Archives for April 2012

At A Glance: More Spring Plantings


Blue in a Michigan garden?  That would be blue pansies and lobelia.  OK, there are some true blue delphiniums, and cornflowers to come later on.   But if you have a big love for blue, express yourself now. 

Bright yellow and dark purple pansies, orange grass, and cream stick stacks-a spring wake up call. 

creme brulee coral bells

Creme brulee heuchera-great in pots.  The habit, the leaf size and shape-and that color-the stuff that spring memories are made of.  I am not crazy about black and silver leaved coral bells, but these enchant me.    The backs of the leaves-a faint version of red violet-echoing the punch of red violet from these dark pansies.

Fresh cut copper willow twigs, and a spring assortment.  I like lots of spring voices looking for a little harmony.  This-a simple pleasure. 

Picoteed and whiskered violas-I love them all.  They look especially at home in small low terra cotta pots-bulb pans, we call them. 

On the right, a trailing viola I have never seen before.  It may be my favorite bicolor viola-what a treat that it trails.  Pale blue and dark purple-stunning.  On the left, clear sky yellow pansies and angelina. Prairie and copper willow provide a little natural vertical interest.

planting for spring

Lemon cypress and dark red dracaena contrast dramatically with each other.  The softening part?  lavender and peach violas with that lime.  Citrus mix pansies and Ogon sedum with that dark spike.

Ornamental kales and cabbages are great for spring pots-they will grow to a decent size before they bolt.  Barely visible in the right pot, a one gallon pot of asparagus. 

Green spikes are common in summer pots-but they handle the cold in the spring and fall very well.  Any ordinary plant used in an unusual season warrants a fresh look.

This tuft of a lime cypress will grow up to a shrub of considerable size, should you baby it over a few winters.  That lime green says spring like no other color.  Other choices?  Bibb and leaf lettuce.  Green oakleaf lettuce.  Lime green hostas.  Lime green hops.  Lime green leaved columbines and bleeding hearts. Green flowered hellebores. Lime green leaved tradescantia.  You get the idea. 

 Any spring pot makes a better show right off the bat with a plant climber in place.  Some seasons ask for a little backup from some structure.  In this case, steel structure.   Given a few weeks of warm weather, these blue pansies and white variegated ivy will grow, and make a better statement.  All of these plantings need to grow on and up.  But today, these freshly planted pots still say welcome to my spring.

One Thing After Another


One thing after another usually refers to a string of events you’d rather do without.  The story of the tulips at the shop this spring sure started out that way.  They broke ground and grew as if they were possessed in March.  Alarming, this.  Though no one believed the hot weather would stay on, the tulips didn’t know this.  They were growing in a terrific hurry, as if they were late to the party.  Wow, what bad luck to show up to an event a month early.  Add to the mix-no rain.   Dry and hot would soon become dry and very cold.  

The semi double Darwin tulip Akebono was the first to bud, and show color.  Long about this time, the temperatures were threatening to drop dramatically.  As a precaution, we set horizontal bamboo stakes to just skim the tops of the plants.  I had ordered a roll of row cover, knowing that summer weather in March could not come to any good end.    

covering tender plants

Sure enough, the cold weather returned with a vengeance..  Snow on the tulips-not something you see every day.  We covered them for 4 nights in a row.    They hated this.  Though we had bamboo support for the cover, most every tulip bent over to the ground from the insult.

Of course, once we put the row cover and stakes away, the overnight temperatures threatened to dive again.  We spent plenty of time bringing tender plants into the garage. Late in the day, I watered the bed thoroughly, and misted all of the tops to boot.  The sight of ice on those tulips in the morning was heartstopping.  It seems impossible, but water gives off heat as it freezes.  I hoped the tulips themselves would be protected from frost. 


 It took 3 days, but those gangly stems finally stood up straight.  I had mixed the Akebono tulips with the late blooming Cream Jewel and the strong yellow Roi du Midi.  The later two had the good sense to lay low until the temperatures warmed some.

tulips in April

This is the best part of the mix.  Once the Akebono started to drop petals, the single late tulips were coming on strong.  One tulip after another can greatly extend the tulip season.  Most things in the garden come one thing after.  It doesn’t take so much to help a season to linger.  Plant multiple varieties of tulips, rather than one.

The fresh group just coming on distract the eye from the early bloomer-although many of the Akebono.are just reaching their best. Think relay race.  Or strength in diversity. Those double tulips handled the bad weather incredibly well; they have been in flower for three difficult weeks.  I can see they will start to decline soon.  The Cream Jewel is vigorously in full bloom, and the dark yellow Roi du Midi is just getting good. 

tulips in April

It looks like the tulips will peak by the end of April.  Stop by-they really are beautiful right now.

Spring Planting

crabapple espalier

I enjoy doing spring plantings for my clients.  It gives me a chance to get into the garden early, and assess how everything fared over the winter.  This winter was a breeze, but for a cruelly early break in the weather in March.  It remains to be seen how Michigan’s fruit and berry crops will be affected.   It was disconcerting to see that this pair of crabapple espaliers had long since bloomed out, and set leaf in mid-April, but I am happy about how they look.     

gingko tree

This garden is graced by a gingko of great size.  The entire layout and landscape of the house was organized around this tree.  The groundcover is finally starting to fill in.  It will not be so much longer before the boxwood completely obscures the wall.  A grand old plant such as this one needs little more than a big open space around it.   

fall planting

It is possible to arrange for a great spring planting months ahead of time.  Clusters of yellow tulips were planted in the fall; the pansies were planted over top.  Fall planting of pansies may seem like an exercise in futility, given that winter is not far off, but newer strains of pansies are proving quite hardy.  The clear sky series of pansies-especially tough.  The pansies came up lush and thick this spring, and were in full flower on April 10.  This garden had quite the jump on spring. 

planting pansies

Planting pansies and violas in ground in the spring is not nearly as prevalent as what it once was-I am sorry for this.  The spring season lasts just as long as any of the others.  Tulips don’t present much in the way of foliage at ground level, so they are a perfect candidate for a little company.  I also find that working with color in the spring is very tough-if I don’t have the names and faces right in front of me.  This mix that features a rose pansy will look great with the red/pink/rose and white pansy mix.  This is the ideal time to blob them in-I don’t plant everywhere.  I plant where I can see dirt. 



This picture was taken from the perspective of a 9 year old-any adult walking by will see the dirt spaces on the edge thickly planted with pansies.  That color at ground level adds a whole other dimension to the idea of spring garden.

Of course we plant the attending pot for spring.  This landscape is very simple.  Its beauty is all about the weather, and the seasons.  This small planting of flowers says all that needs to be said about spring.   


Bulbeck lead egg cup

I hate to see any pot sit empty-waiting.  In another month, this planting will overflow this big pot.  The sweet peas planted in the center will completely cover the tree of heaven branches in the center.  Stick support?  The English call a flexible stick that props up this or that in the garden a withy, or withe.  Withies-a natural and much less obtrusive version of a galvanized metal peony ring.  Slated to trail over the edge, a lime yellow sedum called Ogon.  The purple kale planted at the base of the sticks will grow considerably in size, before it bolts from the heat. 

tulip mix

 The curving shape of the tulips leads the eye right to this lead pot-imagine the disappointment, were it to be empty.  A pansy mix similar to what rings the pot borders the tulips. The front door seems so much more welcoming.

lead egg cups


Once the pots are planted up, and the pansy border added, these tulips make a much stronger statement.  They have a community of like minded spring friendly plants.  I do have another client whose wild flower garden goes right up to her front door.  At this time of year, it it is breathtakingly understated.  That garden would not work for me at home, nor would it work here.  Every property and house with a gardener in charge makes for an entirely individual celebration of the spring.   

spring container planting

The side porch has a sentry pooch.  I have seen him with hats, bandanas, necklaces and sunglasses. Sometimes there is a pumpkin on his head.  You have it right-there are kids who live here.  But for spring, a bucketful of lavender and a few pansies provide just the right touch-welcome, spring.  

spring pansy mix

I saw these at a nursery yesterday.  Irresistable, this.



Sum and Substance hosta
New shoots emerging is one of spring’s most exciting moments.  A decision is made to break dormancy, and grow.  A new shoot can be a leaf, or a stem or a flower.  I imagine those elongated shapes makes quick work of pushing through the soil.  These Sum and Sunstance hostas are grown under a number of trees and shrubs in a shady spot in my garden.  Though I might have a tough time digging in this rooty soil, the hostas come out of the ground entirely unscathed.  The leaves are rolled up tight.  This spring stage, which is but a brief moment in the gardening season, is truly extraordinary.     

hosta gold edger

It is an extraordinarily vulnerable moment as well. New shoots are soft and succulent-beloved of deer, rabbits and woodchucks.  Lettuce leaves get tougher as they age.  Baby vegetables-a delicacy.  If you are a fan of eating dandelion greens chances are good you eat them at a very young age.  Dandelion leaves in summer are tough and bitter tasting. The shoots of this clump of dwarf hosta are unfurling into leaves.  As the leaves elongate and unfold, they will present themselves to the light by positioning themselves parallel to the ground.  This up out and arching back takes place all within a matter of a few weeks. 

early blooming clematis

The old saying that April showers bring May flowers has a solid basis in fact.  The energy it takes to grow and push forth out of the ground is considerable.  An ample suply of moisture is critical in the spring.  Our spring has been alarmingly dry.  I watered thoroughly in mid March and am still watering in April.  The clematis on my bench broke dormancy in March-I was sure it would be frosted back to the stems when our temperatures were in the mid twenties.   Not so.  The vines were untouched, and are now in the process of setting flowering shoots.  Both vines are loaded with buds.    

beech ferns

Thelypteris decursive-pinnata is a mouthful of a botanical name for Japanese beech ferns.  Most of the beech ferns are wild runners, and too unruly for home gardens, but this one is fairly well behaved, and lush growing.  The leaf shoots emerge from the crowns rolled up like a hose.  The unfurling of the long leaves is beautiful to watch.  Early spring ostrich fern curls are popular in flower arrangements.  This stage is just as beautiful as the full grown leaf. The European ginger leaves come up and open so fast it is an easy stage to miss altogether.    

shrub roses

The new shoots on my roses are rosy indeed.  The red edges of the leaves is a sure sign of a new leaf.  So many spring leaves have a decidedly yellow cast.  the centers of these new shoots are limey green.  Chartreuse-another word for spring. The lower leaves of these roses have already turned a darker and richer green.   

fruiting pear trees

The leaves of this pear tree emerge curled around the center midrib.  Given some rain and a little warm weather, they will unfurl and lay flat. 


Asparagus is a plant greatly prized for its shoots.  The emerging shoots are snapped off and eaten before they ever progress to the leaf stage.  It is not surprising that people do not recognize asparagus once it has become a plant with fern-like leaves.  The shoot harvesting season is relatively short.  Asparagus eventually needs to be left grow and make leaves.  This insures that the plant can photosynthesize, grow, store nutrients-and survive until the next harvest season.   

gold leaved hops

Hops is a vine that sends out underground shoots called runners in every which way-all summer long.  They require a big space in a garden, far away from any civilized space,  but they can provide great color when confined to a pot or window box. This plant shoots out every which way both above and blow ground.


I have quite the collection of moss colonies growing in the gravel mulch in my shadiest areas.  I am by no means an expert on the life of mosses, but these little teardrop shoots are the fruiting bodies of the moss.  The pod at the top is full of spores.  When that pod opens, the spores disperse, in the hopes of making new plants.

The tulips at the shop had a rocky start-too much hot weather, followed by freezing weather.  But they handled the insults with aplomb.  This shoot-a tulip bud, barely showing color.  Tulip flower shoots take qiute a while to develop-probably 3 weeks from the time the leaf shoots emerge, to flowers


tulip mix

One of the best reasons to plant a mix of tulips is a longer period of time in which to enjoy the shoots.  Though the double Darwin tulip Akebono is in full bloom, the cream tulips are behind.  The yellow tulips are even further behind.  If you love shoots, the tulips put on a very good show.