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?

 

Garden On Tour

summer-storm.jpgThe prospect of having ones garden on tour is equal parts excitement, and dread.  I know.  It is my job early each season to persuade 6 gardeners, most of which are clients of mine, to open their garden to visitors.  The fact that every ticket dollar goes to benefit the programs of the Greening of Detroit helps considerably.  But a garden on tour implies a garden that is not only imaginatively designed, but well maintained.  Getting a garden ready for an event is plenty of work.  My garden has been on the Greening of Detroit tour every year since 2007.  It seems fair.  If I would ask someone else to put their garden on tour, I like to be able to say I am right there with them.  We are on call at no charge for any participating gardener the 2 weeks before the tour.  Every gardener with a garden on tour wants that garden to look its best.  Our gardening season has been tough.  A very cold and wet spring.  Torrential rains, regularly.  Storms and storm damage-everywhere. Last week, blistering and relentless heat.  This giant tree limb came down across the street from me-just this past Friday.

rain-and-wind.jpgI do the best I can to get my garden road ready for this tour. I would want every square inch of my landscape and garden to be thriving.  Many of the people who take this tour are very interested gardeners.  They look at what is there-intently.   It is my idea to do whatever I can to encourage people to garden. Gardening is good for people-I truly believe this.  But a garden has a tough side.  The weather can be terrible.  Plants die.  Some days nothing seems to be right.  Thee are those places that look rough.  IO would not want that to discourage anyone. A garden tour is a visual expression about the value of a landscape and garden.  That visual expression is not perfect, corner to corner.  Gardens have problems and failures. Gaps.  Troubles.

saturated.jpgI never get my wish for a perfect tour garden. Every gardening season presents challenges.  If I had my way, I would have no challenges the month before our tour. But in fact my garden has as many gaps and troubles as it has good moments.  I have said this so many times to both old and prospective clients.  Perfect applies only to diamonds, and moments.  The most beautiful moment of a garden may last but a few hours, on that one day. Maybe no one else will be there to see it with you.  Rough spots in a garden cannot always be fixed.

tour-garden.jpgHaving had my garden on tour, once a year, for the past seven years, I have this to say.  The time and effort that it takes to maintain a landscape and garden is always evident.  Those places that do not look so good-every gardener has them.  The evidence of bad weather-that is a battle every gardener understands.  I don’t fret about every square inch anymore. The people who take our tour seem to simply appreciate every gesture. They see things entirely differently than I do.

rose-garden.jpgMy yard was not at its finest this past Sunday.  Even Buck remarked that my container plantings seemed listless-plagued by rain.  He was right.  No matter my efforts, the stormy weather prevailed.  Was I worried the day of the tour?  Not in the least.

rain-storm.jpgNot one person who came to my house for the tour remarked about the Japanese beetle damage, the mildew on the dahlias, the rain soaked petunias, the rotting scotch moss or the delphiniums out of bloom and listing from the wind.  Instead, to the last,  they chose to thank me for opening my garden.

ferns-and-European-ginger.jpgA garden is a very personal relationship between a gardener, and the environment. A garden tour presents that relationship to visitors, without any commentary.

garden-on-tour.jpgI am not so interested in the commentary about gardens.  Go see gardens. Every garden you can. Absorb from them what seems pertinent.  Take home what works, and do better.  The tour seems to encourage people to go home, and take on a project.  This is the best part of putting a garden on tour.

boxwood-garden.jpgMy landscape is a blueprint for my life.  No matter the troubles.  As for being on tour-I would hope that any person who came to my garden this past Sunday would not be discouraged by its failures. I would hope they would be encouraged by the care and energy I put to my landscape.

garden-on-tour.jpgIt was a great tour!  So many visitors-so many questions.  So many kind comments.  Those garden failures-the furthest thing from my mind.

garden-cruise.jpgA garden?  What is it?  So sunny.