Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Winter Interest in the Garden

Winter has been hard to over look this year.  Although I am told we are still below normal snow levels, this is the most snow I have seen in my life.  This latest storm has me home bound and entirely snowed in for nearly 48 hours.  The road is unplowed and our section of the UP seems entirely abandoned, left to drifting banks, bitter winds, and blowing flakes.  As I put another log on the wood stove and start a pot of tea, I invite you to join me in discussing the winter garden.   

Winter interest in the garden takes on special qualities when snow is involved.  Snow is a master sculptor and can turn a dingy fall landscape into a brilliant gallery of shape.  Choosing the correct plant can add to the splendor and enhance your garden design.  Leaves, flowers and grass are my first love, but I can still appreciate the forms that emerge in the snow covered winter landscape.  

I have always loved the winter deciduous tree.  My dad first taught me how to draw them when I was very little.  I would fill notebooks with countless short, tall, skinny, lumpy, rough, winter trees enjoying how striking they appeared on crisp white paper.  In the winter landscape, the deciduous tree provides the same striking form and allows the viewer to enjoy its other features like their skeletal shape or the texture of the bark that are less noticeable in full summer foliage.   

Hydrangea Paniculata "grandiflora" (PeeGee Hydrangea)

Winter interest in the garden is achieved by providing architectural forms for snow to shape.  Plants that hold seed heads or dried flowers like the hydrangea above can offer interest and an open plateau.  My favorites:

Hydrangea Arborescens "Anabelle" - Huge erect flower heads perfect for both interior decorating and winter interest.  Thrives in the shade.
Hydrangea Paniculata "Limelight" - Excellent lime flower color which dries and holds for long lasting winter interest.  

Undisturbed snow mounds over metal. 

Larch and rhododendron peak out from their snowy bed.  Rhododendron is an evergreen whose leaves will shrivel but hold firm through the winter.    

Weeping larch (larix decidua 'pendula') is coniferous, needle and cone bearing, but not an evergreen.  It loses its needles in the fall and sprouts fresh and soft in the spring. 

Dogwoods, even wild as this native red osier dogwood, are now noticeable without their green foliage.  Cultivars make the dogwood a great choice for the home garden.  Some of my favorites:

Cornus sericea "flaviramea" - Bright yellow stems offer a fabulous winter effect 
Cornus baileyi - Red twigged dogwood with porcelain blue fruit

Fruit trees and bushes that hold their berries can offer show stopping color in the dead of winter.  Some of my favorites:  

Malus 'Bailears' Ruby Tears (weeping crabapple) - not overly messy, gorgeous weeping 
form and long lasting fruit.  
Aronia melanocarpa 'Autumn Magic' - beautiful drought tolerant cultivar from University of BC.  Covered in late may flowers followed by edible berries which can be eaten fresh, used for baking, jams, and juices, that is if you can beat the birds.  
Cotoneaster apiculatus - Cranberry Cotoneaster pink flowers in June followed by bring red fall berries.  Although, if you have snow like we do, this low grower will be buried pretty early in the winter season.  

Miscanthus sinensis - Zebra Grass 

Only the tallest grass varieties have been able to make a showing in my garden this season.  Snow long ago blanketed my blue oat grasses and small sedges.  In early January a thaw and ice rain crushed weaker stemmed feather reed and panicum grasses and they too are now buried under several feet of snow.  Zebra grass has offered the best performance this year in my winter landscape.  Zebra grass is from the miscanthus or maiden grass family and is know for its long holding seed heads and sturdy stems which makes it a good pick for adding winter interest. Other big winter impact grasses:

Sorghanstrum nutans - Indian grass 
Calamagrostis x acutiflora - Feather reed grass - an excellent grass choice regardless, but it does provide better winter interest in areas that receive less snow.

The wind still blows, the snow still falls, and (for the mean time) it appears winter is here to stay.  What plants are brightening your winter landscape?  I would love to hear from you! 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Going Crazy for Carex

Michael and I tend to discuss plants a lot. It just comes with the territory of working in the industry and being self-admitting plant geeks.  Although we have our individual favorites, a recently trending plant we can both agree on would be sedges.  Carex comprises a huge genus of over 15000 species of grassy plants in the family Cyeraceae commonly known as sedges.  Sedges are generally low growing, mounded form grasses characterized by triangular stems and panicles of flowerheads.  There are many native varieties of sedges which have brought them to the forefront of design plans with the most recent push for sustainability. (Stay posted for discussions on sustainable design - a popular but also smart trend in landscape design)  

Sedges can be spiky and thick 
carex oshimensis 

Or hairlike and fine
carex pennsylvania 

They thrive in both sun and shade, making them a great option any place you would plant hosta. They are low maintenance, drought tolerant, deer resistant. 

They are amazing in mass
Carex elata

can be used as an accent

Carex elata 

or in a mixed bed with other perennials and shrubs 

Try this striking carex/hosta combo 

carex oshimensis and hosta "patriot"

 Or how about this?
 20% carex munkingumensis, 40% geranium, 40% Allium Anglumosum "summer beauty" 

Not all sedges are zone tolerant, but with 15000 species, there are enough to choose from that will thrive in the UP.

Here is a list of our favorites:
carex oshimensis - Varigated Japanese Sedge zone 5, so avoid or plant only in protected areas in zone 4 or lower. (variegated varieties of almost all plants are generally less hearty than their solid color counterparts so plant with care!) 
carex pensylvania - Common Oak Sedge zone 4 hearty 
carex vulpinoidea - Fox Sedge zone 3 hearty and native
carex munkingumensis - Palm Sedge zone 2 hearty and a midwest native.  

Although sedges are not readily available at most nursery centers, their popularity is on the rise along with many other ornamental grass varieties. We will be bringing in several sedge varieties this spring to Up Scapes' design center nursery so call for availability 906-439-five three eight seven!  Unlike most grasses, sedges are at home in the shade and the sun which give them wide appeal for shade gardeners looking for added texture. So join us in going crazy for carex!   

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Roses are red. . .

In my other life, teaching music at a public elementary and high school, I was informed by my students that pink and red are lucky on Valentines day.  I decided to oblige them in my wardrobe choice this morning as well as in this post. ;)

A tinge of pink graces this lovely blossom from the Cornus Kousa "Satamoi" dogwood tree.  As the blossoms age they give way to a full dusty pink and finally to raspberry colored bratcs. This is my absolute favorite small landscape tree.   

I have a love/hate relationship with hibiscus, mostly  because of my dogged impatience while waiting for them to bloom.  I wait for weeks in the spring to see any sign of life from the bare stubs.  Just when I am about to dig it up and relegate it to another casualty of a UP winter, it leafs and slowly begins to grow.  In late august I am rewarded with a small window of fantastic blooming.  Just as soon as it begins it is over, but while it blooms, hibiscus is queen of the garden.  

For a compact hydrangea, Twist and Shout is my number one choice.  Pink, blue, and purple, blossoms on the same plant in a lovely lace cap shape.  Stems are tinged red and foliage is rich and dense.  

These garden peonies gave quite the show this year.  They were early and prolific filling my kitchen with their heady fragrance.  They ended up outside because they also worked up my allergies (I know, a landscape designer who is allergic to plants.  All I can say is I am in love with my profession).

There is always something striking about a pop of red.  This beauty was proof I can never leave my favorite annual grower without taking something home.  Towards the end of the season one of the last geraniums  in stock caught my eye and found a home in this pot with some nicotiana and red coleus.
Azalea makes a striking showing.  Ruffly pink blossoms burst in vibrate color before it leafs out entirely.  

This was a new variety of hydrangea in 2011.  After two summers in this bed I am still in love with the antiqued mauve of the traditional "Annabelle" form.  Buyer beware, although the blossoms are stunning, the stems lack the support of the standard "Annabelle" and I fought drooping blossoms all season.  

Early morning Peony just about to bloom

Another pretty in pink azalea, a southern variety, taken on last spring's trip to the Carolinas.   

A 100 year old Azalea garden just outside of Charleston said to contain 30,000 Azalea plants.  

A bright red Camellia catches the eye as it dramatically contrasts the marble.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Curb Appeal in Hiding

From the moment I stepped into this charming renovated cabin, I was in love with the natural colors, cozy feel to the rooms, the warm kitchen, and the gorgeous woodland views out of each and every window. As I walked through the owner's impressive raised bed vegetable gardens and viewed their other perennial beds I knew that this project would not only be great fun, but also require the same level of design consideration I give my own personal gardens.  This homeowner had a knack for plant combinations and an eye for design which was evident from the care put into their house and other gardens.  Still, there was the issue of the front of the house.  

This home is set almost a mile off a main road on a private drive.  Although privacy is one thing, this large spruce entirely obscures the curb appeal, blocking the view from inside and out.  The couple also wanted to create distinction to the front door and install a path leading from the garage to the house.  

Nope, fooled you. This isn't the front door. . .
 Front entry 

After several meetings a preliminary sketch and a complete formal design. . .

Courtney's initial design

We began by trimming up the large but lovely blue spruce that blocked the front view of the house and hid the front door. We are always hesitant to cut down healthy trees.  The clients loved the tree and once it was not blocking the view of the house, it worked well in the space. 

A new crushed limestone path from the garage clearly defines the front entry 

This garden is a shade loving delight proving that shade does not need to be boring and 
colorless. The earliest blossoms will be of the Amelanchier "Service Berry" followed by rhododendron and azalea. Pulminaria (lung wort) with its distinctive spotted leaves will flower in May followed by a burst of early summer color of mini stella daylily. Other daylily will soon catch up as well as a Lobelia Cardinalis, Astilbe, and Ligularia "Little Rocket". Hosta and shade tolerant grasses and sedges (Carex Morrowii) fill in with texture and shape rounding of this sun challenged spot.

Also included in the plan was a lovely new flagstone stoop that replaced a weathered wood step, eliminated a spring mud issue and defined the front door.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Cat's Meow: Working with Nepetas

Nepetas (common name Catmint) are zone hearty, drought tolerant, disease resistant, and easy to grow. Nepetas are vigorous but won't take over and work equally well in formal design and farm garden. 

Nepeta Cataria is the true catnip which drives house cats ecstatic.  It is one of the less showy varieties for garden design.  

Nepeta Racemosa "Walker's Low" is a stunner and by far my favorite Nepeta.  Named for an garden in Ireland, not for a low growing habit, this perennial grows to an impressive three feet by three feet.  Zone three hearty, as long as Walkers Low receives adequate sunlight, it will thrive.  When cut back this Nepeta will bloom all season long attracting bees and butterfly as well as neighbor's compliments.  I have found this plant to be an great substitute for Lavender which can be more fussy to soil conditions and cold, especially away from the lakes.  Walker's Low was 2007's perennial of the year.  You simply can't go wrong.   

Nepeta Racemosa"Walkers Low" 

To duplicate: Nepeta "Walkers Low", Leucanthemum x Superbum "Becky", Salvia "May Night"

This entire bed would be low maintenance, drought tolerant, and for the most part deer tolerant.  (They do not like the intense fragrance of "Walker's Low") 

Calamintha Nepeta ssp "Nepeta" As you can see by the name, this is not a nepeta, but in the Calamintha or mint family.  If you are running for your round-up, stop!  This gorgeous variety is not invasive or extremely aggressive which makes it an excellent choice for almost any garden.  I absolutely love this fragrant, long blooming mint.  White flowers appear in early June and last until frost.  Honeybees make an outstanding appearance and on cool nights the flower turns a light lavender.     

Planting suggestion: 50% Calamintha Nepeta ssp Nepeta, 40% Rudbeckia "Little Suzy" or "Goldsturm", 10% Calamagrotis x acutiflora "Feather Reed Grass" 

Again, this mix is drought tolerant and essentially maintenance free once established.    

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Life in the frozen tundra. . .

On days like these as the wind howls, the snow falls, and gray is the only color on the horizon, I am tempted to  believe that spring will never come again, flowers will never bud and bloom, and the sun will fail to melt the frost that set in months ago.  If I sound bitter, I confess I am. . .or was.  While looking through pictures for an upcoming home and garden show (stay posted for details) I found hope that pulled me away from my winter melancholy.  I couldn't help but getting excited!  Spring is coming and it is not that far away. Enjoy!