Switching It Up

This planting needs

This planting needs some  ‘switching up’ to renew it for summer.  I went to work last night removing all of the plants and finding new spots for them to grow.

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When the weather finally warms up, late April or early May, those winter and early spring pots we planted so lovingly last autumn just don’t look so good anymore.

Between plants which never quite recovered from winter’s bite, and early season annuals gasping in the heat; there comes a day when you really look at a pot and say to yourself, “Enough! Time for a change.”

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"Enough!"  Monday afternoon this poor planting looked ragged enough I was determined to change it out.

“Enough!” Monday afternoon this poor planting looked so ragged I was determined to switch it out for something fresh.

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That day was yesterday for the large hypertufa tub installed on the ‘pedastal’ in our ‘stump garden’ last spring.

I like the idea of ‘four season’ pots which drift from season to season in the garden with only minor adjustments.  While that is an nice idea, it doesn’t always work out as planned.

The original Dusty Miller planted in this pot last spring lived, but was seriously burned by the cold.  I’ve moved it out of the pot now to a less conspicuous place in the garden where it can continue growing.

The Violas, still blooming, will not last much longer in full sun.  They have been moved to a bed in partial shade.  The snaps could have grown on here for quite a while.  Planted a few months ago in earliest spring, they often make it through our winters.  I’ve moved them to a bed in full sun where they should perform well this summer.

After a full year of watching this pot, I decided to populate it with plants which thrive in hot and often dry conditions.  I want a large and showy display which won’t need regular care of any sort to continue looking great.  Mission impossible?

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May 25, 2013, before the Brugmansia gained much height.

May 25, 2014, before the Brugmansia gained much height.

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The original planting last summer included Coleus, Dusty Miller, a Brugmansia, some golden Sedum and Creeping Jenny.  I expected the Brugmansia to grow several feet and bloom with huge pendulous flowers in late summer.

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July 18, 2014

July 18, 2014

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Although it grew, it never performed as expected.  Everything else in the pot looked great all summer, but required nearly daily watering to avoid the late afternoon wilts.

So I’ve chosen a new group of plants this summer in hopes of an even more vibrant display, even on those days when I don’t have the opportunity to water this trough.

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May 5, 2015 garden 002

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The headliner is a pink Mulla Mulla, Ptilotus exaltatus ‘Joey,’ which will grow to 15″ in full sun.  This tender perennial (Zone 9) loves neutral to chalky soil with sharp drainage.  Beside the Mulla Mulla grows a very large leaved variety of culinary Sage.  Sage thrives in full sun and well drained, even rocky soil.

There is a very subdued palette of color in the pot this year, moderated by two fresh new Dusty Miller plants.  Only a recent fan of Dusty Miller, I like the lacy texture of their leaves and their ability to withstand drought and sun.  I expect texture and scale to make this planting interesting as the season unfolds.

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This heat tolerant Verbena will fill an area almost two feet in diameter.

This heat tolerant Verbena will fill an area almost two feet in diameter.

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The only concession to soft trailing flowers comes from the Lanai Twister Purple Improved Verbena draping over one end of the pot.  I hope it will spread to soften the entire top of the ‘pedestal.’

Finally, I added several clumps of the golden Sedum back into the pot since it obviously thrives here year round and makes a nice pop of chartreuse against the silvery foliage and lavender flowers.  The entire pot is mulched in fine, light colored pea gravel.

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The newly planted pot on its pedestal, this evening just before sunset.  All of these newly planted varieties will grow quite large over the summer with very little attention.

The newly planted pot on its pedestal, this evening just before sunset. All of these newly planted varieties will grow quite large over the summer with very little attention.

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The Creeping Jenny and remaining Sedum removed from the pot is already earmarked for use in a new bed I’m ready to construct tomorrow.  It will grow alongside Oxalis triangularis in the back garden.

This is my first experience growing Ptilotus exaltatus and the Lanai Twister hybrids of Verbena.  It is good to try new things each year, and the Mulla Mulla is known as a good flower for cutting and for drying.  I am looking forward to growing them on and seeing how these varieties grow together over the coming months.

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I plant to "switch up" this pot tomorrow adding Salvia, Ivy Geraniums, and maybe even some Basil.  The tiny plant on the far right is a "Kent's Beauty" Oregano which survived the winter.

I plant to “switch up” this pot tomorrow adding Salvia, Ivy Geraniums, and maybe even some Basil. The tiny plant on the far right is a “Kent’s Beauty” Oregano, which survived the winter.  The bare stump is from the Brugmansia I tried to over-winter outside.

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There are still lots of pots with actively growing Violas around the garden.  I’ll be moving them to shady spots this week as I continue re-planting containers for summer.  I purposely waited this long both to enjoy them, and to give time for some of the dormant plants in the same pots to awaken.  While patience is a virtue, at some point patience creeps into procrastination.

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May 5, 2015 garden 012

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I’ve collected several trays of new plants this week, and I’m ready to work with them over the next few days.  There are lots of geraniums this year, a fair lot of Salvias, a good assortment of fragrant Basils, a few more Dusty Miller plants, now a half-dozen large white Marigold plants I’ve been waiting for the Patton family to offer for sale at their Homestead Garden Center near Toano.  They grow the marigolds, and many other annuals, organically in their own greenhouse each spring. If one has patience to wait for them; healthier, more affordable plants simply cannot be found in this area.

Planting pots for the coming season, or switching up established pots, requires the vision, energy and creativity needed for all of the other art forms.  Like painting a canvas, all of the elements have to come together harmoniously.  But as in music, time is the essential element.  Only as plants grow and weave themselves together does the gardener’s vision materialize.

Whether it takes weeks or years, our gardens remain works in progress.

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May 6, 2014

May 6, 2014

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

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Garlic With Pansies?

Violas with Heuchera, April 2014

Violas with Heuchera, April 2014

 

Every autumn we plant pansies and Violas. 

These colorful little plants brighten our outdoor pots and beds for a good six months.  They are usually still going strong when we need to pull them out to plant spring and summer annuals.

 

Violas jnder a potted redbud tree grow here with Heuchera and daffodils.

Violas under a potted redbud tree grow here with Heuchera and daffodils.  April 2014

 

When the days begin to warm in February and March, the plants expand and come into their glory, covered in bright blossoms.

Paired with bulbs, ferns, Hellebores, evergreen shrubs, and ornamental kale or cabbage; they create a stunning display for the cooler half of our gardening year.

 

Violas with creeping jenny and a hardy Sedum.

Violas with creeping jenny and a hardy Sedum.   April 2014

 

The only problem we have, is that these pretty flowers also taste good… to any passing deer.

We’ve tried various ways to protect them over the years.  And the method which works best (so far), and  which we are using again this season, involves garlic.

 

A newly planted Panola, with its personal garlic clove nestled in the soil near its roots.

A newly planted Panola, with its personal garlic clove nestled in the soil near its roots.

 

We plant cloves of garlic interspersed with our pansy starts.

Our freshly planted Violas were grazed last fall before I tried the garlic.  A few plants never recovered.  Others bounced back in late winter.

A fresh head of garlic with garlic cloves, already broken a part and ready to plant.

A fresh head of garlic with garlic cloves, already broken apart and ready to plant.  The “flat” end goes down, where roots will grow.  The pointy end sticks up, ready for its leaves to emerge.

 

Only the Violas planted out of reach on our back deck went unscathed.

But last year, after the first grazing, I tried simply tossing some cloves on top of the soil around the plants.  It worked:  No more grazing in the garlic laced pots.

But something else happened, too:  the garlic cloves sprouted!  Roots busily grew out of the business end of each clove, seeking soil and moisture.

 

These little Panola starts we purchased yesterday will go out into pots on our next warm, dry day.

These little Panola starts we purchased yesterday will go out into pots on our next warm, dry day.

 

Plants always amaze me with their determination to live and grow.  When I notice the cloves rooting into the pots, I helped them out with a gentle nudge into the soil.  Each clove grew long green leaves, which we could have snipped to eat.

When I dug the Violas to transplant out into beds at spring potting time, the garlic went with them.

These Violas have been growing in their new pot for a few weeks.  Do you see the garlic leaves growing near them?

These Violas have been growing in their new pot for a few weeks. Do you see the garlic leaves growing near them?

 

So I’m starting off right this year. 

Little cloves are going into the soil around ever Viola, Panola and pansy we plant.  Some have already sprouted leaves.

They look like ornamental bulbs beginning to sprout, and don’t detract from the beauty at all, to us.

 

Viola here with garlic under a Brugmansia.  We also push cuttings of scented Pelargonium into the soil for extra protection.  Some will root.

Viola here with garlic under a Brugmansia. We also push cuttings of scented Pelargonium into the soil for extra protection. Some will root.

 

We look at them as “green insurance” for our Violas, Panolas and pansies to last through the winter, ungrazed.

March 20 2014 spring 006

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

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December 13 2013 poinsettias 003

Holiday Wreath Challenge 2014

 

Planting Pots

Pot constructed by the Pattons and offered for sale at their Homestead Garden Center in James City County, Virginia.

Pot constructed by the Pattons and offered for sale at their Homestead Garden Center in James City County, Virginia.  Please notice the contrasting colors and shapes of these sun loving plants.

Pots are the easiest way to garden.

If you have only one  square foot of sunlight where something might grow, you can grow your garden in a pot.

Gardening in a pot allows you to be spontaneously creative…  and outrageously unconventional in your plant choices and design.

Situated in full sun at the street, this newest, unprotected pot must tolerate heat, drought, and stand up to our herd of deer.

Situated in full sun at the street, this newest, unprotected pot must tolerate heat, drought, and stand up to our herd of deer.  It is planted with Zonal Geraniums, Caladium, Lamium, Ivy, Coleus, and Cane Begonia.

 

Pots are  the “trial and error” notebook of a gardener’s education.

 

My first ever pot of Pitcher Plant.  Once I learn how to grow it, I can use it in combination with other bog plants.

My first ever pot of Pitcher Plant. Once I learn how to grow it successfully, I can use it in combination with other bog plants.

 

A friend was telling me yesterday that she’d love to find a class to teach her about designing potted plantings.

This brilliant and creative friend, an artist by profession,  could definitely teach such a class !

I asked her to please let me know if she found one, because I would come with her…

These aquatic or bog arrangement is also at Homestead Garden Center for sale today.

This aquatic,  or bog arrangement, is also at Homestead Garden Center for sale today.

But I’ve never taken a class on making pots.  I have studied thousands of photographs of others’  pots in gardening books and magazines.  And I’ve grown plants in pots since I was a child.

Maybe a local garden center offered such a class, once upon a time, and I just missed it.  Hard to say…

An experiment:  Do you see the vase "neck" embedded in this hypertufa pot?  It is an opening to the soil, and ivy grow out of the neck.

An experiment: Do you see the vase “neck” embedded in this hypertufa pot? It is an opening to the soil, and ivy grows out of the neck.  A friend generously gave me the pieces of her broken vase to use in this pot.

 

But here is what I’ve already learned about growing potted plants, by long years of trial and error;  and  what I can share with you:

1.  Choose the largest pot your space and budget allows.  From a design perspective, big pots have impact.

A few big pots make a much better statement than two dozen tiny ones; unless they all match and are grouped artistically  together somehow.

This large hypertufa pot is home made.  It still needs water daily to support the rapidly growing plants.

This large hypertufa pot is home made. It still needs water daily to support the rapidly growing plants.

 

Big pots allow plants to grow lush and healthy.  There is more room for the roots to grow and it is easier to keep the planting mix hydrated in a large pot.  A larger mass of pot and soil helps moderate soil temperature  in extreme weather, too.

2.  Feed the soil with compost; organic amendments like Plant Tone and Osmocote; coffee grounds (high in nitrogen), and organic liquid feeds like Neptune’s Harvest.  Most potting mixes are nutritionally sterile, so the plants must be fed to perform well.

 

This large pot of Geraniums also supports Moonflower vines on a trellis.  This pot hasnt' moved in the four years since we placed it here.

This large pot of Geraniums also supports Moonflower vines on a trellis. This pot hasn’t moved in the four years since we placed it here.

3.  Site the pot, then choose the plants.  Know first of all where your new pot will go in your home or landscape; then select plants which will grow with the level of light and exposure to the weather that location offers.

You may have the same pot in the same spot for many years, but the plantings will switch in and out seasonally.

4.  Select a ” community of plants” which will grow together harmoniously for each pot.

Sometimes it works to have several of the same plant growing together in a pot.  Here, several cultivars of Caladium share the space.

Sometimes it works to have several of the same plant growing together in a pot.  Here, several cultivars of Caladium share the space.

Choose plants which share similiar needs for light and water, but  will “fill” different spaces so they weave together into a pleasing composition.

5  Select plants for contrast.  Choose plants whose differences create an interesting composition.

Dahlia and Purple Heart, Tradescantia pallida, grow near purple basil and a Jasmine vine.

Dahlia and Purple Heart, Tradescantia pallida, grow near purple basil and a Jasmine vine.  This planting was inspired by Becca Given‘s comment on the “Eggplant” post about her sister in law’s eggplant and turquoise kitchen  color scheme.

 

Contrast color of foliage and bloom to create an interesting, and maybe a dramatic, visual statement.

 

Geraniums and Fennel.  Fennel, Dill, and Asparagus fern all give a large, airy cloud of foliage to a pot.

Geraniums and Fennel. Fennel, Dill, and Asparagus fern all give a large, airy cloud of foliage to a pot.  Variegated, textured  foliage also creates contrast and interest.

Contrast foliage texture and shape, and choose plants which will grow to different heights and proportions so there is a balance of tall, trailing, airy, flat, round, and spiky.

6.  Study nature for inspiration.  Analyze how plants blend into communities in the wild.    Notice what you like, and what you don’t. 

June 3, 2014 Parkway 010

Do you enjoy wide expanses of a single species growing to a fairly uniform size?  Do you like  grasses mixed in among the flowers?

Do you like lush vines covering structure?  Do you want a classically symmetrical static look, or an asymmetrical spontaneously evolving look?

These differences matter, and you can achieve them all in pots.

Ornamental Pepper with Creeping Jenny and a cutting of a scented Geranium.  The cutting will eventually grow quite large over the summer.

Ornamental Pepper with Creeping Jenny and a cutting of a scented Geranium.  The cutting will eventually grow quite large and fill out this pot  over the summer.

7.  Develop a mental image of what you hope to create in the pot before going to the garden center to purchase the plants.

Have an idea of what you hope to create, and which plants you want to use.

Lantana always attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.  Drought tolerant, it grows into a small shrub and blooms until frost in full sun.

Lantana always attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Drought tolerant, it grows into a small shrub and blooms until frost in full sun.

I often take a list with me.  Others take photos.  With a smart phone, you might even bookmark some photos online which are similiar to what you hope to purchase.

Now, it is a rare treat when the garden center actually has in stock everything on my list.

But, if you know your parameters for light, moisture, size, color and price; you can often make brilliant substitutions.

 

This pot, in full hot sun, is designed around a fig cutting which rooted over the winter.  It will grow with other heat loving and drought tolerant plants, including Rosemary, Sedum, and Graptopetalum.

This pot, in full hot sun, is designed around a fig cutting which rooted over the winter. It will grow with other heat loving and drought tolerant plants, including Rosemary, Sedum, and Graptopetalum.

 

8.  Be realistic about what you can grow.  Apologies here for the downer… but realism at the beginning saves later disappointment.

Know, in advance, what you can sustain.

This simple, neat basket features a Fuschia, just coming into bloom, and impatiens.

This simple basket features a Fuschia, just coming into bloom, and impatiens.   We grow Fuschia to draw the hummingbirds close to our windows.  The only safe place to grow these plants is on our deck, where the deer can’t reach them.

I know I can’t grow certain plants where deer or squirrels can reach them.  I learned that I can plant tomatoes all I want, but no net or screen will prevent squirrels from stealing them as they ripen, even on the deck.  I know that certain plants, like impatiens, left in reach of deer will be grazed.

Sedum, heat and drought tolerant, requires little care.  I was surprised to find it grazed by deer last summer, as it is supposed to be "deer resistant." This one grows on the patio,, right against the house.

Sedum, heat and drought tolerant, requires little care. I was surprised to find it grazed by deer last summer, as it is supposed to be “deer resistant.” This one grows on the patio,, right against the house.

Maybe you can’t water hanging baskets of Petunias every day in summer, or you don’t have enough light to keep them in bloom where you have space to hang baskets.

Once you learn and accept the parameters of your current gardening situation,  it allows you to find beautiful  alternatives.

Starting pots with cuttings and small starts is economical.  Plants grow rapidly during summer, and pots fill in very quickly.

Starting pots with cuttings and small starts is economical. Plants grow rapidly during summer, and pots fill in very quickly.

 

9.  Let time be your ally.  Plant slowly and carefully, leaving sufficient room for each plant to grow.

Remember to use some combination of rooted cuttings, seeds, tubers, bulbs, and actively growing plants.

Unless you’re planting for an immediate show or competition, plan for the arrangement to evolve during the season as the plants grow, peak, and fade.

 

This basket of Petunias requires daily water.  Someone who travels during the summer might not be able to keep the basket alive.  Like a pet, it requires daily care.

This basket of Petunias requires daily water. Someone who travels  a lot during the summer might not be able to keep the basket alive. Like a pet, it requires daily care.

 

Different plants will take over as “stars of the pot” at different times during the season.

Plants will grow at different rates, and some will try to muscle out others.  You will have to referee with your pruners from time to time.  That is OK, and makes it more interesting.

10.  Treat your potted plants like pets.   K now their names, know their needs, and give consistent loving care.  Expect to learn continuously when you garden.    There is always more to know; and the more you know about each plant you grow, the better care you can take of it.

The green Brugmansia in the center grows to 5' tall.  It came as a rooted cutting weeks ago.  Gradually, it will grow to  dominate this pot before it blooms in late summer.

The green Brugmansia in the center grows to 5′ tall. It came as a rooted cutting weeks ago. Gradually, it will grow to dominate this pot before it blooms in late summer.

Plants need to be appreciated to grow well.  Visit each regularly, and take care of its needs.  Whether it needs water, pinching, training on a support, turning, or simply a kind word; remember that is a responsive living being.

And, a bonus:

Our plants love for us to share with them.  You give your dog toys, don’t you?  Plants respond to our love just as animals will.

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What can you share with a plant?  I dilute leftover tea and coffee, and use it to water potted plants.  Tea and coffee are high in nitrogen and other phyto-chemicals.  (The same pot doesn’t always get the tea, and there are plenty of “plain water” waterings so the soil doesn’t get too acid.)   I use finished coffee grounds and rinsed egg shells  as mulch in large pots around fruits or vegetables.

When making a pea gravel mulch, I often include something beautiful such as a shell, agate, glass marble, or crystal resting on top of the soil.

A friend scatters trimmed hair around her plants, which also helps keep deer away.

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As you work with each of the plants in your potted garden, you will learn to know what it needs, and to provide for those needs.  You also learn which plants grow well together, and which will not.

The real difference between someone with a “brown thumb” and someone with a “green thumb” comes down to how much attention the gardener pays to providing what each plant needs to fulfill its potential for beauty and productivity.

Each pot, each season, teaches us something new.  

We continue to grow, just as our plants do.

 

A hanging basket of various Begonias.  Richmondensis, in the foreground, is a tough Begonia which grows vigorously in baskets.

A hanging basket of various Begonias. Richmondensis, in the foreground, is a tough Begonia which grows vigorously in baskets.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

Associations

Oakleaf Hydrangea shares a pot with Japanese painted fern.  Vinca and Mayapples carpet the ground under Camellia shrubs and Deciduous trees.

Oakleaf Hydrangea shares a pot with Japanese painted fern. Vinca, English ivy, and Mayapples carpet the ground under Camellia shrubs and deciduous trees.

Just as we  structure our lives by our associations with friends, family, and business colleagues; so plants also form useful relationships with other plants.

Azaleas prefer to grow under deciduous trees.

Azaleas prefer to grow under deciduous trees.

Our human associations are based on things we have in common with others.  We may form friendships based on shared interests, or spend time with members of our biological family.

We may enjoy the company of others in our profession, or with those who share our passion for music, for tennis, or for gardening.

Coleus, creeping Jenny, and sedum love the hot sun they enjoy in this pot near the house.

Coleus, Creeping Jenny, and Sedum love the hot sun they enjoy in this pot near the house.

When planning pots, beds, borders, and landscapes, we generally plan in terms of groups, or associations, of plants.

Something like Lego blocks, or notes in a chord; certain plants go well together.

Artemesia and Vinca can tolerate the drypoor soil and bright sunshine on this slopinge beside the house.

Artemesia and Vinca can tolerate the dry, poor soil and bright sunshine on this slope beside the house.

These associations must first take into account shared needs for a certain amount of light and  moisture.

It is wise to also consider what sort of soil is best for a grouping of plants, and what temperatures they need for best growth.

A newly enlarged bed featuring English shrub roses also hosts herbs, bulbs, annuals, and perennial geranium.

A newly enlarged bed featuring English shrub roses also hosts herbs, bulbs, annual Ageratum,  sage, Rudbeckia, and perennial Geranium.  All enjoy partial to full sun, enriched soil,  and can tolerate heat.

Beyond these basic considerations for what plants have in common, we look towards how their differences may compliment one another.

Vining plants, like Clematis, which will grow up a trellis, may share a pot with a bushy or trailing plant to shade their roots.

Clematis, "Belle of Woking" grows on a trellis suspended above a large pot.  Caladiums were just planted in the pot, along with fern, to shade the roots of the Clematis.

Clematis, “Belle of Woking” grows on a trellis suspended above a large pot. Caladiums were just planted in the pot, along with fern, to shade the roots of the Clematis.

An indeterminate tomato plant filling a tomato cage benefits from shorter basil and marigold plants at its base which shade the soil and repel certain insects and predators.

Just as a composer relies on certain chords and phrases to compose a melody, so a gardener benefits from a repertoire of plant associations to construct a garden.

German Iris grow with Lavender, a shrub rose, bulbs, and other perennials.

German Iris grow with Lavender, a shrub rose, bulbs, and other perennials.

And these associations are peculiar to the gardener and the environment of a particular garden.

The associations depend on which plants a gardener enjoys, the style and mood of the garden, and the growing conditions with which a gardener must work.

German Iris in a different bed with roses.

German Iris in a different bed with roses.

Most of us gardeners are drawn to particular plants.   I visited with a woman a few weeks ago who loves boxwood shrubs.  A fellow blogger has a garden full of day lilies, which he hybridizes.

Azaleas and Hostas in my parents' garden.  They enjoy both of these plants and plant them in abundance.

Azaleas and Hostas in my parents’ garden. They enjoy both of these plants and plant them in abundance.

Some gardeners go to great lengths to grow tomatoes or squash each year, and others want a shady garden full of Hostas and ferns.

Hosta, Lady Fern, and Mahonia shrubs in my parents' garden

Hosta, Lady Fern, and Mahonia shrubs in my parents’ garden.  A newly planted Begonia semperflorens completes the association.

Personally, I love every species and color of Iris.

Iris germanica "Rock Star" reblooms in late summer

Iris germanica “Rock Star” reblooms in late summer

And I collect English roses, and always want a summer garden full of delicious herbs. And I absolutely want something in bloom in the garden each and every day of the year.

Living in a forest, these obsessions are not always compatible with reality.

Re[blooming Iris cultivars "Rosalie Figge" and "immortality"

Re-blooming Iris cultivars “Rosalie Figge” and “Immortality”

As I plan what will grow in borders, beds, and pots throughout the gardening year, I have learned to rely on certain plants, and combinations of plants, which I know from experience will grow together successfully.

Relying on perennials as much as possible, and on plants I can keep through the winter; simplifies the process of moving from one season into the next.

Perennials, once established, gradually spread to fill a bed reliably year after year.

Perennials, once established, gradually spread to fill a bed reliably year after year.  Because their season of bloom is short lived, different plants lend interest at different points throughout the season.

But there is still shopping to be done in spring and fall.  Knowing which associations of plants one wishes to recreate each year helps organize the process.

For example, German re-blooming Iris, Iris germanica,  thrive in the sunny areas of this garden.  They are drought tolerant, don’t mind our Virginia summers, and are not bothered by deer.

Perennial Columbine, which also seeds itself, growing here with a newly planted Coleus.

Perennial Columbine, which also seeds itself, growing here with a newly planted Coleus.

They are absolutely lovely for the few weeks each year of bloom.  Whether in bloom or not, German Iris are always a presence in the garden since their signature sword like leaves persist through most of the year.

I like growing Iris near roses.  They have similiar needs for light and feeding, and they look good together.

Iris grow here with Dusty Miller, culinary Sage, Allyssum, and

Iris grow here with Dusty Miller, culinary Sage, Basil, Alyssum, and onions.  the red onions are an experiment in keeping deer away from annuals planted in the bed.

Wandering through a garden in Warm Springs, Virginia, I found  a brilliant combination of Iris,day lily, and daffodils planted together.

The growing day lily and Iris foliage hid the daffodil’s leaves when the flowers were finished.  Iris bloom soon after the daffodils, and then day lily carries the planting on into the heat of summer.

I now grow Iris and daffodils together in some sunny areas of the garden.  And I add Columbine  to the  mix, along with sun tolerant ferns.

Iris coming into bloom in a bed where daffodils have recently faded.  Columbine will bloom next.  Various ferns grow in the shadow of a Dogwood tree behind the iris.

Iris “Stairway to Heaven”  coming into bloom in a bed where daffodils have recently faded. Columbine will bloom next. Various ferns grow in the shadow of a Dogwood tree behind the iris.

By early summer, the canopy of shrubs and trees has grown in enough to shade the ferns, and the daffodils and Iris have already enjoyed many weeks of strong sun when they most needed it.

Many country gardeners, especially in the Piedmont of Virginia, grow perennial low growing Phlox around their Iris bed.

In springtime, you’ll see wide expanses of pink, white, and lavender Phlox blooming around island beds of Iris.  These plants thrive in full sun, and take very little care.

Iris with Lavender "Otto Quast"

Iris with Lavender “Otto Quast”

I also plant Lavandula stoechas “Otto Quast”  at the base of both roses and Iris.  This Spanish Lavender, with finely cut foliage, sports abundant large blooms at the same time the Iris bloom in late April to early May.  L. “Otto Quast” has a long season of bloom, over many weeks in late spring and early summer.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 010

It isn’t destroyed by rain and humidity as some other Lavenders are in our Virginia summers.  The brilliant purple blooms work well with the colors of the Iris blossoms and English roses.  This evergreen Lavender looks good at the front of a bed whether in bloom or not.

Another hardy association is Lamb’s Ears, Stachys byzantina, with roses, Dianthus, and Echinacea.  A drought tolerant full sun perennial, Lamb’s Ears are disliked by deer.

Lamb's Ears

Lamb’s Ears with Dianthus, Dusty Miller, and Violas under shrub roses.

They divide easily in spring and display stunning silvery foliage through most of the year.  Their purple blooms in early summer are quite beautiful and attract many nectar loving insects.  I’ve spread these throughout sunny areas of the garden.

One way to bring unity to a garden is to repeat plants and associations of plants from one area to the next.

Even with a tremendous variety of genus, species, and cultivars of plants throughout the garden, narrowing the selections to repeat colors and forms again and again weaves the many individuals into a patterned tapestry which feels harmonious.

Autumn Fern cover this hillside along with other ferns, Creeping Genny, Ivy and Hellebores.

Autumn Fern cover this hillside along with other ferns, Creeping Genny, Ivy and Hellebores.  Daffodil foliage is left behind from the recently faded flowers.

I have incorporated Iris into at least six different planting areas.  In all of those areas, they are paired with a silver foliage plant such as Lamb’s Ears, Lavender, Dusty Miller, or Artemesia.

In most of those areas, they are growing near an English rose shrub.   Silver foliage, with white or purple blooms nearby, also weave throughout the summer beds.

White Dianthus often grows with Dusty Miller, purple or tricolor sage,  and grey Winter Thyme.  These reliable plants look beautiful together, and help extend the season over many months.

Newly planted white Dianthus and Winter Thyme will grow into a silvery border for this bed, edged in slate.

Newly planted white Dianthus and Winter Thyme will grow into a silvery border for this bed, edged in slate.

Shade associations are built around various species of ferns, Hellebores, Heuchera, Begonias, Coleus, Caladiums, and Fuchsias.

The Fuchsias and Begonias must be grown in pots out of reach of the deer, or in hanging baskets.

Fuschia with Impatiens in a basket

Fuschia with Impatiens in a basket

After discovering that Impatiens, which I’ve always grown in abundance in shady areas, are simply deer candy; they are reserved for hanging baskets well away from where deer can reach.

June 21 Lanai 008

They always complement ferns, and grow well at the base of cane Begonias.

I also like to plant cane Begonias with Caladiums to hide their leggy stalks.

July 28 2013 third try caterpillars 008

This season I’ve added garlic cloves, chives,  and onion starts to many associations in the garden because their aroma repels deer.  There are green garlic plants growing out of potted arrangements on the front patio.

There are also a large number of scented geraniums in flowerbeds and pots for the same reason.

Scented geranium, culinary Sage, garlic

Scented Geranium, culinary Sage, garlic, Viola, and Coleus grow with the Brugmansia start. 

I’m experimenting with a mixture of scented geraniums, zonal geraniums, and ivy geraniums.  The scented geranium will the the fragrant “thriller” in the pot, growing the largest with striking foliage.

The zonal geraniums will give a punch of color as they fill out the middle of the pot.  The ivy geranium will spill down over the edges of the pot as the “spiller.”

When shopping for plants this spring, try to think about buying “associations” of plants rather than just choosing individuals for some quality which strikes you.

Coleus with Sedum

Coleus with Sedum and bulb foliage.

Remember to analyze a plant in terms of what it needs to perform well, what it will give you or do for you,  and how it will blend into the garden as a whole.

Remember to buy in multiples.  In most cases, it is better to buy several of the same plant, and then use the plant again and again to weave a sense of unity through a given space.

This past week I planted 16 Nicotania plants, in three colors, throughout three nearby beds beside the butterfly garden.

Newly planted annuals

Newly planted annuals:  Cayenne pepper, Marigold, Nicotania and Bronze Fennel grow against a back drop of Iris foliage.

A dozen Cayenne pepper plants went into the same beds, along with 16 white marigolds, a dozen cherry Zinnias, four Bronze Fennel, and three Dill plants.

This area is already planted with perennial Echinacea, Monarda, Salvias, Lavenders,  culinary Sage, Rosemary, and lots of Iris.

Geraniums

Three different types of Geraniums with Coleus, Garlic and Sedum.  Seeds for annual vines are planted at the back of the pot.

More Zinnias are sprouting and will be planted within the next few weeks, when I add multiple varieties of Basil.

These plants have similiar needs for full sun, drainage, and nutrients.  Most are distasteful to the deer, and so offer some protection to the shrub roses planted among them.

The variety works because the same plants are repeated again and again in associations throughout the space.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 071

The last consideration when planning associations of plants is color.  Within a particular genus, and even species, there is frequently a choice of color in both flowers and foliage from which to select.

Although flower color is important, I am far more interested in the form and color of foliage when choosing plants.

Foliage is far more of a presence in the garden than flowers both for its relative mass, and for its longevity throughout the season.

Newly planted Canna "Australis" with burgundy foliage will grow behind Colocasia "China Pink" with bright red stems and light green foliage.

Newly planted Canna “Australis” with burgundy foliage will grow behind Colocasia “Pink China” with bright red stems and light green foliage.

Some plants, like Coleus, Heuchera, and Hosta are grown primarily for their foliage.  The flowers are incidental for most of the season, and may even be systematically removed .

These bright plants always draw attention to themselves and set the mood of an area in the  garden.

Perennial Ajuga serves as a ground cover around Iris, Heuchera, and at the base of a tea rose.

Perennial Ajuga serves as a ground cover around Iris and other perennials.

Whether you prefer peaceful, monochromatic gardens or bold dramatic ones, the size, form, and color of foliage sets the tone.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 073

It is generally easy to select for color of both flowers and foliage within any given genus or species of plant.  Culinary sage alone may be had in golden, tricolor, purple, silver, or  green.

Popular flowering annuals like Petunias and Calabrachoas  come in an overwhelming number of stunning shades and patterns.  New hybrids of patterned leaf Heucheras and Coleus are introduced each season.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 050

All of the many choices of plants for a temperate garden, such as we have in much of the United States, makes it both endlessly interesting and almost overwhelming to select and arrange plants for each season.

Planning for repeating associations of plants, and selecting plants based on specific criteria, helps bring structure and cohesion to the planning process.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 055

I always approach the garden in the spirit of experimentation.  I want to know what works well,and what doesn’t.

Repeating associations which work well, season after season, still allows for changing things up with different cultivars of old favorites.

The more plants you come to know personally, through growing them, the more interesting and effective these associations of plants become.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

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Hypertufa In The Stump Garden

April 20 2014 hypertufa 017

The stump in the stump garden has been bugging me.

When the tree guys cut this  broken oak tree last summer, leaving me a stump as instructed, they didn’t make an even cut.

April 20 2014 hypertufa 001

It seemed trivial at the time, given the enormous task of cleaning up the mess three downed oak trees left in our front garden, and restoring what we could of what little was left behind.  I planted up a large glazed ceramic pot and we balanced it on the uneven stump last summer, just to try to make things look a little better.  I knew we needed to do better this summer.

October 22 necklace 007

The stump garden in October of 2013

We’ve worked on this area ever since, building up the Hugelkultur  bed around the stump, planting  the bed, pruning away dead wood from the shrubs, repairing the deer fences and spreading mulch.

The entire area looks worlds better, but there was still the issue of the uneven stump.

April 20 2014 hypertufa 004

I decided back in the winter to make a new, much larger pot for this stump from Hypertufa; and I ordered a Brugmansia, “Cherub,” which will grow very tall, to grow in the large pot.  I expect a 5′-7′ tall shrub covered in huge, pendulous fragrant flowers growing from the new pot on the stump by late August.

The large hypertufa pot I've made for our stump garden.

The large hypertufa pot I’ve made for our stump garden.

But there was still the small matter of the uneven cut on top of the stump.  And the even uglier matter of the missing bark.  Left as it was, I knew rot would set in, and soon this pedestal would begin disintegrating.

April 20 2014 hypertufa 005

I decided to transform the stump into a work of art; a fitting pedestal for the beautiful hypertufa pot and blossom covered Brugmansia.

Using a fairly wet hypertufa blend, I first covered the entire top of the stump, leveling it out as much as possible.  The top is decorated with bits of glass.  I expect the glass to help hold and stabilize the pot, holding it up a little to allow for drainage.

April 20 2014 hypertufa 020

After the top had a chance to set up, I came back with a second batch of hypertufa to address the torn and peeling bark.  I was careful to seal the top edge of the bark all the way around the stump under a coating of the concrete hypertufa mixture.

The top was already dry to the touch when I finished the patch on the side.  We’ve had a bright and windy day, which has helped the concrete to set up quickly.

I’ll give the stump a good 36 to 48 hours to dry before placing the pot on its new pedestal, where it can remain indefinitely.

Brugmansia growing from the center, this pot is planted with Coleus, Dusty Miller, and Sedum.

Brugmansia growing from the center, this pot is planted with Coleus, Dusty Miller, Creeping Jenny, and two varieties of Sedum.

The tiny Brugmansia start  grows now from the center of the pot.  It is flanked with Dusty Miller on the ends, and sun tolerant Coleus on the sides.

All of these plants, except the Sedums and Creeping Jenny, will grow at least 18″ tall, helping to hide the “knees” of the Brugmansia as it grows.

These plants will do well in full sun to partial shade.  These plants are a mix of annuals and perennials.  The Brugmansia  is rated to Zone 8, so I’ll most likely cut the plants back in late autumn, and bring the pot inside for winter.

two large drainage holes are important so the plants' roots don't get too wet when it rains.

Two large drainage holes are important so the plants’ roots don’t get too wet when it rains.  Wine corks held the drainage holes open as the pot dried.

Creeping Jenny  and cuttings of two different Sedums will fill in around the base of the Brugmansia to cover the soil, helping to hold in moisture.  The Creeping Jenny will trail down the sides of the pot, tying it visually to the stump and garden below.

April 20 2014 hypertufa 011

A piece of netting covers the drainage holes, and a layer of pea gravel holds the netting in place.

Brugmansia is a heavy feeder and needs daily water.  I mixed a good handful of Plant Tone fertilizer into the soil before planting.  I’ll top the soil with some Osmocote, and a pea gravel mulch once the pot is lifted into place on its stump pedestal on Tuesday.

Espoma Plant Tone is mixed into good quality potting soil before planting.

Espoma Plant Tone is mixed into good quality potting soil before planting.

It will be interesting to see how the hypertufa and the wood come together over time, as the concrete cures.  I expect this will prolong the useful life of the stump indefinitely, keeping moisture and bacteria out of the wood.

April 20 2014 hypertufa 018

I expect this to be a beautiful focal point, visible from both the street and the house.

All of my plantings in this front area this season are chosen with their size in mind.  I’ve chosen large plants, with the expectation that they will create a lovely display, and re-create some of the  the privacy we lost when our trees fell last summer.

Even though these plants are tiny now, they will grow quickly to fill the pot.  This should be a beautiful summer display of interesting foliage, with flowers developing by late summer.

April 20 2014 hypertufa 013

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

April 21, 2014 hypertufa pot and pedastal 001

Hypertufa Pot Ready For Action

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