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

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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.

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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

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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

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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!

Mulching With Grass?

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You have probably heard of mulching your plants with grass clippings. This is a good way to use up clippings that may be a little too long to leave on your lawn. If, however,  you choose to do this,  you’re going to want to evaluate how “weed free” your lawn is. There’s no point in introducing lawn clippings that are filled with weed seeds.

And you definitely can’t do it if you have treated your lawn with a four step program.  The “Step 2” part of that program contains a herbicide that definitely has the potential to harm your plants. And perish the thought that you might think of using lawn pesticide treated grass around your edibles!

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This year I am unfortunately growing my own grass as mulch. It wasn’t something I planned–not like my moss and fern gardens in other words. But just as the gardening season started,  I have needed some more surgery for skin cancer, this time in a tricky spot on my back.

So I was able to get a little bit of planting done early, and now I am done for several weeks. My neighbors are just going to have to put up with the “grass mulch” look.

But heck, so long as they keep catching all my cancers early, I will put up with some gardening inconvenience!  I am grateful.

 

I’m Feeling A Bit Left Out….

April is National Garden Month….

And while that garden journal that I keep has shown that in other Aprils there have been plants in bloom, trees in bloom, bulbs past bloom at this point, this is not one of those Aprils.

You might have even heard the statistic: all of New England was exceptionally cold for March and Boston was colder in March than it had been for December, January or February. Now that’s cold!

I am fond of saying that we don’t really have spring here in Connecticut. Yes, trees bloom and we do have all sorts of lovely plants like azaleas and rhododendrons. But quite often, there is this “2 steps forward and 1 step back” pattern where we will have a nice day or two, followed by cold wet days (which we desperately need to end our drought, by the way and which we should all be grateful for but it’s hard to be grateful for them after the winter). And it’s especially hard to be grateful for them when it doesn’t really rain–when it’s just damp.

We will always get a teasing heat wave around Memorial day, and then the first and second week of June are so cold that I usually head right back for some kind of fleece and wonder if the plants I have just planted are going to make it.

It’s only at some point in July that the weather finally turns warm enough to finally make us think that summer has arrived. And then by August, cooler nights set back in and we’re back on our way to fall, which, thankfully, is a lovely season here or no one would live in the state at all. It would be deserted.

I know lots of people–gardeners even–live in much more inhospitable places.  I am just not sure what mechanisms they use to cope.

Let’s Talk About Plant Marketing

On Friday, I talked about some of the awards that are given to plants and Is aid that when you are at the garden center, it is not necessary, always, to seek out plants that have won awards to always get the best plants.

I also threw in an offhand comment about a marketing company that sells a line of plants called Proven Winners.™ And I left it there. So today I thought I would talk a little bit more about plant marketing or plant branding.

This isn’t something that a lot of folks think about but I promise you it drives the nursery growers and the garden centers nuts! Where once you went to the garden center and most plants came in little green pots, now they come in a bewildering array of “branded” pots.  Proven Winners™ is probably the best known and most nationally known brand out there but there are lots of others, some of which even pre-date them.

Remember the Flower Carpet™ rose? It too came in a branded pot–it was distinctly pale pink. It is still around, but it is not nearly so famous or well-known as Knock-Out,™ which, like other Star™ branded roses, comes in a pot that’s branded with its own distinct color. Knock-out’s is sort of an olive green. The Drift™ family of roses is white, with olive green lettering. See the branding going on?

David Austin™ roses come not only in a pot that is a distinct color (black) but that is a distinct shape (taller and square, supposedly to accommodate the tap roots).

Are you beginning to see why the growers and garden centers hate all this branding? And this is just the roses!

What does it mean for you–the buyer? Well, for one thing, it’s probably increased your cost a bit to have all these fancy pots.

Next, if you look at the tags on the plants you’re buying, almost all of these plants are now patented. They say “propagation prohibited.” What does that mean?

Technically, it means that you can’t take cuttings or in any way reproduce and grow more plants from the plant that you are buying. This is something that isn’t on anyone’s radar.

Are there plant police out there? Not that I am aware of. But if a garden club suddenly started selling a lot of a branded plant at a plant sale, without the rights to do so, technically, one of these plant companies that owns the rights to that plant could come in to enforce its rights.

I haven’t heard of it happening–but just be aware.