Thursday, February 20, 2014

Recommended Gardening Books

The last time I recommended gardening books, I looked back at my history with gardening and love for plants.  This time around the choices are more about specific plants and reference choices, rather than nostalgia.  Because I'm a packrat when it comes to books, I tend to collect all different kinds and some of the following choices are no longer in print.  Luckily, used bookstores, libraries and even internet sources will have them (no especially rare books here). 

Daylilies are some of my favorite perennials and I've collected a number of books that focus on them specifically.  There are two books I've come to refer to more than the others and I consider them important additions to any collection.

1.  The New Encyclopedia of Daylilies: More than 1700 Outstanding Selections, by Ted L. Petit and John P. Peat. The title tells it all, really, it's a massive collection of daylilies from species plants (the originals), to early hybrids, to more modern selections.  Chances are, if you're looking for information about a specific plant, you'll find some here.  Each description lists if the plant is evergreen, semievergreen, or dormant and also includes plant height, flower size, and bloom time.  Many pictures accompany the descriptions and they are fantastic.  I must say, many of the more modern hybrids are a bit too fluffy for my tastes (looking more like a hibiscus than a daylily).  Overall, it's one of my most commonly used resources.

2.  Daylilies: The Wild Species and Garden Clones, Both Old and New, of the Genus Hemerocallis, by A.B. Stout.  The copy I own is the 1986 reprint edition.  Although not nearly as impressive in scope as the first book I've listed, this book has proven valuable for the information it has on early hybrids.  There are a number of early plants that just aren't seen in the trade these days and being something of a plant preservationist, I'm interested in learning more about these older varieties.  Stout did a lot of early work on hybridizing daylilies and his work certainly paved the way for more modern hybridization.  Sadly, the book is out of print now, but not that difficult to track down.

Other Useful Titles: 
Hemerocallis: The Daylily, by R.W. Munson (Another important grower, more recent than Stout, his daylilies are known for their special eye zones and water marks).  Currently out of print, but easily obtainable online.
The Gardener's Guide to Growing Daylilies, by Diana Grenfell.  Excellent book.  Out of print, but easily obtainable online.
Daylilies: The Perfect Perennial, by Lewis and Nancy Hill.  Another excellent choice.  Currently in print.

Perennials are an especially important addition to the garden as they offer up colors and textures throughout the growing season (and sometimes even in winter).  Some are especially common now, while others rest by the wayside waiting to be rediscovered.  Other perennials are just difficult to grow in the average garden and need more tending than most are willing to provide.  So how do you choose which varieties to add to your garden (besides daylilies, of course)?

1.  The Well Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques, by Tracy DiSabato-Aust.  I just purchased this book in January of 2013 after seeing it as a recommended book in a copy of "Gardens Illustrated" magazine. Since then, I've read from it a number of times and consider it an essential addition to any gardening library.  The author discusses everything from planning out the garden, to revitalizing an existing garden, to general maintenance such as pruning and dividing.  There's also a lengthy plant encyclopedia at the back.  The book is in print and should be easy to obtain.

2.  Understanding Perennials: A New Look at an Old Favorite, by William Cullina. Unlike general purpose books on perennials, this one starts off focusing more on botany and explains the reasons why perennial plants are the way they are.  It also discusses plant pests, diseases, and has some excellent pictures of dividing perennials.  This book has the most in depth information I've come across that's written in a user friendly way.  It is still in print.

3.  The Explorer's Garden: Rare and Unusual Perennials, by Daniel J. Hinkley.  The author of this book focuses on specific plant families and the less common varieties within those families.  There's an especially interesting section on Epimedium (a fantastic plant for shade), and other entries of plants native to North America.  The book was originally published in 1999, so some of the plants mentioned aren't quite as rare as they once were.  The entries are enjoyable to read and there are many perennials listed that I'd like to add to my own collection at some point. This book is still in print.

Other Useful Titles:
Taylor's Guide to Perennials: More than 600 Flowering and Foliage Plants, Including Ferns and Ornamental Grasses, by Barbara Ellis.  An excellent book for beginners which includes great plant descriptions.  In print.

There was a time when I scoffed at the idea of using native plants.  There were just too many far more interesting plants out there.  Over time, my opinion changed; especially when I realized that many native plants are fantastic additions to the garden and will often grow where other plants will not.

1.  Wildflowers: A Guide to Growing and Propagating Native Flowers of North America, by William Cullina.  Sadly, this book is out of print.  However, if you're interested in native wildflowers it's an essential text.  It offers an encyclopedic list of plants that includes basic plant descriptions along with the best methods of propagation.  Sadly, some of our native wildflowers are especially difficult to propagate, but even those are included here.

2.  Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening and Conservation, by Donald J. Leopold.  This is an excellent overall guide to native plants of the northeast.  It focuses on all types of natives, from flowers to trees and provides information about growing conditions and even propagation.  Best of all are the lists at the back of the book which categorize plants by their preferences.  If you're looking for plants that grow in dry conditions, there's a thorough list.  This book is in print.

Other Useful Titles:
Orchids of New England and New York, by Tom Nelson and Eric Lamont.  My experience with native orchids was limited to our common lady slippers.  Then I found this book and discovered that New England has many different native orchids.  An excellent book for identifying these plants should you encounter them on a hike or walk.  This book is in print.

Trees and shrubs are the backbone of a landscape.  Luckily, there's one book that basically covers it all...

1.  Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs, by Michael A. Dirr.  If there were just one book on trees and shrubs to collect, this would be it.  I've referred to various editions of this book an incredible number of times.  It is more expensive than some of the books I've recommended, but it is jam packed with information and color photographs.  It's also possible to still find copies of a previous edition, Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, which is also excellent.  He's also written the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses.  This is essentially his textbook on trees and shrubs.  It does not contain color photographs, but does have excellent descriptions.  For most gardeners, however, this manual is not required.  I still have my 1993 edition of the manual which I purchased back when in the nursery business and do refer to it from time to time.

There are many additional books to recommend, but I think this is where I'll stop for now.  These books should keep an intrepid gardener busy for quite some time.

Recommended Plant: Porteranthus trifoliatus.  Also known as Bowman's Root and formerly listed as Gillenia.  This native perennial creates a billowing mound of white, star shaped flowers.  Once it finishes flowering, the small seed heads offer visual interest and the foliage keeps well throughout the summer.  In fall, the leaves and stems turn yellow.  There is a pink flowering version of the plant as well, although I'm not certain it's a version that appears in the wild.  It prefers full sun or partial shade and average soil moisture. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Everyone's Favorite Poison--Poison Ivy

Winter is proving especially difficult this year.  The cold and relentless snow force thoughts of gardening, or even of being outside, far to the back burner.  Of course, there's one certain plant that will most likely thrive come spring, no matter how horrid the winter.  It might appear as a shrub, or vine, or small sapling, yet the rash it provides to many is frequently the same.  Poison ivy is decidedly unwelcome in any garden and probably in any yard.  Even the scientific name sounds like something you'd rather shoo away than find growing: Toxicodendron radicans.

I've seen this dastardly plant often enough so that it's easy to identify.  Unfortunately, it doesn't always follow the same growth pattern and it's possible to overlook the leaves until you're standing among them.  It produces clusters of 3 leaves, sometimes they are a bit jagged at the edge, and other times they are smooth.  New growth tends to have a deep reddish cast and the fall colors are remarkably striking at times; being a combination or yellow, orange, red, and burgundy all on the same plant.  The flowers are small, whitish green, and difficult to spot.  More often than not, the plant will not produce flowers unless it is able to vine upwards.  The fruits are favored by birds and start out pale green and slowly ripen to a pale milky greenish-white.  Alas, the plant also spreads via runners and can root into the soil wherever a stem touches down. 

Once the plant begins to climb, the overall appearance changes slightly.  The leaves are still in clusters of 3, but the way it vines about makes it appear to be a different plant.  Poison ivy is a tenacious climber and can easily reach the tops of trees or telephone poles.
How does it manage this expert climbing?  Well, it grows small aerial roots that cling to rough surfaces such as bark, wood, or stone. 
Here it is, happily climbing away.
When plants are young, or runners first start to appear in the spring, they look quite a bit like the saplings of trees.  They are especially dangerous at this point as you might not recognize them as poison ivy at all, particularly if they are in the reddish new growth stage.  I almost stepped into this patch without even noticing it was there. 

So, you have this fiend making an appearance at your party and what do you do?  How does one get rid of a rash inducing pest like this?  There are chemical controls, although I've found they have a mixed success rate.  Additionally, even if the plant is dead, the oils that cause the oh so lovely skin rashes do not degrade quickly.  It is still possible to find the oils on plants that are many years dead (I've read that it can be up to 25 years).  Chemical controls work best when leaves are out, but prior to them hardening off during summer--the leaves take on a more waxy appearance once the new growth has stopped growing.  Also, these products seem to work best when the plant also gets a fair amount of sunlight.  I've seen poison ivy in shady locations laugh off herbicides that worked fine on plants growing in sunnier spots.  Mechanical controls seem to be the better option as long as the gardener wears gloves and is willing to immediately wash clothing in extra hot water and soap.  Shoes will also carry the oils, so be careful.  Shovels, rakes, pitchforks, axes, and gas powered machinery are all possibilities.  Be aware, however, that lawnmowers or bush hogs can cut and spray the plant oils about.  Personally, I've found a mixture of herbicides and judicious use of a shovel to be the best method of control (don't think I've ever won the battle, but did manage to keep the plants under control).

Whatever you do, don't set fire to the plants.  The oil can become airborne and deposit itself into eyes, sinus passages, and lungs.

Goats are an excellent all natural control.  They aren't bothered by the oils and find the plants pretty tasty. In fact, a school in Reading, Vermont is using goats to control poison ivy that was creeping into their playground.  http://digital.vpr.net/post/goats-rid-reading-school-poison-ivy

Other animals, however, can easily spread the oils.  If your dog or cat wanders into a patch of poison ivy, they might need an immediate bath in warm soapy water.  I remember being told a story about a woman and her beloved Jeep.  Unfortunately, while on a hike with her dog one day, the dog went rambling about through poison ivy.  The dog enjoyed the ride home and managed to deposit the oils all over the fabric seats of the Jeep.  Alas, the Jeep's owner kept contracting poison ivy and couldn't figure out why, until she finally remembered that summer walk.  Eventually, she had to scrub down the interior of the Jeep with hot soapy water and even then was unsure she'd gotten everything safe.  At the time I was told the story she was considering selling the Jeep but was feeling a bit leery about giving someone a special surprise.

So, no matter how cold and snowy or even dry and warm your winter may be, there's a certain unwelcome guest who doesn't mind what the weather throws and will appear reinvigorated come spring.

Recommended Plant:  Abutilon Common Name: Flowering Maple
Ok, I'm cheating a bit here since this is an indoor plant as opposed to tree/shrub/perennial.  But this annoying winter weather needs a bit of bright color to counteract the gloom.  Flowering maples are fairly easy to care for.  The leaves do look similar to a maple but the flower looks completely different.  They like a warm, sunny location and regular watering.  They will not tolerate drying out, but at the same time don't enjoy constantly wet feet.  Some varieties turn a bit gangly and need pruning on occasion while others grow more compactly.  There are many variations in flower color and growth habit.  It's an excellent houseplant addition.
 





Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Winter Garden



I’ve been busy as of late and haven’t had the time to make a proper gardening post.  Reading, drooling over pictures in catalogs, and longing for spring are the few gardening related activities there’s time for.  One post in particular was lurking in the back of my mind and I’ve finally had time to work on it.  Winter this season has been something of a dud, once again.  Central Massachusetts has experienced mostly mild temperatures and only three snow events with over a couple inches of snow (and even snow amounts have varied based upon location).  This means that visiting gardens in December or January are actually somewhat pleasant experiences as opposed to arduous trials that end in frost bite and teams of rescuers (I kid, I’ve never needed a team of rescuers—although a Saint Bernard with a cask of brandy is always a welcome sight).  The winter garden is an interesting place at a time when plants display other characteristics.  One should plan a garden and think of the winter landscape as well as the summer height of color.

Some plants are valuable for the leaves they hold on to through the winter, others for interesting bark.  Still others hold onto their fruit well into the depths of winter until birds finally get around to them.  Shrubs and perennials may provide interesting seed pods or spent flower heads.  Each option is a valuable addition to any garden and the plants I review below work well throughout most of New England and points south with only one or two having more delicate sensibilities in especially cold weather.



Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Scarletta’ is a fairly common evergreen used for interest year round.  It has white flowers in the spring and acts as an excellent ground cover in shaded spots or areas with mixed light.  The winter colors and textures however, are especially important for the gardener.  New growth is reddish in color and fall/winter leaf color is a deep, reddish purple.  Protection from winter winds is required and plants generally won’t tolerate a full sun exposure (although your mileage may vary).    It can spread when stems root into the ground and may need to be kept in check by occasional digging out.


Another useful evergreen is Microbiota decussata.  Although it looks similar to many junipers, the foliage is soft and the plant tolerates a wider range of conditions.  It does best in somewhat shaded spots, although I’ve also seen it planted in full sun.  The green foliage looks fantastic during the growing season, but in the fall the color changes to a mix of bronze and tan.  To me, mass plantings look like a giant, sleeping muppet just waiting to rise up.  When I first encountered this plant I wasn’t so sure about it, but seeing it planted in drifts make it quite impressive, especially in winter.



New England is home to a fantastic creeping groundcover that tolerates all kinds of conditions, looks great in the winter, and has a fantastic name; Arctostaphylos uva-ursi.  Also known as “Kinnikinnik” or “Bear Berry” this low lying evergreen plant produces white or light pink flowers in spring, offers up red cranberry like fruit in summer, and turns varying shades of reddish purple during the winter.  Given the kind of winter we’ve had, the plants in this picture aren’t in their most interesting color range.  I’ve seen this plant growing near the Quabbin Reservoir, scampering along rocky cliff faces and basically growing where nothing else would make an attempt.  The winter color on these plants tends to be deep reddish purple.   If you’re looking for an especially tough ground cover, one with winter interest,  give Bear Berry a try.



Speaking of berries, some fruiting plants will hold onto fruit for a lengthy period during the colder months.  Eventually, birds or other animals will get to them, but while they last they’re an excellent addition to the winter garden.  Take “Winterberry” for example, or Ilex verticillata.  This is a native, deciduous holly that has a range of berry colors from deep red to orange to yellow or even white.  It does prefer moist soil and to get berries you’ll need both male and female plants in fairly close proximity.  Given the right conditions, however, it is a spectacular plant in the winter.  The variety in the picture is a variety known as ‘Winter Gold’ and has yellow berries.



Viburnums also hold onto their fruit and the one in the picture was practically glowing when I came across it.  It is a ‘Linden Viburnum’ or Viburnum dilitatum ‘Asian Beauty.’  This Viburnum originally hails from China and Japan and will tolerate sun or light shade.  It eventually turns into a fairly large shrub, reaching heights of 10 or 12 feet, but has a more upright growth habit than some other Viburnums.  The flowers are white and the fruit is varying shades of red.  A native substitute would be Viburnum trilobum, or the’ American Cranberry Viburnum.’



If you’re looking for interesting bark and textures, the Oak Leaved Hydrangea or Hydrangea quercifolia is an excellent choice.  It is a native shrub and does best in mixed light, although more direct sunlight will produce stronger fall foliage colors.  The white flowers are fantastic during summer, the large green leaves look somewhat prehistoric, and in winter it’s possible to view the peeling bark.  It is hardy into zone 5, although some cultivars seem to be less hardy than others.  It tends to form colonies and will, over time, form a fairly dense shrub.

So, these are some great shrubs to consider for the winter garden.  My next post will cover perennials.  All of these plants are readily available at garden centers and none of them are especially difficult to grow.  I promise to be better about posting, as well; perhaps I should have that Saint Bernard rescue me from responsibilities occasionally. 

Recommended Plant: 
Cornus sericea ‘Kelseyi’ or Dwarf Redosier Dogwood.  I’d never seen this cultivar previously, but found it happily growing near the parking lot and entrance to Tower Hill Botanic Gardens.  The small red stems looked great and it was looking like a small forest.  Like other shrub dogwoods it is especially hardy although it does need soil more on the moist side.  It may also require some roping in, as shrub dogwoods tend to grow somewhat exuberantly if conditions are right and will spread their stems outward in colonies.  I expect it would look great next to a flagstone walkway, where the red stems would show up especially well near the stone.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rambunctious Ragweed

It's been quite the hot and dry summer here in central Massachusetts.  Trees are starting to show signs of drought stress with leaves turning lighter green and/or showing fall colors early.  Thunderstorms roll through occasionally, but a sustained gentle rain is what is needed most.  Unfortunately a few less desirable plants have done quite well this summer including poison ivy (a topic for my next post) and ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia).  Ragweed is the bane of summer allergy sufferers.  The pollen it produces it light and readily floats about in the air.  Goldenrod blooms at the same time, generally, and is sometimes blamed for the work of ragweed.  The showy yellow flowers must remind people that pollen and flowers go together.  In fact, if you go to Google Images and type in "ragweed" there are pictures of goldenrod mixed in.  Ragweed's flowers are greenish and insignificant.  In fact, the whole plant is camouflaged in green.  Unless you know what it looks like, it can sit lurking in the background unnoticed.
This extremely happy ragweed plant is about 3' tall and equally as wide.  It's growing outside my apartment building between pavement and a wooden deck.  The site gets a full dose of south facing sunlight.  It's pretty obvious that the plant absolutely loves this location.  I've known it was there but didn't pay all that much attention to it until today.  It's positively huge, in full flower, and looks ready to take on the world (I wish I had half of its ambitions).

Recommended Plant:
Campanula latifolia--the Large Bellflower or Great Bellflower, is a fantastic perennial for summer color.  The blue, bell shaped flowers appear as early as late June here in southern New England and the plant will send up flower stalks into September/early October depending on the season.  It grows best in full sun or part shade and will tolerate poorer soils once established.  Powdery mildew can be an issue and the plant spreads fairly readily if conditions are right becoming somewhat invasive.  Luckily, the plants are easy enough to remove and/or replant elsewhere.  This picture was taken in southern Vermont at the end of June.  Recently, on a day trip back to the same location, there were still plants sending up flower stalks; a pretty impressive flowering period.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Visiting Vermont

A vacation in Vermont happened recently and it affirmed a desire to move there and begin farming, gardening, and enjoying the scenery.  Gardens in Vermont often follow practical and decorative patterns.  There are lilacs near the house, roses along the fence, multiple apple trees, the herb garden, blueberry bushes, and tall garden phlox offers up major color.  Banks of daylilies drift between the apple and pear trees.  It's an almost pragmatic approach combining what the gardener needs (fruit, herbs, or vegetables) with what the gardener wants (flowers, scents, colors).  During my ramblings I came across a couple interesting daylilies at the Billings Farm Museum.  It's a fantastic place to visit, particularly if you are interested in farming or Vermont history.  Throughout the grounds there are multiple plantings and unfortunately, there were no identification labels.
This daylily, for example, was pretty interesting.  The colors were pastel pinks with some orange/yellow mixed in to the point where some of the petals almost seemed tan. 
This one, on the other hand, looked familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. 

All over the place there were stands of the native "Cup Plant" or Silphium perfoliatum.  I enjoy this plant quite a bit as it almost appears prehistoric when you get close to it.  The large leaves have cup like depressions where they meet the stem and these collect water.  The flowers tower over the landscape and the plant's growth is so thick it actually works as a screening plant.

Plymouth Notch, Vermont is a place my father absolutely adores.  Growing up I didn't quite understand this, but now that I've returned a number of times I totally agree.  The Calvin Coolidge museum is located here and there are a number of historically significant buildings.  Also, there's the Top of the Notch tea shop where Ms. Aldrich used to rent out small cabins and sell/serve tea.  My parents rented cabins here once, when I was little and I fondly remember Ms. Aldrich working outside with her roses.  The cabins are no longer rentable, but three of them still stand along with the gardens.
The tea house where Ms. Aldrich ran her tea room/gift shop.

The cabins.

Hostas and daylilies planted along the general store in Plymouth Notch.

Woodstock Vermont has one of the most photographed covered bridges in the state.  The entire town is quite scenic and even one alleyway in particular had window boxes filled with begonias.

There were also flowers planted in boxes on the railings of one of the bridges.
This next picture is a view into the side yard of a home about a block away from the main street.  The cast iron furniture just fit the scene perfectly.


So if the opportunity ever arises, I cannot recommend a visit to Vermont enough.  The summer gardens are fantastic, the scenery is amazing (in any season), and like me, you may be tempted to extend the vacation into a permanent visit.

Recommended Plant:  Monarda fistulosa or Wild Bergamot or Bee Balm.
This native plant grows throughout much of North America and is an excellent butterfly attractor.  Just like other plants in the mint family, it has square stems and spreads via runners beneath the ground.  Unlike some Monarda found in garden centers, the flower color is more pastel and subdued which lends itself to blending in well with other flowers. 


An Aside:  Last year Vermont suffered major damage from Hurricane Irene.  Flooding took out bridges, roads, homes, and businesses.  Historic covered bridges were damaged or torn away by the torrents of water.  Although much of the damage has been repaired, there is still work to be done.  If you're interested in helping, check out:
http://www.vtfloodresponse.org/Default.aspx
Or
http://vtstrong.vermont.gov/

Monday, July 16, 2012

Gardening with Books.


Gardening became an interest of mine long before I was actually conscious of it.  My parents told stories of growing up on farms and of one relative in particular who had an obsession with pansies.  This aunt would start pansies from seed each year and then toil endlessly in the garden all summer.  She also had heart troubles and would frequently skip out on tasks like laundry or housework in general, yet be out on her hands and knees on the hottest summer day gardening.  I kind of respect her approach.

               While a child I spent a great deal of time in the outdoors, basically because my mother would tire of me messing up the house and say, “Why don’t you go spend some time outside?” while pushing me out the door.  Local swamps and forests became my regular hangouts.  At the same time, I developed a love of reading.  Eventually these two interests would cross and I started to collect books on gardening. 

               So, what books shaped my interest in plants?  Well, quite a few over the years, but much of my early interest was colored by the PBS series “The Victory Garden.”  My parents enjoyed the show and because of this, so did I.  Books based on the series eventually entered into my addiction and my full blown horticultural disease was born.  There were other books, of course, and many other plants along the way.  This post is dedicated to these texts filled with plant knowledge.  Unfortunately, many of these books are out of print but they are easily accessible via used bookstores and/or the internet.



1.       Masters of the Victory Garden: Specialty Gardeners Share Their Expert Techniques.  By Jim Wilson.  This book is probably to blame for my interest in daylilies and wildflowers.  Each chapter focuses on a specific plant type and the specialists who focus on growing them. 

2.      Crockett’s Flower Garden.  By James Underwood Crockett.  Unlike the other Victory Garden book, this one focuses on the flower garden month by month.  Annuals, perennials and biennials are all discussed as well as important information such as how to divide perennials.  Unfortunately, one of the recommended perennials is purple loosestrife (although the book was originally published in 1981, prior to the loosestrife invasion).

3.      Green Trigger Fingers.  By John Sherwood.  This is the first in a series of horticultural themed murder mysteries.  Sherwood worked, and wrote, for the BBC and then started writing a couple series of books.  I’m not sure when I first encountered his books, but I was drawn to them for the descriptions of the English countryside as well as for the plant information.  They’re all pretty light reading, yet the horticulture is interesting and it’s probably this book I owe an interest in primroses to.

4.      Beautiful Madness. James Dodson.  This is a more recent book, from 2006, but it sums up extremely well what gardening is and how it impacts people.  The author spent many years writing about golf courses, but found time to visit local gardens as well.  His own garden in Maine became an obsession and he found himself driven by the “beautiful madness.”  Although out of print, this book has a nice entry at his website: http://www.jamesdodsonauthor.com

5.      Hardy Roses: An Organic Guide to Growing Frost and Disease Resistant Varieties.  By Robert Osbourne and Beth Powning.  There’s just something about roses.  Unfortunately, that something is often disappointment here in New England.  Those perfectly formed Tea roses just don’t enjoy winters in New England all that much.  My first attempts with roses met with disaster.  This book changed all that, particularly since it lays out planting and pruning extremely clearly.  The roses recommended are fantastically tough and this book helped foster my interest in old garden roses, which tend to be more durable and often have fantastic scent.

6.      A Small Farm in Maine.  By Terry Silber.  In this book, the author and her husband leave the world they know behind in order to farm in Maine.  Herbs are a major focus of their business and the book details their beginnings and eventual retail shop.  This book totally drew me in and I strongly wished I could have done the same.  Unfortunately the author passed away in 2003 and the farm itself shut down operations in 2006.  They also wrote the book Growing Herbs and Vegetables: From Seed to Harvest, in 1999 although I’ve not read it as of yet.

7.      A Year at North Hill: Four Seasons in a Vermont Garden.  By Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd.  North Hill is an amazing garden and I hope to actually visit it at some point soon.  Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd created a garden that challenged the idea that gardening in Vermont was a limited prospect.  They used the land well and fully understood their site.  Because of this, they managed to get plants to survive through Vermont winters that many said would fail.  Not only did the plants survive, the garden expanded and grew into something remarkable.  Wayne Winterrowd has passed away and work has begun to turn North Hill into a hybrid botanic garden/learning center.  http://www.northhillgarden.com/

8.      Landscaping with Herbs.  By Jim Wilson.  An excellent book for adding herbs to the garden (or to containers).  It doesn’t have nitty gritty information about herbs, but instead offers up design ideas.  The pictures and suggestions are fantastic and I refer to this book often when looking for ideas.



Recommended Plant:

Hemerocallis “Siloam Frosted Mint.”  I encountered this daylily at Tower Hill Botanic Gardens and was immediately taken by the large iridescent yellow flowers.  It was quite a robust plant overall and had a number of buds waiting to open.  I’m expecting it will end up in my garden at some point.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Designing For The Future


One of the design tactics that has bothered me the most over the years (I know, I know, it’s all about the complaining) is packing a plan full of plants.  Sure, the planting looks fantastic for the first few years, but then it soon becomes an overgrown mass of festering evil sprawling over the front lawn.  I’ve seen a design chock full of evergreen azaleas, boxwood, a weeping cherry, and various broad leaved rhododendrons.  It looked great on paper and was probably spectacular the first few years.  The cherry, however, was planted only about 10’ off the corner of the house.  The azaleas were packed in extremely close to one another.  The boxwood flanked the front door and the rhododendrons were beneath the living room windows.  Unfortunately, it had disaster written all over it. 

               It is extremely important when designing to plan with the future in mind.  Plants will not stay the same size they are when purchased.  Many plants do not approve of heavy pruning and even if they do it often takes a careful hand to cut correctly.  The cherry in that design was the Weeping Higan Cherry, Prunus subhirtella Pendula.  This tree grows quickly and can reach a height of 30’ and has arching branches that reach outward 30’.  I’ve seen mature specimens flanking the entrance to a park and they towered over the entry road.  This is not a delicate and small weeping plant; it’s a real bruiser once it gets growing.  Years ago, a customer asked me about purchasing one as they wanted it to grow beneath their dining room window.  The window was about 5’ off the ground and their intent was to plant the cherry there for birds to perch on.  They were totally convinced they’d be able to pull it off.  All the while I was envisioning the tree inviting itself in for dinner by crashing through the window. 

The fun doesn’t stop with the weeping cherry in that plan, however.  The azaleas in the design would eventually be shaded out by the cherry if they didn’t grow into each other prior.  Boxwood, Buxus sempervirens in this case, although easy to prune and shape, does require this maintenance yearly if planted next to a doorway.  Further, Common Boxwood has a certain…odor reminiscent of feral male cats.  Broad leaved rhododendrons, generally speaking, grow fairly large (8-12’ or more and equally as wide).  They’re not a good choice for planting beneath windows (unless a dwarf variety is used which I will mention in a future post). 

So, what can a gardener do to avoid a hostile horticultural takeover?  First, research your plants.  The internet or your local library offer excellent gardening information.  Ultimate heights, widths, and growth rates are all obtainable and you should check them out in advance.  Thuja occidentalis “Nigra” is a commonly planted arborvitae and often ends up at the corners of a foundation planting.  It looks great when it’s small, but what it really wants to do is grow close to a foot each year and reach an eventual height of 30-40’.  Not the best choice for a foundation plant unless you’re willing to prune it at least once a year and even then there are better options.  Here in New England it’s also a deer magnet and they love to nibble it away to nothing.  Knowing the growth habit in advance and some of the plant particulars like attractiveness to deer, can save lots of heartache in the future.

Next, once you’ve researched your plants, make sure they all have more than enough room in your plan.  Even with the information you’ve gained, plan some extra space to be on the safe side.  Why?  Well, plants are much like children; they behave in extremely unexpected ways.  Yes, the rhododendron you purchased said it would reach a height of only 5’, but since your location is fantastic it has decided to dominate your foundation planting.  Ultimate height and width numbers are guidelines, not numbers written in stone.  Your mileage may vary.  Watch out for snakes, etc.  If there are gaps in the plantings you can always add perennials, bulbs, or even annuals to fill in the space.  Be patient and let the plants grow out.

So far I’ve mentioned plants getting too large for a site, is it possible to choose plants that just stay too small?  Of course!  There’s a homeowner not far from where I live who decided they wanted a living privacy hedge.  There are many suitable plants for this task but they went with a double row of Picea glauca ‘Conica.’  This plant is commonly known as the Dwarf Alberta Spruce and its growth rate is measured in amounts of less than an inch per year.  The homeowners started off with plants that were maybe 2’ tall.  The ultimate height of the tree would probably have made an excellent screening hedge (8-12’).  Unfortunately it would have taken decades for them to reach this height.  Eventually, they decided to put up a fence.  Researching before planting is so very important.



Need some resources to start researching?  Sure! 

1.       Any book by Michael Dirr.  I still have an old hardcover copy of his book, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Use.  His works are pretty much the go-to resources for shrubs and trees. 

2.      Any of the Taylor’s Gardening Guides.  There are many of them and they’re great resources for basic plant information including everything from annuals to trees.

3.      Garden magazines including Horticulture, Fine Gardening or the BBC publication Gardens Illustrated all have information on plants and design.  Gardens Illustrated is a particular favorite of mine due to the excellent photography.

4.      http://davesgarden.com has tons of information about plants, gardening, and reliable resources for plants.

5.      Check your local botanic garden website.  Tower Hill Botanic Gardens here in Massachusetts, for example, has a horticultural hotline you can call on Wednesdays from 2-4pm.  They also have many resources on site at the garden.  If you’re into native plants, check out The Garden in the Woods which is located in Framingham, Massachusetts.  The Costal Maine Botanical Gardens is another fantastic resource if you’re planning a trip to Boothbay and/or midcoast Maine.

These are all resources I rely on constantly as even though I’ve worked with plants for many years, there are always new things to learn.



Recommended Plant:

Asarum europaeum or European Wild Ginger.  This fantastic little perennial works well in shady locations.  It fills in slowly, more or less ambling across the ground.  The dark shiny leaves look fantastic throughout the growing season and it encounters few diseases or pests.  I’ve read that it prefers moist soil, but I’ve had it grow quite well in a dry spot with a little extra water to get it established.  If you’re looking for a slow growing perennial for near a walkway or as a companion plant to other slower growing shade plants, this is an excellent choice.  Note:  In no way is this plant related to the culinary ginger—that plant prefers tropical growing conditions.