Tag Archive | Shrubs

Picking Good Plants–Round Two

On Friday I talked about picking a plant that looked most like every other plant. This is a good rule no matter what type of plant you are buying.

Today I want to get into a few more specifics about  what to do when you get to the garden center–and let’s presume you are at a garden center today, simply because  it will have more signage about varieties and possibly more information on the plant tags that will be accurate for your location.

What do I mean by that? When I go to a box store, I am told that the plant “lantana” is a perennial. That’s technically true. It is not, however, a perennial for me here in New England.

I know that in some parts of the country lantana is considered an invasive pest and can grow to the size of a shrub. Here, we grow it as a nicely behaved hanging basket that has flowers that feed our butterflies and hummingbirds and the plant dies at the first hard freeze. See what I mean now about “for your location?”

So, when you walk into your garden center, depending on where you are, you might find lantana in a hanging basket, you might find it with the perennials, or you might not find it at all because it is invasive in your part of the country. There you are. But chances are, you’re not going to just find it willy-nilly labeled “perennial.”

I know the box stores are working on this–and one reason has to do with their guarantee for a year. They don’t want New England customers bringing in their dead lantana the following spring and asking for a refund–and rightly so! No one is happy in that scenario.

Enough plants die in our now unpredictable winters that they shouldn’t have to give for plants that are mis-labeled. But if they mis-label them, well, they get what they deserve.

Apparently I have gone on long enough about why you should be going to the garden center for your spring plant shopping and not a box store–at least if you are a brand new plant buyer. We’ll talk about what to look for on Friday.

Plant Expectations

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No, this is NOT weeds. You are looking at a kolkwitzia, some echinacea and peony foliage, and behind that, a rather large white hibiscus (with red throat) that is supposed to be a dwarf called Lil’ Kim.

The Kolkwitzia (which is in desperate need of a trim but I have had a little issue with my shoulder so that’s not happening this fall) is reaching upward to its full height of 8′. Its mature height is supposed to be 6-8′ so that is right about where it should be.

Lil’ Kim, on the other hand, as I said, was supposed to be a dwarf. You know how I am always saying “plants can’t read?”  Apparently no one told this plant that she was supposed to stay dwarf!

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What’s really unfortunate about this Lil’ Kim situation is that I have her “sister” plant just the other side of the kolkwitzia.  She is staying dwarf–but look what she’s doing! She’s turning purple! What the heck?!

Apparently no one told this version of the Lil’ Kim that she was supposed to be white and not purple. Oh dear! Again, plants, can’t read! (And no, you’re still not looking at weeds, for the most part–this is agastache and milkweed over here. I had to step carefully around lots of bees to get this photo!)

So when I talk about buying “tried and true plants” (and full disclosure–I did not buy these plants at all–they were sent to me as test plants) you can see what I mean. Sometimes, we want to give the growers a couple of years to “get the kinks out” of the plants before we put them into our gardens.

Particularly with shrubs, you can save yourself a lot of heartache that way!

 

Self-Sown Hydrangeas? Really?

A few posts backed I talked about my gardens being weedy. Not only will you see that in these photos but you will see some of the most wilted plants you will ever see. That’s how far we let the plants go before we actually water at our house (as opposed to the neighbors who are watering lawns 3 times a day.) I figure we can balance things out that way.

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When I first started noticing these small white blooming hydrangeas, I thought, ‘did I plant those?” It’s not like me to keep such poor records that I don’t have a record of hydrangeas in the garden–after all, they are one of my favorite plants and I must ahve 35 different varieties!

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And I’d see things like this–small hydrangeas that were clearly separate plants from all the other plants around them, but with no tag or other identification. I was mystified.

(By the way, don’t you love my “habitat” of weeds?)

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And they were everywhere–at different spots in the garden–and they all bloomed white. That’s when it dawned on me. These were self-sown hydrangeas! What a concept!

I don’t think I will get anymore this year because I deadheaded everything before the hurricane that thankfully never arrived. I didn’t want the winds to damage the few blooming plants that I had in the garden this year.

But what a nice bonus a few years of letting the garden go “weedy” has brought me. Also notice all the ferns as well. Once I get some rains and am able to clean this mess out, I will have some great plants left!

 

 

Summer is Winding Down–What Should Gardeners Be Doing?

Last week I posted a photo about the quality of light that told me that the seasons were changing. I also had a photo of a type of spider that appears this time of year in my garden (at least in a size when its big enough for me to notice).

Since seasons are changing in the northern hemisphere, what should gardeners be doing?

Certain lucky gardeners can plant whole second gardens of course. And if I were organized enough, I could get in a second crop of faster growing things like leaf lettuces and radishes and perhaps even peas if I had started then a bit earlier. But honestly, between the drought this summer and the poor critters that have been coming to the gardens to get at the produce because there’s no other sources for moisture, I really don’t have much desire to plant anything else as a “salad” crop for critters.

If this has not been your problem, by all means, plant a second crop of edibles!

One thing that should be done this time of year–even for those of us in drought stricken areas unless there is a watering ban–is to renovate the lawn. But please, folks, once again, let’s do this sensibly.

I noticed that one of my neighbors–the one that has been having a lawn company pesticide the heck out of their lawn literally every single week all summer long–finally had some core aeration done. Any wonder why that was necessary? This is the same neighbor that “tried” organic care last year but then said that the lawn looked terrible. I hate to tell you what it looks like this year. It’s completely fried from all those chemicals in a drought. But no one’s asking my advice.

If someone were, I would say the core aeration is a great place to start. A little layer of compost might be next.  Ditch the pesticides and don’t fertilize–not in this drought! Lawn renovation might have to wait. But compost and aeration will never do any harm.

If you haven’t gotten around to ordering bulbs, you probably should. Even where I live, it’s still too warm to plant. But you definitely want to reserve them so that you get your choice. The growers won’t ship until it’s the appropriate time to plant anyway. And bulbs are remarkably forgiving.

Finally, get out to your garden centers. Anything that is left over is going to be on sale at a nice discount. And they most likely will have brought in some great new fresh stock for fall planting too. While that may not be discounted, you might see just the thing (beyond mums, cabbages and pumpkins) to liven up the yard for years to come. Just remember that you will need to water it if nature is not helping you.

So what are you waiting for? Fall has some of the best gardening weather around. Go out, enjoy, and get planting!

Garden Visit–Naumkeag

A week ago I went with the Garden Writers to tour 3 gardens in Massachusetts. Two of them were places I had always wanted to go but had never managed to get to, despite living in a neighboring state. The third I had never heard of but it turned out to be quite a gem. I’ll take you “touring” with me in the next couple of posts.

If you wonder why you might care, lots of folks do foliage tours through New England every year. These gardens are located in the Berkshire mountain range, a lovely place in and of itself, but also a great way to get up to Vermont.

And there’s also lots of other things to do there, which is why I had never been to these gardens. But I will leave that to you all to plan your visits.

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The first garden we visited was called Naumkeag. It was the summer home of a family from New York, the Choates. We heard lots of amusing anecdotes about them, as well as a few sad stories as well. It was the daughter of the family, Mabel, who was responsible for the collaboration with Fletcher Steele, the landscape architect who worked on the gardens for 30 years with her. You can read everything you might want to know about the property at the web site, here.

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Even for those of you who have never heard of this place, or Fletcher Steele, you will know one of his most famous installations in this garden, the Blue Steps. It solved a problem: a way to get from the house to a series of cutting gardens below. But what a magnificent way to do so!

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To be honest, this was all I knew of this garden before I got here. But I left enchanted by lots of other things.

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Being unmarried, Mabel had lots of time (and the resources) to travel. She traveled extensively in the far east and brought home lots of souvenirs. Her Chinese garden was designed, in part, to accommodate them.  This is the Moon Gate from the Chinese garden.

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On the opposite side of the house, there is an Afternoon Garden that was designed to remind Choate of her travels to Venice. There are wooden poles painted like the poles in the famous canals, a low boxwood hedge knot garden, decorative chairs with colorful backs and colorful tropical plants in containers.

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In another spot, a shady pavilion overlooks the house, a cooling fountain and the pasture and valley below. There are still cows in the field but they no longer belong to the property.

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It’s a wonderful place to spend  a day. Bring a picnic or pick something up from the gift shop. The food is catered by the nearby Red Lion Inn.

 

Anatomy of a Hydrangea Blossom

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Did you ever really look closely at a hydrangea blossom? What we think of as a “flower ” are really primarily bracts surrounding innocuous little florets in the center of the bloom repeated hundreds of times over and over to make up that lovely “flower head.”

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It’s easy to see on this lace cap flower here at the bottom.  The actual “flowering”  particularly of the plant is in the center of the entire blossom,  surrounded by the sterile bracts.

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Here’s on this smooth hydrangea,  almost all that’s visible are the bracts. The fertile flowers are just about hidden below them. You can just about see little white starbursts–those are the flowers.

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On  this big leaf type hydrangea,  the flowers are located in the center of the bracts. None has matured to the point of being available to pollinators.

So that’s a brief overview of hydrangeas.  Despite the fact that they are not native,  pollinators in my yard enjoy them. But there are lots of natives to draw the pollinators to the yard and to keep them happy.

Hydrangea H(e)aven

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I planted this bed 6 years ago. Although you can’t tell, there are also 4 Endless Summer blue hydrangeas in here. You can just see the foliage of one of them at the right end of the bed in this photo.

Usually both the blue and the pink hydrangeas bloom together. But this year we had a very unusual winter. As a result, only the smooth hydrangeas and their cultivars (hydrangea arborescens) are blooming right now. Macrophylla, or big leafed types, if they are going to bloom at all, will be blooming much later this summer. I can see a few buds on a couple of mine.

And of course the paniculata (or “peegee”) and tardiva types naturally bloom later as well.  They most likely will not have been affected by our killing February cold snap because they are extremely hardy.

Even lacecap types like ‘Lady in Red,’ which prior to this winter had been threatening to overtake my garden, died back by about half and is blooming, but only sparsely. It was a freakish winter for hydrangeas!

So that’s why I am so delighted by these ‘Invincebelle Spirit’ Hydrangeas. I have posted about them before. You can read that post here.

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This is what that garden looked like last year, from a slightly different view. I am not sure that I miss the ‘Endless Summers,’ at all this year. Do you?