  The bush on which it grows-not so pretty.  It seems as though tomatoes and tomato plants are as irresistable to bugs, fungus and disease as they are to me.  Who wants to look at hornworms, flea beetles, and cut worms?  Who wants to deal with early blight, gray wall, catfacing or blossom end rot?  Who wants to read the Texas A and M tomato disorder page?

Who really wants to look at this at the end of a season?  My theory is that vegetable plants give so much for so long, they finally succumb to every fungus and illness swirling around in the air and soil.  I am grateful to have both friends and clients who deal with all of this and more-otherwise I would never eat any home grown food. 

Anyone who grows vegetables, fruits and herbs at home has the idea in their mind that fresh and pure is delicious and good for them, and their family.  What other reason could there be that would motivate them to work so hard, day after day?  They, like Lolo, are gardeners of the most serious sort.