Packing It All In

 My shop is stuffed to the rafters with all manner of ornament that I hope will enchant some gardener, given that they have already enchanted me. This seems to be working-we are busy.  Packed into this picture, a vintage handmade Italian pot, a French oval wine cask, and a mossed golden retriever.  Not that I would put these three even remotely near one another in a garden. I try to appeal to gardeners of all kinds.  No two gardeners look at anything the same; this is part of what interests me about gardening so much.  I try to represent lots of points of view. The plants-they apply equally to everyone.  

The ornament aside, the shop has some very new additions.  The glass roof room has become a temporary home for those plants that have no defense against weather turning for the worse-like these giant leaved farfugium.  Given that the overnight temperature tonight is forecast at 34 degrees, I cannot think of a better time to discuss the proper planting out of tender, marginal, or tropical plants.  “A primer on proper timing for planting out” could be the title of a discussion that could just as easily be described as “How to know when you are suffering from early planting derangement anxiety, and possible treatments”.  Should you think a lecture is looming, you are right.       

I am interested in each and every plant that it my good fortune to meet.  Cold tolerance has nothing to do with my interest.  Bring on the streptocarpus, the great looking pepperomias, the lotuses, the bananas, the Australian tree ferns, the Solenia begonias and the coleus standards.  But discretion is the better part of valor where bringing on is concerned.  

Michigan is famous for its late frosts; any Michigan gardener can recall snow on Mother’s Day-not to mention Memorial Day. Our balmy spring dating back to late March has the power to make all of us act stupid now.  Not that we needed any encouragement; I am so ready-aren’t you?  I have cleaned too early, smashed emerging shoots, disturbed what was not really awake, been so far ahead I was actually behind-I am a person who is eminently capable of bad moves, who happens to have a passion for gardening. 

I bought flats of short dahlias a few days ago-I could not resist. No doubt they are 3 weeks from a safe planting date.  So I have them stashed in a warm place. They are a new hybrid with better rebloom. Who could resist their cheer?  My longing to plant them out-roll your eyes, as you should.  From May 5 to May 15, I use the no word more often than any other time of the year.   

All of those plants that need weather protection clog my shop right now.  No matter how excited I am to get them integrated into the garden, nature rules the day. People walk through the front door of the shop in shorts and flip flops all the time when it is but 37 degrees. Fine for those people; they have legs to get them someplace warm.  The plants-they depnd on you.   The plants depend on your accurate timing and placement.  Should you think that the weather applies only to your neighbors, or some other community, or not to you at all-be prepared to be disappointed.  

My friends in the garden center industry can document sales of vegetable plants-twice a season.  What they sell too early, they sell again.  Though I am not shy with the no word, I am an advisor, not a parent. Should you need to have a spring garden, engineer one.  Plenty of plants tolerate mid April to late May conditions. Spring flowering bulbs-make friends.  You gain nothing from a too early planting-you may in fact be set back in such a way that ends up discouraging you.  I am very committed to every person who walks through my door being encouraged to try, grow-and be successful.    

Cold sensitive plants are all about soil temperature, not air temperature.  Should the dirt be freezing to your fingers, back off.  Ignore the air temperature; it takes time to warm the soil. At what date is the soil temperature 50 degrees-much later than you think.  Ignore the daytime temps-watch the nights.  Below 50 degrees-stressful to annuals and tropicals. My belief-any cold sensitive plant planted into too cold soil too early, languishes, and never really recovers. Annual plants planted too early burn out early.  Wait a May week in spite of your readiness to leap out of the box; reap your gardening pleasure way long into the fall.  Patience early will reward you in the stretch.      

The sun in the the glass roof room late this afternoon-beautiful. Indoors, there was no hint of the high winds, and the cold.  Just the rays.  I do not plant my pots until the second week of June every year.  The two weeks I wait makes me months ahead. My advice-wait until the rays warm your soil.  Wait for the rays.

White Trees


Some years ago I landscaped a gated community in our area.  I put all my visual bets on groves of scotch pine, and Himalayan white-barked birch.  Pinus Sylvestris and Betula Jacquemontii-sounds like an engagement announcement to me.  Both trees like sun, and perfectly drained soil.  The birch likes cool moist soil; a placement in a lawn panel that gets regular water.  The Scotch pine-placed ever so slightly out of range of the overhead irrigation-in drier locations.

Both species are doing just fine, but no doubt the Himalayan is the looker of the pair.  The whitest barked of all the birch, that white bark is evident at a very early age-unlike other species that have to grow up into the white. The striking color of this bark puts it on my dance card of white trees I  like to waltz around with.  Very susceptible to the bronze birch borer, they need care-just like everything else that is so worth the trouble.  

White flowering trees make the spring landscape spectacular.  The magnolias first up, the apples, the Bradford pears, the crabapples-the list of white spring flowering trees is considerable.  They bloom before they have foliage.  Take a minute to think about that phenomena.  Asleep all winter, they burst forth with their show like they have 10 minutes to live. This year the blooming was especially heavy.  I am not a big fan of Bradford pears, but my favorite thing about them is when their topmost branches start to green up, while the rest of the tree is still in bloom.  A gorgeous spring phase.

My dogwoods are coming on strong now. Cornus Florida-when they are good, they are excellent, and when they are bad, they are horrid.  I have one tree in the grove with 2 flowers-go figure.  They fade from fungus over the summer. They perpetually look wilted, and unhappy.  But today, I have no complaints.  The flowers keep me coming back for more. 

I have a particular interest in single flowers, for whatever reason.  Bloodroot, white hellebores, dogwood, white annual phlox, white pansies, daisies, Peony Krinkled White, white poppies, Nicotiana alata, Japanese anemones-you get the idea.  White single flowers are especially beautiful.  So simple, elegant, and satisfying to the eye.

The Venus dogwood is no doubt the most spectacular white flowering tree on the planet.  A cross between the Pacific dogwood, Cornus Nuttalli, and Cornus Kousa, it has the great characteristics of each, in addition to great hardiness, a fast growth rate, and the most spectacular white flowers I have ever seen.  The trees at the shop were in bloom a full month last year, start to finish.

The foliage is large and lush.  They do not fruit to speak of, which doesn’t turn me away from them much.  I like that I can place them in full sun in my zone, and see them thrive.  You can see the size of the trunk in this picture; even an immature tree puts on quite a show.

I typically buy them as 1″ or 1.5″ caliper trees in 25 gallon pots.  This makes it easier for a home gardener to plant them-although  those pots are terrifically heavy.  Even at this early age, each tree will sport upwards of 300 flowers.  Though magnolias can be every bit as willing to bloom, they are fussy about weather conditions.  In a warm year, they may drop their flowers in an instant.

The willingness to grow vigorously and bloom heavily for a long time makes “Venus” my favorite white tree. The trees at the shop are small, and quite green right now; they have inherited that later bloom characteristic from the Kousa parentage.  If you like dogwoods, a Venus will greatly extend the spring bloom season beyond Cornus Florida time. The Venus season is just about to begin.

This was my red white and blue view the other day.

Best Spring Ever

Our winter was benign, and left early, never to return.  Our spring has been balmy, even tempered.  I can only think of two nights where I worried about frost.  It shows.  Early spring bulbs were beautiful.  Flowering trees woke up and represented early. My hellebores, congested with blooms.   Cool nights are making every spring statement essay length.  My old tree form wisteria is gorgeous right now. In its vining form, wisteria can be a colossal irritation.  It grows too fast. It frequently refuses to bloom, after all the work you might do to feed, water, and prune properly.  It crushes anything but the strongest support. Rumor has it that some ancient estate in the south has been completely engulfed by a wisteria vine covering acres. Like I said, just a rumor from my early gardening years that I have never forgotten.  Is not any wisteria story believable?   But this year-the wisteria blooming makes me understand why gardeners put up with them.   

The tree form isolates those uncivilized and fast growing tendrils from the community at large, and keeps all their mischief confined to their own home.  My first wisteria tree was a one gallon whip; I planted the tiny thing with nothing but lawn around it for blocks. I drove 3 galvanized steel stakes into the ground as far as Fred from next door could manage.  Within a year I was tying the trunk to my steel tripod with nylon stockings. The first five years-not a good look.  My green vining version of Cousin It, bound to those silver poles-bizarre looking.  Of course, there were no flowers.  Neighbors would occasionally ask me what my intent was with that plant.         

The 6th year, my tree wisteria bust forth with hundred of fragrant lavender racemes-all of them dripping to impossible lengths.  Thousands of pea-like flowers, weeping in the most breathtaking way you could imagine. I laid down on the ground under that tree, and looked up through those flowers to the sky-a perfect gardening moment.  This spring, the wisteria is blooming everywhere-heavily.  The perfume, heady.  

Not all evidence of a great spring is so dramatic.  My old Picea Mucrunulatum have pushed forth very long candles this year.  They are going for broke.  This new evergreen growth I call spring green.  Everywhere I see plants growing robustly; they have all been coached by the mild winter season, and the milder spring.  Some years we have had no spring. An extreme winter is replaced by an equally extreme summer.  I so understand why the gardens, and the gardeners in England take my breath away.  A gentle and moderate climate is the best dance partner any gardener could ever hope for. 

The tulips at the shop are in their glory right now. Their incredible size and height I attribute to a benign frozen dormancy, and regular soaking spring rains.  Juicy. My asparagus this year-divine.

Our early spring plantings show no signs of being under siege from overly cold temperatures.  The in ground plantings have grown and thickened up; the blooming is profuse.  In this limestone pot, the new Alyssum “Snow Princess”.  A new variety that has gotten much press at trial-I will give it a try.  That distinctive alyssum spring smell-I got the message from fully ten feet away.

The crabapples have been outstanding.  The flowers on this coralburst crab-dense.  A coralburst has a naturally round lollipop shape-in bloom, they will make you smile.  This spring, our spring-every gardeners smile is a broad one. 

As Janet would say, this particular spring has been so beautiful, one could fall to the ground and weep.  That’s the kind of gardener she is.   As for me, it has been everything I ever imagined, and more.  The best spring, ever.

Those Other Places

The next in my series about containers is about those other places that might ask for pots besides the front door.  I alluded to this in my last post; containers can be a vastly more civilized and interesting version of a road sign, bollard or directional symbol.  In this case, they say please do not park on the sidewalk.  They are also providing fresh lettuce for spring salads.

I do have a thing about driveways, and their landscape.  Those places that people drive out of, and up to, every day-it is a very important space.  I may not cruise my entire garden start to finish every day-but I drive out and up  that driveway-daily.  At the end of my driveway-a little garden punctuated with containers.  They say, welcome home Deborah. Those flags and brass band greet me every night.  In the summer, the corgis go right up those steps into the garden-no garage door entry for them.  Those pots make the transition from my day, to my garden, a pleasure.

A terrace that is big enough to hold a dining table and chairs, lounge chairs and a coffee table, a chaise or two, the grill-a big space.  By this I mean that my deck terrace is bigger than my dining room.  A pool terrace might be three times this. Terraces ask for some punctuation, enclosure-some balance.  Great containers and beautiful plantings can transform a terrace into a garden. I am a lunatic gardener-my terrace is home to 14 containers-maybe more.  When I have dinner outdoors, I am in the garden.

My shop has a very simple landscape.  Linden trees in the ground, and gravel.  That’s all.  This may sound sleepy, but Detroit Garden Workds is in fact a very lively place.  Containers, urns, pots, boxes-everywhere.  It is my idea to visually explain to people that a planted container is in fact a garden.  An alternative garden to those planted in ground-but a garden none the less. Should you have a spot that needs some punch without the dirt space and hoopla that a garden requires-consider a container.  Would you guess these hyacinths and alyssum were planted in a vintage collander?

A few not at all fancy containers casually placed on this old bench -a good look.

I put them at the road, next to the mailbox.  On the terrace.  At the end of the drive.  In the middle of the lawn.  In a bed of pachysandra-or in this case-boxwood.   On the terrace.  On the pool deck. On the outdoor dinner table.  Next to the back door. At the four corners of the rose garden.  Between the car bays.  At the entrance to a garden room. 

Containers mark the entrance to a space.  They enrich the terrace where you have dinner in the summer.  They advise guests how to get to the door.  They greet you when you get home.  Try some.