Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wild Marijuana?

While looking up some information on Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia),  I discovered that some confuse this rambling native vine with "Ditch Weed" or wild marijuana.  Although a bit curious, I didn't google further any information on the wild intoxicant, but did wonder who would be so desperate as to smoke a weedy vine growing in a ditch.

The vibrant red leaves look stunning against the white building

But back to my main search.  I think I was most interested in confirming that the vine that I had studied all summer climbing outside one of my office windows was not the five-leafed poison oak which it resembles, but actually Virginia Creeper.  Now with brilliant burgundy-red leaves, this vine catches my attention each time I pass by.   I was excited to verify that it was indeed Virginia Creeper and, thus, a candidate for my own Hamptons Garden next year.  My pool equipment shed would look gorgeous cloaked in this autumn red some day.  

I am so relieved to learn that this vine is just an ornamental beauty and not an itch-inducing weed.   However, a few may be disappointed to learn that it isn't that other kind of "weed" either.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

It's Not Over Yet

Bigger than ever
Around here, it seems that most don’t see fall as a garden season.  Many homeowners have already covered their pools, cut down the flowering ornamental grasses and emptied their containers of annuals.  And we haven’t even had a frost yet.

To me, it’s just too soon to shut things completely down.  It’s a time in my garden when the lawn returns to vivid spring green.  No longer just a backdrop, shrubs in the screening hedge step forward with blazing colors.  The autumn sky becomes a magical periwinkle blue.  And after the fall equinox, the lower sun begins to highlight instead of washing out all of these marvelous colors.

Nursery-grown Chrysanthemum fill an end-of-season void
My back patio containers have seen better days, but they aren’t done yet either.  In fact, the summer chartreuse and purple Coleus is fuller than ever and the perfect colors for fall.  Some of the annual Verbena and Salvia are still shooting off cheerful violet blooms.  To add a bit more seasonal color, I’ve replaced a few of the dead or fading annuals with fall-blooming Chrysanthemum from the local nursery.  This should keep things going until the first hard frost decimates the less hardy container plants.

I know that freezing weather is just around the corner.  And that in a week or so the fall foliage will drop like rain just as it hits its peak. But I also remember how bleak and colorless winter can be.  I know that when I stare out those frosted windows during winter,  I will yearn for my garden in leaf.  So for now,  I will try to stretch out the garden season for as long as possible.  For me, it isn’t over until the last deciduous leaf drops to the ground.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fashionably Late

Crisp white against the dark green leaves
I had meant to blog weeks ago about my favorite late-blooming hydrangea, Hydrangea paniculata 'Tardiva', but I, like this shrub, am a bit tardy.  Actually, my Tardivas began blooming in mid-August (and still a few presentable blossoms a week ago).  Just as the garden was winding down and the other hydrangeas were past their prime, Hydrangea 'Tardiva' provided fresh, white color opposite the pool.  Blended among my mixed shrub hedge, this bush's vegetation helps create privacy and a lush background for ferns and anemones well before the blooms appear to steal the show.

This species and particularly this cultivar is easy to grow with limited maintenance.  Since they bloom on new wood, I did read that you should prune these in winter to remove old blooms, improve structure and open up plant.  Unfortunately, I did this after their first season with poor results.  The new branches that popped out the following spring were weak and contorted into wildly crooked shapes.  I have since limited my pruning to cutting out only the most odd-growing limbs.  I would suggest holding off on any pruning (except deadheading) for a season or two. My shrubs are now about 6 feet high with mostly straight branches.

A colorful addition to the privacy screen around the pool

In my Hamptons garden, the Hydrangea 'Tardiva' bloom with partial sun, but they supposedly are more floriferous with full sun.  They are pretty drought tolerant once they are established.  I've noticed that limbs touching the soil root easily so you could propagate these easily.

And while I'm a little late sharing my adoration for this late summer shrub, now is a perfect time to plant some for next year.  In fact, I added several more to my collection this autumn so they will be well acclimated by next summer.  The added benefit to late season planting is that most shrubs are heavily discounted at the local nurseries.  Just goes to show you that being late isn't always that bad.

Ostrich ferns fill in at the base

Friday, July 27, 2012

Orange Crush

Gorgeous shade of orange
For years, orange was a color that I often overlooked.  However, these days I've been adding orange to my interiors, my wardrobe and even my Hamptons garden.

A few weeks ago at East Hampton Gardens, a local garden nursery and gift shop, I was intrigued by an orange-blooming Crocosmia. It was named 'Distant Planet'.  Its bright color did make it look like something from Mars.  I was familiar with the red 'Lucifer' cultivar and had even been searching for a bright yellow cultivar, but I really wasn't aware of the orange varieties.  Therefore, I had to have it.

After bringing it home, this "Martian" sat for a day in the side entry shade garden with its dappled sun.  The orange color significantly brightened the mostly green patch.  I wished I could leave it there, but Crocosmia supposedly do best in full to partial sun so I planted it in the bed above the lower dining patio among green Ostrich ferns and pale yellow daylilies.  There it will receive adequate sun and stand out among its green backdrop.

So far, I only bought the one gallon pot with three to four corms but think it may be a plant and color that I add more of down the road.  Since it blooms in July and August, its bright color will definitely add a tropical punch to the warmest days of summer.  Now if I could just find a bright orange-blooming plant for the shade garden.

Looks perfect among the tropical-looking ferns

Friday, July 20, 2012

I Long for a Cutting Garden

Farm-fresh flowers
Just picked up a bouquet of snapdragons from the local farm stand. They reminded me of the ones my grandmother grew in her cottage garden when I was little.  I remember her showing me how pinching the blooms made them snap open and close like a dragon's mouth.

I'd love to be able to cut large, fresh bouquets like this from a cutting garden on my property.  Unfortunately, space and sun are limited unless I clear another significant patch of land.  Sure, I can snip a rose or hydrangea bloom here and there.  And I have plenty of filler material like ferns and shrub stems.  However, I always get stingy when cutting perennials as I want to leave as many blooms in the garden as possible.

In my dream cutting garden, I would plant tall annuals that could be cut without remorse.  And the garden would have spring bulbs, peonies, tea roses and dahlias that supply seasonally appropriate blooms for indoor arrangements.  And when cut or past their prime, these sacrificial plants would be out of sight from the main gardens.

But for now, I'm content to support the local farm stands that consistently produce quite an array of flowers.  After all, I like contributing back to the farms whose fields make the Hamptons so picturesque.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rockets Away

'Little Rocket' blazing in the sun
Brightening up a partially shaded bed next to the upper dining patio, Ligularia 'Little Rocket' is another pleasing yellow perennial I planted a few years ago.  I passed up the more popular larger cultivar, 'The Rocket', which grows to over 4 feet for its dwarf cousin, 'Little Rocket', which only rises to 3 feet.  It's the perfect height for front of the border.  I tucked them right in front of a screen of trees and shrubs so that their bright yellow blooms would stand out against the dark evergreen foliage.

Even without its blooms, Ligularia has interesting shiny green leaves that remind me of a Heuchera.  The leaves stay fresh looking all season a with consistent watering.

Ligularia likes moisture and doesn't mind partial shade. Mine get a few hours of morning sun and some indirect afternoon sun.  This limited sun still fuels them enough for a magnificent explosion of color.  My yellow rockets started launching around the Fourth of July and still had a few yellow blooms this past week.

Launch a few of these brilliant rockets in your garden to extend summer fireworks past Independence Day.

Vegetation low enough for front of border, but flower spikes high enough to be highly visible

Sharp-edged leaves are an added attraction

Monday, July 16, 2012

It's Time for the 'Ice Carnival' in the Hamptons

'Ice Carnival' daylily glowing in the morning sun

Pale yellow with a green throat
I think I selected this luscious yellow daylily for its catalog description as much as its color.  In its extensive catalog,  Olallie Daylily Gardens commented that the 'Ice Carnival' daylily had the color of lemon Italian ice. Yum.  I thought this daylily would be a refreshing addition to the summer garden when things heated up.  They bloom for about three to four weeks beginning July.

I have several patches of this daylily cultivar planted all over my Hamptons garden.  I have found that it does pretty well in partial sun (at least half a day) and helps brighten planting beds as they fall into shade.

I bought my first 'Ice Carnival' fans from the mail order company Olallie Daylily Farm, but have since found them locally.  Sometimes I'm lucky and find a few left when the local nurseries have their end-of-summer sales.  This pale yellow daylily with a green throat blends with so many of my color combinations that I can always add a few more somewhere.

During the dog days of summer you can never have too much Italian ice.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Celebrating A Rural Hamptons Landscape

As promised, here are is another special garden I enjoyed touring during the annual Parish Art Museum's Landscape Pleasures.

On eighteen acres in Sagaponack, landscape designer Edwina von Gal designed developed a romantic view of a rural farm. The cedar shingled house and its outbuildings are more modern and chic than the original Hamptons homesteads. Its grassy meadows, 'orchards' and pond are more manicured. However, this garden still celebrates the original rural landscapes that are sadly being replaced with McMansions in the Hamptons.  I applaud the owners, Gus & Liz Oliver, for allowing Edwina to create a green oasis that they can enjoy as much as the native wildlife.

Even though this is a large garden, basing your plantings on those from surrounding fields or woods can create a more natural look and extend your property lines.  This is something I tried to do early on when designing my Hamptons garden.  Even though I had a narrow lot, my garden looks much larger with the periphery blended into adjacent woodlands.

Hope you enjoy these photos.  I'll try to post photos from the rest of this tour later this week.

The yard was designed to look as though the land was just cleared for the house

Outbuildings, like those from an old farm,  serve an aesthetic and practical purpose

 A man-made pond is filled with fish

An ornamental cherry grove adds the look of an orchard one would expect on a farm

A low stone fence holds back the grassy field beyond (mowed down in mid-June to keep it at a manageable height)

Modern patio furniture and planters bring you back to the 21st Century  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Closer Look

This past Sunday, I visited some beautiful private gardens that were part of the annual Parish Art Museum's Landscape Pleasures garden tour.

I started the tour at the garden of Daniel Chung and Alexandra Alger.  I had once before toured this garden near Georgica Pond in 2009 as part of the ARF garden tour. (Click here for my first impressions.)  This garden was designed by the firm Oehme van Sweden.  As is their signature style, the plantings marry the house to the landscape using bold sweeps of plantings of grasses and perennials. Though totally designed, the garden blends beautifully into the existing woodland.  Since I had been here before, I took a closer look and found beauty beyond my earlier observations.  It was pointed out that this garden is both drought AND deer resistant.

I have more photos tour to share from the other gardens on the 2012 Landscape Pleasures, but I have to return to my own garden now before it starts to to look neglected.  I'll post more soon so stay tuned.

Plantings marry the stone and cedar  house to the landscape

The edges of the gunite pool are softened by plantings of grasses and Nepeta.

Persicaria polymorpha in full bloom
The spiky flowers of Acanthus add drama by the pool
Delicate seed heads on an unfamiliar grass or sedge

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Perfect Fit

Compact Korean Azalea
Last year, I needed a filler plant for a small area in the back garden.  I had extended a planting bed into the adjacent shady area where grass was too challenged to grow.  This bed is backed by a large Rhododendrons.  Since I liked how my native azaleas (Rhododendron viscosum) had grown into another large-leafed evergreen rhododendron nearby, I though adding a deciduous azalea here would work too.  But I also wanted spring color. (My native azaleas bloom in summer.) 

The new space was small.  So when I found a Korean azalea labeled "compact", I thought I'd give it a try.  Its mature size will only be four feet wide and two feet tall.  When I bought this small cultivar (Azalea poukhanense 'Compacta'), it was out of bloom, but the picture on the attached label showed a rosy-purple flower. 

When it bloomed this spring, it looked a bit more purple which I actually prefer.  Combined with a bright green hosta in front, this new addition really adds a bright punch to this once forgotten corner of my garden. 

More purple than pink blooms

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dog Days of Spring

One of my favorite spring flowering trees is the native dogwood (Cornus florida).  In my neck of the woods, flowering dogwoods light up the shady woodlands with their big white blossoms this time of year.  They look so ornamental that most would suspect they were planted as part of a master landscape plan.  I didn't have any of these "wild" trees on my own land when I started gardening so I have added a few over the years.  I didn't treat them like specimen trees, but planted them at the woodland edge like Mother Nature would.

The white dogwood pictured here has bloomed reliably since I first brought it home from Home Depot several years ago.  It has doubled in height and width since planting.  In very dry summers, it does get powdery mildew, but never loses its leaves.

I also have a larger pink dogwood cultivar that I bought from a nursery years before the white one.  I would love to show you pictures of its blooms, but there aren't many and most are on the top of tree, requiring you to get up high to see them.  The tree has grown well, but has never produced an abundance of flowers.  I think this pink cultivar may require more sun than it gets to set blooms.

After seeing so many dogwoods peaking out from the woods on my drive to work this week, I think I may poke a few more into my woodland setting this year.   I'll skip the expensive ones at the nurseries and look for a few more from Home Depot.  I'm sure those are already on sale.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A "Mash-Up" of Seasons

Hyacinthoides hispanica
I think this year in the garden will be filled with many unexpected events and surprises.  Just a few weeks ago, we had unseasonably warm temps in the area nearly reaching 90 degrees.  Now it's blustery and cool.  Some plants look a bit stunted while others are fully leafed out.  If you watch the TV show Glee, you may be familiar with their "mash-up" of songs. A mash-up is when the vocals and instrumentals of two or more songs are seamlessly blended together. Maybe we should use the term mash-up to describe the seamless blending of garden seasons.

Just yesterday, I noticed roses blooming in the back garden while Spanish hyacinths were just hitting their prime along the side of the house. Redbuds trees (Cercis canadensis) have yet to drop their blossoms and the doublefile viburnums (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum) are ready to flower about a month early.

As a seasoned gardener, you learn to take all these changes (good and bad) into stride and realize that while you may be the stage manager, Mother Nature is the director of your garden show. And this year she's experimenting with some new seasonal mash-ups.

Rosa 'Purezza'

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Let It All Hang Out

Long, unpruned braches curve gracefully downward
As the last flowers of my forsythia fall to the ground, I thought how shapely my shrub has become in bloom and out.  Unlike some of my hollies and boxwoods, I prefer to leave forsythia in its natural state.  Its long slender branches rise up and curve downward with such a graceful form.  I do occasionally prune out extremely vertical limbs, but for the most part I leave it alone.

I drive by so many houses where the forsythia have been pruned severely into unnatural shapes like globes and squares.  Extreme pruning or pruning too late eliminates most of the beautiful yellow spring blooms.  So during bloom time, you will see these clipped shrubs with only tufts of yellow on the top or on the sides where pruning didn't cut as deeply into old growth.  These sparse clusters of blooms remind of a child who tried to cut his own hair.

I say, "let it all hang out".  Put your forsythias in beds and borders where they can take on a more natural shape.  Save your topiary skills for your evergreens.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Aloha from the Philly Flower Show

Prize-winning orchid
This week, I went to my first big flower show,  the Philadelphia International Flower Show managed by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.  With the theme "Hawaii: Islands of Aloha",  I wasn't sure what to expect.  Attending this famous winter flower show had been on my to-do list for years.

The show included many rather elaborate garden displays, recreating lush tropical landscape designs that celebrated the flora of the Hawaiian islands.  Tons of orchids, bromeliads, birds-of-paradise, palms, warm-weather grasses were planted among lava rocks, logs and sand.  Some exhibits had towering waterfalls while others had small lagoons.  A colorful departure from the Northeast winter landscape outside the convention center.  But like a trip to Hawaii, I would have to leave most of these plants and designs behind when I returned to my USDA Zone 7a.

Lava rock garden

There were several displays showcasing vegetable gardens.  One that stood out was a vertical garden of lettuce growing on the side of a shed.  Wouldn't this be wonderful if this really worked?  I could finally have a vegetable garden without sacrificing perennials.

Seven varieties of lettuce growing on a 40-foot wall

Another highlight was the "Store Window" exhibits.  Very inventive designers used tropical plants to create eye-catching displays, celebrating the Hawaiian theme.

"Eye-catching" store window display

A fun way to display plants indoors

VERY colorful spring display
I did find a few exhibits with more familiar plantings, including azaleas, spring bulbs and dogwoods forced into bloom.  And from some of these displays,  I did get some new and relevant ideas for my Hamptons garden.

Like a big state fair, there were many contests for outstanding plants, including orchids, begonias, hanging baskets, succulents, bonsai trees, and bulbs.  The number and variety of orchids was incredible. (I'm not sure I'll be satisfied with the King Kullen grocery's $29.99 Phalaenopsis any longer.)

There were quite a few displays of floral arrangements.  Some left me wondering what these designers would think of my simple, garden-inspired compositions.  Like Crayola drawings compared to Picasso sketches.

Simply dramatic floral arrangement

With a tropical show theme,  I hadn't expected to buy anything from the huge marketplace of garden vendors.  That turned out not to be the case.  I returned to my car with bags filled with gorgeous orchids, violets, vegetable seeds, and porcelain vases.  I might have bought more, but it became increasingly difficult to navigate the aisles with big bags as the crowds increased.

Begonia candidates ready for their close-up

A nice day trip and really close to New York City.  The show runs through tomorrow, March 11th.  If your looking for a Sunday activity, check it out:

A hui hou (Good-bye, until we meet again)!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

An "A" for Effort

Arnold Promise witch hazel

After two summers of leaf blight, the witch hazel in my front garden (Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise') started pushing out electric yellow blooms this week.  While more limited in number than previous years, the blossoms are just as beautiful and sweetly fragrant as any year I can remember.   You have to applaud a plant that lost most of its leaves to a fungal infection in midsummer (during the height or chlorophyll production and energy storage) and still puts on a winter show.  

I think I have narrowed down the leaf fungal disease to phyllosticta hamamelidis.  Thankfully, none of my other Arnold Promise witch hazels nor the Chinese witch hazels have caught this disease yet.  I've already enlisted the help of a tree service to help prevent this fungus from taking hold again this season. Improving the health of this mature shrub will be a priority.  Since this shrub is not willing to give up, neither will I.  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

You Can Grow That!

A fellow garden blogger, C.L. Fornari, started a grassroots campaign to get more people to plant and garden (her blog is  I don't think anyone would deny the benefits of spending time in a beautiful garden.  It's even more enjoyable when you find a beautiful landscape right outside your door.

I think the biggest deterrent most have with gardening is not knowing where and how to start.  You may have just bought a new house with no garden or one that has a much neglected landscape.  Making a pleasing garden may seem very daunting.   And if you're like me, you want everything finished as soon as possible.  So my best advice is to SLOW DOWN.  There's no rush.  I learned  this the hard way.  When you take your time, you are able to better understand what you want from your outdoor spaces, what areas need to have screening, what areas are sunny all day and which have mostly shade.  Seek out help.  There are tons of books, websites, and blogs that provide wonderful advice and inspiration.  And fellow gardeners and local nurseries love to share pointers.  I've gotten some of my favorite plant combinations from books written by skilled designers and bought some amazing plants recommended by local nurseries.  If budget allows, ask a local landscape designer to help you draw up a plan.  It's okay to take your time to learn, dream and plan.

As I've written before, my Hamptons garden started out as a sandy mess.  I started with the lawn.  It wasn't much, but I enjoyed sitting on my front porch staring out at the green patch that drifted from the house to the wild woods.  I slowly added small trees and shrubs around the foundation.  For the first three years, almost all of my efforts were close to the house.  The added benefit of concentrating my efforts around the periphery was that I could enjoy my early accomplishments from inside.

Here's a picture of my first season.  I planted the grass seed myself and set sprinklers on timers.  Wasn't much, but I was happy to get rid of the sandpit that was left after construction.

First season, just happy to have some green grass

This more current picture shows how a few additions each year will finally add up.  Believe me, with limited budgets and time, my garden took many years to look like this.

Yearly additions add up

So think of what you would most enjoy adding to your garden this year.  A new lawn?  A blooming tree outside your door?  A few flowers for cutting?  Maybe just a container of colorful annuals on your patio? You can grow that!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

High Times in New York City

All aboard.  This post has departed to my new website.  Clink on the link below to see the original post about the NY High Line:

High Times In New York City

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Winter Rail Excursion

Grove of grey birch (Betula populifolia) growing among the tracks

Evergreens add winter interest
On a rather hot day last summer, I visited the New York High Line, a spectacular New York City park built on an abandoned elevated freight rail line.  At the time of my initial visit, the plantings were lush and filled with large sweeps of colorful blooms.  I went back recently to see what the plantings looked like in midwinter.  I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a lot of sights to enjoy.

For those not familiar with the High Line, I thought I'd share an abbreviated history.  The construction of the High Line was part of a major city infrastructure project during the 1930's called the West Side Improvement Project.  By elevating existing freight lines above street level, dangerous trains would no longer threaten pedestrians or cause traffic.

The first trains started rolling on the High Line in 1934 and the last train was in 1980.  With threats of demolition, Friends of the High Line, a community-based group, worked with the city to save the structure and establish it as a public park.  The elevated park runs from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street.

The design of the park was a collaboration between many architects and landscape firms.  One of my favorite designers, Piet Oudolf, did the planting schemes.  The park's design merges old structures with modern ones connected by abundant plantings.

 Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) creates a green background for winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena')
So what did I discover on my winter tour?  I was excited to see that the park had really good bones.  Sculptural tree trunks and evergreen plantings provided significant structure and interest even though the perennials were dormant. The golden leaves of the ornamental grasses were still tall and adding drama (one benefit of limited snow).  Many bright red berries remained on the native hollies.

Revitalizing the winterscape, witch hazels and viburnums were in bloom, adding splashes of yellow, orange and pink.  These fragrant shrubs were pleasantly perfuming the city air.  I also spotted several drifts of gold crocuses that were popping up among the grey gravel.

I enjoyed my winter walk and will be back again for the spring show.  However, I realized that I never posted photos from my summer tour.  Come back tomorrow and I will share some.  You'll be amazed how beautiful this park can be during the summer season.

Crocus ancyrensis 'Golden Bunches'

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'
A grass-filled pathway crosses under
The Standard Hotel