Be Picky About Perennials

pereennial garden  I know the title of this post sounds heartless, but there is no need to plant every plant you can find in your garden unless you are young, you want to learn by doing, and you have acreage. If this is not your situation, there is nothing wrong with being choosy. The fact of the matter is that no perennial plant is without its shortcomings. Some fall over, or seed relentlessly. Some are disease prone, or beloved of bugs. Others fail to perform unless they have a full time nanny. Still others would grow in your bedroom window if you take your eyes off of them. Still others have a painfully awkward habit of growth, or an incredibly short life span. Those perennials with nondescript or poor foliage – I will not plant them. I make a point of seeing new hybrid introductions in test gardens, as I am fiercely protective of what plants I give ground to in my own yard, or my client’s gardens. I designed and planted the garden pictured above 15 years ago. This year I will redo it.  I suspect my plant palette will be different. I like plants that deliver and endure.

double bloodrootThis said, I routinely break my own rules. I would plant double bloodroot, knowing that their yearly bloom time might be a few hours, and their foliage dies back in the blink of an eye. I would attempt to grow roses, even though they come with a long list of do’s and don’t’s. I like snakeroot, even though there flower stems droop.  The joy of my garden? My choices may be thoughtful or capricious. Either is fine. No one will be stopping by this week, or any week, to grade my garden. For good or for ill, and thankfully, I am in charge of my garden decisions. No one cares or ever will care more about my garden than I do. So I do think through my decisions about what to plant. I will have no one else to blame for my bloopers. I may ignore my own advice when I am so inclined. I make mistakes, most of which make me laugh. I should have known better. Be assured that I have planted lots of perennials that languished and died. I have planted even more that I wish would die. A poorly performing perennial that struggles back year after year to no good end – nothing makes me more furious than a mediocre performance from a plant.

Walters Gardens astilbe Visions in PinkYou may find fault with my notion that plants in my garden need to perform. So let me visit the idea of performance. A garden is a terrific amount of work, much of which is not all that much fun. I like plants that reward my efforts with their beauty. A great performing plant is a plant whose habit, substance, hardiness, flowers and foliage are equally beautiful.  The Visions series of astilbe come very close to this level.  They do remarkably well in open shade, and are tolerant of full sun if they have sufficient water.  The foliage is glossy and healthy all season long. The flower stalks are sturdy. They are hardy in my zone.

blue delphiniumIt’s a rare gardener who is not besotted by the sight of a well grown stand of blue delphinium. The day they come into full bloom is the June day we will have a driving rainstorm that will take most of them down to the ground. You can see the support strings in this picture from the RHS. But there are ways to limit your exposure to disaster. Thin mature clumps, to promote good air circulation and discourage fungus. Pinch them back early, for more sturdy stems.  Plant the smaller growing species, d. belladonna or d. ballamosum, or shorter growing hybrids, as opposed to the exhibition sized varieties. If you buy seed for delphiniums bred in England or New Zealand, consider their climate before you try to grow them in Wyoming. If you must have those big delphiniums, be good natured about the aphids and the less than wonderful foliage once the bloom is finished. Don’t forget to feed and feed again.

pure peonies    Every living thing is flawed one way or another. This includes me, and my opinions about what perennial plants I would recommend. I have a point of view based on my experience, patience, and . None of the aforementioned Some flaws are charming.  Other flaws are deal breakers.  I avoid plants that are not truly hardy in my zone. I also pass by those plants that need and thrive in an environment that I cannot provide.  A flawless perennial is even rarer. It may not even exist. It would have gorgeous foliage, a long and heavy bloom time, a weatherproof habit of growth, good resistance to disease and bugs, a minimum in hands on maintenance – as in deadheading, division, staking, feeding or any other attention, perfectly hardy ands winter tolerant in my zone, adaptability to a wide range of light and soil conditions, a long life span, a healthy respect for the plants next door, vigor without aggression, a compact habit, great substance, early to show and late to go down-am I missing anything? This photograph of a hedgerow of the peony “Moonstone”, from Pure Peonies, is a good example of a perennial that is worth a second look. If you love perennial plants, pick and choose what to grow.

 

Mind Your Manners, Please

thekatiepippel.wordpress.com

thekatiepippel.wordpress.com

Some plants make me want to grab them by the scruff of their unruly stems, and lecture them about the importance of good manners. Why is that? I have been gardening long enough to be sensitive to plants whose habits in the garden are unsociable.. Making a garden grow is work. How satisfying it is to see what was in a gardener’s mind’s eye come to life. Not that I need to be in charge. Nature bats last, as they say. Disappointments are one thing, but some plants are brats, and I dislike them interfering with the pleasure I take in my garden. There are those plants that flop over at the slightest insult from wind or rain -as in  these peonies. Some flop open from the center out- -as in every cat mint I have ever grown. I have seen plenty of bearded iris bloom stalks go out of vertical, or flop face down in the dirt.

Asters_uncut_LGThere is an entire industry revolving around the sale of anti flop props for plants. Cages, stakes, wire and what have you. I am a fan of those plants that can handle gravity. I avert my eyes from a garden plant that is slouching, or lying on the ground.

mac cleaya cordata hdpiya.comOther plants that do grow to great heights in defiance of gravity, may rudely annex the land belonging to every neighboring plant, and smother them, like this impressive stand of macleaya cordata.  Then later in the summer, the lower leaves will yellow and drop and by late summer, the entire plant is unsightly. Surely, some giant stalks will eventually come crashing to the ground.  Any other plant you might place in front to cover those legs will eventually be engulfed in more plume poppies.

neil diamond hybrid tea roseHybrid tea roses have blooms that are visually seductive, flashy, even astonishing – but the performance of the plant 52 weeks of the year will make your eyes roll back in your gardening head. They attract bugs, fungus and disease from miles around. Not to mention that these grafted beauties regularly fail over my winters.  There are other ill mannered prima donna plants demanding this and that, and more of everything else you have. Some of these ill mannered plants threaten to die, and do, should they not get looked after just so. Others just look bad no matter what you do for them – how rude. The astonishing end of their bad manners-plant societies are formed in their name by gardeners who are bound and determined to have them – no matter what that entails. Astonishing, how rational and dirt digging gardeners agree to be bossed around by ill mannered plants.

Rogers Gardens dayliliesDaylily flowers come in an astonishing array of colors and shapes these days.  These cultivars with brilliant color, heavy substance and frilly edges from Roger’s Gardens Daylilies are something else. Wow. Gardeners who do not like the strong color and form such as these may choose cultivars with bloom colors and forms that are a little more subdued. This choice is a matter of taste. The only daylily I have ever planted for clients is Goldner’s Bouquet, bred years ago by Al Goldner.  I will plant it, as the bud counts on a mature plant can easy surpass 300, and they do well without much irrigation. Such is their breeding. But all I can really think about when I think daylilies is about the dead and decomposing flower heads that need to be snipped off, every day of the bloom season.  Not to mention that once a clump is done blooming, the current year’s foliage immediately starts yellowing and dying back. How boorish is this behavior?  If you don’t feel like standing out in the garden regularly on a hot August day, pulling dead stalks and individual yellowing or crispy brown leaves from the plants, you have a mess on your hands that can only be helped by cutting back all of the old foliage, and letting the new foliage come on.

russian sage from knecht nurseryThere are some perennial plants that are so unruly you would swear they were weeds. Every year a hybridizer introduces a “smaller growing version” that would permit a gardener with a small garden to have something else besides one Russian sage. Russian sage is a big bully of a perennial whose manners are of the most rudimentary kind. They have an equally uncouth habit in my zone of dying out on one side over the winter. That dead side is invariably facing the kitchen window.

Japanese knotweedSome vulgar plants spread and infect a garden like the cold virus. Japanese knotweed is not ill mannered, it is nasty.

garlic mustardI have been living long enough to spot people who don’t mind their manners.  Everyone has had that skunky smell of bad manners close enough to them to wrinkle their nose, and back away. A discussion of unmannerly people is not a topic I want to pursue, besides saying it is easy to spot them. Would that they could spot themselves! This field of garlic mustard looks rather nice in this photograph-but is is ready and willing to go anywhere and everywhere. Garlic mustard is a plant without any manners whatsoever. Beware.

signaturegardensblogspotcom_phixr-e1405535177987Unmannerly plants have a hand that they have been dealt. They are who they are. It is very hard to separate phlox and monarda from a discussion of mildew. A double peony originally bred for the cut flower trade does not a garden peony make. My advice?  Grow everything you can. Decide which of those plants with less than stellar manners you are willing to make room for. No plant is perfect, although hellebores come close. Pushy plants-beware planting them unless you have a serious containment plan. Invasive plants-avoid them. The spectrum of plants good to grow is big and wide. Grow lots of them, so you can figure out which ruffians you are personally willing to raise.

Planting the Pines

November 6, 2015 162My last post about the 34 limber pines had to do with getting them off a truck, and transported some 450 feet up hill to the place where they would be planted. The first set of 14 Vanderwolfs would be planted around this generator. Building codes in this community specifies that a generator must be completely screened.  These old existing yews were several feet too short, and too thin. It is a very large and tall generator. I ordinarily would not think to screen with trees, but in this case, I felt that Vanderwolf’s pines would do more than provide a screen. They would be a feature of the landscape.

planting the Joe Burke's (4)It is essential to preserve access to the generator for service. A flexibly stemmed soft needled pine is perfect for this function.  A yearly pinching of the spring candles will keep these pines dense. Though shearing long needled pines is common in the landscape and Christmas tree industries, we will not shear these.  We will take a branch or the new growth (called a candle) back to the main stem. We were easily able to co-mingle the branches from one tree to the next, as those branches are indeed very flexible. We set these columnar pines 4 feet apart.  In the spring I will pinch out those wild hairs at the top, and lower the overall height about 18″.  We will keep those trees below the overhang.

planting the Joe Burke's (4)That giant generator is no longer part of the landscape. Landscape designers regularly have to take the placement of outdoor structures in to account. Telephone poles, electrical lines, drain and manhole covers, generators, fire hydrants and transformers are all part of the urban landscape.

KP 015The landscape on this side of the circular driveway was a random mix of spruce, viburnum, and yews, backed up by the neighbor’s old junipers and spruce. It would not be long before the spruce would engulf the yews, and hang over the driveway. In the center island we had planted four circles of spreading cap yews.  The outside ring is 36″ tall.  The inside ring is 24″ tall.  The mass will be kept loose, but in heights descending to the center.  Perhaps some day they will add a sculpture there. Between the yews and the existing landscape is a group of Green Gem boxwood sitting on the driveway, which will be planted in front of the Joe Burke limber pines. And yes, there is a transformer there.

planting the Joe Burke's (8)Once the spruce and most of the viburnum were moved, it is easier to see the issues that would need addressing.  The tall trunks are on the neighbor’s property.  My clients driveway comes within 6 feet of the property line.  I did consult with the neighbor and her landscape designer, and got permission to plant several of the dwarf pines a little over the property lines.  I did explain that these trees would not impact her old trees like the spruce would have. Once we had her permission, there was still the issue of the transformer and cable box. The pines would be added on either side of the box.  We would pick specific trees that seemed like they would handle that placement.

planting the Joe Burke's (19)We were able to determine that a tree could be planted behind the box. We dug this hole very cautiously, and a number of lines, sprinkler and otherwise, traverse this area. Since we could not plant a tree in front of the transformer, behind would be the next best way  to add that foliage and texture to that spot.

planting the Joe Burke's (18)Dan did the initial dig, and transplanted the viburnum.  His was a fishing expedition. He did find sprinkler lines, which were rerouted out of the way of the root ball.

planting the Joe Burke's (6)The curb of the new drive was protected by 4″ by 4″ timbers set on each side, and plywood over all.  We needed our front end loader to set the trees, as the trees were much too heavy to lift. Once each tree was set in the trench that had been dug, they could be rotated in the hole for the best fit with the tree before. This area, where some of the juniper branches were low, each tree had to be carefully fit in to what was existing.

planting the Joe Burke's (21)Planting the tree behind the box came last.

planting the Joe Burke's (22)This tree had a slight crook in the trunk.  When the ball was pitched forward, the branches came very close to the box. There is that perfect tree for every spot. That proximity was not a problem. The service would always be done on the front side.

planting the Joe Burke's (1)These irregular growing pinus flexilis “Joe Burke” fit right in with the background landscape. As they grow, albeit slowly, they will meld in a friendly way to what is there.

planting the Joe Burke's (11)Once the trees were in, the wood, plywood, tarps and soil could be removed.

planting the Joe Burke's (10)The last task was to back fill the trench with soil, and make sure the trees are straight.  They will be getting a thorough soaking, which will help with the insult of being dug, moved, and replanted.

the transformer garden 2The trees will be faced down with Green Gem boxwood that is 15″ tall. Green Gem is very slow growing, and can be kept short.  As the ground is rising here, the boxwood will have a slight bank.

screening the transformerTaller Green Mountain boxwood were used to screen the front of the generator. Once the flexible pines grow, there will be some melding going on here as well. Those big boxwood are not an especially graceful gesture , but they are a better look than that green box.

 

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!

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