At A Glance: Dog Days of Summer











Grooming for the Long Haul

I hear too often from people that their pots peter out in August. There is no need for that, barring your dog unearthing them, or a hailstorm. I usually take my pots apart in November, as I am just plain tired of taking care of them. But here’s my formula for longevity through August and beyond. First off, water, and water properly-which can mean, water even when you don’t feel like it. This means soak your pots, and then let them get dryish before you water again. Secondly, deadhead regularly; do not let you annual flowers go to seed.

Here’s the biology behind the scenes. Annual plants by definition are plants that grow, flower, and set seed in one season. An annual which has successfully set seed has no biological reason to continue to flower. For those of you who think annuals bloom so the world will be a more beautiful place, here here. These plants flower for the purpose of reproduction-to insure the continuation of the species. If you prevent an annual from setting seed, it will continue to flower. There are plenty of flowers which are sterile, and do not set seed; they are popular for exactly this reason. Trailing verbena, on the other hand, will go out of flower quickly, if it is not deadheaded.

july_31aaa_001Plants grow in, and the room can get crowded. If the giant leaves of this nicotiana are allowed to shade the petunia, said petunia will pout, and finally give up. Removing leaves, or branches so everyone has a sunny spot, is good group management. A pot or window box is no place for a bully running amok. No one will like the result-  least of all, you.

july_31aaa_011Try not to overwater. Put your finger down into the dirt. If the dirt sticks to you, there is probably enough moisture. Rotting leaves are unsightly. Worse yet, an environment that is too wet is an invitation to every fungus floating by, looking for a good home. Licorice likes dry conditions. Should you have been so bold to plant it next to an annual that loves water and more water, you’ve engineered a situation where individual plants in a community pot have to be watered on different schedules.  This is not tough, just time-consuming.

july_31aaa_015Annuals need pruning, just like shrubs and trees. Pruning the flowers from your coleus plants result in densely growing coleus. Pruning plants at different heights gives everyone breathing room. Once a group of plants are put together in one pot, or one area, they take on a collective life. Sun, water and space have to be shared. And whatever the individual plants, you want an overall shape that looks great. july_31aaa_017
Plants that are healthy resist disease. Healthy means properly watered, fed, pruned and managed. If you do get a fungus, remove the diseased portions as soon as you can. Remove lower leaves in the interiors of your pots to promote good air circulation. Prevention is a lot easier that treatment. Sometimes weather conditions foster disease; I will spray with a fungicide if I have to. Safer’s soap will get rid of some insect pests-the trick is to apply 3 rounds, not one. Spider mites are notoriously difficult to get rid of. I avoid certain types of mandevilleas as they are so prone to them.

july_31aaa_012My beloved boxwood hedge was attacked this spring by a fungus called Volutella-I was beside myself over the damage. I had to get an expert to identify it for me; I have never seen this on boxwood before. We cleaned out, and raked up every dead leaf, and pruned out every infected branch with shears that were disinfected after each cut. Next spring I will spray for it. Imagine being a greenhouse grower-where plant illnesses and insects can threaten a livlihood. Most growers that I know practice close inspection of their plants, so they catch problems early. They also feed their plants; strong plants resist trouble. Once every seven to ten days I make sure my pots are thoroughly watered, then I liquid- feed them with a water soluble fertilizer with a big middle number (15-30-15) to encourage good flower production. This acts like a shot of vitamin B-12. Then I hold off watering as long as I can, so the plants take up the nutrients, before they get flushed out by the next round of watering.

There will be those times when no amount of good growing practices and cultures will result in a good plant. Don’t be afraid to yank something that is clearly beyond rescue. Perfection applies only to diamonds and moments, remember?


urban11It was Henry Mitchell who wrote that defiance is what makes gardeners; I believe him.  Everyone who works for me gardens.  It is interesting to see what they make, and how they use their voice.  This loft right downtown in Pontiac is home to Lauren Hanson; she works in the store. It is one of many buildings in the area in various states of disrepair and dereliction.  But it is obvious she has an idea about how to live and garden. Defiantly.

urban3She is young, and has adventuresome ideas.  She tells me she likes living in this loft, that it has so much more presence and attitude than a suite of rooms in an apartment building.  This urban location doesn’t dismay her in the least; she is energized by it. A friend built her a windowbox for the floor of her mini-deck, and she planted flowers in very lively colors.  The mossed baskets in the windows take some of the edge off the bars on the windows.

urban5When Lauren has a design idea, she figures out how to get there with materials she spots at house sales and thrift shops.  The planted galvanized florist’s buckets hanging from the railing look sassy, and sensational.  They are a great shape, and the silver sheen repeats the color and shine of blue sky reflecting off the windows glass.  She tells me she will live here until she finds a house she can buy. In the meantime, she has made this loft a home , with a very good looking  garden.  All the plants are well grown, and kept up.  She is of independent mind, and she has a great spirit; this is unusual people her age. She has her own ideas about what’s good, and what’s important.  Even more impressive, she’s self effacing to a fault; my customers really like her.  She has made it her business to learn about plants, and their care, so she can help people.  She’s made an effort to become knowledgable about what we have-this you cannot hire.

urban4Number 43 is not only occupied, but it is occupied by an urban pioneer who gardens. She has big ideas, and good things ahead of her. This very petite blond woman hauls around forty pound bags of soil like its nothing. She looks after our plants and pots.  She photographs everything we have, and maintains our website.  She does the work of the posting for me. Like I said, she has a fire burning all of her own making; it will be interesting to see where she takes that.


Celebrating the Long View


This client had an existing landscape notable for its good bones. Sited on a small urban lot, it had good screening from the neighboring properties.  But what I liked the best were the long bluestone walkways.  The view from the sidewalk was marked by a beautifully done walk, flanked by four boxwood parterres. Though they cannot be seen in this picture, lindens and yews do a great job of enclosing the property at the sidewalk, and focusing the eye on the long view to the porch.  I could not have done this better.  My only addition, a pair of hand carved concrete pots with just enough of a contemporary feeling to provide some compliment to the architecture of the house.  The striking color of this house transforms it; this is the hand of her interior designer Ann Heath, whose design firm Duncan Fuller does better than beautiful work.

views5Another long bluestone walk set parallel to the house runs  almost the entire length of the rear yard.  The boxwood you see in this picture had been planted parallel to the walk.  I dug every last one of them up, and replanted them in runs perpendicular to the walk.  Why?  The walkway strongly makes a description of that north/south direction and dimension-planting boxwood next to it doen’t make it stronger, or more interesting.  Replanting the boxwood perpendicular to the house, encourages visitors to the garden to slow down, and view the gardens.  The boxwood is associated with the gardens now, and makes those areas stronger visually.  The walk needed no such help.

views1Each end of that walk has its center of interest.  A beautiful hand made Italian terra cotta pot on a pedestal can be viewed from the dining table at the other end.  Guests entering the garden from the south see the dining table centered in their view.  This announces the location of the terrace, and presents that table as a sculptural element, in addition to its function.

views9The terrace furniture is kept company by a number of planted pots.  These pots help make the larger garden an integral part of the terrace.  The Palabin lilacs on standard are a crisp contrast to the profusion of the garden and pots.

views6This long view is inviting; the boxwood placement invites lingering.  This is much the same idea as a wedding coordinator instructing the bridal party how to take their time getting down the aisle.  There is no need to rush.

views10I have talked plenty about how much presence and personality great pots can add to a landscape.  They help to create a sense of intimacy on a terrace.  They are just plain good to look at.

views7The bones of a garden are so important.  This arborvitae screen at the end of this walk, and the walk  itself ,are always there, functional and well-designed. This structure will be transformed by weather, season and light; there is interest there.  In this landscape, the supporting cast members along the way make this garden much more than just about getting from one place to another. 

views11It’s impossible to tell that I am standing in the soccer lawn, taking this picture.  This small property has spaces for a whole family. Limelight hydrangeas back up the garden, and help keep the soccer ball on the lawn field, and out of the garden.

views3The short south side walk is decomposed granite.  Window boxes of painted galvanized sheet metal run the entire length of what is a sun porch. This part of the garden is viewed primarily from inside; the flowers in the window bring a whole other dimension to the interior space.  These Persian Queen geraniums bloom profusely in this sunny protected spot. Fragaria “Lipstick” carpets the ground under the boxes.

views12For anyone who might love flowers and lots of them,, this garden is a delight.