A Favorite Place

I have my favorite places.  What makes for a favorite place?  A client with an eye for beauty and a committment to the garden.  A client who is always willing to try something new.  That said, an ancient and sparsely foliated scotch pine flanks the front door-Mr. will not now, and not ever,  let me touch it.  This too makes for a favorite place-strong feelings.  The Australian tree ferns I have wintered in a greenhouse for them for about 10 years.  We cut them back to the main trunk in the fall.  By spring they are leafing out vigorously.  This year I underplanted them thickly with maidenhair ferns.    

A pair of chimney pots got planted with an unknown begonia-I like the leaves.  The rusty colored hairs on the stems and backsides of the leaves look great with the rusty brown pots.  Lime licorice grows anywhere for me-sun or shade.  That pale chartreuse color will highlight those deep green leaves.

Planting day was a sunny day-so my pictures are not very good.  A lime, lavender, purple and yellow color scheme is enlivened with an occasion burgundy potunia-just for emphasis. Vinca maculatum will trail dowen long on the far side, as will the misty lilac wave petunias.

The small box got cactus flowered purple dahlias, purple angelonia (new this year) lanai blue trailing verbena, white petunias and lime licorice. 

A pot nearby has a yellow and peach bicolor dahlia, and a skirt of dark red violet trailing verbena.  I like the forms of the plants together as much as I like the color.  I like the contrast of the big dahlia leaves to the slight-sized verbena leaves.  Plants have visual relationships on a lot of levels.   

The centerpiece of this pot is a double (also known as hose in hose) datura.  I caution anyone who grows them-every part of a datura is poisonous.  The plants smell poisonous.  If you cultivate this beauty, wash your hands after you touch it.  Beyond the warning label lies a gorgeous big leaved plant with giant flowers.  A diminuitive white and lavender veined mini petunia against lime licorice is a cooly tart, and small textured mix.  The datura will be the star of the show.

The perennial garden at the pool is just coming to life.  The peonies are out, and the roses are not far behind.  The purple alliums show well from the second floor deck; this is a garden primarily viewed from above.  We add some nicotiana and verbena bonariensis between the tall perennials, and plant an annual border to soften the edge of the pool brick.  This year, showy oregano, appleblossom petunias and heliotrope will fill in and cover the soil.   

When my client asks for herb pots, she is really asking for basil pots.  I did a pair.  Leeks in the middle, and everbearing strawberries with pink flowers at the corners. Lots and lots of basil.  This I understand.  Its pungent smell and taste-irresistable.

This trio of pots feature an old variegated ivy topiary, and a single ball boxwood topiary.  The boxwood got an underplanting of variegated licorice; the third pot is stuffed with a dahlia.  The pots are from Francesca del Re in Italy.  The are very simple, handsome, and frostproof.  The clay is so loaded with minerals that the pots are very strong.  We make sure no water collects in them over the winter.  Freezing water expands as it becomes ice-this process can damage pots.  These terra cotta pots have been outside for a good many years.

This wildly natural rosemary has belonged to my client a long time. The only thing we prune is the rootball; this plant has a life of its own going on.  This year, we underplanted it with white polka dot plant-I think I am going to like this. 


My first project with this client many years ago involved digging up every plant she had, and rearranging. This took 2 days.  There were lots of projects after this-not the least of which was the most romantic garden wedding I have ever been involved with.  My client-she drove that bus.  The story of the driveway?  The drive needed to be enlarged; the original brick was no longer available.  We took up all of the old brick, and reused it with a new brick in an entirely different pattern.  All of the pale brick you see here is original.  The two colors of dark brick are new. It looks entirely believable; the mix of old and new reads as one thought.  The 12 year old waxleaf privet topiaries got planted back in their summer home-they are just about to bloom.  Most every bit of this garden-swell.

Beloved Boxwood

 


I can think of few plants that have a better service record than my beloved boxwood.  Properly cared for, they are very long lived.  Old boxwoods have an aura of age which only adds to their beauty.  They demand little, and give much.  Few broadleaved evergreens can tolerate our cold winters.  Though our nurseries are stuffed with blooming Catawbiense hybrid rhododendron in the spring, it is a constant battle to keep them happy and healthy.  They simply like Philadelphia better than Detroit.  Ilex, kalmia and the like suffer here as well.  The boxwood-they thrive.  I plant the very hardy Buxus microphylla hybrid Green Velvet; the winter color is as richly green as the summer.      

This giant untrimmed ball of buxus microphylla koreana has lived in this French terra cotta pot for 5 years.  We wheel it into the garage for the winter-to protect the pot, not the boxwood.  The garage has neither light nor heat-not a problem.  In March we wheel it back outside for another season.  Boxwood can be quite hardy in pots or windowboxes outdoors all winter; the container needs to be frostproof, and the maintenance thoughtful. The buxus microphylla which forms the hedge outside my shop will take on an orangy-olive color in the winter; this winter color is typical.  The front of the shop is a southern exposure.  The hedge has been there 12 years, and has yet to burn over a winter. Most of the hybrids of boxwood hardy in zone 5 come from this species.

Buxus Sempervirens, commonly called European, or Southern box, is the boxwood variety of my dreams.  Lush and large growing, they adapt easily to any sculptural pruning you might dream up. They can grow to twenty feet tall.   If you have seen the boxwood planted by Beatrix Farrand at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, you know how a boxwood planting can be sculpture.  Pruned into undulating cloud shapes, this planting is a showstopper.  I have seen this boxwood planted in ground in my zone, but a particularly vicious winter has the power to kill them. They are rated for zones 6-8; this rating means what it says. I therefore recommend using them in pots, and wintering them in an interior space. They only need an unheated space; you want them to go dormant, and only wake up when the worst of the winter is past. 

I rarely see boxwood topiary of size grown from a zone 5 hardy boxwood.  Boxwood is a relatively slow grower; it might take 7 years to get a cutting of Buxus Green Velvet” to 24″ tall. Boxwood in general are expensive.  Southern box grows faster in a mild climate, such as the Pacific northwest; they routinely flush growth twice there in a single season. As southern box is a big plant when mature, large scale topiaries such as these are usually grown from this variety.  A topiary this size, with a trunk caliper this large-very pricey.  But priceless in its return.  While it is an investment, your investment will grow and prosper over the years-what gardener could ask for more?   

This boxwood sphere with its attendant topknot/hairdo-what a great looking and very special plant.  You might grow topiary boxwood yourself from cuttings-it just takes years.  Any grower of nursery material-how incredibly patient they are. They can see the potential for a decently sized plant in a cutting.  But very large specimen boxwood such as these do not come along so often; most growers like to sell their material in a shorter time frame.  Now and then we will find a grower who has a love for growing unusually large or largely unusual plant material; these growers interest me. 


Boxwood is as happy in a supporting form as it is being the star of the show.  Their tolerance for clipping and shearing makes them an ideal formal evergreen hedging material, when a small hedge is desirable.  These large circular beds beds planted with tulips have a drama that would not be possible with tulips alone.  Their geometry and symmetry is an organizing metaphor for this particular garden.  The loose growing tulips have an excellent visual partner in the boxwood.

This is not to say boxwood is without its problems. The boxwood at the Chicago Botanic garden suffered terrible damage after last year’s winter-as the sign says. The boxwood in the front of my shop sustained damage much like this. In my case, huge snow loads, as well as freezing and thawing, weighed the plants down such that stems split, and allowed a fungal infection to invade.  Heartbreaking. 

These boxwood in my garden suffered similar damage-but I would not for one moment consider not growing them.  They are beautiful year round.  Gorgeous in growth.  Beautiful in the rain, or with fall leaves dusting their tops.  Beautiful as a topiary or a hedge.  Spectacular in pots.


They are a quietly handsome groundcover, under my Yellow Butterflies magnolias.   The day the petals fall to the boxwood-one of my favorite days of the gardening year.