The 2013 Garden

January-garden.jpgIt doesn’t seem possible that almost 365 days have gone by since I took this picture in January of 2012.  I recollect that we had almost nothing in the way of snow cover last winter; this modest January snow was a welcome relief from the winter grays.  But what interested me most was how the snow illustrated the pruning practices of this particular gardener.  This privet hedge has been sheared flat, and just above the previous year’s growth, for at least the past 3 years.  It is a paradox, or at the least ironic, that pruning  a branch results in a proliferation of growth via multiple shoots at the site of the cut. Eventually this yearly shearing will result in a mass of shoots on top so dense that light and air cannot penetrate to the interior.  A hedge deprived of light and air to the interior will decline.  I try to prune my deciduous hedges to look like a slice of swiss cheese.  In and out, low and high-plenty of places for light to penetrate.  Although I shouldn’t presume a gardener is in charge here, even the most experienced gardener makes pruning cuts that they wish they hadn’t.  A slight snow in January will tell all.

February-garden.jpgFebruary is typically a very snowy month in my zone. That snow cover is insulation against temperature extremes that can heave plants out of the ground .  A February with no snow is a worry.  Plants go dormant for the winter, in order to avoid injury. A cover of snow keeps my plants snugly dormant.  No unwanted mid winter wake up.  Given how brutal our winters can be, I favor plants that are tolerant of a wide range of winter conditions.  I save my lust for plants not hardy in my zone for my containers-so much less heartbreak.

March-garden.jpgThis March I did some major pruning.  Jack from Guardian Tree in Ann Arbor headed back my out of control Princeton Gold maples. He topped my arborvitae at 14 feet.  And he removed an old maple in serious decline from girdling roots. Years ago I planted parrotias and magnolias around this maple, knowing the day would come when it would no longer be viable.  I was glad not to have to watch large portions of the the tree fail to leaf out.  The understory trees will thrive, given more light, and better access to water and nutrients.

April-garden.jpgApril is all about the spring light. Not so warm, this light, but there is the promise of the gardening season to come. The maples leafed out with abandon. Jack had cut the maples back so hard I was worried it would be years before they looked good.  My worries were unfounded.  He will be back this coming March.  The maintenance of a hedge of trees requires a regular commitment.  In April I was glad I had gone ahead and had the trees pruned.

early-May-garden.jpgLate April belongs to the magnolias.  The bark, the sculptural habit, and large glossy leaves would be enough to include them in any small garden, but the flowers are swoon worthy.  This April day, the green maple flowers and magnolia petals peppered the driveway.  I parked in the street. This was a perfect early spring moment.

late-May.jpgIn May, the garden sings.  Every plant is covered with fresh new growth.  The grass is green beyond green.  A pair of old Palabin lilacs on standard flower as if they were young bucks. The gorgeous shades of green is the story of the May garden.  There is no garden marvel quite like the spring.  All of that will to grow that results in so much fresh growth is energizing.  Spring is the best tonic any gardener could hope for.  Late May-the peony buds swell and open-operatic.

mid-June-garden.jpgJune is the time that the roses hold forth.  I would not do without them, no matter how small my garden.  Some years are better than others, but they always enchant me.  The color and the perfume-heavenly. My roses have grown in this spot for 15 years or better.  The most I do is to prune in April, and July, and I dead head until mid-August.  I do not mind the fussing.  They reward me many times over.  My little urban garden-infused with romance in mid June.

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In July, the roses are still representing.  The big pot has been planted, and the boxwood has been pruned.  Every day the four of us go to the rose garden.  The corgis know exactly what I mean when I say “Let’s go see the roses”.  They get there long before I do.  I treasure the late day in this garden.  The temperature has cooled off.  The arborvitae shield the hot summer sun.  I am done working for the day.  This is my idea of a garden which is a sanctuary.

late-August-garden.jpgIn late July, the Limelight hydrangeas come into bloom.  Though we had a cold and rainy summer that was not so friendly to my container plantings, the hydrangeas were stellar.  They were laden with flowers.  The foliage was a very healthy green.  The herniaria carpeting the ground plane of this garden loved the cool and rainy summer.

September-garden.jpgAugust was notable for the street trees that were cut down by the city.  They were rotted and hollow-I worried they would fall and hurt someone.  As sure as I was that they needed to come down, I regretted their demise.  Big trees are a treasure-their loss is not to be taken lightly.

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September was a great month for my garden. My container gardens finally picked up speed.  The weather cooled.  The grass grew like crazy.

October-garden.jpgOctober-one realizes the garden is waning.  The season will come to a close.  Parting from the garden is hard..  Buck shut down the fountain in mid October-over my protests.  I did not want to let go.  He knows when it is time to say goodby.   How the moss grew in the still water!

November-garden.jpgEarly December-an ice storm.  The ice coating every surface is beautiful, and alarming.  There was nothing to be done, except to hope for the best, and endure.  No matter my worries, plants do a good job of protecting themselves from harm.  They have lots of coping mechanisms for which I am grateful. So many things that govern a garden are out of my hands.  But in the end, the will to live and prosper is a powerful force indeed.

December-garden.jpgThis gardening year may not have been my most favorite ever, but I appreciate what I had.  There is much to learn and live by, via the garden.

The 2011 Garden: 24 Moments

I took this photograph in January of 2011.  How different my garden looks today.  In fact, my garden looks different most every day.  I tried very hard to pick only one picture to represent the garden each month-that was too much pressure.  Given that I have 23 pictures dead ahead, I will quit typing, but for this.  My garden gives much back to me.  I could not do without it. 

January 2011

February 2011

February 2011

March 2011


March 2011

April 2011

April 2011

 May 2011


May 2011

June 2011

June 2011

July 2011

July 2011

August 2011

August 2011

 September 2011

 September 2011

October 2011

October 2011

November 2011

November 2011

December 2011

December 2011

Sunday Opinion: The Season

Our remarkably cold spring has helped make more than a few things clearer to me.  Every year I encourage gardeners to plant for spring.  In the fall, and again come spring.  It can be one of the lovliest times of year in Michigan.  There are the spring bulbs-literally thousand to choose from.  Some are small and subtle-others are big and showy.  They are easy to plant- little brown orbs that only need to be popped underground.  They are completely programmed for a spring display- the day they go in the ground.  There is no better representative of promise and hope than this;  an early spring blooming bulb you can hold in your hand, and dream of the future.  Part of the party-plant as much as you can, as fast as you can.  That fall dirt will indeed be chilly.  

 The spring flowering bulbs are not the only party going on in the spring.  There are the wildflowers-an equally large group.  The spring flowering bulbs are exotic looking-meaning they are native to countries other than ours.  They look other-worldly.  The wildflowers are native.  Their wild and subtle beauty speaks to the celebration of the natural landscape-wherever you may live.  A nod to the native landscape-this is a pleasure for any gardener.  Phlox divaricata is one of my favorite wildflowers-that blue is unforgettable.  Michigan has more species of native orchids than any other state, save Florida.  Many of them bloom in the spring.  Should you be a gardener who also watched the Royal wedding, I am sure you spotted the long fronds of blooming Solomon’s Seal in the flower arrangements at Westminster.  Were they not beautiful?  There is a spring season.  I would encourage you to celebrate the spring wherever you may garden.

Perennials that represent beautifully during the spring-there are plenty.  I could list my favorites, but that is not my point.  If you do not have some part of your garden which is devoted to a celebration of spring, you will spend a few months longing for another time, and a different circumstance.  My garden has Magnolias, hellebores, European ginger, crocus, daffodils, crocus, tulips, trout lilies, PJM rhododendrons and sweet peas-I have a whole lot going on in my garden in the spring.  By mid March I can sense change in the air.  But dinner on the deck featuring homegrown tomatoes and basil is a long way off.         

There are those cold tolerant spring container plants-why would anyone do without them?  The pansies, violas, primula denticulata, ranunculus, lobelia, annual phlox, alyssum, and ornamental cabbage-all so beautiful.  My favorite combination this year-Creme Brulee heuchera, dark violet pansies, lavender and peach violas, and cream yellow alyssum.  I have some ideas about what fuels the urge to skip spring gardening.  We have four seasons in Michigan.  Spring, summer, fall, and  winter-each last about 3 months.  Our spring has been terrible really-very cold and very rainy.  But this is what we have now-for better or for worse.  Given the prospect of a really cold spring, there is that idea to skip it, as it might be short and fleeting.  I still plant for it.  The beauty of spring plants is such that the risk is well worth taking.  Some years my Magnolia Stellata blooms but 2 days-I have already had over a week of it this year.    

I have clients who wish to plant their summer annuals May 1.  They wish to follow up with planting vegetables May 10.  As much as I understand the idea to try to lengthen the summer beyond 3 months, nature is remarkably uncooperative in that regard.  Annuals and vegetables planted too early, in really cold soil, with cold night temperatures-they struggle to survive.  Should they survive, they are set back.  They may never recover the entire season.  Tropical plants set out too early in cold soil-it will take a lot of time for them to recover from the insult.  The insult?  Pushing the season.  No matter what any of us long for-the seasons turn when they will.  The turning of the seasons apply to all of us equally.  You gardeners for whom a garden is a sacred way of life-nature  could care less about your passion and committment-you will be on nature’s schedule no matter what you do. Plan ahead for a spring garden.  That garden reigns the better part of three months. Stave off the need to plant for summer too early-plan for a gorgeous spring.

 If you have a mind to skip the spring season, and challenge the opening date of summer-be prepared to plant twice.  Of course I have planted summer flowers too early.  Clients have events that are important.  June is such a tough month to plan for.  An unusually warm spring can mean the spring flowers are looking tired in June.  A cold spring can delay the summer plantings-which in the best of circumstances will not look at all grown up in June.  Summer annuals just get looking good in July.  Some years, the summer annuals never get really good.  Investing in gardening is a risky business-there are no guarantees.  No promises can be made.  Plants can die.  A planting scheme can turn out not at all how I imagined.  When I get too concerned about the prospect of failure, or too worried about the risk, I try to remind myself that act of making the garden is as important as the outcome.  Does any summer flower look anything like a forget me not?  Is there a reasonable substitute for dogtooth violets or violas in June that you know of? Pots of pansies and voilas just get looking good in June.  I have had them go on into July.  A beautiful spring is out there, in one form or another.  I would chance it, given that I cannot substitute one seasonal experience for another.      

The truth of the natural order of things will be told.  Ity is not tough to spot plants that are suffering from cold-they have that look about them.  Those gardeners that do not plan for a spring season can be tempted to plant summer annuals way too early.  They forego the beauty of the pansies, violas, and annual phlox for geraniums or begonias that are not prepared to survive outside a greenhouse at this time of year.  They plant out tomatoes the first of May; they buy their tomato plants a second time, once the summer weather sets in.  The end of May usually brings the beginning of our summer season.  It can be a week early, but it is just as likely to be a week later.  I plant my own summer flowers in June.  Given warm soil, they take off and grow fast-faster than plants that have been planted in cold soil.   Rushing the spring, hanging on to the summer too long,  editing the fall, ignoring the winter-this never works.  A life seriously imagined, and experienced in the present-a life well lived.  The changing of the seasons informs, and guides.   

No doubt it has seemed like our winter went on forever, pushing spring out of the picture.  Last spring-the best I ever remember. By best, I mean cool and surprisingly mild.  This year, miserably cold and wet.  Yet both seasons are well within the parameters of what we can call spring.

Annuals in the Ground

flowersin11It’s such a good thing that shopping centers and the like plant fibrous begonias and impatiens,  in vast quantities, so you don’t have to.  The Victorian gardening era in England produced some very inventive schemes for bedding plants.  Beautifully designed and executed, they made use of annual plants of compact habit and low maintenance.  Many of them were representational in their design-the most familiar of these would be the bedding plant clocks. Only rarely do I see bedding plants done to this level. There are those who plant oceans of uniformly growing fibrous begonias, impatiens, dusty miller and so on, without much in the way of interesting design-just lots of color.  I like color as well as the next person, but I am glad this way of planting is being done by others, so I don’t have to.

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I like annuals in the ground that mix shapes and colors in a dynamic, airy way.  I like annuals in the ground that are unexpected.  Some in ground annuals can be designed to give the impression of a perennial garden-with the added bonus of a very long season of bloom.
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Big growing annuals are often passed by in garden centers, as they take time to get to blooming size, and do not show well in a cell pack, or 4” pot. Zinnias, cleome, cosmos, verbena bonariensis, and nicotiana alata varieties fall into this category.

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But I find their old fashioned grace and size can make for a stunning annual display.  Even shady annual areas can be enlivened by the addition of coleus, or tropicals; no shade garden is restricted to  begonias and impatiens.flowersin12

No doubt some very formal, and some contemporary annual plantings ask for a restricted plant palette, but I like to see this done on purpose.
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If you garden is cottage-style, grasses, or the wispy textured verbena bonariensis added to the annual mix is charmingly meadow-like.
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Grey plectranthus, the broad-leaved cirrus dusty miller, or chocolate sweet potato vine, grown in ground, is cool and contemporary looking.
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Bold growing annuals in bold colors warm up, and loosen up a space. Zinnias, dahlias, green-eyed daisies, and giant marigolds read well from a distance. One of my favorite annuals, nicotiana mutabilis, is a cloud of white and pink when planted in masses; try interplanting a short growing annual to give color and interest at ground level.
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There is another very good reason to plant mixed annual beds-the summer weather.  Some years impatiens grows poorly.  If that’s all you grow, it’s a poor year for your annual garden.  If you have mixed in other annuals, perhaps not all is lost. A mix which highlights the color, textures, and volumes of annual plants will keep your interest over the course of the season. A mix of heights gives you color interest from top to bottom.  Check out the annual flowers at your local nursery that are green right now, or unknown to you, or unusual to your eye; they may be promising additions to your summer annual garden.
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