Silver Leaves

silver foliage (12)Cynara cardunculus, or cardoon, is also known as an artichoke thistle. It is a member of the sunflower family, and is native to Mediterranean climes. The giant coarse toothed leaves are architectural in form, and incredibly dramatic. A lot of that drama comes from the fact that those leaves are a very bright silvery gray. These silver leaves, in the right light, have a decidedly metallic cast. This amazing photograph of a cardoon is from www.greatplantpicks.org.  Great Plant Picks is an educational program of the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden which debuted in 2001 with the first recommendations for a comprehensive palette of outstanding plants for the maritime Pacific Northwest.  No wonder this cardoon has such a fascinating and an exotic look to me.  I do not garden in the Mediterranean, or in the Pacific northwest.

silver foliage (13)Silver leaved plants are not coated with some natural form of metallic silver. Many of them have leaves which are covered with very fine hairs that reflect light.  That reflective quality makes the leaves appear silvery.  According to the Plant Delights website, “The silver color is not a pigment, but rather some type of mechanism that scatters and reflects light. Some plants with silver foliage have a thick coat of foliar wax. Others are covered with fine hairs. A few silver perennials get their luster from blisters that separate the outer and inner cell layers of the leaf.” Silver leaved plants by and large hail from regions that are very hot and dry. That silvery surface is an adaptation – a means by which the plants can survive high heat and drought. Though I garden in a zone which gets regular rain, and infrequently has temperatures over 90 degrees, I love the look of silver leaved plants. This year’s window boxes at the shop-a celebration of silver leaves.

silver foliage (14)In the window boxes this year, I have planted artemesia “Valerie Finnis”, a blue/silver eucalyptus whose name I do not know, Cirrus dusty miller, a lavender with silver leaves, kalanchoe “Flapjacks”, the trailing artemesia “Silver Brocade”, an unknown silvery white succulent, and artemesia absinthium-or wormwood. I think I have identified these accurately, but maybe not. My knowledge of the names of exotic plants is sketchy. I was not shopping names for these window boxes.  I was shopping color.

silver foliage (15)Some of these plants might be hardy in my garden, provided they were planted in poor, gravelly, and fast draining soil.  Others are strictly seasonal for me, as they would only survive the winter in a very mild climate. Some would thrive and return the following year,  only given the absence of a winter.

silver foliage (17)I am not generally drawn to succulent plants, only because they seem so out of place in a Michigan garden. But my container plantings can be comprised of any collection of plants that interest me. The best part of a seasonal/summer container planting is that I am not restricted by what would survive my winter. Most of the annual plants I use in containers come from tropical regions. I do use perennials hardy in Michigan in containers, provided their habit, texture, form and mass is such that they will look interesting all summer long. A columbine, or lupine in a pot has a very short season of interest. The coming of the hot weather – especially the hot nights – takes a toll on them. The tropical plants can handle the heat, should it come.

silver foliage (16)As long as I have been gardening, much has been said about the hardiness of lavender.  Early on, I planted no end of so called hardy lavender, without much success. My longest relationship with a lavender plant-4 years, and 3 winters. Hardiness is not exclusively dependent on winter temperatures.  My area is known for its heavy clay soil.  Lavender likes perfect drainage – light soil. Drainage is a surprisingly big part of winter hardiness. A new lavender from Peace Tree Farm shows a great deal of promise.  From their website:  “One of the hardiest lavenders seen throughout Europe and the United States, ‘Phenomenal’ has exceptional winter survival, as it does not have the winter die back that other varieties like Munstead and Hidcote commonly demonstrate. Lavender ‘Phenomenal’ has also shown tolerance to extreme heat and humidity, and is resistant to common root and foliar diseases. Most commonly popular for its silvery foliage and consistent growth with uniform, mounding habit, ‘Phenomenal’ has an elegant flower presentation and fragrance, perfect for fresh and dried arrangements and oil uses.”  Hmm.  I will have to buy some plants.  What summer garden seems like a summer garden without lavender?

silver foliage (1)For the moment, I plant lavender in containers, never expecting I could plant them in the ground in the fall, and winter them over. This silver leaved plant is just as Mediterranean in its roots as the cardoons. I am happy to have them, one season. Lavender seems very happy, planted with other plants of like persuasion. The range of silvery colors from bright silvery gray to silvery blue gray in this iron cistern all seem visually compatible. I suspect all the plants enjoy the heat absorbed by the cistern.

silver foliage (2)Proper watering will be key to their success. At Detroit Garden Works, we group all of the silvery leaved and succulent plants together on a table that is a do not water zone.  Euphorbia “Diamond Frost” will deteriorate quickly from too much water.  The leaves of helicrysum-licorice-will pucker and decline from too much water. Water the silver leaved plants as infrequently as possible, and then some. Your restraint will reward you.

silver foliage (3)Some of our echeverias only get water from the sky, when it comes.  Otherwise, nothing, and certainly nothing from the hose. It may not have been the best year to decide to plant a collection of silver leaved plants.  We have has lots of rain, dating back to early spring.  Today, it rained all day, and it looks like it will continue to rain all night. My magnolias and parrotias have that lush green tropical look about them. The high temperature today-59 degrees. Not exactly Mediterranean.

silver foliage (11)Silver, blue, and gray leaved plants are beautiful in containers. The teucrium fructicans, or silver bush germander, in the center of this container, was lovely all summer long.  I wintered it over indoors successfully for 3 years.

silver foliage (8)Plectranthus “Silver Shield” makes a beautiful seasonal groundcover.  This small bed on a pool terrace is hot and dry in the extreme.  I have never been able to get a perennial groundcover to winter over in this spot. The silvery gray is so beautiful with the pale pink roses, and white washed wall.

silver foliage (9)Though the miscanthus grass in the center of this container is white, all of the silver leaves surrounding it makes those white leaves glow.

DGW 2006_09_05 (1)My most successful cardoon planting ever was in a tall container the top of which measured 14″ by 14″.  Once it was established, it was happy to be hot and dry.

silver foliage (4)Some silver leaved plants do well in the shade.  This silvery green begonia with silver blotches is underplanted with Shadow King gray begonia, and Pilea “Silver Tree”.  Pilea “Silver Cloud” is equally as lovely. Silver leaved plants-I am happy to have access to them.

silver foliage (10)silver leaves

silver foliage (5)silver thread leaves

silver foliage (7)dusty miller

silver foliage (6)These are the silver gray leaves from a partridge feather plant.  Have you ever?

 

 

 

Spikes And Such

dracaena indivisaI plant lots of seasonal containers for clients every year. This season has been particularly intense and compressed.  Cold nights plagued our area until the very end of May.  The week before Memorial Day, we had nights in the 30’s. I was wringing my hands at the prospect of getting out to plant so late, but I have always been stubborn about delaying the planting until we have three nights of 50 degrees or better in a row. It was beginning to feel like that day would never come. This year was a test that kept me awake at night.  Even if the weather turns warmer by mid May, there is a terrific lot of work to do, in a short amount of time. So what does a compressed season have to do with the 6″ buckets of spikes pictured above?  Rarely does the schedule of the planting of the summer containers permit leisurely planning.  The weather turns.  I have a lot of work to do. There are certain plants that look good to me, and others that do not interest me much. My design and plant choices boil down to instinct,  experience, and whatever else captures my fancy. I have no choice but to trust my eye and my hand, and proceed without over thinking my decisions. As for spikes, I have no history of ever planting them in containers.  This year I have planted a lot of them.  Spikes. Yes, I have a little spike fest going on.

spikes and such (3)Who knows why I was suddenly so enamored of spikes. Maybe it is a result of having turned 65 a week ago. A murmuring dialogue about my age, and what that might mean may be influencing my choices. Maybe I was feeling old fashioned and out dated. Most years, I am compelled by a need, on some level, to explore. Exploring is generally a good thing.  Though the fact that I was planting spikes in containers left and right alarmed me, I did not have the luxury of the time it would take to second guess the impulse. I rolled my eyes, and kept on planting them.   Every gardener knows what spikes are.  Their grandmother’s routine and pat pots of geraniums at the front door all has a spike in the middle. A pot full of geraniums with a spike in the middle-an icon of container planting from 50 years ago. Even the grandsons of the grandmothers who planted those spikes vaguely remember them, though they may not be able to identify any other seasonal plant. Today’s container plantings are endowed with an incredible variety of plants unknown and unavailable in 1950. Seasonal container design is a very exciting part of gardening right now. Every interested gardener has a generous palette of plants available, and a design atmosphere that is genuinely challenging and interesting.

spikes and such (6)A spike, Dracaena indivisa, is a tropical green plant.  It is easy to grow, and tolerates lots of different soil conditions.  It likes regular water and sun, but will live amiably with less of everything that it wants. It can be moved inside over the winter, with a minimum of fuss.  The timidly broad sword shaped leaves emanate from a central trunk. The leaves are lax, like a grass. They are the anti-centerpiece. They have no extraordinary color or texture.  They are just about the last in line of the so called architectural plants available to plant in containers.  They are plain green, as in invisibly green.  Worse than that, they are very much out of fashion.

spikes and such (5)So what is it that I am liking about them? Giving up the notion that the center plant in a pot has to be the most important plant is key. I like how a spike gently and unobtrusively softens the appearance of all of these surrounding plants. The geraniums and New Guineas in this urn are stiff, unyielding, and visually demanding. The spike tones down all that bossy color and form.

spikesSpikes are simple to winter over in the house. Simple does not mean it is simple minded to plant them.  I had this pair of spikes a number of years. Grown on to a large size, they have a much more architectural appearance.  In this garden, they provided a little fireworks.

spikes and such (18)

 Cordylines are related to spikes, and  but are not the same genus. They have a somewhat stiffer appearance, and the australis hybrids possess a strong red coloration.  Giving up the notion that only 1 spike is needed opens up the design possibilities. This container has a mass of cordyline in the center.  Dark colors do not read so well in the landscape, so lots of red cordyline means more. Cordylines are fairly indifferent to the vagaries of the weather. They got planted in April, and were in the pots until November. A contemporary pot massed with cordyline can be quite striking.

spikes and such (1)These old red cordylines were grown on from a 6 inch pot. Every year for 8 years now, the arrangement of the pots have changed based on the size of the plants.

spikes and such (13)Phormiums, commonly known as New Zealand flax, resemble spikes and cordyline in their habit, although the leaves are wider.  Some phormiums are quite stiff leaved.  Others are droopy.  There are lots of cultivars available, in different colors and patterns. Phormiums will rot at the base, if they are planted too low in the container.  Outside of that, they are as easy to grow as a spike.

spikes and such (17)The color of this phormium picks up the predominate tones in this group of containers. That peachy pink is especially beautiful with the color of the terra cotta pots.

spikes and such (16)This planting in this pool side pot is simple, but very strong visually.  The phormium “Margaret Jones”, a group of vista fuchsia petunias, and some vinca maculatum work well together, and look nothing like the pots my grandmother planted.

spikes and such (12)This green phormium is a lovely complement to the solenia begonias. Though it is centrally located in the composition, the visual focus is on the flowers.

spikes and such (15)The phormium in this pot takes a much more active role in the overall feeling of this container. Informal and whimsical. The phormium is the plant equivalent of a casual and slightly messy hair do.

spikes and such (14)Phormium “Cream Delight” is hard to find, but it makes a beautiful statement in a container.  The euphorbia diamond frost goes a long way towards softening that spiky appearance, and adds substance, not bulk.

spikes and such (4)Last, but certainly not least, Dianella is related to phormiums, and similar in most ways except for overall size.  They are great for smaller containers. I love how the leaves hover over the rest of the plants in this box. An added plus-dianella blooms.

spikes and such (7)I found a great selection of variegated cordylines at Tellys at Goldner Walsh yesterday. I have not decided what to put with this cultivar,”Torbay Dazzler”, but “Skies of Italy” fancy leaved geraniums might be lovely.  This would be a spike and geranium combination that is both fresh and lively.

spikes and such (8)cordyline  “Paradise”

spikes and such (9)cordyline  “Electric Star”

spikes and such (10)Cordyline  “Electric Flash” is brown leaved with limey green stripes. Imagine the possibilities-all from a consideration of the spike.

Spring Pruning

pear espaliered arbors (4)Every plant in the landscape will better realize its potential if it is kept properly pruned. A shrub that is kept pruned will respond by being densely twiggy-a strong branch structure is essential to good health. Plants that are pruned in such a way that every branch gets its fair share of light and air is a healthy plant. Every tree, shrub and perennial has its individual requirements.  I prune the hydrangeas after the buds swell in late March or April. I prune out the dead wood, and branches that cross over each other.  Branches that rub against each other may damage the bark – damaged bark is an invitation to insects and disease.  I prune each branch individually, so every shoot has its own light and air space. The forsythias and lilacs need to be pruned right after they flower, in a very natural and loose way that mimics their natural shape.

pear espaliered arbors (5)Very few plants tolerate close formal or shaped clipping. Boxwood and yews tolerate this better than other species. This results in a proliferation of growth at the ends of the branches.  Eventually the light and air is excluded from the interior of the shrub. I see lots of deciduous shrubs that have been sheared, resulting in a thin layer of green at the top, and bare branches below. Those shrubs will eventually have to be hard pruned in order to renovate them, or removed altogether. It is important to keep in mind that a pruning cut is a call to grow, and will produce a reaction.  The breaking of multiple new shoots is not uncommon from a single pruning cut.

pear espaliered arbors (6)Pruning to keep a shrub within the bounds of a confined space will fail sooner or later.  Planting shrubs or trees that will gracefully fit a space when mature is good planning. A tree planted within 3 feet of a sidewalk is a bad idea, unless that tree is a very dwarf or grafted form.  I prune most plants in the spring, although there are exceptions.  I prune maples late in the summer, and grapes in the winter. The roses and clematis have their own special routine. I prune boxwood after the first flush, so I don’t have to prune again later.  Pruning too late in the season is risky, and may expose a treasured plant to winter injury.

pear espaliered arbors (3)For those people who just love to prune, an espaliered tree is a perfect plant.  Espaliers are any tree pruned to lay flat, in two dimensions, against a wall. Trees pruned in this fashion, with proper support early on, make beautiful living free standing fences.  Some espaliers are pruned to assume a particular shape. They need a a sure and regular hand willing to prune. Some gardeners prune them to follow the shape of the arms, as trained.  Others prune them so all of the spaces between the arms fill in with a solid structure of branches. These pairs of keiffer pear espaliers have been grown, and pruned to assume an arch shape. Once a pear arbor is purchased, we fabricate a steel arbor matching the shape of the espalier which bolts together at the top.  The arms of the pear trees and tied to the steel arbor, which is installed on the underside of the trees, to maintain the shape.  We were fortunate enough to obtain 8 pear arbors.  All of them are gone now, and each required a little something different in terms of the steel support. An espalier pear arbor in full bloom is astonishing. It is a treasure, loaded with fruit, later in the summer.

pear espaliers (1)These espaliers had some pruning over this past winter that made me cringe.  The lower arms had the bark chewed off the arms, and shoots were clipped off by a very sharp set of teeth.  This malicious destruction of property-rabbits.  Cuts to a branch on a tree or shrub at a sharp angle indicates rabbit damage. We have never had this kind of devastating damage to our espaliers over the winter before.

pear espaliers (2)Nature has plenty of pruning agents which may or may not be to your liking.  Terrific wind storms, or ice storms can bring down dead or weak branches in trees and shrubs. Fierce weather can be an agent of pruning.  Keeping trees and shrubs properly pruned is your best defense against damage from natural causes. The rabbit damage to our espalier collection was considerable.  Only 12 of our trees were spared.  Next fall, we plan to put up a galvanized metal fence to protect the trees.

pear espaliered arbors (7)In the meantime, the pear trees responded to the rabbit pruning in exactly the same fashion as they have always responded to pruning.  They pushed out new growth. I was astonished to see buds emerging from old thick wood-although I should not have been. The will to live is very strong. Lots of life is lurking underneath that bark. The trees responded to this severe pruning by sending forth new shoots.  Should you ever fear that your pruning may damage a plant irreparably, take these pictures to heart.

pear tree sproutingThe scars of the rabbit damage to the bark will always be there. But the bare lower branches are already beginning to re leaf.

kieffer pear espalierPlants are amazingly tolerant of bad pruning.  What they don’t like is no pruning at all.  The best way to learn is to read, and then do.  The resulting shape and health of your shrubs will tell you if the job you have done is good, or needs a different direction. What a relief to see the new growths on these espaliers.

 

Tulips For Mother’s Day

2015 tulips  3The tulips at the shop have been evolving over the past 3 weeks, when the first of them came into bloom.  How appropriate that they are usually about in full bloom on Mother’s Day.  My Mom would have loved it, and photographed them over and over again. I came in early today, so I could take my own pictures. I always plant a mix in front of the shop, as I plant lots of them. A minimum of three colors will make a good basic mix.

the 2015 tulips (4)There are other characteristics besides color that make up a good mix.  A mix of heights rewards the eye with flowers up, down, and in the midsection.  All the same type or class of tulips puts all the flowers at the same height. No matter whether you plant 20 or 200 tulips, there will be a horizontal band of green at the bottom, and a horizontal band of color at the top.  Tulips have big, splashy flowers, but I like to plant them close together. Choosing tulips of different heights means the individual flowers will read.

the 2015 tulips (6)Different classes of tulips bloom at different times. Creating a good mix of times is not quite as simple as planting an early, a mid season, and a late tulip.  A mix whose early tulip is finished before the mid season tulip comes on means the whole group will never be in full color for that one moment of tulip glory. For that reason, I usually include smaller numbers of a 4th and 5th-and maybe even a 6th tulip.    the 2015 tulip mix (6)Different types of tulips have different shapes-of course.  The classic mid season Darwin hybrid tulip flower is tall, and globular.  Single late tulips are very large, and more rounded in shape than the Darwins.  Lily flowered tulips have a lily shape-of course.  A variety of shapes keeps the mix interesting.

the 2015 tulips (1)Of course color plays a big part of the mix. Strongly contrasting colors makes for a very lively mix. Bright orange, bright yellow and white is a striking and dramatic mix.  That drama can be left as is, or tempered with pale yellow and peach. Pale violet or lavender added to this mix tones down the heat in a visually interesting way. Red would heat up the mix.  Leave out the white, the mix will smoulder. 1 part white to 1 part red yellow and orange will be sunny in a very springlike way.

the 2015 tulips (2)

Colors that are closely related make for a harmonious mix. Red and pink is a natural combination, as pink is red mixed with white.  In this scheme, there is a near warm white, a white flamed pink and red, a pale pink, a single late rose pink/red, and a medium pink.

the 2015 tulips (12)The varieties, from left to right:  World Expression, Silver Stream, Renown and Mariette, with Pink Impression at the bottom.

the 2015 tulips (13)There can be great color variations within an individual tulip.  Pink impression is a pale pink with blue overtones.  The midrib of each petal is darker than the body, and the edges of the petals are lighter than the body.

the 2015 tulips (15)World Expression and Silver Stream have the same two colors, though the color distribution is very different.  I think each of these tulips is all the better for its respective companion.

the 2015 tulips (11)The blooming of the tulips from start to finish is about 5, maybe 6 weeks.  I thoroughly enjoy that process, from the time the leaves emerge from the ground, until the last of the petals mature and fall. The flowers themselves are extraordinary.  I would always plant tulips for my Mom for Mother’s Day.  I would do my best to plant when she was not there, so she would not know what colors or where I would plant. I also schemed to be sure that the tulips were at their perfect best on Mother’s Day.  Though I rarely met that goal perfectly, the process of the selection, the planting, the anticipation of spring, and the blooming was a process we both enjoyed. I so appreciate that every time I see tulips in bloom, I think of her.