Spring gardens are a bounty of colors and fragrance. Here in southwestern Connecticut, the pink candy cotton flowering cherries compete with the sweet fragrance of koreanspice viburnum which is vying for attention with the assorted gumball colors of azaleas and hybrid … Continue reading
Here in Connecticut, spring means the three big names in non-native spring-flowering trees – Magnolia, Malus (crab apple), and Prunus (cherry) – are in full bloom. Here’s a look at one reason why these trees are so popular and make great additions … Continue reading
Recycling plastic plant containers is a big issue for many towns, cities and states, not to mention many green-minded gardeners. The lack of an industry-wide standard for container sizes, coupled with an absence of any recycling guidelines for consumers, has … 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:
Every garden has its trouble spot(s) – that place where nothing really seems to work. In my Connecticut garden, one of those trouble spots is a low-lying partially shaded area that periodically gets flooded.
After a heavy rainstorm, there’s usually a puddle there for several hours. And after each of the recent ’100-year storms’ – haven’t there been 2 or 3 in the past decade?? – the water collects there for days on end.
What I needed was a plant that could tolerate that periodic flooding but also survive without any supplemental irrigation.
A plant that would grow in the shade but also add some color to my garden. And one that would be attractive to an array of winged wildlife.
I stumbled upon what might be the ideal solution for this shady trouble area the other day – Spigelia marilandica (Indian Pink).
Getting to Know Indian Pink
◊ Indian Pink is native to the southeastern US.
◊ Blooming in June, the red flowers, with their yellow crowns, are a favorite nectar source for hummingbirds.
◊ Spigelia marilandica grows to about 1.5′ tall and wide, making it the ideal front or middle of the border plant.
◊ Indian pink tolerates partial to full shade and grows in lots of different soil conditions, including moist to dry soil.
◊ It is considered pest and disease free although I’ve read differing reports on its deer-resistance. Like any newly introduced plant in my garden, I’ll be spraying it with deer repellent for the first season, just in case.
◊ Hardy in zones 5 – 9.
Do you have a favorite plant for shady trouble spots in your garden?
This month on the Garden Designers Roundtable, we have a special treat for you. Rather than exploring a specific garden design topic, we thought we’d let you peek into our own gardens.
OK, I have to admit that before I became a professional garden designer, I guess I assumed that all garden designers had these amazing home gardens. You know, something that epitomizes the best of design and is worthy of being showcased in every garden design magazine around.
Now that I’ve met so many professional landscape designers, and talked to them about their own gardens, I can tell you that many of us have gardens that are not exactly show pieces. Like the cobbler whose children have no shoes,tending to our own gardens often is not a high priority, especially during our busiest seasons.
So with that in mind, I’ll pull back the curtain and reveal what my own garden, a wooded acre located in southwestern Connecticut (zone 6b), actually looks like outside of all those staged photos you may have seen on this blog.
I think it can best be summed up in nine words…
I consider my garden a laboratory. I like to try out plant combinations, push sun/shade exposures and generally just fiddle around with the same plant in different locations and watch what happens. Last year I bought a bunch of landscape plugs to be able to experiment on a larger scale. I got Tiarella cordifolia ‘Running Tapestry’, Calamagrostis brachytricha and Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’. I’ve learned the most from observing ‘Espresso’.
After one growing season, I’d say it is not nearly as deer-resistant as the species, it’s pretty drought tolerant and the color of the leaves, described as red-brown, are not overly attractive. They’re a bit too brown and washed out for my taste, especially with more than a few hours of sun each day. I’ll give it another few years before declaring ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’ but I do know I’m glad I experimented in my own garden before rushing off to plant them in a client’s garden.
I’m the kind of person who likes to surround myself with objects that mean something to me and have sentimental value. Inside my home, you’ll find lots of collections of framed photos on the walls, not a print that color coordinates with the sofa fabric. My garden is the same way. I don’t have a lot of garden ornaments but the ones I do have are full of sentimental value. This old weathervane is from my mother-in-law’s garden. After she died, we decided to give it a home in our garden. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of her and how much she loved her garden.
If asked, I’d have to admit that one my favorite trees in my garden was my coral bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’). Bought on a whim at a big box store several years ago, it’s ever-changing look quickly fascinated me. It was just starting to come into its own and I could see more than just hints of the spectacular tree it would become. So when a freak snowstorm in October proved too much for it to weather, I felt like I’d lost a friend.
Last summer, on a beautiful August day, a tree fell on our house! There was no wind or rain…no reason for the healthy tree to have fallen that day. Luckily, the damage was minimal because the tree basically ‘hugged’ the roof line. We needed a new roof and some gutters but, all in all, I felt like the garden was watching out for us.
One of my favorite parts about our garden is that we have two oak trees that are the perfect distance apart to hang a hammock. There is nothing quite like lounging in a hammock that is suspended between two trees. I do some of my best thinking about clients’ garden design plans (aka napping) in this very spot.
I’m an advocate for using native plants in all types of designed gardens. And my garden is no exception. One of the side benefits of native plants is the beautiful butterflies they attract.
While I love native plants, I also appreciate the beauty of exotic (non-native) plants. One of my favorite non-natives is my groundcover maple (Acer palmatum ‘Yatsubusa Kiyohime’). Mine is just a baby (only about 2′ wide) but it will eventually get to be about 8′ wide. Here’s a look at my groundcover maple on the top and a mature specimen on the bottom.
As I said in my opening remarks, my garden is often neglected, especially in the spring when my business is so brisk. Here’s a peek at all the weeds and seedlings that are waiting to pulled. Glamorous, aren’t they??
Here in southwestern Connecticut, we have a big problem with deer. While most parts of the state have about 16 deer per square mile, here in Fairfield county we have 4 times that amount, on average 62 deer per square mile. It’s not unusual to find 6 – 8 deer wandering around my garden most mornings. That means I have lots of experience with deer resistant plants, that I spray my fair share of deer repellents and that I take a perverse satisfaction in running around in my PJs, arms flailing all over the place, trying to scare away the deer.
For more peeks inside the garden of a professional landscape designer, I invite you to visit the links below to read the posts from my fellow Roundtablers …
You Can Grow That! is a celebration of gardens and plants and the joy they bring to our lives.
A Singular Pleasure
One of the most graceful spring-flowering shrubs has to be doublefile viburnum, (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum).
The combination of horizontal branches and creamy white lacecap flowers, arranged in double file along the length of the branches, make doublefile viburnum an irresistibly elegant addition to many gardens here in southwestern Connecticut.
At this time of the year, when they seem to be dripping with flowers, the shrubs seem to glow, especially on overcast or rainy days.
Standing at Attention
One of the best attributes of double-file viburnum has to be its unusual flowers. The flowers, held several inches above the branches and leaves, always make me smile when viewed from the side.
The double rows of flowers highlight the horizontal branching pattern of the shrub.
Flowers typically last 3 – 4 weeks in my garden. Clusters of small red berries follow the flowers but are not overly ornamental. The rough, serrated leaves turn a brilliant shade of purple in the fall.
Growing Doublefile Viburnum
Double-file viburnums are not overly picky about site conditions.
If you can meet a few basic requirements, you’ll be rewarded for many, many years.
◊ They grow in both full sun and full shade but seems to do best with some afternoon shade.
◊ They prefer moist, well-drained, acidic soil with loads of organic matter.
◊ They are not overly drought tolerant. In my garden (zone 6b), they are one of the first shrubs to show the effects of inconsistent rain.
◊ Mature shrubs can reach 8 – 10′ tall with a slightly wider spread.
◊ I consider doublefile viburnum to be deer-resistant. I have 5 of them in garden and they have never been bothered by deer (can you hear me knocking on wood??)
◊ Hardy in zones 5 – 8.
If you don’t have room for a full size double-file in your garden, consider planting one of these cultivars:
- Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Newport’ – approx. 6′ x 6′
- Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Magic Puff’ – approx. 5′ x 5′
- Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shoshoni’ – approx. 6′ x 8′
Before you rush off to check out the other You Can Grow That! posts, please take a minute to share what your favorite spring-flowering shrub is.
You Can Grow That! is a celebration of gardens and plants and the joy they bring to our lives.
Subtle Spring Beauty
Subtle and spring are not typically two words that go together when you’re talking about spring in a New England garden. We’re blessed with an embarrassment of color at this time of the year. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing the shock of bright yellow forsythia, the clouds of white flowers on the pear trees and the vivid violets of the PJM rhododendrons.
But I also appreciate the subtle beauty of some of the wallflowers of the spring garden. The plants that are attractive but aren’t jumping up and down yelling, ‘Hey, look at me!’. The ones you can’t see coming from miles away but rather that quietly entice you over for a closer look.
In my Connecticut garden, my favorite subtle spring beauty is Sem — Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’. Here’s a look at Sem with her spring foliage, in shades of pink, red, yellow and green…
Subtle Summer Beauty
Just in case you think Sem might be one of those one-hit-wonders, here’s a look at her summer flowers…
Growing Sem in Your Garden
◊ Sem loves dry, sunny spots. Mine is growing in light shade under a redbud tree and it seems to be thriving.
◊ A multi-stemmed shrub that spreads quickly by suckers, Sem grows to about 4′ x 4′. Because it spreads by suckers, give some thought to where you want to plant it. Sem is not a garden bully but she does like to get her own way. The ideal site would be one where you need a reliable plant to fill in and colonize an area. (Note: Sorbaria sorbifolia is not invasive in Connecticut but it can be in some states. If in doubt, please check it’s status in your area before you plant it.)
◊ It’s fern-like foliage adds a light feathery texture to the garden. Plant Sem near large-leaved plants for a wonderful contrast.
◊ Sem does not seem to be bothered by pests of any kind, including deer.
◊ Hardy in zones 3 – 8.
Before you head off to check out the other You Can Grow That! posts, I’d love to hear about the star of your spring garden – subtle or otherwise.
Adding more native plants to your garden, regardless of whether you garden in Connecticut, Florida, Texas, California or somewhere in between, is a great way to make your garden more sustainable, eco-friendly and attractive to local wildlife.
At first blush, it can seem overwhelming to choose between all the available native plants. My advice is to focus on adding at least one native plant that will add interest to your garden each month.
Here’s a year’s worth of native plants that are appropriate for Connecticut and New England gardeners…
January ~ Rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum)
February ~ Coast leucothoe (Leucothoe axillaris)
March ~ John’s Find white pine (Pinus strobus ‘John’s Find’)
April ~ Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)
May ~ Golden Shadows pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia ‘Golden Shadows’)
June ~ Blue muffin viburnum (Viburnum dentatum ‘Blue Muffin’)
July ~ Gayfeather (Liatris spicata)
August ~ Ruby spice summersweet (Clethra alternifolia ‘Ruby Spice’)
September ~ Chocolate Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’)
October ~ Invincibelle Spirit smoothleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Invincibelle Spirit)
November ~ American holly (Ilex opaca)
December ~ Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
What native plants are you planning to add to your garden in the coming year?
Who doesn’t enjoy seeing butterflies flitting around in their garden? Creating a garden that is inviting to butterflies involves more than simply planting a few colorful flowers. Your garden must meet all of a butterfly’s needs—food, water, shelter and a place to lay their eggs overwinter, if needed.
The majority of butterflies are picky about where they will lay their eggs. They look for specific plants that will feed their young during their larval (caterpillar) stages. Caterpillars will eat the leaves of these host plants but the damage is minor and purely cosmetic.
Providing host plants greatly increasing your chances of attracting butterflies since …Read the rest of Attract Butterflies to Your Garden on Stonington-Mystic Patch.