Gardening Ideas, Continued

On Monday I talked about living mulch–or the idea the ground cover plants could actually fill in the spaces between perennials and shrubs and be used instead of truckloads of bark or cocoa hulls or whatever it is you prefer (I refuse to even consider the idea that it might be colored mulches, although I know that box stores sell gross tonnes of the stuff every spring. Whatever.)

Today let’s talk about watering–or not. I know that lots of you are not blessed–or cursed–with my heavy wet clay. You may think you are. I’m continually surprised by how many folks tell me that they have heavy wet clay soil. Then I’ll ask them how often they have to water an established plant. If it’s more than once a month, I’m going to tell you that you don’t have the same heavy wet clay that I do.  In a drought, I may have to resort to turning on a soaker hose once every 6 weeks–or not. That’s how well my soil holds water.

What does that mean? A lot of my plants rot if they are not carefully selected for these conditions. Anything the least bit succulent-like–forget it! Lavender? Nope. Heaths and heathers, which should ordinarily love my highly acidic soil, can’t take the wet. Herbs are grown in containers or raised beds (and obviously those need more water).

But roses do fine, hydrangeas are great, because they’re usually very thirsty plants and thirsty plants aren’t going to have an issue in my yard.

This is all another way of saying “know your conditions and know your particular microclimate.” I killed a lot of heaths and heathers before I figured out what the problem was and that there wasn’t enough compost to amend the clay.

We’ll talk about amending on Monday–but before I finish up this topic, I want to talk about how to properly water a plant as it is getting established.

Less frequently and deeply is the proper way. What does that mean? It rarely has anything to do with you standing over the plant with a hose (unless the plant is an annual in a pot–those are the only plants that are acceptable to water by hand with a hose).

If you have a hose that you would like to leave running at the base of the plant at a trickle for an hour (for a large shrub,  longer for a tree) that’s fine. You need to water the plant down to the depth of 1″–and do check, don’t just guess.

Do this once a week. And then, unless it’s a rose or something that needs a lot of water, don’t do it again for another week. If you have questions, let your garden center advise you. Fewer, longer waterings are better. You are training your plant to endure periodic dry spells.

Whatever you do, do not rely on a sprinkler system to water for you. That’s the quickest way to kill a plant. It encourages shallow roots that cannot stand up to drought.

Trust Yourself As A Gardener

I promised a post about cutting back roses. I don’t actually grow any roses that have to be cut back at the moment. Everything I grow is technically deemed a “shrub” rose which means that in the spring that only dead wood is trimmed off.

But it wasn’t always this way. I used to grow hybrid teas on occasion. And the first roses I ever grew were floribundas, which is a funky cross between a hybrid tea and a shrub rose.

They grew quite well considering they were in heavy clay and in a spot that wasn’t the sunniest I had (they were where the hydrangea hedge is now so that tells you it wasn’t a terribly sunny spot!). But the interesting thing was that the Spoiler and I chose them and planted them together–one of the few gardening things that we actually did together. Usually it’s all me.

So about November of that first gardening year, the Spoiler came to me and asked, “Aren’t you going to cut back the roses?” or “Isn’t it time to cut back the roses?” or some such question. Needless to say, I looked at him as if he had sprouted 3 heads. I certainly don’t do any gardening in November. And I couldn’t imagine what he was talking about.

He was fairly persistent about this. “You have to cut them back. It’s what you do,” he told me. And although I began to feel like a cranky three year old, I asked him, “Why?”

“Well, if you don’t, they’ll all whip around in the wind and die back.”

At that point, I really felt as if I had entered some alternate reality. You were cutting a living plant back because you didn’t want it to die? Who invented that rule?

So I tried logic with him. “Let’s try it my way. Let’s not cut them back. That way if a 5 foot shrub whips around and dies back, we might start with a 3 foot shrub next spring.  If we do it your way and cut them back to a 3 foot shrub now, what happens if we have a hard winter and the plant dies back anyway? We’ll be starting with a 1 foot plant. Do we really want that?”

So we tried it my way. And gradually, because of sun issues, we moved the rose garden out near the street where the roses regularly get blasted by the snow plows. And we still don’t cut them back. And they survive just fine–a little bit of breakage from the heavy snow thrown by the plows, but nothing terrible.

So if you have a good reason for doing something in the garden, try it. What’s the worst that could happen? A plant dies, perhaps? Isn’t that how we all learn as gardeners?

“Fall” Colors


This is a close-up of the shot of my steps from the Friday post. You can see the crotons better,  and you can see the calibrachoa, or million bells, in the pots beneath the 2 larger ones. They are a mix–great variety called Dreamsicle that I planted for the first time this year, and a double yellow.  Not only do they nicely highlight the colors in the crotons’ leaves, but for this time of year, they are great fall color. Dreamsicle is a mix of salmon, and orange flowers.


Here’s the back wall of the steps, where the  sweet potato vine is. You can see it, along with the little bowl of succulents  (which has been there all summer,  but was overshadowed by the hibiscus and mandevilla) are now color-echoing the begonias.

It doesn’t take much to make these changes.  Look around your own yard to see what you have to work with.

Wordless Wednesday


Before “summer” ends for real, I wanted to post this creative garden bench that someone in a neighboring town has outside.

Also notice the fence of espaliered trees. The town wouldn’t let them fence with the wrought iron as they did on the side street so they had to get creative.

The trees may not have been their first choice–but how pretty this all turned out!

Wordless Wednesday–Made in the Shade


This combination of containers holds house plants, perennials, tender perennials and annuals. All of them are shade lovers and they are staged on an old set of back porch steps under a dogwood tree that throws some pretty dense shade.

Behind them, planted in the bed, you can see hosta, euonymous, ajuga and hellbores.

Who says that shade plants can’t be colorful?

Road Trip!

Bradley Estate Formal Garden close up

So who’s taking a road trip to Massachusetts this summer? Probably lots of folks are coming to the beach at Cape Cod, right? And many more might be visiting Boston (I hope–such a great city–so much to see and do there)

If you’re in Massachusetts and you’re a gardener, don’t miss this neat new display garden that’s been set up at the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton, Massachusetts. That’s a photo of the garden, above, thoughtfully provided by its “caretakers” the Trustees of the Reservation.

The all-summer exhibit is called “Violet Riot” and it opens next Wednesday June 14.  It features purple and chartreuse annuals and perennials. There are featured annual, perennial and shrub talks scheduled (see the sidebar in the press release) as well as concerts scheduled throughout the summer.

Canton, Massachusetts is about 30 miles from Boston–not too far for a weekend trip–and its accessible from Routes 128 or I-93.

Bradley in Bloom Plantings Collage

And one of the great things about visiting display gardens is that you always come away from them with ideas for your own gardens–even if you don’t necessarily like purple and chartreuse!  I am sure that many of the plant varieties used also come in other colors as well. You can see by just this photo, again provided by the Trustees, that the plant palette is richer and more varied than you might expect.

So if you are in the area, stop by this neat garden and have a look around. I am sure you will enjoy it and take home at least one idea for your own garden!