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I loved last year’s Winter Container Garden class at Longwood so much that I decided to give a similar class this year as a contribution to the UUCCH auction.  We had a gorgeous, sunny afternoon for planting.  It’s hard to believe a hurricane came through the mid-Atlantic just a few weeks ago, but one benefit is that I collected dozens of fallen pine and birch branches to decorate the containers.  We did fine-textured evergreens (arbor vitae and variegated dwarf false cypress) with lovely red-tinged nandina domestica.  In fact, the nandina were so large that we ended up splitting them in half to use two per container.  For accents, I cut holly, beauty berry and magnolia stems from the UUCCH grounds.  My friend Mia brought along some holly from her yard, and some wonderful rhododendron as well.  In fact, we had so many cut branches that I ended up using them to accent my planting beds and other containers as well.  All the guests added their own unique touches to the containers, and I have to say, the results were lovely.  All told, a successful class and supremely pleasant afternoon.ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

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As I worked on the new island bed for my sister-in-law, I began thinking about the types of plants that are best suited for gardens here in the Mid-Atlantic area.  To make a garden visually interesting, it’s important to incorporate a variety of plant heights, shapes and textures.  A combination of small accent trees, shrubs, bulbs and perennials usually does the job.  Once established, these kinds of mixed gardens require little maintenance.

It’s also useful to use elements that are attractive at different times of the year.  Like all of us, our gardens need to work hard during every season!  And although some gardeners have the advantage of plentiful sun, many do not.  So I considered plants that can work in a variety of light conditions.  And of course, I have a strong preference for East Coast natives that support local wildlife.

With all of these ideas in mind, I came up with this ‘top ten’ list for Mid-Atlantic gardens:

1.     Flowering Dogwood (cornus florida):  Nothing announces Spring better than the beautiful flowering dogwood.   Native to the Eastern US,  it is lovely as a small accent or understory tree at the woodland’s edge.  And once the leaves have fallen, the graceful branch structure offers interest all winter.

2.    Shadbush  (amelanchier):  Another North American native, Shadbush is a graceful small tree for sunny or partly shady areas.  Some varieties grow as multi-stemmed large shrubs.  They offer spring flowers, beautiful fall color and edible blueberry-like fruits.  I recently planted a trio of the ‘Princess Diana’ variety at the edge of my yard, and they are already growing in nicely.

3.    Inkberry Holly (ilex glabra):  Every garden needs evergreens for structure and year-round color.  Inkberry holly is my go-to evergreen for a number of reasons.  First, as a native plant, it supports the local habitat.  Second, it grows happily in sun or shade.  Finally, inkberry serves as a reliable backdrop to more showy small shrubs and perennials in the garden.

4.     Redtwig Dogwood (cornus sericea):   Talk about a four-season plant!  The dogwoods in my garden have graceful variegated leaves in spring, soft white flowers in early summer, and showy deep red stems in fall and winter.  I love to cut branches for holiday decorations.  Beyond adding structure and interest to the garden, redtwigs are also a native plant.

5.     Knockout Rose (Rosa ‘knockout’):  OK, so everybody plants them.  But for good reason – they’re the easy to grow, resistant to pests, require no maintenance, and offer beautiful color from spring until fall.  I use red knockouts in my back yard, soft pink to border the vegetable garden, and sunny yellow at the beach.   If you’re new to roses or have been afraid to try them, Knock-outs are truly a great option.

6.     Virginia Sweetspire (itea virginica):  Another wonderful, easy-care native shrub, Sweetspire offers white bottle-brush flowers in the spring, glossy green leaves all sumer, and blazing fall color.  I like ‘Henry’s Garnet’ for large gardens and ‘Little Henry’ for smaller areas.  I planted Little Henry in my stream-side border, where it does just fine in partial shade.   

7.     Grecian Windflower (anemone blanda):  I’ve just about given up on bulbs.  Squirrels dig up the tulips.  Daffodils are lovely in bloom, but then leave ugly foliage behind.  Grecian windflower, however, may just change my mind.  This graceful plant is among the first to emerge in the spring.  It offers fern-like foliage and long-lasting small flowers of white and purple.  Plant a few in partly shady areas, and they’ll grow in drifts.  And by the time they start to fade, other perennials will have begun to take over.

8.     Switchgrass (panicum virgatum):  Ornamental grasses add vertical interest and movement to the garden.  Many exotic varieties though, are invasive.  These days, I’m ripping out the zebra grass and other exotics, and replacing them with native switchgrass.  Numerous varieties offer a range of color choices and heights.  At the beach, I’m using the bluish ‘Heavy Metal.’  At home, I’ve just purchased ‘Shenandoah,’ a red-tinged variety, to plant alongside my red knockouts.

9.     ‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum (sedum ‘autumn joy’):  In the ‘plant it and forget it’ category, sedums take first prize.  In fact, they seem to actually thrive on neglect.  But these hard-working plants offer wonderful shape and texture in sunny gardens.  I like ‘Autumn Joy’ for its long-lasting, rust-colored flowers in late summer and fall.

10.  Purple Catmint (nepeta-x-faasseni ‘walker’s low’):  Catmint is a reliable perennial with a mounded shape that helps blend taller shrubs and upright plants together in a mixed garden.  Its purple flowers attract helpful pollinators.  I use the ‘Walker’s Low’ variety and it comes back stronger and bigger every year.

 What is your top-10 list for local gardens?  I’d love to hear!

 

 

 

 

 

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My first commission!  Ok, a labor of love – but still a first opportunity to design a garden for someone besides myself!  My sister-in-law, Lisa, asked me to plant the large, crescent-shaped bed at the end of her driveway.  I was excited by the challenge of designing a bed for full sun (since my own yard is mainly shade), and especially such a large space – about 20 feet long by 10 feet at the widest spot.  The bed contained a rag-tag assortment of plants – a half dozen globe-shaped evergreens, a leggy willow, a few Russian sage, a clump of Pampas grass, and a large patch of silvery Lambs’ Ear surrounding a large boulder.  Lisa’s requirements were simple:  No maintenance.  Save the purple sage.  Oh, and don’t remove the Lambs’ Ear.

Here’s my starting point:

Sunny island bed, before

The evergreens pose a bit of a design challenge in my opinion because they are so dense and heavy.  After a bit of planning, though, I came up with a design for year-round interest, based on bold color scheme of red, purple and white.  I purchased from the nursery:

  • 5 ‘Ivory Halo’ red-twig dogwood
  • 5 red Knock-Out roses
  • 6 ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum
  • 3 purple catmint

Also on the shopping list is a ‘Snow Fountain’ weeping cherry – but I have to borrow a truck in order to pick it up.  And from my own yard, I added a Nandina Domestica left over from one of my winter containers.  Here are the raw materials for the new bed:

Plants for the new bed:  red twig dogwood, roses, sedum, catmint, Nandina Domestica

With Saturday’s cool and cloudy weather, conditions were ideal for renovating the bed.  First, I removed, split and relocated the Pampas grass (not a favorite of mine anyway, so I was glad to see it go!  Upon closer look, I discovered that the evergreens were not boxwood, but in fact Japanese holly (much nicer and easier to keep, in my book).  I moved a few of the Lambs’ Ear from their dense patch, to line the outside edge of the hollies.  The willow got a bit of a haircut.

Then, finally, to add the new plants.  I put the Nandina behind the bolder – it will grow tall and develop a lovely red color and bright berries, and the boulder will hide its legs.  I surrounded the Nandina with three of the dogwoods, and then split up the sage and added them in along the edge.  On the other side of the boulder, I planted the Knock-Outs in a staggered pattern, and edged them with the sedum.  The two remaining dogwoods went in on the other side of the roses, bordered by the catmint.  Here is the newly replanted bed:

Sunny island bed, after

I am very pleased with the result.  The dogwoods and Nandina add grace, movement and openness to the bed, while the red Knock-Out roses will offer vibrant color all summer long.  The weeping cherry tree will be planted in the empty space next to the willow.  Its cascading branches will counteract the upright forms of the willow, dogwoods and roses.  The cherry tree has beautiful white flowers in the spring, which will soften the bare twigs of the willow.  In the fall, its leaves will have a beautiful orange-red color, complementing the red dogwood stems and sedum flowers.  In short, a once-bare bed will offer no-maintenance beauty in every season.  Now that’s a labor of love!

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Trampled Underfoot!

About two months ago, I made the mistake of allowing a tree service company do some work in my Woodland Border. The workmen were supposed to trim low-lying branches, remove a few dead trees and clear away rotted logs. I think they were really just looking for firewood to sell, because they were overzealous in their trimming. None of the live trees were really harmed, thank goodness, even though the workmen trimmed more than I wanted. The real problem is that they dragged all the cut logs through the planted border and across my yard. As a result, my once-beautiful woodland border is now completely TRAMPLED UNDERFOOT!

My woodland gardens, now trampled underfoot!

What a mess! Now there’s major cleanup and repair work to do. I’ll look on the bright side here however. In my day job as a marketing professional, I use the term ‘compelling event’ to describe an issue that prompts a client to move forward at any given point. Here, I’m using the cleanup as my ‘compelling event,’ to achieve two outcomes:

–Increase the scale and impact of the woodland border, with major additions of native shrubs and plants
–Create an even more beautiful setting for my Summer Garden Party in early June

With these goals in mind, I’m heading to Rare Find Nursery on Saturday to pick up a large order of native shrubs. Here goes the next project!

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Last Saturday’s road trip to Delaware, with an impromptu stop at Willey’s Farm (http://www.willeyfarmsde.com/), a wonderful local nursery and produce market, yielded the materials for some lovely Spring containers.

Pansies, herbs and salad greens for Spring containers

Inspired by photographs in magazines and online, I’ve been wanting to make Spring containers combining flowers, herbs and salad greens.   Here,  I used some of my favorite herbs (Rosemary, Spearmint), added some trailers for visual interest (Thyme), and tried out some new plants as well (Arugula, Anise Hyssop).  I made a few for my front step, and a few to give as gifts.

A few containers on the front porch

I also rejeuvenated the Winter containers from my class at Longwood Gardens, (see prior post) by removing the cut greens and adding herbs and flowers.  With the bulbs in full bloom, my Winter containers are now also beautiful Spring containers.  Take a look at the results!

Winter container, redone for Spring

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Winter container with arbor vitae, nandina, kale and holly

We celebrated my friend Mia’s birthday with a trip to Longwood for the ‘Winter Garden Design in a Container’ class.  One of the best classes that I’ve taken there so far!  The instructor, Karl, (http://www.KarlGercens.com), shared a number of key tips that have kept my winter garden containers healthy and beautiful in the weeks since these photos were taken:

  • Choose a large, lightweight container – plastic is a great option since you can move it around easily and it won’t crack from the cold.
  • Use a soil-free potting mix – these are lighter and help maintain the plants through the winter.  Top them up with fertilizer or compost if you replant the container later on.
  • Select plans that are two zones hardier than your location.  I’m in Zone 7, so I need zone 5 plants.  Pick some for height and some for horizontal interest.  Then add the decorative accents like pine branches and holly sprigs.
  • Make the containers in late fall when nursery plants are on sale.
  • Keep the containers in a semi-shaded spot.  The plants will lose too much moisture in full sun, especially when the root ball freezes.  Water them with cold water once a week, or simply cover the tops with ice cubes.

I did a native plant container with a blueberry shrub and Christmas fern, accented with a low evergreen juniper, deciduous holly and gorgeous magnolia leaves.   It was so much fun that I bought more plants on the way home and made a second container – this one with an arborvitae, winter-hardy kale and nandina – plus some orange-berried holly from Mia’s yard, and yew and rhododendron clippings from my neighborhood.  I also dug in some tulip and daffodil bulbs.  In the spring, I’m going to pull out the greens, let the bulbs bloom, and then see if I can keep these containers going with summer annuals.  Otherwise, the shrubs can go into various spots in my garden.

All in all, a wonderful learning experience.  I’ve got a new appreciation for container gardening, and looking forward to making more of these next year.

Winter container featuring native plants

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About two years ago, I created a new shrub border along the stream at the edge of my yard.  Together with my landscaper, Kerry, I designed the border to feature many of the shrubs I studied at Longwood:  fothergilla, viburnum nudum Winterthur, witchazel and more.  It is quite a long border that incorporates the existing trees and shrubs.  Over time, I added spring flowering bulbs for color, and sun perennials in the front section that is hot and dry.  It looks pretty, but has never developed the full, lush look I was hoping for.  Here are some pictures of the border in early spring, 2011:

Now, I’m hoping to really take it up a notch.  I’m applying the formula from Lee Schneller’s “The Ever-Blooming Flower Garden,” to create a richer look and continual pattern of interest in the border.  I came up with a color scheme of purple, silver, soft yellow and white, that will tie in with the existing shrubs and blend the sunny and shady areas of the border.   Today, I received the order from Bluestone Perennials:

  • 2 Amsonia Hubrichtii
  • 5 Amsonia tabernae Montana
  • 3 Artemesia Silver Mound
  • 5 Heuchera Plum Pudding
  • 5 Penstemon Navigator
  • 3 Thalictrum Glaucum
  • 5 Tiarella Elizabeth Oliver
  • 5 Tradescantia Bluestone
  • 7 Digitalis Ambigua

Tomorrow is planting day.  Can’t wait to see the result!

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