At A Glance: Plants And Planters

steel planter

shade container plantings

vintage French wine barrel

Italian terra cotta pot and plinth

ridged concrete pot

lantana on standard

Italian terrra cotta

ribbed concrete bowl planter

limestone urn

limestone urn

terra cotta basketweave box

wollemi pine

terra cotta long tom

terra cotta planters

steel boxes

terra cotta planters

terra cotta boxes


Sun Parasol Mandevilleas

white mandevillea

The family of plants known as dogbane includes a genus of very handsome plants known as mandevillea.  Mandevillea is a vining plant native to tropical climes-in central and South America.   Michigan in no way resembles the tropics, but this vine is willing to perform here during the summer.  Older forms of mandevillea, including the cultivar Alice du Pont, regrettably, are magnets for both insects and disease.  In 2003, Suntory Flowers Ltd in Japan released a new series of mandevillea called Sun Parasol.  Their breeding efforts produced plants with great vigor and disease resistance.  Their near continuous bloom and ease of cultivation is as attractive as the flowers themselves.    

mandevillea vine

Mandevilleas do require some sort of support to climb.  This does not have to be fancy, since a well grown vine completely cover a pole, wire or trellis in short order. The vines do not attach themselves to a support, they wind around it. I have on occasion planted small mandevilleas as trailers in containers. Their natural inclination to curl gives them a very lively and wired appearance in a pot.    

parasol white mandevillea

All six containers in the front of the shop have white mandevillea as their centerpiece.  Additionally, the windowboxes at the shop are framed by white mandevillea vines.   That decision was made long before the weather warmed up enough to plant. A cool and rainy summer would not have been so friendly to my choice.  Mandevillea loves hot weather-the hotter, the better.  They also like to be kept on the dry side.  This summer-a perfect summer for them.

growing mandevillea

Mandevilleas only bloom on every third set of leaves.  This means the look of the leaves is every bit as important as the flowers.  The dark green, glossy, and healthy foliage is beautiful in its own right.  My Jeannie le Joie climbing roses are a dream come true in the spring, but the foliage right now is nothing much to look at.         

giant pink mandevillea

This week I have been catching up some of the plantings I did in May.  I was happily surprised to see that every mandevillea we planted was growing strong.  If I plant mandevillea as a centerpiece in a pot, I gradually remove its bottom leaves. Layering plants in a container requires some grooming, so one layer does not shade the other.  

giant pink mandevillea

The dahlias in these pots are healthy and strong, but their peak bloom season will come in the fall.  Of course the petunias have revelled in our heat just as much as the mandevillea.  This mandevillea variety is simply known as Giant Pink.

4 10′ natural bamboo stakes provide support for the vine.  We wind individual tendrils around each of the stakes, and tie them up with flexible garden tie.  If new tendrils sprout from the base, or loose their grip on the pole, we may provide more ties. The Surfinia sky blue petunia in this pot-another outstanding annual cultivar bred by Suntory Flowers.  

Red flowered mandevillea is an intense and deep crimson red.  No so many summer flowering plants sport this color, but the Caliente deep red geraniums in this container come close.  This vine is supported by 4  1/4″ diameter steel poles.  The part of the pole that goes in the ground is straight.  The upper part of the pole angles out slightly.  We make these poles to mimic the natural growth of the plant.  Once the vines reach the top, they can be left to their own devices.

What the small flowered cultivars lack in flower size, they make up for in sheer numbers.  In another few weeks, these vines will be completely covered with flowers.  Though I primarily use them in containers, they can be equally effective planted in the ground near a light post, railing, or fence. 

The large flowered mandevilleas are slower to come into bloom than the smaller flowered cultivars, but if the warm season is long enough, they will catch up. Given how difficult our summer season has been, I really appreciate the breeding that has made this plant weather tolerant, florifierous, disease resistant, and easy to grow.   


This is the hottest spot of any spot I garden.  A stone terrace and brick wall facing south makes this terrace feel like the desert on a hot day.  I see no signs of stress here whatsoever. 

Mandevilleas are not tough to overwinter.  The need a spot which does not dip much below 40 degrees.  They will drop some leaves when brought in.  I water them on occasion over the winter-not much.  I do cut them back, but not much.  They will need those stems to get going again in the spring.

Time For The Limelights

limelight hydrangeas

Summer blooming hydrangeas appeal to almost every gardener.  Each flower head is substantial.  Comprised of hundreds of tiny florets, a single cut stem is a bouquet that celebrates the beauty of the summer season. One shrub in full bloom delights the eye.  There are no end of cultivars-some white, some pink, some blue on occasion. They are broadly tolerant of a variety of conditions, but appreciate their fair share of sun, space, and water.  I plant Limelight hydrangeas, and the new dwarf version, Little Lime, more than any other variety. They are vigorous growers, and bloom reliably.  

summer flowering hydrangeas

My zone is a little too chilly and unfriendly for a good many hydrangeas.  This is just me talking, but I only have one westside client who has been successful in growing blue hydrangeas.  Her success is a mystery to me.  The pink flowering varieties, available in my zone are easy to grow, but so reluctant to bloom.  Sporadic bloom on a sizeable shrub makes me look like I don’t know how to garden.  My clients on the east side of the metropolitan area have no problem cultivating pink and blue hydrangeas. I can’t help but think Lake St. Clair mitigates seasonal extremes. 

hydrangea hedges

 I am satisfied to grow the hydrangeas that do well in my area.  This means Annabelle,and Limelight.  White hydrangeas, these.  They are easy to grow, and so willing to bloom.  Come June, the Annabelles delight every gardener with their snowballs.  My favorite place to site them is on a slope, as they are stubbornly floppy in habit.  Come the first of August, the Limelights transform the garden.    white flowering hydrangeas

Their greenish white conical flowers develope over a period of a few weeks.  Chubby, luscious,  and very large, the showy flowers dominate the summer landscape.  I have 25 or 30 of them in the ground at our landscape yard.  They are planted in gravelly soil, and make due with whatever water comes from the sky.  They are a quarter of the size of these plants; the flowers are tufts.  Plant hydrangeas in compost enriched soil that gets regular water.   

great shrubs for the landscape

 Large growing hydrangeas can be stalky-leggy.  Skillful pruning in the early spring can help keep them green and blooming to the ground.  But a good underplanting gives them a very finished look.  I like to face down most large growing shrubs with a smaller growing shrub or perennial.   Boxwood does a great job of concealing those inevitably gawky Limelight legs.  They do a better than great job of giving the hydrangeas some winter interes

hydrangea limelight

 This block of limelights is wedged in between a hedge of yews, and an L of boxwood.  In a different, cooler, and more rainy summer, the tops of those yews would be dark emerald green, rather than the color of toast.  But the lime green second flush of growth on the boxwood is a beautiful textural contrast to the hydrangeas.  No legs on display here.

white hydrangeas

 I prune my hydrangeas as soon as the buds swell in the spring.  I give them a shag haircut, by shortening the long branches on the top. I rarely prune the bottoms.  Heading back the long top branches allows light to reach the bottom. Good foliage and flowers requires good light.  It is so easy to see in this picture that the heaviest bloom is occurring where there is the most exposure to light.   

white blooming hydrangeas

 Limelights can be pruned as low as 24″-30″ in early spring.  Hard pruning produces fewer, but larger flower heads.  I prune my hydrangeas lightly, as I like them tall, and I like lots of flowers. They make a beautiful backdrop for this pot in August.  They hydrate the look of my summer landscape.

My blocks of hydrangeas are sequestered behind a pair of yew hedges-one formally pruned, another left shaggy.  Thuja nigra backs them up, and sets off the white flowers to good advantage.  This is the juciest moment I have had to date in my garden all season-you bet I am enjoying them. 




Monday Opinion: Disappointment

If you garden, disappointment comes calling on a regular basis.  Plants fail to perform as advertised. Violent rains flatten the delphiniums just as they are about to come into bloom. Japanese beetles are poised to devour every rose-and I mean every rose.  An old and treasured lavender inexplicably gives up, and dies.  A stone pot cracks, and goes over.  Driven by some incomprehensible impulse, the child of neighbor picks all the buds off the lillies.  A lawn service obliterates the ground level bark all around from a treasured  paperbark maple with a weedwacker.  A painter dumps his paint soaked turpentine all over a favorite hellebore.  Slugs chew their way through an entire bed of hosta, one plant at a time.  Overnight, mildew blankets the monarda.  The tomatoes rot, or crack-or both.

The concrete aggregate terrace installed at great expense settles, and sinks.  An old grape dies before you notice the bore holes riddling the trunk.  An unexpectedly early frost kills an old lantana topiary you forget to take in.  An irrigation valve springs a leak, all but drowning an old rhododendron.  A pampered hydrangea refuses to bloom.  Does not all of this sound familiar?  Disappointment – I do not know any gardener who has managed to avoid it.

Our current gardening season has piled insult on top of the ordinary disappointment.  A warm winter was a boon to the survival of insect and fungal spore populations.  My roses rarely suffer from blackspot; I had a full blown text book case of it in April.  A late April frost ruined every flower bud on 12 magnolia trees, and damaged some of the leaves and stems.  Other gardeners lost Japanese maples, and young dogwoods altogether over that frost.  The Michigan fruit industry suffered terrible losses on trees in bud and bloom too early.  The heat and the drought in July-it is impossible to know which was worse.  This is not my garden’s best year.   

Other bad news of note.  The virulent and deadly water mold, plasopara obducens, which has plagued impatiens plantings in Europe and Florida, is showing up all over the northeast and midwest.  The downy mildew appears on the undersides of the leaves.  The leaves of affected plants curl down and under.  Eventually the stems collapse, and the plants die.  I almost never plant impatiens, but I have plenty of clients who do. Plants can be sprayed with a fungicide as a preventative measure, but I have seen the disease this week on plants that had been sprayed.  If you do have diseased plants, take them out, bag them, and put them in the trash.  The spores of the fungus can live in the soil up to five years-do not compost these infected plants.  And do not plant impatiens in that spot next year.  What a disappointment this is to the many people who grow impatiens in their summer planting beds and enjoy them so. 

No matter the disappointment, there is a flip side.  I feel certain that the bedding plant industry will work very hard to eradicate this disease.  Bedding plant breeders will study what makes New Guinea impatiens, and Sun patiens immune to it.  There will be a number of competent and intelligent people putting their skills to work.  There is an entire winter ahead for gardeners to learn about what other kinds of annual plants can provide color and interest in shady areas.  There are ingenious people out there ready to do what it takes to circumvent adversity-you could be one of them. 

Buck and I have been watching every day of the Olympic games, but for different reasons.  He is interested in any and every sport.  I am interested in any person with passion who determines a goal, and gives it their all.  So, we watch.  The effort of every athlete, and the families of those athletes, no matter their sport or their country, is extraordinary.  Jordynn Wieber, the 17 year old captain of the US gymnastics team, the world champion gymnast, wobbled in the qualifying events for the overall Olympic medal in gymnastics.  Only two US gymnasts can compete in this category.  She was eliminated from this particular competition-she came in 4th, on the American team.  She is a 17 years old, a young person who no doubt has devoted every moment of every waking hour for many years to that moment when she would compete in England.  Her disappointment?  I am sure it was utterly devastating.  I felt so terrible for her.  Under no circumstances could I have handled this level of demand and pressure when I was 17.  I am heartbroken, for her.  

That heartbreak expressed, I so admire her effort.  Her years of effort.  I equally regret how a person this young comes face to face with a disappointment most adults would struggle to deal with.  I admire how she has handled her disappointment.  First up, she cried.  A good cry over any disappointment is probably healthy.   My point here?  My disappointment with my garden this year-nothing like Jordynn’s.  Adversity?  I have the feeling that after her tears,  she will rise to the occasion.  She is so like a gardener, don’t you think?  The future for her, and for Michigan gardeners, is bright.

From Shakespeare, 

Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.

These lines written by Shakespeare in his play As You Like It – appropriate.  The original meaning is not in any way directed to the disappointments gardeners face this moment, but I still take comfort in them.   The good in everything part-timeless. Godspeed, Jordynn.