A Little Sizzle, Please

I  2015 (11)The last two weeks, and the next two weeks, are what I affectionately refer to as hell month. I am designing containers and shopping just about non stop. My crews grab hold of the rope. I print pictures and add notes-scribbled very early in the morning. They scoop it all up, and make it happen-day after day.  We all plant containers for clients this time of year-lots of them. We plant close to 60 projects-all of them different.  My grower delivers plants to jobs for me. His willingness to do this makes big installations possible. He greatly obliges by custom growing lots of annual plants for me.  I am interested in those plants that endure, and perform. And plants that are unusual and interesting. Though all of us are incredibly tired at the end of the day, we have work that has tangible results. Good looking containers, and clients who appreciate them.

I  2015 (20)This client likes lots of color, and more color. I try to put together color combinations that sparkle. Years of planting containers means I am able to imagine what the finished arrangement will look like in the coming months. So I focus primarily on the color relationships, as the eventual size of the plants is a future I can imagine. I can shop an entire greenhouse in no time, and pick plants for one or several jobs. This is not a skill. It is all about experience. I take special interest in this planting, as this is a landscape, garden, and container client with whom I have had a steady relationship for 25 years.

I  2015 (35)Her landscape is the best that I have ever seen it. This is a great pleasure for me, seeing a design grow in.  Trees and shrubs take time to take hold.  Then they need time to grow. This year, her landscape is maturing, and growing. This has taken 15 years. Her summer containers, a gesture for just one summer season, is set off by that landscape.  The relationship of the landscape and gardens to the containers is a lively relationship. She is a very lively client. I plant her containers with that in mind.

I  2015 (12)I do pick a palette of plants for this project that relate to one another-in color, size, and growth habit. Some plants and colors hop from one container to another.  Some colors are thematic.  Some colors are unexpected. The selection of the plants for a collection of containers is all about rhythm, color, mass, texture-  and strong relationships in all of these areas.

I  2015 (29)I do like pink and orange together. Just the right pink, and just the right orange,  is electric.  These French made orangery boxes  have a centerpiece of orange punch cannas – they will grow up and out once we get a little heat. Some color relationships can be subtle.  But in the event that strong color is a primary consideration, I like to use plants whose flowers are large.  Orange geraniums are brash and big headed.  Giant pink petunias are just that-giant, and intensely pink.  All of the plants in these boxes require similar light and water, so the care will be easy.

I  2015 (33) The best part of container plantings is that you have the option to choose the color, shape, mass and texture for just one year.  That one year of pink and orange might make you long for white flowers the following season. The commitment to any scheme lasts but for one season. This is so freeing, and empowering. Anything scheme I might try, I only have to live with for 4 months. The nature of containers should encourage any gardener to experiment. The willingness to flirt with failure can result in a sultry and season long love affair.

I  2015 (23)Strong color asks for strong and sure placement.  The visual relationships you establish from one plant to another will strengthen your container design. The growing relationships from one plant to another is just as important.  A container, grown out , should have a beautiful and graceful shape.These lime green Persian Queen geraniums have a luscious chartreuse color.  The hot pink flowers are like frosting on a cake-yummy. They will get large, and drapy. These Hypnotica lavender dahlias are highly disease resistant, and heavy in bloom.  The pink mandevillea vines have a habit of growth that is loose and lush. The vista petunias will soften the entire mix.

I  2015 (13)Today’s project was an eyeful about the relationships of one color to another. Some gardeners value the color green, or textures of green, or color from foliage, but this client likes flowers.  So flowers she gets.

I  2015 (22)pink and orange, with an intervening phormium.

I  2015 (15)The color is to come.  The lantana topiary is red and orange.

I  2015 (50)Yellow lantana standard and peach pink cascading ivy geraniums.  This container is in full hot south sun.

I  2015 (42)Pink orange and purple.  Th orange is a Caliente orange geraniums.  It amuses me whenever I hear that geraniums are so pedestrian and ordinary.  Their colors are brilliant, their habit is great.  With enough sun and food they perform tirelessly. Geraniums are the little black dress of the seasonal plant/container fashion world.  Orange geraniums are stunning-I would not do without them.

I  2015 (39)What a great day we had today, planting pots. In another month, there will be much more to talk about.

 

May Rain

crazy rain (11)We have had an astonishing amount of rain in the past three weeks. Steady and generous rain. Lately that rain has been accompanied by very warm temperatures.  Timing is everything-as someone once said.  I am watching what regular spring rain and a little heat is meaning to my plants. All of my evergreens, shrubs and perennials are putting on a lot of weight.  I am delighted with the look.  It is no news that every living thing needs water to survive. You, me, the trees, and the planet. Some plants need next to no water-that would be the succulents on the roof of the Vatican that have been there hundreds of years,  they get vastly less than 3 inches of rain a year. Some need regular water and boggy conditions-as in Louisiana iris. All those plants in the middle of this spectrum, in my area, are soaking wet, and growing happy.

crazy rain (5)Water from the hose, or an irrigation system, is nothing like water from the sky. I have no science whatsoever to back up this assertion, but I believe that water from the sky is like no other water.  Water from the sky is imbued and super charged with life. This natural water makes everything explode with growth.   A rainy spring day is great for the garden in my zone.

crazy rain (2)Every plant in my garden is going shoulder to shoulder, given the steady rain.  No fertilizer at work here.  Just good soil that gets a top dressing of ground hardwood bark mulch once in a while, and steady rain. Not every spring is like this. Dry springs make for plants with a much more lean silhouette. Dry springs make every plant look needy.  My plants look ready to to talk to me.

crazy rain (3)This rhododendron is closing in on 30 years old.  It is blooming profusely this year.  I credit the regular spring rain. I do nothing to look after it, except to pinch off the dead flower heads. Just outside my home office window, it is a delight. This late May explosion of form and color is a delight.

crazy rain (6)The ivy growing across my side door steps has been there for 30 years as well, but is looking particularly lush this year.

crazy rain (9)The beech ferns and European ginger have decided to come on.  I was worried that our extremely cold winter would do them in-but not so.  They were slow to show, until the rains came.

crazy rain (18)The Princeton Gold maples are in full and glorious leaf.  Each leaf is bigger than my hand.  All of the yews are sending forth their new growth. The fountain garden is dominated by lime green, in various shapes and forms. As busy as I am, all this spring lime is arresting, and compelling.

crazy rain (13)The boxwoods have begun to grow.  The late afternoon light pictures that growth as another shade of lime.  Hellebores just planted last summer are sending up new leaves. This is a spring view of my garden that gives me so much pleasure.

May 27, 2015 (20)The clematis on the bench have grown by leaps and bounds. The buds are coming on strong. They are starting to lean on my moss cow, Lady Miss Bunny, for support. The pachysandra is loaded with limey green spring growth.  Milo’s path through it is obvious.  When the new growth hardens off, his tracks will recede.

crazy rain (16)When I see plants in my garden growing lustily, I am thrilled. I have gardened long enough to know that I am a second tier provider to my garden.  Nature calls the shots.  And I am well aware than nature bats last.

crazy rain (12)Buck and I sit here every night, after work.  We have nothing to look at in the way of roses.  This past winter finished all of the last of them off.  But every night I look at that space, and try to imagine what might be. But behind us, the boxwood is responding to all of the rain. We have a dialogue going on.  Spring talk-every gardener understands this.

crazy rain (15)The May rain we have had has my garden bursting at the seams. Nature at its most helpful and benign makes me look good. I have a lush garden life right now. For this, I am grateful. My spring could have been very different from this. Nature has her own agenda. She takes no direction. Nature is a wild force that knows no bounds.

crazy rain (7)Though my garden is as green and growing as it could possibly be, I think about people, farmers, and gardeners in California who are suffering from terrible drought. Would that I could FedEx them some of my spring rain. The people in Texas enduring devastating flooding from heavy rains-terrible.  Texas has a long history of flooding, but who cares about the history?  Any person in Texas whose house has been swept away by too heavy spring rains-I feel terrible for their loss and anguish. We have had rain that sustains.  This is my report, for my vicinity.  As for the rain that nature delivers-rain in one place is a gift. Mad and unrelenting rain somewhere else could be a disaster.

crazy rain (8)The spring water from the sky can be good.  Too much water from the sky can destroy lives. Nature is not a friendly force. Nature has her own schedule. Never mind any of us. She does not call for a meeting, before she delivers her water. Her water can be a steady fall over a number of hours.  Or it could be a deluge in minutes.  That water could sustain life.  Or it could wash away lives.

crazy rain (10)I am thinking about rain right now. There is no easy answer. Generous rain endows every garden. Torrential rains can be so distructive.   Nature is a very, very, and more very a wild card. Gardeners know this.

 

Out Planting Today

container plantingsI did my first summer container planting today.  The fact that it was Memorial Day is appropriate. Michigan is not reliably frost free until the end of May. Just last week we had temps in the 30’s on 2 nights-this is typical. I hung back from planting until now. Seasonal plants, which are invariably tropical plants, hate cold soil, and just above freezing air temperatures. A too early planting can set them back for weeks, if not longer. The caladiums under planting these old tree ferns cannot take any cold whatsoever. I hope the nights will be kind to them. The tree fern on the right had to be cut back to the trunk, following an infestation of mealy bugs this winter. The mealy bugs went in the trash with the leaves.  It will leaf out again in no time.

Audi 2015 (31)I have been planting containers for this client for the better part of 20 years.  She has 2 large decks connected by a deck/causeway, that are one story off the ground. They are like tree houses-for adults.  This is where they spend time outdoors in the summer. Three pots have nothing but basil.  2 pots, planted with yellow punch cannas, are under planted with thyme. Another pot features a cherry tomato,  chives, and more thyme.  The remainder of the pots, and the boxes are planted with flowers.

Audi 2015 (17)Every year we do the flowers differently. Last year, the colors were pastel, white, and silver.  This year, she asked for lots of color.The pot in the center back of this deck has carmine sonata cosmos.  The centers of these cosmos are yellow-thus the yellow boston daisies in the foreground. Cherry geraniums and magenta sunpatiens fill the 2 pots on the right.

Audi 2015 (28)The thought of geraniums may make you sleepy, but they come in an extraordinarily brilliant range of colors.  The big headed zonal geraniums are beautiful, but challenging for some to grow.  They like judicious watering, and lots of food.  I planted the deck boxes with an assortment of Caliente geraniums.  They are so easy to grow, and bloom profusely way into the fall, with not so specialized care.The outside row of plants includes two shades of ivy geraniums-they will cascade in partnership with vista fuchsia petunias. On the inside/house side, the geraniums are kept company with artist ageratum and gold marjoram.

Audi 2015 (14)This deck box is stuffed with zonal geraniums in cherry and red, heliotrope, hot pink gerbera daisies, gold marjoram and vista fuchsia petunias. The color and the textures are strong. This is a very tropical experience of the garden that banishes any thoughts of the Michigan winter. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to garden in a number of different ways, every season of the year. The container plantings can be changed up every year.  It is a pleasure to have one part of the garden that can be interpreted differently every season. A fresh look is almost always a good look.

Audi 2015 (19)This deck has a small seating area, in the center of the space. The pots describe the boundaries of the deck.  This deck can be seen from inside, via a series of sliding glass doors. It took the entire day for all of us to haul the mulch, soil and plants to this upper deck-down into the back yard via large stone slabs, and up onto the deck via a flight of wood steps-but the result is a garden in the sky.  All of the pots have the canopies of mature trees as a background.

Audi 2015 (15)Some years ago we had wood boxes made that hang off the railings of the deck.  This means the connector causeway is available for walking, and the boxes drain off the deck.  All the kids and grand kids have plenty of places and spaces to be. But there are summer flowers, everywhere.

Audi 2015 (16)A new raspberry, yellow and orange lantana standard is the centerpiece of the pot on the left. It is under planting with a hot coral pink mini cascade ivy geranium. My client tells me that ivy geraniums, and zonal geraniums are very popular in window boxes in Europe, as they are reputed to repel flies and mosquitoes. Really. They will have a chance to test this theory out this summer. The pot on the right?  yellow punch canna, thyme, and ever bearing strawberries.

Audi 2015 (3)A pair of beautiful lead square boxes have been planted with lots of different plants over the years.  This is a partial shade location.  The rose pink solenia begonias, wreathed in red solenia begonias, will thrive here.

Audi 2015 (9)The master bedroom deck is not large, but it is important.  My client opens her eyes to this deck every morning, via a floor to ceiling window.  This year, red mandevilleas are encircled by Persian Queen geraniums.  Scaevola interrupts the parade of the geraniums.  An orange punch canna in the center pot will be offset by an amazing selection of dark purple petunias with a white eye. This variety of petunia is incredibly fragrant-so great for a terrace off a bedroom.  At the far left, a Gartenmeister fuchsia is under planted with a tall hot pink angel wing begonia. This was a great day-beautiful weather, beautiful material, and treasured clients.

Friday Night Opinion: Horticultural Hostility

I make a point of publishing essays that focus on all the good that gardening provides. Why wouldn’t I?  I do believe that gardens are good for people, and the act of gardening is even better. Reading about gardens and gardening is an excellent pursuit. Looking at gardens is like looking at at a sculpture that expresses one person’s singular relationship with nature. An interest and attachment to the landscape -both wild and designed- is good, no matter one’s age, or circumstances. Involvement,  interpretation and imagination is what makes the gardening world go round. In my opinion, a beautiful landscape is first and foremost a place to be. But it could just as easily be one of those natural places one can observe from afar, without intruding. Everyone’s idea of a place to be or observe is different, and worthy of the respect.   Other gardener’s interpretations get my respect, standard issue. I do my best to refrain from judgment. No gardener needs my opinions or experiences to live or work. I have my point of view, which may or may not strike a chord. Gardeners I have met are passionate and thoughtful individuals who have managed to garden independently.  I wish all of them well.  Their ideas, both traditional and daredevil, interest me, and enrich my gardening life.

I try to fend off what irritates my gardening eye. I make light of the weeds, even though I dread them.  I write as if digging a hole was no more effort than thinking a thought. I roll my eyes, and breeze by an unmitigated cold and rainy summer as if having poor containers did not matter. I never cry in public about a treasured tree that dies. I never chide a neighboring child who snaps off all of the buds of the lilies in a fit of childish pique. An old landscape of mine in disrepair? I would rather focus on bringing it up to speed. I do not talk about distructive bugs or bug poison-both of these topics equally disgust and silence me. Disease in plants is heartbreaking, but I have no plan to make that heartbreak rule the day. Gardening comes with a lot of scrapes, scuffs, disaster, and injury. Some things in my garden make me feel like my digging arm is broken. No need for anyone to hear about the setting of the bone, and the cast.  I choose to make much of the small victories.  The race well run. The effort that goes beyond. Every gardener understands this.

I have never had much to say about deer, even though their exploding populations now more than ever bring incredible ruin to beautiful landscapes and gardens all over the country. Deer damage has escalated in my area dramatically over the past 10 years. But I do not want to write about the deer problem. It is a big problem with no easy solution. I do not have a solution.   The rabbits that stripped the bark and shoots from my espaliers this past winter-I took that experience as an occasion to discuss how plants can recover from drastic and thoughtless pruning.  I try to discuss what is within the grasp of every gardener to influence. The troubles-every gardener has them.  I do not see that these troubles need front page coverage. Trouble is so ordinary.

I do not review gardens or landscapes. I would rather point out what I like, should someone ask. What other gardeners and garden designers do is their own affair, and I admire their effort, first thing. Lots of what I see is beautiful, and thoughtful. The longer I professionally garden and landscape, the more I realize that many things work. That there are no hard and fast rules. Be free, and garden-this would be my advice. Though some would value the results of the world series of gardening with a list of the best, the reality is much more low key, personal, and not so easy to rank. We all have the opportunity to create our own garden.  We can endow the landscape as we see fit.  I have never seen the need to convince anyone to garden or design like I do. I like the exposure to lots of different voices- they educate me. Another point of view does not challenge my confidence in my voice. I encourage clients to speak their peace – their voice is essential to my work  No one knows better than they do what is not working, or what does not look good, or what they do not understand. Strong relationships between people and nature have produced incredibly beautiful gardens and landscapes. All of what I see challenges and delights me.

I only occasionally allow hostility to punctuate my narrative. There are those moments when the hair on the back of neck stands up.  Of course a too brutal weather makes me hostile. Any plant mowed down with an electric hedge trimmer makes me hostile. Contractors driving up over the root system of an old tree makes me hostile. I have a bigger list than this-but what is the point of publishing it? Hostility is not a good look. I like the look of benign resignation better – whenever I  have enough grace to manage it.

I plan to start planting my annual and seasonal containers tomorrow.  I have some lingering hostility that our night temperatures have been too cold to plant, before now.  37 degrees is forecast, tonight. It is a late start for us, considering the number of plantings we have to do. But not too late a start warranting any hostility. Cold in Michigan towards the end of May is ordinary, and routine. I plan to be benignly resigned to a late start – as best I can. So with as much grace as I can manage, our summer container and in ground planting season is open. I am looking forward to it.