A Painterly Mix Of Tulips

tulips.jpgAnyone who gardens has a fascination with what I call living color.  The red of tulip is a much different kind of red than red represented by paint.  Color infused by life and light is a special kind of color. It is no wonder that flowering plants are prized by gardeners.  Given the winter we just endured, the first signs of color are so welcome. And no plant is more about the joy of color in the spring than tulips.   mixed-tulips.jpgI plant a mass of tulips at the shop every year.  It is the perfect opportunity to explore shape and color relationships, as every plant looks just about the same. I A mass of all one color is striking in certain settings, and in small groups.  A mix of color and shapes makes for a more painterly approach.

tulips.jpgA good mix begins with a selection that blooms at slightly different times. A very early and a very late tulip will never keep one another company.  Tulips with related bloom times means that the display of color will evolve over time.  From the moment a bud appears to the time of bloom is about a month. The tulips in the foreground of this picture are behind those in the background for a simple reason.  They are close to some fairly large lindens that shade them in the early part of the day.

tulip-mix.jpgThe next step in choosing a mix has to do with height. A mix all at the same height means that each individual flower is not in view.  A mix of heights puts the color both up, middling, and down. Once a tulip comes in to bloom, the flowers continue to grow.  In a cool spring, the stems will grow to their full height, and stay in bloom quite a while.  In a hot year, the stems will be short and the flowers short-lived. Given our fairly cool temperatures, this should be a good year.

tulips 2014 (6)Choosing the colors is the most difficult part.  No one has the luxury of picking a tulip for its color any other way than via pictures in a catalog. A picture of a tulip is not remotely like the real thing.  Solid red tulips can be orange red, or bluish red.  Or red violet. Or red with streaks of yellow. Many tulips are comprised of several different colors overlaying one another.  The edge of the petals may contrast in color with the body of the petal.  Other tulips may be streaked or spattered with another color.

tulips 2014 (3)Tulips that have multiple color tones are great for creating a visually satisfying and complex display.  This softly colored mix is comprised of tulips with subtle color variations.  Choosing colors that are analogous means they are closely related on a color wheel.  The overall effect from a distance is monochromatic, but up close, there are many variations.  This tulip mix is easy on the eyes, but not sleepy. I like looking at pictures of tulips on the John Sheepers website.  The colors represented are fairly true, and they include a written description of the colors as well.  No catalog records what the inside of a tulip looks like.  That warm and sunny day that mature group of tulips opens their petals wide and flat is a beautiful day indeed.    tulips 2014 (15)I do take pictures of tulips on my own, for reference. We do a different scheme every year-why not.  They are all beautiful.  It is surprisingly easy to put colors together that are jarring and ill suited to one another.  I do see a fair number of red and yellow tulips planted together.  A mix is best with a minimum of 3 colors.  The color rhythm is better, and less choppy.  Red yellow and dark purple-an exciting scheme.  Red yellow and orange, a closely related celebration of hot color.  Red, yellow and pink is a little softer, especially if the pink is a littler paler than the others.  Pale yellow, watermelon red and the palest pink is a completely different look than the aforementioned schemes.  Red, yellow and white is striking by way of contrast.

tulip-mix.jpgA color mix also influenced by the ratio of one color to another.  25% yellow, 25% red, and 50% white may read like polka dots. a 33-33-33 blend is an even blend.  A 50-50 mix with one big patch of another color is energetic and catchy.


As for this yellow tulip with anemone petals-I have no idea what it is called, or where it came from.  But I am glad to have it as part of the mix.

Naturally Pruned


roses-in-early-May.jpgIf you live in my zone, nature has beat you to the spring pruning.  Shrubs weighed down by heavy snow loads have broken branches.  Boxwood exposed to winter winds, extreme cold and snow loads show die back to varying degrees. Any ivy that has climbed into a tree or up the side of the building in a uniform shade of tan. Some of my roses are showing a little green.  Others only show green at the base. Others have red shoots breaking from below ground.

climbing-roses.jpgNature is the source of disaster pruning.  Too cold weather.  Too windy weather.  Gale force winds knock over trees.  Too cold and too harsh winters create die back in the crowns of trees.  Too cold temperatures can wipe away years of growth, or the life of a marginal evergreen.  Nature pruning is a rude and  sweeping process with no discussion beforehand.  As I have said before, nature bats last.  Gardeners are left with the ruins.


The plants play a big part in this process. If a plant is threatened, it may signal branches to die back, to insure survival. I have roses, very old roses, whose tops are lifeless.  But the activity at the base is thick-extraordinary.  Some boxwood will have die back at the tips, but be vital at the interior.  Some hollies will shed their leaves from an extreme winter, but will eventually leaf out normally. Some hydrangea hybrids that are marginally hardy will succumb to the worst winter I have ever experienced. That said,  the will to survive is the most powerful force I have ever ever experienced.


The will to live enables me to work, even though I am older.  I am determined to keep designing, and keep gardening.  That will to keep gardening on is about that will to survive.  To keep right on living, in a lively way. The will to live inherent in every plant I grow makes my mistakes in their placement or care no more damaging than a mistake.  Plants can survive the most difficult siting, the worst drainage, less than perfect light, a terrible winter, an attack from Japanese beetles, a blow from a lightening strike-and still soldier on.  My landscape endures without complaint my bad moves, or lack of understanding.

the-rose-garden.jpgPeople do the same. They soldier on, in spite of personal issues that prune them to the quick. All of us living beings come with an extraordinary will to live, standard issue.  We reinvent a landscape.  We rebuild a garden.  We re imagine a space.  We  make a new melody, or tune up.  We take a winter pruning to the next level.  We replace and replant.  None of this is news to you.

rose-sally-holmes.jpgNature saw fit to prune my roses for me.  How gracious of her! It will take some time for them to grow out of the winter damage, but I think it is better to prune back rather than replace.  There is a big root system underground that is probably just fine.  Every day I get a better picture of what will survive, and what will not. And though we have one 80 degree day forecast for this week, we could still have a bout of very cold weather.  Pruning is a call to action, a signal to grow. New growth is especially susceptible to damage from cold temperatures.

roses-gone-over.jpgMy Carefree Beauty roses survived the winter without incident.  But the incredible weight of snow better than four feet took them over-onto my boxwood hedge. Pruning back the dead branches to an outfacing bud will not solve this problem.  How will I address the misfortune visited from one plant onto another?  Ask me tomorrow.  I do not have an answer today.

baltic-ivy.jpgI have seen lots of climbing baltic ivy representing that deadly shade of brown.  This picture is from my garden.  Should I have to prune these vines back to the ground, I will.  Lots of plants whose tops cannot handle a vicious winter are still alive at the root. Be sure the stems are dead, before you prune. If the stems scratch green, live with the unsightly mess long enough to see what will re-leaf, and what is lost.

early-May-garden.jpgOur spring is so cold, I am still wearing my winter gear.  But it my intention to stay in the game, whatever it takes.Watching the maple trees leaf out, the daffodils blooming, the hellebores coming on, the delphiniums a foot tall, the magnolia stellata blooming, the grass greening, the grape hyacinths coming in to bloom-spring is here.  Every spring has its particular aura.  This spring is very much about that miracle which is the will to live.

white-daffodils.jpgI cut a bouquet of daffodils from our garden for Buck.  He is not a gardener, but he did like this vase of flowers I put in the kitchen window for him.  The cups are a miraculous shade of pale peachy pink. What has survived and is doing well in the garden helps to provide a little balance in a spring sometimes upside down.

daffodils.jpgBeautiful, aren’t they?

At A Glance: Lots Of Spring Pots

spring-pots-2014.jpgTo follow are too many pictures of the spring pots we have planted up at the shop.  But too many pictures of plants growing and blooming is just what I need right now.  On this 18 foot antique Scottish railway bench, a collection of little mixed spring pots.  Ever since the day years ago that I had a 14 year old boy put a ten dollar bill in my hand, and ask me what I would recommend for his gardening Mom for Mother’s Day, I make sure I have an answer.

spring-pots.jpgThe loss of the section of boxwood in front of the store is a loss I cannot really explain.  Those plants had their roots entwined with a vision for a garden shop imagined 19 years ago. I would have been happy to have those plants there, always.  But always is not an adjective one can routinely pair with the work and unexpected trouble that it is to sustain a landscape.  Sometimes changes must be made.  Though the end of this winter is not what I would have chosen, I have plenty of options to express the beginning of a new gardening season that are charged with life, vigor, and color.

spring-pots.jpgA container planted for spring is all about a new season.  Fresh ideas that grow out of old ones.  A splash of color so welcome after an interminable winter. Spring is a season which is different every year.  Ours so far is wet and cold.  But these container plants revel in those transitory conditions.  I admire their verve and robust habits.  Bring on the spring plants.

spring-pots.jpgParsley, dwarf marguerites, pansies and violas

spring-pots.jpgStock, lobelia, alyssum and pansies

Spring-pots.jpgLemon cypress, white cabbage, variegated lavender, green sagina, white alyssum and dwarf marguerites

little-spring-pots.jpgLittle spring container plantings in fiber pots

spring-pots.jpgvariegated lavender and violas

spring-pots.jpgspring vegetables in containers

pansy-pots.jpgpair of pansy and viola pots

lettuce-in-rows.jpgbasalt tray planted with lettuce and citron alyssum

pansy-pot.jpgred, yellow and orange pansies in a mossed basket

lettuce-pots.jpglettuce bowls

galvanized-pot-with-chard.jpglemon grass, chard, osteospermum, alyssum, and dwarf marguerites

red-and-yellow-for-spring.jpgpansies and violas in jewel tones

moss-basket.jpgwire basket full of violas

chard-pots.jpgchard and orange pansies in fiber bulb pans

pansies-and-lettuce.jpgParsley, lettuce and pansies are a sure sign of spring.



A Miserable Affair

burned-boxwood.jpgThe boxwood hedge in front of Detroit Garden Works has been there 17 years.  This collection of buxus microphylla koreana were Canadian grown.  They had grown to a fairly uniform 3′ tall, and are every bit of four feet wide.   Though their winter color was decidedly orange, they were hardy as could be.  Just what I would want, given a southern exposure.  Until now, that is.  Though I was prepared to wait as long as it would take to determine the extent of the damage, dead boxwood is dead boxwood.

borwood-winter-burn.jpgWe have had an ongoing problem with the section for the past few years.  A fungal infection of unknown name that was stubbornly resisting treatment. This past winter weather was the last straw.  There was only one decision to be made.  How long did I want to look at dead boxwood?

buxus-microphylla.jpgIt was entirely fitting that the day we started digging out those old plants was cold wet and miserable. What made the situation even worse were those plants that were half dead.  Take them or leave them?

digging.jpgThere were 2 plants that were fine.  Those we saved.  It’s not clear yet, but we may have more dead plants.

digging.jpgGardening is not for the faint of heart.  There isn’t any way to run way from this level of trouble.  The loss of any major feature in a landscape is tough to take on a lot of levels. A big tree that dies or is blown may leave an established shade garden without any protection from the sun.  The loss of a focal point can leave a landscape with an aura of pointlessness.  Hardy boxwood the size of this hedge is just about impossible to find.  Or if it could be found, it would be astronomically expensive to replace.

digging.jpgReplacement may not be the best design decision.  I prefer to look at this situation as a call for a new design.  What will that be?  I am not in a hurry to decide, as I feel the decision is an important one.  The space will have something to say for itself, if I give that process enough time.

Today was only about removing dead plants.  Looking at dead plants is worse than looking at the void they leave behind.

cleaning-up.jpgA new design will have to consider the entire space, as this hedge was just about the sum total of landscape. There may be more losses to come, as the days get warmer.

branch-container.jpgA pair of Buck’s boxes from Branch were put in place, to cover the raw twiggy end of the last boxwood left in the row.

sunny-day.jpgI will be able to see the tulips blooming from the driveway for the first time.  Being able to step back from them is a good thing.  Shortly there will be a good reason to sit on that bench.  There are lots of gardeners in my area facing the same thing.  Every one of them will handle it in their own way. This day’s work was not my idea of getting out and working in the garden in spring.  But it is the hand I have been dealt.  Redesigning and replanting this space will be my pleasure.