Luminous

DSC_1204So many clients and customers of Detroit Garden Works are stymied by their shade.  Shade containers don’t blare like a brass band.  They are reserved.   No doubt a shade container garden does not have dahlias, zinnias, geraniums or heliotrope on a to plant list.  But shady conditions mean that lots of interesting and subtly colored plants will thrive.  Is container gardening in the sun better than in the shade?  Not in my opinion.   Choosing plants for containers has a lot to do with lighting conditions.  Every pot you might plant, no matter the light conditions, can be all you would hope it could be.  Gorgeous, and satisfying, yes.  The shade along the east side of our building is considerable.  18 year old lindens have grown up and in, cloistering that east wall in shade.  We like how the shade helps keep the building cooler.  This shady spot is a relief in the heat of the summer.  The shade is a given.   But by no means do we feel like we have no options for our window boxes and pots.

DSC_1194Shadow King begonias are perfect for a shady spot.  One gray cultivar shown in the above picture is the color and texture of a galvanized bucket. Love that.  Its companion is a striking combination of silver, green, pink, and black.  This is a color palette much different than that presented by a Bengal Tiger canna, and Persian Queen geraniums.  It is subtle, and subtly striking.

DSC_1201Any begonia, whether it is grown for its leaves or its flowers, requires a reluctant hand.  By this I mean, they will not suffer too much sun, nor will they suffer over watering.  Most begonias have fleshy leaves, and thick watery stems.  Over water them, and they will collapse in a rotted heap.  Give them the shade they want, and they dryish conditions they thrive on, they will grow like weeds.  This container is an asymmetrical arrangement of shade loving plants.  A black calocasia lords over all.  A pink and green caladium repeats that calocasia leaf shape in a lighter and brighter color.  The chocolate mint coleus barely showing now will grow, and help pull that calocasia down into the mix.  The pepperomia with its pale green blooming wands provides a little sass. The silver King begonia has chocolate stems-so great with the coleus and the calocasia stems. The dark begonia at the center will have orange flowers-good.  The pink polka dot plant will need trimming, given it is in the front of this container.  But the work will be worth it.  That pink, and the silver leaf of the begonia, are both key to a successful shade planting.  Any plants that brings light to bear in a shady spot will shine.

DSC_1192Containers in the shade are much about texture, mass, subtle color-and rhythm.  This container, even in its first planted stage, is jazzy.

DSC_1202Caladiums provide so much mass and luminosity in shade containers.  White caladiums challenge the shade in a big way.  This green caladium with a white center glows.  The gray begonia is pebbly in surface and subtle in color.  The watermelon peperomia will trail.  A planting such as this gives me every bit as much pleasure as a color lively container in the sun.  It is just different.  Maybe a little reflective.

DSC_1199We’ve had some rainy days recently.  These plants that thrive in the shade, saturated with rain, have a juicy look.

DSC_1205This window box was just planted a few days ago.  The shade from the lindens is considerable, but each of these shade tolerant plants will grow, and get lush.  Lush and luminous growth in the shade is just what a shade container asks for.

shade-window-box.jpgI like the looks of this.

 

Color Scheming

ageratum-artist.jpgSome gardeners come to a scheme for planting annuals based on favorite colors, or color combinations.  Others like a certain style of planting.  Others focus on the size of the flowers, or the color of the leaves.  The best plantings involve scheming on as many different levels as possible.  I plant the annuals in front of the shop in a different way every year.  That way, sooner or later, everyone will see something they like.  This is the best part of planting annuals.  Every year, there is a chance to try something new.

annual-planting.jpgLast year’s scheme was all green.  I planted panicum grass inside the boxwood.  More than a few customers said it looked like we were going out of business, as we had not cut the grass.   Like I say, everyone has a different idea of beautiful.  I knew I wanted to do something with purple. The color of this ageratum artist is so luscious.  It is a light blue/purple that I call heliotrope blue.  Lots of blue with a big dose of lavender.  Dark purple has a way of turning dull, if it does not have lively companions.  The blue salvia mystic spires has gorgeous blue/purple flowers that are so striking up close.  Plant it in a garden, and the color sinks into the background.  In the mid and background of this picture, you can barely make out the purple angelonia.

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The planting needed some friends that would make that brooding dark purple more visually appealing.  We added both lime and white nicotiana to the purple angelonia.  This plant is airy growing, simple in flower, and sports big flat leaves.  This will contrast beautifully with the narrow leaves, smaller stature and flower spikes of the angelonia. So far, the planting has three colors in the mix.

tricolor-petunias.jpgMixing colors adds depth to a planting. Pictured above is a bedding petunia called “Great Lakes Mix”. The mix of white, medium blue/purple and dark purple petunias is a lively way to visually represent the idea of purple. A mass of white, or another light color can be quite striking.  A mass of dark purple can look dull and flat.  The value of the color purple, meaning its lightness or darkness, is very similar to the value of many greens in the landscape.  Dark purple blends with green, rather than standing out from it.  Determined to have lots of dark purple?  Underplant it with lime or white.   I dropped a floret of a red geranium onto this mix. This is a scheme I have planned for a client. The red will be all the more brilliant, given the purple mix.  The purple mix is even more lively, given the red.  Color in a garden is never about a color.  It is about the relationships that define every individual color in a strong way.

the dinnerplate dahlia fluerelSo far so good.  But this is a big planting bed, with boxwood that is over 3 feet tall.  The garden would need to be anchored by something.  A four foot tall dahlia would certainly provide a visual anchor to the garden.  This white dinnerplate dahlia called Fluerel has a pale yellow center, and pale yellow green buds.  This secondary color will relate to the lime nicotiana. The big flowers will be visible from a car driving by.  The nicotiana will soften the look of this stiffly growing upright plant. We will stake it securely, early on. We will do the same with the nicotiana.  The stakes are not the best look, but plants will completely disguise them in short order.  All there will be to do next is water and wait, and how the scheme is a good one. If the scheme is a good one, all the relationships will be both friendly and serious.   KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI saved the beginning of the story about this garden for last. I read the garden blog Gardenista almost every day.  Last winter they put up a post about a dinnerplate dahlia called “Cafe Au Lait”.  The story came from a the blog of a florist who features home grown flowers.  www.floretflowers.com, if you are interested. This dahlia features flowers the color of cafe au lait, naturally.  Some flowers are more pink.  Some are more towards the cream side.  I have always been reluctant to grow these dahlias.  They can be too tall, too stiff, and too ungainly.  The blog post was very detailed in how and when to pinch them.  The pinching early on results in more flowers with long stems.  But it was the astonishing color that made me ask Mark from Bogie Lake Greenhouse to order 30 of them for me, and bring them on.  The entire rest of the garden is an effort to feature these dahlias.
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Tomorrow we will add more ageratum to the edge.  I am after an 18″ wide rounded band of this color rolling down to the gravel to border the garden.  That low carpet of ageratum may not be prominent for long, but when it does fill in, it will lighten the look of all of the other plants.  There is a good while before the dahlias will have much to say. The ageratum border might be the best part of the garden, for a moment.  I am still thinking about what will go in the window boxes. Having and taking the time to look at a garden before proceeding is part of the pleasure of the process.

The Window Box

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgI cannot remember what summer it was that I broke my leg, but I do remember being happy that it came after I planted the garden in front of the shop. In fact, I could have planted the window boxes dealing with a broken leg.  Window boxes are at an easy height to plant, and of a scale to encourage and support any planting idea. The shop garden is not so complicated.  A boxwood parterre, lots of gravel, and three big window boxes.  The big window boxes are the star of the summer show.  How I love planting those window boxes!   I am a big fan of generously scaled window boxes.  The planting is at counter height. Easy to plant.   A window box is a cross between a container planting, and an in ground planting.  There is more room and opportunity for a detailed expression in a window box than a container.  A window box can be filled with the most compost rich and friable soil.  I like planting with my fingers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlanting annual beds in ground requires a lot of digging  and turning with a shovel.  The work of this is daunting.  Real work.  Sometimes annuals planted in ground at grade do poorly.  Heavy clay soil, or sandy soil, can contribute to a poor show.  I like bedding out for the summer with my choice of soil, great drainage, and a place to work that is elbow level.  Planting in ground comes with a whole host of trouble.  I like minimizing the trouble, and maximizing the opportunity.   Big window boxes are my idea of a venue that affords lots of expression with not so much digging. I have seen plenty of window boxes that are 8″ wide, 4″ deep, and 18″ long.  What does one plant in a box of that edited a dimension?  Succulents are a good choice.  But if succulents are not your style, make bigger boxes.  I like window boxes that are wider than the window, deep enough to hold moisture for 2 days, and wide enough to plant plenty of plants.

mandevillea 2012 014Most commercially manufactured window boxes are made to sizes that fit UPS shipping requirements.  What gardener wants to be limited by those dimensions?  An investment in a custom sized window box will result in a lifetime of planting pleasure. The boxes at my shop are roomy.  I would suggest that if you have a mind to invest in window boxes, go for roomy.  Plants need a place to live.  They do not so much mind being crowded by a neighbor.  But they do need some space to put down their own roots.

DGW13You can see from this picture that my window boxes are wider than my windows.  And wider than my shutters.  In my opinion, whatever element is closest to the ground needs to be the widest and most visually sturdy element. A window box is a foundation which complements the window.  Any planting box framing a window is an empire.  Size those boxes accordingly.

DSC09624The window boxes at the shop are of a size that enables me to explore an idea about color.  A story about texture.  These boxes, which have been my pleasure to plant for summer once a year, for 18 years, are little cities.  The have a style.  A language all their own. A particular set of rules.  A commentary on design. A look.  The day I plant them is a good day indeed.

gleason0The window boxes take on a life of their own, once I have planted them.  They grow out, however they will.  The best part of any planting is seeing how nature responds to my ideas.  The big idea is to give every voice a chance.  And chance what you will. A properly scaled window box means you have room to explore.

 

Opperer 2011 042Shade window box

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shop boxes

Picture 006shop box

 

DSC_2670window boxes made to fit on a wall

Derda (3)window box planting

Celani 8-07 (42)roof boxes

Sept 16, 2012 043The roof boxes at the shop last year were as good as I could make them.  All of my boxes provide me with a chance to grow a community of plants on to a greater visual good.  Thinking about window boxes?  Go long and deep.  You won’t regret it.

 

Limelight Hydrangea

limelight hedge 2The photograph above has been repinned from my pinterest page, 10 times more than any other image I have ever posted.  I understand the sentiment behind that.  This cultivar of hydrangea paniculata, Limelight,  bred by a Dutch breeder whose name is little known, and marketed solely by the patent holder, Spring Meadow Farms, is is gem of a summer blooming shrub. This ever willing and easy to grow shrub begins blooming at the end of July in my zone, and represents well into the fall.

Limelight-hydrangeas.jpgHydrangea is another word for summer in the garden.  They grow fast, and bloom profusely.   Small plants gain size and stature just a short time after planting.  Given how fast they grow, if you buy Limelights in pots, be prepared to water those root balls frequently after you plant, until they get established.  I water mine via drip irrigation; hydrangeas appreciate regular moisture.  Once they are established, this is about all the care they require.  They deliver so much, and ask for so little.

limelight-hydrangeas.jpgI get emails almost every day about them.  Will the Limelights grow in Atlanta, or Montreal, or upstate New York, or Houston, Arkansas,  or Canada?  Will they thrive in shade?  I have no knowledge of the performance of this shrub outside of my own zone.  Should you have an interest in growing this shrub, contact your local nursery.  See what they say.  In my zone, this hydrangea is happy in full sun with adequate water, and it will bloom, although not as well, in part sun.

limelight-hydrangeas.jpgA Limelight hydrangea is just about the most easy going and tolerant shrub it has ever been my pleasure to plant.  The big coarse leaves provide lots of texture.  They can endure the coldest winter.  They do not require any staking.  Flower heads that are cut will dry and be beautiful in a vase indoors-almost indefinitely. Once they begin to bloom, every garden featuring them gets gorgeous.

hydrangeas.jpgI have planted plenty of Limelight hydrangeas over the course of the past 9 years.  They are easy to grow.  They are happy in no end of environments.  I would want for all of my clients to experience the pleasure they provide in late summer.  How do I maintain them?  I prune in late March, or early April.  If I have a mind to keep them short, I prune them in late March or early April-when the buds swell.

Limelights-in-a-pot.jpgI do feed them once a year with a balanced fertilizer, although I suspect they would be fine without in good compost enriched soil.  They are happy in containers, as long as they are able to spend the winter in the ground.  Tree form/topiary Limelights can be maintained in this fashion for a number of years.

limelight-hydrangeas.jpgI usually prune them in the same manner as a shag haircut.  I prune the top branches short.  I leave the lower branches long.  If you need the Limelights under 5 feet tall at maturity, trim to 30 inches tall in early spring.  Trim again in early June.  the second trimming is crucial to produce a shorter display.  Plan for a late July bloom.  If you like your Limelights really tall, trim off the previous years flower heads.  Leave them tall.  Plan to eventually under plant them with another shrub that will disguise those long bare legs.   Deciduous shrubs ask for a serious yearly dressing down-should you want foliage to the ground. If you need your hydrangeas to be tall, go easy on the pruning phase-and deal with the bare legs. The other option is to plant hydrangea “Little Lime”.  The flowers and habit are the same as Limelight, but it matures at 4 to 5 feet.

limelight-hydrangeas.jpgThe Limelight hydrangea is a garden friend without so many demands.  Prune, or do not prune so much.  They are happy with whatever water you can provide.  If they need water, the leaves will droop in a dramatic way-you can’t miss it.  It is just about the most gardener friendly shrub it has ever been my pleasure to meet.  This has not been the best gardening season for me.  I have plenty of plants not doing so well with the cold and the relentless rain.  But my hydrangeas are breathtaking-as usual.

limelight-hydrangeas.jpgI truly appreciate the work that has been done by the breeder and the distributor to make this shrub available to me.  It is easy to grow, beautiful in leaf, and spectacular in bloom. I planted lots of them in my garden, and today I am really happy I did. The Limelight hydrangeas are illuminating my late summer garden.   Consider planting some Lime lights.  You won’t be sorry.  I promise you will be charmed. What says summer better than the hydrangeas in bloom?