The Boston Ivy 2015

fall color boston ivy (1)
A two story high concrete block wall  of a storage rental business sits right about on the west lot line of the Detroit Garden Works property. It goes on and on, and sky high, for 120 feet. When the building went up some 15 years ago, I was unhappy about that 2400 square feet of beige concrete looming over us; that industrial glare was relentless. The front door to the shop is on the east side of the building. Our front door is on the side of the building. Quirky, yes. The history of the building determined the location of our front door. We warmed up to the prospect of a main door on the side. We had the idea that the walk down the long side of the shop to our front door would be a walk through a garden, and create anticipation for the experience to come. That giant wall was threatening to do in our idea to create a garden of our outdoor space.

fall color boston ivy (2)The friendly neighbor proved amenable to me planting Boston ivy on that wall. I knew of no other plant that would grip that wall for dear life, and grow up to cover a wall of this size.  I planted a 1 gallon pot of parthenocissus tricuspidata veitchii every 12 feet- 10 plants in all. The wall swallowed them up. But I knew if I kept them watered, and had some patience, these 10 plants would clothe that entire wall in green.

the Boston Ivy 022Some 15 years later, that wall is solidly covered with Boston ivy. We don’t always remember to put the water from the hose to the roots of those 10 plants. I have never seen them protest.  All summer long, we have 2400 square feet of lustrous green.  I would also like to point out that there has been no damage to the wall whatsoever over all of those years.  Their gripping mechanism is strong enough to support lateral branches in excess of an inch in diameter, but they have not harmed the masonry. But better than that glossy green all summer is the fall color. The fall color of Boston ivy alone is enough to warrant its inclusion in the landscape.

IMG_6255Rob took some pictures for me from the roof of our building. The vines do not color up evenly, or consistently.  The 2400 square feet in October is a tapestry ranging from green to olive, from peach to yellow, with dashes of flame red and cream. That wall is a fall garden story of astonishing size that goes on for weeks.  From start to finish, the Boston Ivy fall display spans 60 days.

IMG_6254Rob’s view from the roof tells the entire story. Though we have on occasion had a lateral branch detached in high winds, the gap fills in within a blink of an eye. Boston ivy is a more than willing grower. Willing, in our case, is a big plus. Should you grow it on a house with windows, be prepared to prune, and prune again. This giant concrete wall is a garden. How these vines have covered this wall is as delightful as it is miraculous. The most miraculous moment comes that one week in the fall when this wall is fiery gorgeous.

the Boston Ivy 027This concrete wall is spectacular right now, in a way I never really imagined.  I just took the first step. I put the plants in the ground, and watered. The ivy did the rest. This simple story is like any story waiting to be written about a landscape.  Plant some trees. Plant some shrubs. Plant some perennials, and a raft of bulbs.  Look after them. What grows will delight you.

October 29 2015 116the wall in late OctoberOctober 29 2015 115Our gloriette looks so beautiful with the Boston Ivy behind it. The fall is a favorite season of mine. There is so much color that comes courtesy of nature. How I love this late season moment.  How appropriate that the end of the gardening season is attended by so much fiery color and fan fare.

fall color boston ivy (3)The Boston ivy leaves will fade, and eventually fall. Their fruits are their brilliantly blue. The first frost will blacken these fruits.  But for now, I am enjoying all the color.  I have written about the Boston ivy every year for the 7 years I have been writing this blog.  Interested in how these vines looked in 2009?  Click on!

At A Glance: Fall Containers, Old And New

fall container plantings (28)rainy fall dayfall container plantings (25)a centerpiece

fall container plantings (26)fall container in cream and blue

fall container plantings (21)a trio

fall container plantings (40)lavender and orange

fall container plantings (20)wood tubs

fall container plantings (13)Sunny fall day

fall container plantings (7)weedy centerpiece

fall container plantings (1)lots of bittersweet

fall container plantings (6)grapevine and gourds

fall container plantings (4)broom corn and eucalyptus

fall container plantings (12)low bowl

fall container plantings (39)steel topiary forms

fall container plantings (38)black millet

fall container plantings (31)A note of caution.  If you like weeds in your fall containers, cut them, and place them up side down in a large garbage bag, right in the field.  We  shook the daylights out of these thistle stems-to remove all of the seeds-before we placed them in a pot. Teasel is beautiful-but there’s no sense to passing trouble around.

fall container plantings (15)center pieces with black eucalyptus

fall container plantinga Halloween motif

fall container plantings (14)fall plantings in  wood crates

fall container plantings (5)lavender and purple

dry hydrangeasdry hydrangeas

fall container plantings (37)orange eucalyptus

fall container plantings (35)ornamental cabbage and kale

fall container plantings (33)black millet

fall container plantings (22)pumpkins, gourds and vegetables

fall container plantings (29)fall color

fall container plantings (24)centerpieces

fall container plantings (27)wicker pot

fall container arrangement
red lettuce
fall container plantings (32)dry millet and hydrangeas. We have a few more weeks of planting to go. Whether you shop your local farmer’s market,  a garden center, your own yard, or a field down the road, there are great fall container arrangements out there waiting to be made.

A Fall Container Planting

fall container planting 2015 (1)Our fall container plantings are underway. It is not always easy to convince a client that planting for fall is a good idea.  In Michigan, there is this psychological perception that the spring and the fall are short seasons, and the summer and winter are long.  It may feel that way, but all of the seasons are roughly equal in length.  My pots at home have been great, but just today I am seeing signs of decline.  The plectranthus is not liking the cold nights.  The elegant feather grass is just about in full fall color. Planting pots for fall is not just about replacing summer material that is no longer looking its best.  It is more about embracing and enjoying the season at hand.

fall container planting 2015 (3)One of my favorite materials for fall is broom corn. This tall grain features thick sturdy stalks, and seed heads in various shades of fall.  Zip tied around a bamboo stake, the broom corn provides a striking vertical element in a pot, and will last late into the fall.  Should you use it in your fall pots, be prepared for for the birds.  They love the seeds.  I can hardly fault them. And I enjoy all of that activity.   The wiry stems under all of those seeds have been made into brooms for hundreds of years.  As much as I like my brooms, I better value how broom corn can endow a fall container.

planting a fall potChrysanthemums elicit strong opinions from every gardener.  Were I thinking of planting a chrysanthemum in my garden for a yearly October display, I would plant “Sheffield Pink”.  I have a next door neighbor with trees under planted with this mum-they have made an impressive show every year of the 20 years I have lived in my neighborhood.  I don’t see that they get any special care or extra water. They shrug off the cold and light frosts.  But for fall containers, I can be swayed by a big mum ball.

fall container planting 2015 (4)I wait to buy them. A chrysanthemum blooming in late August or September will not last through the fall season.  When both the day and the night temperatures get down to 50 or lower, A chrysanthemum in bud will have some longevity. As much as I love ornamental cabbages and kales, there are those who love that color that comes from flowers.

fall container planting 2015 (5)Cut bittersweet is available at this time of year.  The color is striking. The stems are naturally curving.  Their vining shapes can loosen up the most formal and static fall planting. We buy cut stems from a grower that are loaded with seeds.  As much as I know that bittersweet is invasive, I have yet to see a garden infiltrated by bittersweet from branches I have put in pots. When the fall container season is over, we are careful to dispose of the stems-we never compost them.

fall container planting 2015 (7)The bunches we buy are fairly short, and loaded with seeds. We may cut them down to individual stems, so we can place them all over in a pot.  Though our broom corn centerpieces are zip tied in several places, we add a special zip tie-just for the bittersweet.  The fall season can be rainy and blustery.  Solid construction means your fall pots will look as good at the end as they do at the beginning.

fall container planting 2015 (6)The bittersweet zip tie is loosely set at the beginning, so all of the stems going all around the centerpiece fit inside. We always have 4 hands on deck for this-sometimes 6. The desired result?  A beautiful bouquet, speaking to fall. The long stalks of the broom corn help us to get a proper and proportional height to that centerpiece.  Another element will be needed to cover those sticks, and the zip ties.

fall container planting 2015 (2)Detroit Garden Works always stocks bushel baskets full of preserved and dyed eucalyptus. We must stock better than 20 colors.  Eucalyptus has the uncanny ability to absorb preservative and color. These stems are light fast, and the color does not run. The big leaves are a great texture, and the variety of color means there will be something to appeal to almost everyone.

fall container planting 2015 (10)
We attach a partial bunch of eucalyptus to a bamboo stake, so we can place it wherever an arrangement needs it. Rob and I placed an enormous order this past January.  There are few materials for fall and winter pots that are as versatile, durable and satisfying as this.  It is a natural material that fits right into a fall container.

planting a fall pot
The real story here is that the natural materials part of a fall container plays a critical roll in its visual success.  Cool weather means plants do not grow fast. Many of the cold tolerant plants are small in stature.  Not everyone loves cabbage and kale-which has a great scale for containers.  If you buy plants for fall containers, buy big ones.  Pack them in. There won’t be much in the way of growing. And last of all, consider cut natural materials.

fall container planting 2015 (9)I left my crew at this point.  Not that I even needed to be there.  They have been doing fall pots for me for many years.  And they have a gift for placement and arrangement. This pot was not done, but I could see where it was headed.  Headed straight away into fall.


The Hybridizer

hybrid pumpkinEvery  gardener at one time or another comes in contact with plant cultivars introduced as a result of the painstaking work of  someone who breeds plants. Bressingham gardens in England has a group of fine perennial plants marketed under the aegis of Blooms of Bressingham. There are countless other individuals who have devoted themselves to breeding towards a better plant.  Some hybrids are more disease resistant.  Some are more sturdy-others have larger flowers with interesting variations in color. The dogwood Venus, a cross between Cornus kousa, and Cornus nuttallii, was bred at Rutgers University by Elwin Orton.  His Venus dogwood, once it was introduced, took a gold medal at Chelsea.  Anyone who loves the landscape is all the better for the introduction of this tree.

hybrid pumpkinsI am thinking about hybridizing right now, as Rob has such a big love for the various forms and colors of pumpkins that he collects fruits from countless farms within a day’s drive of us. He cannot get enough of them.  Of course most pumpkins are grown to eat, or to carve for Halloween, but others are grown for their sheer beauty.  Every farmer who grows pumpkins is a hybridizer, whether they intend to be, or not.  Cucurbits are plants of the gourd family, and include melons, pumpkins, squash and cucumber. All of these plants, grown within range of one another, will cross pollinate with abandon. Squash flowers are huge-they intend to have progeny.  And progeny they do produce. Any pollen on the wind might settle in these giant flowers. As a result, every farm who grows curcurbits has their own distinctive offering of pumpkins and gourds. These hybrid crosses are random.  Some are beautiful, sturdy, and robust.  Others-not so much.

hybrid pumpkinsRob has been fortunate to meet some gardeners in the course of his pumpkin collecting whose big love is hybridizing these big fruits.  You are looking at pictures of pumpkins that are the result of a lifetime of careful breeding. The gentleman in question is in his late sixties, and has been hybridizing pumpkins for decades. He grows his pumpkins in a tunnel house, so he can eliminate accidental crosses. Pumpkins and squash take up an enormous amount of space as they grow.  The breeding process is slow, as not so many crosses can be made in a given year. His crosses are thoughtful, and methodical.

pumpkins 2015 (9)His current crop of fancy pumpkins sit in a shed.  They are not displayed on his farm stand, as they are not for sale. They are part of his breeding stock.  He will harvest the seed, and breed again. The near black pumpkin in my first picture with a brilliant orange waist-I have never seen anything like it.  The black pumpkin in my second picture-astonishing.  I know squash with dark green rinds-I am a fan of acorn squash, and eat them regularly over the winter.  But this black pumpkin is like nothing I have ever seen.

pumpkins 2015 (8)Anyone who grows plants has at one time or another placed a plant in their garden whose form, color and texture is a result of years of breeding.  Endless crosses that amount to nothing.  A few crosses that have promise.  And perhaps a few plants in a lifetime that are worthy of introduction.

IMG_6456I am an old school gardener-I admit to that. I favor plants that look good all season, in leaf and in bloom.  I like plants that are vigorous, and hardy.  I love plants that ask little, and perform willingly.  I love those plants that verge on the weedy side.   I see some perennial and shrubby plants that have been introduced that seem unlikely to survive the test of time.  Should I have a landscape client who is interested in the garden, I make sure that what I select for their garden has a history of great performance.  Nothing discourages a gardener more than failure. Some plant breeding quits too soon-before there is a cultivar worthy of introduction.

pumpkins 2015 (22)Keeping plants alive, and keeping plants thriving, is a big job. I can be challenged by it, despite my many years as a gardener.  One of the most important aspects of landscape design to me is to do what I can to insure success for my clients. Success in a garden encourages interest.  I mean to encourage others to garden.  Great plant hybridizers do a lot of this work for me. They spend years and thought developing plants that gardeners can grow.

pumpkins 2015 (23)The man who hybridized that black pumpkin does not make a living from his fancy pumpkins.  He grows acres of orange pumpkins that get shipped nation wide.  His tall thin pumpkins that sit up on their own are especially good looking.  We sold out of our group within two days.

pumpkins 2015 (10)All of his pumpkins, squash, and gourds have great color.  Many of them sport what we call witches warts. Rob loves the bumps.

IMG_5933But even his most simple pumpkins feature strong stems. The long stems are part and parcel of a fall fruit that delights the eye, and speaks to the harvest. I never knew how beautiful a pumpkin stem could be, until I saw his pumpkins.  Rob is a looker.  When he sees something that makes him look twice, he does what he can to foster a relationship. The pumpkins we have at Detroit Garden Works right now are all about the thoughtful work of a hybridizer with many years in the game. We so value his contribution to every garden.  And every front porch in the fall season.

pumpkin stemIf you are like me, you have wrongly picked up a pumpkin by its stem, and had that stem detach. Dang. I will confess that I have hot melt glued broken stems on to a pumpkin.  No pumpkin stem can stay intact, given the weight of most pumpkins. But for our current pumpkin collection. We have a breeder who means to meld the stem with the body of the fruit.

pumpkin stemImagine a hybridizer whose goal is to develop stems that come down onto the fruit.  Gripping stems. A stem which is integral with the fruit. What hybridizers imagine and breed for-so simple, but so important. A garden does imply a generous grip.  Some of that comes from plant breeders.  Some of that comes from us. The mix is a really good one.