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Wordless Wednesday–Made in the Shade

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This combination of containers holds house plants, perennials, tender perennials and annuals. All of them are shade lovers and they are staged on an old set of back porch steps under a dogwood tree that throws some pretty dense shade.

Behind them, planted in the bed, you can see hosta, euonymous, ajuga and hellbores.

Who says that shade plants can’t be colorful?

Road Trip!

Bradley Estate Formal Garden close up

So who’s taking a road trip to Massachusetts this summer? Probably lots of folks are coming to the beach at Cape Cod, right? And many more might be visiting Boston (I hope–such a great city–so much to see and do there)

If you’re in Massachusetts and you’re a gardener, don’t miss this neat new display garden that’s been set up at the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton, Massachusetts. That’s a photo of the garden, above, thoughtfully provided by its “caretakers” the Trustees of the Reservation.

The all-summer exhibit is called “Violet Riot” and it opens next Wednesday June 14.  It features purple and chartreuse annuals and perennials. There are featured annual, perennial and shrub talks scheduled (see the sidebar in the press release) as well as concerts scheduled throughout the summer.

Canton, Massachusetts is about 30 miles from Boston–not too far for a weekend trip–and its accessible from Routes 128 or I-93.

Bradley in Bloom Plantings Collage

And one of the great things about visiting display gardens is that you always come away from them with ideas for your own gardens–even if you don’t necessarily like purple and chartreuse!  I am sure that many of the plant varieties used also come in other colors as well. You can see by just this photo, again provided by the Trustees, that the plant palette is richer and more varied than you might expect.

So if you are in the area, stop by this neat garden and have a look around. I am sure you will enjoy it and take home at least one idea for your own garden!

Mulching With Grass?

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You have probably heard of mulching your plants with grass clippings. This is a good way to use up clippings that may be a little too long to leave on your lawn. If, however,  you choose to do this,  you’re going to want to evaluate how “weed free” your lawn is. There’s no point in introducing lawn clippings that are filled with weed seeds.

And you definitely can’t do it if you have treated your lawn with a four step program.  The “Step 2” part of that program contains a herbicide that definitely has the potential to harm your plants. And perish the thought that you might think of using lawn pesticide treated grass around your edibles!

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This year I am unfortunately growing my own grass as mulch. It wasn’t something I planned–not like my moss and fern gardens in other words. But just as the gardening season started,  I have needed some more surgery for skin cancer, this time in a tricky spot on my back.

So I was able to get a little bit of planting done early, and now I am done for several weeks. My neighbors are just going to have to put up with the “grass mulch” look.

But heck, so long as they keep catching all my cancers early, I will put up with some gardening inconvenience!  I am grateful.

 

Planting a Pollinator Garden

On Friday I talked about the Million Pollinator Challenge and I linked to the site. Today I am going to get more specific about one aspect of that challenge, planting your garden.

You may already have a garden that is a habitat garden of sorts. Or you may have a garden full of native plants. You may have one that you have designed to attract butterflies or bees or birds–or perhaps all three. These may already be pollinator gardens.

 

To decide, go to resources about planting your garden.

If you’ve ever done any sort of habitat garden, it’s very similar to that. Pollinators need exactly what any other “wildlife” needs: food (i.e., nectar), shelter, cover (in this case, it would be protection from wind, because they are sensitive to wind) and places to raise their young (so in the case of butterflies, you know that that means caterpillars and tolerating chewing damage–and not cleaning up the garden in the fall and cleaning it up very late in the spring, say). A nice sunny site is also desirable because in the case of butterflies, for example, many can’t fly until the temperature reaches 70 degrees.

A couple of other things–common sense to me but not always to everyone. If you read my “intro” at the top tab of this blog you’ll see that I became an organic gardener because when I moved to my property (24 seasons ago now,) there were no butterflies. A little bit of research told me that butterflies were highly susceptible to pesticides, so we went organic.  Within 2 years, we had 27 different kinds of butterflies and moths–a success story if ever there was one! So it is critical to avoid pesticides to every extent possible. That clover and those violets in your lawn are actually butterfly nectar food sources. And bees love them too!

Finally–and I talked about this when I talked about “don’t try to “get the garden done in a weekend!” It’s critical to have something in bloom for the longest time possible. At my house, it starts with snowdrops–or maybe hellebores–and it goes through to goldenrod and asters in late fall. Try your best to keep something in bloom during all the months of your growing season.

Our pollinators need–and deserve our help. With some of these tips, we can not only help them but grow some beautiful gardens as well!

I’m Feeling A Bit Left Out….

April is National Garden Month….

And while that garden journal that I keep has shown that in other Aprils there have been plants in bloom, trees in bloom, bulbs past bloom at this point, this is not one of those Aprils.

You might have even heard the statistic: all of New England was exceptionally cold for March and Boston was colder in March than it had been for December, January or February. Now that’s cold!

I am fond of saying that we don’t really have spring here in Connecticut. Yes, trees bloom and we do have all sorts of lovely plants like azaleas and rhododendrons. But quite often, there is this “2 steps forward and 1 step back” pattern where we will have a nice day or two, followed by cold wet days (which we desperately need to end our drought, by the way and which we should all be grateful for but it’s hard to be grateful for them after the winter). And it’s especially hard to be grateful for them when it doesn’t really rain–when it’s just damp.

We will always get a teasing heat wave around Memorial day, and then the first and second week of June are so cold that I usually head right back for some kind of fleece and wonder if the plants I have just planted are going to make it.

It’s only at some point in July that the weather finally turns warm enough to finally make us think that summer has arrived. And then by August, cooler nights set back in and we’re back on our way to fall, which, thankfully, is a lovely season here or no one would live in the state at all. It would be deserted.

I know lots of people–gardeners even–live in much more inhospitable places.  I am just not sure what mechanisms they use to cope.

Let’s Talk About Plant Marketing

On Friday, I talked about some of the awards that are given to plants and Is aid that when you are at the garden center, it is not necessary, always, to seek out plants that have won awards to always get the best plants.

I also threw in an offhand comment about a marketing company that sells a line of plants called Proven Winners.™ And I left it there. So today I thought I would talk a little bit more about plant marketing or plant branding.

This isn’t something that a lot of folks think about but I promise you it drives the nursery growers and the garden centers nuts! Where once you went to the garden center and most plants came in little green pots, now they come in a bewildering array of “branded” pots.  Proven Winners™ is probably the best known and most nationally known brand out there but there are lots of others, some of which even pre-date them.

Remember the Flower Carpet™ rose? It too came in a branded pot–it was distinctly pale pink. It is still around, but it is not nearly so famous or well-known as Knock-Out,™ which, like other Star™ branded roses, comes in a pot that’s branded with its own distinct color. Knock-out’s is sort of an olive green. The Drift™ family of roses is white, with olive green lettering. See the branding going on?

David Austin™ roses come not only in a pot that is a distinct color (black) but that is a distinct shape (taller and square, supposedly to accommodate the tap roots).

Are you beginning to see why the growers and garden centers hate all this branding? And this is just the roses!

What does it mean for you–the buyer? Well, for one thing, it’s probably increased your cost a bit to have all these fancy pots.

Next, if you look at the tags on the plants you’re buying, almost all of these plants are now patented. They say “propagation prohibited.” What does that mean?

Technically, it means that you can’t take cuttings or in any way reproduce and grow more plants from the plant that you are buying. This is something that isn’t on anyone’s radar.

Are there plant police out there? Not that I am aware of. But if a garden club suddenly started selling a lot of a branded plant at a plant sale, without the rights to do so, technically, one of these plant companies that owns the rights to that plant could come in to enforce its rights.

I haven’t heard of it happening–but just be aware.

Does Being a “Winner” Count for Anything?

After my temporary horror last week when I realized that I hadn’t done any plant shopping at all, I am now back on the theme of–you guessed it–plant shopping!

At the garden center or the box store or sometimes even at the supermarket you’ll see a lot of labels that say that such and such a plant or even a vegetable was a “winner.” There’s even a best selling brand of plants sold nationally called Proven Winners.™

You might see AAS winners, All America winners, Perennial Plant of the Year signs, signs for regional plant award winners like the Cary awards, the Plants of Merit award winners–you get the idea. But what on earth does any of that mean? Are any of these plants any better than plants that haven’t won anything?

Like a lot of things in life, the answer is yes, and no. If you’re looking at annual or vegetable plants, then I would definitely take these “award winning” designations with a huge grain of salt. You want to remember the purpose of the plant. An annual or a vegetable is a plant that is, for the most part, a plant that is designed to complete its growing in a single season.

So its “award winning” characteristics might be something like bigger flowers, bigger fruit or vegetable production, increased disease resistance, increased drought tolerance–you get the idea.

All of those sound like good things–and they are, of course. But if you live in a climate where drought isn’t necessarily a problem, a plant that’s bred to withstand it isn’t something that’s important to you.

And with vegetables, while disease resistance is important, some of our best heirlooms have almost none of that bred in–and they are some of the tastiest vegetables. So don’t automatically assume that these traits are things that you must have.

With perennials, trees and shrubs–things that are going to be around in the garden a bit longer, “award winning” can be more helpful. I do look for Cary award winners, for example, because they are specific to my region–New England.

The Perennial Plant of the Year is another good example. It is never a “new” plant. This year it is asclepias tuberosa–better known as Butterfly weed. I’ve probably been growing this plant for 20 years. It is a tough prairie native that has proven that it is non-invasive in all parts of the continental United States–and because it is a native milkweed that the monarchs need, we should all be planting it.

The PPA folks do their research and study up to be sure that when they name a plant that it won’t run amok in one part of the country once everyone plants it. So in that case, it really is a “winner.”

So when you go out plant buying–whenever you get to it–understand what these terms means.  And then go get some real “winners” for your garden.