garden in August (1) By the time August comes around, I am ready to take a vacation from the work of my garden, and just enjoy it. In May I might renovate a spot that has gotten a little tired or overgrown. I added a new strip of pachysandra this year in the fountain garden. The yews have grown a lot, and the grass is not happy in their shade. For better or for worse, I make decisions about what to plant in my pots, and get them planted.  In June, the problems generated by the previous winter become obvious.  Replacements go in the ground. 4 all but dead rhododendrons get removed. In the case of my rose garden which finally completely succumbed to the insult of two bitterly cold winters, I decided to do nothing. We not only need a new roof this fall, we need a place to shovel off the old roof.

garden in August (2)
When the weather finally warms up in July, I might start watering here and there. I do not run my sprinkler system on a regular program.  I water what I think needs to be watered.  I only rarely run all of the zones at once. Once the water goes on, broken heads, or a need for a change in coverage become obvious. Sprinkler repairs-July work.The seasonal pots begin to settle in, and put down roots.

garden in August (6)Once August comes, I want to take the time to enjoy the garden.  The watering and maintenance of the pots is not a chore.  I enjoy that.  It is a perfect way to wind down from the day. I water. I tinker with this or that leaf that needs to be removed. The maintenance of the pots is about falling in to the pleasure of a garden. I sweep up all of the maple helicopters.  I make the effort to appreciate what is there, and not worry about what should be there.  Fall is a much better time to make changes in a landscape. Mid seventies during the day, and upper fifties at night is not the norm for Michigan in August.  Why not enjoy that? A temperate August in Michigan is a gift that should be treasured. Buck and I visit each garden every day after work. The corgis come along. This August is temperate.  We are eating outdoors every night.  No matter the menu, there is always Michigan grown corn and tomatoes.

garden in August (3)Even the simplest spots that are completely familiar look good to me. Most of the plants have been there a long time, and seem happy.  Those that aren’t will be dealt with some other time.  Right now is for what is good about it. I feel like I am on vacation when I am home, and that seems like a good thing.

garden in August (4)So why is my August garden vacation on my mind?  I met with a client late last week who just days ago moved into a new house.  The house she left was a beautiful turn of the century home on a big piece of property.  She had invested an incredible amount of time in the landscape and gardens. The decision to move was a family decision.  Decisions like this are made by people all the time, including those people who have a passion for, and work the garden. Most people have important obligations and commitments, and that includes gardening people.

garden in August (5)She has only been in her new house for a few days. The property is astonishingly large. There are some old trees, and lawn as far as the eye can see. The house is almost completely obscured by overgrown shrubs. A typical suburban foundation planting had been left to its own devices. In one spot was the largest and tallest stand of Canada thistle I have ever seen. The house had not been occupied for quite some time, and that landscape had been neglected.      garden in August (12)She did tell me quite a bit about the garden she had just left. How she had planted all of the landscape and gardens herself, and how she managed to maintain it, in addition to having a job and family to look after. That discussion was about more than her loss.  It was about helping me to understand what had been important to her. I did not ask her what trees, shrubs and perennials she liked.  I did not ask her about color or style.  I wanted to know why she called me.

DSC_2446She answered without hesitating.  She told me she was a gardener, and not a designer.  What she was looking for from me was a plan.  An outline of how to go about creating a landscape and garden that would make her new house feel like a home. A way of making sense of 2.5 acres of wide open space. She knows as well as I do how much time and effort that will take. She already has a plan to remove all of the overgrown foundation plantings this fall.  Her August will be very different than mine.

garden in August (13)That said, I could sense her resolve. I could tell that she has the energy to take on a project of this size, and see it through. She is a gardener, after all. With some time and thought, I think I can provide her with a place to dig in. She is counting on me for that, and I plan to give it to her.

DSC_2431Her situation is not unknown to me. When I was her age, I had a new house and property.  For years I did nothing to it.  I was too busy getting Detroit Garden Works off the ground, and tending to my landscape practice. But there came a time when I wanted to make time for it.  That was all it took.  If this client wants to make time for it on day two of her possession of the new house, you can rest assured she is serious. She will make something beautiful and interesting of her property.

garden in August (8)
When I got home later that day, I was glad I had persisted over a period of years making a landscape and garden.  It was, and is, worth it. On top of this, a new client whose love of the garden is a call I will do my best to answer.

garden in August (14)On my deck today, many shades of green. On my mind, an avid gardener with a new house lacking a landscape.

garden in August (9)
Tonight, I have little in the way of obligations. On a Sunday in August, I do my best to enjoy the fruits of all of my work. The deck pots look good to me.

DSC_2410boxes on the north side

DSC_2413bird’s nest ferns

garden in August (15)a  big spike, growing.

DSC_2200the side garden

garden in August (11)hydrangeas coming into bloom

garden in August (16)lantana on standard

garden in August (18)This is the August news from #35.

Those Other Hydrangeas

hydrangea Annabelle (7)My previous post about hydrangeas was narrow in scope.  Annabelle hydrangeas, or hydrangea arborescens “Annabelle” are commonly known as smooth hydrangeas. Their giant spherical flower heads are identifiable from a block away.  They have an annoying tendency to flop over.  Like peonies, their giant flower heads can topple an entire stem in a strong storm. That aside, they are showy. They bloom on new wood. Most encouraging of all for gardeners in my zone? They are both plant and bud hardy to zone 3.

limelight hydrangea hedgeLimelight hydrangea, or hydrangea paniculata “Limelight” is  hardy to zone 4.  The flowers are cone shaped.  The stems are incredibly strong, and upright. The flowers are not truly white-they are a lime green verging on white. They also bloom on new wood.  This means the flowers are set on the current year’s growth. A bad winter will not impact the flowering. The 4-5 foot version, Little Lime, is just as strong and hardy as Limelight.  The diminutive Limelight cousin,  “Bobo”,  grows 2 to 3 feet tall-and is entirely hardy.

all summer beauty hydrangeaThis said, I have had lots of clients express an interest in pink, or blue hydrangeas. Can you hear me sighing?  The All summer Beauty hydrangeas, both in ground and about to be planted,that you see above, is known as a mophead hydrangea. As in hydrangea macrophylla. The mophead hydrangeas are most easily grown in zone 6- 8. Truly. It is easy to see in the above picture that my client’s “All Summer Beauty” hydrangeas died all the way back to the ground as a result of our very cold winter. Hydrangea macrophylla blooms on old wood.  In early May, I could see that these hydrangeas had no live wood above ground, meaning there would be no June bloom on them. It would be a green summer for these hydrangeas- unless the plants would throw a few blooms on the new wood.

endlesssummerShocking this zone 6-8 business. All Summer Beauty hydrangea was introduced with great fanfare. They bloom on the previous year’s wood, but they also bloom on the current year’s wood. This was good news for hydrangea growers in northern climates. We had hopes that pink and blue hydrangeas would work for us.  I find that the bloom on new wood is sparse at best. The heavy bloom is the June bloom.

hydrangea_articleThe reality of the mopheads is that they promise a lot, and deliver not so much. Success with them is varied.  It is not so easy to figure what conditions will produce reliable blooming.The majority of the June  bloom resides in the previous year’s wood – wood that needs to  survive the winter. If you are growing All Summer Beauty, do not prune in the fall. A fall pruning removes flower buds.  Site your mopheads out of the way of the wind.  If you are mophead driven, be prepared to protect your plants over the winter.

July 13, 2012 035I do have a number of clients in Grosse Pointe.  This is a metropolitan Detroit community situated along Lake St. Clair. The mopheads I see on the west side are great once in a great while.  In this community, I see pink and blue hydrangeas blooming profusely every year.  I can only surmise that the water is a mitigating circumstance.  Water side gardens cool off  very slowly in the fall.  Plants enter the dormant stage slowly.  A big lake is slow to warm up in the spring, and protects garden plants from precipitous drops in spring temperatures.  A lake nearby is a blanket, both fall and spring. The big lake side gardens are most surely a zone 6 – maybe warmer. This is my guess.

blue hydrangeas
I have one client whose stand of mophead hydrangeas are gorgeous every year. Only one, I might add.  I really have no idea why they bloom so beautifully. I was advised that this cultivar is Nikko Blue, but this information is anecdotal.  I did not plant these. They were in place when I came to work for her. They are reliable in bloom, every year.  My other clients with mopheads have lots of green years, punctuated by flowering years now and then.  Some repeated successes I ascribe to a serious program of winter protection.

[wallcoo]_hydrangea_picture_4(1)I will say I have never seen hydrangeas other than white bloom like this.  If you have a big love for hydrangeas, research any plant you have a mind to purchase.  You need to know what species of hydrangea is the parent, and how to properly prune it. You need to cast a critical eye towards that place you plan to site them.  Is it near a house wall? Is the intended planting in a windy and exposed location?

July 13, 2012 039When a mophead hydrangea is happy, it is very very happy.

FullSizeRenderA good client emailed me this picture yesterday.  He saw these hydrangeas in bloom in Rhode Island.  Could he grow them in his garden?  This is a lace cap hydrangea which like the mophead, is hydrangea macrophylla.  It will suffer from bud loss from spring frosts, a too late pruning and a too cold winter in the same way as the mopheads. As beautiful as they are, they will not reliably like being planted in a Michigan garden. If they are killed back to the ground over the winter, they can come back-but the bloom will be very sparse. I doubt my client would have much luck with these.

hydrangeas Aug 15 2013 (17)I do not have much experience with hydrangeas other than white. I have a preference for hydrangeas that wholeheartedly like my zone. Were I dead set on having them, I would experiment to see what location in the garden was the most friendly to good flowering.  Some of the newer varieties may be more hardy for you than others. There are so many varieties available to choose from.  Perhaps there is one that will work in your garden.


hydrangeas and boltoniaNo discussion of a summer landscape in the mid west is complete without a a discussion about hydrangeas. Simply said, a hydrangea is a large leaved blowsy shrub noted for its spectacularly showy flowers. I should preface my remarks about hydrangeas with my point of view about shrubs in general. I am keen for any shrub that can endow a landscape. I find that shrubs perform year after year, with a minimum of maintenance. Some medium sized shrubs-as in spirea-not only tolerate being cut to the ground in the spring, they spring back and bloom without missing a beat. Other shrubs not only tolerate uninformed pruning, they thrive in spite of it. New cultivars of dwarf shrubs-I am thinking dwarf butterfly bush – amiably adapt to small gardens. Big shrubs can screen an untoward view.  Shrubs have a decently long life span. They ask little, and provide a lot.

limelight hydrangeas They bridge the gap between the perennials that are below eye level, and the trees that are above eye level.  A yearly pruning takes the place of the long list of care requirements that perennials require. Shrubs do take a lot of room, so if you garden is small, be discriminating in your choices. Hydrangeas are as friendly to a perennial garden as they are to a stand of trees. They can add weight to a garden. Lime Light hydrangeas sport greenish white cone shaped flowers that can back up a perennial garden. They have a long season of bloom.  Their twigs are sturdily upright.

hydrangea Annabelle (2)The hydrangea Annabelle has been in bloom since June in my zone.  This is a stellar year for them.  Everywhere I see them, they are standing up fairly straight, and loaded with blooms.  I have never been a big fan of the Annabelles. Their tendency to flop over demands careful staking way in advance of the growing and flowering. What a nuisance.  This year, all those giant white blooms look great wherever I see them.  Staked, and not staked.  In sun, and in shade.  I suspect our heavy and regular rain has been really good for them.

the landscape in July (2)I planted 3 rows of annabelles and 2 rows of Lime lights in this garden this spring-so the hydrangea bloom time will be long.  5 rows of hydrangeas is an embarrassment of riches in hydrangeas.  The Annabelles, to the left, gracefully drooping over a rustic boulder wall, start blooming in June. The taller and more vertical growing back stop of Lime light hydrangeas begin to bloom in late July. This garden is at least 150 feet from a rear terrace.  All of that white will read well from a distance. Unseen in this picture-a perennial garden with a lavish white coat of hydrangeas backing it up.

hydrangea gardenI placed the 3 rows of Annabelle hydrangeas just behind this rock wall.  Their inclination to droop will soften this wall. They will provide a graceful and warm backdrop to the perennials in front of the wall. The Limelights in the rear were invisible when they were planted.  But by next year they will provide another taller layer of white to the perennial garden.

hydrangeas needing waterHydrangeas do not like dry soil. These Annabelles are in sore need of water. They may flower, but the flowers will burn without regular irrigation.  If your hydrangeas have leaves that are turning yellow and dropping on the interior, get out the hose and soak them.

hydrangea BoboI also grow Little Lime hydrangeas, which top out at 4-5 feet, and the shortest of the Limelight series-Bobo.  At 30 inches tall, they are perfect for a small garden. Or for a foreground garden that needs to be low. They are a good choice for those moments in the landscape that asks for a plant that is short and wide. This hydrangea takes to perennial neighbors like a duck to water. The white flowers highlight and set off all of the other colors in a garden.

limelights 2013 (7)I prune my Lime lights in April.  I wait until I see the buds swelling.  I usually prune my 50 plants back to 30″ tall – give or take. Every other year. I do not prune them down near the ground. Really hard pruning results in fewer, and bigger flowers. I am not interested in bigger flowers. I like lots of medium sized flowers. I like my Lime Lights at home very tall-they are faced down by an old hedge of Hicks yews.  Some years I snip the old flower heads off, and leave them be.  Light pruning means you will get long woody legs. The following year, I may take them down to 30″  My yews cover those old legs.  If your hydrangeas are front and center, take them down closer to 30″. Irregularly.  Prune each branch individually, so every branch has its own air and light space. You can prune down to 14″ above ground-if you dare.  Do not go lower than this.  Forcing growth from below ground is hard on a shrub.

August 28 2013 (8)I have had a lot of questions regarding the proper spacing of Lime Light hydrangeas. I would say there is no proper, or right spacing. The spacing chosen has to do with the design intent. I space them at 30″or 36″ on center, if my intent is to create a dense and homogeneous hedge. Close spacing means that the entire length and width of the hedge grows and prospers as one organism.  The individual plants intertwine, and become one. I have never seen a hydrangea hedge that resented this spacing.  A spacing at 6 feet is an option.  But this row will never read as a hedge.  It will read as thick and thin. Wavy. I have had clients space them at 6 feet one year, and add an intervening plant the next year.

September 19 2014 (64)Hedging hydrangeas make a very strong statement.  A lone hydrangea as a foundation planting always looks alone, and gawky.  Great landscapes gracefully integrate individual plants in service of a greater whole. I like to mass hydrangeas. A showy shrub such as this-plant lots of them. Build your gardens around them. Be generous.

hydrangeas in SeptemberIn late September, the Lime Light blooms will begin to pink up. This color is a sign that the season is coming to a close.

Oct 17 2011 001In October, the pink deepens.  This view out from my rose garden is a view I treasure from  July through October.  The dry flower heads stay put all winter long. The list of plants that do well in my zone is long, and varied.  The delight this shrub furnishes to me is very long and varied.  I would not do without them – the hydrangeas.




The Garden Tour

IMG_0820Our garden tour to benefit the Greening of Detroit was a successful event.  We sold 278 tickets, for both the tour, and the tour and reception. We raised close to 13,000.00 for the Greening.  This may not seem like so much, but over the past 8 years, this amounts to 97,000.00. We have been persistent in our support of them, as well we should.  For those of you that are too far away to attend our cruise, there are pictures to follow.  That said, I am so pleased that we had gardeners from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and Washington DC attend our tour.  I could not be more pleased about the attendance, the tour-and the fabulous afterglow Rob and his group put on after the tour.  To follow are pictures from our tour day.

IMG_0818These clients have shopped at Detroit Garden Works since the first day we went into business 19 years ago.  Their landscape is all their own.  Their love of color is extraordinary. They have children, to whom they have dedicated a child friendly garden.  I so admire their landscape and garden, as they have expressed themselves with great confidence and care. They have a point of view, and they are unabashed about expressing it. Their garden was the subject of much talk-as it should be.





DSC_1996This property belongs to a new client.  We rearranged just about every plant they had. We added lots more. Just this spring. We arranged to have a long wall built in the mid ground of the back yard. My crew did an incredible job, making lots of changes.  I so treasure these clients.  Thy were ready for a change. They studied our ideas, and signed up. A change we did-in short order. The new landscape has great bones.  They will decide where they want to go next.



the landscape in July (14)

July 5 2015 (11)

the landscape in July (6)

July 5 2015 (38)

DSC_1990The relationship with this client dates back 20 years. The landscape features many specimen trees that have grown to great size. Like all of the other gardens on the cruise, the landscape is a mix of formal and informal, and beautifully maintained. Though we have redone a few places recently, it is clear that an older landscape, properly planted, ages well.





DSC_1964This landscape of our design took two seasons to install. Our client is an avid gardener. Her love of the garden drove the design. This landscape featured unusual trees, shrubs, and espaliers. Every square foot of this property is devoted to the plants.  I was interested that all the plants be part of a beautiful design.







DSC_1906This landscape belongs to clients who have shopped Detroit Garden Works for the last 20 years. The landscape is all of their design.  They have the most beautiful collection of fine garden urns we know of in one place-all of which came from our shop. We have consulted on the landscape on occasion. But what you see here is by and large of their own invention.  How they invent is extraordinary.  We are so pleased to be associated with them.






DSC_1898Our garden cruise this year was all I could ask from a garden tour. A diverse group of gardeners who have a passion for the landscape.  Every garden was strikingly different.  But every garden spoke to a love for the landscape.  Oh yes, they did.