Garden Designers Roundtable: Why Can’t We Be Friends

For this month’s topic on Garden Designers Roundtable, instead of focusing on inviting nature into your garden, I would like to explore accepting the nature that is already there.  In this case, I’m talking about bees.  Their buzzing should be music to your ears, not a signal to start flailing your arms around and running for cover.  It’s time  those humble bees got some lovin’.  But first, some knowledge, understanding and hopefully acceptance.  

Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Agastache is the #1 bee magnet in my garden

As a landscape designer, many of my clients request a garden full of color and fragrance, a combination of flowering trees, shrubs and perennials that will bloom all season long.  But then something weird happens.  In the next breath I hear, ‘And I don’t want any of those plants that attract bees’.  Huh!?!  

From talking with other landscape designers, I’ve found my clients are not particularly unique and educating clients that bees are in fact beneficial is an ongoing issue for many.  Here’s a little secret… you want bees in your garden.  Bees are a sign of a healthy garden.  But man, do bees have a PR problem.  Maybe they need a new agent, perhaps an exciting FB page or a major Twitter campaign.  Something, anything, to let gardeners know BEES ARE GOOD.  

Like almost everyone else, I have a story of being stung when I was a kid.  Mine involves a late night game of hide & seek… someone steps on a nest…lots of shouting …tearing off of clothes…crying for my mom…calamine lotion… Luckily, my friends and I were fine.  Like most people, when I get stung by a bee, it’s a minor annoyance.   I understand not everyone is so fortunate.  For some, bee stings are serious and possibly deadly.  But for most people, the benefits of inviting bees into their garden far outweigh the ouch-factor.  

Ornamental Oregano is another bee favorite in my garden.

So, to do my part to promote the acceptance of bees in home gardens, I decided to talk to an expert, Dr. Gale Ridge, PhD. from the Connecticut Agriculture and Experimental Station in New Haven, CT.  Dr. Ridge is an expert on true bugs – including bees.  She generously shared lots of information on bees and tips on how to act around bees that I would like to share with you.   

Bee Basics

- ‘Bees’  is actually a catch-all phrase for wasps and bees.  One of the easiest ways to tell the two apart is that bees are hairy and wasps are not. 

- Bees are generally not aggressive.  And they’re vegetarians.  They search out nectar because it is a source of energy.  (Wasps are predatory and carnivorous.)  

- Bees are usually so busy nectaring, they probably don’t even notice you and will not bother you.  Unless you start waving your arms around trying to swat them away!  

- Bees are not confrontational.  Stinging is a result of the bee defending itself because it thinks it’s in dire peril – from you (see above)!  

- Not all bees sting.  Only female bees have a stinger.  

- Honeybees live for about 3 – 6 weeks.  They can fly over 5,000 miles to get enough nectar to produce one pound of honey.  

- Honeybees typically don’t venture farther than a 1/4 mile from their hive.  

- Here in Connecticut, we typically begin to see bees in May.  But we can see them as early as March or April if there’s a nectar source for them.  

- Bees don’t see color the same way we do.  They ‘see’ a UV light reflection so colors that reflect UV light the best, like yellow, tend to attract bees.  

- Honeybee and bumblebee colonies do not die over the winter (wasps do), they just go dormant.  That’s why you’ll typically see bees in the spring about 6 weeks before you see wasps.  

‘Observe Don’t Interfere’

If you, or a loved one, is afraid of bees, Dr. Ridge urges the best approach to coexisting with bees is to ‘observe not interfere’.  Leave the bees alone, don’t mess with them.  I can attest to that approach.  I have lots of bee-enticing perennials planted right near my terrace and I’ve never been stung.  I just sit quietly and watch – and take photos!  

I asked Dr. Ridge about the types of flowers that are most likely to attract bees.  She told me that while no flowers are really off-limits, bees are most attracted to flowers with lots of available nectar.  You’ve seen them, the garden floozies who are just flaunting what they have to offer – agastache, daisies, honeysuckle and monarda to name a few.   

Flowers that conceal their nectar a bit better, typically double flowers, are not as enticing.  Those straight-laced, buttoned up girls like chrysanthemums, dahlias, marigolds, and peonies are generally not as attractive to bees.  

Still not convinced you can accept all that buzzing and nectaring in your garden?  Maybe it will help to know that the same flowers that entice bees, also attract these…  

Peaceful co-existence...a butterfly and bee nectaring together on Echinacea.

To read what my fellow Roundtablers have to say about the topic of Inviting Nature In, simply click on the links below:

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA
Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

GDRT Underutilized Plants: A 4-Season Beauty with a Bonus

I was thrilled when GDRT’s readers choose underutilized plants as our topic for July.  As soon as underutilized plants was first mentioned around the Roundtable as a possible topic, I knew if it was chosen I would write about highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum). I have been singing the praises of using native blueberries for their ornamental value in designed landscapes for years.  To me, they are the ideal garden shrub since they literally have four seasons of interest and produce one of my favorite summer treats – fresh picked blueberries!     

Blueberries are often thought of as simply commercial fruit production plants or ‘that shrub’ for use in reclamation projects.  That may be why they can be overlooked when gardeners are trying to add easy-care ornamental beauty to their gardens.  But, I think Vaccinium corymbosum deserves a place in every garden (ok, they only grow in zones 3 – 10, so almost every garden).    

Delicate pale white flowers of V. Patriot

 Let’s start with spring.  Clusters of pale white bell-shaped flowers adorn Vaccinium corymbosum in the spring.  Flowers provide an important nectar source for native bees, butterflies and other winged pollinators.  On some spring days, my blueberry bush looks like Grand Central Station.  To add to the spring sensation, the new leaves of V. ‘Patriot’ are an orangey-bronze color which is quite stunning next to the flowers and adds another interesting dimension to its ornamental value.  

Summer brings clusters of delicious blueberries to your garden

Summer brings with it beautiful, colorful and tasty blueberries.  At times, there are so many berries they seem to hang like frosted baubles calling out for the birds to come and take a few.  Shrubs can look like they are covered in a hazy, blue gauze.  Believe me, there will certainly be many admiring comments from visitors to your garden when they see your blueberries in fruit.      

If you are growing blueberries primarily for their fruit production, it is prudent to take steps to protect the berries from the birds with netting or some other protective device.  In my garden, Vaccinium corymbosum is grown primarily for its ornamental value so the birds are welcome to eat as many berries as they like, as long as I get a few handfuls from time to time.    

A riot of red signals the arrival of fall

 After a little down time, vaccinium is ready to take center stage again.  Many gardeners do not realize  the glorious colors of  vaccinium’s fall foliage rivals that of many better-known fall stars.  If you live in an area where winged burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is invasive, or becoming invasive, consider planting blueberries as a native, non- invasive alternative.  The benefits will be many and the fall color will simply amaze you.   

In the winter, when many gardens could use a bit more color and interest, this shrub will come to your rescue.  Stems take on a reddish tinge as the weather cools.  Different cultivars have different shades and intensity of color, but all offer a fourth season of interest to your garden.  The stems of my V. ‘Patriot’ are a reddish-pink in the winter and offer a subtle color compliment to some of my other red bark plants like coral bark maple and red twig dogwood.    

If four seasons of color and interest are not enough to convince you to plant some Vaccinium corymbosum, here’s another reason – biodiversity.  Native plants are pivotal to sustaining biodiversity.  (If you would like to learn more about the importance of biodiversity, I encourage you to read Bringing Nature Home  by Douglas Tallamy.)  In addition to the native bees I already mentioned, Vacciniums are a host plant for hundreds of species of moths and caterpillars.  And small mammals and songbirds love the fruit.  So if you’d like to attract some furry and fluffy friends to your garden, plant a few blueberry bushes.   

Design tip: Consider growing blueberries in containers for a moveable feast for your eyes and your taste buds!

Still need more persuading?  Adding blueberries to your garden is an almost effortless way to get involved in the edible revolution.  Maybe it’s just me, but growing my own edibles seems like a lot of work sometimes.  Here it is the end of July and I still don’t have any ripe tomatoes!  I’ve pampered them since I first planted them ages ago… I’ve watered them, fertilized them, staked them, picked aphids off their leaves and still the fruit is green.  I can’t help wondering if all the effort is actually worth it.  But those yummy blueberries are so simple and carefree!   

 Blueberry Basics    

To learn even more about Vaccinium corymbosum, I went straight to the largest wholesale grower of blueberries in the US, Fall Creek Farm and Nursery.  According to Amelie Aust, New Business Manager at Fall Creek, when it comes to success with blueberries, it’s all about the ‘chilling’.  Chilling refers to the accumulated number of hours below 45 degrees the Vaccinium shrub receives during dormancy.  Northern highbush blueberries require at least 800 hours of chilling to set fruit so they are best planted by cold climate gardeners.  Southern highbush blueberries require far fewer hours of chilling, some need only 150 hours, so they are ideal for warmer climate gardeners.  With so many different cultivars, blueberries can be grown from zones 3 – 10.  Just be sure to select cultivars that are well-suited to your growing conditions.    

Vacciniums prefer a sunny spot with acidic, well-draining soil.  If your soil is not acidic, consider growing your blueberries in a raised bed or container or adding peat moss or another soil acidifier when planting.  Blueberries are often found in the wild growing in swampy, wet soils but they are fairly adaptable and can thrive in considerably drier soil too, as long as it is acidic.    

Design tip: Plant blueberries in mass for a colorful and tasty privacy hedge

Blueberries are basically self-pollinating but you’ll get the best flower and fruit production if you plant more than one cultivar together.  And if you plan it properly, you can have fruit for several months at a time.  Cultivars are often  labeled as early, mid or late season fruiters.    

Blueberries benefit from periodic fertilizing but can be sensitive to over fertilization so be careful.  Apply an acid fertilizer, such as blood meal or cottonseed meal, in the early spring and again in the late spring.    

For optimal long-term results, consider taking off approximately ½ of the flowers for the first two growing seasons.  Yes, this will reduce your berry production in the short-term but it will help the shrub obtain a more pleasing overall shape and will ultimately lead to better berry production in the future.     

Design tip: Blueberries can easily be pruned and trained into a variety of different looks.

According to Amelie at North Creek Farm & Nursery, blueberries ‘love being pruned’ so don’t be afraid to prune your vaccinium, severely, if it starts to get leggy (which they are prone to doing).  Focus on pruning out old fruit bearing canes that are 5 years or older.  Canes need to go through a period of dormancy before producing berries but usually do so in their 2nd season.    

Don’t forget to check out what my fellow Roundtablers are offering up this month as their choice of Underutilized plants.  Just click on the links below:

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA »
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA »
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN »
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA »
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO »
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK »
Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX »
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA »
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT »
Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ »
Tara Dillard : Vanishing Threshold: Garden Life Home : Atlanta, GA »

Carolyn Gail Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicago, IL »


About Fall Creek Farm & Nursery:  
Fall Creek Farm & Nursery (FCFN) is the leading blueberry nursery stock producer in the world.  Located in Lowell, OR, FCFN also sells other berry producing plants such as raspberries and blackberries.  Selling wholesale to two main market sectors, commercial growers and home gardeners, plants are available all over the country through wholesale, retail and mail order sources.  Remember – wholesale means they don’t sell directly to home gardeners.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out their website, especially if you’re new to blueberries and need a little help find just the right cultivar (or two) for your garden.  Thanks to Amelie for sharing her wealth of blueberry knowledge.  FCFN supplied many of the photos used in this post.  The others were taken by me in my garden.

Cast You Vote for the Roundtable’s July topic

Garden Designers Roundtable needs your help picking our July topic.   As a team,  the Roundtable bloggers narrowed down our choices to three possible topics for what we affectionately call our ‘All In’ event but couldn’t decide on which one to actually choose.  That’s where you come in.  We need your help making the final decision.

To make the voting as easy as possible, you can vote here, on the Garden Designers Roundtable blog or over at our  GDRT Facebook fan page.  The poll is up now and voting will be open until July 1 giving you a week to decide which of the three topics  interest you.  Once the topic is chosen the Roundtablers will post our thoughts on Tuesday, July 27th.  I hope you’ll take advantage of this great opportunity to let us know what you’d like to read about because we really do want to know!

Garden Designers Roundtable: Containers

Welcome to Containers, the May topic from Garden Designers Roundtable.  Links to my fellow roundtablers who are also posting on this topic can be found here.

When I signed on to write about containers for this month’s Garden Designers Roundtable topic, I have to admit I thought, ‘this will be a piece of cake’.  But, as is the case with every topic GDRT has addressed so far, once I started really thinking about containers as a topic, I realized it was fairly complex and the possibilities were endless.  I could blog about how to combine plants in containers – you know, the filler, thriller, spiller technique, or about some of the different types of plants that can be grown in containers but are often dismissed as not being container-worthy, or all the non-traditional ‘containers’ that can be used in the garden to add a sense of fun and whimsy.   Instead I decided to start with a single plant and look at how the selection of a container significantly changes not only the look of the plant but also the story the plant is telling.  And since the setting of that story is your garden, it’s important to make sure all the story elements are working together. 

I started with a peach drift rose bought a few weeks ago at a local nursery.  Here it is in the ‘decorative’ plastic container it came in.  Obviously the container is meant to look like a terra cotta container and, truth be told, would be quite serviceable over the course of the summer.  It doesn’t seem to add much to the appeal of the rose but it also doesn’t seem to detract from it either.  The roses are the star of this container story, just as they are meant to be, but it’s hard to tell where the plot is heading.

Here’s the rose in a different container, let’s call it the daisy container.  Yikes!  This looks does not work for me at all.  Seems like we’re in a ‘How To’ (or more appropriately a ‘How NOT To’) story.  This container is too tall and the bands of daisies around the container make it too informal for the roses.  My eye goes right to the container, not the roses.  The brownish-yellow color of the container is detracting from the tale the roses are trying to tell.  The roses, which are actually at their peak, look tired and washed out.  This combination is not really telling a cohesive story at all, the two main characters seem to be fighting over whose story is going to be heard.  I’d forgo this combo and look for a better supporting cast.

Here’s our star ensconced in a simple pale blue container.  This container has a bit of a rustic and hand-me-down feel to it.  It looks like a beloved piece that has seen it’s fair share of  summers out on the terrace.  The washed-out shade of blue of the container helps the peach color of the roses pop, they immediately look fresher and more vibrant than they did in the daisy container.  This container looks like it has a few of its own stories to tell and would be equally at home in a light-hearted caper, drama or comedy.  This may be a good choice for a spot in a garden that serves lots of different purposes from intimate dinners to family BBQs to a quiet hideaway to sit and read.

Here’s a container that absolutely screams romance.  Imagine our roses in this footed metal urn container in the background of a scene when the hero dashes in and saves the heroine from certain death.  OK, that may be a bit melodramatic but you get the picture.  This container is at home in an intimate garden setting where it can be admired up close.  While my garden is not at all romantic and this combination would stick out like a sore thumb, there is something sweet and sentimental about it that definitely appeals to me.  And I love the old-fashioned feel it lends to the roses.  It’s almost as if these two characters were made for each other.

And here’s one last story line that could unfold for our roses, maybe sci-fi,  a tale of espionage or the remake of an old classic.  The clean lines of this tapered black container give the roses a more updated and sophisticated feel.  The romance seems to have faded away.  We now have a new look for an old classic.  The vertical ridges give the container a modern air and keep it from being too simple and boring.  Think of this container as the strong, silent type that is at home in a variety of garden settings.  Confident enough to virtually fade into the background but also able to take center stage when the time is right. 

Who said choosing a container was simple?

For more thoughts on Containers, click on the links below to read posts from some of the other Roundtablers…

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Jenny Petersen: J Petersen Garden Design : Austin TX

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Laura Livengood Schaub : Interleafings : San Jose, CA

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA

Rochelle Greayer : Studio “G” : Boston, MA

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA

Tara Dillard : : Atlanta, GA

Garden Designers Roundtable

Frequent readers of my blog may have noticed a discreet but noteworthy facelift.  The design change was brought on by a very unexpected but thoroughly exciting invitation I received last week to join a notable group of fellow garden bloggers in a new venture called Garden Designers Roundtable (GDRT).

If you haven’t already heard about GDRT, please let me enlighten you.  According to the official website, it “began in December 2009, when four professional landscape and garden designers who write blogs teamed up and asked themselves the question: Does Your Garden Designer Practice What He/She Preaches?  This event was so well received that the original group expanded to include blogging designers from across the U.S. In 2010 they led off with the topic “Regional Diversity in Design,” exchanging ideas and sparking conversations with their readers all over the world.”

Needless to say, I am so honored to be part of this distinguished group of garden design bloggers (between you and me I am in awe of all of them, their blogs are so thought-provoking) that are in the forefront of  many new concepts and ideas.  To see a full list of my fellow ’roundtablers’, click here and check out the ‘GDRT Bloggers’ list on the right.  And don’t forget to click through to their blogs and subscribe to their RSS feeds so you don’t miss any posts.

My first GDRT post will be on the topic of foliage and will be posted in later this month (click here for a full schedule of topics).  When I first signed up for foliage, I thought ‘wow, that’s an easy topic’.  Now that I’m thinking about what to write I realize there are so many different aspects of foliage to consider I really don’t know where to begin.  So check back here and on Garden Designers Roundtable on February 23rd to read the roundtablers’ posts about foliage.  And don’t forget to check out our Facebook page and become a fan so you can ask questions, follow discussions and post your own photos.

As I excitedly embark on this new quest, I will leave you with some words of wisdom…‘I solemnly swear to be a good knight of the Round Table’ because ‘We’re knights of the round table, we dance whenever we’re able’ .