Orange Punch

The idea for the 2011 annual gardens at the shop started with these pots at a client’s house.  I did not plant these-I was there consulting on another matter entirely.  I was so struck by how beautiful the orange cannas were-the flowers reminded me much of a clivia. She told me she got them from Telly’s Greenhouse; I called George straight away this spring to see if he planned to carry them again.  When he told me he had hundreds of them for sale, I responded in kind.  I planted lots them in the roof boxes, and in all 6 of the big concrete pots out front.   


It is a strikingly beautiful flower. Lushly tropical in appearance, it looks even better against a blue sky.  The large, juicy looking blue green leaves are just as attractive as the flowers.  I could feel a scheme coming on. 

Margaret Roach egged me on; she posted about a new Potunia variety called Papaya.  I called George again-was he growing this potunia?  The color is every bit as unusual and luscious as Margaret promised. They seem to be a decent growers-this is a big plus in an annual plant. I planted it in the ground with neon petunias.  I am a fan of orange and carmine together.  The color orange in annual plants is highly variable. There are those yellow toned carrot oranges-as in Magellan zinnias and Orange Punch cannas.  There is that brilliant medium orange on steriods, as in Sonic Scarlet New Guinea impatiens.  There are those blue tinged oranges, as in Caliente ornage geraniums, and these Papaya potunias. 

Surprisingly, all of the oranges do not look so swell together.  I needed to mix some other colors to create a sense of visual community.  The very dark carmine potunias and a little lemon yellow from yellow supertunias, vanilla butterfly marguerites and trailing lantana gives this container a happy family look.  I could feel a party coming on.

The Sonic series of New Guinea impatiens deliver a jolt of orange like no other plant I know of.  Given enough sun and plenty of water, they perform beautifully.I was warming up to the idea of a wide mix of colors in celebration of the color orange in the windowboxes and beds.       

The boxes have lime nicotiana (a staple green in my gardening diet), misty lilac wave petunias, orange dahlias, orange geraniums, Butterfly marguerites, and neon petunias.  To come, some dark purple trailing verbena, and some lavender star verbena.  The corner pot has those Sonic scarlet New Guineas in it-I have not quite figured out what else should go with it.

The Solenia series of begonias are my favorites-they are the most forgiving of  of any large flowered begonia. They also tolerate a good bit of sun.  The toothy olive green coleus with the dark red violet stems?  I do not have a name, but I really like the look. 

On the roof, I planted my beloved Elegant Feather grass-it is a beautiful plant from a distance, and it breaks the wind that whip around up there.  The cannas are small, but they will beef up quickly; it is always hot up there.  Caliente geraniums are a great performer in difficult situations, and they flower continually without any coaxing.  The trailing vinca maculatum are plants from last summer that I wintered over in hanging baskets-I hope they will drape way down the front wall.   

Perhaps the most exotic looking plant in my summer orange repertoire is a coleus called Rainbow Festive Dance.  Bordines grows this plant, and they have great 4″ pots of it right now.  My photograph does not really do it justice; it is olive , orange, carmine and parrot green-on every leaf.  I cannot wait to see these plants grow large.


The bed inside the boxwood is planted with Dazzler Blush impatiens (it has a distinctive orange and carmine eye) Super Elfin Blue Pearl, and solid orange impatiens.  I am hoping it will look like confetti sprinkled thickly on the ground.  A twenty minute soak with my fountain sprinklers, and the bed is thoroughly wet.  Our 4th annual garden tour to benefit the Greening of Detroit is scheduled for Sunday July 17th.  We host a party afterwards-we’ll be ready for company.

Tuesday Morning Opinion: A Member Of The Choir

Sunday is a short work day-the shop is open 12 to 4.  Most Sundays I book landscape consults in the morning-most people work, and weekends are easier.  I do not do evening consults.  Buck and I need some time together every day.    Evenings, Buck and I, and the corgis have a routine that I treasure.  So I do Sunday morning landscape consults-before the shop opens.

I have no problem in the world with this.  Every one of my clients work, and work hard. They may be novice gardeners with day jobs.  They may be seasoned gardeners with kids.  They may be professional men and women with the notion that their landscape is an important element of their life.  Whomever they are, I am happy to accomodate.  I know what it means to work.

My consult last Sunday-I will admit I was dog tired, and not anxious to add one more garden to my list.  As usual, that cloud lifts-once I meet a client.  This woman was of Japanese descent.  After living in my community for 30 years, she recently and unexpectedly lost her husband.  Her only relative now-a daughter in Australia.  I would have never guessed she was 70 years old; everything about her weas graceful and beautiful.

 Her modest 50’s modern house was architecturally strong, beautifully furnished, and spotless.  But what really engaged me was the landscape.  The private rear yard was simple, serene, mature-and beautifully maintained. Really beautifully maintained. The front yard was wild right up to the front door. The only evidence of the human hand-large stands of Jack in the Pulpit, wild geranium, may apple-and so on. An old wild flower garden.  Her landscape was a landscape design crash course-I was enchanted and interested in her story and her garden.   I could not imagine why she had scheduled a consult with me-I told her this.  She had just two requests. 

 What would I advise for the floor of her small terrace off the back of the house?  I told her the old concrete studded with gravel was beautiful and appropriate, and did not need any change.  She persisted in a very gentle way, so I responded that she could stain the concrete a pale blue grey. She seemed to like that idea.  Her last request-where could she have water?  A modest representation of water.  A little sparkle and splash.  A small addition to her choir.  I am thinking about that for her.

Last Sunday, I had no appointments.  The shop closed late; I took some plants home anyway, as my pots are not even close to planted.  I backed the suburban into the driveway, and unloaded the corgis.  Buck brought me a glass of wine, and I started planting.  For several hours, I was a member of the choir.  The dogs, the dirt, the plants, the birds, the early evening sun, the water-divine.  Those several hours did so much to restore my spirit and energy.  This week is the last of my intensely driven spring work.  I hope everyone’s flowers will be planted by next Tuesday, and I can devote my time to a slew of landscape projects patiently waiting.  A little time for one’s own garden-I highly recommend it.

The Roses In June

The thought of June inevitably brings roses to mind.  How I love them.  The shapes and fragrance are like no other flower.  That said, there is no other flower could possibly be as much trouble to cultivate as a rose-that is part of their attraction..  My Mom had a hedge of tea roses that stretched all along one side of her garden.  Every year she made replacements.  I can still remember the names of some her favorites-Peace, Chrysler Imperial, and the luscious Tropicana. Some years were worse than others for the aphids and the blackspot-but she persisted in renewing and growing that rose hedge.  There are those plants that are annuals for me, no matter the popular horticulture.  Hemlocks, azaleas, columbines-and most certainly tea roses. 

Of course the worst tea rose trouble was the lack of hardiness in my zone.  Al Goldner had me pot up, sweat, and bring on several thousand  hybrid tea roses for his nursery in the mid 1980’s.  At least from him I learned to bury the graft 2 to 3 inches below ground.  The frozen soil would act like a cast around the most fragile part of tea rose life-that graft. Another annoying fact of life-their susceptibility to every fungal disease including blackspot.  One day I marched into his office, and wrinkled my nose about the tea roses.  He was famous for giving any employee enough rope to hang themselves-I was no exception.  I bought my first collection of roses from Hortico in Canada, and spent a few tense hours trying to explain to Customs why I was trying to bring a pickup truck load of bareroot roses into the US with no phytosanitary certificate. 

For whatever reason, they waved me through.  That first collection?  5 David Austin varieties.  A group of Rugosa roses, including Blanc Double de Coubert, Fimbriata and Scabrosa. A good collection of species roses-Rosa Rubrifolia (now of another name I can never remember) Rosa Canina, Rosa Complicata, Rosa Setigera.  Another group of vintage and old fashioned roses from a number of different groups. The Canadian Explorer roses.  And of course, a collection of Griffith Buck roses.     

Al Goldner had an interest in anyone who bred and grew plants.  He himself bred and grew daylilies, specifically for use in the landscape.  He grew them without much in the way of irrigation, and no fertilization.  He wanted plants that would grow under less than optimal conditions. I had the same idea in mind with my collection of old fashioned and shrubs roses.

At that time I had almost 5 acres of land-I could grow shrub roses, and never have to worry about how much room was required.  Now I have a very small yard, and even less time to devote to growing roses.  So my small collection is highly edited.  The climbing Jeannie le Joie and Eden take up no space on the ground plane.  Eden has that irrestibly old fashioned rose look.  The only work I put to them is trying to keep the canes attached to the brick.   


Sally Holmes is the one giant shrub rose I cannot live without.  Peach colored buds open to reveal single 5-petalled white flowers.  I have stakes all over in support of this big lax shrub.  The foliage is large, dark green, and glossy-top to bottom.   

In the front, I have alternated the Griffith Buck roses Carefree Beauty, and Earthsong.  Somone suggested that Earthsong was even more carefree than Carefree Beauty.  I cannot really tell the difference.  But I can speak to how I have a little time in June with an embarrassment of riches in roses with virtually no work on my part.

I do prune in the spring.  I do deadhead after the first big flush of flowers.  And I may spray several rounds of fungicide if blackspot takes hold-but by and large I do next to nothing except look at them.  The second flush of flowers is nothing like this moment-but I do not hold that against these roses.  The Knockout series of roses has great disease resistance and good rebloom, but they just do not appeal to me in the same way. 


My small patch of roses are the best ever this year.  This is saying a lot.  I have had them at least 7 or 8 years.  I have never had to replace one.  I do have drip irrigation in this bed, which I rarely use.  These roses are very tolerant of the Japanese anemone, boltonia and hardy hibiscus that live there as well.  Given more property and time there are plenty of roses I would grow.  But given the constraints of my circumstances, I have a little patch of roses representing every June that suits me just fine.

Planting The Pots

The mid nineteenth century cast iron horse watering troughs Rob found in northern England last September have a new and happy home; my clients really like them.   It seemed fitting to me to fill them with water again.  But this time, no horses.  A collection of papyrus and white calla lilies in the gravel filled water flooded trough-this will be a good look, once the plants orient to the sun.  Papyrus (marketed now as King Tut grass, and mini-Tuts) stems break with the least disturbance. But water plants recover faster from damage than soil grown plants.  When they are happy with the water temperature and sun exposure, they grow vigorously. 


This pool terrace is large.  The 27 containers I placed on the limestone do not seem like too many.  Groupings of 5’s and 3’s improve the visual impact.  My clients favor a clean simple and modern look; the pool furniture makes that statement loud and clear.  I took my cue from their expressed interests, and their choices in furnishings.


Four top grafted willows on standard in tall Belgian teak boxes are the stars of the far view.  The wild and wooly silvery foliage atop a barely two inch caliper trunk-very beautiful in these tall contemporary boxes.  The head of the tree is vastly overscaled for the v-shaped box.  I cannot really articulate why I so like the proportion of the tree to its boxy home-it just looks really good to me.  The planting in the giant steel box looks underscaled, yes.  But once those silvery cardoons get to growing, the scale will be perfect.  The white Gallery dahlias lined up like soldiers in a rectangular volcanic slab trough represent white in a strong way.

A pool terrace of this scale needs something going on in the airspace.  The topiary willows are doing a fine job of that.  A single large French terra cotta vase from Ravel, to the right in this picture,  is planted with 8  gallon size mandevillea vines.  A grouping of twelve foot tall natural bamboo poles will provide an aerial home for those vines.  A hot pool terrace will set them to climbing.  The poles are a visual element that occupies and defines the airspace while plants get to growing.  A terrace of this size needs a big idea about the borders, and a bigger idea about ceilings. Comfortable spaces embrace company.  Exciting spaces make explicit reference to size and sky.   

Five containers clustered in a pool terrace corner male a statement about relationships.  A rectangle planted solid with lavender will contrast in form with a spiky agave.  A tall rectangle stuffed with white gallery dahlias and silver dichondra will be a great foil to a large volcanic trough planted solidly with double white datura.  The French terra cotta pot from Ravel-I planted it solidly with Whispers petunias.  The purple accents enliven this grey/green and white planting scheme.    

This pair of steel boxes viewed from the side-a little visual trickery is involved..  The foreground square tall box is planted solid with some blue succulent whose name I have never learned.  The tall volcanic stone slab box is largely occupied by a geranium-no kidding.  Some scented geraniums can grow to astonishing size.  It will only look larger,  better, and loaded with white flowers in 6 weeks. The right hand box is a rectangle-the long view is not available here.  I like a view that tricks the eye.  


Give horizontal view, it is clear what seemed to be a square tall box is in fact a rectangle.  In this rectangle, I planted four hyacinth bean vines.  The four absolutely vertical natural bamboo poles will provide plenty of support to these annual ornamental vines.  The placement of the 8 foot tall vine supports-a contemporary gesture.  

Contermporary container plantings call for lots of one thing, and little in the way of mitigating circumstances. Be simple, be direct, be subtle, be strong, be confident.  None of these containers call for traditional or formulaic plantings. Pick a plant, and plant lots.    

Three times today we had heavy and steady rains.  We kept planting.  A last minute addition-a Ravel pot from France painted white.  This afternoon, we delivered the white French pot, and stuffed it full of rosemary trimmed into spheres.

We finished our plantings at 4pm this afternoon-during the third hard rain of the day. I am not complaining-I am a gardener, so I relish whatever the weather brings. I looked over every square inch of my territory before I left.  A  client with an event at 7:30 pm- we helped them to be ready.