It’s spring here in my Connecticut garden (zone 6) which means it’s the ideal time to consider planting a tree. For many homeowners in Connecticut and elsewhere, planting a tree is a necessity since so many trees came down over the past … Continue reading
I thought I’d share an article I wrote for the September 2011 edition of Landscape & Hardscape Design Build magazine (yes, it’s a mouthful!) on designing play spaces for children. The article looks at the growing trend of using natural items found in the landscape as play equipment rather than the metal and wooden ‘play environments’ found in many playgrounds.
A garden is an ideal way to connect children to the great outdoors, but it’s a sad fact that childhood and playing outside no longer go hand in hand. We need to create outdoor spaces that entice children to venture away from the TV and out into their backyards. A place where they can explore and play in a safe space created just for them.
These child-friendly spaces don’t have to be large or grand; they don’t have to dominate an existing garden. But, they do need to be a place filled with mystery, magic and wonder. A dynamic space to encourage creativity, imagination and free play; a place for hosting tea parties with fairies, excavating dinosaur bones or building a rocket for a trip to the moon. A space for kids (read the rest at L&HDB).
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about native trees for small gardens. I’m working with a new landscape design client who has a fairly small back yard that she wants help redesigning. Like most homeowners, she wants her garden to be a quiet and private respite after a hectic day but she also wants a place to grow veggies, year round color and interest and she wants her garden to be a wildlife habitat. She is genuinely excited about the possibility of enticing all sorts of birds, butterflies and bees into her backyard haven. And I am excited to have a client who places a high value on creating a garden with wildlife in mind.
No matter where you garden, whether it’s in Connecticut or California, if you are creating a wildlife habitat, it’s important to use some native plants. One of the trees I’ve introduced my client to is American smoketree (Cotinus obovatus), a native of the southern US. An under-used old-fashioned favorite, American smoketree is perfect for small urban gardens.
It’s tolerant of a host of adverse conditions that will eventually undermine many other trees, including wind, drought, pollution and soil compaction. This native tree prefers slightly alkaline soil and a sunny, hot, and dry location. A rounded, open tree, growing to about 20’ x 20’ here in Connecticut, it is hardy in zones 4 – 9.
For some reason, American smoketree always seem to plays second fiddle to its more showy and well-known cousin, the smokebush (Cotinus coggygria). Long, pale pink flower panicles surround the tree in clouds of smoke beginning in the late spring and often persist for almost two months. Shiny, bluish-green summer foliage turns the most spectacular shades of purple, red, orange and yellow in the fall. American smoketree is arguably the best native tree for fall color. When you add in flaky, exfoliating bark, you have a tree that provides a full season of interest to any garden, big or small.
Use American smoketree as a specimen tree near a patio or terrace or as a focal point in the corner of your garden. American smoketree is a welcome addition to a sunny mixed border and would welcome an under-planting of spring-flowering bulbs.
Do you have a favorite under-used native tree that you’ve planted, or hope to plant, in your garden?
Yesterday, I wrote about using texture in your garden. If you’re like most gardeners, many of the plants in your garden are medium texture plants. That’s fine, but to make your garden sing, you need to add some Drama Queens. Some of the bold texture plants that just seem to grab attention no matter where they’re planted.
To get you started thinking about adding bold texture to your garden, here are a few easy-to-combine Drama Queens…
Trees & Shrubs for Bold Texture
Aesculus parviflora (Bottlebrush buckeye): This native shrub with large palmate leaves sports even bigger white flower panicles in the summer. A hummingbird favorite, bottlebush buckeye likes moist soil and thrives in full sun – part shade. Hardy in zones 4 – 8.
Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf hydrangea): Even if oakleaf hydrangea never flowered, it would still deserve a place in your garden. Huge, hairy dull green leaves, shaped like, you guessed it - oak leaves, turn the most amazing shades of red and purple in the fall. A great woodland plant, oakleaf hydrangea like moist, acidic, rich soil and flowers even in fairly dense shade. Hardy in zones 5 – 8.
Rhododendron maximum (Rosebay rhododendron): With so many rhododendron cultivars available, it’s easy to forget about this humble species, native to Connecticut and much of the eastern US. A useful evergreen for a privacy screen (it can get 15′ tall), rosebay rhodi has pale pink flowers in July, long after other rhododendrons have put on their show. Rosebay rhodi is also an excellent plant for attracting wildlife. Hardy in zones 4 – 8.
Perennials & Annuals for Bold Texture
Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s mantle): Lady’s mantle is a fantastic front-of-the-border foliage plant. Leaves are round, pleated and look like upside-down umbrellas. Light airy yellow flowers seem to combine well with almost every flower imaginable. Hardy in zones 3 – 8.
Colocasia (Elephant’s ear): An annual here in my Connecticut garden, elephant’s ear definitely adds a tropical feel to gardens with its extra large matte leaves. Available in a variety of colors, some with speckles and dramatic coloration, Colocasia grows best in moist, rich soil.
Ligularia: Ligularias are large-leaved perennials perfect for moist shady spots. Yellow flower spike in late summer add to this drama queen’s attractive nature. Large heart-shaped leaves with toothed edges add to the bold texture. You can find ligularias with green or burgundy leaves. Hardy in zones 5 – 8.
Rheum (Ornamental rhubarb): This veggie is gaining popularity with ornamental gardeners because of the wonderful texture it adds to mixed beds. Ornamental rhubarb grows in sun or partial shade but demands evenly moist soil. There are cultivars that are only about 3′ tall and others with colored leaves or brightly colored stalks. Hardy in zones 5 – 9.
Check back tomorrow for a look at a few underused fine texture plants for your garden.
But before you go, please leave a comment and let us know who’s the favored Drama Queen in your garden.
Too often, flowers are the primary consideration when choosing plants for a garden. But texture is even more important to the overall look and feel of a garden. Texture refers to the surface quality of a plant – the way we see it and feel it. When we talk about plant texture we’re referring to the overall size and habit of the plant but more importantly, to the look and feel of its individual leaves.
Texture is impacted by the time of day (light & shadows), the seasons, color, leaf shape, the distance from which we are viewing a plant and the plant’s shape. Texture also works hand-in-hand with scale.
A large tree with narrow leaves can have a fine, airy texture (think of a weeping willow). And a small plant with big leaves can have a bold texture (think of many hostas, like ‘Cameo’). It’s the up-close combination of different textured leaves that really makes a garden interesting.
The Nature of Texture
When we talk about texture, we divide plants into three different texture categories – fine, medium and coarse . And we use tactile words like feathery, bold, glossy, lacy, soft, spiky, rough and airy. With just one word, we can begin to set a mood and tone for our gardens.
Fine textured plants tend to recede and fade, so planting lots of fine textured plants can make a small garden look bigger. Fine textured plants are good supporting players, they can help draw attention to all the other plants around them.
Most plants fall into the medium texture category. They are the main cast of characters in most gardens, they knit the garden together but are never overpowering. When in flower, they may take center stage but as soon as the flowers are spent, they fade to the background again.
Coarse textured plants are the drama queens, the ‘hey, look at me’ plants. Every garden needs a few of them but masses of coarse textured plants can make a garden seem small. Of course, if you’re trying to make a large garden appear smaller and more intimate, using tons of coarse textures plants will help.
More Tips for Using Texture in Your Garden
♦ Use bold textured plants as accents
♦ Use fine textured plants as fillers
♦ Use shiny or glossy foliage in shady spots to brighten up the area
♦ Use hairy, velvety foliage in sunny spots
♦ Use contrasting texture pairs for maximum interest – small leaves with large leaves, glossy leaves with matte leaves, spiky leaves with round leaves, and on and on.
Stop back tomorrow when I’ll look at a few Drama Queens for your garden.
This is the third post in a series about landscaping specifically to attract birds to your garden – bird-scaping. The first post, an overview of bird-scaping can be found here. The second post, about the importance of trees to a bird-friendly garden ,which includes several suggestions for trees that are especially attractive to birds can be found here. In subsequent posts I will discuss bird-friendly perennials and accessories for a bird-scaped garden such as feeders and birdbaths.
Shrubs play an integral role in any garden. They add structure, permanence and continuity to a garden, aswell as adding seasonal color and interest. In a bird-scaped garden, shrubs perform other important functions too. Since shrubs have a smaller stature than trees, they bring birds down to eye level. They provide hiding places for quick getaways from predators, shelter from the weather, shady spots for birds to take a rest and check out the goings-on in the garden, a place to build a nest, and are an important source of food. Did you realize your shrubs play so many vital roles for birds? Are you looking at them differently now? I hope so.
With so many shrub options available, it’s critical to choose a variety of shrubs that will not only add color and interest throughout the year but also provide a changing source of food and shelter for birds. So how should you start narrowing down the list? You can’t go wrong with native shrubs. Many native shrubs have food that is timed and sized just right for birds. For example, the fruit of serviceberry (Amelanchier) ripens just as the first clutch of robin hatchings are ready to leave the nest. (To find shrubs that are native to your garden, contact your local Cooperative Extension office or visit Plant Native.)
Plant a mix of evergreen and deciduous shrubs and try to include shrubs that flower and fruit at different times of the year. Shrubs that provide food and shelter in the late fall and winter when birds need them the most are especially important for a bird-scaped garden.
While there are many worthwhile shrubs to consider planting to attract birds and other wildlife, here are a few of my favorite native shrubs:
American cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) – This deciduous shrub, native to the northeastern and northwestern US and hardy from zones 2 – 7, quickly grows to an 8’ tall and equally wide bird magnet. With white flowers in June, red berries in the fall and rich reddish purple fall color, it has a lot to offer any garden. American cranberry can be used as a hedge or privacy screen. If the species is too large for your garden, look for some of its dwarf cultivars.
Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) – Hardy from zones 4 – 9, chokeberry is native through most of the eastern US. Its small white flowers are a favorite of bees and butterflies and its red berries often persist well into the winter. As if that weren’t enough, chokeberries turn a brilliant red in the fall and are a native, non-invasive alternative to winged euonymus. Chokeberry is adaptable to a variety of soils, as long as it is well-draining. It tolerates full sun to fairly dense shade but berry set is best with more sun. Use it as a privacy screen or hedge or as part of a natural woodland border.
Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) – If you’re looking for a truly versatile shrub to attract birds, this is it. Hardy from zones 4 – 8 and native to much of the eastern US, highbush blueberry is not overly picky about soil, as long as it’s acidic. A good option for wet soil, it is also drought tolerant once established. White flowers in May are followed by berries that are loved by both birds and humans. Like chokeberry, the foliage of blueberries puts on an amazing colorful display in the fall and new stems add a touch of pinkish-red color in the winter garden. There are a wide variety of cultivars available to suit any garden scenario, with most growing 3 – 6 tall and wide. Plant more than one cultivar to ensure better fruit set and to extend the berry season. Highbush blueberry can be used in mixed borders and is a good companion to rhododendrons and azaleas.
Red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) - Best known for its blazing red winter color, red-osier dogwood is also a favorite of birds for both nesting and sustenance. Creamy white flowers in late spring give way to white berries in midsummer. Many insects also feed on the leaves of this shrub so insect eating birds will find it a welcome addition to their smorgasbord. Native to the northern half of the US and hardy in zones 3 – 8, red-osier dogwood prefers a wet soil and tolerates sun to partial shade. Use redosier dogwood in a mixed border, as a hedge or screen and combine it with broad-leaved evergreens or birch to really showcase its winter color.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) – This tall deciduous shrub which is native from Maine right down to Florida and is hardy in zones 4 – 8, starts its show in early spring. Soft yellow flowers open when not much else is in bloom and are instantly visited by the first bees of the spring. Female plants sport red berries in the fall and are a favorite of many migratory birds. Both the reddish-brown bark and light green leaves are aromatic when crushed. Spicebush prefers moist soil and tolerates shade so it is an ideal candidate for a wet and shady location. (If you have one of those sites in your garden you can appreciate how difficult it can be to find suitable plants.) Use spicebush naturalized in a woodland garden or as part of a hedgerow.
The first step when designing your landscape is to perform a site analysis. A site analysis is basically a plan or map of your property; drawn from the perspective of looking down from the sky (called a plan view). Think of a site analysis as an inventory of what already exists on your property. When you are done with your site analysis you’ll have a record of all the pros & cons, limitations and possibilities for your property. Don’t be tempted to think that you know everything there is to know about your garden because you’ve lived in your home for 5 years, 10 years or even longer. A site analysis can seem like a lot of unneccessary work but, believe me, the rewards will be great.
Even if you are simply re-designing one area of your garden, it is extremely helpful to start with a site analysis. Here are a few photos of a front entry garden that will be re-designed to look more like a courtyard – widening the existing walkway, eliminating all the grass and adding layers of plants and focal points such as benches and statues. You’ll find the corresponding site analysis at the end of this post.
Begin your site analysis by drawing a base map of your property. The easiest way to do this is with graph paper since every item should be drawn to scale. If you have a copy of your plot plan from when you purchased your house, you can begin with that. If not, sketch out your house and any existing structural features such as decks, pergolas, swimming pools, walkways and fences. The outline, or footprint, of your house should include the location of doors and windows (record the height of the window from ground level too), heating and/or air conditioning units, spigots and downspouts.
Your base map should also include the location of your property lines and any adjacent streets. You can include the location of meters, power lines and poles, utility boxes, etc. Basically, you should record and note anything that may affect your desired design.
The next step is to add existing plants. If it’s a tree with a high canopy, measure and record the diameter of the trunk. For shrubs or groups of plants, measure or estimate the space the grouping currently occupies. This is the ideal time to start a list of plants you want to keep, remove, relocate or that are too big to be moved and therefore you need to design around them.
Other things to consider when performing a site analysis:
- Indicate which direction is North. You will need this when you determine the amount of sunlight and shade in different areas and also the directions of prevailing winds.
- Note the functional areas of your property, such as vegetable gardens, recreational areas, etc.
- Record foot traffic patterns since not everyone uses the designated walkways. By noting the informal traffic patterns you can see where new walkways should be located.
- Record any relevant environmental factors such as wet areas, poor soil, slopes and rock outcroppings that will impact plant selection.
- Observe and record the views in to and off of your property, both good and bad, and where you need privacy screening and also where you can accentuate a view. For example, you might want to screen out your neighbor’s driveway or open up the view of your front door from the street.
- And finally, get a soil test. Knowing what kind of soil you have will be an important factor in determining the kinds of plants you should use.
Future posts will discuss other important steps in landscape design. The next step…a concept plan.
© Deborah Roberts and A Garden of Possibilities, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.
When my boys were young, and I was just starting to grow my garden, I decided to plant a special spot just for them. One where they could dig in the dirt and help care for plants that had a special significance to them. So I planted an animal garden, a concept that is old-hat now but at the time was fairly unique. And for many years, my boys loved visiting the lambs’ ear (Stachys byzantina), dragon’s blood (Sedum spurium), turtlehead (Chelone glabra) and a whole host of other plants with animal-related common names.
Yes, animal gardens are so 1990′s ( I planted ours in ’93), but there’s a whole new crop of plant cultivars to capture your child’s imagination. Many are named after your child’s favorite storybook characters. Planting a storybook garden is a wonderful way to cultivate your child’s natural curiosity while teaching them the life lessons learned while tending a garden. Your storybook garden can be a special spot for the two of you to spread out a blanket and spend some time reading while growing memories.
The plants in this post are geared towards children who are fans of classic children’s books like Through the Looking Glass or who can’t get enough of the likes of King Arthur and his knights. You should be able to find some of these storybook plants in your local nursery but others may have to be specially ordered. Click on the links to see a photo and cultural information for each plant.
- Alice in Wonderland (Hemerocallis ‘Alice in Wonderland’)
- Arabian Nights (Gladiolus x hortulanus ‘Arabian Night’)
- Black Beauty (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’)
- King Arthur (Delphinium cultorum ‘King Arthur’)
- Princess Bride (Paeonia ‘Princess Bride’)
- Wild Thing (Salvia greggii ‘Wild Thing’)
If you have a child who loves Walt Disney characters, click here to see a post about a Disney-themed storybook garden. And don’t forget to stop by again soon to learn about storybook plants to grow for a child who is fascinated by folklore, fairy tales and myths.
Note: Post written by Debbie Roberts @ gardenofpossibilities.
There is a multi-year study going on now in Connecticut which looks at the relationship between Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), white-footed mice and blacklegged ticks. Admittedly a strange combination.
Recently, results of the first two years of the study were released and they are a bit surprising. In essence, the study found the larger the number of Japanese barberry in an area, the higher the incidence of Lyme disease carrying ticks. Yikes! Yet another reason to rip these invasive plants out of your garden.
Here are a few highlights from the study:
– The study’s authors asked two basic questions. First, do higher populations of white-footed mice and blacklegged ticks protected by a dense under story of Japanese barberry have a higher incidence of Lyme disease? And second, if Japanese barberry are controlled, will the population of blacklegged ticks be reduced and therefore, the rate of Lyme disease infection in white-footed mice also be reduced?
- Japanese barberry was chosen, in part, because it is generally considered a deer-resistant shrub in most locations. For anyone who gardens in an area with deer, you know how fickle a deer’s taste buds can be but Japanese barberry is typically uneaten.
- The study looked at three test sites in Connecticut. The first site was located in area where the Japanese barberry was very dense. The second site included a thick grove of Japanese barberry that was cut to the ground and controlled during the study. The third site contained no Japanese barberry at all.
- Results of the first two years of the study have shown that feeding larval ticks and adult tick populations were highest in the high density barberry site. The highest incidence of Lyme disease carrying ticks was also found in the high density barberry areas.
- After cutting the Japanese barberry, the infection rate of Lyme disease in the white-footed mice remained the same the first year but was significantly reduced the second year , becoming equal to the areas that had no Japanese barberry growing.
- The study concluded that Japanese barberry infestations threaten humans by creating a favorable environment for ticks and mice. And high populations of mice and ticks leads to an increase in the incidence of Lyme disease.
All in all, the study gives gardeners yet another reason to stop buying and planting Japanese barberry. Unfortunately I was not able to find a free link to the full study but I do have a .pdf copy that I will be happy to share. If you’d like a copy of the study, just leave a comment and I’ll contact you directly.
Properly selected and sited landscaping can save you money on heating costs by providing efficient wind protection, or windbreaks. And don’t forget, the benefits from a living windbreak will increase as the trees and shrubs mature.
A windbreak works by lowering the wind chill near your home. Wind chill occurs when the wind speed lowers the outside air temperature. During the winter, if your home is exposed to wind, you may be paying more to heat your house than you need to. You can easily fix this by making some landscaping changes. Planting shrubs and hedges around the exterior of your yard can moderate the effects of the wind. The less wind there is racing across the surface of your house, the more money you will save. It’s as easy as that.
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when planning and planting a windbreak:
- For maximum protection, your windbreak needs to be planted the proper distance from your house. First, figure out the mature height of the plants you will be using and then plant them anywhere from two to five times that distance away from your house. So, if you are using shrubs that will be 20 feet tall at maturity, plant them at least 40 feet but no more than 100 feet away.
- The most effective windbreaks block wind close to the ground so consider using a combination of trees and evergreen shrubs that have branches low to the ground.
- Typically, you should plant a windbreak on the north and northwest side of your house.
- Be careful not to plant smaller trees and evergreens too close to your home’s south side if you are counting on warmth from the winter sun. In the winter, they may block the sun’s warming effects if they are planted too close.
- In addition to windbreaks, consider planting shrubs and vines next to your house to create dead air spaces that insulate your home in both winter and summer.
- But remember not to plant too close to your house. When plants are full-grown there should at least 1 foot of space between the plants and your home’s wall.
- Make sure you use trees and shrubs that are right for your growing zone. Click here to find your growing zone by just inputting your zip code.
Even though winter is quickly approaching, it may not be too late to plant a windbreak for energy savings this year. You can plant as long as the ground is not frozen. Here in southwestern Connecticut (zone 6), the plantng window is still open but closing rapidly. If in doubt, check with your local nursery about proper planting times in your growing zone.