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Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

Salvia ‘Hot Lips’

Salvia Hot Lips

Salvia Hot Lips

Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ seems to be a really hot plant this summer. Several of these flowers are in bloom on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, and I have a couple blooming on my hellstrip in Greenfield.

Visitors to  the Bridge have written and asked the name of this beautiful shrub. It took me a while to identify it because  I think of it as an annual and not a shrub. However, Monrovia Nursery calls it a shrub and in zones 8-10 it is a perennial.  It has a very airy habit and the two tone flowers are delightful. Under ideal circumstances it will reach three feet tall with an equal spread.

Monrovia calls this a  waterwise plant because it does not need much watering once it is established. It loves the sun and heat. I have planted this on my curbside garden which gets a lot of shade during the day so it is less floriferous right now, but on the Bridge of Flowers where it gets full sun it is still blooming energetically. I will find a sunnier spot for it next year.

The photo is from Monrovia by Richard Schiell.

 

Drought Tolerant Perennials

Russian sage, cosmos, coneflowers and phlox
My drought tolerant perennials: Russian sage, cosmos, coneflowers, and phlox

I need water loving plants, but I have not forgotten that many need drought tolerant perennials. Some gardeners have soil that drains quickly, and we all fret about summer months when no rain falls, or have periods of very hot weather of the kind we’ve enjoyed recently. Fortunately there is a long list of plants that do not mind long periods of hot and dry weather. Some of them may surprise you.

One surprising family of drought resistant plants are the heucheras, coral bells. Coral bells will grow in full sun, but they also welcome some shade in our area. The coral bell flowers of their name are not always very notable, but it is the foliage that is the real draw. Heucheras now come in a myriad of colors from bright lime green to rich burgundy and even black. The cultivar names tell it all from Champagne and Electric Lime to Fire Chief and Grape Soda to Chocolate Ruffles and Black Taffeta. It is the foliage that makes heucheras so welcome all season long.

Fall, when temperatures are moderated, is a good planting season for heucheras as for many perennials that you might find on sale, or that you may be dividing in your own garden.

I was also surprised to see that Baptisia, false indigo, is also drought tolerant. Although I have it in my own garden, which I very rarely water, I wasn’t paying attention to the fact that the baptisia and most of my perennials don’t suffer noticeably from the dry summers we have had. Baptisia with its clover-like foliage and erect racemes of blue flowers blooms in the spring. There are white and yellow varieties as well. Full sun is about all they need to be happy. They develop long tap roots so once established they are not easy to transplant successfully.

Japanese anemones bloom in late summer and into the fall. I always think the white or pink blossoms look very fragile, but they have three to four foot strong wiry stems and have never minded our recent dry summers. They have been slow to take hold in my garden, but once they do they make generous clumps. I have seen waves of Japanese anemones shining in the autumnal sun at BerkshireBotanical Garden. It makes a stunning display.

A sunny and sun-loving flower is heliopsis, the oxeye perennial sunflower. It will grow to three or four feet tall and bloom for a good part of the summer, especially if you deadhead spent blossoms. It’s a relative of helianthus, the true sunflower. It attracts butterflies and is useful as a cut flower.

Coreopsis, tickseed, is a family of golden yellow flowers ranging in size from three feet like Crème Brulee, but most range from 12-18 inches tall. Shades of yellow abound, but the new Sienna Sunset has shades of apricot and sienna. Coreopsis needs no special soil, attention or watering.

It is no real surprise that lavender which grows in the Mediterranean climate of Provence in France is drought tolerant. I remember Elsa Bakalar’s lavender hedge which sometimes gave her trouble because it was too wet in the spring. I could never keep straight the names, but my favorite was the classic Hidcote which has deep purple blossoms, but she also grew Munstead which was a paler shade. There are larger varieties. Provence grows to more than two feet tall in a generous clump. Of course, it is the unique fragrance of lavender that makes it such a popular plant. Flower stalks can be harvested and dried to make sachets or potpourri.

Achilleas, yarrow, come in many shades from white Snowsport to the deep red of Red Velvet. Moonshine, with blue-grey foliage and gentle yellow blossoms is an old favorite as is the tall Coronation Gold with its large flower heads that dry well and are wonderful in fall arrangements.

Coneflower
Coneflower

Happily there are many annuals that can keep a mixed border in bloom all season. Some like zinnias, marigolds, cleome and cosmos easily tolerate hot, dry summer days. Nasturtiums can crawl over dry soil and create a kind of living mulch without demanding regular watering.

There are drought tolerant vines. Sweet peas are beautiful annual vines that don’t mind dry soil once they are established.

Clematis is a perennial vine that comes in many shades and flower forms. The rich purple jackmanii that twines over so many mailboxes and lampposts is familiar and loved, but there is the new Red Star which produces double red blossoms in early summer and then in early fall.

The trick with growing clematis is to get the pruning schedule under control. There are three groups of clematis with three pruning schedules. Catalogs or nurseries will always mark which group a particular plant belongs to. I just read a mnemonic that says Group A means prune AFTER bloom; Group B means prune BEORE bloom in early spring and Group C means CUT back hard in early spring to 12-18 inches from the ground. There is a little more to it than that, but a good beginning.

There are many other suitable plants, salvias, catmints, penstemons, Russian sage, asters and coneflowers. We should remember that even drought tolerant plants need to be watered regularly after they are planted until they are established. It is good to know that whether we have a wet or a dry garden, we will always have many choices.

Zinnias
Drought Tolerant annual zinnias

Between the Rows   August 22, 2015

 

 

 

Views from Two Windows

View from the window
View from the Bedroom Window in Heath

The views from two windows show what we are leaving and where we are going. Over the past couple of years I have been documenting the view from our bedroom in Heath, marking the changes in the seasons. These photos of the  foreground view of the lawn gardens, the mid-ground view of the fields and the background view of the hills are what we have enjoyed living with, admiring and working with for 35 years.  We continue to enjoy and work on this plot of land, but our focus is broadening to encompass a new garden in the making in Greenfield.

View from the window
View from the window in Greenfield

The West Garden in Greenfield does not yet show the graceful beds and paths that I imagine, but there are hints that can be seen. The placement of the waterloving shrubs is visible, but we have planted perennials that are too small to make a photographic impact. Most of these perennials like Siberian and Japanese irises, mistflower, culvers root, joe pye weed and others are also wet tolerant if not water loving.

View from the window

View from the Greenfield window

The latest addition to the West Garden is the new fence that changes the whole feeling of the garden. It defines the spece so that we can really see the spot that is intended for our blueberry patch, as well as support for some climbers. By this time next week I expect/hope to have the plantings done. The last bit of loam will be gone, but there may still be some compost. I don’t think it will take long to use up.

What next?  I’m not sure. We are taking this step by step.

Everything Changes – Even the Garden Rules

River Birch tree bed
River Birch tree bed

Everything changes. Our whole life is changing, but there are smaller changes in the world, like changes  in cultivation rules, come to all gardeners with some regularity.

We have been planting trees and shrubs in Greenfield and have followed new rules, and rubbed up against others unhappily.

One old practice, if not a rule, about planting trees was that you could leave on the wire cage if it came with one, and that you could leave the ball and burlap if it came to the garden that way. I don’t really understand the rationale about leaving those constraints, but I do know of a case where a person had a landscaper plant several trees and they were all dead or dying the by the following year. A different landscaper was brought in to investigate and discovered strangled roots caused by the intact wire cage. This did not seem like a surprising outcome to me.

Even planting a tree with burlap holding soil and the roots together needs to be undone. The burlap can be cut away, and beyond that, the roots should be disturbed. The situation is similar for container grown trees. I bought two container grown trees, and when I finally got them out of the container it was clear that there was very little planting medium left and that substantial roots and just grown round and round inside the container.

We dug planting holes that were at least twice as wide as the container, but not much deeper. The soil in our new garden is heavy clay and I simply could not bring myself to use this soil without adding compost. The newest thinking about planting trees and large shrubs is that if you add fertilizer or large amounts of compost the roots will be happy growing in the planting hole until they need to grow into the surrounding soil, which they do not find enticing. Also, large amounts of compost will rot over time and the tree will sink slightly.

So I confess, I did add some compost, and a measure of loam to the removed soil. I also loosened soil within the planting hole. Before planting I cut and untangled the roots as best I could and gave the root-bound mass a vigorous watering with the hose that also helped loosen the roots. The disturbed roots will then start growing new roots. I made sure not to plant the tree too deeply. The planting hole more resembled a bowl than a pit.

The new thinking about what to do after the tree is planted and watered properly is to spread a layer of compost and mulch around the newly planted tree. It has been pointed out that this is the way Mother Nature enriches the soil, from the top down. Because my design plan is to have wide tree and shrub beds separated by curving paths I have been using the lasagna method with compost, cardboard and mulch over the whole area of the bed.

In this case I have not completely followed the rules and we’ll have to see how things come along. So far so good, but that is not proof. Indeed it will not even be proof that breaking the rules is proof that the rule is not correct. I always say there are many mysteries in the garden, and other people say you can not always claim that result B was caused by action A. Sometimes it is hard to pin down a cause.

The final part of planting a tree is staking it. Or not. I certainly remember the careful directions for staking a tree carefully. I think I may even have staked a tree or two, with firm wire and old hose length and stout stakes, but usually I was too busy or too lazy and most of our trees did fine without a stake. Now the official word is out. Staking not needed. A tree swaying in the breeze is getting just the exercise it needs to grow strong.

Recently my husband and I have been having what we like to call discussions about the benefits of mulching with arborist wood chips. Last year I got a couple of big free loads of chips from the arborists clearing along the side of the road. My husband retains the view that wood chips will tie up the nitrogen in the soil and make it acidic.

I counter by quoting Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott Associate Professor at WashingtonStateUniversity, author of The Informed Gardener and other books, and a participant in The Garden Professors ™ blog. According to research arborist wood chips were one of the best mulch performers in a group of 15 in terms of moisture retention, temperature moderation, weed control and sustainability.

One of the reasons for their benefits is that arborist wood chips are made up of bark, wood and leaves. The physical diversity of these materials reduce compaction that will occur with sawdust or bark mulches. Different elements in wood chips mulch break down at different rates and so create a diverse environment that encourages diverse biological and bacterial life in  the soil.

Often wood chips can be acquired at no charge. Using local wood chips will keep them out of landfills, and this is another environmental benefit.

I am using some bark mulch in my new Greenfield garden beds, but I am bringing down as much of my Heath wood chip pile as I can. I am working on improving my soil structure and adding some enrichment. Mulch applied before weeds arrive will keep the weed count down – just exactly what I am trying  to do now.

Science is always refining its knowledge. Advice is always changing, and while it can be hard to give up old habits and methods, I try to keep up with new research and new ideas about the best ways to garden.

Between the Rows   August 15, 2015

 

We have a winner!

Beardless irises 7-21We have a winner for Beardless Irises: A plant for every garden situation by Kevin C. Vaughn. Congratulations to Cathy over at Rambling in the Garden.

Last Chance for the Beardless Irises Giveaway

Beardless Irises: A plant for Every Garden Situation

Beardless Irises: A plant for Every Garden Situation

 

Today is your last chance to leave a comment here to win this book, heavily illustrated with beautiful photographs of irises you never heard of. At least irises I never heard of. Beardless Irises  is by Kevin Vaughn who knows all about Siberian and Japanese irises and even Louisiana iriseswhich I am familiar with, but also Pacific Coast Irises which I can’t grow, and the amazing tall, water-loving Spuria irises which  sound perfect for my new garden.  Leave a comment here. The drawing will be tomorrow morning, August 19.  You could be a lucky winner.

Bloom Day August 2015 AND Giveaway

Bloom day tangle Coneflowers, phlox, cosmos and Russian Sage

Bloom day tangle Coneflowers, phlox, cosmos and Russian Sage

On this Bloom Day it is clear I haven’t spent as much time as usual on the Heath Garden. And yet, there are blooms like this tangle of phlox, coneflowers, Russian sage and cosmos. I can always count on cosmos to fill in. I’m trying not to capture the vigor of the weeds.

Echinops
Echinops

There is also a tangle of Echinops down in a corner of the Sunken Garden which I often fail to mention.

Casa Blanca lily

Casa Planca lily and phlox

In all the tangles the Casa blanca lily looks calm and serene.

Black Beauty lilies and bee balm

Black Beauty lilies and Bee balm

The bee balm is  a tangle with the Black Beauty lilies that are still going strong, although the blossoms are not as large as usuaal. Crowded? Needing more compost? Investigation required.

Ann Varner Daylily

Ann Varner Daylily

The Daylily Bank is going by, but Ann Varner, a late daylily, is keeping things  going.

Of course t here are a few other things in bloom, heleniums, hydrangeas, thalictrum, Henrii lilies, and the Thomas Affleck rose.  At the Greenfield house the new Knockout Red rose is blooming, as are the hydrangeas. Next year should be much more floriferous on the Shrub and rose bed. I hope.  For more views of what is blooming across this great land go on over to visit Carol, our host, at May Dreams Gardens.

No irises in bloom now, but if you want to take a chance on winning the beautiful book Beardless Iriises: A plant for every garden situation click here and leave a comment at the bottom of the post. I will draw the name of the lucky  winner on August 19.

Beardless Irises – and Giveaway

Beardless Irises: A plant for Every Garden Situation

Beardless Irises: A plant for Every Garden Situation

I recently reviewed Beardless Irises: A plant for every garden situation and now Schiffer publishing is offering a Giveaway of this beautiful, fascinating and useful book.

  I have been reading Beardless Irises: A Plant for Every Garden Situation by Keven C. Vaughn and published by Schiffer.  My own experience with beardless irises is with Siberian irises which are one of the most beautiful and easy care flowers in the world, and Japanese irises which often have a flatter flower and are truly spectacular. I never knew that beardless irises ranged from the sweet and petite, to the tall and stunning spurias.

            I never knew anything about Pacific coast native irises which we cannot really grow in our area because of the winters, but amazingly Louisiana irises, and spuria irises are definite possibilities. I will never take the iris family for granted again.

            Vaughn is a scholar, hybridizer and has a PhD in plant genetics. He gives us  common gardeners the information about whether a particular type of iris will thrive in our climate, as well as the usual cultural info about soil, fertilizer and sun requirements, but the book is also rich in the stories of hybridizers and their work. If you like to know how a stunning plant came to be, or even how to create your own hybrids, this is the book for you.

If you would like a chance to win a copy of this book with its stunning photographs of the many varieties and cultivars of beardless irises, all you have to do is leave a comment below. Perhaps you have a favorite iris to mention. I will have a drawing for this book on Wednesday, August 19.  Good luck!

 

Japanese iris

Japanese iris on display

Progress Report – Home Outside Design

Hellstrip

July 13 Hellstrip

Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade” Kipling said, and I must add that they are not made by looking at a plan, even one as beautiful as the custom design I am holding created by Home Outside. Gardens are made by thinking and digging, moving compost, planting and getting very dirty. Lots of skull work, and lots of muscle work.

Let me recap our adventures of planting a whole new garden in Greenfield. We took possession of our house at the end of May. My first garden project was digging up the hellstrip, that bit of grass between the sidewalk and the road. I dug in compost and then planted astilbes, daylilies, bee balm, chrysanthemums and clumps of the annual salvia ‘Hot Lips.’ I was marking my space and also letting my neighbors know we had arrived.

The second project was planting a holding bed on the north side of the backyard to hold perennials that were being moved from Heath, or purchased before I could plant them in the garden. Using the lasagna method, we moved compost and loam on top of cardboard and created a 12 foot long raised bed that has proved very useful. Not much thinking but a lot of muscle work.

Shrub and Rose Border

July 6 Shrub and Rose Boder

The third project was planting a shrub, rose and perennial border along the south property line. More lasagna technique, again moving loads of compost and loam, and planting hydrangeas, lilacs, and viburnams in the ground. Now at the end of July, roses have been planted in front of the big shrubs, a few perennials have been added along with groundcovers. I keep telling myself it will look great next year.

In early July we began working with the two custom design plans that Home Outside created for us. Their designs were based on the constraints of the lot, and answers we gave on a questionnaire about the ways we use our garden and our wishlist. We found out that it is not always easy to follow a plan. New ideas of our own, prompted by the plan pop up, as well as delays and changes caused by unexpected events like a flood in the backyard.

But we are forging on. Over the past week or so we created more lasagna beds around the water tolerant trees and shrubs we planted. More cardboard, compost and loam. I also saw the need for more plants to put in the new beds. Time to shop.

Along with a new neighbor I drove off to Nasami Farm, the propagation arm of the New England Wildflower Society. I couldn’t resist buying another winterberry. Remember it only takes one male winterberry to keep several females in beautiful berries. I also bought another viburnam because these shrubs have lacy spring flowers, produce berries in the fall, and get big. The viburnam we have in Heath is about ten feet tall or more, and with a wide spread. That is a lot of plant for the price when you are trying to fill up a low maintenance garden quickly. I am celebrating my 75th birthday this week, so I am in a hurry to enjoy a lush garden, but one that doesn’t make me work so hard.

The perennials I added include butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberose, which blooms in a hot shade of golden orange. It is only one or two feet tall. While it does not demand a wet site, it is considered suitable for rain gardens which will periodically be very wet.

Culver’s root, Veronicacastrum virginicum, looks something like a tall veronica, and could reach six or seven feet tall. It tolerates wet sites and is suitable for a rain garden. The tall spires of pale flowers that bloom in July attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Another tall plant that doesn’t mind wet sites is Joe Pye weed. This tough plant often seen by roadsides attracts butterflies and other pollinators as well. The mounded pink-mauve compound blossoms bloom from midsummer into the fall.

You can see that many of the plants I am putting in my garden are plants that you might find in the wild. In fact, the driving motive for my plant choices, besides being wet tolerant, is plants that will feed the small wildlife of our region, birds, butterflies, bees, and all the other unsung pollinators that are so important to our environment.

The garden we are planting in Greenfield is different from any garden we have desired in the past. Originally I only wanted to grow vegetables. Then with my friend Elsa Bakalar I discovered the joys of flower gardening. During our two years in China I developed a whole new appreciation for the green garden where very few flowers were wanted or needed for beauty.

Broadening my view of what a garden is or could be does not mean that I dismiss all that I wanted before. A broader view means I can appreciate more kinds of plants and more ways of arranging them in the landscape. I still want some edibles like blueberries and herbs in my new garden. I still want flowers. I still want color. But I also want to know that my garden is benefitting the natural world in ways I had not actively considered before.

View from the window

July 30 View from the window

Now when I look out at the view from the bedroom window the planted beds still don’t have any grace. The meandering paths I demanded from Home Outside haven’t appeared, but I can see graceful, meandering shapes forming. I may be the only one who can see those shapes right now, but I know that gardens are not made by sitting in the shade, and we haven’t been doing much sitting recently.

Between the Rows   August 1, 2015

Drainage Problems and Happy Irises

The day after we planted all our water tolerant shrubs Greenfield was inundated by torrential rains. I was told over three inches of rain fell the afternoon and evening of July 7. We knew that our Greenfield house had a wet backyard and after planting nine shrubs we were fully aware of the heavy clay soil. However we did not expect several inches of standing water in the back half of the yard.

Fortunately, our excellent plumber, Scott Zilinski, helped us out by helping to design and dig a drainage trench near the old sheds. The yard looks flat, but in fact there are subtle dips and hollows which were identifiable by looking at the worst areas of wet. The drainage trench may be extended in the corner next to our neighbor’s driveway.

It was also clear to see that the area next to the northern fence was equally under water. We are now considering the possibility of a rain garden in that area to catch heavy rainfall, and rain runoff. We now realize that our lot is slightly lower than the two lots next to us, and that those two pieces of property have a lot of paving causing some runoff onto our lot.

It was while attending events and programs at the Conway School of Design that I first learned about the importance of permeable surfaces that would allow rain to be absorbed and kept on site. It was also about that time that our son in Cambridge, Massachusetts told us that the city had regulations about how much of a lot could be covered, and how much had to be given to permeable surfaces. Cambridge’s concern was the capacity of their storm sewers. I now have a whole new appreciation of that concern and the importance of permeable surfaces.

Carrying out our Home Outside design plan has come to a brief halt while we consider various options to improving our drainage.

One new drainage idea surfaced when I joined a Greenfield Garden Club tour of Jono Neiger’s forest garden. Neiger is one of the founders of the Regenerative Design Group in Greenfield. Their mission is not only to create sustainable landscapes, but to make them better, to regenerate them. One of the topics that came up as we walked through the different sections of Neiger’s garden was hugelkulture (hoo-gel culture) which makes use of logs and woodland debris to improve the soil. There are many aspects of hugelkuture but one in particular caught my attention.

When I explained our situation to Neiger he said one could dig a trench, two feet wide and three feet deep and then fill it with logs and other compostable debris, sod and leaves and such like and top it with a layer of soil. The wood will slowly compost, adding nutrients and soaking up water, improving the soil. Not a quick fix, but fascinating nonetheless. Our soil could use improvement.

Beardless Irises

Beardless Irises

While we think about next steps I have been reading Beardless Irises: A Plant for Every Garden Situation by Keven C. Vaughn and published by Schiffer. My own experience with beardless irises is with Siberian irises which are one of the most beautiful and easy care flowers in the world, and Japanese irises which often have a flatter flower and are truly spectacular. I never knew that beardless irises ranged from the sweet and petite, to the tall and stunning spurias.

I never knew anything about Pacific coast native irises which we cannot really grow in our area because of the winters, but amazingly Louisiana irises, and spuria irises are definite possibilities. I will never take the iris family for granted again.

We have purple and white Siberian irises in Heath and I always planned to bring some of them down to Greenfield. They are not only beautiful they don’t mind being wet. In fact, one gorgeous clump of deep purple/blue Siberians somehow jumped into a swale in our field where they have lived very happily for several years.

A few years ago I bought a beautiful white Japanese iris from Andrew Wheeler at Foxbrook Iris Farm in Colrain. He told me that Japanese iris didn’t need to be growing in a wet site, but they did need to be planted where they could be watered regularly. I planted it in front of the house where there is excellent drainage, and where I do keep it watered, but I am hoping that it will be even happier when it is moved to Greenfield.

Spurias love water so much that Vaughn suggests taking a plastic kiddie pool, with holes cut in the bottom, and sinking it into the ground, then filling it with good soil for a planting site. Then that area can be watered heavily without causing a problem for surrounding plants which might not need quite so much water. Spurias are tall ranging from three to five feet although we are warned that in our colder climate they may be slightly shorter. In any event they promise to be a dramatic planting, the clump growing larger every year, but not demanding to be divided.

Vaughn is a scholar, hybridizer and has a PhD in plant genetics. He gives us common gardeners the information about whether a particular type of iris will thrive in our climate, as well as the usual cultural info about soil, fertilizer and sun requirements, but the book is also rich in the stories of hybridizers and their work. If you like to know how a stunning plant came to be, or even how to create your own hybrids, this is the book for you. The many beautiful color photographs showing the full range of color have inspired me. Expect more beardless irises in my garden.

Between the Rows   July 25, 2015

If you want to play around with your own garden designs on the free Home Outside Palette app for smart phones and tablets click here.