Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Don't Let The Door Hit You OnThe Way Out

February has decided to leave us with a memorable blast of cold and as I have mentioned before, February does not rank very high on my ‘favorite months’ list. There is one plant that truly stands out in this cold month and that is the Red Twig Dogwood. As its name implies, this shrub grabs the spotlight in winter when its stems turn bright red, earning a spot in any garden.

Photo: Greenwood Nursery
Though it’s time to shine is winter, this plant has value throughout the year. In the spring it produces clusters of white flowers which have a light fragrance. In summer the medium green foliage provides a nice back drop for perennials. In late fall the leaves turn a rich coppery color and drop their leaves late.

This shrub prefers full sun to part shade. It has a loose growth habit and reaches eight to ten feet in height and width if left to itself. Regular pruning will keep this plant looking best and keep it looking stunning in winter since the reddest color is on younger stems. Pruning should be done after bloom time. If however, you have an overgrown plant, it can be cut back to the ground, rewarding you with a flush of new red stems the next year.

This is a wonderful shrub to place where it can be seen from a window in winter, to be enjoyed from the comfort of your couch. And those few times we get snow, the red stems against the white snow will take your breath away, and almost, make you like February.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Leap Day Should Be In May

According to the calendar, February is the shortest month of the year, but honestly, it goes on and on and on and on. It starts out bad by celebrating ‘Groundhog’s Day’, (groundhogs and I do not get along) and this year it ends on a bad note by being a leap year and being one day longer. It’s a cruel month with its hash cold and windy days followed by its harsh cold and windy nights. Then when you least expect it, a couple of unbelievably warm days will come along, teasing plants and buds and people. Plants begin to emerge from the ground, buds swell, an occasional daffodil is sighted, and people wander outside in less layers of clothing. Then WHAM! Brutal cold, snow and ice drive us all back inside and turn those poor, early plants to brown.

Not much good can be said about February. The previously mentioned groundhog celebration goes without saying, and then there is Valentine’s Day. Chocolate + cold weather = weight gain.

 Blooms are rare, except for the spectacular Camellia japonicas and the incredible array of Helleborus. There is also the exotic fragrance from the blooms of Edgeworthia and of course the Witch-hazel’s wild looking flower. And let’s not forget the stunning stems of the Red-twigged Dogwood. Okay, so February may not be a total loss, but pretty darn close.

About the best thing I can say about February is that it is followed by March and March signals the end of winter and heralds the coming of spring. I will end this article in an upbeat manner by saying; we celebrate Pancake Day on February 21, so bring on the Maple syrup.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Gertrude Jekyll To My Mr. Hyde

Mention the name, Bret Favre, and people think football or Michelangelo, and they think art, but say, Gertrude Jekyll, and you get a blank stare, unless those people are avid gardeners, then you get wistful sighs.


Gertrude Jekyll, doyenne of late 20th century British gardening and mother of the awe-inspiring herbaceous boarders, has had a long lasting influence on modern gardens. Following the advice of doctors, Miss Jekyll gave up her passion for painting due to deteriorating eyesight. She channeled her artistic talent to the landscape with astounding results, creating some of the most beautiful gardens in England and America. The Impressionist Movement’s influence can be seen in her use of color, en-mass plantings and contrasting foliage textures. She treated the garden as a whole, with sections within, but each part complimenting the other. She also popularized the informal, naturalistic look which we equate with cottage gardens.

Gertrude Jekyll inspires me, especially when she says things like: “There is no spot of ground, however arid, bare or ugly, that cannot be tamed into such a state as may give an impression of beauty and delight”. It gives me hope for my garden.

Whether your style is the billowing boarders of Gertrude Jekyll or the symmetrical , clipped hedged parterre style of Charles Bridgeman or the majestic beauty of Fredrick Law Olmsted, designer of the Biltmore Estate, studying the designs of experts can help you pull it all together or at least help you find direction. I will never have a true Gertrude Jekyll garden, (I do not own a huge English Estate) but I can at least strive to incorporate some of her ideas into my landscaping.

More than eighty years after her death, Gertrude Jekyll’s gardens continue to influence, and the simple epitaph on her tombstone sums it up – “Artist, Gardener, Craftswoman”.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

If Only They Could Lay Eggs!

Sempervivum is more well-known by its common name, Hen & Chicks or Houseleeks. The name comes from the Latin Semper means - forever and vivo means – lives. These evergreen plants originate from the European alpine regions, making them extremely hardy. They prefer full sun or very light shade and require good drainage. Sempervivum work well in rock gardens, trough plantings, strawberry planters or tucked into rock wall crevices. They are also a good choice for green roofs and make for interesting topiaries.

The main rosette is referred to as the Hen and the smaller rosettes are the chicks. Each of these chicks can be removed and replanted easily or shared with friends. Occasionally a long shoot will appear, topped with a cluster of flowers. Shortly after flowering, the plant will die, but by then, numerous chicks will have been produced to take its place.
These aren’t your mother’s old fashioned green Hen & Chicks. There are several hundred varieties, shapes, colors and textures. Many turn a reddish color in winter; others are edged in red, while others rage in colors of brown to orange. Some varieties even look as if they are covered in cobwebs.

In the days-of-old, Sempervivum were planted on roofs of houses to guard against lightning. There is some scientific proof behind the myth; Sempervivum are naturally fire resistant and can slow down the spread of flames. The plant was also planted on the roof to bring the inhabitants good luck. Feuding neighbors were known to go up on the opposing neighbor’s roof and pull off their plants, believing that they would be vulnerable to natural disasters and left unguarded against demons.

With so many varieties to choose from and so many places to plant them, this is a fun and unique plant to experiment with.