Mighty White

birch.jpgMy landscape is mighty white right now.  We have already had better than twice the snow we had all season last year, and this is just mid January. I was so surprised that we got another 3 inches of snow yesterday.  Have we not had enough?  Who thought we needed more than the 16 inches we have already had? OK, I wasn’t so much surprised as weary.  The snow has piled up everywhere.  The landscape is blurred.  The glare from the snow makes everything else some variation of black..  Lots of white, with some black bits.  What gardener in my zone isn’t bleary eyed?

sun-and-snow.jpgThese reproduction cast stone pots made from a well known design by Frank Lloyd Wright are all but buried in snow.  The snow silhouette features the rim of the pot.  The shape of a mature plant, a garden bed, a tree canopy, a garden path, a terrace, a container – shape is one of many elements of design.  A shape is a 2-dimensional visual description of an object.  An outline, if you will.  Heavy snow makes it easy to see and decide if you like the shapes.

snow-covered-garden-table.jpgWe have mountains of snow and uniformly gray skies.  There are only so many ways to tell this story.  The better story is about what is missing visually, and how a landscape can be better. As I have watched the snow pile up higher and higher, I realize how much I appreciate the skillful use of color, line, texture, mass, edges, and proportion in a landscape design.  This garden table and bench has been reduced to its simplest shape, in black and white.

snow-covered.jpgDeep snow has all but obliterated any complex relationships in the landscape. What the snow has not buried are the basic and simple shapes.  The very strong and simple relationships.  A good design should be evident in every season.  In all kinds of weather. There are those gardeners who aim for one season at the expense of all the others, and I respect their choice.  It just wouldn’t be my choice.  I do believe that good design is all about what is there when there is nothing there to see.  The stone pot filled with cut evergreens pictured above has a distinct form and proportion that is described and enhanced by snow.

shop-garden-in-January.jpgThe heavy snow had reduced this landscape to its most elemental gestures.  What I still see, given the lack of color and texture, is the form. I would venture to say that a design that does not work in its most austere winter state will work no better flushed out with plants, and clothed in green.

snow.jpgGood form is a quintessentially important element of good design.  A weeping Japanese maple has an overall shape, both a leafy shape, and a twiggy shape.  That maple also has a three dimensional structure-that is its form.  The successful placement of that maple in the landscape is dependent upon an understanding of its form.  Planting small or young trees require an understanding of a form that is yet to be.  Forms come with baggage, too.  A weeping Japanese maple is so common in suburban front yard landscapes that it asks for an unusual treatment or placement for its form to be truly appreciated.  Asparagus means vegetable, which means it gets planted in the vegetable garden.  But its form may be perfect for a rose garden, or a container.

garden-bench.jpg The relationship of one form to another can be incredibly exciting, or sleepy beyond all belief.  Some forms are so striking they stay with me for a long time.  Years even.  The fluid and informally curving form of this magnolia garland is all the more striking visually against the formal and rigid form of this steel bench.  The snow is that relationship graphic and clear.  Personally unforgettable moments in a landscape usually involve a form which is under some sort of visual discussion via the weather, or the season. Landscape elements that are not up to a year round discussion should be placed accordingly.

boxwood.jpg  Some forms I do not give a moments notice.  Why wouldn’t my clients feel the same way? Whenever I am designing for a client, I always ask what was an unforgettable experience of the landscape. This will tell me a lot about what forms will have meaning for them.

snowy-day.jpgThis embarrassment of riches in snow is an experience of the landscape that is making me testy, but it has its virtues.

michigan-winter.jpgMilo thinks this winter’s garden is grand.

 

The White On The Way

White_Trillium_Trillium_grandiflorum_Flower_2613pxHas the thought of spring crossed my mind yet?  Oh yes.  The fierce cold, the heavy snow and the ice of the past 3 weeks has made it easy to daydream about spring. Better than 30 years ago I was able one October to buy five acres of rolling land (burdened with an utterly dysfunctional house) blessed with a substantial stand of trillium grandiflorum – the native Michigan trillium.  I was not expecting them, but in late April, there they were.  I was enchanted.  The three lobed flowers are almost as large as the leaves-showy. The trillium blooming provoked an interest in Michigan wildflowers.

Double_SanguinariaOver a period of years, I added lots of other wild flowers to that spot. I would guess it was 2500 square feet or so, dominated by a few old ash and locust trees.  The ground had not be disturbed for many years, or had any of the leaves been removed.  But for the tree roots, one could dig in this compost based soil with 2 fingers. The double bloodroot pictures above from Wikimedia never made large colonies, but what I had was persistent.  The main trick was to check the plants as often as possible once they come in to bud.  Any warm weather or wind, and the petals would drop.  Looking every bit like a cross between a miniature peony and a waterlily, they might be in bloom but a few hours a year.

anemone nemerosa vestal

I did spend a few years working for Francis Hughes in the late 70′s and early 80′s.  His nursery was unusual, in that he sold native wildflowers dug from his own extensive gardens.  One plant which I especially admired was anemone nemerosa. I can still remember him digging me a small start from which he shook off all of the soil.  He made a point of telling customers that he did not sell his soil.  I was sure my unceremoniously bare rooted plant would not survive, but this plant and many others did indeed grow. The cultivar “Vestal”, pictured above courtesy of www.collectorsnursery.com, is a hybrid noted for its prominent anemone center.

an_blanda_white_splendour_main
anemone blanda is is not native to Michigan, but its white flowers come early in the spring.  The small corms are planted in the fall.  I soak the dark brown nuggets for 24 hours before planting them 2-3 inches below ground.  The 6 inch tall plants will readily colonize large areas – even weedy or grassy areas -  if they are happy.  The purple and pink varieties are lovely, but I love the white the best. A few hundred bulbs planted in the untended remains of an orchard multiplied many times over.  This picture is from John Sheepers bulbs.

Alabaster_closeupWhite epimedium, a perennial groundcover, spreads more slowly and blooms later than other species, but it is well worth the trouble.  They are tolerant of dry shade, which makes them an ideal addition to a wild flower garden with mature trees.  They bloom on foot tall slender stalks, the new foliage coming after the flowers.  This picture- from www.plantsnouveau.com.

DSCN2299 cropThe yellow species trout lily is a familiar face in the Michigan spring wildflower garden, but the white epimedium conalba “Alabaster” is strikingly beautiful.  They are fairly easy to grow, but can take years to flower.  They are well worth the wait.  Like many other wildflowers, the plants go entirely dormant once the trees get their leaves, and the rain is less reliable.  Wild flowers are frequently referred to as garden ephemerals, as their dormant season comes early in the summer.  The photograph above is from www.phytofactor.fieldofscience.com.

Dodecatheon_meadia_1Dodecatheon media is commonly referred to as shooting star.  This is a good description for these diminutive flowers with extremely reflexed petals.  The foliage is lettuce-lush and juicy looking. They are easy to grow, and will colonize readily when happy.  This picture is from www.mtcubacenter.org.

white-helleborus-orientalis.jpgHellebores are not naive, or are they wild flowers.  They are perennials with mostly evergreen foliage.  But no discussion of white flowers in early spring would be complete without them.  Helleborus orientalis is commonly known as the Lenten rose, as it blooms at that time of year.  They are one of my favorite perennials, as they are as beautiful in leaf as they are in flower.  There are numerous cultivars, each one more lovely than the last.

white hepaticaFor whatever reason, hepatica was always my favorite spring wildflower.  The area where I lived 30 years ago was decidedly rural, but on the cusp of development.  Whole neighborhoods full of homes were built nearby, after the land was scraped clean of any and every plant.  I dug many a clump of hepatica out of the way of a bulldozer, and relocated them to my property.  With a little oak leaf mold, and slightly swampy conditions, they were very happy.  I like to believe they are still  thriving from benign neglect in those spots, as I know that garden has not been touched by the owner who came after me.  This photograph via www.pickerelhills.com.

dutchman's breechesDutchman’s Breeches are a wilding bleeding heart.  The plants feature serrated blue green leaves in profusion.  The bleeding hearts are arranged all along a small arching stem.  They were very shy bloomers for me.  Charming, these.

solomons sealSolomon’s Seal has a similar arrangement of individual blooms.  The foliage is also arranged along the stem.  The plant is quite tall, and vigorous.  Some gardeners prefer the variety sporting white variegated leaves, but I have always liked the more subtle species.  I found this great picture at www.solomonsseal.wordpress.com.

Jeffersonia diphyllaJeffersonia Diphylla is commonly known as twin leaf.  Though this picture does not do justice to the leaf structure, what appears to be 2 leaves at the end of a leaf stalk is actually one leaf, deeply divided.  This wildflower was named in honor of Thomas Jefferson by his friend and fellow botanist William Bartram. Only one other species of Jeffersonia is known, and it is native to Japan.  Why that would be, I have no idea. This photograph is from www.urvforum.be.

Viola_canadensis_(Orvokki)_Kanadaviol_C_DSC03075Last but not least, Viola Canadensis, the Canada violet.  They are quite rare in some places they are known to be native, but they grew vigorously for me.  All of the violets were willing and able to cover the ground.  Once the wildflowers went dormant, there were plenty of violets covering the ground.  Sweet, that.  Very sweet to think that a lot will be happening in the garden in the not so distant future.

More On White: Milkweed

Monarch_Butterfly_Danaus_plexippus_on_Milkweed_Hybrid_2800pxThis photograph from Wikipedia speaks volumes to the importance of the milkweed.  Asclepias tuberosa is a favored nesting site for the Monarch butterfly.  At summers end, the wild plants we have growing at the shop will be covered with their larvae. The Monarch larvae feed on these leaves. The butterfly weed is a favored host in my area.  They will spin cocoons; the mature butterflies will emerge some four weeks, give or take.  Only once have I witnessed a mature butterfly emerging from its chrysalis-it happens that fast.

milkweeed-pods.jpgAsclepias has much to recommend.  The plants are long lived, utterly drought resistant, and carefree.  The flower heads of asclepias tuberosa are orange and gorgeous.  Asclepias incarnata has flower heads that are a quiet shade of dusky rose.  But my main interest in them is the seed pods.  The pods are large, ovate, and a compelling shade of bluish green.  In late summer, this green phase dominates the plants.

milkweed-pods.jpgOnce the seeds begin to ripen, the pods will split along their length.

milkweeds.jpgOur local fields and meadows are full of the remains of the milkweed pods come November.  They have an elegantly spare and ruggedly persistent shape.

asclepias-tuberosa.jpgBut the white fluff inside is what interests me the most.  Each butterfly weed seed is firmly affixed to its own white silky and fluffy airplane.  These white silky hairs catch the wind, and aid in the dispersal of the seed.

milkweed-seed-pod.jpgHow plants set seed is an event any gardener would appreciate.  How the milkweeds insure the survival of their seed is nothing short of miraculous.

milkweed-pod.jpgFrom Wikipedia: The milkweed filaments from the follicles are hollow and coated with wax, and have good insulation qualities.  As of 2007, milkweed is grown commercially as a hypoallergenic filling for pillows. This commercial use does not interest me as much as how the butterfly weed seeds itself.  A milkweed seed with its virtually weightless attendant white fluff is a little and subtle miracle I never tire of.  Every year, the marvel of it enchants me.

milkweed-pods ripening.jpgOnce those seeds emerge, that fluff is everywhere.  It will stick to your hands, your clothes, your shoes, your trowel, and your wheelbarrow.  An individual seed is large, and relatively speaking, heavy.  How this plant has evolved to insure that these big seeds get dispersed is but one of countless stories engineered by nature.  I have had occasion to design and install fairly complex landscapes, but this design and execution is beyond compare.

ripe-milkweed-seeds.jpgAny landscape designers best ally is what comes from the natural world.  All it takes is a lot of observation, and then some serious thought.  As my friend and colleague Susan Cohan says, art does not necessarily have to work.  No artwork needs a white silky airplane to be.  A work of art lives independent of time,conditions, and circumstance.  Good landscape design is a craft, in that every moment needs to assess the conditions, fire up,and fly.

milkweeds 004The milkweed seeds about to fly is a day in the gardening season I look forward to.  I would hope these plants would find a foothold in many places.  I like that the Monarch butterfly feeds and reproduces on a plant that has a plan to not only enable these beautiful creatures, but reproduce.

milkweeds 005Much of gardening is about the physical issues.  The dirt, the water, the drainage, the weather, the maintenance, the beginning, and the ending.  But there are those singular moments that float.

setting-free-the-milkweeds.jpgThere is a day every gardening season when I make the effort to launch the asclepias seeds. It feels good to think I am doing my part.

milkweed-seeds-airborne.jpgDo these seeds need me?  No.  Nature saw to this efficient dispersal long before I ever took up a trowel. But I do it anyway.  This white fluff I put in the air makes me feel good.

 

White In The Garden

white (5)My current garden is all about the snow, and not much else.  16 inches of snow has managed to turn everything in the landscape ground plane into a collection of wind whipped white blobs. On the roads, dirty white.  In the shade, blue white.  In the sun, blinding white.  It’s enough white to keep me blinking.  Unlike this once in a blue moon snow fest, white in the garden is a crisp and fresh color choice.  The white umbrellas in this picture-refreshingly white. I took this picture on a blisteringly hot and overcast July day.  The white umbrellas look as cool as can be.  I could imagine how they would reflect the heat once opened. White in the heat of the summer means respite, as white reflects heat.

white (1)A white house could be coolly contemporary.  A whitewashed shingle style house, with white trim, and white window boxes is a traditional architectural expression one might find in any city.  A white farm house, or Greek revival house is an architectural classic.  The White House-a national treasure.  White appeals to many, and looks great in widely divergent circumstances.  All white-stark, even chilly.  White washed-soft.  Paint color books seem to have more versions of white than any other color-funny, that.

July 23, 2013 (13)I have several clients who are enthusiastic about any  plant, as long as it blooms white.  And clients who favor white container plantings.  White gardens of necessity feature lots of green.  White foliage indicates an absence of chlorophyll.  Nearly all white foliaged plants have enough green to permit photosynthesis to some degree.  Any white garden is truly a green and white garden.  Green and white-a glorious color combination. Some white flowered perennial and annual cultivars are weak growers, but there are enough vigorous white plants to round out a planting palette.  In  the early spring, white hellebores, snowdrops, crocus, daffodils, and tulips.  The white leaved brunnera Jack Frost has a gorgeous white frosted leaf, and amazingly,  tolerates a lot of sun.  Magnolia Stellata, Magnolia Ivory Prince, Venus dogwood, white crab apple “Snowdrift”-there are so many choices of white flowering spring blooming trees.

white-petunias.jpgWhite petunias may be pedestrian, but they deliver.  This container gets barely 4 hours of indirect sun a day.  I would call that willing. Early season white perennials-I am picky.  Geranium lancastriense alba, anemone sylvestris, white variegated thyme, white siberian iris and white foxglove so well for me.  Plant choices are entirely based on what does well for me.  White poppies-so so.

white-geraniums.jpgWhite geraniums are beautiful.  That said, geraniums are heavy feeders.  They need to be deadheaded.  Their blooms are spoiled by rain-they need a daily once over.  What you have time for should guide your choices.

white-daisies.jpgThe wilding oxeye daisy, leucanthemum vulgare, is a favorite of mine.  I like its messy habit, and I don’t mind the seeding.  They are short and sweet.   Daisies are a flower form near and dear to my heart.  Shasta daisies, and boltonia are also white flowering daisies that are vigorous to boot. White cosmos are so beautiful-as is Queen Anne’s Lace.  I welcome gooseneck loosestrife in the garden, as long as it has a little shade and somewhat dry conditions to slow down its spread. Some white flowering plants ask for lots of room-sometimes more room than I have available at home.

white-hibiscus.jpgWhite flowering hardy hibiscus are very well behaved.  When they are happy, they form large clumps that bloom late in the year.  I have a special affection for late blooming white flowers.  My spring season is so busy at work, I barely have time to enjoy my garden at home. My Limelight hydrangeas might be my favorite late blooming white flowered plant.  I have 2 blocks of plants that are 12 years old.  They never fail to enchant. Late summer and fall perennials – including the hibiscus, white phlox,platycodon, and white Japanese anemone – these are crown growing perennials that are well suited for my garden.  I have a small urban property.  I limit my spreading white flowering plants to those plants that cover the ground.   Sweet woodriff and sagina can spread wherever they want.  Campanula carpatica alba is beautiful, but not long lived for me.  White peonies-breathtaking in the late May garden.

Sally-Holmes-roses.jpgI consider the rose Sally Holmes to be a white rose, though the buds are a warm peach.  These white flowers provide welcome relief to all of my pink roses.  I am partial to single white flowers.  The most magnificent of all the white single flowers-a mature sweet autumn clematis vine in full bloom.

white-Japanese-anemone.jpgPlanted between my roses, the white Japanese anemone, Honorine Jobert.  It may be my favorite flower.  Some years are better blooming than others, but it is entirely hardy.  Along with the asparagus and boltonia, they represent in spite of the roses.

Venus-dogwoods-blooming.jpgThough I doubt I would ever personally subscribe to an all white garden, I like what white flowers do for a garden.  They read from a distance. They are especially beautiful at dusk.  They shrug off a wearying heat.  White makes every other color so much more vibrant.  Cool, crisp, and fresh-that would be white.