Pam Penick, who hosts one of my favorite memes, Foliage Follow-up, commented on my freckled Trilliums on my FF post last week. When I saw this Trillium sessile unfurling I thought it was worth sharing in light of her remarks.
If you are unfamiliar with Trilliums I find them dramatic and recognizable no matter their size or stage of growth. Note the tiny Primula sieboldii pushing up in the spaces not colonized by the Trilliums.
This Hepatica maxima also has foliage worthy of note. The leaves can be up to four inches across and have a noticeable fuzzy and silvery edge.
Paeonia japonica has thick textured leaves that are plum colored on the reverse. All these early woodland and species peonies have beautiful foliage and every one is a bit different. Foliage is important on these particular plant because that is what you will see most of the year. They usually have great seed pods and often good fall color.
In the winter of 2012/13 we lost a sixty-year-old Austrian pine tree that came down in a December snow storm. It took out a good-sized Washington Hawthorn and a small Magnolia when it fell. I worried that those losses spelled the end of my shade garden with its clumps of mature Hellebores. Most of the Hellebores have done well even though they are now in almost full sun.
But last summer a big clump with red flowers was clearly being stressed by the changed conditions. So I decided to dig it up and move it. Mark suggested putting it in a bed by the house which he thought needed those dramatic Hellebore leaves to perk it up.
I grabbed a shovel and transplanted it to a much shadier location, but one amidst a number of trees and shrubs so lots of root and water competition. I added a second Hellebore next to the first clump but now I can't remember if they were from the same area of the garden. Despite what I consider to be my excellent record-keeping system, some times I really fall down.
Most of the Hellebores in that area of the garden were 'Royal Heritage' strain which is not limited to one color. So now I've got two Hellebores, a known red one and an unknown white one with a pink edge, both up and further along than any others in the garden. Clearly the warmth of the location by the house made up for the shock of transplanting.
Maybe when more Hellebores open elsewhere in the garden I'll be able to figure out the name of this delicate beauty.
Most years my Hellebore leaves look like this group from 'Ivory Prince,' a bit flattened from the snow but still attractive.
This year's cold temps and lack of snow cover mid-winter really flattened and blackened the leaves of most of my Hellebores. The green one on the left is a Thanksgiving blooming Hellebore and the one on the right is so brown and flattened you can barely distinguish it from the surrounding leaves. Time to cut them all off and get on with Spring!
This post is my response to The Patient Gardener's monthly meme suggesting we step back from our flowers and look at an area of the garden in its entirety. I am focusing on the sloping curve that surrounds our Tea House as that is an area I want to work on in the coming gardening year. I finally got started last summer after waiting years until Mark finished all the exterior work on the Tea House. (The side of the Tea House you can't see is still off limits as he has more to finish before I am allowed to plant anything).
This first photo was taken on March 6th standing at our back door at the edge of the deck. I never posted these so I decided to pair them with the end of the month view of the same area to show what spring is like in the Upper Midwest. The garden was obviously snow-covered with not much to see at the beginning of March. But you do get a sense of the rocks and evergreens. This snow had all melted until we got hit again about a week ago. That snow should disappear by the end of the day today.
This pair of photos (below) were taken at the edge of the deck. You can see some winter burn on the shrubs and the whole top of our bamboo is dead again as the result of freezing temps with no snow cover in the early winter. It was just beginning to recover last summer from the winter of 2013/14 so I am hoping it is OK after another rough winter. The tree in the foreground is a Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus Alternifolia) which almost entirely hides this view in the summer.
This last pair of pictures were taken on the west side of the garden where the path splits: You can take stepping stones to the left and go to the deck through a gravel garden or you can bear right and take a pine needle path up behind the Tea House to the little pool at the top of the stream.
I want to make this a low maintenance garden so I'm using plants that I've had good luck with; things that do OK with little attention and never seem to have pests or problems. So there are three tiny trees (Korean maples), lots of ferns (Maidenhair, Fish bone, Japanese painted fern), Hellebores, Arum italicum, Hostas on this side of the Tea House. On the front side with the steps are Yews and Boxwoods, groundcover Irises and Ajuga 'Caitlin's Giant'. Squashed Hellebore leaves, cages around the infant trees, and stakes marking plants to watch for (like Arum italicum which is making its first appearance this year) are all that's visible at this stage of the gardening year.
Not much happening in the garden yet, despite our warmer weather. But one plant has some leftover fall foliage and is about to start producing new leaves. In an almost bare garden, Arum italicum is a real standout. Visit Pam at Digging to see more fabulous foliage.
In his talk the other night about designing your garden with maintenance in mind, Jeff Epping mentioned Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) as a good low maintenance tree suitable for our climate. We have four of them in our garden for that reason. They are beautiful in every season from bud (below) to snow-covered. The only time we've ever had to do anything with them was to prune broken branches after a bad snow storm.
At the opposite end of the maintenance spectrum are all the evergreen trees that Mark "candles" annually to control their size. This has to be done when the growth is soft and new and thus there is a time constraint for getting finished before new growth hardens off. Mark usually fills a few contractor's garbage bags with evergreen tips.
This pair of 60-year-old apple trees demand annual attention as well. They look beautiful in the spring when they bloom. But we discovered that falling apples meant that hanging a hammock between the two trees was not a smart idea. All that money for a top quality hammock that we barely used! First lesson learned.
Apple trees require an annual pruning at this time of year to keep them healthy. We don't care about edible apples so we don't spray the tree (more work!). But Mark has been pruning them each March for 20 years to control the size and shape of the tree. Removing water sprouts is the main chore these days; but it's a chore that's on the gardener's mind from New Year's until the job gets done.
Mark usually picks up most of the clipped branches when he's done pruning but there are always a surprising number that need to be gathered once the snow melts. And don't forget money spent on pruning tools and a special orchard ladder. More lessons learned.
I started my moss garden under the apple trees when we were doing our initial garden construction as I could not plant or do much else in the garden for those first few years. It was a relaxing project to sit in the shade and pull out the grass.
It was only years later that I realized that I should have ignored the moss, not encouraged it. Moss doesn't like anything on top of it. Apple blossoms, leaves or falling fruit — all will kill the moss if they sit on it too long. Endless maintenance to keep the moss looking good. Now the apple trees are dying of old age and disease. The one in the rear is almost gone. No big shade trees = no moss garden.
Luckily Mark, the trees and I are all ready to throw in the towel together. This area is the focus of much conversation and a new, lower maintenance garden will likely get started here this summer.
This planting (below) at Olbrich suggests one solution: more boxwood and yew balls interspersed with ground cover. Replace the trees with something that won't require annual pruning.
Even as I say that, all I can think about is the sensation of coming down the gravel path as it curves past the moss and you walk under the sweep of the apple tree branches. It is a moment of quiet and shade whose loss will irrevocably change the garden.
LAUGHABLY LOW MAINTENANCE
You've seen the pictures below a number of times as they include some of my favorite plants: daffodils, daylilies and true Geraniums. And they are my big success story. They get snow and salt and grit dumped on them each winter with no apparent trouble. They have not been bothered by pests. They solve the problem of dealing with a slope that ends in a curb at the street that many folks keep planted in grass and mow. Our maintenance for this area? Every few years in the late fall we mow it all down — if we think of it.
I think this fits the definition of a mixed border in that it has trees (along the back edge), shrubs (Spirea, Burning Bush), bulbs, perennials, and sometimes annuals. You can see daylilies coming up which will replace the daffs. Bronze fennel, Alchemilla, Nepeta are also in the mix. Just out of sight to the right of the image above is the red fire hydrant.
As the daffs fade the Geraniums are in full flower. Then the daylilies grab the attention as the Geraniums transition into foliage plants. The only maintenance I do out here is deadheading and only if I feel like it. This garden is really for the walkers and runners and the slow drivers who pass by on their way to somewhere. I love knowing it always looks good — without my help.
Jeff Epping, Director of Horticulture at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, speaks to gardeners on a WHPS garden tour last summer.
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What's a northern gardener to do during these last weeks of winter but go to garden talks with lots of inspirational pictures? Which is just what I did last week on a deadly cold night. A neighborhood gardening friend drove the two of us in her car with heated seats!
Cindy and I are both avid gardeners who spend as much time as we can in our gardens. But we're also experienced enough to know we can't keep up this pace forever. We're also at an age when it would be nice to spend more time in the garden not on our hands and knees. So we went to hear Jeff Epping, Olbirch Botanical Gardens' horticulture director talk about maintenance levels in the mixed border.
THE MIXED BORDER
"Mixed border" means a combination of trees, shrubs, perennials, vines, bulbs and annuals interplanted with each other. Here's a corner of the mixed border plantings at Olbrich's Sunken Garden (below).
Jeff had images of English and American gardens, public and private, that called for very high maintenance down to low maintenance. Having lost a number of woody plants (goodbye Japanese maples!) in the brutal winter of 2013/14 and others to old age, meant I did a lot of re-thinking of our garden last year, along with re-planning and re-planting. I was curious to hear if anything I was doing was going to make a difference. Here's my take on the concept of lower garden mainenance.
SHRUBS TO THE RESCUE
The good news is that I had done one of the things that Jeff talked about in multiple areas in my garden. He pointed out that shrubs take up space which helps with maintenance. All the fancy things that died last winter got replaced with trees and shrubs that are more hardy here than many I had been growing. I also opted for a number of varieties whose leaves are as colorful as flowers but last all season. It was encouraging to feel that I am on the right path. This view of my garden (below) shows how many shrubs take up prominent space in the garden.
Jeff showed lots of images of gardens that achieve a lower maintenance level with the use of boxwoods in particular. He pointed out that Buxus 'Green Gem' is one of the best varieties for area gardeners to use as it is not only hardy here but also slow to grow so needs little pruning. We've used boxwoods in numerous locations but especially on slopes where we want to plant things and let them take care of themselves for the most part. The next two pictures show boxwoods, yews and juniper planted near a set of stone steps leading up to our Tea House.
Looking back down the steps in the opposite direction from the picture above you can see the slope is full of shrubs. Behind the shrubs on the left side are ferns and ground covers that I hope will fill in this summer.
I originally thought I would plant this area along the fence (below right) as a long perennial flower bed. But before I put anything in, I thought about the fact that it really was one side of a corridor that led to more interesting garden areas at either end of it. Planting it in box and Yew balls would lower maintenance, but more importantly would increase the effect of the garden you were approaching as you came through this simple green garden. Eventually these shrubs will merge into a wavy cloud hedge.
Behind me on the left side is a grass-covered hill, a mowing menace. I'm thinking of putting in a Russian cypress which can take sun and shade and spread far and wide. Or perhaps the solid green form of Hakonechloa grass. Something with a different texture than the rounded shrubs on the opposite side of the path, but keeping the theme green — and low maintenance.
GROUND COVERS TO THE RESCUE
When I look at pictures of English mixed borders or visit Olbrich, I am blown away by the plant combinations and the rich mix of forms, textures and colors. But a frequent visitor to my garden helped me to appreciate a different approach. She said how much she liked the fact that I could use swaths and sweeps of a particular plant because of the larger size of my garden.
Her vocal appreciation of that planting concept helped me to think about ground covers in a positive way. Typically I used them in out of the way locations rather than putting them in prominent places in the garden. But Jane made me look for spots where I could use ground covers — like this group of Iris cristata (below) — to good effect, from both a visual and maintenance standpoint. So I am working on creating a river of this coming down the slope next to the boxwoods by the stone steps. Gardening on a slope is always a challenge. A combination of shrubs and ground covers, punctuated with Hellebores and Hostas, will make maintenance and my life much easier.
NEXT: My absolutely lowest maintenance garden bed and the highest maintenance area.
C. 'Beatlemania' as a groundcover in the corner of a stone wall in my front garden. Absolutely love this little charmer. Double click on any picture to enlarge it so you can see the details.
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Last week Jeff Epping, director of Horticulture at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, and Roy Diblik of Northwind Perennial Farm (Northwind not only has a FB page, they are on Pinterest with 20 boards of inspiration) sang the praises of Carex at the monthly meeting of the Wisconsin Hardy Plant Society. I'm here to add my own as I am currently growing just over a dozen kinds of Carex. They are my go-to plant for easy care ground covers, particularly in dry shade.
The ones that have worked well for me as ground covers are:
C. rosea behind the Hosta and C. plantaginea in the foreground; all growing under a Silver maple tree.
Carex can also be used as accent plants.
C. 'Lemon Zest' as a ground cover (above with Epimedium rubrum) in my garden and where I've been slowly trying to get it to fill in and brighten this shady spot.
The spacey seed heads of C. greyii in summer and winter (above).
Troublesome Carexes? I've had problems with C. flacca/glauca "running" in my garden. I wanted it to stay in a woodland spot but it wanted to fill up the paths and keep going. Everyone seems to like this one but I pulled mine all out.
C. muskingumensis likes moisture and loves the bog where I planted it. The problem is that you can't use a shovel or any sharp tool to dig out a plant that is taking over when you have an artificial pond with a rubber liner. So trying to keep this under control is always an issue for me.
The pleated leaves of C. siderosticha variegata (top photo) are similar to C. plantginea with the addition of the striping. The clump in the middle photo is growing in good soil in full sun. In the third picture, it's been growing on this packed down clay soil for years with few problems. C. muskingumensis is growing directly behind it, with water Iris in the rear.
C. sylvatica or European wood sedge makes a large clump about 18' high and similar width. I use this one as an accent plant. Its seed heads love the gravel path it grows next to, so I often pull them out as they're coming into bloom rather than pull seedlings out of the path.
It's catalog season which means I'm drooling over tiny evergreen trees and shrubs. Over the years I've grown a number of these dwarf conifers which has taught me that the term "dwarf" in this instance is a word that sometimes needs to be taken with a grain of salt. When applied to conifers, the word dwarf refers at least as much to rate of growth as to final size.
Take a look at the chart (below) which I saw last fall at the Chicago Botanica Garden to see what I mean. Six feet might be small relative to most mature trees, but it's huge if put it in the wrong spot based on the idea that dwarf means forever small.
The CBG has a wonderful conifer display garden where you can see these beauties at their mature size and shape. They also have a number of troughs planted with multiple conifers that are always an inspiration to me. I also took note of the fact that their troughs were on various size stone legs making them high enough that you could work at them sitting down — great for us aging gardeners. And I noticed their Bergenia was looking just as munched as mine at that point in the gardening year!
At the CBG they make their own troughs and have directions online, along with ideas for planting combos. There's also a how-to video.