Archive for Choosing Plants

Springtime Garden Reveal 2017

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Happy Spring- welcome to the garden!

Hi all! I think I am finally ready to show you some of the garden areas I have been working on since last fall. My goal was to open up the areas that had gotten a bit too crowded and simplify the overall design. While we walk through the yard, I’d like to show some tricks and tips that might help solve similar dilemmas that many of us deal with.

Closeup on the front corner of my yard. A row of juniper does double duty shielding the windows from headlights of vehicles rounding the corner, as well as defining the edge.

Closeup on the front corner of my yard. A row of juniper does double duty shielding the windows from headlights of vehicles rounding the corner, as well as defining the edge of the property.

I have never shown a closeup of this garden area on the blog before. It is the front corner of my front yard, where the cul-du-sac meets the street. Here on the corner a low wall of juniper bushes are very strategically placed. As cars round the corner at night into the cul-du-sac, this blocks the headlights, shielding the windows from the bright headlights. All you need is 3 or 4 foot high evergreen bushes in order to protect the house from an oncoming vehicle’s headlights. No one wants to feel like a search light is spraying the inside of your home, and this does the trick! This garden is layered with euonymous and liriope on the street side, and anchored in at the corner with a dogwood tree. We have an up-light that shines at night into the canopy of tree, which right now looks like a cloud of beautiful white blossoms.

Front walk has been opened up by removal of some larger bushes and layering in lower plant material in foreground.

Front walk has been opened up by removal of some larger bushes and layering in lower plant material in foreground.

Here is the updated front walk. I cleared out some of the jungle of large plants on either side of the Nellie Stevens holly and highlighted it by relocating the hostas to either side in a semi circle to add some visual depth  and light to that side of the walk. The liriope on the lawn side of the walk were all divided and will stay low. They will add some seasonal interest in the late summer with their purple flowers. These carry through the front of the other two garden beds on either side of the front door to create a nice flow from one garden to the next.

Here's the walkway from the other direction. You can see how it has a zig zag (not the best layout) I smoothed out the visual flow by running the liriope through all three of the front garden beds.

Here’s the walkway from the front stoop. The zig zag is not the best layout. I smoothed out the visual flow by running the liriope through all three of the front garden beds.

I inherited the layout of the walkway, but if I were to design it myself, I would have brought this odd zig zag section forward to match up with the rest of the walkway and made the whole walkway 4 to 5 feet wide. It’s always nice to be able to walk side by side with someone on a front walk, and being on the north side of the house, it would have been smarter to bring the walk out of the shadow of the house. If I ever win the lottery this is one of the things on my wish list – LOL!

 

 

 

 

Rounding  the corner the azalea is in full bloom right now, underplanted with a sea periwinkle to move your eye around to what's next.

Rounding the corner the azalea is in full bloom right now, underplanted with a sea ofperiwinkle to move your eye around to what’s next in the side garden.

This side of the east garden was opened up a bit removing some of the iris and lambsears and exending a few new waves of color into the existing design. In a couple of weeks this will be teaming in color.

This side of the east garden was opened up a bit removing some of the iris and lamb’s ears and extending a few new waves of color into the existing design. In a couple of weeks this will be teaming in color.

Moving around to the east side of the garden I have done a lot of work. There were many of the older perennials that needed dividing, and some areas requiring removal, like the lamb’s ears which never was happy in that location and the beautiful iris which were overwhelming their area. All is smoothed out, and in a few weeks this area will be teaming with color. I have simplified many of the waves of color on this side, and interspersed some of them with liriope and periwinkle which will provide more year round interest. I also want to suggest to those looking to brighten up an area that placing lighter colors or variegated plants in the dark recesses under trees will draw your eye in and create more dimension. Repeating the plant material, colors and varying the numbers of plants in a group is also helpful to pull your eye through.

One more thing worth mentioning in this region of the country and other drought-prone areas: limit the amount of lawn that is in your yard. For example, in my yard the side and back are fairly hilly, so the lawn is kept to a minimum through there, and treated more like a wide pathway flowing through the yard and the garden beds are much wider. In the front, the yard is flat, so we have kept a larger patch of lawn for activities– perfect for throwing a Frisbee, or a game of croquet. This limits the amount of water, nutrients needed, and even helps with the amount of time you need to spend mowing — bonus!

Moving around into the back garden, I’m really happy to see that all the roses I transplanted are really flourishing in the full sun. This is where I have amped up the flower power, and have sedum, orchids, astilbe, hellebores, ginger, lamb’s ears, yarrow, iris, peonies, lily of the valley and hummingbird vine. Many of these were started from gifts from my gardening friends! The idea was to have something blooming for as much of the year as possible. The only time there is a void is February, and don’t worry, I’m on it. I think I’ll add some crocus bulbs in the fall to make it year round. Will I ever be done? No, but that’s the fun for me!

 

A view of the newly revamped back yard border. It now has flowers blooming almost all year.

A long view of the newly revamped back yard border. It now has flowers blooming almost all year. It is half in full sun, and half in shade under the deck, so I’m able to have a wide variety of plant material.

Don't forget-- April showers bring May flowers! Here's a rainbow from the back deck from our last April shower-

Don’t forget — April showers bring May flowers! Here’s a rainbow from our last April shower – bring on the May flowers! Happy gardening!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Gardening Goals and Dreams for 2017

A new year is starting- time for some new gardening goals!

A new year is starting — time for some new gardening goals!

Hi there! It’s been a hard few months for me, trying to not worry too much about the future, but I’m doing my best to re-focus on what I can do. I urge all to stay aware of clean gardening practices and what we can do for the environment: not using chemicals, recycling/composting, participating in clean-up efforts in our communities, and last but not least, sending your Senators and Representatives a call or an email asking them to keep as many environmental protections in place as they can. You can reach them all at (202) 224-3121. The Capitol operators can help you find your Senators or Representatives, even if you don’t know their names.

We have a lot of work ahead of us! I don’t mean to rant on, but really, who doesn’t want a clean and healthy world? I think we can all agree on that! I think that is my biggest dream. I hope we can curb our losses at the EPA. Climate change is real!

Here in my little corner of the world, I managed to get quite a lot finished up in 2016, but I still have so much to do. This year’s main focus is on improving the areas under and around the deck.

It was time for an edit in this garden. With more shade from a tree, it was out with the sedum and in with a transplanted rhododedron.

It was time for an edit in this garden. With more shade from a tree, it was out with the sedum and in with a transplanted rhododedron.

Here are my goals: I’ll make an designated area to place the trash can and recycling bins that is both out of sight, but still easy to roll out to the curb. This also will improve the area where I store my flower pots, extra hoses, etc.  And, there is one area I couldn’t work on last fall because I ran out of time — I need to lift some of the bricks on the back walkway and level them. After sixteen years, the ground has sunk around the plexi pipe that carries the runoff water from the downspout — should be an easy fix! Third, I will use my brick saw to cleanup the edge of the walkway where it connects to the driveway.

All the cosmetic work will boost the curb appeal, too — always a plus. When spring arrives, the garden around the base of the deck will get some annuals to really fill out the space and give some added color.  Looking at the winter garden, when most everything is bare or died back to the ground for the season, things look bleak, so I will post a  picture when everything has sprung back to beautiful life and show some before and after shots in a few months.

Here's a photo of my re make of the old planters into privacy screens. I removed the rotted supports and replaced with posts I had saved from an old job. These are buried 3 feet into the ground, no cement, so they can be re-positioned later if I want.

Here’s a photo of my re-make of the old planters into privacy screens. I removed the rotted supports and replaced them with posts I had saved. These are buried 3 feet into the ground, with no cement, so they can be re-positioned later if I want. I’ll be sure to post again when everything is in leaf and bloom, but while the bushes are bare you can see the screen more clearly.

When I manage to finish all of that, the upper trim around the house and gutter system needs a complete cleaning and painting. Lots of the basics — weeding, mulching, trimming, mowing and edging — go on pretty much year round. Here’s a winter tip to make quick work of a messy, windswept yard: We find that it is much easier to run the mower over the grassy areas every month or so even in winter to pick up the leaves that blow in and smooth out the clumps of grass than it is to rake the whole yard over and over.

Here is another area that I edited. It had become crowded and one of the bushes had died. I balanced out the azalea bushes on either side of the Holly tree and divided and replanted the hosta in a wave. An edit every few years it helps to keep things fresh.

Here is another area that I edited. It had become crowded and one of the bushes had died. I balanced out the azalea bushes on either side of the Holly tree and divided and replanted the hosta in a wave. An edit every few years it helps to keep things fresh.

Last fall I did manage to finish re-making the planters and arbors and reinstall them. Using the leftover lumber from other jobs that I had stored in the garage, I added extra posts so that the planters could be used as privacy panels (hiding the less-than-pretty necessities that are stored under the deck). Then I planted the rose bushes, which had been in pots before, and divided and replanted the liriope to fill out the garden. Also, five other areas of the garden were edited and simplified. Plants had grown so out of bounds over the years, and it was time to selectively remove and transplant many to new locations. Now there is some breathing room, with nothing crowded. I added another three cubic yards of mulch to spruce up the beds, and then the cold weather set in.

This fun garden ornament has so much personality. It spins and bobs in the wind! I would love to incorporate a few more interesting things throughout the gardens like this.

This fun garden ornament that I was gifted has so much personality. It spins and bobs in the wind! I would love to incorporate a few more interesting things throughout the gardens like this.

On the creative side of things, I’m looking forward to making some stepping stones to access some of the deeper garden beds more easily.

Lastly, I received a really fun garden ornament from my sister, and it adds so much personality to the garden. Thank you, Tracy! It makes me want to incorporate a few more special things to spice things up! More on that later…

What are your goals for 2017 out in the garden? I’d love to hear!

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A Long Goodbye to Summer Heat

This pretty lemon/lime coleus has done well in the summer heat. Watering at least once a day has been a key!

This pretty lemon/lime coleus has done well in the summer heat — watering it at least once a day has been the key! It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, too!

Here in the mid-Atlantic, this has been a really rough summer, and the climate change has been very pronounced. Officially, it is the second hottest summer on record. With well over 50 days of temps in the mid-90′s and higher, the plants and trees are struggling — so much so that I am rethinking the location of many different plants in my garden. The micro-climate in my yard is hotter than the officially recorded temps by usually around five degrees. I think that is mostly due to the fact that we don’t have many shade trees on the property.

It’s a good time to take inventory of how the plants are faring. I think it’s interesting to compare how the same variety of plants do on various sides of the house, getting sun at different times of the day.

I am concerned about a row of euonymous that I planted along the front walk. Each spring, they start off looking amazing and full but lose their leaves by the end of summer, leaving them looking like bare stalks — not pretty. Those will be removed, and in their place I will add more liriope, and just fill the walkway garden with it, since it has done exceptionally well in that exposure.

The other hits in the front garden are the Hyacinth bean vine that I started from seed from last year’s winner, and also this gorgeous lemon/lime coleus with purple flower stalks. Both of these have been attracting butterflies and hummingbirds!

The purple flowering hyacinth vine has also come into it's prime in this heat.

The purple flowering hyacinth vine started from last year’s seeds has also come into its prime in this heat.

On the other side of the house in the east garden, I have a huge amount of beautiful white iris that are struggling in the intense amount of afternoon sun, as well as lamb’s ears that are always looking bedraggled. They will both be removed as well. The garden on that side is now getting established, and the crepe myrtle trees have grown to a point that they are blocking an unappealing view, so I couldn’t be happier about that! I might not even install anything else in that garden, and leave them some extra space. Deep watering has kept them in good health, so just adding some extra mulch is all that is needed.

The underplanted iris and lamb's ears will be removed, and give the crepe myrtles so more space. They have grown quite a lot this season.

The underplanted iris and lamb’s ears will be removed to give the crepe myrtles more space. They are exceptional trees for hot climate and have grown quite a lot this season.

 

In the back yard, I have some renovating to do. After 20 plus years, and even a move from our old house to this one, the planters we built from pressure treated wood are on borrowed time. I am rethinking how we might rework a privacy screen for under the deck, and then add to the flowering bounty underneath. The knockout roses and beautiful peonies that I currently have in pots, as well as some of the white iris I am removing from the east garden will be planted there. I’ll increase the garden’s size to accommodate them as needed. They’re my “green children” after all!

I have a couple of beautiful photos to share of the Labor Day weekend’s sunset here, and a last photo of this summer’s front door — next time you see it, it will be decked out for autumn, and hopefully a lot cooler! Until then — Happy gardening!

The setting sun on Labor Day weekend from ythe front garden.

The setting sun on Labor Day weekend from the front garden.

And a minute later-

And a minute later-

Pink glow on the front door from the setting sun- goodbye summer!

Pink glow on the front door from the setting sun — goodbye summer! Hello Fall!

 

 

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The Best Summer Plants of 2016

Number 1 on the list are the daylilies- this variety is a double flowering beauty.

Number 1 on the list are the daylilies- this variety is a double flowering beauty. I can always count on them for at least a month’s worth of show.

The outside chores are done, and now it’s time for a nice cold iced tea. I’m going through photos from this summer’s garden and want to share some of the plants and flowers that are thriving in my garden in this heat wave. These are my picks for this season’s best here — please let me know what your favorites have been in your corner of the world!

I took this photo while I was up on a ladder brooming down spiderwebs (which are way too plentiful this summer!). I love looking at the garden from a bird's eye view.

I took this front porch photo while I was up on a ladder brooming down spiderwebs (which are way too plentiful this summer!). I love looking at the garden from a bird’s eye view. The ivy in the flower pots has gotten huge and looks great year round. I just change the center flowers each season.

These are the caladium plants that I rescued from the rains. They have come back nicely, and are very happy in the window box under the deck.

These are the caladium plants that I rescued from the rains. They have come back nicely, and are very happy in the protected window box under the deck.

I think these "King Kong" coleus in the window box above the door are my favorites of the summer-

These “King Kong” coleus in the window box above the door are my favorites of the summer — very tropical!

The knock out roses are in their third bloom already, and always are a classic fav!

The knock out roses are in their third bloom already and always are a classic fav!

The liriope have become great border plants along the front walk. Every three years I can divide them into 4 to 6 new plants.

The liriope have become great border plants along the front walk. Every three years I can divide each one into 4 to 6 new plants. In the late summer, they will have purple blooms.

My little friend loves these boxwood- I think he's happy anywhere in the shade!

My little friend loves these boxwood — He’s happy anywhere in the shade! Boxwood have always been a wonderful walkway plant here in Mount Vernon dating back to the days of George Washington.

Up on the deck I am loving all the color from these vinca in pots. I also have these by the driveway.

Up on the deck, I am loving all the color from these vinca in pots. I also have these planted by the driveway. They love the sun and heat much more than I do!

And last but not least, I always have to include the curly willow trees. I always am happy watching their branches dance in the breeze.

And last but not least, the curly willow trees that are planted in three corners of the property. I always feel cooler watching their branches dance in the breeze.

 

 

Summer Wrap Up — The Best of the Best

A beautiful start to the Summer of 2015-

It was a beautiful start to the summer of 2015

What a busy summer it was! We had such a great start — with a perfect amount of rain and  moderate temperature days — and then a completely different ending to the season. I’d like to say something nice about what happened the last half of summer, but can’t think of anything! Such a bad drought, terribly hot, very deep mud cracks filled the gardens, and almost all my perennials had to be cut down just to survive. I’ve never had to do that before — ever! Even still, there were high notes for the summer to report on, and some really fabulous new plants that I tried. On a better note, thankfully, this fall has had some beneficial rains, and things are green once again.

Close up on some of the amazing jalapeno harvst-

Just some of the amazing jalapeno harvest

Remember in the spring I talked about adding lawn clippings into the garden to renovate it and lighten up the soil? In the veggie area where I did this, I planted a few basil plants and a jalapeno pepper. I had promised that if the soil was improved with amendments like these, that it would pay off in a big way, and did it ever! I harvested 125 jalapenos from just one plant! Believe it or not, I am still getting new growth, with no sign of slowing down. The cooler fall temperature will eventually end its growing streak, but what a testament to simple soil amendments and how they can make such a difference in your garden.

An amazing number of peppers- 125- were harvested off this one plant.

An amazing number of peppers – 125 – were harvested from this one plant.

This hyacinth vine gets my top prize this Summer for it's beauty and hardiness.

This hyacinth vine gets my top prize this summer for its beauty and hardiness.

Here is a close up of the interesting pods which develop after the flowers.

Here is a close up of the interesting pods which develop after the flowers.

I gauge my garden “hits” on how many people who are passing by ask the name of a plant or comment about them, and this year’s biggest winner was the hyacinth vine I planted in the front yard. (It was purchased early in the spring at the River Farm Horticultural Center’s annual plant sale, and if you are ever in the Washington D.C. area when it’s going on, I highly recommend going to it.)  This vine was gorgeous throughout the summer and was covered in beautiful purple flowers, which then became purple pods. It thrived in the heat and the drought and grew like crazy. By crazy, I mean growing 2-3 feet a week! It reminded me of the story of Jack and the Beanstalk the way it grew so fast. I saved many of the pods, which are filled with seeds, and plan on giving them away to friends and starting a few vines for myself next year. It had an old fashioned appeal, and I think it would be a show stopper in almost any garden!

The caladium plants put on a show all Summer, and didn't mind the heat at all!

The caladium plants put on a show all summer and didn’t mind the heat at all!

I also received a lot of comments on the caladium plants on the front porch. I had never grown them before at the house. I was very pleased with how well they grew and what a beautiful focal point they became. They held their color and did well in the heat all summer and early fall. I have saved the bulbs and will see if I can re-grow them again next summer.  I’m hoping to have plenty of these to share too.

 

 

This is the third year I have planted vinca in this location. It does so well on either side of the driveway, and some of the previous years colors have self sown- love the mix.

This is the third year I have planted vinca by the driveway. It does so well here, and some of the previous years’ colors have self sown – love the mix.

Even the oregano was blooming and full in the early half of Summer.

This was a great summer for herbs. Even the oregano was blooming nearly half of the season.

The ivy that was growing in all of my planters had to be restarted from the the plant's crown after such a hard winter. It grew beautifully, and each one came back like new.

All of the ivy plants had to be cut back to the soil after such a hard winter. They thrived this summer and are better than ever!

If you are looking for a medium sized tree with year round beauty consider a curly willow. This has become one of my most treasured of all the plants in my garden.

If you are looking for a medium-sized tree with year-round beauty consider a curly willow. This has become one of my most treasured plants.

As always, I have to give props to the Knock-out roses. They gave constant color, and filled in beauitfully after a hard cut back in the Spring.

To close, I have to give props to the Knock-out roses. They gave constant color this summer and always make me smile!

The other plants that did fantastically well this Summer were the coleus, vinca, ivy, herbs, roses and my “pet” fav — the curly willows!

As we approach the midpoint of fall, this area is having an Indian summer. There was a frost a couple of weeks ago, and now the temperature is back up to almost 80 degrees. I am really looking forward to the beautiful autumn leaves and reporting back on some new varieties of fall flowers that I’m growing. Until then — hope you are enjoying the season!

 

 

 

 

The Beautiful State of Maine

Out on Casco Bay in a 1928 Sailboat, the "Bagheera"

On Casco Bay in a 1928 schooner, the “Bagheera”

It has been so hot here in the D.C. area that we decided to escape the heat and go up to Maine to explore the Scarborough area, where eleven generations ago my husband’s ancestors first settled in the early 1600′s. The heat followed us, but it was a fabulous trip anyway.

 

We stayed on Black Point in the Prout’s Neck area, which was the home to the famous American painter Winslow Homer, and the inspiration for so many of his gorgeous nautical works.

Hiking the cliff walk.

Hiking the cliff walk. Winslow Homer’s studio in the distance.

 

 

Fabulous garden along the walk.

Fabulous garden along the walk.

There is a cliff walk all the way around the point to take in the amazing views. The rocky coastline is just gorgeous.

 

Stacks of stones in remembrance of others.

Stacks of stones in remembrance of others along the beaches.

There are lots of small islands and lighthouses — all picturesque, but what struck me most were the beautiful gardens. I never would never have guessed that the summer gardens would be so nice in Maine, having such harsh winters.

 

Many of the same things grow here as in my region of the mid-Atlantic, but the star of the show has to be the rugosa roses that are everywhere. They were all at the stage where the spent roses turn to rosehips, and it was gorgeous. Here’s an interesting fact: did you know that rosehip tea has more vitamin C than orange juice?

Another photo on the cliff walk.

Another view along the cliff walk.

The terrain is so steep that you see exposed roots like this wherever there is a large plant.

The terrain is so steep that you see exposed roots like this wherever there is a large plant.

Wild aster and goldenrod were all along the coastline

Wild aster and goldenrod were all along the coastline

Great place to sit and take it all in!

Great place to sit and take it all in!

The other side of the point- great beach club!

The other side of Prout’s Neck. Great beach club and dogs are allowed – yay!

I set about looking for heart shaped rocks and found several in no time. There are some really nice beach areas with benches made of driftwood, where people have placed stacks of stones in remembrance of others.

I will miss the slow pace up there, and sitting in the Adirondack chairs in front of the Black Point Inn watching the tide roll out in the setting sun after a long hike. I hope I get back to see it again!

Here are a few more photos of some of the highlights…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rugosa rose or rosehips plant is seen everywhere in Maine. So beautiful!

The rugosa rose or rosehips plant is seen everywhere in Maine. So beautiful and must be moose resistant!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sun sets on this trip, but I hope to be back again soon-

The sun sets on this trip, but I hope to be back again soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could look at these views forever-

I could look at these views forever…

A Walk Through the Garden on a Beautiful Summer Day

It’s a beautiful summer day here in the Washington Metro area. The humidity is low, and the temperature is mild — time for a stroll through the garden! Enjoy the tour….

The caladiums are just spectacular. Maybe my favorite new flower!

The caladiums are just spectacular; they may be my favorite new flower!

A favorite spot in the shade on the east side.

A favorite spot in the shade on the east side. The crepe myrtles have been flowering for a month and a half already!

The back yard is filling out nicely, and the "green fence" is almost solid now.

The back yard is filling out nicely, and the “green fence” is almost solid now.

This is the path up to the deck. Everything here is very full this year from all the rain we've had this month. I think we are on track to set a new record-

This is the path up to the deck. Everything is very full from all the rain we’ve had this month. I think we are on track to set a new rainfall record…

Up on the deck this year all the planters are spilling out with coleus, vinca and sweet potato vine.

All of the planters up on the deck are spilling out with sun-loving coleus, vinca and sweet potato vine.

Here's a close up of one of the planters. I am amazed at how many varieties of coleus there are. I don't know which one I like best-

I am amazed at how many varieties of coleus there are. I don’t know which one I like best…

This sweet potato vine might take over the deck if I let it!

This sweet potato vine might take over the deck if I let it!

I think my friend Stomper has the right idea- time for a nap!

I think my friend Stomper has the right idea — time for a nap!

 

 

It’s a Jungle Out There!

Coriopsis at it's most beautiful-

Coreopsis at its most beautiful, and lamb’s ears in bloom right next to it.

We are having the most beautiful light rain and mild temperature this week. It makes me feel like I’m in the British Isles. It seems the plants are just as happy about it as I am. They are literally growing like a jungle, and I almost can’t keep up. I love this time of the year, with so many plants at their most beautiful with fresh growth. As Thomas Jefferson once said: “The garden is like a ballet, with each flower having their moment to shine.”

The side garden is filling in nicely, and you almost  can't notice the meters and A/C units.

The side garden is filling in nicely, and you almost can’t notice the meters and A/C units.

Long view of the "Utility garden".  Looking like the tropics!

Long view of the “Utility garden”. Looking like the tropics!

This year I am so happy to report that the work I did on the garden which surrounds, or should I say “disguises” the meters and A/C units, is really filling in. It’s always my intent to make these ugly necessities as invisible as I can without blocking access to them for repairs and maintenance. The nandinas are soft and easy to pass by. I try to always leave a couple of feet clearance for good air flow, too!

This years choice for the window box above the front door- coladium, vinca vine and new guinea impatiens.

This year’s choice for the window box above the front door: caladium, vinca vine and new guinea impatiens.

Matching planters for each side of the front door. This is the north side.

Matching planters for each side of the front door. This is the north side.

Planters on the deck are in full sun all day, so this year I chose coleus and vinca flower.

Planters on the deck are in full sun all day, so this year I chose coleus and vinca flower.

This year, I am trying something new on the shady, north side of the house. In my planters I am using caladium, vinca vine and new guinea impatiens, staying true to the old adage: “thriller, spiller and filler” — and so far, I love it. Everything is growing well, and the caladium seems to be receiving enough shade. I have tried to replicate the same feeling of these shade plants with flowers and foliage that do well in the sun for the planters on the deck, which faces due south. I used coleus, and flowering vinca, and will add in some potato vine when that comes in at the nursery. They are all doing amazingly well. The chipmunks have been leaving them alone so far, too!

I  feel so inspired with this lovely, gentle rain and mist — I guess it’s time to get back out there! Enjoy your day!

The pyracantha was filled with flowers, and is growing so quickly I need to add more brick anchors in the wall.

The pyracantha was filled with flowers, and is growing so quickly I need to add more brick anchors in the wall. Ditto for some extra support on the wisterias in the yard!

Great New Fall Tips and Some Reminders

It’s that time of the year when all of the nurseries are full of gorgeous

Do you love mums as much as I do? I have a great new tip for you today!

Do you love mums as much as I do? I have a great new tip for you today!

Chrysanthemums, and I’ve just gotten back from the store with one of the best ideas that I have seen in a long time!

 

First, the problem: I am always trying to stake up certain flowers (Mums, Daisies, Sedums, etc.) that seem prone to split open in wind and rain, only to end up with string showing, and the flowers breaking anyway.

By adding some plastic mesh as your mums are growing it will keep them from splitting open in the rain.

By adding some plastic mesh over the top as your mums are growing, it will keep them perfectly spaced and protect them from splitting open in the rain.

 

 

 

The solution: covering plants with green plastic mesh as they are growing. The flower buds grow through the mesh and hide it, but the mesh keeps them nicely spaced and completely safe from splitting open. Such a simple idea! This gardener is going to use it a lot from now on!

 

The mesh can't be seen at all, even from a foot away.

The mesh can’t be seen at all, even from a foot away.

 

 

 

I’m surprised that I’d never seen this done before. Also nice because you can use the mesh over and over, not to mention it’s really inexpensive. Win, win!

The new garage doors will keep the garage warm enough to double as a greenhouse.

The new garage doors will keep the garage warm enough to double as a greenhouse.

 

 

 

After 33 years of hard use, the garage doors and openers needed replacing, and I am so happy at the great new choices available now. Our garage has to serve many functions, as do most garages these days, so we opted for a new door that is maintenance free, double walled steel with insulation sandwiched between. This will keep the garage much warmer in the winter, which is great since one of those functions is doubling as a greenhouse to keep some of the potted plants safe in the winter months.

Someday I would love to have a greenhouse, but until then the plants will have to share space with Snowflake and Silver (our cars – LOL!), and my old bike, lawnmower, and you know – all the other stuff that ends up in garages! I am very happy with the installation company and would be very glad to send information to anyone interested in replacing their garage doors.

This is the brand of driveway topcoating I used to resurface this last Spring. It has held up nicely, and I like it best out of all the varieties I have tried.

This is the brand of driveway topcoating I used to resurface this last Spring. It has held up nicely.

 

 

I have been asked again what I used to topcoat the driveway, so I’m adding a picture of the container. This is a reminder that now is a perfect time of year to do this chore. Also, as a gauge, it takes about two containers for my driveway, which is approximately 25′ x40′. I have tried so many different types of coating, but I recommend the thinnest variety. I find it sinks into the hairline cracks and divots best to seal them.

 

 

I'm naming the coleus as my favorite "Plant of the Summer." It grows exceptionally well in containers, and the color ranges are so vivid and beautiful.

Coleus — my favorite “Plant of the Summer.” It grows exceptionally well in containers, and the color ranges are so vivid and beautiful.

 

With the summer coming to an end, I am giving my award for this year’s “Plant of the Summer”: to the coleus I grew in planters. It has looked amazing even in the heat, and the colors are so vivid. I am always interested in trying new colors and combinations, and I love the look with this sweet potato vine.

Speaking of vines, my pumpkins were mostly eaten by the chipmunks, but I did manage to harvest two last week.

One more variety of the coleus I grew in pots, this one is bright pink with lime green borders.

One more variety of the coleus I grew in pots, this one is bright pink with lime green borders.

 

 

What has been your favorite plant this summer?

In the Pink

This time each year as I browse the local nurseries I am drawn to the pink flowers.  The color is just so soothing in the garden.  When it comes to my house, which is kind of a muddy red brick with white trim, the pinks seem to show up nicely against it. So, I guess I’m choosing pink for my color scheme this Spring — again! What color are you using?
Here is my Spring tour of some of the highlights so far:

The cherry tree was beautiful this year- even as the petals fell.

The cherry tree was beautiful this year- even as the petals fell and turned into pink snow.

I have lily of the valley under the deck which smells wonderful-

I have lily of the valley under the deck which smells wonderful.

Even the sunset at Easter glowed pink!

Even the sunset at Easter glowed pink!

This is a choke cherry bush in my back yard, now about six feet in diameter. They are native in this region, and have beautiful deep pink flowers. This one given to me by a friend which makes it even more special.

This is a choke cherry bush in my back yard, now about six feet in diameter. They are native to this region and have beautiful deep pink flowers. This one was given to me by a friend which makes it even more special.

There are lots of pink and purple pansies along the driveway.

There are lots of pink and purple pansies along the driveway.

The azaleas are just starting to open, but are loaded with flowers.

The azaleas are just starting to open, but are loaded with flowers.

OK it's not pink, but just wanted to show you how interesting the branches are getting on my smallest curly willow.

OK, it’s not pink, but I just wanted to show you how interesting the branches are getting on my smallest curly willow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The peartree was also pretty spectacular this Spring, too.

The peartree was also pretty spectacular this Spring, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One last photo with the phlox in full bloom- it really was a beautiful Spring!

One last photo with the phlox in full bloom — it really was a beautiful Spring!

Setting the Scene for Fall

This year's Fall colors on my porch are deep pinks, purples and teals.

This year’s Fall colors on my porch are deep pinks, purples and teals.

I am getting the gardens ready for Fall, and it has been a beautiful weekend for doing the last bit of weeding and edging. Although the chores are not much fun, I rewarded myself by getting some gorgeous additions for the front entrance: ornamental kale, mums, violas, eucalyptus and some variegated ivy that I will use to add some punch.

This year there are some very interesting colors in the selections at the nurseries. I was inspired by a really beautiful kale, and I am pulling various shades of purples, deep pinks and a teal green from it and adding some bright accents with the ivy and the violas.

This ornamental kale was my inspiration for the Fall colors I chose this year.

This ornamental kale was my inspiration for the Fall colors I chose this year.

As the season progresses, I will add pumpkins and gourds for Halloween, and for Thanksgiving I’ll add some Indian corn. Here again, the choices are amazing — the gourds I’ve seen have so many beautiful greens and ivories, not just the traditional oranges and yellows of yesteryear.

Normally by this time of year summer annuals would be in decline, but our strange year once again is proving to be different.

Normally by this time of year summer annuals would be in decline, but our strange year once again is proving to be different.

It seems that we are having a very late Autumn in the mid-Atlantic region. Barely anything has changed color, and most of the summer annuals are still blooming well. Because of this, I am going to break one of my cardinal rules.  I am normally not one for mixing seasons, and I like to give each season its special time to shine, but it makes it hard for me to remove the summer flowers when they are all still looking so pretty. (I know, I get too attached to my babies… I mean my flowers, LOL!) In order to make the summer flowers work in the design, I bring in texture and color that will coordinate with the vinca and the mandevilla vine which are still thriving. They are both deep pink, so I especially like the combination with the kale! This is normally where I would have installed pansies, so when the frost arrives (and the vincas pass on to flower heaven), I will replace them with some pansies or violas. I love to have some flowers on each side of the driveway to welcome us home year ’round since that is the entrance most used.

Lanterns on sheppard's hooks are a great portable way of lighting a pathway- or anywhere else!

Lanterns on shepherd’s hooks are a great portable way of lighting a pathway — or anywhere else!

I have been so taken with gorgeous candle lanterns from magazines and in pictures that I have seen lately. I love to make the garden come alive with light especially on Halloween and when guests are expected, so I will be adding all my lanterns here and there along the walkways. In addition, there is some beautiful uplighting in the trees and against the house, which have been in place now for many years. I just love the look, and it really shows off the trees at night in a very interesting way! If safety is a concern, battery-powered candles can be substituted in lanterns for real ones. Another easy way of adding lighting is with solar lights, no wiring involved. It seems technology is really improving at a rapid clip in this field, and there are some really pretty styles now, unlike the clunkers of a decade ago.

Fall is a season full of beauty, and it’s so nice to have some cool fresh air again. I hope you can find some time to get out and enjoy what Mother Nature is giving us. Please let me know what is inspiring you this season.  Happy gardening!

 

Happy Fall!

Happy Fall!

Managing Rain water in your Garden- Keeping it where you want it!

With the heat of the Summer right around the corner, I have some tips on how to make the most of the rain Mother Nature bestows on our gardens. There are many simple things that many of us can do to improve our ability to “tap” into this free resource. I have been working on installing many of these in my own garden over the years, and will say that they have made a huge difference in the health of plants and trees.

The picture to the right shows a border that I planted right next to the street where my yard is graded downhill away from my house. By installing this garden on the perimeter of the property it absorbs the rainwater keeping it in the yard, and preventing it from spilling out to the road, or going down the storm drains. With all the pollution that gets into the streams and rivers from residential yards, this tip alone can be one of the most beneficial things we can all do.

Groundcovers of all types are a wonderful way to filter the rainwater and slow it down. Especially on hillsides this is important. Not only will it hold the soil in place, but they will absorb the nutrients from the fertilizers so they will not become a problem elsewhere. The runoff of nitrogen from fertilizers has caused damage in most of this nation’s streams, rivers and tributaries. It is also very important to regularly sweep out curbing to make sure that any sediment which collects doesn’t make it’s way into the stormdrains. The other terrific benefit of  groundcover is that they shelter the soil from the sun, so the roots of all surrounding plants have more time to drink in the rain, again- less run-off. With so many groundcovers to choose from there is one for every need- flowering, evergreen, shade/sun tolerant, wet/dry conditions- there is one for you! I must have at least a dozen varieties in my garden, they are a true workhorse. Here are some pictures of some of my favorites.

In the flowering category creeping phlox can't be beat!

Liriope, both solid green and vareigated work in almost all sun conditions, and get beautiful sprays of purple flowers in the Autumn.

Periwinkle with it's glossy evergreen leaves is one of the toughest hillside groundcovers, and beautiful early Spring flowers to boot!

Pachysandra is a staple in many gardens because of it's soft evergreen foliage and spreads easily to cover an area quickly.

O.K., enough about groundcovers. Another way to slow down and divert rain is with rocks of all types. Whether it’s gravel, boulders or cobblestones, they are all terrific to manage water. I have replaced my downspout splashguards with cobblestones which diverts the rain over a larger area. At the last house I lived in, I dug pits in all four corners of the yard and filled them in with large gravel to create drywells. These drywells were then covered with mulch so that they were not visible. When it would rain, the excess would naturally seep into them and slowly absorb into the earth.  We had no storm drains there so this was a great solution. There are fantastic rain gardens created in a similar way with water loving plants installed around the border. Drywells and rain gardens can be configured into what ever size you need to contain the excess water you receive in your yard. Larger boulders can also be used to slow water on steep hillsides, and retaining the soil to keep the ground stable. Here is an example from my yard right after a storm showing how well these cobblestones hold the soil on the hill under my deck. These are just set in sand and compressed.    Of course for smaller needs there are also rainbarrels and rain bladders. Their extra bonus is that they store the water for future use.

One last tip for holding the water in place where it will do the most good is simply keeping the soil loose by incorporating lots of compost and then topdressing it with mulch. In my own experience even in a flat yard, this can collect more than an inch of rain- all on it’s own- in a single storm!

Now if we could just add a few more hours to each day to get it all done! I wasn’t kidding when I said these steps took me a few years to complete, but I have to say it was worth all the effort! Hope you all have a fantastic Summer out in the garden. Enjoy!

From my home to yours- Happy Gardening!

 

Gardening Olympics – 2012′s Gold Medal Winners Are…..

It’s time for the Summer Olympics! Garden Olympics that is, and this summer had some clear winners despite the tough climate. There were gold medal winners in many categories – bushes, herbs, tropicals, vines, ground covers and annuals. I am going to show you what excelled this season in my garden.

This mango colored hibiscus is a definite gold medal winner. It has had prolific blooms and foliage all summer.

In the tropical category, I give the gold medal to this beautiful mango colored hibiscus. It has maintained beautiful deep green glossy foliage, and has at least half a dozen flowers every day. There are so many varieties of hibiscus, both tropical and hardy, and a wide choice of colors to boot, it makes them a terrific choice wherever you want a splash of color. I find that mine do best when in the morning sun, with filtered shade in the afternoon.

 

 

 

 

The mahonia, or false grape as it is sometimes called, adds a beautiful texture in the garden.

Where bushes are concerned, it is hard to deny that the mahonia is quite amazing. It is also sometimes called a false grape because of the clusters that you see in the picture here. The display of “grape clusters” was beautiful in the early summer, and the striking contrast in texture that it provides to the foundation plants is beautiful in comparison to the small leaves of the boxwood and azalea bushes in the garden. One note of caution: they have very sharp leaves, so use gloves when working on them. In the early part of the year there are sprays of tiny yellow flowers which are scented like lily of the valley, and that alone might get my gold medal award. Other very noteworthy bushes were the knockout roses and the nandinas, both of which were exceptionally gorgeous this summer.

This vibrant magenta colored geranium and the variegated ivy have thrived this season.

I give this year’s annual and ground cover awards to the geranium and variegated ivy. They have both done exceptionally well despite the fact that they are in the full sun and in a container. They remain my number one choice in a hot dry climate and are very showy even from a distance. This is the second year for these very hardy ivies. I have left them in the pot throughout the year, just changing out the flowers seasonally. The geraniums will be lifted out at the end of summer and stored in trays in the garage, where the temperature remains above freezing over the winter. I have used the same geraniums for many years, so they are also winners in the budget friendly category!

 

Some of the spectacular herbs this year, clockwise from top left: lemon balm, catnip, sage, and chives.

In the “edible” category I give the nod to the Catnip in my herb garden. I grow it each year in the same pot. It self seeds, so once you have it you never need to purchase it again. This year was a banner year, the leaves were huge, and were very much enjoyed by the kitties. I must also say that all the herbs in the garden both annual and perennial have been spectacular this season, but none as absolutely noteworthy as the Catnip.

The beautiful mandevilla vine winds itself up the post, needs almost no care, and flowers in abundance!

Last but not least, the plant which drew the most compliments this summer was the mandevilla vine that I grew on a tall lantern post near the front walk. It was constantly covered in soft pink flowers, and twined itself around the lantern post with no human help. People walking by asked about it, and I did see many others being planted and thriving in my neighborhood. It’s always nice to have a carefree, reliable, beautifully flowering specimen to welcome you home. Let me know what deserved the gold medal in your garden this year, I’d love to hear!

 

The Iris – One of Springtime’s Most Loved Flowers

The iris is truly one of the most beautiful of all springtime flowers. There are hundreds of varieties, and come in virtually every color of the rainbow. It is also one of the simplest flowers to grow.

Preparing the garden for Iris is as easy as finding a sunny spot with good drainage. I mixed about 1/3 each of sand, compost, and soil for my iris garden. Place the rhizomes flat on the soil, and space them a few inches apart. Lightly sprinkle about 1/4 inch of soil on top. From there, let nature take over. You will be rewarded with gorgeous blooms each spring.

The blooms last a long time, in many varieties more than a month from start to finish. Although, like most flowers, the weather has much to do with that. If you experience heavy rain or high heat while the iris is in flower, it may shorten the bloom time. My tip on that is to check the news, and if these are in the forecast, treat yourself to a beautiful bouquet to cut and enjoy indoors!

This yellow flag Iris was a gift from a neighbor.

You will need to check every few years for overcrowding. When that happens, just dig out every other rhizome. Check for soft spots, and if you find any simply cut them out and discard. Irises make one of the most desired gifts to other gardeners, so be sure to share your spares! I have three varieties in my yard, all originally given to me by gardening neighbors. My yellow flag iris was originally from one neighbor’s grandmother, who received it back in the 1800′s.

The picture at the top of this post is one from my former neighborhood. This homeowner has devoted his entire front yard to iris. When they are blooming, there is a steady stream of people walking and driving by to gaze. He started collecting them decades ago, and now has more than 100 varieties.

These blue iris in my side yard are small, only about 15 inches tall, with very fine leaves.

White bearded Iris are also another favorite of mine, these grow about three feet high.

When the blooms are done for the season, the foliage is striking all on its own. I like to trim out the entire stem from the flower, instead of just dead heading. Different varieties vary in their shades of green and the height and width of their leaves. So, it’s easy to choose a variety that suits your exact needs. The best time to divide them is in July through August, if they have become overcrowded. This is also when some varieties may have foliage die back. I trim mine with a sharp knife, to about 2 inches, and they will regenerate new foliage which will look  beautiful up until frost.

So whether your favorite is Siberian, Flag, Bearded, Japanese, or one of the many other varieties that grace our lovely planet, I hope you will plant some and enjoy them for years to come!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring is Here

My kwansan cherry tree in peak bloom. (For those of you who have asked, this is the tree in the blog page's background.)

Just like magic to me, spring has sprung. With such a mild winter this year the blooms are very early. The flowering trees are magnificent, and the phlox is beyond compare. All of the bulbs have finished, but the masses of foliage were much fuller and greener than usual. I think that this might be one of the more beautiful displays ever. Even the azaleas are opening, in all their glory.

These are two weeding tools I use. The one on the left is an ergo tool, and rocks the weeds out of the soil. The one on the right is a serious tool which can extract even the toughest weeds.

It seems all of the plants that I transplanted last fall had a very easy first winter in which to spread their roots and become acclimated to their new locations. I was very happy to see the first leaves sprouting on the three crepe myrtles, and am even more anxious to see them grow to fill out the side garden where once the purple maple stood. Really the only downside of this spring is dandelions, which always seem to blow in, and they are doing way too well. Thankfully, I have two terrific tools which easily uproot them. If your yard is prone to these weeds, I wholeheartedly recommend getting one. They make the process a lot quicker. They work great on all weeds, whatever size.

I am almost done with trimming back the liriope, euonymus, and junipers. Not a minute too soon either, they are already sprouting new growth. I am hoping to finish this weekend because it is now time to edge, and add some new mulch to keep the weeds down and the moisture in. Lots to do!

Here is a closeup of the pink dogwood this year. The flowers were so huge and perfect that it almost looked artificial.

A good tip to get your garden off to a good start is after you have prepared the soil with some weed preventer, and stirred in a little compost to add nutrients, give your garden a good watering prior to mulching. This will give it a boost, and ensure that all your plants have everything they need for the new growing season.

One more closeup -- these are the creeping phlox. When first planted, these were just a small plug, they are now more than three feet in diameter, and gorgeous. I would recommend them for my top awards honor this spring.

I hope everyone gets a chance to enjoy this incredible time of the year, whether it’s in your own yard, or even the park. Just a reminder — Garden Week is almost here with lots of inspiring places to visit.

And The Winner Is…..

The Vinca was the best performer of all the annuals in the garden this summer.

With the Emmy’s around the corner, I thought it only fitting to write about the winners in this summer’s garden. Even though the temperatures soared, and we had little rain to speak of, there were still some true winners.

I give top honors to the Vinca which bordered my driveway. It is in the full afternoon sun, on the west side of my house. It not only survived, but thrived on the awful 100+ degree days! In past years I have planted Ageratum and Begonia with fairly good results, but in comparison, the Vinca is a clear winner.

The Maidenhair Grasses add height and motion to the garden. Sedum borders the front edge, and gives color late Summer through the Fall.

I will also give kudos to the Ornamental grasses in the yard. They have just come into bloom and are spectacular. The variety that I have in my garden is Maidenhair, which has very fine leaves, and white plumes. Also, the liriope has just sprouted its lavender spikes and is a terrific ground cover for all exposures.

Also taking honorable mention are the Nandina and the Pyracantha which are both covered in berries. And, the Sedum which looked fabulous all summer and are now coloring up for fall.

The Pyracantha has beautiful flowers in Spring, glossy leaves all summer, and bright orange berries in the Fall.

These plants all did extremely well, they are all tried and true in my garden, and I would recommend them to anyone who is looking for really hardy, tough, drought tolerant, yet beautiful plants for their garden. This summer was one for the ages, and a true test of endurance for both flora and fauna. Which plants did best in your garden? I would love to know.

Liriope is a terrific ground cover, whether you are looking for variegated or solid green, they do well in shade to full sun.

 

The Victory Garden – Growing Our Own Food

Growing your own produce is one of the healthiest things you can do. Not only for your body, but your wallet as well.

With the skyrocketing price of great produce this year — $3.99/lb. for tomatoes, $2.99/lb. romaine lettuce, and even more if you want to have an artichoke or some asparagus with your meal — I am once again getting ready to grow some of my own.

I have tried many times in my current house to  have a vegetable garden, but we have problems with the wildlife eating everything we try to grow. I have had great success with herbs, they seem to leave them alone, but my strawberries and tomatoes are another story. I have decided that this fall I am going to try a cold frame, so that I can grow lettuce and spinach. I will post more pictures as this evolves. I am also going to try planting in pots and trays on my deck. I have done that in the past with limited success, as I found that things dry out quickly, so I will try putting them on trays with waterwicks.

My border of oregano

The herbs this year seemed to grow exceptionally well. I had a combination of pots, and many in the ground. I have an entire row of oregano which is now blooming, and cascading over on to the back walkway. Each year it gets more full than the last, and is as pretty as it is delicious. The other in-ground herbs I grow are chives, lemon balm, sage and thyme. These are all perennial and do best when they have become established. I grow the rest in pots: mint, because it is invasive; oregano, so that I can move it to a more protected winter spot; basil, because it is so sensitive; and catnip and cilantro for the same reason. I am hopeful that this year we will get some of the figs from my tiny little fig tree, but then again I think the chipmunks already have their eyes on them.

My fig tree, a cultivar from Mt. Vernon estate.

I am also looking forward to trying a cold frame to see how long I can extend my growing season into the cold weather. This has been such a hot and dry summer it wasn’t too appealing to spend long hours outside, so I am hoping that we will have some great fall weather, and do some catching up with some new projects.

 

Putting herbs in pots lets you maximize their best exposure.

My plan is to construct the cold frame by layering bricks about five courses high and placing my old storm door panel on top. The nice thing about doing this is you can change

location easily from year to year simply by moving the bricks. They also hold the heat and provide great insulating value.

I’m curious to know what others have and will try. So please let me know. Here’s to your health!

By the way, the beautiful “Sow the seeds of victory” vintage poster was created by James Montgomery Flagg in 1918.

The Beautiful Peartree

Storm damage to mature peartrees is not uncommon.

I am sorry to say, it has happened again. We had a massive wind and rain storm on Monday night, and it claimed 40% of our gorgeous peartree . It was a perfectly symmetrical gumdrop shape. Always beautiful, they are the harbinger of Spring opening up before anything else in the garden, looking cloud-like with white flowers. Also the last tree to lose its leaves in the fall after turning fabulous shades of yellows to maroons, and every color in between. I always have leaves on the peartrees still when I’m decorating for Christmas, so I have many times used pears in my front door wreath, and used that as my theme for decoration.

This is one of my Cleveland Peartrees, you can see how different the branching structure is than the Bradford Pears.

Peartrees are prone to having major branches break in wind and rain. They have an unusual structure that is not very forgiving. The Bradford variety usually has three or four branches which come out of the trunk, and all smaller branches grow out of these, making them exceptionally heavy. When you add rain and wind to the mix it is quite often more than the structure can support. If at all possible, in the winter months, when you can see the branches easily, prune out some of the heavier secondary branches. By doing this you will greatly reduce the weight and open up the inside of the tree. This will make it far less likely to succumb to wind damage.

Because each branch carries so much weight, they are easily ripped from the trunk in high winds.

In this picture you can see how much of the trunk was actually ripped away when the branch broke. If I were to leave this tree standing it would be very likely to die of disease, and bring it into the garden, so at this point it is best to take it down.

I have two other Pears in the yard. They are both Cleveland Pears. The branching structure is much stronger, because they are smaller in size and more plentiful. They can withstand the wind better, although they are not quite as magnificent shape-wise. They are a better choice for an exposed location like mine. But if you have other large trees to provide some wind protection, I would definitely encourage you to plant a Bradford, and enjoy its beauty for however long mother nature allows!

Adding Color to Your Garden

With so many choices and styles out there it is hard to know where to begin. I would suggest considering the following things to help with your choice. The color of your house and trim, style of architecture, your favorite colors, whether you want annuals, perennials, or flowering shrubs, and the longevity of your various choices.

If you have a colonial style house you can go with a more formal and symmetrical choice; Arts and Crafts Style a more cottagey, random mix would complement; Contemporary would be blocks of color, simple in design; Tudor style a more full blown English garden, etc. Using clues from your style of architecture will greatly enhance your home’s curb appeal.

A contrasting garden with yellow and purple accents.

As far as color is concerned, aside from the obvious choice of choosing a color that is nice with your exterior field and trim house colors, make sure to pick colors that you love, after all it will welcome you home each time you return. It’s amazing  how  different your house can look with monochromatic, complementary or contrasting color schemes. I like to play with my color schemes, and alternate these from year to year for a change.

This year in my front garden I have a monochromatic scheme with all pink annuals. I like to use annuals in front so that I can easily change schemes from season to season. You can provide accents by using several types of flowers in the same color, also providing texture as well, or varying shades of the same color which can provide depth. In my back garden it is all about contrasting colors — yellows, purples, oranges come and go with perennials blooming throughout the spring, summer and fall.

A mix of foliage creates a backdrop with texture.

I like to treat the greenery with the same approach, and layer in various shades of green, textures, variegated leaves, heights, etc. It helps to show off the beauty of each when you highlight the differences between them and, it creates a lot of interest to the background.

My last tip for today is to add a little bit of yellow to every garden. Yellow makes every color look brighter. Even if it is just the yellow eye of a daisy, just a touch is all it takes. I learned that tip long ago from a fellow shopper at a garden center, and consider it one of the best tips ever; it makes a huge difference.

Herb Gardens

A couple of decades ago I was so inspired while looking at a cookbook that I set out to create my own herb garden. I lived in a tiny 200 year old house where space was at a premium. It didn’t hold me back, though. I started my herb garden in pots on a baker’s rack, next to my kitchen door. I tried many new herbs in different ways. I was hooked! Herbs quickly became my favorite thing to grow.

Whenever possible, use brick for paths. They radiate heat back into the planting areas.

Through the years, at each new house, I have always planted an herb garden. Here in the Northern Virginia area we are known to have awful soil and intensely hot summers, usually accompanied by a drought. Herbs love this, so many are very well-suited to our region.

 

Of all my gardens – ever – without a doubt my favorite was my herb garden at my last house. I was lucky to have extra bricks left over from when the house was built, and a sloping, west-facing area, not very suitable to growing much of anything but herbs. Laying out the design, I made sure to leave plenty of walk paths, so that each section could be accessed easily. The overall size was about 25′ x 20′, and it had 8 planting beds. After preparing all the soil, I planted at least 20 varieties of herbs and kept two beds for starting perennials and vegetables.

Although many of the veggies were eaten by wildlife, they usually left the herbs alone. It was a fantastic place to be. The scent of the herbs on a hot afternoon after a rain was intoxicating. It was also one of the most beautiful areas in the entire yard. Always one that drew notice, as well as being totally practical!

My Williamsburg Style Herb Garden

There are many perennial herbs that provide the basis for my garden – oregano, chives, sage, rosemary, lemon balm, and mint are a few, and I always plant basil, cilantro and catnip each year. Which herbs will you have in your garden?

 

Choosing Plants

Now that we have created the perfect bed for our plants, we can choose what to put in it. Try to create a plan that is good for year-round beauty.

Using a background of evergreens in a cold winter environment will keep the garden interesting looking even on the coldest of winter days. I try to choose plants that I can use in holiday decorating. Some of my favorites are holly, boxwood, juniper, euonymus and rhododendron.

Example of foundation evergreens

These are easily shaped, and provide a nice backdrop. In front of these you can layer in shorter bushes or, depending on your desires, perennials and ground cover.

Emphasize entrances, walkways, and corners with taller plants. This draws your attention, and creates a focal point. It is important when planting to not plant too closely to the house. If you plant so that you keep a foot between the house and bushes, your house will be much easier to maintain, and bushes will stay much healthier. When planted too close they can become one sided with all the foliage facing out, while bare on the back. I also would encourage shorter plants under windows, for safety as well as preserving your views.

Repeat your plant material throughout your yard to keep a flow. I would also encourage planting in multiples if your yard is large. By doing this it won’t look cluttered or hodgepodge. I like to plant in drifts, or waves, with each drift comprised of the same plant, overlapping the corners of the drifts. This carries your eye through the garden and draws you in.

Example of merging drifts and layering heights


When planting in drifts, try to follow the lay of the land. You can accentuate changes in terrain, creating lots of visual impact. Using plants with varying textures will really highlight the various drifts.

Lastly, using ground cover to fill in as a border, or as erosion control on a hillside, can really complete the garden. With so many choices out there, have fun!