Memorial Day Weekend

Italian terra cotta pots

Both of my crews combined yesterday to plant annuals in containers and in the ground at one of our big jobs.  We finished up about 3:30.  It was the consensus that my pots could be brought out from the garage, and filled with soil-an end of the day job.  I was delighted with the offer.

Italian terra cotta pots

Next to the pruning of the boxwood, this is my favorite day of the year.  The pots come out of storage.  I move them a few inches this way or that.  I may reconfigure them altogether.  I have next to no warning when that moment for the placing and filling of my pots will be-good thing.  The pressure of the moment is sometimes my best effort.  When I have too much time to think and rethink, I can stall and move right into a tail spin.   

Italian terra cotta

I do not like my crews glaring at me, waiting for a decision.  They want to get the work done-with dispatch.  Needless to say, all of my pots are out and placed now, and furthermore chock full of soil.  It takes my crew only moments to get this part done.  It takes me many more moments to make a decision about what to plant.  I walked by these dirt filled pots many times late yesterday afternoon.     

container planting

That I am home in the afternoon at the end of May is a rare day indeed.  Of course I took advantage of that moment. I toured every square inch.  Though what I will plant in my pots this year is so much on my mind, I enjoyed what has been going on in other parts of my garden, in my absence.

Jeanne Le Joie

My roses are starting to bloom.  They are early this year.  The climbing roses, the dwarf Jeannie Le Joie, and the big flowered climber Eden, were not a bit fazed by our terrible April frosts.  They are coming into bloom, as though all was well with the world.  My Griffith Buck roses-another story.  The buds are small.  The extreme heat we have had the past few days means some flowers have come into bloom, and shattered in less than a day. 

dwarf climbing roses

Our late April frosts are still haunting my garden.  But it was hard to be discouraged.  I was in my garden on a sunny afternoon the end of May.  This means I was on holiday. 

late spring

I was happy to be home, unexpectedly, on the Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend. 


Planting The Annual Flowers

container gardening

I plant better than 80 annual plantings every year.  Some are as simple as a pair of pots on the front porch.  Others involve multple containers, and in ground planting.  I enjoy each and every one of them.  That said, the work of this chases me from late May until the end of the first week of July.  My late June clients are looking to replace their spring plantings.   As Detroit Garden Works is not a full service nursery, I shop for all of my clients, individually. 

annual plantings

That shopping takes me to lots of local nurseries and my local farmer’s market.  One nursery custom grows a lot of material which I like to use.  Whether that material involves new varieties of caladiums I grew last year, or nicotiana cultivars, specialty and unusual plants make the difference between a rote container scheme, and a freshly imagined and exciting planting.  

annual planting beds

The shopping is the first part.  Pickups of plants, and arranging for deliveries is a job in and of itself.  Some plantings are so large I arrange for delivery to the site the day of the planting.  No matter if I am picking up, or having plants delivered, planning for the job comes first.  The planning and designing takes a lot of thought and detail, so the installation goes smoothly and quickly.  Once the plants and my crew meets at the job, the first move is to clean up.  The spring tulips and weeds may need to be cleaned out.  The pots need fresh soil.  Steve arranges for our custom blend of soil for containers to be mixed.  That soil is delivered to a company who provides bagging, and shipping.  We go through 2 semi truck loads of our custom container soil mix a season. 

planting annual beds

Once the pots get a new planting, and the annuals are planted in ground, we sweep up, and water thoroughly-at least three times.  We water until we are blue in the face.  Newly planted plants have no ability to take up water from the surrounding soil until their roots reach out.  A really good soak makes for a really promising beginning. 

English made lead

The next two days calls for temperatures in the 90’s.  We were especially careful today to soak every pot thoroughly.  Though this picture seems hardly worth posting, what I like is how wet everything looks.  The landscape installation here is 4 years old now.  All of the woody plants have taken hold, and are thriving.  The flowers add a finishing detail that makes the landscape seem like home.   

container planting

I make trouble for myself.  I will not plant too early.  Most of my clients understand this about me, and don’t fuss.  I am not so concerned about frosty air temperatures.  I am interested in the temperature of the soil.  If the soil is too cold, the annual plants are stopped dead in their tracks.  Most annual plants are native to tropical locales.  They know no cold. 

variegated abutilon

It is hard to wait, given how many plantings there are to get done.  But a tropical plant which is planted into freezing soil will be set back.  The growth may be stunted.  It might take weeks for them to recover from the insult.  They may never recover.  I like planting in soil that has thoroughly warmed up.  This makes the transplanting process take no longer than a blink of an eye. 

container gardening

Coleus and impatiens hate cold soil.  Massed plantings of impatiens and fibrous begonias at my local shopping center in early May shrivel before they ever make a move to grow. Looking at these plantings makes me wince. Some clients will call, concerned that they do not have their plantings before Memorial Day.  I tell them they are one of the lucky ones.  No annual planting before its time means their plants will take hold and grow like crazy. 

This may be foolishness on my part with no basis in science, but I do believe that annuals that are planted too early peter out too early.  I usually plant my own pots the end of the first week of June.  I still have them growing strong into October.  If your annual pots give out the end of August, you might want to look at your planting date.

solenia pink begonias

I understand the urge to plant early.  Who isn’t ready for the summer gardening season by late April?  But April and May means spring in Michigan.  The weather can be dicey.  Those clients that have to have early plantings miss out on some great plants that will not tolerate the cold.  Caladiums, coleus, New Guinea impatiens, heliotrope, angelonia, and begonias all abhor cold soil. 

nicotiana mutabilis

Newly planted containers do not give up what is to come.  These boxes will be overflowing with nicotian mutabilis, and nicotiana alata white in another month.  The pink petunias which are so much in evidence will be but a foot note, once the nicotiana get going. No annual pot in my zone looks great in June.  If you have an idea for a party or event in late May or June, plant for spring.  The annual flowers are just getting up a head of steam in late July.

The first order of business on this pool deck is to get the pots out, locate the irrigation lines, and fill the pots with soil.

container gardening

I photograph all of my annual plantings when they are planted, and when they peak.  I draw the design for each pot on the back side of last year’s picture.  I use these pictures to tune up my choices in plants.  Success with container gardening involves a gardener, a particular location-and whatever else nature has in store to dish out. I try to keep a visual record from which I can learn.

Planting the container gardens is much different than designing the landscape and gardens.  But what I especially like about the containers is that they represent the finish.  The finishing touches make a landscape very personal. The annual flowers.  The right arbor, and that special bench.      

espalier crabapples
I never met anyone who did not like or respond to music.  Nor have I ever met anyone who did not respond to to the beauty that is a flower.  The summer growing and flowering tropical plants are a taste of Eden in the northern gardens I look after.  I plant lots of them at home, and enjoy them every day.   

container gardening

At the end of the day, I would plant pots-the more, the better.

A Formal Vegetable Garden

vegetable garden layout

Every now and then I have a call for a formal vegetable garden.  By this I mean a garden with a formal layout and structure.  These clients wanted raised beds for their vegetables for several reasons.  They liked the idea that they could tend the garden easily.  They liked the idea that the soil mix would be especially tailored for growing vegetables.  They have children; their lives very much revolve around the dinner table.  They have strong ideas about good food, and where it comes from.  Their soil is very heavy clay, and the site chosen for the garden does not drain particularly well.  I designed the garden, and laid it out with stakes and strings for them to see. 

Once they approved the plan, we stripped away the existing sod. We excavated the area, as the garden would have a decomposed granite floor.  This is a great surface on which to push a wheelbarrow.  It is a surface that requires little to no maintenance. 

vegetable garden boxes

Steve and his crew built the boxes on site.  Several courses of lumber were installed below grade, and set level.  When the garden is finished, we will reconfigure the edge of the driveway to run parallel to it.  There will be some regrading involved as well.  But at this point in the project, we are a long ways away from the finishing touches. 

A 3″ base of 22AA road gravel levelled the floor of the garden.  The sloping lawn will be regraded to meet the finished floor of the garden.  The poor drainage became very clear after a rain!  The raised beds will insure that water drains away speedily.  Vegetables attract no end of disease and insects.  A clean growing, well draining site is a good natural defense against trouble. 

growing vegetables at home

Once the bases of all of the boxes took shape, it was easier to see the overall plan.  Four boxes were simple rectangles.  The four center boxes were L-shaped.  A three tiered theatre for the center will hold pots of herbs, and culinary flowers.  At this point in the construction, we were going over lists of vegetables and herbs.  Like most families, they have vegetables that appear on their dinner table frequently.  Others-not so much.   

worm castings

Steve is an expert with soil.  He spent 16 years as superintendent of grounds at Grand Hotel, on Mackinac Island.  The island has very little in the way of soil.  A thin layer of compost covers layers of big rocks, and little rocks.  The cost of transporting soil from the mainland was considerable.  He composted thousands of yards of soil for their 165 acres of golf courses, employee housing, and hotel grounds.  He knows how to cook up great soil.

growing vegetables in boxes

This soil is compost of his own making, to which he added sand, and lots of worm castings.  It is rich, and friable.  The the idea of worm castings raises eyebrows, but vegetables thrive in it.  Decomposed organic matter is an essential element of good soil. 

drip irrigation

Each box has its own drip irrigation lines.  Water from drip hoses does not migrate very far away from the hose.  The drip is so so slow that the water sinks straight down-gravity, this.  Thus there is a need for multiple drip hoses, so the plants are evenly watered.  A drip irrigation system is not perfect.  A person needs to be in charge.  A person who can pick up a hose, if there is a need.  This spigot was run off the irrigation system.

vegetable garden fencing

My client has 7 acres of property.  This means they have all manner of wildlife.  Deer, raccoons, mice, rabbits and woodchucks, just for starters.  The garden had to be fenced.  The mainstay of this fence is a very sturdy galvanized steel mesh. A vegetable garden has to be sited and planted to take advantage of the sun.  A privacy fence might shade the garden.  The steel mesh does not impede the sunlight.     

Each panel of steel mesh is enclosed in a cedar frame.  A horizontal bar of cedar midway up the panel adds a good bit of reinforcement to the mesh.  As much as you love your home grown vegetables, all of God’s creatures love them too.  This fence says keep out in a very simple way.   

The fence is 6 feet tall.  The 6 feet wide gates are just 3/4 of an inch shorter, to permit the gates to be opened wide.  The decomposed granite finished floor has yet to be installed.  A second short round of steel mesh will be buried below grade.  This will deter the crafty diggers and the little creatures.

vegetable gardening

We are a ways from the finish here.  The tomato towers and herb theatre will be done shortly.  7 espaliered fruit trees are yet to be planted.  The drive needs to be reconfigured.  A cutting garden will be planted ouside the fence on the gate side.  Roses for cutting will be planted on the far side.  As for the planting of the vegetables and herbs-Steve is in charge of that part.   

This is a big garden. Not like a field of corn in Iowa, or a grove of cherry trees.  This is by no means a farm.  But it is as big a garden as they will ever need.  It is a working garden.  Sturdy, simple, plain-and organized.  I hope within a few weeks it will be a good looking working garden.   


The Clematis On The Bench

garden fountain
My garden is a fairly quiet affair, as evidenced in my Roundtable home garden/tour post yesterday.  A garden that provides sanctuary is of interest to me.  But as structured as my landscape is, there are those unexpected moments.  When I drove up yesterday, Buck had the fountain jets turned up full blast.  Those columns of water sparkling in the sun made me smile.  Buck cranked up those pumps, knowing I would be tired when I got home.  A little unexpected joy never hurt anyone!  Until the pots on the deck are planted, this is my first stop on my early evening tour of the garden.      

clematis trellis

Last year I raised the bed under my garden bench, edged it in steel,  and planted it with European ginger.  I added a pair of clematis, intending them to grow up one arm, and climb along the back of the bench.  I don’t have so many options for change in this part of my garden, but this was a small change that would prove to have a considerable impact.  Our warm March triggered a lot of really early growth. The vines were up and budded up before that interminable string of freezing nights we had in April.  I was sure I would loose all of the flowers, and perhaps some of the foliage, but that was not to be.  These clematis were unfazed by the freeze.

For the past month I have come home, anticipating the latest change to the clematis.  Buck is very patient about the fact that it is the first topic of discussion.  Watching the changes has truly been a pleasure.  It has also set me to thinking about them.  

This large flowered clematis is a variety called “The President”.  I have not really grown much in the way of clematis, except for the small flowered varieties.  I really like clematis vitacella violacea, and its hybrids such as Polish Spirit.  The sweet autumn clematis, and the spring flowering clematis montana are both lovely.  Watching my pair of large flowered clematis grow and bloom has been a small but significant pleasure.

My earliest exposure to clematis on the bench dates back 50 years.  My Mom always shopped at Semrau Nursery on Gratiot Avenue.  This would be the east side of the suburbs north of Detroit.  On every bench growing geraniums, interspersed and widely spaced,  clematis.  The most beautiful clematis vines I have ever seen.  Thier stakes were at least 4 feet tall-the vines spilled over the top.  I remember how luscious they were in leaf.   I was 12-yes, I remember.  

In my 30’s, I grew but one clematis.  It was called Sho-Un.  It was the longest blooming of all of my perennials, and it obligingly rebloomed.  After 4 years in a not so swell spot, I moved it.  It never skipped a beat.  I remember how astonished I was that a vine whose stems were brittle enough to break given an unkind word would survive a major move.  Those large pale blue flowers enchanted me.  It is hard to find now-I am sorry to say.

I have read plenty about clematis wilt.  I hate a problem in the garden over which I have no influence or control.  All of that literature and documentation is enough to deter any gardener from growing them.  This might account for why I have not grown them much-beyond the small flowered varieties that grow vigorously.  This large flowered pair has done well.  They are not fussy in the least bit.  Should I rethink the clematis?   

clematis blue ice
There are so many large flowered varieties of clematis available now.  Who could choose?  I chose this vine strictly on the basis of its very pale blue flowers.  I think it is called Blue Ice, but I could be wrong.  I bought the shape and the color-not a name. 

 Margaret Roach, gardener and writer extraordinnaire via her blog, A Way To Garden, posted about Brushwood nursery in the late winter.  They specialize in vining plants, and especially in clematis.  I read, and reread their list .  How would I choose?

May blooming clematis

I have a big love for the pale blue, and blue lavender varieties.  This would include Sho-Un, Will Goodwin, and Mrs. Cholmondeley (just say Mrs. Chumley-is this not friendly?).  How would I evaluate new varieties?  I did not order anything from Brushwood.  In retrospect, I should have.  Whatever seemed good to me.  Experimenting is part of the soul of good gardening. 

clematis the president

Beautiful flowers are not the only criteria for inclusion in my garden.  The flowers are next to the last.  I like plants that are vigorous.  They make me look good.  They reward me.  Tricky, stubbornly unresponsive and fussy plants leave me frustrated.  I don’t want to worry about whether I am a good and thoughtful gardener.  I want plants that thrive, and encourage me to keep gardening.

The new issue of Fine Gardening has quite an article about the best of the best clematis.  I am disappointed that there are no white, or pale blue varieties listed.  That disappointment lasted all of a minute.  Given the pleasure these two plants have given me this spring, I think I should plant lots of them.  Everywhere.  Take my chances.  I have really so little to loose.

large flowered clematis

A clematis vine takes up not one bit of space on the ground.  When properly sited, they grow towards the sky.  Their large single flowers are breathtaking.  This spring, I am thinking I should endow my garden with clematis-lots more of them. 


Do you have favorite varieties?  What pale blue, or heliotrope blue large flowered clematis grows well for you?  Do you have a white variety that you like?  Which variety is your best performer?  Where have you placed them?  How do you handle those brittle vines?  Do you grow them on the ground?  What are your favorites?  Could you please be so kind as to advise me which clematis I should try?  I am ready to try to grow more clematis.