Thoughts on how to create a well-designed garden retreat.

Posts tagged “flowers

Southern Summer-time Slowdown

Many people stereotype southerners as slow or living a slower paced life.  With the heat and humidity of the South, it’s not laziness, it’s survival.  The biggest garden chores in the summer are watering and weeding.  You can plant year-round in the South but a lot of people hold off planting in the summer.  Summer heat is stressful for plants.  It takes a lot of water for plants in their first year in the garden and especially so in the summer.  You will always have a “first” summer for any plant in your garden.  This is often the most critical time in getting a plant acclimated to your garden.

The other main chore of the summer is weeding.  Tree seedlings can soon turn your garden into a forest.  I also make sure any invasive exotic plants that are seeding into the garden are removed immediately.  My definition of a weed is “a plant out of place”.  Some ornamental plants are appreciated when they seed in and fill in a space.  Others can take over a planned garden.  When I first moved into my current home, I removed every invasive exotic plant from my rear garden.  When I was done, I only had one tree left.  It was a jungle of invasive plants.  In many urban areas, it is a constant battle keeping out these types of plants that someone in the past thought it was a good idea to plant.  Even if you don’t have them in your yard, they often seed in from the neighbors.  Education is important.  Gently encourage your neighbors to also remove invasive plants.  They may or may not listen.  The more people who understand the damage done to the environment by invasive exotic plants, the better for future generations.

During the summer, take notes on any time period that your garden doesn’t seem to have blooming flowers.  You can sit in the comfort of your air conditioning and plan for buying plants to fill those gaps.  You might notice that you have too much of one color and not of another.  You might find areas where you have a lot of weeds because your garden isn’t planted thick enough to discourage weeds.  Sit back with your favorite cold beverage and look at the plant catalogs and online information to plan what you want to plant at the first sign of cooler weather in the fall.  If you can plant early in the fall, you will get some good new growth before winter and the plant will be further established by the time next summer rolls around.  Then when the heat and humidity of the next summer has you feeling lazy, you can look at your garden with more enjoyment and less work.


Spring break?

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.

Before the blood sweat and tears.

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

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.

Rhododendron 'Roseum Elegans'

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.

Eastern Ninebark 'Diablo'

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.

Blue Muffin Viburnum

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.

Fringe Tree

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.

Spring a surprise.

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.

Spring popping up everywhere.

So it’s been a few days since I have posted here.  With warm weather, seems everyone is now thinking spring and interested in working in the garden or calling me to work on designing their garden.  Not complaining at all.  I’ve taken advantage of the warm weather and breaks from work to tend to Jaliya’s garden and the garden near the house.  Winter weeds are always a problem this time of year as they grow like crazy ready to go to seed.  This means hand pulling them before they do so hopefully next years crop is smaller.  I used last fall’s leaves to cover a lot of the area not heavily planted so that has saved a lot of labor.  But areas that are not quite covered with plants still allow weeds to pop up.  Also while cutting back the native ornamental grasses, tree seedlings are exposed.  These must be removed since I am not trying to re-create a forest.  Everything goes into the compost bin except for the wisteria seeds I still find lying on the ground.  These go directly into the trashcan as I do not want even one to sprout.  I spent way too much time removing wisteria to create the garden to let it take back over.  Unfortunately their is still wisteria next door and the seeds somehow still end up in my yard from the wind.

Late winter in Durham can have a lot of bloom if the right plants are planted.  The Camellias are blooming strong as is the daphne and mahonia.  Bulbs are blooming everywhere with daffodils and narcissus being the most common.  Hyacinths are small but noticeable by their sweet fragrance.  Corylopsis, spirea, forsythia are also blooming ahead of their leaves.Crimson Candles CamelliaCorylopsis Golden Spring


The Yoshino Cherry is blooming a little early this year.  Macon Ga, where I used to live has a big cherry blossom festival every spring so I had to have one in my yard as a way to remember that city.  They say they have over 300,000 Yoshino Cherries planted along the streets there.  It is quite a sight to see.

Yoshino Cherry

Saturday I took time away from official work to go buy plants for my garden.  The North Carolina Botanical Garden sell native plants daily that they have propagated on location.  It is always tough to walk out of there without buying too many plants.  However, I was able to obtain some new species for the memorial garden.  One of the problems I am finding is trying to find the room for some plants.  This is where the concept of plant layering comes in.  Small plants under medium size plants under even larger plants.  However, since the garden is still only about 4 years old, the separation of plants by size is not easily done while some of the larger plants have a lot of growing to still do.  But as the saying goes, a “garden is never really finished.”

Current late winter bloomers in my garden

Walking through my garden on a warm day, I am finding blooming plants that already give hints of what is to come once spring is here.  These are what is currently blooming.

The crocus have already bloomed and are fading away.  The Camellia ‘Crimson Candles’ is in full bloom.  This is an interesting camellia in the way it grows in a open yet narrow habit.  The buds show a lot of color long before they actually open.  Both the Lenten Rose and the Bird’s foot hellebore are also blooming near them.  The Winter Daphne and Leatherleaf Mahonia bloom with their wonderful fragrance filling up the area.  Both of these plants are musts for late winter fragrance in the garden.  The fragrant tea olive is showing signs of blooming any day now.  It too is a very nicely scented plant.  One often smells it long before you see the flowers as the flowers are quite small.

In the native garden, the Carolina Jessamine is blooming and it too is fragrant.  It is climbing up the arbor leading into the garden which means you get it’s wonderful smell every time you enter the garden while it is in bloom.  The native Spring Beauties are also in bloom and the phlox “emerald blue’ is showing some flowers.  The phlox makes a great evergreen ground cover.  When it is in full flower, you don’t even see the leaves.  The witchhazel is wrapping up it’s bloom season while the columbine looks to be ready to pop any day now.  I have also seen the Virginia Bluebells poking up so I am looking for their blooms before long.  The native violets are also blooming.  It is still early in the native garden.

Back up around the house, the Daphne genkwa is just starting to flower.  I also have a dwarf forsythia and the Kumson forsythia, both of which are in bloom.  Kramer’s Rote heather has been in bloom for a couple of weeks now.  The focal of the front garden is the Weeping Cherry Plum which has started to bloom and should be in full flower within a couple of days.

All said, it is an exciting time for a gardener with the glory of spring just around the corner.

Crimson Candles Camellia

Bird's foot Hellebore

Crocus 'Blue Pearl'

Was Godzilla here?

One very common and popular tree that is planted around here is the Bradford Pear.  Bradford Pears look like the perfect tree or how man would design a tree if he could.  They are very symmetrical trees.  They grow very dense making them great screens.  They bloom very early in spring and leaf out early as well.  They have red fall color and around here are the last trees to still have leaves, often late into December.

So all of that sounds pretty good but many of those same characteristics are also part of their problems.  Let’s go through these in reverse.  I don’t know about you, but when I rake up leaves, I’d like to know I am done.  However, most of the time, the Bradford’s leaves don’t even start to fall while the other trees are dropping their leaves.  So it is one more round of leaf clean up late into December right while you are getting ready for the Christmas holidays.  Like there is not enough to do then.

The bloom very early and sometimes cold weather will turn the blooms brown.  Not all that attractive.  The flowers in my opinion stink, kinda like old fish.  Yet often you see them planted near a front walkway.

They grow very dense.  Visually I find them to look very heavy.  No light gets to the ground  underneath them making it hard for anything else to grow under them.  Many homeowners also don’t prune the lower branches while they are young which compounds the problems.  The lowest branches should be kept above head height.

Now what could be possibly wrong with the symmetry.  Aside from my general views on symmetry in the garden that I talked about in a earlier post, what happens when you lose a major limb?  Bradford pears are fast growing.  Any wood that grows fast generally is weaker wood.  The dense symmetrical form comes from branches growing at tight angles to each other.  As these branches grow, they actually push against each other.  Add wind or ice, or both and the tree splits.  A few years ago here in Durham NC, we had an early December ice storm.  The trees still had leaves on them.  I saw Bradford tree after Bradford tree damaged.  Most of them looked like Godzilla had stepped on them.  Every limb was laying on the ground radiating out from the trunk like spokes on a wheel.  The trunks were sticking up 4-5 feet in the air.  I took pictures of them which unfortunately I no longer can locate.  (The pic I have attached I stole from the web).  As I took those pictures, I also took a picture of a Southern Magnolia, which of course had leaves since they are evergreen.  There was only one small limb lying on the ground under it.  It had ice on it just as the Bradfords did.  In fact the ice storm was so bad that most of the city was without power for nearly a week.  When people said that the Bradfords were only damaged because they still had leaves on them, I just showed them the picture of the Magnolia.

Godzilla? No, typical damaged Bradford Pear.

Even if the whole tree is not damaged completely in a storm, if it loses a major branch it still looks very bad.  A strongly symmetrical tree looks lie a big bite was taken out of it for a long time afterward.

Guess how many Bradford Pears I have planted in my career.   ONE!  That one was a replacement for a Bradford that had been damaged in an ice storm and the homeowner insisted that another one be planted in it’s place.  I’m sure that in the 20 years since it was planted, it has been damaged from ice as well.

Enjoy Spring a little early.

With the winter weather most of us have had this year, many are yearning for the first signs of spring.  Here in  Durham NC, some bulbs have peaked slightly out of the ground and I have seen a few flowering quince.  Otherwise, it still looks like winter, especially with the dusting of snow we got overnight.  You can have spring blooms a little earlier, however in the house.

What I am referring to is a technique called “forcing.”  No, I’m not talking about the way the Duke Blue Devils handled UNC last night.  I’m talking about a process where you bring branches of spring blooming trees and shrubs inside your home and trick them into blooming a little earlier. If the plants have experienced enough cold days, once you bring them inside your warm home, they are tricked into thinking it’s spring and buds begin to open and bloom.

Red Buckeye is an early spring bloomer that I tried for forcing.

Yesterday afternoon, I walked through my garden and pruned a handful of small branches of spring flowering trees.  I selected branches 1-1/2′ long that needed to be pruned anyway.  These were branches growing back to the inside of the plant or “wild” branches that seemed to be outgrowing others on the plant.  I took these inside and gave them a fresh angled cut to help them take up water.  I then placed them in a tall vase.  Now I just wait for nature to take it’s course. In a week or two, I should start getting blooms.  With the selection I chose, I should have an extended display as some will bloom early and others bloom later on their schedule.

The ones I selected were Yoshino Cherry, Redbud, Peach, Plum, Pear, and Red Buckeye.  There are others that you may have and could try.  Pussy Willow, Quince and Forsythia are all very easy to force.  Others to force are your spring-blooming spireas, azaleas, daphne, dogwood, and serviceberry.

Keep the branches in fresh water, out of direct sunlight, and wait for spring to come early.


Is spring around the corner?

It’s Groundhog Day in the US.  Supposedly if the groundhog sees his shadow, spring is right around the corner.  With the winter we’ve had, most everyone is looking forward to spring.  Here in Durham NC, it was 63 degrees when I got up at 6 am and is supposed to get up to around 70.  Feels like spring.  However, tomorrow is forecast to be in the 40’s.  Back to winter.

I’m, writing about this because probably no one looks forward more to spring than gardeners.  Usually around here, if we have a warm day, I’m out tinkering in the garden.  I may cut back perennials stalks that I left all winter.  I leave any that just don’t look all that bad for cover for the birds.  Leaving them also helps to trap blowing leaves that act as a mulch for the crown of the plant.  Leaving leaves over the crown of the plant help to prevent the soil warming up too quickly on a warm day and therefore keeping the plant from sending up tender shoots too early just to be killed back by freezing temperatures.  It’s better to be a patient gardener.

Warm days during the winter are great times to take a look at your smaller trees and see where they need pruned.  If you have young trees that one day will be shade trees, it is best to prune to create a central leader.  This is done by removing side branches that may compete for leadership position.  It is also good to remove any lower branches.  My rule of thumb is that the lowest branch should be above head height.  Even if that means you are leaving a single stick, go ahead and do it.  The root system is used to having more top than it does after you prune.  So once the plant starts growing in the spring, the root system focuses all of it’s energy into what you have left, actually giving you a bigger plant quicker.  So don’t be afraid to prune.

Also look for branches that are growing in the same general area.  Leave one branch in that space, removing the others.  Those limbs that are maybe even as small around as your pinkie finger will one day be as thick as your thigh.   Imagine that as you decide what branches to leave.  Also remove branches that are rubbing together.

If you are looking for other yard chores on a nice warm day in winter, look for your summer flowering shrubs that benefit from a hard pruning.  Some of these are your hydrangeas, butterflybush, and caryopteris that are common in our area.  You may have others.  These plants set there flower buds during the spring.

Do not hard prune your spring flowering shrubs yet.  However, if you have spring flowering shrubs that have gotten too large, you can rejuvenate them with good pruning now.  It is easier to see the stems before they leaf out.  The best method of doing this is to remove the thickest stems only, and remove a third of the plant doing so.  If you do this each year, you will end up with a plant that has no stems older that 3 years old.  This will help to keep the plant down to a more manageable size while retaining the natural growth habit of the plant.  A shrub that grows in a fountain shape should never be pruned into a ball in my opinion.  I prefer plants grown in a natural shape.  Once you begin pruning into an unnatural shape for the plant, you are consigning yourself to more maintenance from then on.  I prefer to enjoy my garden with less work, not more.

Winter is a great time to see the branch structure of deciduous trees for pruning.

More about the alien invaders.

One thing that I have found is that so few people know what is native and what is not.  I recently had a job in a new development that claimed to be “green”.  The information brochure said that the landscaping was done with native plants.  This customer called me to do the side/back yard as the front yard was already done by the builder.  I was excited because I wanted to do all natives and wanted to start getting jobs in this development.  Imagine my surprise when I pulled up to the house and not one plant in the front yard was native. Not one!

Many people think that just because a plant is commonly planted in their area that it is a native plant.  Not true.  I like a lot of plants from around the world.  European explorers collected plants and took them back to Europe and the U.S.  People were intrigues by the new plants.  Money was to be made by growing these plants and selling them.  If people wanted native plants in their garden, they could just go out and dig them up from their natural habitat.  Not much money to be made there. To make it worse, as the native plants were being destroyed by farming and development and nurseries weren’t growing them, when people did want natives they would go out and dig them up to bring home.  This further helped to wipe out native plant populations.  It is only a good idea to go dig up plants from the wild if they are about to be destroyed by development.  Any gardener knows that when you transplant plants, you have the risk of killing the plant if it doesn’t survive the shock of the move.  Protect the native plants in their natural environment.

For a plant lover, it is hard to refrain from planting exotics.  I don’t plant 100% native myself.  Generally, the further away from urban settings and closer to the woods, the less I plant exotics.  I do not want the exotics escaping into the natural landscape.  Not all non-natives are invasive.  I have given up on planting some plants once I found they were invasive.  To determine what plants are invasive in your area, go online and type in “Invasive exotic plant” and your State and you should be able to find a list.  In NC there is a list of the invasive and the potentially invasive.  Never plant the invasive.  Only with extreme care plant the potentially invasive.  Better to not plant either.

Because I have divided my yard into a native plant section and an exotic plant section, I can compare the two easily.  One thing that I have noticed is how much more life is in the native section.  The native garden is humming with life.  Sit still for a bit in the native garden and you will notice loads of honeybees, bumble bees, butterflies and birds.  The contrast between the numbers in the native garden and the exotic garden is astounding.  Nothing is still in the native garden.  By contrast the exotic plant area is a funeral home.  Ok, maybe an exaggeration but if you saw it, you would notice the difference. It’s like night and day.

Notice the bees and the hummingbird moth.