Waning

October-garden.jpgThe pumpkins on the stairs flanked by my summer containers -visually jarring.  Different seasons with different plant vocabularies are duking it out. The past 3 weeks has been the best weather we have had all summer.  I haven’t taken these two pots apart, as I can’t get by the foolish hope that they will finally get better and be what they were meant to be.  In another the season, the nicotiana , tibouchina, angelonia and the  boston daisies would be blooming profusely.  The petunias would have kept up with the licorice. Instead, I have robustly green blobs of potted plants that continue to prosper-courtesy of the warm fall weather.

October-garden.jpg They don’t make enough visual sense to permit a decent photograph.  Can you hear me sighing? I can talk this way about them, as they are my pots.  If they were your pots, I would just be sympathetic.  Rotten bit of luck, this cold and rainy summer.   The saving grace of these pots?  The cup and saucer vine has finally decided to bloom.

Oct 12, 2013 (51)Cobaea scandens is a large growing vine that holds itself up by means of spiralling tendrils.  I grow it as an annual, though it is hardy in zone 9 and 10.  The vine is slow to get going, and really wants a warm and sunny situation.  They don’t ordinarily begin to bloom until later in the summer, but they do bloom on into the fall.  The flower buds are a pale lime green, the flowers a pale lavender.  The lavender deepens to purple as the flower ages.  The shape and size of the flowers make them well worth growing.

variegated-boxwood.jpgIt has taken the grass, scaevola and petunias a long time to grow to a size proportionate to the variegated boxwood.  I rather like the look of this pot right now.  I suspect that this is the best it is ever going to look, given that November is but 2 weeks away.

coleus-wasabi.jpgThe Wasabi coleus grew strongly, in spite of the cool rainy summer.  Mercifully, it has overtaken other plants that did not fare as well.  These boxes have that topsy turvy look that is a sure sign that the garden season is waning.

Persian-Shield.jpgThe Persian Shield has grown steadily all summer, and now dwarfs the pot in a way that suits me.  This looks lush.  It is also a reminder that annual plants do not make giant root balls.  They spend most of their growing energy above ground, as they only have one season to grow. At this late date in the season, I have to watch the water carefully.  This pot is full of roots, all of which need regular water.  Even though the daytime temperatures are cooler, the available water is being absorbed at a surprisingly fast rate.

summer-containers.jpgI did like how the thumbergia vines eventually draped over my olive jar, but they too need warm weather to thrive.  Most of the blooming went on between the plant and the wall-on the back side.  The brick absorbed heat during the day, and gave off heat at night.  My cannas are in their first round of blooms since they were planted in May.

angelonia.jpgAngelonia that is thriving and blooming well is a sure sign that the fall has been warm.  They like heat. The graceful habit is as much a pleasure as the flowers.  Many annual plants have a very stiff habit.  Angelonia can soften the mix in much the same was as a grassy plant. This new ageratum, “Artist”, has been a stellar performer.  I would plant this again.

fall-color-on-hydrangeas.jpgThe Limelight hydrangeas are at the height of their fall color.  This flourescent pink coloration I call the super nova stage.  Like a star that glows dramatically just before it dies, this color is a sure sign that the garden is waning.  Only rarely do we not have a hard frost before the end of October.  The forecast seems fairly benign fore the next week.  But as anyone who lives in Michigan knows, the weather can turn sharply at any time now.  The perennial plants, shrubs and trees have been preparing for this a long time already.  The growth of trees and shrubs slows dramatically the end of August.  Having a long season to prepare for dormancy helps them survive over the winter.  I have not cut the roses since the beginning of September.  They are seeding-forming hips.  I like the look of the hips on the roses.  I better like that there are no pruned stems which would invite disease or insects.

fountain.jpgBuck has been so busy at Branch that he hasn’t had time to clean the fountain.  I rather like that lime moss growing inside.  It not only looks great with my Scotch moss, it is a sign of the time of year.

Four Years Later

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Six years ago I submitted landscape plans to a client with an island home.  Five years ago, they brought the property next door, and added on to their existing home. Four years ago, we installed a landscape per a second plan.  This property was 75 minutes away from us.  Despite the difficult logistics, we did install a landscape from start to finish.  In 2010, I attended a summer party given by the client-for all of the contractors that worked on their project, and their families.  That was my last visit-until earlier this week.

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The original plan called for 3 curved steel planter boxes that would fit the curve of a blue stone terrace on the lakeside.  They decided earlier this year to go ahead and have them made.The delivery of the boxes was a chance to see how the landscape was settling in.  What a pleasure it was to see that the plants looked healthy and robust.

the south-side.jpgEvery square foot of the vegetable garden was being used.  The in ground beds had been planted with strawberries, asparagus, and herbs.  The raised beds were planted with all manner of vegetables.  Vegetable gardens are working gardens, the purpose of which is to grow food.  This sounds easy enough, but growing vegetables successfully is hard.  The plants themselves are not always so beautiful.  Roses and tomatoes are grown for the flowers and fruit, not for the beauty of the plant.  It seems like bugs and disease have a special affinity for vegetable plants.  This vegetable garden with raised beds is an orderly space, even if the vegetable plants themselves are not.
the-vegetable-garden.jpg This garden is enclosed, primarily to keep the wildlife at bay.  But the fencing adds much to the look of the garden.  The gate is an exact reproduction from a family vegetable garden in Italy.  The landscape is very much looking like it belongs to them.
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vegetable garden
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gate latch

lawn-plane.jpgWe look after the landscape during the course of installing a big project like this.  But the day comes when the installation is finished, and a client has to take over the care and maintenance.  The areas that require the most care are small-manageable. The landscape was designed for clients that like to use their outdoor spaces for entertaining.

firepit.jpgI vividly remember when this particular spot was a muddy and mucky mess.  Installing the fire pit in late November-challenging.  Today, this space gives no hint of that construction history.

lakeside-landscape.jpgview from the river

waters-edge.jpgThis dockside garden was planted after my work here.  It is simple, and has great texture and mass.

steps.jpgWe did do a lot of work grading here.  My clients did want a lawn area that was easier to navigate.  The long steel step risers are only 4 inches in height. This is a landscape feature that adds interest, and is very little maintenance.
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This shady garden area was a major roadway for construction vehicles of all kinds, for almost 2 years. I was worried we would have a devil of a time getting anything to grow.  When we were finally ready to plant this side, the soil was just about impossible to dig.  We incorporated generous amounts of compost into the top 8 inches of soil-with pickaxes and the forks on our front end loader.  This picture was taken in November of 2009.

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This picture was taken a few days ago.

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It takes time for a landscape to begin to come into its own.  This one is well on its way.

Pruning The Boxwood

June 23b 2013 (1)The day the evergreens get pruned at the shop is one of my favorite days in the gardening year.  Mindy from M and M  Flowers comes with a crew; they make a day of it.  The first order of business is the discussion.  Are we pruning as usual?  Is there perhaps a new shape or different direction in mind?

pruning-boxwood.jpgMaking changes to the shape of a boxwood hedge- even an established hedge- is not difficult or impossible.  It just takes time. The spheres at the corners of the parterres have not grown in evenly all around. The west side spheres get more water, as the land drains in that direction.  The east side spheres are planted in what was once asphalt, and they are shaded by the lindens.

pruned-boxwood.jpgThe spheres to the east also suffered a considerable fungal infection that has been very difficult to cure.  Simply put, the conditions for the 4 spheres are not at all equal.  One pair is much larger and more robust than the other.  So there was discussion about a moving towards a different shape at all 4 corners.

boxwood.jpgThe corner spheres could be trimmed as follows.  The bottom of the shrub could be brought into line with the existing rectangular hedge.  The top of the shrub could be pruned as a top-knot, or a smaller sphere that would appear to sit on top of the hedge.  This pruning would take a few years to accomplish, as it means pruning down to old wood.  There would be bare spots that would need to grow in.

green-velvet-boxwoodWe have some time to think this over.  Though I like to wait until the spring growth is fully flushed out before any pruning is done, pruning back to bare wood as the heat of the summer season is imminent is a recipe for burn. Boxwood grows out of winter burn fairly readily, but summer burn is an unsightly state of affairs that persists.

formally-pruned-boxwood.jpgI am not so sure that it bothers me that the spheres do not match.  Perfection is a state that does not really apply to living things.  We may just stay the course. But there is always the option to change course in a landscape.  That just takes planning, and patience.

pruning-evergreen-shrubs.jpgThis hedge has been grown from the species buxus koreana microphylla.  It is a big growing boxwood.  The hedge has been maintained at a height of 32″ and a width of 48″ for a number of years.  Grown in full sun, it readily handles the winter wind and cold weather.  The only danger posed by the winter is when we have heavy snow, the weight of which can crack the woody branches.  Those cracks make the shrub more susceptible to fungal infections.  It’s not always easy to decide whether to remove the snow, or let it be.  Disturbing branches when they are frozen can produce more damage than the snow itself.

pruning-a-boxwood-hedgeKorean boxwood does have a pronounced orangy cast in the winter, a characteristic that is not to everyone’s taste.  Our most important issue is tending a hedge that is in good proportion to the size of the building.  If that large overall size were not so important, “Green Velvet” boxwood maintains its green color all winter, and matures at 3′ by 3′.  “Green Mountain” boxwood is  virtually indistinguishable from Green Velevet, but matures at 4′ tall, and 3′ wide.  “Green Gem” is a good choice, if a more refined leaf and smaller mature size is what your garden needs.

 

pruning-the-boxwood.jpgWe lost 2 boxwood in the hedge over this past winter.  We did have one replacement available. In this spot, we went another direction.  We stitched the hedge back together, with a pair of potted boxwoods.

pruning-the-boxwood.jpgThe pruning makes a world of difference in the appearance of this garden.  I am enjoying that change thoroughly.  If you have a boxwood hedge or specimen boxwood plants that ask for a precision pruning, I highly recommend M and M Flowers.  Their work is superb.  248  340  0796.

 

A Dirty Little Secret

a dirty little secretMany years ago I had the side of the Detroit Garden Works box truck identified by the phrase “dirty little secret”.  We are a shop that specializes in ornament and fine plants for the garden.  Our shop location is in an out of the way manufacturing district.  Seventeen years later, we still routinely give out directions. As for the dirty part of the phrase-everything we have been, or hope to be, starts with the dirt.  We specialize in great containers for the garden.  Sculpture, furniture, trellises, ornament-our inventory is deep, and varied.  We like 19th century French urns.  We like fiber pots-made in America. But so basic and critical to growing a good garden involves the state of the dirt.

fountain gardenYou can shop our place for sturdy white china and equally sturdy wine glasses- great for outdoor entertaining.  Belgian candles that do not blow out on a breezy night. Framed herbaria from Italy.  Rusty steel spheres and topiary forms.  Oak and steel orangerie boxes.  Stone cisterns and garden antiques from all over the world.  But it could be that the most valuable thing we have available comes in a 40 pound bag-a custom mixed, compost based soil which can help your container gardens to thrive.  Our soil was formulated by my landscape superintendent, Steve Bernard.  The 16 years he spent in charge of all of the gardens and golf courses at Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island made him an expert on the topic of compost and soil.  I lost all of my isotoma fluvialitis over the winter.  I suspect because it is truly a zone 6 plant.  While I am mulling over what to do now, Steve made sure he prepped the soil down 12 inches with his compost.

springThough my neighborhood is noted for its poorly draining heavy clay soil, I inherited my property from two men who made it their mission to improve, and leaven the soil.  It was obvious that the men who owned my house before me understood that good soil is essential to a healthy landscape.  For a good many years after I moved, I did nothing in the garden besides topdressing the beds with a yearly 3″ thick layer of composted bark fines. The dogwoods and azaleas were in place the day I took possession-some 19 years ago.  I do just about nothing to take care of them, aside from regular water. Every spring, they bloom profusely.  Over the course of the summer, they grow.  Though azaleas reputedly ask for acid soil, I am sure my soil is on the basic side.  But I do know that the soil is friable, fast draining, and loaded with worms and other beneficial micro organisms, and the azaleas like it.  The rare occasion that I have to dig, the soil is loose, friable, and dark.  An garden empire can be built upon good soil.

scilla Plants will colonize where the soil favors robust growth.  My small perennial garden at home has rich soil further down than a shovel will reach.  It would not make grapes, nasturtiums or cosmos happy-it is too rich and water retentive.  It would not make bog plants happy either.  But it does provide a happy home for all the plants I have chosen to grow there.

annual plantingThe soil we put in containers is topsoil mixed with sand and compost.  I do not recommend soilless mixes for containers.  While they are lightweight, and a giant bag is easy to carry to the car, the peat base gets rock hard when it dries out.  It has no nutrient value per se.  Plants in soilless mixes have to be fertilized regularly.  I favor a good quality compost enriched real soil for my containers.  Soil retains moisture longer.  Real soil has micro nutrients and organisms that are beneficial to plants.  Good soil is a complex living environment that promotes healthy growth.

soilContainer plantings perform better in good soil with high fertility.  I change the soil out in my containers every year.  The old soil goes to one of our several compost piles-for revitalization.  All of our soil gets recycled, but we do not reuse until it has had a year or two to lie fallow, and be mixed in with new compost.

garden in springWhenever I see a garden in my area where that plants are a rich shade of green, and the growth generous, I know there is good soil for growing.  In perennial beds, the soil cannot be changed out every year.  So a topdressing of compost, or ground bark fines adds back to the soil what the plants have used.

Boston ivyThe walls of the neighboring building at the shop is completely covered with Boston ivy.  7 individual plants now cover 3000 square feet of wall space.  Did we prep that soil before we planted-oh yes.  A few shovels full of compost in the fall, and liberal watering is all we do to keep the plants happy and healthy.