Monday, June 25, 2012

A Wide Angle View

When wandering with the camera it's very easy to concentrate on capturing close-ups of all those beauteous flowers that fill the June gardens to the exclusion of the 'long view'. Every once in a while I like to force myself to work with my wide angle lens to try to capture an overview.  We had an overcast day today, perfect for garden photography. Here are a few images from the gardens today.

The terrace and west container garden. I'm still enjoying those white astilbes and Asiatic lilies.

The west container garden is filling in nicely after the heat wave of the last week.

The shade garden

The back yard from the west fence looking east

The shade and west container gardens.

The perennial border on the east side of the house.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Marvelous Medleys....

There is no task in gardening I enjoy more than composing interesting combinations.  The living medium of flowers and foliage combined with the hardscape and garden art provide an ever changing palette of colors, values and textures to delight the viewer.  It's a continuous challenge to provide visual interest throughout the growing season.  Sometimes things do work out as planned but just as often there are surprises where something self sowed or  bloomed where the gardener didn't expect that create wonderful unplanned vignettes.  A few of my favorite things in the gardens in early summer...

I planted several clumps of this white astilbe in my terrace garden many years ago and added the white Asiatic lilies not long after.  The astilbe has been a wonderful reliable perennial here for almost twenty years and I replant the white lilies from time to time when the voles or lily beetles take their toll.  The airy texture of the astilbe and strong form of the lilies provide such great textural contrast that this is a lovely classic combination I'll always try to keep in my gardens.

I added the Hakonechloa 'All Gold' (Japanese Forest Grass) to my driveway garden last year to continue a chartreuse/purple theme I've got going in that area and was surprised this spring to see how great it looks with the Coreopsis 'Moonbeam'. The contrast in foliage textures is great and the color of the flowers harmonizes beautifully with the grass... one of those serendipitous combinations that are so much fun.

Garden combinations are not just about the plants but also how they visually interact with the hardscape and garden art... I really loved the juxtaposition of the soft and airy flowers of the Cotinus 'Golden Spirit' against the cement bird bath... Another happy accident

A wider angle view of the birdbath area of the driveway garden shows more of the chartreuse and yellow flowered plants I've included there over the last few years...  The Calluna vulgaris aurea (Scotch Heather) has been a great edging plant that helps soften the edges of the driveway. Love the texture of that plant contrasted with the purple heavy leaved form of the Sedum 'Purple Emperor'. Also included in this vignette are Sedum kamtschaticum, Lysimachia punctata 'Golden Alexander' (Loosestrife) and a new addition of Symphytum x uplandicum 'Axminster Gold' (Comfrey).  These bright colored plants provide a light area to contrast with the bluer greens of the dwarf evergreens and Fargesia rufa (clumping bamboo) behind the birdbath.  The strong red/violet of the Euphorbia cotinifolia (an annual that is just leafing out) creates another great complementary color contrast.

In a shadier area of the back garden I've included more chartreuse foliage plants. They are especially valuable to create light value focal points in areas of the garden that don't get a lot of sunlight.This combination includes my favorite hosta 'Golden Teacup' that I bought from its creator Dr. Jim Wilkins several years ago.  It's joined by the classic Hosta 'Frances Williams' and one of my favorite Heucheras 'Key Lime Pie'... Again all these colors harmonize and this vignette achieves it's interest from the contrast in shapes and textures of the plantings.

Another classic and realiable hosta 'Gold Standard' looks great next to the airy foliage and flowers of Geranium sanguinium 'New Hampshire Purple'. The Hakonechloa 'Albo Striata' (Japanese Forest Grass) again  provides a contrasting texture and a harmonizing color to the hosta....

Also in the shade garden I quite like the contrast between the shape and color of the dwarf Hosta 'Cracker Crumbs' next to the Heuchera 'Palace Purple'.

More red-violet/chartreuse contrasts in this vignette showcasing the rich color of Heuchera 'Berry Smoothie' and Hosta 'Daybreak'

And so it goes, another day in the garden another combination to enjoy, change or rearrange....

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Clematis Time...

There are few plants in the garden that can create as much impact as well grown clematis. Success with this beautiful vine eluded me for years until the day I saw a meadow vole pop out of the garden and 'light dawned'.  It turns out that voles consider clematis roots to be the height of epicurean delights.  So began my battle with these pernicious and destructive rodents. So far we're about even... I began planting the clematis vines with oyster shells lining the planting holes... The shells are sharp and can cut the feet of these little diggers so they don't go after the roots.  Well, that works for a few years but long term it eventually breaks down and loses it's effectiveness.  The next, and better solution to the problem is to plant the clems in hardware cloth cages. That seems to have done the trick and I now have some lovely specimens. 

Some of my favorites are.....

Polish Spirit


Combination of Betty Corning, Ville de Lyon and Polish Spirit

Ville de Lyon

Betty Corning


 I used to have some fabulous Arabella but sadly that's one of the garden battles the voles are winning. I'm planning on replanting it in a cage at some point so it will hopefully get back to its 2009 glory....

As with everything in gardening it's win some, lose some but it makes the wins more precious... 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hot Containers

I've done a border with all container plantings in the front yard for eight years now and it's developed over time to be all hot colors from reds, through oranges and yellow.... Orange used to be banned in my gardens but some of the best gardeners I know use it so well I decided to make space here. The container border allows me to try lots of new plants and rearrange things all the time to get the best visual impact. In the last two seasons I've tried to place the planting colors so they follow the color wheel... A challenge but lots of fun.

Recently finished getting the border containers planted for the season and can't wait for things to fill in.  It always amazes me just how much these tropicals grow in a season.

The newly assembled border for 2012

This container has a three year old Cuphea micropetala, abutilon, two types of lantana that stay in the pot and come in over winter. I add additional annuals when I bring it out for the season to fill it out. The cuphea is a hummingbird magnet as soon as it sets flowers...

Love this strongly colored bromeliad, Aechmea blanchetiana. (Bottom of image) I started collecting bromeliads because of this beauty. I just had to have it for the orange section of my border.

A couple other pots from the orange section of the border. I'm loving this Cuphea ignea variegata and have high hopes for this unusual orange coreopsis (plant on left).

And a couple of the red arrangements

The Pennisetum 'Purple Prince' is a fantastic grass and will get to be five feet tall or more by end of August. This pot also has a castor bean plant and Salvia elegans (Pineapple Salvia) These are all very large plants and will need all the room in that huge pot.

Not to rush the summer along but I'm looking forward to another few weeks when all these will fill in and eventually the fence is covered by the exhuberant growth.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Glorious June

Nothing quite compares to the exuberant growth of the June gardens.  The roses, clematis, astilbes and Asiatic Lilies are all pushing out masses of flowers and all the specimen foliage plants are attaining their robust summer silhouettes. Most of the winter damage and losses have been mourned and repaired or replaced. The mulching is mostly done. The heavy watering and deadheading chores of high summer have yet to begin in earnest. It's time to take some time to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

This view of the back yard shows part of the west container border and the shade area near the back, north side of the property. The Shed Garden was added in 1995 and the container border has evolved over the last five years or so. The lawn used to straggle over to a bench at the fence. The addition of a defined line and the containers adds a lot of color and interest to that side of the yard.

The 'Sum and Substance' and 'Frances Williams' are part of the original plantings but have never achieved the size they should be because the voles here root prune them every winter. At some point I'm going to dig all the hostas from that garden and replant them in cages. Until then, they are still very attractive and anchor the right side of that garden along with the trio of urns I added over the years.  For some reason, I've never figured out, the voles don't normally 'prune' the beautiful Hosta 'Gold Standard' on the lower left of this image.  It's a beautiful specimen and turns a lovely chartreuse as the summer progresses.

The view of the Sundial and Terrace Gardens looking northeast. The Asiatic Lilies 'Manhattan' make for a great splash of color next to the bird bath.

Asiatic Lilies 'Manhattan'

The Cement Grapes Container is filling in beautifully!

Clematis 'Polish Spirit' is just getting started.

More 'Manhattan' lilies on the east side of the house with Hydrangea Quercifolia 'Little Honey', Persicaria 'Painter's Palette', Heuchera 'Key Lime Pie', Astilbe and Hosta 'Golden Tiara'

The Terrace Garden looking West

Love the splash of light and contrasting texture from this Chasmanthium latifolium 'River Mist' (Northern  Sea Oats). I've also added some annual Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' and Sunpatiens 'Variegated Spreading White' for more contrast and late season interest.

So I think I'm going to grab an iced tea and go do a bit of WALATing. (Walking Around Looking At Things) and take a few more minutes to peruse, enjoy and appreciate the joys of our June gardens.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Brilliant Bromeliads

A few years ago I found a beautifully patterned bromeliad at our local Home Depot, fell in love and quickly snagged it for my patio collection.  I had no idea what the cultural requirements were but knew I could probably figure it out. There was no plant tag or any information with it.  It turns out it was a Vriesea splendens and my only regret (not really) with buying it was that it precipitated another collection. It seems my take on anything is that if one is good then thirty or forty is even better!

What's not to love about this beauty? the strong contrast in the leaves and form of the plant grab the eye and say "look at me!" 

I really loved this plant and began investigating to see if there were others I'd like to have and a whole new world opened up to me... I discovered Neoregelias, what beauties. The form and strong colors of Neo cultivars are sublime and when placed in a grouping they make a fantastic focal point that can be placed just about anywhere that gets good strong light just avoid direct middle of the day sunshine. 

I'm particularly fond of the Neoregelia 'Gold Fever' in the center of the photo. Love the spots!

Love adding them to a vignette of containers too. Their strong shapes visually hold their own with the more complex container arrangements. As the plants mature and depending on the light they get they will color up and the centers generally get bright pink, purple or red before blooming.

Neoregelias get very small flowers in the cups of the plants that are insignificant. It's the colors of the plants themselves that steal the show. After blooming the mother plant will eventually die off and send up pups, usually two to three that can be separated and potted up to start over again.
My other great bromeliad love are the foliage Vrieseas. I'm a sucker for anything with a strong pattern and these beauties win hands down for interesting foliage.

My personal favorite is Vriesea hieroglyphica....

But I'm also really fond of the David Shiigi hybrids from Hawaii

And the Kiwi series from New Zealand - the beautiful 'Kiwi Sunset', These are both young plants and the colors will strengthen as they mature.

For winter care I bring them in and grow under lights where they do very well indeed and water them well about once every three weeks or so.  They grow in any good orchid bark only need a dilute liquid feed about every three months or so. Feed the roots and not in the cups. I burned a couple plants by leaving liquid feed in the centers. When bringing them out in the spring harden them off to a half day sun very gradually or you'll burn the leaves and it will take the rest of the summer to grow out the burned spots.  Some Neoregelias can take quite a bit of sun but it takes a bit of trial and error to know your individual plants. In general mine do very well with morning or late afternoon sun keeping them out of the strong mid-day sunlight.  The Vrieseas are more delicate and can be grown in less light than the Neo's. 

I'm in love with these living sculptures and enjoy their ease of care and visual impact in the gardens....

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Crazy about Containers

The only gardening activity I enjoy more than plant shopping (and starting from mid May through mid June is a plant shopping extravaganza for me) is assembling container gardens. Each container is a new opportunity to get my creative juices flowing and design a living composition of color, form and texture.  I love it so much I go just a tiny bit overboard and normally have more than 300 containers to water, feed, prune and putter with throughout the summer months. Yes, indeed, I've been known to be a bit overenthusiastic about things I'm passionate about.

I've recently finished assembling the West Container Border for the 2012 summer season.  It's anchored on one end by a mature Acer dissectum 'Crimson Queen' (Japanese Maple) and a Pinus strobus (Eastern White Pine) on the other.

There will eventually be an enormous hanging basket on the pine tree but I've run out of plants and need another shopping trip to fill the 20" basket.  (I know it's a tough job but I'll muddle through somehow.)  One of the delights of having so many pots is that one can also arrange and rearrange the individual containers to perfect the composition. The possibilities are endless. As the summer progresses I normally move things around the gardens to give the larger arrangements more room and it also provides me with nice blocks of color that can be added to the perennial borders as they wind down for the season.

I started adding bromiliads to my containers last summer but was limited by their size and by mid season they were overwhelmed by the other plants in the arrangements. This year I'm experimenting with attaching them to bamboo stakes which allows me more freedom and creativity for placing them in the combinations.

I've wrapped the rootball of these Billbergia 'Borracho's in coco fiber (the kind used for lining hanging baskets) and wrapped twine around the cocofiber to hold in the bark medium and roots. Then I cut an old, large bamboo stake to the desired length then split it lengthwise long enough to insert the root ball in the split in the bamboo then tie the bromeliad to the stake. You can insert the bromeliad anywhere in the arrangement you want and reposition as necessary as the container plants fill in. This combination features mostly variegated plants that include; Abutilon 'Souvenir de bonn', Plectranthus 'Vanilla twist', SunPatiens 'Variegated spreading white', Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost', Abutilon 'Melon Sorbet', Fuchsia 'Swanley Yellow' and a variegated Pelargonium 'Chelsea Gem'. 

These 'hay racks' purchased from  Kinsman Company provide a great vertical element for this vignette.  I like to design as much for foliage contrasts as flowers these days and love violet and chartreuse combinations.

I'm loving this Cordyline terminalis 'Kiwi' I recently bought from The Farmer's Daughter in East Kingston RI, one of the best nurseries I've ever seen and perhaps my favorite place to plant shop. The beautiful cement leaf was crafted by a friend of mine and I'm fortunate to have several of her pieces for the gardens here.

A more simple combination featuring Coleus 'Eclipse', Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost', Coleus 'Lancelot Mocha', Acalypha wilkesiana obovata  and a couple fuchsias including the blooming 'Gartenmeister bonstedt'.  The other which isn't blooming yet is a new cultivar I found this year called 'Flamingo Fever'. The flower on this plant is wonderful and quite a show stopper. I'm hoping it's free blooming and lives up to my expectations.

An arrangement with a darker theme that contrasts nicely with the surrounding chartreuse arrangements.

And so it goes on and on with new opportunities for new combinations every time I have a look at the offerings at the nurseries.  I haven't yet counted the containers this year but I'm not done yet either....