This month on the Garden Designers Roundtable we’re exploring the topic of Transitions. Transitions mark all sorts of boundaries in your garden. They can help set the tone and mood for your garden and can be strong visual cues for … Continue reading
This month on the Garden Designers Roundtable, we’re exploring the topic of Details and their importance in a designed landscape. In gardening, as in life in general, when it comes to design, small things can matter the most. It’s the details that … Continue reading
This month on Garden Designers Roundtable we’re exploring the topic of Designing with Native Plants, an issue that is near and dear to my heart. But, truth be told, one that I also find a bit baffling…why are we singling out native plants as in need of special design help? They’re just plants, aren’t they?
When it comes to including native plants in a designed landscape, I have three simple words to say - JUST DO IT!
Right Native Plant, Right Place
Native plants are just plants. They are not fool-proof or no-maintenance. They’re not all weedy-didn’t-I-just-see-that-growing-on-the-side-of-the-road plants. Native plants can be as lush, beautiful and colorful as non-native plants.
When using native plants in your garden you still need to consider your garden’s site conditions – sun, soil, water, wind, etc. – just like you would before planting any other plant. You can’t just plant any native plant in any garden condition and expect it to survive just because it happens to be native to your area.
It’s still a plant and you, the gardener, must meet its basic needs in order for it to live.
Designing with Native Plants
One important thing to keep in mind is that using native plants in your garden doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition.
Native plants play well with non-native plants and, personally, I believe both should have a place in a residential garden.
While there’s no magic ratio of native to non-native plants that will work for every gardener, the Planting Pyramid is a good place to start to figure out what might be best for your garden.
Whether you’re planting native or non-native plants, you still need to keep in mind some of the basic principles of garden design. Garden design concepts such as color, unity, movement, focal points, and texture, to name just a few, are the same regardless of whether or not you’re designing with native plants. Repeat after me…native plants are simply plants.
PR for Native Plants
Native plants seem to suffer from a general lack of good PR. I’ll be the first to admit that some native plants are difficult to incorporate into a typical residential landscape. And yes, some of them can indeed be found growing on the side of the road.
And let’s face it, sometimes native plant enthusiasts aren’t exactly helping the cause and showing how easy it is to find a place for native plants in your garden.
On a recent visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Demonstration Garden at the Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College, I was greeted by an exuberant mass of 5′ tall late summer-blooming perennials separated by winding paths of grass. I thought it was lovely but could also see why Jane or Joe Gardener, who is thinking about adding some native plants to their home garden, might be overwhelmed by the idea of planting some of these native perennials.
Native Plants for New England Gardens
Incorporating native plants into your garden is easy. Remember, they’re just plants after all. If you’re not sure which plants are native to your region, check out sites like Plant Native or your local native plant society.
Here’s a look at a few native plants that will be right at home in gardens in Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island or any of the other New England states.
More Ideas on Designing with Native Plants
For more tips and ideas for incorporating native plants into your designed garden, check out these posts from my fellow members of the Garden Designers Roundtable:
This month on Garden Designers Roundtable, we explore the topic of Gardening with Deer. Rather than discuss deer-resistant plants, types of fencing or books that deal with the subject, all worthwhile topics, I thought I’d look at design strategies you can use — regardless of where you garden — to help make your garden less inviting to deer.
A Little Secret & A Balancing Act
Here’s a secret no one wants to tell you — no plant species is totally immune to deer browsing. When natural food sources are scare, deer will eat anything. You can try to exclude, deter, spray, scare and confuse them all you want. But the cold hard truth for most gardeners is that if there are deer in your neighborhood, they will eventually find their way into your garden.
Like most other gardening-related topics, dealing with deer in your garden is a delicate balancing act that demands each gardener find their own comfort zone along a continuum. Some gardeners may decide to spend thousands of dollars to fence in their entire property (be careful…I’ve seen them damage a garden that is ‘protected’ by 8′ fence) while others may throw down their bottles of Liquid Fence in frustration and decide it’s simply not worth the time, trouble, or expense.
Most of us fall somewhere along that continuum. Keep in mind, none of these design strategies are fool-proof but they can help you create a beautiful garden with a wider palette of plants that will not be routinely devoured by deer.
Also, some of these design suggestions for dealing with deer in your garden are not exactly wildlife-friendly. So if you’re like me, and consider your garden a haven for most wildlife, just keep that continuum in mind and decide what will work for you, in your garden.
Designing Around Deer
♦ Plant more native plants. Studies in Connecticut show deer tend to prefer exotic ornamentals over native plants. Regardless of where you garden, chances are pretty good, the same is true.
♦ Use highly deer-resistant plants further away from your house and along deer pathways. Site those plants that deer consistently browse proof closer to house or areas that pets may frequent
♦ Deer don’t like to jump into an area that they can’t clearly see. Plant tall deer-resistant evergreens near property lines or deer pathways. Take away the landing pad.
♦ Consider walling off certain small areas of your garden, such as intimate seating areas, dining areas, and play spaces. This should keep the deer out and allow you to expand your plant palette. Just keep in mind, fencing is not fool-proof either.
♦ Deer do not like anything that affects their footing or their ability to make a quick getaway. If possible, incorporate level changes into your garden by using terracing, steps, and berms. And when choosing hardscape materials, consider using rough, uneven surfaces in areas of your garden that deer frequent.
♦ Wear blinders when plant shopping. Ok, this is not a real design strategy, but it is important when creating a deer-resistant garden. Stop impulse buying and learn to love plants the deer don’t like. If you have shade, develop a passion for ferns, not hosta. Like spring-flowering bulbs? Think daffodils, not tulips. Ask a local independent garden center for a list of deer-resistant plants and then start shopping.
♦ When establishing a new garden bed or border, stick with highly deer-resistant plants. After a few years, it’ll be safer to mix in some less-resistant plants once the deer have learned to leave the bed alone.
♦ Ornamental grasses and herbs are very deer-resistant. Create meadows with seed mixes of regionally appropriate grasses and wildflowers or adapt traditional herb-intensive designs, like knot gardens, to fit your garden’s style.
♦ Plant browse-susceptible plants in containers on an elevated deck or terrace. This is not a guarantee against deer browsing but it is a little extra insurance.
Maintenance Matters, Too
♦ Deer seem to prefer heavily fertilized plants that are rich in nitrogen, carbs, minerals and salts. Rather than fertilizing your plants so they become deer candy, feed your soil so your plants are healthy but not full of excess nutrients.
♦ Clean up acorns and fallen fruit from under trees. You wouldn’t leave food lying around on the floor in your house, right? Don’t do it in your garden, either.
♦ Remove invasive understory plants that provide shelter and cover for deer.
♦ Limb up the branches of trees that are not deer-resistant to a height of at least 6 feet. This will keep precious foliage, flowers and fruit out of their feeding zone.
♦ Protect young trees and shrubs, when they are especially susceptible to deer browsing. This allows the plants to get established and trains the deer not to eat them.
I invite you to check out what my fellow Roundtables have to say on the subject of Gardening With Deer:
This month on Garden Designers Roundtable, we explore the topic of Idols, those people we look to for inspiration when we’re designing gardens for our clients. As I was thinking about who to profile, I started thinking about different aspects of inspiration.
Perhaps I should profile a person whose book I turn to for inspiration and guidance time after time. Maybe a person who epitomizes a future of garden design where we stop choosing plants simply for their natural beauty and instead start to choose beautiful plants that have value for local wildlife and enhance the larger ecosystem. Or possibly someone who pushes the envelope a bit and challenges the way we view plants and how we treat them?
And then it dawned on me, I could profile one person and meet all those requirements…and more. So let me introduce you to Carolyn Summers.
Admit it, some of you are probably thinking ‘who?’ To tell you the truth, up until about 15 months ago, I’d never heard of Carolyn Summers either.
Shower Caddies and Safe Sex
I stumbled upon her book, Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East, at the UCONN bookstore when I was buying supplies for my son who was starting his freshman year there. He was looking for a shower caddy and some extra hangers and I was browsing the Co-op’s extensive book department when I picked up Carolyn’s book.
A quick look at the title and my immediate reaction was that it was probably one of those scholarly books without much real ‘meat & potatoes’. I quickly flipped through it and decided I might be wrong.
Chapters like “Safe Sex’ in the Garden, Showy Substitutes for Common Invasive Plants and Designing Traditional Gardens with Indigenous Plants peaked my interest. Enough for me to pay retail price for a book, something I haven’t done in years!
Building on a Foundation
Many native plant enthusiasts can trace their interest in native plants and the growing awareness of the role native plants play in the ecosystem back to reading Douglas Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home. While Tallamy’s book was eye-opening, it didn’t offer much in the way of actionable steps for incorporating native plants into designed landscapes. And let’s face it, for many gardeners, and garden designers for that matter, native plants = wild, messy, unkempt. Not exactly a style many homeowners are looking for.
Summers’ book picks up where Tallamy’s left off and shows how easy it is to incorporate native plants into any style of designed garden. Her message is powerful but not controversial. Aware that ‘native’ can be politically charged, she instead uses the phrase ‘indigenous plants’. Indigenous plants evolved as part of the regional web of life and are useful to the majority of local insects and birds and therefore the broader ecosystem around them. Regardless of where you garden, you can embrace Summers definition of indigenous plants and find apropriate indigenous for your own garden.
She is pragmatic and understands most gardeners will never give up all their non-native plants so she promotes adding more indigenous plants, while at the same time reducing the number of exotic plants. Not only does she offer native substitutes for commonly used invasive plants, Summers also provides lists of native plants to use in various garden styles. Dreaming about your very own cottage garden? There ‘s a list of over 25 native plants that will look great in a cottage garden and will also feed the local wildlife. Or perhaps a Japanese inspired garden? There’s a list of native plants you should check out.
Activist & Educator
In addition to being a landscape architect, Carolyn is also an adjunct professor at Westchester Community College and is deeply involved in WCC’s Native Plant Center, an affiliate of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. I’ve been fortunate to see Carolyn speak at events and have also taken one of her classes.
She is a passionate advocate of indigenous plants. She was even a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit where the city of New York was sued when they wanted to cut down some indigenous plants, including Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) growing on Staten Island to make way for a new Target. While she and her co-plaintiff lost the lawsuit, the City did pay to relocate the indigenous plants and pay for their care for a few years. Kinda of neat, huh!
Looking for more inspiring horticulture and garden design idols? I invite you to check out the links below to read post from my fellow Roundtablers, and our guest this month, Thomas Rainer of Grounded Design.
This month the Garden Designers Roundtable explores the important topic of lawn alternatives, along with our guests, the members of the Lawn Reform Coalition. Since the trend of shrinking the size of your lawn is just starting to take hold here in southwestern Connecticut, I offer a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at why it seems to be taking a bit longer than it should for some of my fellow Nutmegers to embrace the lawn alternative movement…
Here on the Connecticut gold coast, in quaint little towns like Greenwich, Darien and New Canaan, the streets are dotted with modest multi-acre estates. Most are hidden behind stone walls, fences and rows of evergreens. A quick glimpse inside often reveals a meticulously manicured lawn sweeping almost as far as the eye can see. Getting these homeowners to reduce the size of their lawns in any way, shape or form, is, quite frankly, a very difficult proposition.
You see, we’re conservative, some might even call us uptight. And we love our lawns. We certainly don’t grow food in our front yards, like some hippy-dippy southern California gardeners are doing. Really, what would the neighbors say? And a meadow garden? Like the unruly and overgrown mess on the grounds of that new progressive church? Certainly not on my property. We couldn’t possibly cut back our lawn area, after all the kids play out there at least once a week and an acre of grass per child seems to be the gold standard.
We may cling to tradition a little too tightly at times but we are open to new ways of thinking. We like to support local wildlife (after all, many of us are card-carrying members of the Audubon society) and increased biodiversity is a laudable goal. We’re concerned about the environment and increased levels of pollution and pesticides, just like regular people.
But we love our lawns. And the status quo. What’s a humble homeowner with just the ‘right’ amount of lawn to do?
I’d like to suggest an easy and painless way to start embracing the lawn alternative trend. Why not plant something other than grass in that narrow strip of land on the other side of the fence? Since no one really pays any attention to it, it offers the perfect opportunity to throw caution to the wind and do something a little crazy. In fact, some of the neighbors are already leading the way. Goodness, they must not be from around here!
From a maintenance standpoint, this grove of hosta is a better alternative than simply having more lawn area. And it’s much more attractive. But from a biodiversity standpoint, it’s really not offering much.
Adding a few ferns to the mix helps liven things up a bit. And the area still looks manicured and well-kept, important qualities when you’re keeping up with the Joneses. We’re getting there but I know we can do better.
From Baby Steps to a Leisurely Walk
So I offer a few socially acceptable, eco-friendly lawn alternatives that won’t embarrass you in front of the neighbors and also won’t bring down your property values. Not only will these lawn alternatives help support local wildlife since they are all native, they will tolerate winter road salt much better than the grass you’re trying to grow there now.
Go ahead, try one or try them all. Just take that all important first step.
I invite you to continue exploring the topic of lawn alternatives by simply clicking on the links below:
This month on the Garden Designer’s Roundtable we explore the topic of Shade. Our guest is none other than Margaret Roach, author of several best-selling books and the gardening blog, A Way to Garden. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to get a private tour of Margaret’s garden last year with several Roundtablers and other garden enthusiasts and not only a pure delight, it was also a lesson in opportunities. From the design, to plant selection and especially plant combinations, Margaret had capitalized on every opportunity her garden offered her.
Many gardeners look at a shady area as a liability, not an opporuntity to explore a new palette of plants that might not work elsewhere in their garden. Granted, gardening in the shade may require a new mindset for some gardeners so I’d like to offer some inspiration for dealing with those shady spots that every garden has and quite possibly open your eyes to the joys of shade gardening.
A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.
– D. Elton Trueblood
I can say that in the shade garden we are dealing primarily with foliage, and that once you learn to look at leaves you’ll discover a world of unlimited diversity and beauty.
– Ken Druse, The Natural Shade Garden
Success with shade gardening is more a question of attitude than anything else. Don’t moan over what you can’t grow, learn to rejoice over what you can grow.
– Larry Hodgson, Making the Most of Shade
If you have a shady spot to plant a garden then you are fortunate indeed.
– Carolyn Harstad, Got Shade?
To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.
– Jane Austen
I invite you to continue exploring the subject of Shade by clicking on the links below:
It happened again! Each time I write a Garden Designers Roundtable post, the topic initially seems so straightforward and simple but I soon discover it is anything but. This month, I join my fellow Roundtablers in exploring the seemingly simple topic of stone and how it relates to the landscape.
Stone Walls and New England Potatoes
I live in southwestern Connecticut where stone is literally everywhere I look. To say that iconic New England stone walls are ubiquitous here in Connecticut is definitely an understatement. On my one acre property, I am fortunate to have two different old stone walls.
In fact, it is the exception for a house in my neighborhood not to have at least one stone wall. Stones, from massive rock outcroppings to the ever present ‘New England potato’, are simply a part of the landscape here, the same way white oak trees (Quercus alba) and mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) are.
For those readers who have never had the experience of gardening in New England, the ‘New England potato’ is a decent-sized rock that can generally be lifted with one hand. They may not sound like a big deal, but in some gardens every time you put a shovel in the ground, you hit a New England potato. They can make the simple act of digging a hole maddening.
So with stone walls all around me, I had initially planned to write about the beauty of New England stone walls and the unique story they tell not only about this part of the country but also about the people who built them. But truthfully, I worried my fellow Roundtabler, Scott Hokunson who lives in northern Connecticut might tell that story. Scott loves stone and I knew if he did, he’d do a much better job than I could ever hope to do.
And then I remembered something about stone and its link to sustainable landscape design practices that I had heard at a lecture a few months ago. To paraphrase the presenter, ‘Hardscape materials, just like the food we eat, should be locally grown and as unrefined as possible.’ It’s a great analogy that really speaks to the way I think stone is best used in landscape and garden design.
Is Your Stone Sustainable?
Sustainable gardening practices are as much about our values and the role we see our gardens playing in the larger ecosystem as they are about finding solutions to landscape design problems. While I know many gardeners and garden designers who are committed to creating a sustainable garden and will work with native plants, retain as much stormwater on site as possibe and maintain their gardens organically. But I wonder how many consider the choice of the stone they use as a sustainable one.
Here in my corner of Connecticut, where utilizing stone in landscape design often involves an expensive game of one-upmanship, the value of using indigenous stone is enjoying a quiet renaissance. While I still hear comments from clients such as ‘my neighbor has a patio made of Tennessee crab orchard, can we use that?’ or from landscape contractors like ‘Don’t worry…I’ll just pick up a pallet of Mexican beach pebbles’, at least people are willing to consider the benefits of using indigenous stone in their gardens.
Regardless of where you live, using native stone, rather than stone that is trucked across the country, is an easy way to be more sustainable. The savings in energy and reduction in carbon footprint can be enormous.
Indigenous stone also helps to weave your garden into the unique fabric of your region. Using stone that literally can be found in your own back yard is the perfect way to allow your garden to showcase what sets your area of the country apart from every other area in a way that plants just can’t do.
Dear reader, If you are stumbling upon this post without first having visited the Garden Designers Roundtable blog , I encourage you to start there and read the back story behind this month’s GDRT topic. Thanks.
Since Amy, our homeowner, used to have a career as a floral designer, I decided to ‘design’ a garden full of plants she can use in her flower arrangements for her home. As I was thinking about the various plants to include, it became clear that a flower arranger’s garden needs more than just pretty flowers.
A flower arranger’s garden needs to have interesting foliage and branches, too. Both evergreen and deciduous shrubs should have a home in a flower arranger’s garden. When choosing shrubs and trees, think about branches for forcing flowers inside in late winter, or that have berries in the fall, or colorful foliage throughout the year and that respond well to pruning.
A few such shrubs that can be used in Amy’s garden include forsythia (Forsythia koreana ‘Kumson’), beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis ‘Dream Catcher’), Japanese maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Full Moon’), grape holly (Mahonia), purple smokebush (Cotinus coggygria) , doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum tomentosum), holly (Ilex spp.), redtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea), and buttercup winterhazel (Corylopsis pauciflora).
More Than Just A Pretty Face
A flower arranger’s garden requires lots of the same flowers so the garden itself is not bare and uninteresting after the gardener has borrowed some of its treasures for arranging. That means planting in masses rather than one of this and one of that. It’s also important to plant complementary flowers that bloom at the same time.
Don’t forget to consider the neighbors, too. Plant flowers that will bloom during different seasons. As one flower is fading another should be coming into its glory. Annuals and bulbs, as well as herbs, are also an integral part of a flower arranger’s garden so they should be used to round out your flower palette.
Just a few of the flowers I would use in Amy’s garden include cleome, nasturtium, fennel, lady’s mantle, rose, black-eyed Susan, tulip, crocosmia, and daffodil.
Include some perennials primarily for their foliage. This can be especially important if your flower arranger’s garden has more shade than sun. A few foliage stars that will work well in Amy’s garden are brunnera, lambs ear, fern, hosta, lungwort and heuchera.
Other Design Considerations
Don’t forget to give some thought to your color scheme when you are deciding which flowers to include in your garden. When asked, Amy said she did not have any distinct color preferences (usually it’s easier to think in terms of colors you don’t like in the garden – for me it’s red). After a tour of her newly painted home, it was clear she prefers to surround herself with rich, earthy colors. So a garden filled with primarily cooler colors seemed to be the way to go. A splash or two of orange, her husband’s favorite color, was also included.
As you’re designing your flower arranger’s garden, don’t forget to think about the kind of flower arrangements you like to design. If you’re more into small and dainty designs you’ll want different plants than someone who prefers big and bold arrangements.
A big thanks to Amy for agreeing to let the Roundtable use her new home as our first actual design project. It was a special treat to meet her in person and get a tour of her home and garden. If you’re interested in learning more about the inside of Amy’s home, check out her blog, ABCD Design (she also shares great recipes too!).
Don’t forget to check in with my fellow Roundtablers have planned for Amy’s garden: