Another Perennial Garden


I did plant a second perennial garden this week-however many days ago I posted about the prep.  Steve did a great job of prepping the soil-we usually add plant mix, a mix of topsoil and compost- to garden soil.  I like perennial beds to be pouffy.  Crowned in the center.  So many perennial plants are extremely hardy, given good drainage.  A perennial bed that sits lower than the grade of the lawn will have problems.   This picture makes clear how this perennial sits higher than the lawn.  Perennials swimming in waterlogged soil will give up without much of a fight.  If I had my choice, no ground in a landscape would be perfectly flat.  Every surface would have positive drainage, in addition surface drainage.  The best part of landscaping a new house-I have a good relationship with that person on the bulldozer that sets the grades. Raised boxes specifically built to grow vegetables-this is all about drainage.   Lest I spend too much time on the obvious, I will simply state that water runs downhill.  Sculpt the ground accordingly.       

The photograph of this phlox Nicky is courtesy of the Crownsville Nursery.  The darkest carmine/purple of all the summer phlox, it resists mildew and disease such that you would want to grow it.   The smell of phlox in the summer-divine.  I like the color, and I like the vigor.  This phlox is going into this perennial garden.    

We refined the curve on the edge of this perennial bed.  Perennial beds without edger strip ask for an edger/gardener of great skill.  Any bed edge that curves needs a long slow curve with no flat spots.  If you are having trouble determining a curve, get your hose out.  Play with that hose until you get graceful curves-and then cut the edge.  Alternately, but a stake in the ground, and tie a loosely tied string to it, and mark an arc as long as you need.  Finding the right spot to put the stake just takes a little experimentation.   

The Vision series of astibles are amazing.  They are vigorous growers.  The colors are clear, and striking.  This pink, purple, lavender and white perennial garden got a big dose of these astilbes.   Should you have some part shade areas, consider Visions pink or red. This garden begins and ends with some shadier spots.  I plan to mass both areas with lady’s mantle, Jack Frost brunnera, and this astilbe.   

I have never been convinced that Gaura is hardy in my zone, but here I am planting them.  They are willowy, and beautiful in a very understated way. 

My love affair with lilies is at least 30 years old.   That is a story appropriate for another post.  But this week, the Oriental hybrid lily known as Acapulco got my attention.  Where the idea came from to plant lilies in this garden was driven by the small space in question. Bulb lilies take up  very little space, but add lots of color to any perennial garden.  They require good drainage to persist; they sometimes need to be staked.  The Lily Garden offers a wide selection of lily bulbs by mail.     

The Magic Fountains delphiniums made a big statement the day they got planted. They are fairly easy to grow, and are quite vigorous.  Their shorter stature makes it easier to gracefully stake the heavy flower stalks.  Double pink knockout roses alternated with white hardy hibiscus and planted behind the delphiniums.  Pink platycodon, and pink echinacea are alternated with Russian sage.  On the border, Blue Mist scabiosa, Geranium Rozanne, and lady’s mantle.    

The Oriental hybrid lily Tom Pouce flowers are orchid pink with lemon yellow streaks.  This is a very showy flower indeed-not at all for the faint of heart.  Flowers that are attention getting are good in gardens viewed from a distance.  Who would not want to walk up to insepct a flower like this at close range?  Subtle flowers are best up close, where they can be better appreciated. 

Though the perennials have not been planted yet, it is easy to imagine what the garden will look like once it begins to grow in.  The white flowers of the Annabelle hydrangea we left in the garden will draw the eye towards the back of the garden.  The very large existing clump of Sum and Substance hosta in the foreground provide wecome green relief to the mix of colors all around this.  My client likes pink, purple and white.  I think this garden will provide her with a summer garden she will really enjoy.

A Cottage Garden

Mackinac Island, Michigan, is any perennial garden’s heaven on earth.  The drainage is perfect.  The breeze off the water and the cool nights keeps fungus at bay.  It is a lean life; there is not much soil.  But it is a good life.  The air and the water are clean.  The color of the flowers is brilliant.  Though the island is far north, the water is a mitigating circumstance.  Most anything hardy for me in the Detroit area is hardy there. Mackinac Island?  A really great place for a cottage garden.

A summer cottage on the island means there is no particular call for evergreen structure. There is no need for a winter landscape.  The summer perennial gardens can be the sum total of the landscape.This particular garden-every shrub was a rose.  The thriving Rosa Glauca at the top right of this picture was beautiful in bloom, and equally beautiful in leaf. The large stands of shasta daisies, beautiful.  

What exactly is a cottage garden?  My understanding is as follows. The origin of cottage gardens reside firmly on English turf; such is their history.  Big, easy, loose, breezy, informal, friendly, meadowy-a cottage garden gives space for every plant to be the best it can be.  No edging.  No roll call. Local-most assuredly. Situated in the village or neighborhood-of course.  Low key-by this I mean artless.  A hello garden.  Come round to see the columbines-they look rather good today.  Later, the delphiniums might be representing.  No need for a letter-just a friendly call.  The delphiniums look great-want to pop by for a glass of wine and a tour?      

Cottage gardens are welcoming. A stone walk leading to the house from a pair of garden gazebos asked for some planting, some softening.  Rock garden plants thrived here.  Armerias, thymes, sedums, heathers and heaths, saxifrage, iris setosa, flax-I could go on.  I planted this walk with the intent that the way to the front door would be a garden experience.  Walkways can be planted.  A walk can be a garden, should you plan for this.  Any tall plant in a walk can slow down the pace.  If you have a garden, you are in charge of the experience of that garden.  This garden says hello, welcome, how are you doing-so pleased to see you.  All of this exchange, easy and exuberant.      

Herbs played a big role in the plant material specified for this cottage garden.  This patch of dill-beautiful. Cottage gardens suggest utility as much as they suggest the beauty of nature.  The generous intersection of the beauty of nature, flowers, herbs, and optimitistic community.  This makes for a cottage garden.    

Hollyhocks-what could be better?  This stand, accompanied by the salvia hybrid May Night- this is a good look.  Old fashioned hollyhocks-most every cottage gardener would fall for them, as well they should.        

The Carefree Beauty rose hedge across the front of this cottage provided structure, and stature.  Shrub roses are so easy to love. They are equally easy to make happy. Why would you not have them?  A Mackinac garden is different than most-the spring and the summer run together.  The dianthus blooms with the roses.  There is but one big blooming each season.  This garden is particular to a place.  Your garden is equally as particular.  Take notes.       

Plants thrive, given a judicious placement.  This stand of lamb’s ears-really happy.  Should you have and love a cottage garden, place every plant in the spot you deem the best.  Plan, and plan again.  Plant.  Once you have planted. watch what happens.  Interfere as little as you can.  Expect to hear music.    

Certain plants speak to the cottage garden idea.  Shrub and species roses, monardas, salvias, hollyhocks.  Boltonia, shasta daisies, astilbe, hyssop, dill, fennel, species delphiniums, columbines, echinacea, asters, Japanese Anemones-and so on.   There are lots of perennial plants out there.  A version of spring arrived today in my zone; it is about time.       

The roses, the herbs, the tomato plants, the rock garden plants, the perennials, the meadow, this and the structure that-write a recipe, and cook.  It is spring.

The Silver Maple

A client purchased an empty lot next door to them, with the idea of completely reinventing the landscape such that two properties would read as one. Though it did not have the best looking shape in the world, there was an existing silver maple they were reluctant to take down. I understand this feeling completely; I do not like to take down trees either. I work with existing plants all the time; we would work with this one. 

Every other plant on both lots was dug and moved.  The maple was out there on its own. I did not want to design a landscape around this tree; it was in less than ideal condition.  There were views across the new lot that would be important from the rear porch; I could tell right away that the landscape design would be impacted by this tree.   I designed the schematic landscape as if it were not there, knowing that when the time came, I would be working around that tree. 

The landscape eventually called for four large perennial beds that would terminate in a radius of arborvitae.    A pergola 27 feet long set midway and perpendicular to those beds visually anchors the space.  The silver maple is just barely visible on the left; the trunk is half in, and half out of the bed.  I rather like a very formal design that is punctuated by some unexpected  element.  The element of surprise can be a very effective way to focus attention on the overall geometry of the space. 

There was but a very short time that this view would be visible.  Once the plants were installed, it would look like that tree had sprouted and grown out of an existing garden. The fact that the trunk tips slightly away from the garden lends a little visual weight to that argument.  Much more difficult than than getting this tree to work with these four quadrant gardens would be getting the perennials to work with that tree. The maple casts a good deal of shade-the shade was by no means even.  I wanted a tall and substantial garden with plant material that repeated the same mix in each quadrant.  My client wanted perennials with white, lavender and purple flowers.

The view out to the gardens is a long one. What was an empty lot is not so empty anymore. I believe that even if the maple had fallen within the grass path out to the pergola, the design would still have worked. Three multi-trunked birch that had once been in the back yard were successfully transplanted to the side lot. 

I chose plants with a reputation for tolerating varying conditions.  Hellebores I knew would do fine even in the sunnier areas. Bridal Veil Astilbe, and Astilbe Tacquettii Superba do well here.  Gold drop hosta, Jack Frost brunnera, White Innocence and Concord grape tradescantia and alchemilla mollis were planted along the border with sufficient space in between to allow for some low annual planting. The dominant plant is snakeroot-cimicifuga racemosa.  Its white bottle-brush flowers on long graceful racemes give a garden the height I was after.  Monarda fistulosa Claire Grace gives a  great show of lavender flowers at about the same time.   

The pergola was planted with sweet autumn clematis, clematis Jackmani Superba, and clematis viticella violacea. It has been a challenge to keep the rabbits away from them, but they finally seem like they are taking hold. 

I plant an occasional nicotiana alata white, here and there.  White Japanese anemone and aconitums are the star of the show in very late summer. They are just budding up now.

It has been three years since this garden was planted; it seems to be doing well.  Of course there will come a time when some division or replacing will be necessary.  The clematis are a little behind schedule-the day when they are dripping from the roof of the pergola will be a good day. 

The silver maple in question has company now.

The Luria Garden

aug-26-025I do have clients who are hands on; Dr. Luria is one of those.  I designed his landscape, and gardens, and I have planted a few of the bigger evergreens for him-but by and large, he has done this work himself. I can relate to that gardener that really does like the dirt. The perennial garden sits on top of a low elliptical wall, which strongly borders the space while the garden is dormant.   

aug-26-024lI tried very hard to dissuade him from having a perennial garden in his front yard, but working against me was  how the house sits on the property.  This neighborhood has large common areas that all the homeowners share.  Thus most of his property, and almost all of his sun is in the front yard.  I need not have worried.  This garden is better than well looked after.  It is the jewel of the neighborhood.

A dwarf conifer garden lines the walk to the front door from the drive.  These evergreens in different shapes and textures and colors  have grown in beautifully over the years. Along with the douglas fir in the lawn, and the yews near the front door, the dwarf conifers see to providing visual interest during the winter months. A pair of dwarf magnolias are a welcome shift of texture from the evergreen needles.  The side yard is dominated by groups of Limelight hydrangeas, fringed in boxwood.  The white flowers read strongly from the street; they look inviting.   

aug-26-011In the back yard, The woodland common property is faced down with a mix of shade perennials. This greatly helps to expand the visual space of the rear yard. I suspect he takes care of the woodlot as well.  A round terrace/deck is notable for its beautiful iron railings.  What I dislike about decks the most is what I see underneath them;  I rarely see a surface treatment I find attractive.  The undersides of decks also tend to accumulate tools, hoses, toys and the like. This deck has the illusion of being solid to the ground; the vertical wood planks add so much color and texture to this small garden.  The stairs hug the deck radius,  and spill out onto a second terrace,  finished simply in gravel contained by black aluminum edger strip.  The blue furniture looks great.

aug-26-0221I so enjoy the gardens my clients make for themselves.  Never would it occur to me to plant a cactus garden in an iron birdbath.  Does this not look swell?  I like everything about this small spot in his garden-the color, the textures-and most of all, the presence and personality of the head gardener.

luria12Dr. Luria has been making things grow his whole life, and it shows.  The plants are robustly happy and lush; how they look says everything about how much time he spends here. Though I am sure there are days he wonders what he took on here, the state of the garden gives no hint of that. Well grown plants are so much a part of what makes a garden beautiful.

luria30He also does a beautiful job of adding annuals to his perennial mix.  Any day you go by, something interesting is going on.  In any given year, the annuals he fancies can change the complexion of the entire garden.  It looks new and fresh every year.  He may consult with me about this or that, but he makes the decisions.

He likes plants, and he likes color, but how he mixes and matches works.  The garden is graceful, relaxed, and profuse.  I know how much work it is to keep that wild look just this side of chaos.  He clearly does not fear the work of it.  In fact, the entire gardens looks like he enjoys it. 

This garden is truly lovely; he is the driving force behind all you’ve seen here.  He should be very proud of it, should he not?