Some gardeners have to pick there moments. A spring wildflower and bulb garden highlighted by hellebores, perhaps. Or an early summer rose and delphinium fest. Does a late summer garden suit you better? Are your pots your passion? If I were retired, had a garden the size of Sissinghurst, and an garden staff, I might could have it all. But that is not the case. I work every week that the garden is in session.
I am utterly focused on the work at hand from early May until the 4th of July. This means I have little time to enjoy and nurture a garden at home. People in the nursery business or the landscape business all have the same issues. They get to work early; they go home late. They work the weekends too. Once the early spring has passed, and the magnolias are finished blooming, my eyes and hands are everywhere but at home enjoying my garden.
I plant lots of pots-this keeps my love of gardening alive while my attention is elsewhere. When I come home at night and water, I feel like I am gardening. My landscape is designed around my lack of time to pay attention. I have lots of mature evergreens that require little but a once yearly pruning, and some thoughtful watering. Late in August, I start to come up for air. I am looking at my gardens.
The late blooming perennials I greatly enjoy, as I have time to enjoy them. My rose garden is underplanted with white Japanse anemones, and boltonia. Boltonia is a selected native fall blooming aster that is one of my favorite plants. They grow all summer long without one bit of encouragement from me, and bloom like there is no tomorrow in September. They are not fussy in any way, beyond appreciating regular water. Bugs and disease-they are impervious. For the past 3 weeks, I have been looking at these tall growing clumps out my south side windows. How they thrive makes me look like a good gardener.
The white Japanese anemones thrive equally well-on the south side of my house, in between and behind the roses. They have no problem with a full sun location. I do water my roses regularly via drip irrigation-the anemones seem to appreciate it. For the better part of 10 days I have been wading into the anemones and boltonia with my camera. I have time to look, and appreciate what is going on.
I do not have the means or space to mount and maintain a garden that is lovely every moment of the entire season. I have to make choices. I like a late and a later season garden. I like tall billowy perennials. This means I personally favor hyssop, monarda, boltonia, hardy hibiscus, Joe Pye weed, ornamental grasses. aging Russian sage, phlox paniculata, lespideza, asters, anemone Japonica, among others. This has every bit as much to do with my availability, as their form and flowers. There are very few garden plants I do not like. I would have them all, if I could.
But there are those plants that get special care and attention, as their time to be corresponds with my time to give. The big late blooming perennials-they occupy a special place in my gardening heart. As for your garden, I would make this suggestion. Choose the season that delights you the most-and go for broke. If you want to grow great vegetables, organize your gardening efforts accordingly, and make plans for rocking pots of basil. If you have a summer house elsewhere, make spring your season. If you are a working person, plan for a glorious garden when you are the least busy.
Trying to be all things at all times sounds way too much like a competition. A great garden that engages and satisfies an individual gardener is all about enabling a certain quality of life. Those astonishingly beautiful pictures you see of gardens in magazines-they are all about a specific moment chosen by a gardener. Choose your moment.
This client has a very distinct point of view about what she likes, and a sincere interest in the landscape. She is a young person with a flock of young kids-how she manages to even think about it surprises me. What we do for her is very low key and simple. The hydrangeas on standard in her summer pots we winter over in the ground. Most times we plant white, sometimes there is a little lavender or purple.
A few years ago we made these steel boxes for her; they sit on the ground, as her windows are very low. I took this picture of one of those boxes September 5-this was the first time I had seen it since it was planted. The white non-stop begonias were thriving; I was impressed. They are not the easiest plant to grow. The heliotrope has faded from the picture, but the box by and large looked great. June Bride caladiums, euphorbia Diamond Frost, cirrus dusty miller and variegated licorice have all grown together quite companionably.
All good things must come to an end-I wonder if Chaucer’s summer pots were waning when he wrote this. Can you hear me sighing? Steve cleared out all but one of my deck pots yesterday-I cannot bear that look of decline. I should do like this client. When summer comes to an end, she moves on to the next season. Having kids, she was interested in a containers that would look just right for Halloween.
I like Halloween. The best are all the kids that come to the door in costume. Next best, I love any holiday that depends greatly on the plants and props native to the season, presented in a suitably holiday way. I could not engineer anything as horrifying as what the average 10 year old could dream up, so I focus on the plant part. First up for these pots, a centerpiece of broomcorn, and 3 colors of amaranthus, zip tied to a stake that goes most of the way to the bottom of the box. A good deal of the soil had been removed as part of the rootball of the hydrangea on standard. We topped up the boxes with new soil.
The cabbages and kales I have written about before. There color only gets better, as fall progresses. But when I am thinking Halloween, my kale of choice is Redbor. Redbor kale is stalky growing, and krinkly leaved.
I planted the kales in the outermost corners of the box, and angled them out. Tied around the bottom of the centerpiece-2 bunches of molten orange dyed eucalyptus. We like a little fire going on at the center. The turquoise and cerise cabbage front and center is a little tame and off color, but it will keep the planting looking great and full until Halloween.
The orange eucalyptus appears to have pushed to redbor kale outwards. This is a very easy way to be spooky-plant the plants out of kilter. What might take the place of that cabbage in the front? A lit pumpkin? A skull? A giant spider? A skeleton hung over the side? A mummified hand dripping in plastic blood? No doubt I will consult the kids about that. In the meantime, my client is happy to have a lively planting in her boxes at the front door.
Every nursery, farmer’s market, roadside stand, grocery store, garden and vacant land has materials that look great in fall pots. As for the spiders, skulls and skeletons that need to be added that one night, any kid can help you get ghoulish.
I would bet that if I organized and offered a shopping trip with Rob, it would fill up in an instant. There would be a waiting list. He has an eye for where to go, what to see, and what to commit to that interesting and beautiful. His less obvious searches includes sifting through the debris and dried materials that tends to accumulate in vacant land. This abandoned tangle of wire fencing and rotted posts may not upon first glance seem like much seem like much. But I would say the chances are excellent I will see this found object, or this combination of colors and textures and materials, or some semblance of this idea somewhere soon.
Vacant land has a story to tell. This grass likes the watery ground. Other species only come so close, before conditions are no longer optimal. Plants are very specific about what they want-this picture makes that clear. Given this picture, it is no wonder that lawn saturated with water from automatic irrigation thrives. Other plants are not so crazy about it-they stay away, if they can. I know him well enough to know this wild grass laying over is appealing. Some spot or another in the shop will have this look.
Wild asters have small and insignificant individual flowers, but large colonies of them can be very beautiful. Weedy and wonderful, this. Rob’s pictures are a harbinger of what is to come from him. The other day Rob nailed a twig bird feeder to a chestnut fence post, and set the post in a tall limestone cylinder. Wedged into the cylinder around the fence post, a few wisps of weedy plastic grass. The idea of plastic grass appeals to no gardener, but should you come in, take a look. There is an utterly natural and believable look to the entire assembly.
This vacant land is littered with giant logs, the remnants of their roots intact. The goldenrod and asters have grown up around them. The story that lies behind this picture is unclear. They do not look cut, they look rotted off at the very base. They look like they were dumped here. But perhaps this land was inadvertently flooded long enough to kill all of the trees. I am just waiting for Rob to ask if I can send a truck and trailer after them. They would be the perfect material for a stumpery.
I have no clue what thesese shrubby trees might be. They have been dead long enough that the bark is peeling away from the wood from a long standing sun burn. Spooky branches, he calls them. Would they not be perfect for a Halloween vignette? Rob is just as likely to find inspiration from spooky branches in a tract of vacant land as the library. To put it mildly, he has an active imagination. A genuinely original imagination.
He and I both love asclepias tuberosa-milkweed. Few wild and weedy plants have big luscious leaves like these. The story of how milkweed seeds mature, and are sent aloft is one of the most delightful stories that nature has to tell. When the pods mature, and crack open, the seeds are packed tight in that pod with the unopened parachutes attached, just waiting for a stiff breeze to send them all aloft. An afternoon sky full of milkweed seeds is one of the best visual pleasures of fall.
Thistles are a pernicious weed in cultivated gardens. They are almost impossible to eradicate; the roots go very deep, and are very strong. Who would want to touch one? But the seed pods are beautiful. The seeds nourish many a goldfinch. They look great in fall arrangements. If you know of any tract of vacant land in zone 4-5, there will likely be a thistle patch.
There is a fall party going on here-undisturbed. No one has had a mind to refurbish, zone, or organize this space for residential use. Vacant land in no means implies a vacant space. There are plenty of plant species thriving with no need for any supervision. It may be that the most beautiful places on earth are places that are solely supervised by nature. Every gardener appreciates this.
Rob took all of these photographs-of course he spotted this giant thickly growing clump of asparagus. Did it grow from a seed? Was there a farmhouse here decades ago? The mystery that is nature is alive and well on this vacant land. A shopping trip with Rob to a vast tract of vacant land? It might be better than you think.