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.
When Mark and I began to garden one of the first things we did was become members of Olbrich Botanical Gardens. It was money well spent as it supported the place we continue to visit for ideas and inspiration. As members, we also got a discount on classes and special events. Over the years we've taken untold classes and even taught a couple.
Olbrich continues to offer classes that are invaluable to gardeners at just about every stage of our gardening lives. A few of the classes that I think are of particular note in this Spring's line-up are described below. You can fine the entire Olbrich class schedule here.
LOWER MAINTENANCE GARDEN DESIGN: THE MIXED BORDER
This is a topic that is close to home since Mark and I have a big garden and would like to time to enjoy it more and work less. Olbrich Director of Horticulture Jeff Epping will talk about (and illustrate) garden designs that take less time, water, and chemicals to do well. He'll show us ideas that use the trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, annuals, and bulbs — the whole shebang. I think Jeff is a great speaker and his knowledge and experience are priceless. Thursday, Feb. 26.
PRUNING POINTERS WORKSHOP
Pruning is ciritcal to the health of trees and shrubs, but it is the scariest part of gardening. This was one of the first classes we took and it has proved invaluable. Olbrich's Director of Horticulture Jeff Epping will show you when, where, and what to cut. He will discuss pruning techniques, and then demonstrate in the outdoor gardens. Dress for the weather. This class always fills up and has limited space so don't put off registering. Sunday, March 22
TREE PLANTING WORKSHOP
"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now." Ain't it the truth! But you need to know how to do it so your tree lives and thrives. This is yet another class being taught by Olbrich Director of Horticulture Jeff Epping. Again, part of this class takes place outdoors so dress for the weather. Limited space so don't wait to register. Friday, April 24
There are felting classes and drawing classes and ones about native plants, growing veggies, keeping bees. There are things for families and kids. The list is long and offers lots of options. However, a couple of classes I was going to suggest (having taken them in the past) are already full. So don't wait to look at the list and sign up.
The current cold and snowy weather has garden bloggers ranting and raving about "winter interest" in the garden. Elizabeth Licata, a Buffalo gal like me, says it's a myth. Evelyn Hadden, who left Minnesota for warmer climes, says we just need to get out into the winter garden to love it. Beth, an Iowan who blogs at Garden Fancy, looked at the books on the subject and the realities of cold weather for those of us who garden in the Upper Midwest. As she says, where we live the cold can kill you!
Readers of this blog know that Mark and I moved to this property specifically to creat a garden. We spent a lot of time looking out the windows the first winters we lived in our house, well aware that we'd be seeing snow for a good part of each year. We looked forward to an annual break from garden work but we didn't plan to turn our backs to the garden in winter. Certainly not given the expanse of glass that brings the outdoors into our house.
We read all the books that Beth mentions on her blog, like "The Garden in Winter" by the late Rosemary Verey, and a number of others. Currently I own seven books on the subject. They all had something valuable to say and we listened. Here's our take on winter interest.
We added art to the garden that would be visible even in deep snow, including this lantern and a sculpture of Buddha that sits on the deck. We also added a number of very large rocks.
We emphasized the sloping terrain in our garden with steps and walls and berms to give us a more dynamic scene.
We were lucky to have some big evergreen trees on site but we added lots more: Pines, Spruces, Yews, Arborvita, boxwoods to name a few. They offer a variety of colors, textures, forms — and size.
These apple branches mark the edge of paths in the summer and provide a graphic punch in winter.
Our deck furniture stays outdoors year round adding pattern and a bit of color.
Fences, gates and sculpture all add drama. This view has always reminded me of the garden shadows cast by a fence in Rosemary Verey's book (Pg. 24 if you have a copy).
This bell is too heavy to blow in the wind, but the smaller bells right outside our back door always alert us to the weather.
More sculptural drama in the front garden.
The grove of River Birch trees is in front of an evergreen hedge to highlight their pale color and peeling bark. Each tree was placed for viewing from inside the house.
These weed trees make a mess with berries in the summer but their bare trunks are gorgeous at this time of year.
The ivy looks great even though it's dead by now. I pull it down when the snow melts and let it start climbing again.
Every gardener knows about 'Autumn Joy' Sedum and grasses for winter interest. But my favorite is this Carex greyii which provides a touch of intergalactic glam.
When I realized we had planted trees that had persistent leaves, I was completely bummed. But after a few years I came to love their warm color and papery texture, so at odds with the season.
We did not think of Carolina Silverbell as a winter interest tree when we planted it. But it holds its seedpods which is a bonus. We just added a second one in a more visible location.
This is my lolipop lilac coated with ice and buried in snow right up to its crown. This is planted next to the driveway where we can enjoy it every season.
I am so in love with this view of the garden that I have a framed photograph of it. It's currently sitting out next to a picture of my sister's house in Vermont in winter. They both have white mats and white frames making them even more wintry.
Beth in Iowa says that you should include winter interest in your garden under these conditions:
I haven't been outdoors in five days and I garden in Zone 5a, so clearly I don't meet her criteria. But I can't imagine how long and dreary and downright disastrous I would find winter without my garden to cheer me up.
This year I was able to walk in the garden in December and cut branches to bring indoors just like the Brits. Some years I've had snowdrops in February, though March is the month they usually appear; definitely not on the same schedule as English snowdrops!
I believe winter interest in a garden in the Midwest is not only possible, it's necessary. I want to look out the window and see something beautiful in January, February and March. It's the only way I'm going to make it through the snow season. Though I love my flowers, I guess I like pattern, structure and green even more.
is in the garden. The witch hazel is covered with yellow flowers which are visible from inside the house now that it's lost its leaves.Though I would not call myself a native plant aficionado, I do grow our North American native witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana.
The native species is totally hardy here (USDA Zones 3-8) and has never had a pest or failed to blossom in all the years since I planted it in 1998.
It is particularly spectacular this autumn, first covered with yellow leaves and now covered in clumps of flowers like yellow streamers.
I have two witch hazels, each growing at the foot of the trunk of a 60-year-old silver maple tree in dry, moderately shady conditions.
In these pictures you can see their companions — Acer pseudosieboldiana and A. triflorum — still have all their leaves, though they've faded from their earlier screaming red.
It's windy and rainy out at the moments so the last of the bright leaves will just be a memory by next week.
This is the view out the kitchen window above the sink. I can hardly do the dishes because I keep getting distracted by that scene — especially the Korean maple!
The spectacular color keeps drawing me outside to visit the half dozen maples in the front garden.
To get a real sense of the color variation you have to cross the street so you can see the whole panorama at once. Pagoda dogwood (below from left), Witch Hazel, Korean Maple and a sweetly pale pink Burning Bush.
We have at least eight Korean or purplebloom maples (Acer pseudosieboldianum) planted in our garden. Most are very small trees bought at the annual sale of the Wisconsin Hardy Plant Society. We like them because they have the leaves of a Japanese maple but are much more hardy in our climate. Though we are supposedly Zone 5, after last winter I am not taking any more chances with tree and shrub purchases and am going back to our earlier zonal designation of 4 as my guide.
The trunk of the one above, planted in 2000, split in a winter snow storm a few years ago. Mark bolted it back together and it's been doing fine ever since. This one is on its way to turning as bright a red as this branch (below) of another Korean maple in the back garden by the Tea House.
Here's the Korean maple by the Tea House and a Japanese Bloodgood maple in the rear.
Moving a bit to the left from the view above you can see the yellow leaves of a striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) in the background on the right and yellow Ginkgo biloba leaves just coming into view on the left.
Our paperbark maple (Acer griseum x nikoense) is still mostly green. Next to it is a Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) and an Acer palmatum dissectum 'Viridis'.
Scanning the edge of the deck in these next images, the Ginkgo still has most of its leaves and the Bloodgood maple is visible across the pond in the left background.
Willows are turning yellow just past the trunk of our Locust tree.
Only the top of this Stewartia pseudocamellia is visible from the deck as it is hidden behind the willows and some pines.
Though the Bloodgood and Paperbark maples always turn red, I don't think anything has more reliable or more intense fall color than the Korean maples. Add in the hardiness factor and they are my top choice for a small garden tree here in the upper Midwest.
When my father died in 1998, my office mates gave me a gift certificate to buy something for the garden in memory of my Dad. Mark and I decided on a Ginkgo biloba which we planted right off the deck. It is visible from the main living spaces in the house so I see it all the time and think of my dad, who was the gardener in our family.
It is one of the main stars of the garden, never more than at this season when its leaves turn a clear, soft yellow. Typically the leaves fall all at once when frost hits the tree, something that has not happened yet. When the leaves first drop, they are as smooth and pliable as a piece of silk. I often pick one up to enjoy the sensation of rubbing it between my fingers as I wander the garden remebering my Dad.
Just spent two hours getting a jump on next spring's garden. I raked up 6 big bags full of white pine needles from my next door neighbor's front lawn. The pink ties are to remind me six months from now which bags have needles and which have leaf mulch.
Tomorrow I'll rake the space between our two driveways which should yield at least one more bag. Then I will gather up pine needles from the neighbors who live behind us. I use the pine needles on a number of garden paths. They are soft and quiet to walk on and give shady spots a true woodland garden feel. And I feel so virtuous when I can gather them for free!
Whenever we visit a garden, public or private, we always look for ideas for our own garden. On this visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden we paid particular attention to foliage plants. We're looking to add more shrubs to the garden, so seeing mature specimens is the ideal way to gauge what might suit our situation.
The first plant that caught our eye was this Rhododendron yedoense var. poukhanense 'compacta'. I have been growing the regular size version of this Korean Rhododendron for the past ten years with few problems. Since it's hardy to Zone 4, my larger plant came through our miserable winter with no damage other than lighter bloom count than prior years. But I love the idea of this Rhodie as a groundcover shrub, suitable for shade to part shade! Until I saw this variety I had no idea there was a version with such a low, tight profile. The biggest problem will likely prove to be finding a source for it.
The next surprise we discovered was this beautiful Korean Arborvitae: Thuja koraiensis 'Glauca prostrata.' We first thought it was a Russian Arborvitae until we saw the tag. Russian arborvitae (Microbiota decussata) is a Zone 3 shrub capable of growing in full sun to part shade, making it a very versatile plant for Northern gardeners. We have 3 of them in different locations in our garden.
This Korean version is hardy to Zone 5, full sun to part shade. Though I am trying to steer clear of Zone 5 plants, this grows low enough that snow cover should protect it.
We snapped this photo of a Weeping Beech since we are also growing one: Fagus sylvatica 'Purple Fountain.' This is to remind us of what it will do if left to its own devices. Ours will need some pruning down the road to keep it within the space allotted for it.
We are also growing two Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) trees and two shrubby versions. We bought one of the trees under the impression it was a weeping variety but it is growing outward and eating up space. It had not occurred to either of us that we might sharply prune it to the size and shape we want. Clearly this trio of Metasequoia glyptostroboides trees have been seriously sheared. Up close we could see branch tips that had been cut off and the new growth seemed to be growing more upward than outward, a solution that would be perfect for our tree.
Two other shrubs that caught our eye were Magnolia stellata 'Waterlily,' a Star Magnolia pruned into a big globe. And a wonderful Northern Bayberry that came out of the Chicagoland Grows program: Myrica pensylvanica 'Morton Male.' Both of these are Zone 4 plants and given all the sun we now have in the garden from loss of big trees, they might actually prosper in our garden now.