6006000160632_10001035_l Poeticus Recurvus
Narcissus, commonly known as daffodils or jonquils, flower in the spring in my zone from bulbs planted the previous fall.  They are native to southwestern Europe and North Africa. From Wikipedia,  “The species are native to meadows and woods in southwest Europe and North Africa with a center of diversity in the Western Mediterranean, particularly the Iberian peninsula. Both wild and cultivated plants have naturalised widely, and were introduced into the Far East prior to the tenth century. Narcissi tend to be long-lived bulbs, which propagate by division, but are also insect-pollinated.” It is generally accepted that there are about 50 species of narcissus, and another 60 known naturally occurring hybrids. Named narcissus hybrids number in the many thousands. The species daffodil Poeticus var. Recurvus pictured above is commonly known as Old Pheasant’s Eye.  It is remarkably tolerant of wet soil.  The delicate flowers bloom atop a grassy foliage usually 12″-15″ tall. It is sweetly fragrant, and very persistent. Planted in moisture retentive soil that has a decent percentage of organic material, it will increase and bloom for decades with little or no care. The flowers are diminutive and graceful; up close, the blooms are stunning.

narc_triandrus_lemon_drops_mainThe narcissus Poeticus does not remotely resemble the large brassy yellow trumpet flowered daffodil that is common in spring gardens throughout the US. From the Missouri Botanical Garden website (a plant reference I use frequently), “King Alfred was introduced in 1899 and quickly became recognized as the standard yellow trumpet daffodil. And it remained the standard until the 1950s when new yellow trumpet daffodils featuring larger flowers, better form and/or better performance became available. Since the 1950s, ‘King Alfred’ production from bulb growers has decreased rapidly to the point where this daffodil is not currently available in commerce today except through a very limited number of specialty nurseries. But the legendary name lives on. Most bulbs sold today as ‘King Alfred’ are not in fact ‘King Alfred’ but are large all-yellow look-alikes (such as ‘Dutch Master’) that are being marketed under the famous ‘King Alfred’ name by use of such descriptive labeling as “improved King Alfred” or “King Alfred type”.” In my opinion, bigger and more showy is not necessarily better. There are so many species and heirloom varieties of narcissus that are so much more beautiful in flower than the standard large yellow daffodil. The narcissus triandrus variety “Lemon Drops” pictured above was bred and introduced by Grant Mitch in 1956. The small nodding flowers are especially fragrant, and have a natural subtle beauty.

narc_trumpet_pink_silk_extra_3_It is no secret that I am a big fan of spring flowering bulbs. Though planting those dormant brown orbs in the chill of the late fall is not my favorite garden activity, I truly enjoy how that planting creates a sense of anticipation for the spring. There is a wide range of spring flowering bulbs that are well worth planting, but I have a special affection for the narcissus. They are truly perennial when properly sited. They perform reliably. They increase over the years with little or no maintenance. I have clumps that have never been divided, that still bloom profusely. Deer want nothing to do with them. Narcissus Pink Silk is a descendant of that famed first “pink” daffodil Mrs. R.O. Backhouse, and was introduced in 1970. This heirloom daffodil is as lovely now as it was 45 years ago. There is nothing over bred or flashy about it.

spring3 DallasNarcissus make fabulous and long lasting cut flowers, provided they are conditioned properly. The stems exude an irritating sap when cut.  I condition them for at least 24 hours before arranged them with other flowers. I do deadhead my daffodils when they are done flowering, as I would rather that they expend their energy expanding their clump via the production of offsets than setting seed. The above pictured daffodil Dallas was bred in 1942, and is classed in division 3-daffodils with small cups.  Daffodils are classed in 13 different categories, which relate to size, color and shape.

moschatus-3s.jpgThe species daffodil Moschatus pictured above is large flowered, but subtle in form and color. Many hybrid narcissus have this daffodil in its parentage. Famed American garden writer Louise Beebe Wilder called this her favorite daffodil: “The solitary pale nodding flower has an infinite appeal, a fragile tender grace that I think is not duplicated in the race….No more exquisite flower could be found for a cool, tended corner….Not to know this daffodil is to be poor in experience.” This photo by Becky Matthews was taken in rural Tennessee in March 2004. The species daffodils are more likely to “naturalize”, meaning the clumps will increase in size, and persist for many years. The fancier, newer hybrids may not perform as well over the long run.

narc_pink_passionale_mainI have more than a few large clumps of the daffodil Pink Passionale in my garden.  Enough so that I can cut them and bring them indoors in the spring. This large cup variety was a favorite of garden writer Henry Mitchell.  It is easy to see why.  I brought a bouquet of them to Rob this past spring.  That vase of flowers encouraged him to look into assembling a daffodil collection for Detroit Garden Works this fall.  All of the varieties under discussion here are on his A list.

BroughshaneThe daffodil Broughshane was bred by an Irish hybridizer, Guy Wilson. From 1930 and into the early 1960’s, he was widely acclaimed as one of the best breeders of white narcissus.

Narcis Sea Princess _2164.jpg_f1The narcissus Sea Princess is a small cupped narcissus bred in 1984.  It is perfect for naturalizing.

DA980 April QueenDaffodil April Queen was first offered for sale in 1936. The blooms are reputed to be one of the longest lasting in flower in the daffodil kingdom.  The small orange cup is strikingly beautiful.

Croft-16-Daffodils-Mrs-Langtrydaffodil Mrs. Langtry, introduced in England in the late 19th century.

narc_jonquilla_sailboat_extra_1__1 fragrant multi floweringThe narcissus jonquilla Sailboat features wind swept petals-thus the name. The jonquilla group features narcissus with multiple blooms on a stem that are quite fragrant. I am sure you are seeing by now how difficult is it to choose which daffodils to grow. Interested in the classification system for daffodils?  daffodil classes

narc_small_princess_zaide_mainThe miniature narcissus Princess Zaide, how could we forget this one?  late flowering, shallow cupped, and sporting a chartreuse eye.

Narcissus_W.P.MilnerRob’s list is long, but each one of these daffodils would make a fine addition to the spring garden.  Forgive me all of these pictures, but once you take the time to study the available narcissus, it is easy to be taken by a plant that is so carefree and persistent in the landscape is so beautiful. W. P. Milner, here.

DA971 glory of lissedaffodil Glory of Lisse

narc_cycl_toto_main_2narcissus Toto

bacec9d68af99a7ee04ad4a4191b985f narcissus British Gamblenarcissus British Gamble

daffodil Fidelitydaffodil Fidelity

DA985 horn of plentydaffodil Horn of Plenty

DA944 daffodil romancedaffodil Romance

angel_daffsx1200 thaliadaffodil Thalia


narcissus Bath’s Flame

narc_large_stainless_mainnarcissus Stainless

1008398 miniature nbarcissus Elkaminiature narcissus Elkanarc_small_dreamlight_mainnarcissus Dreamlight

1280px-Narcissus_Xit miniatureminiature narcissus xit

215 narcissus Firebirdnarcissus Firebird

PL2000008432_card2_lg Nivethdaffodil Niveth

narc_triandrus_katie_heath_extranarcissus Katie Heath

narc_triandrus_katie_heath_extra_1_This closeup of narcissus Katie Heath-breathtaking. Surely there is a daffodil here that would enchant you.

Picture Taking, Garden Making

Sept 14, 2015 003I have been tinkering some with taking pictures with my new iphone 6. I am not very technically inclined, meaning I have always used a cell phone as a phone, and not much else. But this phone is capable of facilitating communications of all sorts, and in very sophisticated visual ways. The photo feature produces images that are amazingly sharp and detailed. Even at close range, in the hands of an older person.The fact that it is light, and fits in my pocket, means that there is no need to plan ahead. I am almost always ready, for anything that strikes my fancy.  Or that unexpected, interesting, or enchanting moment.

image6 (9)I just learned that I can edit my pictures.  I can change or rearrange the composition.  This means I can set the four edges of the photograph wherever I want. I can crop-as in blow up the image to the edges I have set, to eliminate all of those unnecessary visual details.  This is the heart and soul of editing. Keep what matters the most, feature what brings an idea to life visually in its simplest and most dramatic form, and discard what distracts. This crop feature makes that easy. Even when it is not so easy, this camera is a great tool by which to learn. A photograph is two-dimensional-flat. How the composition of that two dimensional picture is handled can create the illusion of great depth. Think of it.  This phone has a filter feature.  Any photograph can be overlaid with a number of different transparent color overlays-like acetate gels over a lens. This cropped photograph of succulents got overlaid with a color overlay called chroma. That overlay gives the greens in the picture picture a more intense blue/green cast.

image5 (11)This overlay is called noir. Whatever the color of the overlay, it turns the greens in the original photograph to black. Succulents in black and white-a very different point of view. An interesting point of view.

image7 (11)This overlay is called “instant”.  I have no idea what that means.  I chose it for this picture, as it enhanced the natural pale and muddy blue green of the lavender and the flapjack. The red edges of the flapjack are now a muted, muddy and moody terra cotta color. This overlay does not accurately depict the appearance of the plants the moment that I took the picture, but it accurately depicts how I see these plants.

Sept 14, 2015 039Seeing is not only about the optics of vision. How people see things is overlaid by many layers.  History, experience, memory, desire-these are but 4 of 1004 factors that influence how any given person sees.  No one sees optically.  They see emotionally.  That complex organism we know as a person sees like no other.  For any designer, how they see is their most precious asset. Successfully communicating that seeing can forge an artist from a designer.

Sept 14, 2015 034My IPhone recorded this arrangement of flowers on my sunny daytime deck based on numerous scientific calculations about how to handle the exposure in the best and most pleasing way possible.

flowers 2A chroma overlay, with a bright light overlay makes the saturation of the color more intense. This photograph is edited.  I would guess that the editing would not read as well if the picture were printed.  Computers are glorified light boxes.  The light shines through the image, like those Kodak slides from 50 years ago. The intensity of the light is a pleasure to see.

flowers 3This overlay is even more intense, and dramatic.  The photograph begins to have an aura about it.

image15 (2)This sunny overlay saturates the color of my terra cotta pot. These pots are a pale peach, on a day with no overlays.  Here, the color is on fire.  The shadows on my brown chairs are blue. The pink and yellow flowers are brilliantly pink and blue. This edit is a happy edit.  A high  summer edit.

Sept 14, 2015 037This picture is as the camera read it.

Sept 14, 2015 036The same picture, edited, is an expression of how I felt, and what I truly saw, when I took this picture. How do I explain this in words?  Nature is a vast and ultimately a most important stage.  Everything of any consequence goes on there.  I have great respect for the story that is to come when the lights dim. The light is drama in and of itself.  The light and dark in a landscape-that relationship can be very dramatic.

image1 (16)If you are a garden maker, all of the above is of critical importance.  The composition. The editing. The plants arranged in a fresh or unexpected way.  The design that is is subject to a series of overlays that describe the maker. I feel quite sure that if 100 landscape designers were asked to create a design for the same space, every design would be different. Distinctively different. A designer and client that share certain overlays are bound to produce a project of note. A great landscape rings true, and is emotionally sound.

image15As for me, I like landscape designs that are simple, and saturated. Saturated with thoughtful composition.Saturated with shapes, color, textures, memories, events, and moments. I have not explained this very well, but that process by which gardeners create is loaded with mono, tonal, noir, chroma, fade, process, transfer and instant overlays.  A life applied to a landscape design-would that every project I do would have this overlay. Adding some light, dark, and color to this mix we call design- it could be brilliant.


Monday Opinion: Labor Day

Labor Day 2015 (9)More than once have I had reason to expect that the warm and sunny momentum established by my summer season would blast by Labor Day in a hot fit of defiance.  Given that the forecast for today is 90 degrees, might Mother Nature forget that today is Labor Day?   Every year I hope nature will be distracted by some warm September weather, and fail to note that the season is due to change.  Have my hopes of a summer that streams on for 4 months instead of 3 ever been fulfilled?  No. This bout of hot weather aside, there are signs that the summer season is slowing.

Labor Day 2015 (2)We’ve had a few cool and foggy mornings. The sun is lower in the sky. The morning light is coming on later, and the evening darkness earlier.The seeds on my dogwoods are ripe and red; the leaves have a considerable red tinge to them.  The hardy hibiscus have more seedpods developing than flowers. The Rozanne geraniums look the best they have all season – typical. The lily of the valley leaves  are singed with their usual end of summer fungus. The Limelight hydrangea flowers are showing some pink. The flowers on the hyssop have gone gray; the plants are dropping their lower leaves.

Labor Day 2015 (3)Some of the plants in my containers have moved past the thriving stage to the tired place. They have that pale foliage color that speaks to exhaustion. Some plants have gone limp from a summer’s worth of exertion growing. A week ago I cut back all of my nicotiana, and fed them. They have been lackluster all summer; I am hoping for a fall flush. The dahlias have not been happy this summer either. I am not sure if I will get a decent bloom before the mildew takes them down. My other containers are so root bound they need soaking, not just watering. The laurentia around the fountain grew too tall in the heat, turned yellow, and flopped over. I took them out.  The fountain is turning green with algae, right on time, in time, for Labor Day.

DSC_3264But there are plenty of containers which are right at what I call that “super nova” stage. Like a star that glows prior to imploding, they are at their most beautiful best – right now.  They are as glowingly good as they ever will be. All of the plants have grown out, and matured.  Each container has an overall shape-like it or not. Some plants have engulfed their containers.  Rob’s container of Russian sage, lamb’s ear and several thyme varieties-any ideas about what the container looks like? Me neither. This planting, right now, is at its most glorious best. Our window boxes stuffed with silver foliaged plants are looking just about as good.

angel-wing-begonias.jpgThese angel wing begonias are bowed over from the weight of all of their flowers. They have been beautiful all summer, but now they are at that very big and beautiful stage that foretells summer’s end.

wasabi coleusBut no summer container plant can come close to that Labor Day super nova size like coleus. The range of colors and leaf types is astonishing. Their willingness to grow is unparalleled. I enjoy growing them, partly as it is possible to shape them by pinching. I find this entertaining. If you think I am a dull girl, you are probably right.  This coleus Wasabi was grown from 3 4″ pots. Given a benevolent September, it will reach the ground. This pot I have not touched.  All the joy in it has been watching it grow.

DSC_3388These chocolate coleus feature a brown and cream cordyline that is almost invisible now. Were you standing directly over them, you would see that I had pinched out the top to reveal the cordyline.

Labor Day 2015 (18)This modestly sized Italian terra cotta rectangle is home to a hedge sized coleus.  We pinched the bottom out, to give the impatiens some breathing room, and some light. Labor Day 2015 (19)chocolate coleus, Kingwood Red coleus, and pink polka dot plant

Labor Day 2015 (17)This pot with an orange and green phormium at the center, pink polka dot plant and heuchera bears no relation to coleus, except that it has been thriving in the same vein all summer.

Labor Day 2015 (6)coleus peaking.  the petticoat below-maidenhair fern.

Labor Day 2015 (20)coleus Amora, coleus Alligator, and a subtle dash of pink polka dot

Labor Day 2015 (12)a coleus “Tilt a Whirl” standard, under planted with hens and chicks.  The accompanying lemon cypress grown on from a 6″ pot-looking good.

DSC_2215So what am I thinking about this Labor Day? That Labor Day usually signals the start of the end of my summer gardening season, of course.  But more importantly, that a working American gardener named Rob has gone the distance every day, day after day, since the middle of May to bring all of these container plantings along to this moment. If you live nearby, and haven’t seen them in person, they are well worth the trip. As for you, Rob, have a happy and well deserved Labor Day.

Landscape Under Construction

landscape under construction (8)A long time has passed since I first laid eyes on this lovely old home in Detroit. Dating back to the 1920’s, all of those beautiful details built in to homes of this era were intact.  The front door has a gorgeous hand carved limestone surround. The brickwork and slate roof are sensational. Gorgeous bones, everywhere. My clients were willing to put what it would take to restore and re imagine the interior to their taste. Every move they made paid great respect to everything original. As for the landscape, there was work to be done. They consulted me about the landscape early on. They both have a love, an appreciation, and a respect for all things green. They were interested in a landscape that would permit them to grow vegetables, a small conservatory in which to grow plants all winter, and a place to be outdoors as much as possible in the summer. Both are very busy professional people for whom a beautiful landscape and garden would be a sanctuary, a delight, and a place to grow plants, and to host friends and family.

landscape under construction (5)The interior renovation took a long time.  This gave me plenty of time to consult with them about where they wanted to take the landscape.  It is obvious from these pictures that no one had cared for the property in a very long time.  The weeds were old, tall, and woody. Some tree seedlings were over six feet tall. There were dead trees, and trees in poor condition.  What shrubs had survived were unkempt. None of them were precious or unusual, but for a group of multi trunk yews in the front yard that were old enough to have attained tree status. They are breathtakingly beautiful, and thriving. The back yard needed some thoughtful design.

landscape under construction (6)Their interior designers, Arturo Sanchez and Barry Harrison from Art Harrison Design Studio made some great decisions early on.  The kitchen windows in the center of this photograph would become French doors.  This would make a trip from the kitchen to the barbecue convenient. There was a great interest in a terrace that would be friendly to dining and entertaining. The question about how to handle the rear terrace would be mine to explore. The other kitchen windows beyond the wall in this picture would be looking out onto the driveway. Driveway?  The drive outside this wall was gravel, and covered in a thick layer of compost and weeds. Once all of the construction was finished, the driveway would be redone. How would that view be handled?

landscape under construction (7)
The wall which connected the house to the garage had been beautiful in its day.  It would need to be rebuilt.  And perhaps rebuilt in some other configuration. Designing the walls and hard surfaces would come first.  But there needed to be a concept established for how the entire space would work.  They wanted to cook and entertain outdoors.  They wanted a pool.  They wanted a spa they could use year round.  A conservatory was on the list. Perhaps the conservatory could be located behind this wall. This is an urban property with 3 neighbors.  How would we establish some privacy in the rear yard?  How could we maximize the the outdoor living spaces?

landscape planThis conceptual plan for the entire property evolved over a period of time.  The design for the rear yard is at the top of this picture.  The rear terrace would span the space from the new kitchen doors to the entry to screened porch at the opposite side.  Given a terrace of this size, there would be two sets of steps down into the back yard. The spa would be situated just below that terrace.  The pool would be round.  The rear yard is not that large.  A round pool would fit the space with ease, and be conducive to entertaining. As the grade of the rear yard rose the further one was away from the house, the pool was designed to have its front half out of the ground, with a coping set a seat height.  The rear half of the pool would be set at grade.  Beyond this round pool would be a pergola-the design to be determined. Once my clients were convinced that the round pool, and the terrace with a curved front and dual stairs was to their liking, the discussion turned to all of the details.


Branch pergola (3)A good bit of time was devoted to the design of the pergola. Eventually it was decided that the pergola would have curved wings that would follow the radius of the pool. The center section would be round, and have an open roof. The posts at the back would rest on a brick wall at seat height. The back of the pergola would be finished with lattice panels, for privacy.  The poles in front would sit at grade.  In the center, a round pavilion with a curved roof. This center section would provide ample space for a large dining table and chairs. The Branch Studio would manufacture the pergola.

Branch pergola (2)This picture of the finial to go on top of the finished pergola gives an idea of the size of the finished structure.  There will be lots of space to entertain.  A swimming pool can be a beautiful and welcome feature in a landscape.  That feature asks for a place to be, pool side.

Branch pergola (1)Each piece of the pergola will be fitted together prior to the galvanizing process, to be sure everything fits. The body of the pergola can be installed by the landscape crews, and the Branch crew put together, but the roof will have to be set by a crane. If all goes well, that pergola should be ready for installation in less than a month. landscape under construction (4)The terrace, pool, and spa were well underway by time winter arrived last year.  The pool terrace, and the new wall separating the back yard from the driveway would have to wait until this spring.

landscape under construction (14)It has taken more than 5 months to complete all of the stone and brickwork, and the pool.  The area in the foreground which will be occupied by the pergola has been barked, to keep the dirt and dust down.  This area will be graveled with decomposed granite, to provide a hard yet water permeable surface.  The back of the pool sitting at grade is accompanied by a generously sized terrace perfect for lounges and containers.  The back wall of the pergola features posts which will be set into a brick seat height wall with blue stone coping in the immediate foreground.

landscape under construction (13)The spa sits just below the house terrace, making it convenient for winter use.  The ground between the spa and the pool will be lawn.  On the left side, a wild flower and shade garden loaded with spring flowering bulbs will feature hemlocks and dogwoods.

landscape under construction (10)On the rear lot line, a hedge of recently planted American arborvitae provides loads of instant privacy to the yard. The shade garden will curve around and blend into this hedge.

landscape under construction (12)A dressing room is in the process of being built off the back of the garage.  And the conservatory?  it will be built on top of the brick wall off the side of the garage.

landscape under construction (11)The new brick wall dividing the garage and driveway from the back yard is soon to get an iron gate. On the backside of these walls, we will plant gardens.  The driveway garden is always an important garden. Everyone visits that garden at least several times a day, all year round. Now that the hard surfaces are done, I can revisit the landscape plan, and see if anything needs to be changed.  It is always a good idea to let the space speak back to you before you plant.

Sept 2, 2015 (10)Once the pergola is installed, I will better be able to judge where any additional trees and shrubs should be planted. The shade garden down the side of the yard needs to be integrated into the hard surfaces and spaces.  Will I plant on the pergola?  If course.