Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Sandy Start

Thought you might like to see where it all started.  I came across some old photos recently.  These show the house its first summer 12 years ago.  Pardon the quality of theses older pics.  They're PD (pre-digital).

First season for the lawn and schnauzer Clayton

In my neck of the woods, it's VERY sandy.  After construction, I was left with a beach for a front yard.  I immediately started a lawn to keep the dust down.  Yards of compost were raked into the sand.  Bags of grass seed were scattered on top.  Sprinklers attached to hoses on timers kept things watered while I was in the city during the week.  The plantings and stonework were added slowly over the years.


The back was a bigger challenge.  I had dreamed of walking out my back doors onto a grassy yard. However, after construction, I was left with a woodland gorge.  The back doors were about seven feet above the ground.  Temporary stairs provided access.  Truckload after truckload of fill dirt was brought in to create the back you now see.  Then topsoil was layered on top.  I started with sod which didn't perform well after a season.  The sod was replaced with grass seed.  A few bluestone steps connected the house to the back lawn.  It wasn't many seasons before I tired of dewy grass dampening shoes each morning.  I reluctantly gave up some of my precious lawn for a dry patio.



The patio addition

I started out an impatient neophyte with grand plans.  But the process of making this garden has taught me horticulture, design, budgeting and patience along the way.  Year by year, I added plantings, stonework and structures, only hiring out for the heavy lifting or projects beyond my ability.

While I always think there much more to do, these pictures remind me that my Hamptons garden has come a long way.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Too Darn Hot

Well the city temperature is well above 90 degrees today.  And the whole East Coast is expected to experience record highs.  It's times like these that I'm glad to be in the Hamptons.  Being closer to the ocean, the temperatures here are usually more moderate than in the city.  As I write this, the temperature in the Hamptons is only 76 degrees.  (Check out the Accuweather below for current temps.)

So for all my friends sweating out another day in the furnace called New York City,  here's a few photos.  I hope they will at least bring you cooling thoughts.

Wish you were here!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On the Outside Looking In

Weeding isn't my favorite garden chore.  I'd much rather plant, prune, even deadhead than weed.  So a few areas can get a bit messy before I motivate myself to evict the unwanted squatters.

Often I'll find a roaming perennial among the less desirable weeds.  However, I was very surprised to discover this Verbascum in full bloom outside the front planting bed.  This looks like an offspring to Verbascum 'Sixteen Candles' that had died out years ago.  There hasn't been any blooming Verbascum in years!  I guess the seeds had lain dormant all this time.

The original Sixteen Candles added a vertical, yellow accent to Monarda 'Raspbery Wine'.   It was a nice combination, but when it disappeared,  I decided not to continually replant such a short-lived perennial.  However, seeing these two together again has me rethinking this original decision.

However, I think junior is also letting me know it prefers to going it alone than competing in the perennial bed.   For me, he's provided a reason to postpone weeding next spring as I wait for his offspring to pop up.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Much Anticipated Arrival

Just a quick detour the the new home of Hamptons Garden and the blog post you're looking for. For more pictures and commentary, click on link below:

Hyperion Daylilies

Monday, July 18, 2011

A "Mess" of Beans

A little detour.  The post you're looking for is now located on the following link:

A "Mess" of Beans


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunflower Sunday

Oil painting by Robert Panitzsch (1943)
I love sunflowers (Helianthus annuus).  Their bold, yet simple blooms reflect the celebratory and carefree attitude of summer.

Having viewed many photographs of sunflower fields in Provence and famous paintings of sunflowers by artists such as Monet and Van Gogh, I just assumed sunflowers were indigenous to Europe.   I even have a vintage Danish painting of sunflowers in my home.  So I was surprised to learn recently that sunflowers originated in America.

American Indians first domesticated the wildflower into a  single headed plant, using it for flour, oil, dye and medicine.  Spanish explorers brought it to Europe around 1500.  Later it was heavily commercialized in Russia.  Russian seeds made their way back to America in the 19th century.

I don't grow them in my garden since cut sunflowers are a staple of the local farmers' markets starting in July.  On the back roads of the Hamptons, you often see fields of them growing, waiting to be picked for the weekend crowds.

Their season, like summer, is all too short.  When the flower buckets in the markets change from sunflowers to dahlias, you know fall is around the corner.

Fresh-picked flowers and vegetables

Helianthus Annuus fill a field

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sweet Fern, It's Actually Neither

This post has moved in its entirety to the following link:

Sweet Fern

More pics and some personal experiences with this cool native plant.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Late Bloomer

Bee enjoying newly-opened bloom
Planted eight years ago along the property perimeter for screening,  the Rosebay Rhododendrons (Rhododendron maximum) have gone pretty unnoticed in my Hamptons garden.  Each season they grew a bit,  but didn't bloom. However, about a week ago, they ALL started blooming. 

I have no clear explanations.  The cold winter seems to have reset the flowering clocks for a lot of my plants.  Some are blooming earlier, some are blooming later, and some, like the Rosebay Rhododendrons, are blooming for the first time.

Their summer buds and blooms are beautiful.  And I have always enjoyed their big-leaf evergreen vegetation. They do have an ugly side in winter.  Freezing weather makes their leaves curl to prevent desiccation.  Like a thermometer, the colder it gets, the more they droop. (That's when I'm happy they're along the perimeter.)

Exotic-looking leaves frame blooms

I'm happy that this late bloomer has decided to no longer take a secondary role in my garden.  Welcome to the party. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mowing Day!

Weather permitting, Thursday is mowing day.  Weekly mowing is a gardening task that I hire out (one of the few).  My limited interest in the lawn allows me to let outsiders take care of this "mow and blow" chore.  In my Hamptons garden, I see mown grass as nothing more than a frame for my planting beds.

I'll admit it.  My lawn is crappy.  It's a crucible of grass mixes, clover and moss.  But on mowing day,  the sun-singed grass tops and rambling weeds are shorn to a homogeneous, deep green that makes everything around look crisp and fresh.

I see those flawless lawns all around the Hamptons and wonder if I should care more.  But on Thursday, mowing day, I can pretend to have a similar well-tended turf (if you don't look too close).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Backyard Bounty

My good friend Jackie suggested that I share some easy arrangements that can be made from the garden bounty.  Here's a simple one.  

I lined the inside of a small, rectangular glass vase with a variegated hosta leaf to hide the flower stems.  Filled the vase with water.  I started with a rhododendron stem with its exotic-looking leaves attached and a flower mostly in bud. Then two similar colored hydrangea blossoms were pushed in.  Fern fronds and a few itea branches (any leafy shrub would do) were tucked in at the edges to frame the composition.

It's best to cut and arrange the flowers in the morning when they are freshest. After cutting, get them into water quickly.

Most of the time I would rather enjoy my own garden bouquet than an expensive florist arrangement of Dutch imports.  Plus, if you use a replaceable vase, your own arrangement is a wonderful host/hostess gift to take to a dinner party.  Invite me to dinner and I may bring one along.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Marriage of Convenience

HAMPTONS GARDEN has a new home.  Please find this post now at following link:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Biking through the Back Roads

Beautiful weather again this weekend.  I brought along my camera on a leisurely bike ride through some  back roads of the Hamptons.  Thought I'd share a few of the pleasing sights during my tour.

The Hamptons back roads are where the past and present merge.  Where cottages and castles mingle with croplands.  Where cultivars profusely bloom in landscaped gardens while wildflowers fend for themselves in adjacent fields.  I tend to like the charm of smaller properties, but admit that I get a lot of garden inspiration from larger estates as well.

I love to bike and there's a lot more to see so stay tuned.

Enchanting cottage garden
Managed grasslands frame a modern house

Mature trees shade a grand old summer house

Enviable water views

Country charm near the beach

Gorgeous new traditional
Crops and castles mingle

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Good Morning Sunshine

Luminous quality
One of my favorite ornamental grasses is the Miscanthus sinensis cultivar 'Morning Light'.  It has fine variegated leaves that look fresh all summer.  Its reddish blooms show up at the end of summer.

Best in full sun, but can take light shade.  In fact, it looks better without the harsh midday sun.  The grass practically glows when backlit by morning or afternoon light.

At four feet high, plays well with others

This particular Japanese silver grass grows to about four feet so I use it often in mixed beds as accents.  It stays more erect and doesn't flop in late season like Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus', allowing 'Morning Light" to play well with other plants in a bed.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light' and geranium 'Nimbus'

According to Rick Darke, in his Pocket Guide to Ornamental Grasses (one of my favorite books on grasses),  'Morning Light' has been a popular cultivar in Japan for a century but only introduced in Western gardens in the late '70s.   So really not that new, but still a fresh alternative to many of the other Miscanthus varieties routinely planted around here.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Last Call

If you're like me, you promised to hang up the planting tools by July. Before heat melted you and your new plantings.  However, this never happens in my Hamptons garden.  When the garden is in full bloom, it's the best time to see what's working, what's not and what's missing.

So when one of my favorite mail order companies,  Lazy S's Farm Nursery,  sent me news of a big sale, I immediately started shopping. Their incredible online catalog has such an extensive collection of perennials.  Many that I can't find elsewhere. (Can you believe they have 12 astilbe cultivars?) And the thorough plant descriptions help expand my horticultural education.

Instead of using stock photos,  Lazy S's Farm takes their own pics.  Many showing plants in their garden.  Their online photos of Korean Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) sold me at first glance.

Plants are always big and healthy so they usually perform well the first year.  Here's a photo of the geranium 'Orkney Cherry" that I bought this year.  It's already lighting up a shady bed.

Geranium 'Orkney Cherry'

Their box discount sale requires buying only nine plants for 20% off.   Planting nine more plants in July won't be a big deal, right?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hard Lessons

'Nikko Blue'  mingling with agastache.
Pruning hydrangeas can be tricky business.  Those blooming on new wood, like the native hydrangea arborescens, are pretty foolproof.  Cut almost to the ground each winter, they grow back and bloom even bigger than with no pruning.

However, my 'Nikko Blue' mopheads (Hydrangea macrophylla) have caused me much angst in the past.  So much conflicting advice out there:  "prune them right after blooming",  "prune them in winter",  "don't prune them at all".  I've tried each of these with poor results.  Some years, like last year,  I had no blooms at all.   I had such envy driving by gardens where the Nikko Blues were loaded.

Planted next to rear windows, mine needed some pruning each year.  So I read more on pruning, talked to more successful gardeners, and thought about my own experiences.  Then a light went on.

One year, I just didn't get around to pruning them until early March when the late snow melted.  Discovering the top buds enlarging,  I rushed out and pruned, hoping I hadn't waited too late.  That year I had the most spectacular display of blooms.

This year, I patiently waited for March to arrive before grabbing my Felco #11 pruners.  After the trim, I added some Plant-tone fertilizer for added insurance.  Spread a little ammonium sulfate to intensify the blue color (if they bloomed).  And after all that, I still wasn't sure what the outcome would be.

So when late May rolled around and I saw tons of flower buds forming on my Nikko Blues, I did a little happy dance.  I still can't believe my outcome.  And the blooms keep coming.


I can't say this lesson applies to every garden in every region.  But I did find some rational explanations to my success this year.  Michael Dirr, in his beautiful book, Hydrangeas for American Gardens, mentioned that hydrangea macrophylla flower buds develop on old wood of the previous year.  However, flower buds are often present along the entire length of the stem.  When the tops are cut, lower buds are called into action.  

Another source explained why August and September pruning failed.  Before winter dormancy, pruning  simulates new growth that uses up energy reserves needed to set next year's flower buds.

I may not have formal training, but when it comes to hydrangea macrophylla,  the school of hard knocks has given me a pretty good education.

Small additions of ammonium sulfate produce a pleasing blue.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Have You Seen My Neighbors?

Hydrangeas add color to the hedge.

Hope not.  I have nothing personal against my neighbors (well, maybe one).  However, when I'm in my garden, I enjoy a sense of being in a secluded wilderness.

So when it came time to plant a privacy screen down by the swimming pool,  I forgo the ubiquitous privet hedge that has become a Hampton's status symbol.  Instead, I created a more natural looking mixed planting of trees, shrubs, and perennials.  This design mimics Mother Nature's woodland layout of trees overhead, shrubs forming an understory, and wildflowers and grasses edging towards the sunny clearings.

Views of neighboring houses completely blocked.

The project began by removing some of the scrub oaks and limbing up the remaining trees to let in more light.  Eastern white pines were dotted along the fence perimeter in a zigzag pattern.  The spaces between these were filled with a variety of shrubs, including big leaf rhododendrons, witch hazels, hollies, viburnums, junipers and hydrangeas.  Perennials, ferns and grasses edged the front.

Trees, shrubs and perennials provide a natural looking screen.

It took a few years to complete the plantings and some time for everything to grow together.  The result is a very dense privacy screen that also provides colorful foliage and flowers throughout the year.

With a number of deciduous plants among the evergreens,  it doesn't offer as much privacy in winter. That's fine with me.  I'm not much for winter swimming.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A "Gas" Explosion

A work in progress
No gardening project is as easy as it sounds.  I simply wanted to extend a small privacy fence by ten feet.  I bought the cedar planks and posts at the lumber yard.  Hired a carpenter to cut and install.  But as the carpenter started digging the first post hole, he screamed, "GAS!"  I ran over to see what had happened (being really brave or really stupid). As the white, frosty smoke rose from the hole, I realized it was not propane, but freon leaking from the air conditioner pipes.  Less than a foot from the surface!

I thought I knew where all the utility lines were.  And over the years, I have an intimate knowledge of the irrigation pipe placement, having cut many while planting.  But in my rush,  I never thought about the freon lines.  Let this be a lesson to us all.  Map out ALL utility lines at some point or have a professional marking service do this for you.  In the Hamptons, you can call Precision Mark-Outs.

Patched and redirected pipes
The carpenter was sent home and the air conditioning service called in.  They thought it would be a simple patch job.  However, I explained that, for aesthetic reasons, the post had to remain where planned while the pipes had to be redirected.  As they went to get their shovels,  I heard one serviceman grumble to his colleague,  "You ready to do some landscaping today?"

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Beach Patrol

 East Hampton, NY beach

The weather was perfect this weekend for a few excursions to the East Hampton beach.  And while the ocean is always the main attraction, the beach vegetation in the Hamptons is truly spectacular.  Most of us (myself included) routinely walk past the grassy plantings,  searching for a spot near the water to plop down chairs and towels.  But as a gardener always seeking inspiration for natural landscape designs, the dunes provide some fresh ideas.

Grassy entrance to the beach

The sand paths, bordered by beach grass, rugosa roses, artemisia and other wildflowers, help frame the view,  enticing you to walk down the path and explore the beautiful water.  Framing a view is a classic landscaping technique I use often in my garden.  A framed view can actually make a small garden feel bigger by suggesting there are other areas to investigate.

Artemisia and grass pairing

I'm not sure how much of the existing beach plantings are original.  With so much beach erosion over the years, I know a lot of the dune areas have been replanted.  But with the tides and storms,  the new plantings take on a very natural look.

I found this beautiful artemisia blooming among the beach grass.  It has such sturdy stems, supporting truly dramatic flower buds.  The leaves look crisp and disease free so it obviously likes its location.  Not sure if this is native.

Unknown Artemisia 
While a similar grass/artemisia pairing would look good in the garden or a container, please don't dig up any from the beach.  This vegetation adds so much beauty to the beach, provides shelter/food for insects and birds, and helps with sand erosion.  I'll check with the local Nature Conservancy to see if they can identify this artemisia species.  Then I'll look for a good mail-order resource to share.  In the meantime, hope you'll enjoy more than sand and water views on your next beach visit.