Many gardeners put up their tools and prop up their feet during the winter months. It is a time to slow down and take life a little easier. Many gardeners spend the long evenings poring through garden catalogs and magazines. Getting inspiration for their spring planting. I do the same. But that is not the point of this post.
Here in Durham North Carolina, we usually have fairly mild winter with the occasional snow. Today for example the high temperature will be in the 60’s. It is still a little early to do a lot of cleanup in the garden as the leaf litter helps keep down winter weeds and moderates soil temperature fluctuations. Never know if bitter cold weather is still ahead. Besides, the dried tops of many perennials look good in their winter browns and tans. I especially like some of them when they are covered in frost and sparkle in the sunlight. So I usually wait until later in the winter to do my cutting back of perennials. Take the time to appreciate the subtle colors and textures of your winter garden.
I also take the time to see where the garden is lacking in interest during the winter. Around here the leaves drop just before Thanksgiving, and the trees don’t leaf out until late March or early April. That’s a good 4 months or more. Don’t waste that time! Add color for that third of the year. Find blank areas in the garden in the winter where you can add evergreens or plants with winter color like berries or a change in color. One of my favorite plants in my garden is a white pine called ‘Hillside Winter Gold’ As the name suggests, the needles on it turn gold in the winter.
Another plant that adds interest to the winter garden is Ilex verticillata. Some variety names are Winterberry and Sparkleberry. These are native deciduous hollies. As with all hollies, there are both male and female plants. If you don’t have berries, you may have a male or you have a female and there is not a nearby male. I usually insure berries by ordering a male any time I plant females. Most named varieties will be of a known sex.
Other plants with winter berries are evergreen hollies, hawthorn, and beautyberry. Many of the thuja cultivars have evergreen foliage that changes color with the cold weather as do some of the junipers. Many winters the oakleaf hydrangeas hold onto some of their deep red leaves. Some plants have interesting bark that shows more after the leaves fall. The oakleaf hydrangeas have a cinnamon peeling bark that is hidden by the large leaves all summer. Ninebark also has interesting bark that is unnoticed during the summer.
The point I am making is that the garden doesn’t have to be boring for the third of the year or longer that it is “dormant”. With some planning and some appreciation for winter’s subtleties the garden can be quite enjoyable year round.
I was back home again in Indiana for the Memorial Day weekend. While I was there, I visited with some family members. One of my uncles asked me what was the best type of Spruce for him to plant. I had no good answer for him. I grew up in Indiana and studied at Purdue so I learned the plants for Indiana. However, it has been over 20 years since I did any landscaping in Indiana. So I forgot most of it.
Which brings me to my point. Many times while looking for gardening advice, we look at books of more likely today, we look it up on the internet. The internet covers the WORLD! How can you know exactly what is the right plant for your area? You have to find out what location the writer/blogger is referring to. Plants listed as full sun in the northern states might need shade in the hot south. In our area in NC, hostas are grown in the shade but in their native environment, they grow in full sun. But they also grow in marshes in their native china so the moisture level stays constant for their large leaves.
As for spruces, The Norway spruce is grown in our area but they really would prefer to be grown one zone north of us. The Colorado Blue Spruce is grown here but it would normally be found in more northern/ higher altitudes. One of the biggest surprises for me when I went to Miami was seeing “house plants” being used as landscape plants. You have to take local areas into context when looking at gardening ideas on the web. Some websites such as Dave’s Garden will tell you where people are growing a certain plant. Local garden centers are much better about local information than any of the big chains such as Lowes or Home Depot. You might pay a little more for the plants but you get the correct information. When you consider the cost of buying new plants to replace the ones that die, then usually you will come out cheaper. That makes gardening a lot more enjoyable and a lot less frustrating.
So it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything here. Spring for any garden designer is busy along with the time spent on one’s own garden getting ready for a tour. So there has really been no Spring break,
We’ve had a pretty good spring so far in Durham. We haven’t hit 90 degrees yet which is a little unusual and have had many days below 80, also unusual. We’ve also had a bit more rain than normal so everything is growing very well. Some years it seems that spring is only 2 weeks long because we go from cold to hot in a very short time.
Spring is also a time for historic home tours in Durham and I’ve made it around to my share this spring. Of course, many times I am more interested in the gardens than the houses but no one really needs to know that. Preservation Durham’s home tour party was held at a home with an extensive garden on a corner lot. This allows the garden to become sort of a public garden. Nothing like touring someone’s garden other than your own to put your plant identification skills to the test. Truth be told, I have a couple of plants in my native garden that I have forgotten what they are. Nothing wrong with discreetly leaving a plant tag near the base of a plant to remind yourself later what it is. I’ve spent some time recently tagging some of the larger trees and shrubs with aluminum plant tags that hang by thin wires. These can be moved easily as the plant grows to allow you to find it later. I went through a pack of 50 of these tags and had to order another 50. Perennials are not conducive to this technique so I’ll have to either remember them or do the tag in the ground thing.
I have shown the garden to more people this spring than probably the past four years combined. I’ve always told my customers that most gardens really seem to come into their own on the third year. This has held true for Jaliya’s garden. Of course, I know what is left in my mind to be done at a later date but new people to the garden do not know. Seeing a garden in this stage followed by pointing to the jungle in the back yard next door let’s them know that they too can have a beautiful garden in just a couple years time. My own back yard looked just like the one next door when I moved in.
It will take some time for the trees and shrubs to reach their prime. That is where perennials do such a good job in creating interest in a garden. Too many landscapes focus only on trees and shrubs and are missing out. Or they will throw in a few daylilies or some other common tough perennial and stop there. We’ve talked before about the five design functions of plants and these pictures help to bear that out. The perennials give a lot of interest to the garden while the larger plants grow. In five years, this garden will look so much different because the shrubs will be showing their form and the trees will change the sun/shade patterns. But that is the fun of garden design. You have an idea in your mind of what you want to create. You then go to work and let nature bring it to fruition. A garden is never really done. It just grows and develops along with you.
Spring flowers are highly anticipated and treasured for their brief display. Today I walked through Jaliya’s Memorial Garden and took some pictures of currently flowering shrubs. Tomorrow I will try to show you pictures of the flowering perennials from the garden.
Rhododendrons are large evergreen shrubs native to the mountains and piedmont in the southeast. They require shade and good drainage. They can have some morning sun but no more. There are many cultivars out there. Roseum Elegans is my favorite.
This is an Eastern Ninebark variety called ‘Diablo’. It is noted for it’s dark leaves. There are other cultivars available with yellow and copper leaves. I like Diablo for the contrast in color especially while in flower. Ninebarks would often get lost in the shrub border if you used the standard green leaf variety.
This is a Viburnum dentatum called blue muffin. It is claimed to have nicer shinier leaves than the species. Later these flowers will be dark blue berries for the birds to eat.
This is a native shrub/small tree called Fringetree. It’s easy to see how it gets the name. There are male and females of this tree and supposedly the male flowers are showier. I don’t notice the difference. Probably because usually you see them as a stand alone specimen rather than in groups so you could compare. There is a Chinese Fringetree that may have a nicer habit but our native one has fragrant flowers that the Chinese species does not.
Many of the native azaleas have already bloomed but there are still more to bloom later in the season. Hopefully one day I can devote a post to all of them. The Virginia Sweetspire is in bud and will be blooming any day now.
Redbud trees are usually the first blooming trees people notice in the spring. They bloom just before the dogwoods and often the end of their bloom overlaps the start of the dogwood bloom. They are understory trees and usually are most noticeable along the edges of woods. This tells you a lot about where they are happiest to grow. However, people do grow them out in full sun.
Jaliya’s Memorial Garden has 6 different cultivars of redbud. The most common variety is the Forest Pansy Redbud. This redbud grows to a typical redbud size but the leaves start out as a Reddish/Purple color. They will keep the purple color for a while into the season before turning a dark green.
Their is a new purple leaved Redbud called Merlot. It is said to hold the purple leaf color longer into the season.
Another Redbud in the Garden is Called Hearts of Gold. The leaves on this plant start out a yellow color and stay light green all season. This helps the plant to stand out in the shade or with a dark background.
Another Redbud in the garden is Floating Clouds Redbud. This redbud has leaves that are variegated with white.
There is another White variegated leafed redbud called Silver Clouds.
Another Redbud in the garden is the Rising Sun Redbud. I have had this one less than a year. The leaves on it come out yellow and even orange in the spring. I am told it will hold these colors all season.
I have two weeping Redbuds in the Garden. The first is a weeping redbud with the typical green leaves. The second is called Ruby Falls. It has purple leaves like the Forest Pansy or Merlot.
All of these Redbuds have the reddish purple flowers. There is a redbud with white flowers. There are also cultivars of Redbud from the texas subspecies of Redbud that have shinier leaves than their eastern counterparts.
So choose one or more redbuds for early spring flower color. The flowers may only last a couple of weeks but with the new cultivars out there you can have more seasonal interest than just flowers.
There is a new residential development in our area that advertises that they are green and use native plants. This excited me because having a whole neighborhood that was planting natives could show how attractive a native community could be and such a large area of natives would be a seed source for natives to be reintroduced into the natural landscape.
Imagine my surprise when I drove through this neighborhood and had a hard time finding these native plants. I had a couple customers referred to me in this neighborhood and their front yards were already planted by the landscaper hired by the builder. NOT ONE native plant was in these front yards. The clients were surprised to hear this.
So I found out the name of the GUY IN CHARGE of selling lots in the development and gave him a call. He told me that they did plant native. When I told him what I saw he said well they plant SOME native. When I pressed further, he said well they plant drought-tolerant and maybe in order to do that, they had to plant some non-natives. You do not have to plant non-natives to have drought tolerant plantings. Many natives are drought tolerant because every where has the occasional drought and the natives in that location survive. Then he said that azaleas are native. I told him that some azaleas are native but the ones that are here are deciduous. The evergreen azaleas common in the south come from Japan. He still insisted that they are native because they are everywhere. That is the same as saying European- and African-Americans are Native Americans. He then got short with me and said he had heard enough. He did not want to hear the truth any more. He wanted to go on believing that he was being responsible to the environment and planting native plants. I feel he is lying to prospective buyers.
The term NATIVE when it comes to plants means that it is indigenous to the area. When I plant “native”, I include plants that are indigenous to the Southeast US with the exception of South Florida. This gives me an expanded palette of plants to choose from above what is indigenous to Durham, NC.
The term NATURALIZED means that the plant came from another part of the world but has moved into the natural environment on it’s own. So the Japanese Azaleas are not even naturalized as they do not seed into the woods. Privet is naturalized as it comes up on it’s own all over the woods. It is in fact an invasive exotic. Some 20% of the plants found in the woods are invasive exotics that should not be there. Up to 30% are NATURALIZED, invasive or not. NATURALIZED plants are NON-NATIVE!
Most plants sold by plant nurseries are in fact NON-NATIVE. Care must be taken when planting non-natives to not introduce them into the wild. Most of the native plants in the wild are nearly non-existent except for the native trees. Many wildflowers and native shrubs are hard to find in their native habitats any more due to farming practices and clear-cutting. Native plants are usually limited in the wild to steep slopes and swamps where man could not farm.
Planting natives today means you are helping to reintroduce the native plants into your area and hopefully they will once again be seeding in and sprouting up in their native habitats they used to enjoy. Calling a plant native when it is not does not make it so.
When you build a garden over time, sometimes it seems that things are moving slow. Yesterday, I had visitors who had seen the garden a couple of years ago but had not recently. It was great to hear their excitement over how much it has come along. It gave me a renewed perspective on the garden and the work that has gone into it. I have a vision for where I want it to be and I know it’s not there yet. Visitors don’t know the vision that’s in your head, they see the beauty that’s already there. Now I do appreciate the garden as it is. But sometimes in looking at the vision of where I want it to be leaves a feeling that there is a lot to be desired. Not true. I need to remind myself of that more often.
These visitors were unscheduled. they just happened to show up while I was working in the garden. I was working in the garden because I do have scheduled visitors coming this week. This give impetus to doing some work that I had been putting off until the time was “just right”. This is a good thing. Sometimes in weeding and pruning, the developments of the garden get put on hold. This is another part of human nature. We put off things until we feel we have to get them done. We need deadlines to make things happen.
Unscheduled visitors can help you to appreciate the garden as it is. Scheduled visitors can motivate you to make new changes that you had been putting off. Schedule visits to your garden regularly and let that motivate you to do the things you’ve put off. You will find that the garden develops quicker and you will be happy showing it off any time someone just shows up.
As I wrote about yesterday. Spring is a season full of surprises and change. Each day seems to bring a new plant blooming and makes a walk through the garden a new pleasant surprise each day. There are some native Spring blooming plants though that you only see for a very brief time in the Spring. These plants are called Spring Ephemerals.
Spring Ephemerals are plants that most often grow in the woods and do all their growing in a very short period of time. These plants sprout leaves before the trees leaf out, bloom and then die back to the ground soon after the tree leaves are fully out. Their whole life cycle is based on using the light and moisture available before the trees start taking most of both.
Spring beauties are delicate looking little plants with white/ soft pink flowers. There are a couple species of Hepatica that bloom either white, pink or blue. Trout lily is a yellow flowered lily with speckled leaves. All of these you can look up online for pictures and more information.
One of the favorites among most people are the Trillium. Trilliums are so named because the whole plant seems to be based on threes. The leaves are three leaves fanned out usually in a flat plane. From the center comes a single flower with three petals. White, pink, maroon, and yellow are the possible colors. The leaves are often mottled. Some trilliums have their flowers upright and some are ‘Nodding”.
My favorite is the Virginia Bluebell. When I was in college, I visited a memorial garden that had whole hillsides planted with these. It was breathtaking. Blue is a favorite flower color for me as I find it very cooling in a garden. On occasion you will find bluebells that start out looking more pink before they turn blue.
Other ephemerals are Mayapple, Jack in the Pulpit, and Bloodroot.
In my mind all of these are to be treasured because they are so fleeting and help to mark the seasons. Please don’t go dig these up from the wild for your garden. Find nurseries that propagate them in their nursery rather than wild collect. This way you leave the wild ones for others to enjoy and every gardener knows that some times when you transplant a plant, you end up killing it.
When you ask people their favorite season, you can get any one of the four seasons. I’ve never done the research but I am sure they aren’t equally spread out over the four. Growing up in the Indiana, it seemed that most people’s favorite season was Spring after a long winter. Summer was usually a close second as it meant pleasant weather most of the time and no school.
When I moved south to Georgia, I found more people who liked fall because in the south, fall is long and drawn out and usually quite a pleasant respite from a long hot summer. I used to say Savannah had two seasons, Hot and Not so Hot. I found people there who thought winter was their favorite season which seemed ludicrous in Indiana. In Indiana, fall was nice but was a reminder that a long rough winter was just around the corner.
Here in Durham, NC, our springs some years seem to be over in a flash. It’s the fall that seems to be long and pleasant and winters usually aren’t that much to be feared. Fall can easily seem to be 4 months or more even if the calendar doesn’t say so. Spring sometimes seems to last only 4 days.
Which brings me to my point, (finally). One of the best things about Spring is that you can usually go out every day and find something new in flower, something new leafing out. It’s surprise after surprise even though you knew it was coming. The best gardens are designed with that in mind. People like pleasant surprises. The well-designed garden should gradually reveal itself. It’s best if you can’t see the garden all at once or from one brief look. A garden should invite you into itself to be enjoyed. As you STROLL through it, you find pleasant little surprises and time should melt away. It should have a variety of plants to give seasonal interest all through the year. The spring flowers might evoke memories of years of Easter egg hunts in the garden. Flowers from other times of the year might bring back memories of prom dresses, wedding anniversaries, births and birthdays. A garden is never static even though some garden designers do attempt to design a garden that looks the same day in and day out. They think of the “perfect” garden and hope for that look for all time. There is a place for all seasons. The garden should reflect that. It is a way of marking time and years and most of all pleasant little surprises that turn into memories.
Many yards have some place that water seems to drain slowly or even have standing water for a few days after a rain. You can curse these spots, regrade your yard to move the water out, or you can take advantage of your luck and plant a rain garden.
Low areas in the lawn are always a problem as it makes mowing difficult. The lawn mower will leave wheel tracks through the mud and the situation seems to get worse and worse. It is best to give up the grass completely in a low spot. In this post, I will give you some idea of the native plants that work well in Durham NC. You can find similar plants native to your area online.
If your low spot is large, you might want to plant water loving trees such as River Birch, Sweetbay Magnolia, Serviceberry, and Bald Cypress.
For shrubs that like damp areas, you can plant Inkberry Holly, Sweetshrub, Clethera, Illicium, Leucothoe, and Wax Myrtle. Winterberry Holly is a great shrub for these locations and they have berries that help to attract birds.
Hibiscus is a plant with large flowers that loves wet areas. There are the “dinner plate” hibiscus as well as the star hibiscus. Some plants that usually like shade such as Cardinal Flower and Cinnamon Fern will grow in full sun if kept consistently wet. Monarda is a great hummingbird attractor as is the Cardinal Flower. Joe Pye Weed and Swamp Milkweed are great butterfly attractors. Swamp Sunflower and the Native Ageratum are late fall bloomers for wet areas. Turtle head is an unusual looking flower that also likes damp soil. For grasses you can add the rushes, Carex, and Acorus. Louisiana Iris and the Virginia Iris also add vertical elements to the rain garden.
So as you can see, there are a lot of possibilities for a poorly drained area of your yard that are way more attractive than a lawn. In fact, you may even decide to run the downspouts from the gutter for your house and intentionally create a rain garden. Any time you can keep water on your property rather than running into the storm sewer it’s a good thing. I run the downspout water into my garden ponds and the overflow for them is a rain garden. Sometimes dipping a bucket of water out of the pond for a thirsty plant in the summer is easier than dragging a hose out to the garden from the house.