At A Glance: A Run Of Cold And Rainy Weather

August 16 2014 020We have had a long run of cold and rainy weather.  As in overnight temperatures in the high 40’s and low fifties, and close to 6 inches in one day, last week.  I don’t think the pink fittonia has grown an inch.

August 16 2014 047However, this variegated tradescantia is really thriving-the color is so beautiful. It almost looks like it is blooming.  I will plant this again, no doubt.

August 16 2014 002The begonias have held up amazingly well in the cold rainy weather.  The caladiums and alocasia are so so-I would guess they are shuddering from the cold.

Aug 16 2014 004The Persian Shield on this north wall is such a beautiful iridescent purple. In full sun, the leaves green up-the resulting purple/green mix is a muddy color. This pot is holding its own.  I have had the Persian Shields grow 3 feet in a single season.  Not this year.

Aug 16 2014 002This lavender New Guinea impatiens is completely out of bloom, but is setting buds. They hate chilly weather.

Aug 16 2014 003The nicotiana has had quite a bout with white fly. I can’t remember ever dealing with that before.  I sprayed the foliage with water every day.  Who knows if that helped.  The cold may have slowed them down.  I don’t see them anymore, but the nicotiana were damaged. The coleus is filling in for them.

Aug 16 2014 013The plants in this pot seems to be thriving.

Aug 16 2014 005The cool and rainy weather has not fazed the heuchera one bit. They have put on some weight.  Aug 16 2014 007The geraniums have not been happy.  They like it hot, and on the dry side.  But these Caliente geraniums are bravely budding up.  It is hard to keep a good plant down.

Aug 16 2014 009The scented geranium topiary is shedding interior leaves.  This is a sign of water stress-either too much, or too little.  The scotch moss is loving the sun, the rain, and the cool.

Aug 16 2014 010I have no complaints with the Italian olive jar.  Every plant is bearing up, in spite of the unseasonably wet and cold weather.

Aug 16 2014 012Container plantings are a joy, and a trial.  Our summer has been cold and cool-no tropical plant loves this.  I keep hoping for that warm up that never comes. By this time of year, my deck pots are usually overflowing.  Do I have any complaints?  Not really.

014I could be looking at this.






At A Glance: Favorite Annual Plants

janet-craig-dracaena.jpgPlanting the annuals and containers is a very exciting time-and an exhausting one.  So in lieu of writing, I thought to just post some pictures of my favorite annual plants.  What makes them a favorite?  This glowingly green Janet Craig dracaena will thrive in very low light.

vista-petunias.jpgThe Vista series of petunia is very vigorous, even long into the fall.

Sept 9 2012 035White mandevillea vines produce large showy flowers, and the foliage is glossy and disease resistant.

Sept 24 011Persian Shield is a color like no other, and will grow to a large size in a partially shaded spot.

green 023Euphorbia Diamond Frost is like having a thousand tiny white lights dancing over the surface of a container planting.  Cirrus dusty miller has a velvety surface, and a beautiful texture. Petunias smell like summer.

coleus.jpg coleus are prized for the unusual color of their foliage, as are the variegated dwarf dracaena pictured above.

orange-punch-canna.jpgCannas grow big and tall, and come in a whole range of colors. Canna Orange Punch blooms profusely.

dahlias.jpgDahlias are the show girls of the annual world. They sport huge flowers in every imaginable color except blue. They are at their showy best in September and October. silverberry-petunia.jpgSilverberry petunias bloom profusely, and do not need deadheading.

mocha-velvet-coleus.jpgVelvet mocha coleus is a beautiful orangy brown

nicotiana.jpgAll of the nicotiana varieties are charming, and beloved by hummingbirds.  I grow them all.

verbena-bonariensis.jpgVerbena bonariensis is tall growing, and imparts a meadow like look to any in ground annual planting.

DSC08283Solenia begonias are easy to grow.  Just go easy on the water.  Are these my only favorites. Oh no. I like them all really.  They all have something different to recommend about them. Choosing which ones to grow depends somewhat on what you need from them.



More Planting

the-play-house.jpgYes, we are in our second week of planting containers and annuals for summer.  Lucky for me that lots of containers to be planted is my idea of a very good time.  The fact that this client prefers a primarily green planting means there is opportunity to explore the more subtle design elements such as texture and mass and shape.  The playhouse planting is a fair distance from the main terrace.  The large white leaves of the June Bride caladiums reads well from a distance, by virtue of both the leaf size and color.  White New Guinea impatiens and lime nicotiana provides those caladiums with some flowering company. The curving bed line is a handsome contrast to the boxy geometry of the playhouse.

continer palntings.jpgThe main terrace is large.  There are a number of containers here, in close proximity to each other.  Most of the plantings on this container feature green plants, but there is a little punctuation provided by mass of white petunias,  and cathedral blue salvia.  New this year, a variegated boxwood sphere planted all around with maidenhair fern.

lavender-and-white.jpgA pair of stone wing walls terminate in a pair of large planters.  This year, cathedral blue salvia and euphorbia diamond frost hold the middle slot.  Hypnotica white dahlias and variegated licorice on both sides add visual weight and volume.  Airy growing plants look all the more delicate, paired with solid and compact plants.

annual-planting-schemes.jpgI don’t usually post pictures of container plantings when I first plant.  It is just about impossible to see what a few months of growth will add.  A small bay tree on standard will have that gawky trunk obscured by the apple mint planted on either side of it.  The idea here?  Plan for the eventual size, not the planting size.  Annuals in 4″ pots tend to be fairly uniform in size when they are ready to plant.  But the natural habit of growth and size will eventually prevail.  It is so important to imagine the overall shape that will be created by a group of plants once they grow in.  Miniature plants are great for small pots.  Big growing plants need to room to grow up and out.

annual-container-plantings.jpgThe triple ball eugenia is one of a pair of topiary plants we have over wintered in a greenhouse for a number of years.  At the base, we planted 4″ Madame Queen begonias.  I like the notion of using a plant that is usually the center of attention as a groundcover.  The Madame Queen is aptly named.  It will not suffer any amount of overwatering.  It requires expert and thoughtful care.  In August, they will wreath this pot with a crown of big ruffled leaves and angular white flower spikes.  The dignified eugenia will have ruffles.

summer-planting.jpgThis spot on the terrace belongs to a collection of English antiques.  A double sided bench with wrought iron deer legs is flanked by a pair of early 20th century faux bois pots on pedestals, and a pair of stone pots with lion feet.  A simple planting does the best justice to this collection.  The boxwood topiaries are underplanted with scotch moss.  The faux bois urns are planted with dwarf white caladiums.

agapanthus.jpgFour painted Belgian boxes have agapanthus planted in the center.  I am not worried that they will go out of bloom in another few weeks.  The strappy low foliage will be attractive all summer long.  The blue veined mini white petunias look a little bedraggled after we soaked the planted box.  We water a new planting until we are blue in the face.  This helps to settle the soil around the plants.  Even and ample moisture is critical for establishing the transplants.

white-mandevillea.jpgThe white mandevillea got stakes late in the day.  Providing a physical support for a vine means that vine will have a shape when it grows out.  A mandevillea grown with no structure makes its own interesting and wild statement.  Choose your look.

container-plantings.jpgThis old topiary Pandorea is coming out of storage at a perfect time-it is beginning to bloom.  The pot on the right-a Chicago fig encircled with dwarf King Tut. The contrast of the big fig leaves with the spidery Tut makes for an interesting visual conversation.  On the left  an elegant feather grass will have a tutu of scaevola and company.  Lots of height will contrast with lots of width.

This pair of white variegated dianella were overwintered as well, and are under planted with white polka dot plant.  The square stone trays have a centerpiece of helicrysum Icicles, and a border of hens and chicks and thyme.  This spot does not get sun all day long, but the plants chosen are tolerant of less than perfect conditions.

shade-annual-planting.jpgThe lead pots on the from porch are planted with Kimberly ferns.  The edge of the pot is planted all around with white polka dot plants.  That green and white will give the container a very finished look.

Venus-dogwoods67 containers, and three in ground plantings makes for an entire day’s work for 10 people.  One of my favorite parts is planting cirrus dusty miller around a circle of boxwood 35 feet in diameter. Several years ago we planted 8 Venus dogwoods inside that circle.  It is a treat to be there at just the right time, to see them blooming.


Some Like It Hot

cardigan welsh corgi

The blisteringly hot and persistent heat of the past week has made many a gardener, and the above pictured corgi, miserable.  Howard, who would not set foot outside the door if he thought he would get his feet wet, had an alternate plan for yesterday.  Strong winds were pushing water over the coping of my fountain.  He doesn’t look all that thrilled with his situation, but he had no plans to go elsewhere either. I had to laugh, watching him stand with obvious annoyance in a few inches of water.  Just like the rest of us, there was no getting around the heat.    


It may be stating the obvious, but plants evolve in response to their environment.  Though last week’s Garden Designers Roundtable topic focused on texture in the landscape, there was quite a bit of discussion about how the surface of a leaf says everything about a mechanism for survival.  I had never really thought about it before, but plants that live in environments where rain is extremely scarce have evolved to minimize the evaporation of water.  Those leaves are thick skinned.  Tropical plants where rain is frequent and heavy can survive just fine with thin and jumbo sized leaves.    

Petunias are native to Argentina.  Many species of helichrysum, like the variegated licorice pictured above, are native to South Africa.  The blue-green frosted curls sedge is a cool season grass, meaning it grows best before the advent of hot weather, and after the cessation of hot weather.  It tolerates, but does not grow much, in really hot weather.  These plants are equipped to handle the heat.

sunny window boxes

Most of the plants I use in containers are hybrids of non-native, tropical plants.  The petunias like to be grown on the dry side, and usually do well in the heat of our summers.  They come from places that are routinely hot.  New Zealand sedges, of which the hybrid Frosted Curls is an example, are native to a far more temperate zone than mine. They can tolerate our midsummer heat.  But not all heat is created equal.  Extreme heat is one thing, but extreme heat that goes on for an extremely long time takes a toll.

heat loving annuals.jpg

The petunias are fine, and growing lushly-at the moment.  They are dealing with this weather far better than I.  The white mandevillea will sit until the weather gets hot-they are native to central and South America.  Many mandevilleas are native to Brazil.  They grow and bloom like crazy in hot climates.  I expect this white mandevillea will get bigger and bloom more should our hot weather persist.  Nicotiana species can be found in environements all over the globe.  I find mine do quite well over the summer, and rebloom profusely.  Nicotiana mutabilis in particular will rev up in the fall, and send out substantial new flowering stalks.


Cassia didymobotrya is commonly known as the popcorn plant.  The fragrance of buttered popcorn is strikingly apparent, should you run your fingers across the stems and leaves.  It is a shrub, native to South America, that will grow 4 to 6 feet tall in one season.  They may grow larger, given a hot season.  They make a substantial showing in a container garden.  They throw yellow flowers on and off all summer. I am particularly fond of the pea-type leaves.  Cassia is a tropical plant with a very airy appearance.  Planted in a cast iron cistern placed at the edge of our asphalt street, it looks stress free, and is growing well.

Texas sage topiary

Texas sage is as it suggests-it thrives under desert conditions.  I have never had a leucophyllum bloom for me, but perhaps this year I will get lucky.  They like desert conditions, but oddly enough require some humidity to bloom well.  I cannot believe the usual Michigan humidity is far behind. I know that many grey foliaged plants are native to dry places.    Lavenders and grey salvias will not tolerate too much water for long. 

I do know there can come a point when heat can severely damage plants.  The first line of defense against life threatening damage is to go dormant.  Both plants and animals will aestivate, meaning they slow down their activity, in order to conserve moisture and energy.  Petunias and impatiens will go out of flower, if they temperatures get too hot, and stay too hot. Our drought-like conditions are not helping one bit with the effects of the heat.  Many lawns in my area have gone brown and dormant-they are aestivating.  Should the soil temperature gets too high, roots can literally cook.  I remember a summer in the mid eighties where many growers in the Cleveland area lost nursery stock from soil temperatures that soared over 100 degrees.  There is nothing that can be done to defend against extreme weather like this.

white nicotiana

The best I can do to help my plants survive a bout of unusually hot weather is to water them when they need it. Even if that means I am outside with a hose when I would rather be anywhere else.  So far, so good.