Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dry Shade Dependables

In the Evergreen State, we have a lot of dry shade. Yes, it rains often, but we get a bad rap on the amount of rainfall. We typically get about the same amount of rainfall per year as Columbus, OH and Dallas, TX according to the average annual rainfall from 1949-2006. However, our annual rainfall is spread out over 155 days while Texas receives their rain over just 79 days. So, the areas beneath our huge Douglas firs, Western Red Cedars and Hemlocks get very dry. We all want to be good stewards of the water we have, so it is helpful to be acquainted with some plants that thrive in dry shade.

One of the best, hands down, is Epimedium. This great plant comes to us from two very different origins. The Asian varieties are choice plants, dainty and exquisite shade lovers, but they require moisture-they are not fIMG_0042or dry shade. Mediterranean varieties, however, are very drought tolerant once established. These tough, hardy ground covers are evergreen, bloom in early spring, often with magnificent new leaves with bronze, copper and red tints. Epimedium x perralchicum has sprays of golden flowers and Epimedium x warleyense has orange blooms. Cut the old growth to the ground in early spring before the bloom stalks emerge to showcase the flowers and then enjoy a fresh flush of foliage.

Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum) has waxy, white bells drooping from lovely arching stems. The varieg2011_4 053ated version is particularly effective in the shade. The foliage turns a pleasing golden yellow in the fall. Lenten Roses (Helleborus) are terrific evergreen workhorses with exotic, frequently speckled, sometimes double blooms in the off season. They may bloom from February to May. Most asters languish in the shade but Aster divaricatus (aka Eurybia divaricatus) is native to the dry, open woods of the Eastern US. It is sprawly, with small but abundant white daisy flowers.

IMG_0074Goatsbeard (Aruncus) is commonly known as a large architectural plant topping out around 6’. Aruncus aesthifolius is a charming dwarf, with feathery leaves that combine wonderfully with larger, glossy leaves such as Hellebore or Asarum, a groundcover with glossy heart shaped leaves. The cream flower spikes dry on the plant and look attractive through frost.

Some hardy geraniums are suitable for dry shade such as G. phaeum and G. pretense. Geranium macrorrhizum, which is too vigorous for my garden, but somewhat more constrained in dry conditions.IMG_0601

Red twig dogwood (Cornus alba; C. sericea) is deciduous, but shines in the winter with dramatic red stems. The newer stems are more colorful, so you will want to cut 1/3 of the old stems to the ground each year to encourage new growth. The variegated C. alba ‘Elegantissima’ lights up the shade with white rimmed leaves, but other varieties may have more vibrantly red stems.

One of the most fragrant shrubs, Sarcococca confusa, is a shade lover. It gets 3-5’ tall and wide, has glossy evergreen leaves-wonderful for arrangements-and a vanilla /honeysuckle scented flower in winter. The flowers are insignificant in size but magnificent to smell. S. c. may require some extra water, but his little brother, S. hookeriana var. humilis, can take it dry. This is a 12-24” tall groundcover that spreads by underground stolon and shares the same tiny but fragrant IMG_0607bloom.

Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala var petiolaris) is a wonderful, bloomingIMG_0609 woody vine that will climb 60’ up a Douglas fir. Golden hops (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’) is slow to get started but once it is established it will glow in the dark.

Don’t let the dry shade intimidate you! You can turn it into something truly beautiful.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Defining Shade

In the Pacific NW, shade is something gardeners must learn to love. I’m from Texas and I can tell you that in other parts of the country, shade is something devoutly to be wished. People go to unbelievable lengths to produce a bit of shade to make their summer more endurable. Even in the cloudy and brisk climate of maritime Washington, a shade garden can be an elegant and serene counterpoint to a rowdy summer border. Aug 189

Shade is a multifaceted condition. Typically, shade describes an area that receives less than 4 hours of direct sun a day. A full shade plant prefers less than 4 hours of sun; you must consider not only the length of time in the sun, but also the position of the sun. A full shade plant that receives only 2 hours of direct sun-but in the middle of the day-will not thrive and may die. Learning how the sun moves across your site will help you to estimate what type of shade you have.

Aug 155Bright shade areas may receive dappled shade all day; or direct morning or late afternoon sun; or they may be bright, but not sunny. A wide variety of plants will thrive in these conditions.

Frequently, deciduous trees produce a mixture of sun and shade referred to as dappled shade. The shade area created will be larger than the tree canopy because of the movement of the sun. Usually, you will find full days of sun filtered through the leaves, but little to no direct sun. Woodland plants are ideal for these situations Aug 160

Plants that are labeled “Full shade” will not grow in the dark-all plants require some light. Full shade plants will do well in dappled shade conditions and may even grow in reflected light from a light colored wall or fence. I have an area on the side of my house that receives only reflected light for a majority of the year where I am able to grow many varieties of plants.

Dense shade can be defined as areas that get limited light-too dark to be considered dappled shade-and no direct sunlight. Frequently, these areas may have complicating factors such as surface roots and evergreen canopies. There are few plants that will bloom in such IMG_0016conditions, but you can rely on full shade shrubs and foliage plants. Variegated plants can provide variety and light up the dark space. Because tree roots compete for the moisture and nutrients, you may not be able to plant densely. Woodland flowers, sometimes known as ephemerals because they disappear after blooming, can provide delightful color. These plants emerge and bloom in spring before the trees leaf out completely.

Sometimes dense shade can be improved. Trim off the lower branches to allow more light to penetrate under the canopy. Substitute an openwork barrier for a solid fence. Select companion plants that will tolerate dry shade. Consider a sitting area, hammock, water feature or garden art in an area that doesn’t support as many plants as you would like.

Shallow rooted trees make planting anything difficult. Creating a raised bed is tempting, but will likely weaken and possibly kill the tree by burying the roots too deeply. Tree roots are naturally quite shallow growing. When root systems are buried, less soil oxygen and water is available.  An oxygen level of 25% of the soil volume is considered good for root development. At a 5% oxygen level growth stops, and at 2% roots decline and die1. If you are able to build a bed that doesn’t smother the roots, the roots will eventually grow up into the new soil, duplicating the existing problem you are trying to solve.

If you have evergreens with branches only a foot or two above the ground you should probably forgo planting and mulch for weed prevention. Use no more than 2-4” of mulch; more than that will have the same deleterious effect as too much soil piled on the roots.

1 Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry

Friday, April 22, 2011

Perennial Preening

Slugs are the number one maintenance issue for PNW gardeners. I use a multiple phase strategy. First line of defense is iron phosphate bait which I try to put out twice a year, in April and October. Secondly, I go after IMG_0004individual perpetrators. I keep handy a spray bottle with 1/3 ammonia and 2/3 water and search for slugs in the cool of early morning or after a rain. It is worth it to pay the extra money for a sturdy bottle; I can hit a 4” slug at 20 paces. Last line of defense is the mollusk keg party. Use a small plastic container, such as a 6 ounce drinking glass, yogurt or margarine tub. Half bury in the soil and fill with the cheapest beer you can find. Read way more about slugs in this previous post.

Weeds will stage a coup and take control of your garden if not fended off. If you remove the weeds before planting and mulch after, your weeds will be manageable. 2-4” of mulch is plenty; it will also retain moisture and promote consistent imagesoil temperature. Many gardeners, especially in very cold areas, mulch in the fall to regulate the soil temperature and protect roots from frost-heave. Here in the mild PNW we don’t have a big problem with alternately freezing and thawing ground heaving plants out of the soil. I mulch in late winter for weed suppression and moisture retention. Remember that if you decide to use bark, you must add nitrogen to compensate. The decomposition of the bark uses all the available nitrogen in the soil. If you use compost, you are improving your soil every time you mulch.

Deadheading has nothing to do with rock bands and hippie vans. In gardening vernacular, deadheading is simply removing spent flowers. It keeps the garden looking fresh, promotes reblooming and prevents reseeding. Most plants will continue to bloom until they are allowedimage to set seed, so removing spent flowers encourages new blooms. Remove any dead leaves at the same time; some folks call this ‘dead-leafing’.

Pinching is cutting back all of the branches of the plant by 1/3 to 1/2 to promote bushier growth and more blooms. This is particularly effective with chrysanthemums and asters. I used to actually pinch these plants one branch at a time. I’ve learned that they respond just as well to whacking with pruners or even sheep shears. Thinning is a different process. To thin, remove 1/3 or more of individual stems of a plant to increase air circulation. This is commonly done with plants susceptible to mildew, such as phlox paniculata.

Staking is nobody’s favorite garden task. However, If you insist on growing imagedelphiniums you will have to stake-unless you grow the less common dwarf varieties such as D. ‘Blue Butterfly’ or D. nudicaule. If you must stake, do so early in the season so that the plant grows up gracefully around the stake. If you wait until the need becomes obvious, your plant will look like a hog-tied rodeo calf for the rest of the season. To reduce staking, use the right plant for the place. Not enough sun or too rich soil can make a plant leggy. Look for dwarf varieties. Pinching or cutting back will keep you from having to stake asters. Use supportive companion plants if possible. I sometimes use deciduous azaleas to support floppy late summer bloomers. DO NOT use a conifer to support another plant. Overlaying vegetation will cause damage or death to conifer branches.

During the season, and especially after frost, remove debris from the beds. Remember that anything diseased should be destroyed. If you leave it in the garden, you will surely see the problem again next year. Everything else can go into the compost for next imageyear’s mulch. You may also want to cut back your perennials, but be judicious. Some of the seed heads, pods or sturdy stalks are architecturally interesting and can attract birds to your garden to entertain you and provide some late season pest control. Ornamental grasses provide interest and movement in the winter garden and, in any event, they are petulant if you cut them back before spring. Like some perennials, notably chrysanthemums and fuchsias, they will overwinter more successfully if you leave at least 10” or so of growth. A great resource on maintaining your garden is The Well-Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust.

Because our summers are dry, watering will be an issue. Be wise with your water. Thorough, infrequent watering will encourage deep root growth so imageplants can survive a dry spell. Avoid planting water hogs, unless you have a bog. Remember to choose the right plant for the place. Don’t plant a hosta in full sun. Given enough water, it will survive, but why waste the water and the time? Consider xeriscaping; once limited to places like Arizona, it makes sense to consider drought tolerance everywhere. Check out local examples like the drought tolerant section at BBG. High Country Gardens is a great educational tool about plants suitable for xeriscaping. Do be careful to avoid plants that cannot stand wet feet in winter if you are gardening in the Pacific NW. To determine if you have a problem, try this percolation test.

Division becomes necessary when bloom reduces or the center of the plant dies back. To keep the plants vigorous, you divide them and discard the center-with the added benefit of creating more plants.  You don’t have to wait for center die out; any plant that has grown larger than the place you have it planted may be divided. If it blooms in the spring, divide in the fall; if it blooms in the fall, divide in the spring. For more information, see this earlier post on division.

If all of this sounds like a lot of work, remember it is spread out over about 9 months. If you compare the investment in maintenance of perennials with the maintenance of a lawn, you will find that flowers are bargain.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Picking and Planting Perennials

Once your beds are ready, you start the hunt for the perfect plant varieties you have carefully chosen as you were making your garden plan. One of the challenges and also the greatest satisfactions in gardening may be in creating pleasing plant combinations which together have a greater impact than the individual plants.

Look for your plants at local nurseries and plant sales. The Snohomish County MG Plant Sale is typically imagethe Saturday before Mother’s Day, so this year it is May 7, 2011. The Miller Horticultural Library lists plant sales and other plant sources on their website. Sometimes you can find a hard to locate plant by mail order; be SURE to check out all online and mail order nurseries at a consumer watchdog site such as this one.

Make sure the plant you want to buy looks healthy and free from visible pests. Plants with discolored, curled or wilting leaves should be avoided; look under the leaves, too. Check the tag-some plants are supposed to have unusually colored leaves. The plant should be the right size for the pot; why pay for a 4” sized plant in a gallon pot?  Do not be afraid to carefully slip the plant out of the pot to check the roots which should be pale and clean looking.

If the roots wind tightly around in the pot, the plant is root bound. Sometimes, I find a plant for which I’ve long been searching and it is root bound. If it a good price and looks otherwise healthy, I’ll buy it. It will require more TLC at planting, but I’ve rarely been disappointed. Remember that smaller pots are cheaper than larger and by the end of the season there will be little difference in size of the plant. Keep your plants well watered and out of full sun until they are planted.

If you are starting in early spring, make sure the ground is not too wet to plant. Pick up a good size handful of soil and squeeze it together. If it sticks together, you need to wait a bit longer. If it falls easily apart, the soil is ready to work. I’ve seen workable soil described as having the texture of chocolate cake, but that is self-defeating as it just makes me want to hang up my tools and go bake.

Cool misty days are perfect for planting and we have lots of those. However, I’ve been known to move a rose bush in full bloom in the middle of August at noon and have it survive. PlantsIMG_0002 are sturdier than we think. Plan before you plant-you may want to place the plants in their pots in the places where you intend to install them. Be sure to allow space for the mature size of the plant. Plants should not be planted closer than the sum of their width at maturity divided by 2.

Dig the hole and, unless the soil is already damp, fill the hole with water. Allow it to drain completely. (This previous post discusses what to do if it doesn’t drain-but hopefully you have already determined the drainage quality of your soil.) Soak the plant-still in the pot-in a bucket of water until the bubbles stop. If you have opted to buy a plant with a solid root mass, slice downward around the edges of the root ball to encourage outward growth. Plant at the same level as in the pot, firm it down and water well. If the weather is hot and dry, make a rim of soil around the edge of the hole at soil level to hold the water directly over the root ball as it soaks in.

If the soil has been amended with compost, no fertilizer is needed and might burn the roots if used. Osmacote is an example of a slow release fertilizer that won’t burn roots, but remember that it does not begin to work until the soil temperature reaches about 70°.

yard523 015Keep an eye on your new plants for a week to 10 days, especially if it is hot, sunny or windy. A delicate specimen may need to be shaded for a few days if the sun is intense. Even drought tolerant plants will need consistent water during their first season in your garden.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Make Your Bed

After you are satisfied with the plan for your garden, you need to prepare the soil. Soil is the most crucial element for gardening success. An old adage states “for every $10, spend $9 on soil and $1 on plants.” This seems counter-intuitive. However, a mediocre plant will thrive in excellent soil, while in poor soil an expensive, great looking plant will decline. See this previous post on the mysteries of soil.

Soil holds water, nutrients and organic matter that are required by plants. Soil is made up of particles; “loam” is a mixture of the two most common particles. Sand is the largest; it drains the fastest and has limited ability to retain moisture and nutrients. Clay is the smallest; it drains very slowly-if at all. Some clay soil is so tight it practically forms a clay “bowl” when you dig a hole in it.

In addition, plants require air, so it is important that the soil is not compacted. If there is not enough air in the soil, plant growth will be limited and the plant imagemay die. Compost improves every kind of soil. Compost helps sandy soil to hold moisture and it breaks up clay, allowing moisture to drain. In all kinds of soil it provides air pockets and micro-organisms which are vital to the health and arability of your soil.

If you are creating a garden from lawn or unworked soil, the first step is to mark the outline you desire with a length of rope or garden hose. If you read the great garden books out of Great Britain, you will learn that the classic method to prepare a new bed is double digging. There is now some debate in the gardening community about this practice, but it has worked for generations. And WORK is definitely the defining word here.

More recently, a new practice has been espoused that is less daunting. When I first heard of this, the thinking was to use glyphosate on the grass or weeds within the outline and cover with black plastic for a season-typically, over the winter. However, I like to avoid the use of chemicals as much as possible.

My experience shows that you can actually do just as well by covering your marked area with several layers of newspaper, thoroughly wet down, and then piling on amended soil. In a few months, the area should be ready to plant. If the area will accemay 2 09 001pt enough soil to plant in-such as in a raised bed- you may plant immediately. The newspaper lasts long enough to kill the plants below it, but is permeable to water and eventually biodegrades. I have used this method for replacing a lawn and also for creating an island bed within a lawn.

However you decide to prepare your bed, you must mark your outline, remove rocks and weeds and loosen the soil. Add compost to your soil to prepare for planting. If the soil is good, a 2-3” layer raked in should be enough. If the soil is very bad you may add up to 50% compost. DO NOT plant in 100% compost. If that makes you curious, check out this previous post.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Elements of Design

As you begin to create the design for your garden, keep in mind what will best grow there. For example, if you must have roses, make sure your site has good drainage and at least 4-5 hours of sun. IfIMG_0069a you don’t have full sun, your rose options are limited and if you have mostly shade, you will need to enjoy your neighbor’s roses, because they aren’t going to grow in your garden. If you want to grow delicate woodland ephemerals, you must have a protected shady area, accessible in early spring. (Check out this post on Epimedium.) If you lust for lavender, your drainage must be perfect. If your ground stays soggy, plant a bog. Sometimes you have to go with the flow.

Try to populate your garden with plants that will excel. Look for long life, strong but not overly vigorous, long bloom period, attractive without bloom, pest and disease resistant and tolerant of dry summers and weimaget winters. Great Plant Picks is an educational plant selection resource from the Miller Garden that suggests plants with those characteristics specifically for the PNW.

Intrinsic to good design is inclusion of a variety of sizes, shapes and textures which provide interest. Peter Dale, a writer and gardener from the UK called design, “the thoughtful settlement of the competing claims of variety, on the one hand and unity on the other.” Remember that foliage is as important as bloom and more lasting; learn to attractively contrast foliage. Pair foliage that is bold/delicate; big/small; light/dark; shiny/fuzzy; rough/smooth. Photo0202

Also consider the scale of plants to each other and of plants to property. Experts urge planting perennials in groups of 3 or 5; this provides a greater impact in a large bed. One plant of each kind is a collection, not a design. But, remember that the scope of massing should be in relation to the size of the space you have. In a small bed, you may not have room to mass groups together.

Harmony is an important design element that includes both repetition and color theory. When you repeat a plant or a group of plants through your design, it creates a sense of unity. Repetition also draws the eye through a design and ties it together.

Consider what will be visible at any given time and try to select plants that provide visual and sensory variety for that season. Photo0200Choose colors that complement and do not clash for concurrently blooming plants. Try to mix seasons of bloom so that you have interest all year long.

If you desire plants that are fragrant, try to site them so they are accessible-near your pathway, front door, or sitting area. If your fragrant plant blooms in warmer months, consider planting it next to a window that you may open. Also, be wary of planting two fragrant plants together as their fragrances may clash.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the vast topic of design but I hope I’ve piqued your interest. It may seem like there is a lot to consider; I confess, I’m a spontaneous gardener. I rarely return from a nursery without a new acquisition and no idea where to put it. Even so, I’ve learned from experience that if you take the time to design your bed in advance, you will be more satisfied and have less work than if you plant on the fly.

On the other hand, remember that your garden is always changing and don’t be afraid to experiment. Mistakes can be very educational.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Echoes of Color

One of the challenges and also the greatest satisfactions in gardening may be in creating pleasing plant combinations which together have a greater impact than the individual plants. We’ve covered color theory in a previous post, but I have one more concept to offer. This is a concept that can be used in any type of color scheme to increase the odds of success.

The concept is simple but practically foolproof. When you are seeking a perfect partner for a plant, look for a different plant which matches or “echoes” the dominant color on the imagefirst plant. The most obvious match will be flower to flower. Make sure that the size and/or shape of the flowers are very different.  In this example, you can see that the asiatic lilies, Papaver orientale ‘Pizzacato’ and Helianthemum ‘Dazzler’ all have brilliant scarlet blooms, but the shapes and sizes of the flowers are varied, providing plenty of interest.

imagePossibly the second most obvious color echo would be flower to foliage. The foliage can belong to another blooming plant, grass, foliage plant, shrub, or tree. In this serendipitous pairing, the petals of Rosa ‘Golden Celebration’ pick up the amber autumn of the Cercidiphyllum japonicum leaves. IMG_0012

  Foliage to foliage is still a color echo. Foliage comes in an astounding array of colors and variegations. For an unusual combination, check out the mahogany winter foliage of Rhododendron ‘Thunder’  with  Geranium ‘Expresso’ and Heuchera ‘Mocha Mint.’ (Anyone else have a sudden urge to visit Starbucks?) image

Another possible echo would be flower (or foliage) to stem. This is a little more subtle; the burgundy stems of Sedum ‘Matrona’ pick up the tones of the shaggy Acer palmatum ‘Ever Red’ foliage. The tight pincushion blooms of scarlet Knautia macedonica echo the red stems of Gaura lindheimeri ‘Passionate Rainbow’.    image

Don’t forget echoes of petal to stamen; in this simple but effective combo the yellow stamens of the Aster fritarkii  ‘Wonder of Staffa’ echo the golden petals of crocosmia ‘Gerbe d’Or’.

I’m sure your mind is racing with possible pairings. Don’t hesitate to pick a bloom and wander about your garden looking for color echoes. Perennials are easy to move!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Color, Theoretically

Color is a crucial element of garden design and, perhaps, what most people notice first in the garden. Like all design, color preference is very personal. As you read about gardening and visit gardens, you will begin to develop an eye for how colors harmonize and contrast and what you personally find appealing.

To choose colors that provide both interest and harmony, use the Color Wheel you first encountered in elementary school. You will probably remember that the primary colors: red, blue and yellow can be mixed to form the other 9 colors on the wheel. The secondary colors derive from the primary: red and blue make purple; blue and yellow make orange; yellow and blue make green. Tertiary colors are a mix of adjoining primary and secondary colors.Hot Colors

The reds, yellows and oranges are termed “hot colors” and are generally considered to be energizing and exciting. Hot colors tend to pop out at you. Cool colors are the blues, greens and purples and are thought to be calming and serene. Cool colors tend to recede.

Of course, in nature there are infinite gradations and variations of color. Two other concepts are useful in combining colors in the garden. The first, intensity, is the purity or saturation of a color. When a pure hue is diluted with white, it becomes a tint. If black is added to a hue it becomes a shade. A tone is a hue that is dulled by gray.  Shades and tones tend to recede; tints can wash out in full sun. When combining plants of different colors it is best to select the same intensity. A saturated color will tend to negate the impact of another color of less intensity. Color combinations of similar intensity will be  more satisfying.

Value is the second concept and cimagean be defined as the lightness or darkness of a color. Yellow is the lightest (lowest value) and violet is the darkest (highest value). Your eye is naturally drawn to the lowest value first. To get a real sense of how color values are placed, study a black and white photograph of your garden.

Color schemes can be either harmonious or contrasting. Harmonious combinations include adjoining positions on the color wheel. A monochromatic scheme uses various shades, tints and tones of a single hue. This is a simple but subtly sophisticated approach that is orderly and focused. Variations in size, shapes and imagetextures prevent monotony.

Analogous schemes combine several colors that are positioned together on the wheel. These colors naturally blend since they share primary colors. It is relatively easy to produce a pleasing combination even with vibrant colors.

imageThe contrasting color schemes can be a little more challenging. Complementary colors are directly opposite one another on the color wheel. This is a vibrant and exciting look with a lot of visual tension; it can be jarring if colors are at full saturation. A split complementary scheme uses a base color plus the two colors adjoining its complement. The visual tension is reduced but the contrast is still strong. Photo0199

Everyone has their own preference when it comes to using color. Practice produces satisfaction, but you may be hesitant to experiment. If you love a color scheme represented in a painting, a piece of fabric or an interior design, don’t hesitate to replicate that in your garden.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Distinctive Expression

While you are recording the particular characteristics of your garden, spend some time to develop your garden style. In my opinion, the most important consideration is what do YOU like? A controversial position, I know. But, seriously; how much pleasure will you find in a garden that dDunbarton Oaks, DCoesn’t please you, no matter how stylish it is?

So, do you prefer a formal or informal style? Formal style is structured, symmetrical and geometric. Typified by grand allées and classic French parterres, they frequently showcase clipped evergreen hedges great or small. They complement houses with solid, symmetrical architecture and appeal to gardeners with a strong sense of order. image

Informal gardens are inspired by nature; asymmetrical, soft and curvilinear, they are more relaxed. Plants flow into one another and spread into pathways. Grasses are popular and garden art tends to be whimsical. They appeal to plant collectors and flower arrangers.

Are you dazzled by a color riot or do you seek serenity in your garden? You may enjoy the excitement and energy of a imagegarden full of colors and bloom. There is a wonderful book, The Bold and Brilliant Garden, which demonstrates this point of view quite beautifully. Perhaps you have quite enough excitement in your life, thank you. What you want is a sanctuary of serenity. Vita Sackville-West’s famously monochromatic gardens at Sissinghurst epitomize the peacefulness of this approach.

Are you drawn to Japanese gardens with their symbolism and structure? Each Japanese garden represents a natural scene in miniature including sand, rocks, plants, water and islands. They are like three dimensional representations of larger vistas.image

Wildlife sanctuaries utilize the natural topography and native plants of the region to create habitat for local fauna. Provide water and structure for cover, use environmentally friendly techniques and your garden can be a Certified Wildlife Habitat site. These gardens tend to be low maintenance as well.

These are just a few style options. Of course, rigid adherence to one style is not necessary. Consider them more of a continuum and find your preference in a composite of what appeals to you.

The best way to explore different garden styles is to research. Read voraciously-your local library is the best resource imaginable. The internet has an astounding array of information and images available. Even more fun, seek out and visit gardens, public and private. Check out thiPhoto0040s website for a list of gardens you can visit in your area. Spend some summer weekends taking in the garden tours that are hosted by garden clubs or your local Master Gardener program. Look for nurseries that have great demonstration beds. Ask lots of questions.

During your research take photos, collect articles from magazines or websites. Store your growing materials in a notebook or on your computer. As your style comes into focus, plan your garden accordingly. Let your style change and adapt over time and never stop learning. Don’t let anyone force their opinion of design upon you. One definition of style is “a distinctive manner of expression.” Express yourself!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Know Thy Garden

IMG_0026Perhaps you are creating a garden out of lawn or wilderness. Maybe you have inherited a garden that needs renovation. Spring is upon you and you are bursting with ideas and ready to go into gardening overdrive.

Take some deep breaths.

Invest some time learning about the specifics of gardening where you live: soil issues, hardiness zone, rainfall, pests. General gardening information is useful, but local information is invaluable. Avail yourself of your county Master Gardener program. This volunteer organization is the offspring of your state land-grant university and the County Agricultural Extension office. image

Even then, remember that no garden is exactly like another. Every property is likely to have microclimates. Shade, for example, strongly impacts growing conditions. Shade can suppress bloom, cause lanky growth or reduce need for water. Frost pockets can form in depressions or at the bottom of a slope that freezes early and thaws late. Altitude or proximity to the ocean is important to consider in some regions. Areas against a south facing wall or surrounded by concrete may foster higher temperatures. So, make use of all the local resources available, but study your own garden over time to see how to adapt that information for your situation.

To be successful in the shortest time possible, it is important to know your property before you plant. Many experts recommend observing for a yeaimager but that can be super frustrating. The last thing I want to do is discourage your enthusiasm. Most of what I’ve learned about gardening is a result of mistakes I’ve made. So, get out there and make some of your own. After all, perennials are sturdy and easy to move; annuals are great for testing since they are inexpensive and then disappear. But do your best to wait on more expensive plants until you have a solid working knowledge of your garden. Some things you need to consider and record are: image

· How many hours of sun to you get each season in different parts of your property? Some plants, such as most roses and vegetables require a minimum of six hours of sun daily. Some plants, such as Hostas, require shade in most regions. Take photos to substantiate your notes.

· What are the temperature extremes? What kinds of microclimates are present? Record your first freeze and your last frost; also, the lowest and the highest temperatures.

· What is the drainage like through all the seasons? You may move in and think you have great drainage. Then the rainy season starts and your house is a boat.

· Are there borrowed views worthy of preservation? You may not be imageaware of them until the leaves drop in winter. Sometimes, the view that stretches outside your property is worth defending from encroaching growth.

· What are the intended uses and established traffic patterns? Do you want to grow edibles? Have a play area for kids or dogs? A nursery bed? A potting bench? Make your own compost? All these things take space. Designing walkways to follow existing paths will save aggravation.

· How much time, money and space can be devoted to your garden? Realistically, how much time do you have to maintain your garden? What is your budget?Photo0015

· What areas invite lingering? Make note of perspectives from your windows.

Do you hope for year round interest in their garden or prefer to focus on a particular season? Most gardeners try to extend garden interest as long as possible. However, if you do not go into or look out at your garden in the winter, why bother? Also, if your space is limited,remember that plants which provide a succession of bloom throughout the seasons take up room in the garden even when they are déshabilléAlors!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Perennial Bias

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I’m a plant collector and I like all kinds of plants-but I must admit to favoritism  towards perennials.

The perennial garden has its roots in England around the turn of the century. In the 1800’s, ornamental gardens used mostly annuals for bloom-these were called bedding plants. Of course, these had to be replaced every year. Gertrude Jekyll was one of the most influential gardeners of the early 1900’s and she popularized both the use of perennials and designs based on color schemes. At that time, perennial beds were very structured, usually containing only non-woody, blooming perennial plants against a hedge backdrop.

imageToday, the most popular type of ornamental garden in the PNW is probably the “mixed border.” These contain trees and shrubs along with evergreen and herbaceous perennials. The mixed border is popular because the tiered structure mimics nature and the evergreen plants and woody structures provide more seasons of interest than a purist bed of herbaceous perennials.

Herbaceous means “herb-like”; that is, not woody; having stems that die back to the ground at the end of the growing season. Herbaceous plants are further divided into three main types. Annuals germinate, bloom, reproduce and die in one year. They are known for being easy to grow, long blooming and riotously colorful. Biennials bloom and reproduce in their second year and then die. They tend to reseed, which can be good or bad, depending on your preferences. A disadvantage of biennials is that they require an undisturbed bed for two years despite their somewhat unprepossessing appearance in year one. One alternative is to start them in a nursery bed and move them to the garden in the second year-if you have the room and the patience for such pampering.

As I mentioned, perennials are my favorite. They live at least three years, but some outlive their gardeners. Peonies, imagefor example, commonly live 50 years or more and can live to be over 100. There is something very satisfying about planting something that will produce enjoyment and beauty for many years. Hardy perennials live through the winter in the ground, producing new growth every spring. Tender perennials won’t survive a deep freeze winter; some common examples are many fuchsia, gladiolus, some salvia, tuberous begonias and pelargoniums-commonly called geraniums. Remember that although a tender perennial may be killed by winter freeze that doesn’t make it an annual-because it does not complete its life cycle in one year.

imageMy preference for perennials is rooted (!) in my desire for efficiency and my delight in economy. You might notice that a single perennial may cost more than an annual of similar size. Do not be fooled! Remember that even if the annual performs well, you will have to replace it every year. In addition to the cost, also evaluate your expended time. Remember that you will have to go buy it (or grow it from seed) and replant it. If you buy a perennial, not only will it return year after year but you will eventually be able to divide it and produce new plants for no cost at all.

031808 020Some will point out that individual annuals frequently have a longer bloom period than specific perennials. However, with a little planning, you can have blooming perennials 12 months out of the year in temperate climates. One season of bloom succeeds another producing year round beauty.