From Winter Into Spring

spring container planting

This past winter, and what we have seen of spring so far has been a roller coaster. Not so cold, very hot, freezing cold again-up and down.  The 2012 season so far-dicey for planting outdoors.  The below 30 degree weather-just too cold.   But at last we are planting spring containers-how I love to have my hands in the dirt again.  This oval painted tin tub planted with scabiosa, pansies and violas is fresh, and represents the new season in a cheery way.      

whitewashed eucalyptus

But not everything in the spring garden needs to be new. I have clients that plant their containers all of the four seasons.  Before you decide that such a schedule is too much work, consdier repurposing elements from one season to the next.  These cream bleached twigs and whitewashed eucalyptus winter arrangements went from the front door boxes to the back yard boxes-given spring. The blooming of the Bradford pears makes all that winter white look unexpectedly fresh.   

The winter evergreens around these centerpieces were removed.  The yellow twig dogwood, bahia stems, and lavender eucalyptus-still beautiful even after 6 months of winter.  The centerpieces transition gracefully into spring.  All that is new in these pots are some pansies and violas. Granted our winter this year was a no show, and that may account somewhat for their longevity.  Some gardeners have objections to anything in a container that is not a live plant, but I am more interested in persuading people to try gardening, and helping them succeed-so they keep gardening.    spring containers

Preserved natural materials are incredibly durable.  They can be taken apart, and reconfigured.   I have had centerpieces like this last several seasons.  A change of venue, or a new element is often enough to make what was an old idea look new.  I thought about removing the bahia stems, but in this case I like the brown.  The color seems fine, and provides another layer of interest.  Pansies and violas have trouble carrying a container arrangement in a striking way.  They need some element that is large enough to provide them some visual context.   

planted crate

A wood crate planted with chard, lettuce, and orange pansies-what gardener wouldn’t fall for this? Beautiful plantings come just as easily to a repurposed container as a fancy urn.  If there is a plan to use a wood crate on a regular basis, painting the inside with a glossy exterior grade paint will improve its longevity. Galvanized pails, tin cans with great labels and potato chip tins-they can make for charming container plantings.       

Dry or bleached twigs know no particular season.  Paired with pansies and variegated ivy, they look spring like.  A stick stack such as this could stay in a container all year round-the look changes considerably given the nature of the supporting cast.  Tired of the color?  Repaint them, or stain them.

fresh cut twigs

Cold tolerant early season plants include the pansies and violas, lettuce, angelina, rosemary, sweet peas, osteospermum, dwarf grasses, annual phlox, herbs such as thyme and mint, ornamental cabbages and kales, petunias and million bells-the choices are many.  But most of them have a very small scale.  These fresh cut hornbeam twigs add a little interest from the start, and will make this doorway look even more inviting as the pansies grow in.   

annuals for spring

We preserved and repurposed the winter centerpieces for these pots outside a restaurant.  Lime sedum and coral bells-we planted lots of them.  Perennials are great in spring containers.  Columbines, Jacob’s ladder, dianthus, and hosta are among my favorites.  Spring flowering vines look great even when they have finished flowering.  Who doesn’t have a spot for a 1st year clematis in the garden, after a spring container planting fades? 

cold tolerant annuals

The Creme Brulee coral bells add some heat in the way of orange, and some contrast to the cool colored violas.  The lavender colored eucalyptus was startling in these pots over the winter, and perfectly appropriate to the spring planting. In commercial settings, I like to see strong color.  It does a great job of saying hello and welcome.

lemon cypress

The chartreuse Italian cypress, or lemon cypress, is not hardy in my zone, but they are fairly obliging and easy to winter over.  A shrub this size will be 4 feet tall or better in just a few years-in which case it will make a beautiful centerpiece in a big pot of spring flowers. 


Years Later

I have mixed feelings about going back.  One would like to think that a landscape would grow and go on once planted, but that is rarely the case.  I side with Henry Mitchell on this.  He says there are no beautiful old landscapes.  Beautiful landscapes are a result of the intensive care of the present.  Landscapes that fare well are well looked after.  Even so, 20 years is a long time.  Though I planted this landscape 20 years ago, I was not so worried.  The client is a gardening person with a sincere appreciation for nature.  I am sure he got this from his Mom-who is a quite the gardener.  They had to replace a second story deck that had rotted.  The landscape in that area would need to be redone. 

acer campestre

I did have the chance to see how the landscape had weathered the years.  This triple trunked acer campestre was barely 8 feet tall when I planted it.  The placement in the lawn made it look lonely years ago.  Small but so good looking, it was a tree worth waiting for.  It is a chunk of a tree that has grown on to considerable size.  Even the bare branches are an effective screen from the neighboring property.  I would bet it is lovely in full leaf.      

hydrangea petiolaris

A second garage needed some softening.  The bed in front was very narrow-what would thrive there?  A pair of 2 gallon hydrangea petiolaris did not make much difference when they were planted, but now that garage has a cottagy look that is appealing.       London Plane tree

A 10 foot tall London Plane tree planted 20 years ago has grown considerably.  The euonymus hedge behind is probably 15 feet tall. But for one thin spot directly behind the London Plane, everything seems happy.     

  evergreens in the landscape

The view to the lake from the side yard is framed in a variety of evergreens.  I like the informal tunnel look.  Best of all, all of the plants seem healthy. They’ve been looked after.

redbud trees

A pair of redbuds on the lakeside did what redbuds do in open settings.  The have that typically windswept look that comes with age, dieback and weather damage.  The center of the left hand tree sustained some damage, but the side branches on the edges seem to be growing fine.     

wood decks

With the new deck in place, the attending landscape will need to be redone.  In some ways, this can be a blessing.  A construction project sweeps away the bad as well as the good.  Though I cannot remember what I did with my reading glasses 5 minutes ago, I do remember what the landscape looked like here.  I have a chance to make it better.     

bluestone terrace
Certain features I still like.  This bluestone terrace was designed in 3 sections-with a space for plants.  It helps to visually break up a large terrace space.  What was planted here, I cannot remember.  There is no doubt that my plant vocabulary is better now than it was 20 years ago.  Even if what was here was good, there is a chance to do it better.

magnolia JaneIt is difficult to tell from this picture, but the stone wall here is 8 feet tall. It is a retaining wall for a private upper level terrace. The entire property is steeply and irregularly sloped from the street to the lake.  The wall was all but obscured by a hedge of 6′ tall Magnolia Jane.  Who knew Jane would grow this tall?  This spot is in need of a new idea at ground level.       

columnar gingko

The house is very tall out of the ground, and of course the views of the water are paramount.  A columnar gingko does not obstruct any views, and is now as tall as the roof of the house.  Gingkos are taprooted, so they can be a good choice for planting in close quarters.  They are also very tolerant of urban pollution, making them a good city tree.   

bluestone terrace

The upper level terrace is completely private now.  I am sure there are plenty of glimpses of the water from here. 

Picae Cuppresina

A picea abies cupressina, a columnar spruce, has adapted well, considering how close it is planted to the house.  A large open area would have been an ideal place to plant, but ideal places do not always exist.  Difficult places always seem to abound-funny this.

The lakeside stone terraces were planted intermittently with the white rugosa rose, Blanc Double de Coubert.  Not all of them have declined to this extent, but they all should be replanted.  A lot of plants have been lost.  Bare soil is an invitation to the weeds.    

landscape renovation

Some plants thrive, others never take hold.  Lifespan, damaging weather, neglect, illness, an errant basketball-there are always lots of chances for things to go awry.  But sometimes what goes awry can inspire a better design, or a more useful one.  Some places in my garden decline because they don’t interest me anymore.  If a spot doesn’t interest me enough to take care of it, then perhaps a little change is in order.

Given enough freeze and thaw cycles, even this huge slab of stone will break down. Just like the wood in the deck finally rotted beyond repair.  What happens next might well be very exciting.


At A Glance: Spring Garden Fair

 spring container planting

 Our spring garden fair weekend is just underway.  We invite nurseries and growers in our area to come and set up for the weekend, and sell their plants.  After all, the best part of spring is the garden coming back to life.  If you are in our area, stop by.  The fair is loads of fun, and we have some great plants available this year.  To follow, a few preview pictures. 

spring flowers

primula, English daisies and violas

setting up the fair

spring container plantings

red lettuce and angelina

spring bulbs

spring flowering bulbs

spring garden fair

ready for company

green container plantings

aagreen container plantings

English daisies

English daisies

crate of chard and lettuce

Spring container plantings with lemon cypress

tub of violas

succulents in containers

blue succulents

cardigan welsh corgi

Howard’s ready for you!

So Sunny

yellow flowers

There was a time when I had no affection or interest in yellow.  This was so many years ago I cannot remember the reasons why.  When I came to my gardening senses, I realized that yellow is a good symbol for sunny.  The color reads clearly from a distance.  And it is the first cousin of the best-chartreuse.  I live in a state whose grey days are many.  Sunny colored flowers are so welcome, and mix amiably with other colors.  Yellow can leaven the visual mass of dark flowers.  I like arrangements that are airy-physically airy, as in varying heights.  And visually airy.  

spring blooming forsythia

The much discussed, and usually maligned forsythia-I love the coming of its sunny yellow flowers.  Do I need this shrub to satisfy everything I require from a great shrub? No.  But I am grateful for its forthright announcement that spring is in progress.  The masses of  forsythia on Forsythia Hill at Dunbarton Oaks in the spring-stunning.  Masses of yellow blooms look good to me on a spring day.  That yellow is a profusely but simply worded hello-it is spring. 

darwin tulips

This tulip-another idea about spring yellow altogether. This double Darwin tulip, Akebono, was new to me last year.  I was not aware there were any double Darwins.  The shape is very unusual.  The tips of the petals are berry red; the anthers and bases of the petals jet black.  This yellow spring flower is as elegant as it is frilly.  The flowers are very large.  This so sunny tulip would be the inspiration for my spring garden at the shop.  

tulip mixes

 Inspiration for a garden can come from a number of places.  A color, a season, a place remembered, a shape.  Inspiration does not necessarily imply revelation-an inspiration can be a little thing.  That particular tulip enchanted me-Enchantment is a good town in which to build a home. I chose 3 other tulips to accompany the Akebono tulips.  A cream yellow, a clear medium yellow, and an intense yellow.  They are all late tulips-only the Akebono are in bloom now.

yellow tulips

Last night we watered the tulips thoroughly with a fine spray.  The forecasted temperature overnight-28. Well watered soil helps repel frost-as does late overhead irrigation.  Though it may seem to be the wrong thing to do, water that freezes releases heat.  The frozen water actually protects the petals themselves from a hard freeze. Tulips close up at night-sensible spring flowers, these.  The Akebono tulips took the shower in stride.  

spring tulips

The tulip flowers have managed to survive a pair of extremely cold nights.  Warmer days and nights will bring on the other yellow tulips


What to put in the window boxes to celebrate that inspiring tulip?  Chartreuse is a very close relative to yellow, and it is everywhere in the spring.  The maple flowers-chartreuse.  The new growth on euonymus, boxwood, taxus, privet-chartreuse.  Need I say more?  In the corners of the boxes, we ran support lines up the shutters, and planted a chartreuse leaved hops.  At the base-lettuce.  I could not tell you the variety, but I could talk all day long about the color. 

pansy Lemon

This clear lemon yellow pansy is as dramatic as the Akebono tulips, but on a much smaller scale.  Spring container plants tend to be diminutive and delicate-these flowers are giants in a world populated by violas, annual phlox, violets, hepatica, forget me nots, and trout lilies.  Pansies do have faces-smiling faces.  What gardener would refuse to smile back. (Thanks MS, for this observation-you are so right!)   

asparagus in pots

In the center of my window boxes, a pair of 2 gallon asparagus plants.  The new shoots speak to spring.  I have always had an interest in the relationship between agriculture and ornamental horticulture.  I think most landscapes have an important relationshiop with agriculture that requires addressing.  I cannot really explain this, but landscapes that arbitraily sever any connection with that history seen overwrought, self important, and lifeless.  I think my attachment to European gardens has so much to do with how the food and the flowers commingle in practical ways, and romantic ways- to make a good life. 

violas with whiskers

My good life is powered right now by the spring flowers.  Some annual, some perennial.  Some showy, some sturdy.  These whiskered picotee violas have no problem celebrating, and representing the hubbub that is spring.

spring window boxes

My window boxes need some time, and some warm weather to grow in, and grow up.  What a pleasure- to at long last have my hands in the dirt.