Off The Beaten Track

pot-in-the-lawn.jpgEvery gardener is used to seeing containers placed on hard surfaces.   On either side of a front porch.  On a set of steps or walkway.  On a terrace. But containers can fit right into a spot in the landscape.  We have worked in several places this week where containers were placed in the midst of the ongoing landscape. I like what I am seeing. Placing pots in the garden is an unusual placement, but unusual can be a good. The first rule of good design is to not take any rule as set in stone.  Some of the most beautiful landscape designs I have seen break every rule.  By this I mean, they break every rule, but do it convincingly.  A great heart, and sure hand always trumps following the rules. I worried myself for days, given the decision to place this pot in the middle of the lawn in the rose garden.  Once the deed was done, I wondered why. The placement seemed right.

pot-in-the-garden.jpgThis container is set in a landscape bed.  A clematis has climbed and wound itself around a tall steel container.  A bed of pachysandra, angelina and hens and chicks has been inter planted with with Persian Queen geraniums, euphorbia, and trailing annual verbena. The look of this garden is better than good. I like how the introduction of annual plants into the landscape, and the perennial clematis climbing the side of a container have created a look in which the container has become an integral part of the landscape. The annuals planted in ground-so charming, and so successful. This planting is not mine-it is all Jane’s.  Clients can be a great source of inspiration. They know their gardens backwards and forwards.  Their decisions are based on a daily exposure. This corner is invariably burned by salt in the winter, so a summer/seasonal planting helps keep this spot luxuriant.lemon-cypress.jpgA container set in a landscape bed is one way to create a focal point.  This tall concrete pot planted with a lemon cypress, euphorbia, and petunias gives meaning to a landscape comprised of arborvitae and pachysandra.  I like the ground cover growing up over the base of this planter. It looks as though the container has been there a while, and belongs there. in-the-garden.jpgA pot gracefully placed in a landscape can add another dimension to an outdoor space. Landscapes which offer many dimensions continue to interest the viewer.  A pot placed in the landscape is a mark made by a designer.  That said, I treasure the individual statement of a landscape above all. Some landscapes I see are all about a gardener in charge with a strong point of view.

Chicago-figs.jpgWe usually remove the grass underneath a container, excavate the soil, and replace that soil with gravel.  The insures that the container drains unimpeded. Trimming the grass around the container is an extra step, maybe even a nuisance.  But for the gardener that appreciates the small details, a placement like this is a pleasure. A pot placement in the landscape can be a temporary solution to a bigger problem.  In this case, a tree directly behind this group of containers died this past winter. The tree, and its stump was of a size that replacement will not be easy. The pots draw one’s eye away from the empty space. Given this placement of pots, a much smaller tree could be planted which would eventually fill that void.

shade-pot.jpgA container in the landscape takes on the same sculptural quality as a birdbath, armillary, or sundial.  The small footprint of any of these ornaments makes them easy to tuck into a small space that needs some visual interest.  This client has a particular fondness for pots in her borders. This pot is set on a short concrete plinth.  That small amount of additional height keeps the bottom of the pot in view, despite the ground covering geraniums.

in-the-landscape.jpgThis French glazed pot is of considerable size and stature.  It has been placed in a bed of myrtle facing down a stand of mature trees.  Pink and red mandevilleas growing on a simple trellis made of bamboo stakes makes a considerable statement by late summer. This spot, minus the pot, would be too sleepy looking for this client.  Every gardener wants something different from their garden.

herniaria.jpgThe landscape in the front of my house features two fairly large patches of herniaria.  This spot asked for something short that would require little maintenance-it has done very well there. Years ago I set a pair of French glazed pots at opposite ends. A garden ornament which represents the end, or boundary of a garden is called a Herm, 0r a term-as in terminus.  Though I have since moved the Russian sage in favor of a simpler arrangement, and switched out the French pot for a concrete pot with a yew topiary that can sit in this spot all year round, the idea is the same. The placement of containers can be anywhere there is a need.

 

 

At A Glance: Walkways

gravel-walk.jpggravel walk

walkway along the drivewalk parallel to the drive

stone-walk.jpgstone walkwaystone and gravelgravel and stone

stone slabslimestone slabs

wood-walkway.jpgwood walk

brick-walk.jpgold brick walk

concrete-aggregate-walk.jpgconcrete aggregate walk

walkway and terracegravel walk and terrace combination

stone-walk-and-stairs.jpgblue stone and limestone

gravel-walk.jpggravel walk

stone on the diagonalstone on the diagonal

cobble walkwaycobblestone walk

stone-walk.jpgstone walkway

cobble-walk.jpgrandom flag walk

bluestone-and-granite-walk.jpgblue stone and granite setts

grass walkwaygrass walk

 

A Walkway

informal-walkwayMost landscapes have walkways of one sort or another. It is a vehicle by which people are able to get from one place to another. Anyone who has even bought a pair of shoes or a car knows that there are vehicles of all different sorts.  This particularly long and thin property has been owned by my clients for a good many years. They decided to build a new house on the street side of the property, the landscape of which has been an ongoing project for me since last fall. This informal stone walkway to the barn would remain intact.

049My client asked that a matching stone walk be installed from the driveway, and connect with the existing walk in the back.  It was not so hard to find flagstone that would match. Matching the rustic pattern took some attention to detail. A walkway dead center in a corridor space makes the corridor visually stronger.

under-the-stone.jpgThe distance from the garage to the lot line was not not very wide.  This landscape would always look like a corridor.  In a space that has a very strong personality to start, it makes more sense to amplify rather than transform that personality. We placed that stone walk dead center in the space, and constructed it at a generous four foot width.  The soil here is very heavy clay-it never gives up its water.  You can see that this corridor has been graded as a swale, the idea being to drain the water away from the landscape beds.

laying-the-walk.jpgThis walkway will get my client, her garden cart, and her tractor to the back yard.  It will also serve as a drainage ditch.  The gardens, espaliers and arborvitae will to tolerate too much water.  Better that the water lurk beneath the walk, where it can drain away over time.  This particular walk has a bed of gravel and sand underneath it.  Sand has the properly of settling instantly.  Implacably.  It will not move.  Setting the walk slightly high is important.  No one wants standing water, or soil washing onto their walkway.

DSC_2536Between the flagstones-slag sand. It settles quickly, and hardens up.  But truly, we selected this material as it matched the existing walk.  The idea is that eventually, given enough time and weathering, there will be no discernable difference between the original walk and the new one.  The walk will look all of a piece.

soil-for-sod.jpgOnce the walk was laid, we installed aluminum edger strip all around. In this instance, the order of events is good.  The idea was to make the walk rustic.  We did not cut any stones. The edger installed after the walk will keep the flagstone where it needs to be. This walk is not just for foot traffic. There is a tractor that will travel this walk.

new-and-old-walks.jpgThe walk from the front yard, and the walk from the terrace meet in a big lazy Y. Barely visible in this picture, a drain set where the two walks come together will direct rain water into the natural clay walled pond. Great care has been taken to direct the rain water from the street, the landscape beds, and the roof into the pond. The rear yard will be seeded with a sun/shade grass mix, and covered in straw to help retain moisture during the germination period.  We covered the big storm drain to the right of the walk with fine netting-to keep the frogs out!  Given the prediction of a mild August to come, we will seed this tomorrow, rather than waiting until the end of August.

finished-walkway.jpgA walkway is a means by which to get from one place to another, yes.  But it can also be a beautiful landscape feature. It can help to organize a landscape. It can be built over a swale designed to drain water away.  It can be strong enough to provide a roadway for a tractor. Or slight enough for occasional foot traffic. I can be formally designed, or rough and ready. I can provide a beautiful edge to a garden. The materials and construction style chosen can say much about the personality of the place, and the eye of the gardener. It can be narrow in those places to pass by, and wider in those places designed to invite a visitor to linger. A walk can be brisk, or slow.  A great walk is a way to make a great garden better.

 

 

A Watery Grave

2014-landscape.jpg

I am sure you remember the astonishingly cold and lengthy winter past.  The fallout from that winter was severe.  So many plants damaged, or killed outright.  Trying to catch up to the repair and replacement, given that it was well into April before anyone could work the ground, has been a daunting task. That cold winter has proved to be a gift that is still giving.  Our summer has been remarkably, uncharacteristically, unsettlingly cool.  I have no complaints about the fact that Buck and I were able to have dinner outdoors every day in July.  The temperatures come 7:30 pm were neither cold nor hot-just perfectly comfortable.  But for 2 hots days, and a short spell with no rain, the summer has been a dream come true for people and landscapes alike.  The last week we have had driving rains and downright cold temperatures.  The seasonal plants are not so happy with this turn of events.

roof-garden.jpg

The seasonal flowers in containers have been remarkably good, although undersized for this time of year.  Tropical/seasonal/annual plants love the heat-as in hot.  What is too uncomfortably warm a temperature for me is much to the liking of most tropical plants that are native to much warmer climates than ours.  The boxes on the roof at Detroit Garden Works need to be planted with plants that luxuriate in high temperatures. It is a hot and windy spot, up there. My choice of a focal plant this year-Ruellia Britoniana, commonly known as Mexican petunia.  “When grown under hot sunny conditions the foliage assumes a metallic bluish cast that creates the perfect backdrop for the the scores of vibrant blue flowers that appear with the onslaught of hot summer weather. The blossoms are trumpet shaped and about 1.5-2 in (3.8-5.1 cm) in diameter and are borne at the tips of the stems. Varieties with white, pink, and many shades of blue are available, as are dwarf versions that form clumps that are about 8-12 in (20.3-25.4 cm) in height. Mexican petunia is very showy when in full bloom due to the clouds of admiring butterflies that swarm about the plants.”  The aforementioned is taken word for word from the floridata website. I had in my mind’s eye a hedge of ruellia 3′ tall and loaded with purple flowers-luxuriating in the heat.

angelonia.jpgI asked George at Telly’s Greenhouse if he had ruellia in 4″ pots.  He did, although the plants were small.  He wanted me to leave them in his greenhouse-his hot house-for 3 weeks.  They would grow faster for him in his hothouse than they would on my chilly roof. I was sure we would eventually get hot weather, so I delayed planting the roof until the beginning of July.   I under planted the ruellia with several colors of angelonia. “Angelonia is an exceptional summer bedding plant that can be relied upon for dependable garden performance through the hottest summer weather”-this quote from Dan Gill. For a little contrast in color and texture, a dwarf sweet potato vine every so often, to trail.   My roof garden is a perfect location for plants that thrives in high heat. As for the heat, I am still waiting.

window-box.jpg

Those cool temperatures in midsummer?  I do believe we have our past winter to thank for that.  Days upon days of weather in the single digits or below zero made for a record breaking ice cover on the great lakes.  Over 90% of the Great Lakes were ice covered. Friends that ice fish told me that the ice was 3′ thick on Lake Huron this past winter.  Ice that thick did not melt so quickly, given our very chilly spring.  If someone told me today that Lake Michigan still had chunks of ice floating around, I would believe it.  How has that affected our summer?  The prevailing winds blowing over frozen or near freezing lakes has made for a relatively cold summer. This week, the rains just kept coming. My ruellia and angelonia look good, just small.  How have I protected my tropical plants that like high heat and hate waterlogged soil?

summer-container.jpg

The proper watering of tropical/season/annual plants in ground and in containers is key to their success.  In the heat of July, I water my containers every other day. I water my begonias only once a week in July-if that.  Their fleshy stems store a lot of water.  One bit too much water from my hose, and they will rot. The heat of July means water is evaporating out of the soil in the pots at a rapid rate.  It takes a lot of attention and some skill to water just enough to keep the moisture level even.  Not too much, not too little.  Plants that are greatly wanting for water shed leaves, and shut down.  Rescue water may revive a desperately thirsty plant, but the stress of going without can take a toll. Plants that get watered on a schedule without regard to the weather will eventually protest, and falter. Too much water is just as bad as too little. I see watering on containers now at a rate proper with 90 degree days, though many of our days have barely hit 70.

too-much-water.jpg

Linden trees suffering from lack of water in the heat of the summer-their interior leaves will turn yellow, and drop.  A tree suffering from lack of water will shed interior leaves.  The leaves at the ends of the branches are actively engaged in photosynthesis.  Precious water reserves will be reserved for those leaves performing vital functions for the health of the tree.  A linden tree which is over watered will send signals.  The leaves-all of the leaves-wilt, and eventually yellow. Leaf drop will be considerable. This silver cascade dusty miller has been over watered.  The interior leaves are yellowing.

over-watered-begonias.jpg

Container plantings that are not doing well right now can largely be attributed to over water.  When the temperatures are cool, and the overnight temperatures downright cold, water less.  Maybe a lot less. Maybe not at all. The usual watering routine does not apply in a season like this.  I always put my finger in the dirt down to my knuckle before I water.  If the soil sticks to my finger, I don’t water. If the knuckle test says don’t water for 10 days, I don’t water for 10 days.  If the soil slides off my finger, I water.  Past this general rule, great watering becomes an art. A great diagnostician/gardener is an artist at heart.  If one plant in a container seems dry, I water one plant.  If it is 95 degrees, and I need water to soak a container, I may fill that container with water 3 times before moving on. When in doubt, I pass on the water.

beech-ferns.jpg

Many factors influence the performance of plants. Placing the plant in the right place comes first. Light and water are crucial secondary elements.  In shade, in cool temperatures, and in rainy weather I water tropical plants less.  My hardy ferns and European ginger love all the rain we have been getting.  My landscape is thriving, happy with all of the unexpected water from the sky. They have so much more potential for drainage than a plant in a pot.

rain-damage.jpgIf your annual plants have leaves that are pale or yellow green, if they look peaked, fungus marked, black and mushy, or otherwise headed to a watery grave, shut off the hose. Keep that hose in neutral in cold and rainy weather.