Fall Is For Planting

planting-bulbs.jpgI like planting in the fall.  The weather is cooler, and the rain more reliable.  The work of it seems easier. Some plants are not so happy with a fall planting.  I like to delay planting beech, birch, magnolia and dogwoods until the spring.   Other species readily transplant in the fall, when they are dormant.  Dormant plants suffer the trauma of transplant more readily when they are sleeping . I am uneasy about planting perennials much past the end of September, for fear they will not have enough time to root before the frost heaves them every which way- including out of the ground.  However, it is never too late to plant spring flowering bulbs.  Should you be able to get your shovel in the ground in February, the bulbs you bought in October will most likely be fine-provided you stored them in a cool spot.

spring-flowering-bulbs.jpgThis is our bulb planting week.  We are tackling this project for clients later than usual-it has been a very busy fall.  Most of our projects involve large spaces planted with tulips for spring.  But we do have those people for whom we add a little of this and a little of that every year.  No matter the scale of your garden, and the spaces you have available for spring flowering bulbs, taking the time to plant them is well worth the effort.  When the winter breaks here in March, and the crocus come into bloom-that is a day I treasure.  Both the Farmer’s Almanac and the National Weather Service is predicting a very cold and very snowy winter here.  There is everything good about defending your gardening self with some spring flowering bulbs.

spring-flowering bulbs.jpgThe spring flowering bulbs include tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and a whole host of small flowering bulbs.  Don’t forget the alliums, which will bloom in June.  All of the nurseries local to me have bulbs available.  It seems like preaching to the choir to be encouraging gardeners to plant spring bulbs, but I have my reasons.  Planting bulbs is just about the least satisfying planting done in the garden all year.  When it is cold, windy, and wet, you are out there burying brown blobs in the dirt.  When you are finished planting, you have nothing to show for all the work. Even more discouraging is the fact that the show is months away.  I wouldn’t say that bulb planting is particularly pleasant for gardeners-it takes effort in conditions that are usually less than ideal.  But the rewards in the spring-enormously satisfying.

planting-for-spring.jpgAs difficult as it may be to generate excitement for a job with no immediate rewards, the pleasure to come is worth the wait. Each one of those brown orbs is loaded with the promise of the gardening season to come.

spring-flowering-bulbs-in-pots.jpgI plant a lot of bulbs in pots.  I find this easier than trying to imagine where my perennial garden might need tulips, or where I planted daffodils last year.  I do not force the bulbs I plant in containers.  I bury them under a huge pile of leaves, or store them in the garage, and bring them out early in March.  I want them to bloom at the same time that they are blooming in the garden.  Pots of spring flowering bulbs can be placed on a front porch, or by the back door, or dropped into a container.  I like that I can move them around.

white-hyacinths.jpgThis may seem counter intuitive, but bulbs in pots will rot if they freeze solid through and through.  The temperature of the soil is always warmer than the air temperature-but bulbs in pots do not have the luxury of the protection of the ambient warmth of the ground.  There are certain places in our shop garage that are good for storing planted pots of bulbs.

grape-hyacinths.jpgSpring flowering bulbs are programmed from the start to come up, throw leaves, and bloom.  Very little gets in the way of the way of that.  I have had good luck repotting spring bulbs already in bloom into different containers, providing I handle them carefully.  We did these grape hyacinths in little pots with the bulbs exposed for an event.

daffodils.jpgMiniature daffodils handle life in a pot a liottle better that the large flowered varieties.  If I do pot up big growing daffodils,  I keep the soil level well below the rim of the pot.  That rim helps to keep the flowers and leaves standing upright.  If I do bring potted flowering bulbs indoors, I try to find a relatively cool spot for them.  An ideal spring for bulbs in the ground depends on cool weather during the day, and chilly weather at night.  Once the weather gets warm, spring bulbs will fade.

spring-flowering-bulbs.jpgThe bulbs it would take to make a handsome spring garden could fit in a modestly sized box. I would seize one of the few remaining warm afternoons we will have, in pursuit of a little spring color.

box-of-bulbs.jpgA little box of spring flowering bulbs makes a big statement about spring.

tulips-blooming.jpgtulips in the spring – indescribably delicious.

 

Flowers For Cutting

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I arrange lots of cut flowers for clients intended as Mother’s Day gifts. It may be old fashioned or expected, but I do believe the gift of flowers or plants is so appropriate for a Mom.  My Mom was a scientist.  Her view of the world had to do with experiments, statistics, dispassionate reasoning and disbelief without solid verification.  But she did in her own special way nurture me.  We had a very long and very intense relationship over the garden-once I got old enough to understand that gardening, and a love for nature and all growing things was a way of life-not always so pretty or stylish, but genuine and connected.

cut-flowers.jpgJulia died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2001.  For 2 months, I turned every light on in the house before I went to bed.  I could not sleep, unless the house was ablaze with light. I finally went to see my doctor-she told me everyone expresses their grief differently-I should not be concerned.  I eventually turned the lights off.  As much as everyone expresses their grief differently, everyone expresses their joy and appreciation differently.  The shop was jammed over Mother’s Day weekend-we did our best to help every person express their feelings in a way that satisfied them. Mother's Day flowers.jpg

I also do cut flower arrangements for clients.  Any orders I have for Mother’s Day flowers, I take seriously.  There is a son, a daughter, a husband, a niece, a friend, wanting to express their feelings via the flowers.  I order flowers in season, and fresh for these arrangements.

cut-flowers.jpgThe Dutch do a vastly better job of growing Dutch iris than I ever could.  A California farm has delphinium belladonna available.  The white sweet peas-I confess I do not know where they came from.  The white tulips-from my own garden. The mix says spring. Hello, and Happy Mother’s Day.  Thank you for all you have done for me.  All my love to you.  The arrangement is densely flowery, in a fairly formal shape .

cut-flowers.jpgThe arranging of the floral orders for Mother’s Day-I spend a fair amount of time with them.  Why so?  My clients are asking that I interpret their caring in a way that accurately represents them.  I understand they are entrusting me with an important message.  I take the time.  And I enjoy it.  Working with cut flowers is time well spent.

Mother's DayWhether the arrangement is big or small, formal or casual, subdued or bright and sassy in color, the message is fairly universal.  Thanks for helping me to bloom, Mom.

Mother's DayTulips, Dutch iris, and bupleurum

pink vaseLisianthus, white dendrobiums, pale yellow gerbera daisies, and lavender freesia

cut flowerswhite ranunculus, iris, and bupleurum

May flowerstulips, ranunculus, and orlaya

Mother's Daywhite Dutch iris, yellow and white ranunculus, belladonna delphinium

white cut flowersIf you arrange your own flowers for your home, or as a gift, proper conditioning is really important.  I recut every stem on a steep slant, and put them in fairly deep water which is lukewarm.  I try to find a very cool spot to set my buckets for 24 hours.  This treatment gives the stems time to take up water.  Cut flowers are delivered to me in boxes-they need to take a deep drink.  This step is especially important if the flowers are arranged in floral foam, as opposed to a vase filled with water.  The foam will quickly obstruct the pores of the stems, and impede the uptake of water.  The stem and flower should be juicy.

anniversary flowers I cut each stem again, as it is arranged.  Taking the time to condition the flowers will give them the longest possible life in the vase.  This is true whether you buy flowers from a florist, the grocery store-or if you cut flowers from your own garden.  A bouquet from fresh flowers from the garden makes a very personal and thoughtful gift.  What spring garden flowers make great cuts?  tulips, grape hyacinths, spring flowering branches as in dogwood or viburnum,, hellebores, peonies, iris, delphinium, sweet peas, early clematis, trollius- the list is plenty long.

flowers from the gardenIt is not only a pleasure to be able to bring the garden indoors, it is a pleasure to share it with someone near and dear.

 

 

 

The Magnolias

galaxy-magnolia.jpgIn most every year I have written this blog, there is an essay about magnolias.  I have a big love for them.  The flowers are dramatic and showy-I so welcome a gesture of this magnitude after a long winter.  A good bloom is never a certainty.  They bloom early in my spring-which also means they bloom late in my winter.  Last year, given a string of April days in the low twenties, every bud was reduced to a gooey black rotted mess, hanging from the branches.   That hanging persisted well into the summer-a vile reminder of the capricious nature of spring weather.

blue-sky.jpgBut when the magnolias are good, they are very very good.  My neighborhood has plenty of old saucer magnolias in evidence.  Some are planted very close to the foundations of homes-they do not seem to mind this.  Many have multiple trunks that have grown to considerable size.  A saucer magnolia in full bloom is heart stoppingly beautiful.  My saucer magnolias are a hybrid of magnolia soulangiana, named Galaxy.  The day I planted the three of them in my driveway garden, they had long spindly arms-gawky, they were.  The one tree with the most sun has grown to a considerable size.

magnolias-and-maples.jpgThe second tree will catch up to tree number one in the next few years.  Tree 3 took a giant hit in the trunk from a careless truck driver in the driveway.  Late this winter I took down an old Norway maple in this area whose girdling roots have been hard at work squeezing the life out of it.  So little of the canopy was green last year-looking at it made me wince.  It was time to give up the maple, in the interest of the health of the magnolias-and a group of parrotias.

galaxy-magnolia.jpgThis cool spring made for a glorious magnolia bloom season.  I admired them up close.  I stood under their blossom laden branches.  I admired them from afar.  Why this love of magnolias?  The spectacular bloom aside, they are a very handsome tree.  The grey bark is beautiful.  The mossed bark on old trees-sensational.  The leaves are large, and glossy.  Their winter shape is strikingly architectural.  They are beautiful trees, no matter the season.  Their mature size is a size that any modest city property such as my own, could accommodate.  I have a city lot and a half, which is home to 11 magnolias-no kidding.     magnolia-butterfly.jpg

8 of my magnolias are planted in the half lot, in the front of my yard.  They are under planted with boxwood.  They are yellow magnolias-yes yellow.  Hybridized by Phil Savage, the blooms of the magnolia “Butterflies” are the most astonishingly gorgeous pale yellow imaginable. I met Phil Savage when I was young, and working for Al Goldner.  Al was a landscape designer who owned a nursery.  He loved plants-and he loved design.  I was so lucky for my exposure to him, and his work.  Al made it his business to introduce anyone designing for him to people who grew great plants.  So many years later, I treasure that experience.

magnolia-Butterflies.jpgPhil owned a large property in my area.  Though he passed away a few years ago, that property is loaded with magnolias-many of which exceed 60 feet in height.  I had occasion to see his trees in full bloom a few years ago, courtesy of a niece, who is a client.  I was astonished at what I saw.  Yellow, peach, pale pink and hot pink flowers on magnolias that towered high above the ground.  My pictures of his property are so bad-I would not publish them.  But the experience of his vision about magnolias-this I will never forget.  This is why I plant magnolias, any time I have the chance.

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The bloom, even in a really great year, is not long.  Should you need more than that momentary experience of their shockingly beautiful flowers, consider their leaves, and their gorgeous shape.  I for one do not mind an experience of the garden that is fleeting.  Every season has  its perfect moment.  I do not need any plant, any garden, or any landscape to to do more than their season.  I do not hold the brevity of a season against any tree.  As for  Phil Savage’s property-yes.  It has been sold.  The buyer I would guess has no interest in that magnolia forest the likes of which I am sure does not exist any where else on this planet.  The new owner has another idea in mind.  I hear from friends and colleagues in the growing community that there is a plan to take cuttings.  I so pray this plan comes to be.

A plan to preserve and nurture the magnolias bred by Phil Savage-this seems a fitting essay for Mother’s Day weekend.

The Spring Season

rosemary-planter.jpgIt’s hard to pick a favorite, but the spring season has an aura like no other.  Any plant, whether it be a tree or summer flowering shrub, a bulb or a perennial, responds to nature’s call to break dormancy, and grow.  From the biggest maple to the smallest hepatica, the plants are growing.  There is a lot of commotion in the air.  The plants are not pacing themselves, as they do in the heat of the summer.  They are not slowing down, as in the fall.  Or asleep, as in winter.  It’s full speed ahead.  The atmosphere in the garden is fully charged, electrified by all that energy being brought to bear-all at once- on the landscape. Rob has been taking instagram pictures the past few days.  The options for filtering and electrifying color makes this spring container really feel like spring.

heritage-mix-hellebores.jpgEach of these hellebore flowers tells a story about my collection.  I have a fair number of plants.  I especially appreciate the form of the flowers.  But what I love about them the best is that they make a grand show in the spring.  The hellebores coming into bloom are like the bells of spring ringing out.  They are quite hardy.  Old clumps are large; the foliage is evergreen until mid winter for me.

bloodrootSanguinaria, or bloodroot, is a native Michigan wildflower. A single leaf rises out of the ground, entirely curled around a single flower bud on its own leafless stalk. What a story this is, yes?  The single white flowers are open for a few days at best, before the petals drop.  If you do not check the emerging plant often in the spring, it could be you will miss the flower altogether.  The small leaves are strikingly shaped and veined. Soon after flowering, the plant will go dormant until the following year.  The spring season can be fraught with icy and windy weather.  Though it is the same length as all of the other seasons, spring seems to come and go in an instant.  The time of the bloodroot- hours.

Donald-Wyman-crabapple.jpgThe crabapple “Donald Wyman” has bright pink buds, and a profusion of white flowers.  A crabapple blanketed in flowers is one of spring’s most breathtaking events.  In a cool spring season, they are a delight to the eye for a week or better.  The teardrop shaped petals-how do they manage to stay attached on a windy spring day?  Crabapples in bloom-glorious.

skunk-cabbage.jpgIn swampy areas, the skunk cabbage forms massive leafy clumps that look good enough to eat.  However, skunk cabbage is poisonous to mammals.  The plants will warn you.  The leaves when disturbed smell like rotten meat.  This spring beauty has luscious looks, but should be admired from afar.

 

whiskered-pansy.jpgToday’s pansies and violas look much different than their more self effacing ancestors.  This particular bicolor pansy, with its distinctive dark whiskers, is saturated  with intense color. This is spring blooming at its most robust. Though the pansies and violas do not really pick up steam, and flower heavily until the beginning of June, each individual face announces the coming of spring in the most cheery way imaginable.  They are so unlike any other flower in form and color.  Fault me if you wish, but a pansy in August would be out of place.  They belong to spring.

hellebore-bloom.jpgRob’s instagram photograph of a dark speckled hellebore proves that spring can also be moody and sultry . Rainy and chilly. It also makes the point loud and clear that the atmosphere of a landscape can be altered by light and color-to spectacular effect.  Creating a mood, or an atmosphere in a garden is one of the most difficult aspects of landscape design.  It cannot be taught, nor can it be forced.  It can be aspired to.  Spring is that season that every gardener can turn loose of the past, and start fresh.  The sap rises in the plants and the gardeners alike.

saucer-magnolia.jpgThe saucer magnolia features very large flowers of great substance.  The queen bee/Sarah Bernhardt of the spring flowering trees, this magnolia likes cool spring temperatures, but not too cool.  Warm spring temperatures, but not too warm.  A good bloom demands next to perfect conditions as if it were a God given right.  It seems like every Michigan spring features some weather element or another which causes all of the petals to fall to the ground in a heap.  A thick mulch of magnolia petals on the ground-that would be our spring.