88 Degrees

DSC_2414Though our summer has been mostly moderate and regularly rainy, we are in the throes of a hot spell. It is hot enough to make working in the garden a sweat fest. Oh yes, the hot days have gone on for a while.  If I can’t be outside at 6am, I would rather wait until 6pm. Do the tropical/seasonal plants in my pots mind an 88 degree day?  Not at all. Many of them originate in very hot climates.  They have been waiting for this heat since late May. It is important to differentiate between what you would like on a hot day, and what your container plants would like. I do not water my containers when it is hot. I might like a cool shower after a hot day outdoors, but tropical plants thrive in the hot heat. I only water them when they are dry, or in imminent danger of becoming dry. I water dry plants, not hot plants.

watering pots August 2015 (3)I have no scientific evidence to support the following-just my experience and instinct.  On an 88 degree sunny day, I do not water my pots from the top.  I would rather keep the foliage dry.  Wet and heat put together is a reliably good recipe for disease. Mildew in a container – what gardener needs that? I use one hand to raise up the trailing plants on the edge, and the other to direct water to the surface of the dirt. No matter the size of the pot, I move the wand to different locations on the edge of the pot, so I am sure all the soil gets watered evenly. All around. Watering in one spot will invariably leave some other spot dry. I water the soil, all around, in hot weather.

watering pots August 2015 (17)When plants get large, it is not always so easy to see where the interior of the pot actually is.  There’s no sense to watering outside the pot.

watering pots August 2015 (8)This chocolate soldier plectranthus has gotten so large that it takes my whole arm to to flip up the trailing portion, and direct water to the soil. As this pot is located in the corner of my deck, it isn’t feasible to go all the way around it with my wand. The best part for this plant – no water goes on the foliage.  The water need to go to the roots.

watering pots August 2015 (10)Watering a seasonal container properly takes a little finesse. This container needs water at the center.  A rim watering is not enough.  My left hand has located the surface of the soil in the middle, while my right hand delivers the water. How do I know how this pot needs water?  I touch the soil.  If it is hard and crusty,  (as soil tends to get towards the end of the growing season, when the plants are heavily rooted) I water until that soil softens, and feels spongy to the touch.  This pot I may need to water twice, to get it sufficiently soaked.  I will not water again until the soil has dried out.

watering pots August 2015 (14)Flipping the leaves up in a container gives me a look at the soil below, and helps me to direct the water horizontally across the surface of the soil.  Plants are more forgiving of their leaves being handled as a group. Handling a single leaf can result in breakage. Water directed to the roots of plants in need is life giving.

watering pots August 2015 (11)The German ivy at the lower left in this picture is trailing just about to the ground now. As the vines are very juicy, heavy, and brittle, I move the leaves just above the rootball as gently as possible, and water from the top. I wouldn’t want to risk breaking an entire branch.  I would not flip up German ivy trailers in search of the soil surface.  I shine that water down on its root ball, as best I can. Every plant in a container needs to be watered differently.

watering pots August 2015 (15)Dichondra, on the other hand, is a light weight and pliable vine.  The round leaves do a decent job of repelling water, should I water from the top. The best way to get the water to the roots of a dichondra is to get the leaves out of the way. Once I have watered those roots,  I set the vines back down.  Gently.

watering pots August 2015 (6)This pot full of belamcanda lilies is thoroughly rooted.  All of the growth is upright, so watering at the bottom is easy.  On an 88 degree day, I flood the soil until the water comes up to the rim. After the water drains,  I will refill the pot until I see evidence of water draining all of the way out the bottom.

watering pots August 2015 (1)The rush in this pot is very fond of water. The Cuban oregano-it is happy to be dryer.  Some pots need selective watering.  I make the time to do this. I pour the water to the rush, and water the oregano every so often.

watering pots August 2015 (4)This pot planted with a rose scented geranium and a number of phormiums-I water it from the top. I cannot really explain why. The rose scented geranium does not bend much.  The phormium is vulnerable to breakage at the crown.  Why all this talk about watering?  Container plantings need regular and thoughtful watering.  People regularly ask me why my pots look good so late in the season, and during really hot weather. It’s the watering.

 

 

 

 

 

August

garden in August (1) By the time August comes around, I am ready to take a vacation from the work of my garden, and just enjoy it. In May I might renovate a spot that has gotten a little tired or overgrown. I added a new strip of pachysandra this year in the fountain garden. The yews have grown a lot, and the grass is not happy in their shade. For better or for worse, I make decisions about what to plant in my pots, and get them planted.  In June, the problems generated by the previous winter become obvious.  Replacements go in the ground. 4 all but dead rhododendrons get removed. In the case of my rose garden which finally completely succumbed to the insult of two bitterly cold winters, I decided to do nothing. We not only need a new roof this fall, we need a place to shovel off the old roof.

garden in August (2)
When the weather finally warms up in July, I might start watering here and there. I do not run my sprinkler system on a regular program.  I water what I think needs to be watered.  I only rarely run all of the zones at once. Once the water goes on, broken heads, or a need for a change in coverage become obvious. Sprinkler repairs-July work.The seasonal pots begin to settle in, and put down roots.

garden in August (6)Once August comes, I want to take the time to enjoy the garden.  The watering and maintenance of the pots is not a chore.  I enjoy that.  It is a perfect way to wind down from the day. I water. I tinker with this or that leaf that needs to be removed. The maintenance of the pots is about falling in to the pleasure of a garden. I sweep up all of the maple helicopters.  I make the effort to appreciate what is there, and not worry about what should be there.  Fall is a much better time to make changes in a landscape. Mid seventies during the day, and upper fifties at night is not the norm for Michigan in August.  Why not enjoy that? A temperate August in Michigan is a gift that should be treasured. Buck and I visit each garden every day after work. The corgis come along. This August is temperate.  We are eating outdoors every night.  No matter the menu, there is always Michigan grown corn and tomatoes.

garden in August (3)Even the simplest spots that are completely familiar look good to me. Most of the plants have been there a long time, and seem happy.  Those that aren’t will be dealt with some other time.  Right now is for what is good about it. I feel like I am on vacation when I am home, and that seems like a good thing.

garden in August (4)So why is my August garden vacation on my mind?  I met with a client late last week who just days ago moved into a new house.  The house she left was a beautiful turn of the century home on a big piece of property.  She had invested an incredible amount of time in the landscape and gardens. The decision to move was a family decision.  Decisions like this are made by people all the time, including those people who have a passion for, and work the garden. Most people have important obligations and commitments, and that includes gardening people.

garden in August (5)She has only been in her new house for a few days. The property is astonishingly large. There are some old trees, and lawn as far as the eye can see. The house is almost completely obscured by overgrown shrubs. A typical suburban foundation planting had been left to its own devices. In one spot was the largest and tallest stand of Canada thistle I have ever seen. The house had not been occupied for quite some time, and that landscape had been neglected.      garden in August (12)She did tell me quite a bit about the garden she had just left. How she had planted all of the landscape and gardens herself, and how she managed to maintain it, in addition to having a job and family to look after. That discussion was about more than her loss.  It was about helping me to understand what had been important to her. I did not ask her what trees, shrubs and perennials she liked.  I did not ask her about color or style.  I wanted to know why she called me.

DSC_2446She answered without hesitating.  She told me she was a gardener, and not a designer.  What she was looking for from me was a plan.  An outline of how to go about creating a landscape and garden that would make her new house feel like a home. A way of making sense of 2.5 acres of wide open space. She knows as well as I do how much time and effort that will take. She already has a plan to remove all of the overgrown foundation plantings this fall.  Her August will be very different than mine.

garden in August (13)That said, I could sense her resolve. I could tell that she has the energy to take on a project of this size, and see it through. She is a gardener, after all. With some time and thought, I think I can provide her with a place to dig in. She is counting on me for that, and I plan to give it to her.

DSC_2431Her situation is not unknown to me. When I was her age, I had a new house and property.  For years I did nothing to it.  I was too busy getting Detroit Garden Works off the ground, and tending to my landscape practice. But there came a time when I wanted to make time for it.  That was all it took.  If this client wants to make time for it on day two of her possession of the new house, you can rest assured she is serious. She will make something beautiful and interesting of her property.

garden in August (8)
When I got home later that day, I was glad I had persisted over a period of years making a landscape and garden.  It was, and is, worth it. On top of this, a new client whose love of the garden is a call I will do my best to answer.

garden in August (14)On my deck today, many shades of green. On my mind, an avid gardener with a new house lacking a landscape.

garden in August (9)
Tonight, I have little in the way of obligations. On a Sunday in August, I do my best to enjoy the fruits of all of my work. The deck pots look good to me.

DSC_2410boxes on the north side

DSC_2413bird’s nest ferns

garden in August (15)a  big spike, growing.

DSC_2200the side garden

garden in August (11)hydrangeas coming into bloom

garden in August (16)lantana on standard

garden in August (18)This is the August news from #35.

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.

 

 

 

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