Forty-Four Degrees

It was 44 degrees when I got to work at 7 am this morning. Only the pansies, lettuce, annual phlox, snap peas,and a few others, go for this.  The angelonia, sweet potato vine, New Guineas impatiens, lantana and a whole host of others,  despise it.  Many nurseries sell vegetables early, and then sell them over again after late frosts damage them or kill them.   The cold spring weather is a perennially hot topic for Michigan gardeners. 

Every year’s struggle to get everyone’s flowers planted in a very small time frame,  is all the more complicated by the weather.  The annual flowers we use are definitely not native to Michigan.  Most of them come from warm, even hot tropical regions where the soil is never really cold.  I don’t like to plant any of these plants until the night temperatures are reliably above 50.  It is May 31st today; we have yet to get there. Should you put a finger in the soil today, it will be surprisingly chilly.  Air warms up, and cools off, much more quickly than soil.

I am of the opinion that planting too early stunts the growth of tropical plants.  I have seen impatiens and begonias never recover from too early planting;  I hear regularly “this was not a good year for my impatiens”.  Having a good year with flowers actually depends quite a bit on some good horticulture. People  sabotage their plantings, as they have the option of deciding when to plant. It isn’t the weather; late May cold is a regular feature of our spring.

I often buy early, to get what I want, and hold.  They say delayed gratification is an adult pleasure-but that doesn’t make it easier for me to wait.  Vastly more difficult than waiting, is persuading my clients that they should wait.  I have had occasion to ask a client to sign off on a planting I knew was too early,  and I have planted a few of those gardens twice in one spring.  I don’t like doing this, as its a waste of time and money-never mind that I can’t stand dead plants on my hands when I knew perfectly well how to keep them alive.

This part may be much more intuition than science.  I believe a later planting pays off at the end of the season. By this I may mean a week later. I rarely plant my own annuals before June 15-nothwithstanding those people who think the summer is half over by June 15.  My plants take hold faster, and perform in every way superior to plants put in too early.  I am always taking my pots apart in November, not because the flowers have gone down, but because I am just tired of taking care of them.  I don’t stress my annuals by planting too early, not watering sufficiently, not deadheading, grooming and fertilizing.  I think I have them longer, given this treatment.  I try not to worry my plants with too much of my own nonsense.  Should I plant early, I know the result belongs to me, not the Michigan May weather.

At a Glance- Spring Blue

Blue Pansy

Blue Pansy

Hydrangea

Hydrangea

Pansy

Pansy

Lobelia

Lobelia

Blue Pansy

Blue Pansy

Crocus

Crocus

Blue Pansy Mix

Blue Pansy Mix

Blue and Yellow Pansy Mix

Blue and Yellow Pansy Mix

Lobelia

Lobelia

So, Where Are You Going Today?

Buck asks me this every morning.  Some days the answer is simple, as in, “I don’t know yet”.  It’s usually 5:30 am when I get the question-so not knowing where I will decide to be at 8 is not so hard to believe.  But today I am in the thick of a large annual planting we do every year.

where11Thank heavens it has a different color scheme and feeling every year. My clients like tinkering with this as much as I do.  Its plenty to plan-how many of this, and how many of that.   Despite a fleet of trucks, we have plant material delivered. I invariably forget something, or think I have something reserved that’s not there.  So we make changes.

where4This works for us-photo copies of last years pots and beds have the new scheme written on them.  I don’t need to do much for Diana after all her years, except list the plants.  Should I leave something out, or have too much, she knows how to adjust.

where5My client’s love of dahlias always presents transport troubles.  This year Carlson’s greenhouse grew all the tall dahlias from cuttings.  This makes the plant bushy from the start-as opposed to tall dahlias started from tubers.  These short and chunky plants are easy to ship, and easier to plant.  Let the sun and rain do the job of getting them tall, with those dinnerplate size flowers.

where6Giant wirework urns are mossed and planted at the shop;  these get delivered, finished, and ready to place. As they are tall, and some are viewed at a distance, I plant simply, and with good contrast.

where10We plant beds backed up by mature and formal yew hedges with a low mix of annuals.  The yews are not a backdrop; they are the feature.  The little babble of trailing verbena and alyssum, heliotrope and angelonia is in stark contrast to those massive dark green yews.

where7We plant mandevillea vines,  tropical hibiscus trees on standard, zinnias, New Guinea impatiens, and the dahlias-all in response to my client’s love of big flowers.

where8For years we have planted the vegetable garden in giant fiber pots.  This year we have a formal vegetable garden under construction-the highlight of which is a European beech arbor 14 feet tall.

where9

We are in the thick of it.

Tour Preview

tour3Every gardener on this year’s tour is passionate about their landscape.  How they choose to express it is individual-nothing surprising there.  My lot and one half garden is multi-levels, much to the delight of my corgis.  I have carved openings in the boxwood for them, and installed  bark racetracks; the garden is friendly to them.  My landscape is orderly; my pots are anything but-this is how I like it. So serene, with my favorite plants-and some unexpected surprises and punctuation marks.  The day of the tour, Fred and Jean are my docents.  English born and bred, educated in England in horticulture despite the second World War, they guide guests with their Shitz Tzu’s  Oscar and Beckett in tow-just meeting the two of them is a treat. I plan this year to open my shell grotto/reliquary enclosed porch by popular demand-.

Another garden of size is organized around some large sculptural elements carved into the earth. one comtemplative space features old evergreens, beautifully pruned. A wild flower slope, a rose garden-there is so much to see.

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One small urban garden reveals a modernist taste and crisp green and white plant palette. Their old tudor home takes to this surprisingly well.  Every inch is thoughtfully tended to.  A driveway lined with tomatoes and herbs is a happy surprise.  This small property is jam packed with good moves.  tour1
Another garden is as colorful and engaging as its owner in the private spaces, and coolly formal in its public spaces. This gardener tells me she likes to feel like she’s on vacation when walks in her rear yard-you will see why. I have every reason to stay home now-she tells me.

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tour14Every garden has water in one form or another-fountains, a pool; two properties are on lakes.  Water-what a great thing in a garden..
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One garden on the tour I have a special relationship with.  These two committed gardeners  design and plant on their own. My involvement in their garden has to do with pots, and sculpture, and miscellaneous advice-but the two of them have put it all together in their own very distinctive and lively way. It will enchant you.  tour10
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Their taste is eclectic, atypical-but it all works, with its own language and style. Their gestures are big and warm.  I so admire their confidence and their range.  They make it easy to understand the process of taking your voice in hand, and making something of it that is beautiful.  tour12
Each gardener’s  love for the garden and all that represents,   extends to a respect for the work of the Greening of Detroit, and my request that they put their garden on tour.  They are all busy planning for company July 19.  I am amazed, and so pleased how seriously they all take the prospect of like minded visitors.  By Wednesday next, our web site, www.thegardencruise.org, should have the descriptions of all the gardens posted for those of you would might want to check out a more thorough description of those gardens on this year’s tour.  We all hope you can make it.