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!

Planting A Tree

the tricolor beech (2)The very first tree I ever planted was a gingko.  My Mom and I, with not much discussion or ceremony, planted 10 seeds in small plastic pots. As I was probably 7 years old, it never occurred to me to ask where she got the seed. As she was a fairly reserved parent, there was no presentation about how to successfully grow trees from seed, or why growing a tree from a seed was a worthwhile and satisfying use of one’s time. Or that trees in general are one of the great wonders of the natural world.  I do remember that only one seed germinated.  That pot was buried in the rose garden for several years, until that gingko was about 15″ tall.  I watched her dig up a patch of grass in the side yard. In the process of getting the gingko out of the pot, I knocked all the soil off of the roots. I was horrified-I thought I had killed it.  She just scooped up that bareroot tree, and planted it in one fell swoop-the entire planting took but seconds. I would be in charge of the water to that tree for years to come. Once I turned 13, I had to be sent to the tree to water.  Once I turned 16, my attitude shifted. There was a lot of satisfaction to watching that tree grow-and grow it did.  By the time I went to college, it was a proper tree, a young but substantial element of our suburban landscape.

the tricolor beech (3)My Mom moved while I was in college, closer to the school where she taught.  I would eventually move near her.  That gingko tree was on its own, on the other side of town. If I ever had cause to drive from the west to the east side, I would go to see the tree.  It would always be there, just a little bit larger than the last trip. Gingkos are slow growers. Several weeks after she died, I went to see the tree. It was a comfort to me, that 45 year old tree, living and growing. It was such a beautiful tree, all on its own, set in the lawn. 10 years after she died, I went to see the tree, but it was gone. There was no sign it had ever been there. The shock and the grief  was unsettling. Every gardener has a hefty respect and affection for trees.

the tricolor beech (4)My second tree planting was in my twenties.  I was visiting a friend in Kalamazoo.  We were both gardeners, so a good part of every visit was consumed visiting nurseries. One nursery had a tall adolescent tulip tree in an undersized pot, with one green and orange “tulip” blooming at the top.  I had to have that tree. The leaf shape was so beautiful!  I drove that tree home in my pickup truck, and hauled it all over my property until I decided where to plant it. I chose a place where it would be free to grow as big as it could.  I was unaware that liriodendron are tap rooted, and very difficult to transplant.  I stripped the sod from the spot, dug down deep, and amended the heavy clay soil, and put that tree in the ground. I kept it watered without any coaching.  Miraculously, it took hold.  There were never any more tulips as long as I lived there. When I moved 15 years later, it was just beginning to put on weight.  I know better now than to go back.  I prefer to believe it is still there, growing taller and bigger every year.

the tricolor beech (5)I was working for Al Goldner, at Goldner Walsh Nursery, when I had occasion to plant my third tree. He had a dawn redwood that had lost its leader. It was header for the compost pile. When I asked him if I could take it home, he only said that the tree would never be right without its leader.  Plant it I did, in a swampy spot where it grew every bit of 18 inches a year.  Its shape was definitely asymmetrical, but it had a strange and atypical beauty that enchanted me. My fourth tree was a London Plane that had not been sold, but needed to go in the ground. Al gave that tree to me as well.  It was so large that it took me days to dig the hole. I needed every friend I had to help me roll it in the hole.  It took years before that tree took hold, and started to grow.  My property was almost 5 acres.  I had plenty of room for trees. I was beginning to understand a few things about planting them.

the tricolor beech (6)Over the course of my career, I have planted a lot of trees. Under story, or smaller growing trees are easy to place in just about any landscape. Their mature size is friendly and companionable with perennial gardens and shrubs, and smaller urban properties. The variety of species and cultivars available at nurseries is extensive. A gardener would need a very large property to grow one of every tree available in commerce. Trees are grown and sold in a variety of sizes.  The modest cost of a small tree in a pot makes it possible to plant a grove. My company rarely handles a tree with a root ball over 40 inches in diameter.  A root ball this size will weigh almost 1000 pounds. Some nurseries grow very large specimen trees. Luckily there exists sophisticated technology, and expert large tree movers such as GP Enterprises, that permits moving and replanting very large trees.

the tricolor beech (7)A tree spade is a flat bed truck, outfitted with a hydraulically powered set of four blades that can remove a cone shaped mass of soil 10′ in diameter, and better than 6 feet deep.  The spade can likewise dig a large tree, and transport it horizontally on the truck bed to a replanting location. A 5 inch caliper tree – the caliper being the diameter of the trunk 6 feet from the ground – will require a 5 foot diameter root ball to insure a successful transplant.  A 5′ diameter root ball weighs about 2800 pounds. We are in the process of installing a landscape on a very large property.  Big trees will help to provide a sense of scale and age to the landscape. This tricolor beech is 35 years old.  It is possible to move a tree of the age, as it has been root pruned, dug and moved a number of times at the nursery. Moving a tree from the wild would of the age would be much more difficult.

new beech (2)No matter the size, moving a tree is never easy. Every balled and burlapped tree has had many roots critical to its health and well being cut off in the process of making it movable. A large canopy tree with an abruptly reduced root system will suffer transplant shock, until enough roots grow back to adequately support the life of that canopy. It will take a year for every inch of caliper for that tree to recover sufficiently to begin growing again.  A one inch caliper tree will resume growing after one season in the ground.  A ten inch caliper tree will take 10 years to become completely established.

new beech (1)This tricolor beech has a very good new home. It was transplanted with a good deal of care.  It is planted in a space where it has plenty of room to grow. Best of all, there is a committed client who will not only truly enjoy it,  they will look after it as it should be.

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.