Garden Trends–Gold Foliage

Gold foliage is the “trendy” foliage color of the year (despite the fact that the Pantone color of the year is “Greenery” I guess).

We go through these various color fads in the garden. I have had some customers in my retail gardening days say that they didn’t like “gold” colored foliage in the garden because it made the plants look dead–particularly on evergreens. I have had other customers say the same thing about chartreuse. But here again, I think color is a very personal thing–and as those internet “memes” with the dresses have shown us, we certainly don’t all perceive color the same way! Oh well.

If you think about hostas, for example, a variety of colors, including blues and golds, can give the garden interest and movement, even if you are using all the same plant. The same thing would be true of a plant like coral bells (heuchera) or even an annual like coleus.

Evergreen, or conifer gardens also benefit not only from a wide variety of textures but of colors. An evergreen garden of just greens would be rather uninspiring. But when you add a variety of blues, golds and whites, the garden takes on a liveliness that cannot be obtained from just design alone.

So this year when you are planning your garden–whatever type of garden you plan–look for the gold! You won’t be sorry that you did.

Are Your Evergreens Doing This?


If your evergreens look as sad as as the one in this photo,  you might be understandably concerned. I have a few things to say about this.

First,  are you gardening in a drought area? If so, try not to stress. Because while this amount of yellowing is NOT normal on an evergreen,  if you have been gardening in a drought area, this could be normal for you this year.

All evergreens shed needles, roughly 1/3 of their needles each year.  That’s perfectly normal.  But trees under stress, such as drought stress, are likely to shed additional needles.

So what should you do?  Keep the tree watered. Deep irrigation is better than a few little soaks with a garden hose.

Don’t fertilize. Don’t add to the tree’s stress by fertilizing . That holds true for any plant, or even a drought stressed lawn.

And finally understand natural cycles and what is “normal ” and what isn’t.  That should help you feel better if your evergreens–either broadleaf or needled–suddenly have yellow needles or leaves.

Drought Stressed Evergreens

It’s been a tough few years here in the northeast. I won’t re-hash. I’ve talked about it often enough.

But as tough as it’s been on the people who call this region home, it’s been even tougher on our plants. And the plants are finally showing us that they may have had enough.

I started to notice trouble with Eastern white pines (a native plant, incidentally) in early May, after a very dry winter. What’s interesting is that I wasn’t just seeing signs of distress on these plants near streets–as some of the experiment stations were reporting–but I was seeing it all over the place and often several hundred feet back from the road where “winter salt injury” couldn’t possibly be a factor.


These two trees are in a neighbor’s yard. They are several hundred feet from the road and in a mixed planting of other evergreens and deciduous trees and shrubs. So clearly this is not “salt injury. ”

Here is a “fact sheet” from the University of Massachusetts on the Eastern white pine situation. Even they can’t quite figure out what’s happening, although they have some speculation.


More recently I am seeing injury to spruces. They’re either dying from the top down or from the bottom up–it scarcely matters really.


And then of course there are the ground cover junipers. These are often susceptible to blights like juniper twig blight caused by a couple of different fungal diseases (hard to think of fungi in droughts but actually several of them flourish in the heat). This is my juniper horizontalis with twig blight. It’s going to have to be removed.

The Spoiler is in denial.  He thinks the dead parts can just be cut out. If he would like to try, more power to him. This juniper covers about 100 square feet.  It will leave a huge hole in this garden.

So what is going on? Is it just drought? Is it drought, made worse by warmer winters? Does it matter?

Any time a plant is stressed, it is susceptible to disease and pests. Drought is certainly a stressor, and prolonged drought would be an extreme stressor to evergreens, because they can’t shed their leaves the way deciduous trees can.

I have already cut back many of my “drought stressed” (and therefore either browned or diseased) perennials for this season. That will allow them to conserve whatever strength they have left and put it into coming back next year and other years. No point in watering (either supplementally or if we happen to get any rain) diseased or browned plants. Let the water go to the “good” plants that remain.

But with evergreens, they can’t shed their leaves protectively. So what we may be witnessing after several summers of less than ideal moisture is the evergreens that simply can’t cope. This past warmer winter may also have been a stressor for the trees as well.

Time will tell about whether these trees can recover. If not, New England backyards and forests may never be the same.


Garden Visit–Bartholomew’s Cobble


I visited this amazing place two weeks ago with the Garden Writers. It was the same day that I visited Naumkeag and The Mount.


Until I got the itinerary for our day trip to the Berkshires, I had never heard of Bartholomew’s Cobble. And from what I could gather, most of my fellow trip attendees hadn’t heard of it either. The name was strange to us and we weren’t quite sure what we would find there. I kept referring to it as “the place with the ferns.”


Well, yes. Even in a drought year, it has the most amazing assortment of ferns, including some found no where else in North America (if I have that right). But that’s not all this place is.

First take a look at their web site, found here.  If you click on the tab “history” and open the “archives” you can see a list of everything found here and it’s impressive. The spring wildflowers alone would be worth a return visit.


But even for those not interested in plants there is much to do here. There is canoeing on the Housatonic River. There are nature programs for children. And for geology buffs, this place is a hidden gem.


I, of course am a gardener, but one of my childhood interest was in rocks. So I was quite interested to learn that the Berkshires is one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world (who knew?) It is still being eroded (which is why it is relatively gentle–here in Connecticut we refer to our part of the range as hills). Parts of the range have been found as far away as Kansas.


The entire area is over 300 acres with several trails. There is a beaver dam, woodland trails, meadow trails and trails that oversee agricultural vistas. In short, there is something for almost everyone, although light to moderate hiking ability is required. (I noticed a remark on one of the other web sites that “hand rails for seniors would be a good idea.”  I will remark that several folks in my group turned back on the trail we were on despite the presence of hand rails at this place.)

If ability permits, this place is well worth a visit, as the view, and the foliage are definitely spectacular. I can only imagine what they would be like were we not in drought!

The “Pollen” in Pollinators

This time of year is tough for allergy sufferers who are also gardeners. As lovely as the weather is, it can be difficult to get outdoors to garden if you are plagued by seasonal allergies.

Fortunately there are things you can do to minimize the symptoms (other than relying on your medication of choice or allergy shots).

The first is simple avoidance, of course. That means staying out of that garden when pollen counts are highest. And unfortunately, pollen counts are highest at some of the most beautiful times of the day: first thing in the morning and at dusk.

The other thing to make sure to do is to keep the windows closed, especially on days with those lovely late spring breezes. Otherwise you are likely to find every surface of your home coated with the very pollen you are trying most to avoid. You can open your windows later this summer–if weather permits–when airborne pollen subsides.

When you do go outside to garden, make sure you shower after returning. This will wash the airborne pollen off you and out of your hair.


Notice the tire treads and the footprints on the driveway? They’re made in pollen! This is pollen from Eastern White pine (pinus strobus) which is entirely wind pollinated. It’s a heavy yellow pollen and the grains are far too large to be the cause of allergies–although the do coat everything and the can get in your nose and make you sneeze just from the irritation!


Here is a “puddle” of it after I watered some pots nearby. Luckily this only goes on for about a week or so.

But one thing to remember: All our pollinators that are visiting our flowers are not the cause of the your sneezing and itchy eyes or scratchy throat. The pollen that is carried by those pollinators is too heavy to be airborne–that’s why it needs insects.

Insect pollination is entirely different from airborne pollination. That’s why you can safely grow colorful flowers. They lure the insect pollinators with pollen that is too “heavy” to become airborne and therefore it is rarely a problem for allergy sufferers.

After all, the major sources of allergens are trees, grasses, ragweed and mold. No one ever heard of being allergic to roses, hydrangeas, black-eyed susans or peonies! (Unless of course you have an allergy to fragrance!)

Early Spring Chores

On Friday I talked about the danger of working in soil that was too wet and the danger of soil compaction.

Today I am going to talk about what to do if this is not your problem–or if your your soil has dried out sufficiently. Early spring can be one of the nicest times in the garden. Often it is much cooler than later in the season and certainly the sun is less intense no matter where you live. The birds are singing happily–what’s not to enjoy?

On the first nice day you can certainly go out and prune. It is always acceptable to prune anything that’s dead. It doesn’t matter if it’s spring flowering, summer flowering or whatever. If you are quite sure it’s dead, you can prune it off.

Where there is ambiguity, however, don’t prune. I can’t tell you how many times I have cut into a hydrangea cane thinking it was surely dead and found green wood underneath, (meaning, therefore, that I had just cut off that seasons’ blooms! Wouldn’t you think I would know better by now?!)

Try to learn from my mistakes. If you are not sure, give it another few weeks to show some growth. Or scrape a little bit of the branch to see if there is any green wood underneath before you just callously cut into it and prune.

With respect to pruning, you obviously don’t want to prune anything that will flower this spring–wait until after it flowers to prune it. You also don’t want to prune anything that has set its buds on old wood–the aforementioned hydrangeas, but also things like later blooming rhododendrons, if you grow them, and lilacs. Wait until those things bloom and then prune.

Things that bloom later like shrubby hibiscus (hibiscus syriacus) can be pruned now.

Roses should be pruned when the buds on their canes start to swell. They actually tell you the correct time to prune according to your region and weather. Don’t jump the gun and prune too early with roses–you’ll just cause more dieback. And don’t necessarily prune shrub roses like the Knockout series of roses just because they’re roses and you think they should be pruned. Only prune them if they’re getting too big for the space or they have dead canes or crossing canes or something like that. Remember, shrub roses are designed to be treated more like “shrubs.”

And if all else fails and you get frustrated, default to my standby position that I took on Friday: take a walk instead. Spring is too lovely a time to waste!

Wordless Wednesday

Colorado blue sky day

The beauty of this winter garden is obvious–and it’s also obvious that I am not in Connecticut.

I took this tramping around in the Betty Ford Alpine Garden in Vail. This shows that a garden can be truly lovely in any season.

winter tree

A mature aspen tree


A bridge in the “alpine” section of the garden. while the whole garden is designated as such because of the altitude and climate, this portion is dedication to growing alpine plants. The Spoiler and I were at dedication of this section when it opened in the early 2000s–2004, maybe?  The Fords (Gerald and Betty) were in attendance. The Spoiler met them. I don’t really care much for that sort of thing so I didn’t.

Torch Weather

Lenten rose

This is my Lenten Rose–a hellebore. It’s not supposed to flower at Christmas but it’s darned closed to doing so!

It’s supposed to flower around Easter time. Last year it flowered around May (no, as of yet, Easter never comes in May, although it is a movable feast). But that just tells you how unseasonable our weather has been. The perennials are all off kilter. I have seen forsythia in bloom as well.

From what I hear, it is our non-natives that are affected. I haven’t stopped to take stock of this but it would stand to reason that that would be true.

In any event, while the plants may be a bit disrupted, I am surely enjoying this unusual warmth. I know I will pay for it when I get to Colorado next week however. I have had no time to acclimate!