Those Other Hydrangeas

hydrangea Annabelle (7)My previous post about hydrangeas was narrow in scope.  Annabelle hydrangeas, or hydrangea arborescens “Annabelle” are commonly known as smooth hydrangeas. Their giant spherical flower heads are identifiable from a block away.  They have an annoying tendency to flop over.  Like peonies, their giant flower heads can topple an entire stem in a strong storm. That aside, they are showy. They bloom on new wood. Most encouraging of all for gardeners in my zone? They are both plant and bud hardy to zone 3.

limelight hydrangea hedgeLimelight hydrangea, or hydrangea paniculata “Limelight” is  hardy to zone 4.  The flowers are cone shaped.  The stems are incredibly strong, and upright. The flowers are not truly white-they are a lime green verging on white. They also bloom on new wood.  This means the flowers are set on the current year’s growth. A bad winter will not impact the flowering. The 4-5 foot version, Little Lime, is just as strong and hardy as Limelight.  The diminutive Limelight cousin,  “Bobo”,  grows 2 to 3 feet tall-and is entirely hardy.

all summer beauty hydrangeaThis said, I have had lots of clients express an interest in pink, or blue hydrangeas. Can you hear me sighing?  The All summer Beauty hydrangeas, both in ground and about to be planted,that you see above, is known as a mophead hydrangea. As in hydrangea macrophylla. The mophead hydrangeas are most easily grown in zone 6- 8. Truly. It is easy to see in the above picture that my client’s “All Summer Beauty” hydrangeas died all the way back to the ground as a result of our very cold winter. Hydrangea macrophylla blooms on old wood.  In early May, I could see that these hydrangeas had no live wood above ground, meaning there would be no June bloom on them. It would be a green summer for these hydrangeas- unless the plants would throw a few blooms on the new wood.

endlesssummerShocking this zone 6-8 business. All Summer Beauty hydrangea was introduced with great fanfare. They bloom on the previous year’s wood, but they also bloom on the current year’s wood. This was good news for hydrangea growers in northern climates. We had hopes that pink and blue hydrangeas would work for us.  I find that the bloom on new wood is sparse at best. The heavy bloom is the June bloom.

hydrangea_articleThe reality of the mopheads is that they promise a lot, and deliver not so much. Success with them is varied.  It is not so easy to figure what conditions will produce reliable blooming.The majority of the June  bloom resides in the previous year’s wood – wood that needs to  survive the winter. If you are growing All Summer Beauty, do not prune in the fall. A fall pruning removes flower buds.  Site your mopheads out of the way of the wind.  If you are mophead driven, be prepared to protect your plants over the winter.

July 13, 2012 035I do have a number of clients in Grosse Pointe.  This is a metropolitan Detroit community situated along Lake St. Clair. The mopheads I see on the west side are great once in a great while.  In this community, I see pink and blue hydrangeas blooming profusely every year.  I can only surmise that the water is a mitigating circumstance.  Water side gardens cool off  very slowly in the fall.  Plants enter the dormant stage slowly.  A big lake is slow to warm up in the spring, and protects garden plants from precipitous drops in spring temperatures.  A lake nearby is a blanket, both fall and spring. The big lake side gardens are most surely a zone 6 – maybe warmer. This is my guess.

blue hydrangeas
I have one client whose stand of mophead hydrangeas are gorgeous every year. Only one, I might add.  I really have no idea why they bloom so beautifully. I was advised that this cultivar is Nikko Blue, but this information is anecdotal.  I did not plant these. They were in place when I came to work for her. They are reliable in bloom, every year.  My other clients with mopheads have lots of green years, punctuated by flowering years now and then.  Some repeated successes I ascribe to a serious program of winter protection.

[wallcoo]_hydrangea_picture_4(1)I will say I have never seen hydrangeas other than white bloom like this.  If you have a big love for hydrangeas, research any plant you have a mind to purchase.  You need to know what species of hydrangea is the parent, and how to properly prune it. You need to cast a critical eye towards that place you plan to site them.  Is it near a house wall? Is the intended planting in a windy and exposed location?

July 13, 2012 039When a mophead hydrangea is happy, it is very very happy.

FullSizeRenderA good client emailed me this picture yesterday.  He saw these hydrangeas in bloom in Rhode Island.  Could he grow them in his garden?  This is a lace cap hydrangea which like the mophead, is hydrangea macrophylla.  It will suffer from bud loss from spring frosts, a too late pruning and a too cold winter in the same way as the mopheads. As beautiful as they are, they will not reliably like being planted in a Michigan garden. If they are killed back to the ground over the winter, they can come back-but the bloom will be very sparse. I doubt my client would have much luck with these.

hydrangeas Aug 15 2013 (17)I do not have much experience with hydrangeas other than white. I have a preference for hydrangeas that wholeheartedly like my zone. Were I dead set on having them, I would experiment to see what location in the garden was the most friendly to good flowering.  Some of the newer varieties may be more hardy for you than others. There are so many varieties available to choose from.  Perhaps there is one that will work in your garden.

Hydrangeas

hydrangeas and boltoniaNo discussion of a summer landscape in the mid west is complete without a a discussion about hydrangeas. Simply said, a hydrangea is a large leaved blowsy shrub noted for its spectacularly showy flowers. I should preface my remarks about hydrangeas with my point of view about shrubs in general. I am keen for any shrub that can endow a landscape. I find that shrubs perform year after year, with a minimum of maintenance. Some medium sized shrubs-as in spirea-not only tolerate being cut to the ground in the spring, they spring back and bloom without missing a beat. Other shrubs not only tolerate uninformed pruning, they thrive in spite of it. New cultivars of dwarf shrubs-I am thinking dwarf butterfly bush – amiably adapt to small gardens. Big shrubs can screen an untoward view.  Shrubs have a decently long life span. They ask little, and provide a lot.

limelight hydrangeas They bridge the gap between the perennials that are below eye level, and the trees that are above eye level.  A yearly pruning takes the place of the long list of care requirements that perennials require. Shrubs do take a lot of room, so if you garden is small, be discriminating in your choices. Hydrangeas are as friendly to a perennial garden as they are to a stand of trees. They can add weight to a garden. Lime Light hydrangeas sport greenish white cone shaped flowers that can back up a perennial garden. They have a long season of bloom.  Their twigs are sturdily upright.

hydrangea Annabelle (2)The hydrangea Annabelle has been in bloom since June in my zone.  This is a stellar year for them.  Everywhere I see them, they are standing up fairly straight, and loaded with blooms.  I have never been a big fan of the Annabelles. Their tendency to flop over demands careful staking way in advance of the growing and flowering. What a nuisance.  This year, all those giant white blooms look great wherever I see them.  Staked, and not staked.  In sun, and in shade.  I suspect our heavy and regular rain has been really good for them.

the landscape in July (2)I planted 3 rows of annabelles and 2 rows of Lime lights in this garden this spring-so the hydrangea bloom time will be long.  5 rows of hydrangeas is an embarrassment of riches in hydrangeas.  The Annabelles, to the left, gracefully drooping over a rustic boulder wall, start blooming in June. The taller and more vertical growing back stop of Lime light hydrangeas begin to bloom in late July. This garden is at least 150 feet from a rear terrace.  All of that white will read well from a distance. Unseen in this picture-a perennial garden with a lavish white coat of hydrangeas backing it up.

hydrangea gardenI placed the 3 rows of Annabelle hydrangeas just behind this rock wall.  Their inclination to droop will soften this wall. They will provide a graceful and warm backdrop to the perennials in front of the wall. The Limelights in the rear were invisible when they were planted.  But by next year they will provide another taller layer of white to the perennial garden.

hydrangeas needing waterHydrangeas do not like dry soil. These Annabelles are in sore need of water. They may flower, but the flowers will burn without regular irrigation.  If your hydrangeas have leaves that are turning yellow and dropping on the interior, get out the hose and soak them.

hydrangea BoboI also grow Little Lime hydrangeas, which top out at 4-5 feet, and the shortest of the Limelight series-Bobo.  At 30 inches tall, they are perfect for a small garden. Or for a foreground garden that needs to be low. They are a good choice for those moments in the landscape that asks for a plant that is short and wide. This hydrangea takes to perennial neighbors like a duck to water. The white flowers highlight and set off all of the other colors in a garden.

limelights 2013 (7)I prune my Lime lights in April.  I wait until I see the buds swelling.  I usually prune my 50 plants back to 30″ tall – give or take. Every other year. I do not prune them down near the ground. Really hard pruning results in fewer, and bigger flowers. I am not interested in bigger flowers. I like lots of medium sized flowers. I like my Lime Lights at home very tall-they are faced down by an old hedge of Hicks yews.  Some years I snip the old flower heads off, and leave them be.  Light pruning means you will get long woody legs. The following year, I may take them down to 30″  My yews cover those old legs.  If your hydrangeas are front and center, take them down closer to 30″. Irregularly.  Prune each branch individually, so every branch has its own air and light space. You can prune down to 14″ above ground-if you dare.  Do not go lower than this.  Forcing growth from below ground is hard on a shrub.

August 28 2013 (8)I have had a lot of questions regarding the proper spacing of Lime Light hydrangeas. I would say there is no proper, or right spacing. The spacing chosen has to do with the design intent. I space them at 30″or 36″ on center, if my intent is to create a dense and homogeneous hedge. Close spacing means that the entire length and width of the hedge grows and prospers as one organism.  The individual plants intertwine, and become one. I have never seen a hydrangea hedge that resented this spacing.  A spacing at 6 feet is an option.  But this row will never read as a hedge.  It will read as thick and thin. Wavy. I have had clients space them at 6 feet one year, and add an intervening plant the next year.

September 19 2014 (64)Hedging hydrangeas make a very strong statement.  A lone hydrangea as a foundation planting always looks alone, and gawky.  Great landscapes gracefully integrate individual plants in service of a greater whole. I like to mass hydrangeas. A showy shrub such as this-plant lots of them. Build your gardens around them. Be generous.

hydrangeas in SeptemberIn late September, the Lime Light blooms will begin to pink up. This color is a sign that the season is coming to a close.

Oct 17 2011 001In October, the pink deepens.  This view out from my rose garden is a view I treasure from  July through October.  The dry flower heads stay put all winter long. The list of plants that do well in my zone is long, and varied.  The delight this shrub furnishes to me is very long and varied.  I would not do without them – the hydrangeas.

 

 

 

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.