Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Trough of the Week: Sandy

"Sandy" survived, but her porcelain sink trough didn't.
(Bowling ball, top left)

The covered troughs weathered the hurricane with minimal damage, thankfully.

The exception is the experimental trough I planted in a porcelain sink. The bowling ball (noted in the previous post) was dislodged from its hold atop a plastic bin protecting a trough resting next to it.  The sink trough, now named "Sandy," took the hit (lower left).

The plant life survived and will be transplanted next spring. This was an herb trough, with lavender, sage, thyme, and dianthus.

A tree fell on his house, but Chris can fix anything.
Others were not so fortunate. The house of my friend Chris, who lives on the property on which I keep my troughs,  was pummeled by a fallen White Pine.

Speaking of my friend, Chris ~ Good news! He is going to be joining me frequently on this blog as a special advisor. 
More on that soon.

Next post: Thoughts about propagation.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Storm Readiness

Coastal living can be tough on

Alpine and many succulent hypertufa troughs can take the cold, but can they take the wind? Our small business is located in New England, right along the coast. And in case you have not been following weather news, the East Coast is targeted for a "major weather event" early next week as three systems collide. All gardeners and landscapers are in the batten-down-the-hatchs mode for this storm, which, coincidentally, falls almost to the day a year after New England was hit with what is called "the Halloween nor'easter."

I had planned on posting about heeling in your troughs (to heel or not to heel) in a future post. However, with the looming storm I've bumped up the topic to address the more pressing issue of storm preparedness. Miniature conifers are cold hardy but tender in the face of gale-force winds. They must be protected. Hard winds can wear them out and kill them. It is best to cover them (whether they are heeled in or not) to guard them from the force of unrelenting winds. In the photos below you'll see a patch of some of my troughs that I've heeled in for the winter and also (below that), my make-shift weather shelters that will protect the vulnerable vertical conifers from destructive winds.

Be creative -- but be vigilant.
Ready for winter: Most of my troughs have been
tucked in for the winter, still awaiting a cozy
coverage of salt marsh hay.

But wait: A "major weather event" is headed our way and
the vertical conifers need protection from the wind.
Yes, that is a bowling ball on the left, being used as
weight to keep the cover in tact. You've got to work with what you've got!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Growing Tiny Gardens: Fourth Steps, and Onward

Keep in mind balance, a color palette, and room to grow.
Choosing Your Plants for Your Hypertufa Trough

After having broken ground in preliminary reconnaissance of the market (step one); having built up inventory (step two); having gotten comfortable handling and working with plants and figuring out their growing patterns, kind of (step three); the time has come to work with the dirt.

Choosing plants for the trough is like weaving a tapestry: you think about balance, color, compatibility and complementarity.

First thought: Is the trough going to be a full sun trough or a part shade trough?
Second thought: Is the trough going to stand alone or will it be part of a larger trough installation?
Third thought: How much growing room will the respective plants require (read: how to space the plants) and what are the depth requirements for the roots?

Even if you have not achieved 100 percent competence in these matters, put something in the dirt. It's time to let the plants do what they were made to do. Your job is to watch, tend, clip now and then, and try again if the trough is telling you it's not happy.

Keep in mind a few key principles:

~ Odd numbers of plants create a more natural-looking arrangement than even numbers.
~ Introduce into your trough a mixture of vertical growers, sprawling flow-ers, and creeping ground coverage (each of these categories will be addressed in upcoming posts).
~ Try to stick with a color pallet. For example, dark bluish-green conifers work well with pink-tinged sedums and gentle mossy thyme. Bright green conifers work with reds and lime-green grasses or herbs.

Think of the trough as your canvass and the plants as your palette.
This smaller trough contains a vertical Mexican
Feather Grass (Stipa tenuissima), a sprawling miniature
Cotoneaster 'Tom Thumb', and a low-growing
red sedum (Sedum rubrotinctum), which adds
a splash of color.
Soft hues define this stunning trough design: Vertical Lavender,
low-growing, pink-tinged Sedum siebaldii and sprawling
beloved Sedum angelina

Aspiration: To create living art that evokes pleasure.
Garden Lesson: The true beauty of the trough will come in time, sometimes months after the planting. Bear this in mind. Plants grow. Plant your trough with care and forethought and then be patient while nature does its work.
Life Lesson: Be vigilant and dutiful in the choices you make ~ allowing for a flourish of whimsy and spontaneity ~ and be patient. Time does its work.

Go here to read First Steps and subsequent ones

Monday, October 22, 2012

Trough of the Week: Willis

Three plants and pea stone
in 10"x 14" trough
Meet Willis ~ So different than Lilly -- That's what I love about troughs! So much diverse and dynamic growing life that comes together and creates the big show, like botanical fireworks on a hypertufa stage.

He stands strong, but unassuming and the trough shopper might easily pass him by. But he bids you,  Look Again! The roundish greenery is a cypress tree! More specifically the Chamaeciparis obtusa 'Nana', (Miniature Hinoke Cypress) ~ a sturdy slow grower (about 1 inch a year) with dark green foliage in a tight miniature bun. This miniature conifer has stood the test of time and does not disappoint.

His trough companion, adding a flourish is whimsy, is the beloved Sedum sieboldii (lower left).  On the other side of the rock divide (lower right) is another sedum: Sedum niveum, a small slow growing specimen, perfect for trough gardens. Close up you can see  tiny orange tinged foliage. In July it blooms starry white.

Willis is special for another reason. Because of the ballast of the plants choices that compose his respective parts, I have chosen Willis for a seasonal experiment. Most alpine and succulent troughs are hardy and ought to be wintered outdoors (with a little added protection such as salt marsh hay). This winter season I am wintering Willis indoors, in my landing, to see if a hardy trough can take the heat, literally. Placed in the landing will keep Willis exposed to lower-than-normal inside temperatures, being positioned next to the front door, which opens several times a day. So he won't be coddled. But he won't be buried in snow, either. Check out below to compare Willis in mid-summer and Willis, in my landing, late fall.
Willis in the summer, newly planted and outdoors

Willis in late fall when sedums really come to life (indoors).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Growing Tiny Gardens: Third Steps

Plant Lab: Experimenting with Propagation

Step One ~ We built up inventory. Step Two ~ We did a lot of background work: We went to the 2012 New England Grows! convention. We put together a Story Board. We took an evening class on Entrepreneur-ing. We met almost weekly for lunch and hammered out costs and expectations, and so on.

In the end, however, it still came down to putting the plants in the dirt.

Step Three: The late-winter and early-spring months for me were spent in experimentation. I would see a bush in a yard on my street, think to myself, That would look good in a trough. Then I would clip it and thus begin what was to become a mild obsession of mine: propagation.

My aspirations during this season: Start to learn how plants work by means of stem cuttings, splitting plants and by planting small "volunteers" that already have roots (seedlings pulled from the ground). I would take snips from shrubs (woody) or suckers growing out of trees (green growth). I would make sure there was a clean cut at its end, shave away about 1/2" of bark off the woody stems, and place them securely in sifted healthy soil with good drainage. I would place these small containers on a shelf in a south-facing window and watch them, making sure to keep the soil moist.
This trough contains two plants I propagated: Upper right, Euonymous fortunei;
Center: 'Ascot Rainbow' Cushion Spurge Euphorbia.

During this stretch of a few months I successfully propagated (to name a few): Abutilon (Flowering Maple),  Podocarpus macrophyllus ("Japanese Yew"), 'Ascot Rainbow' Cushion Spurge Euphorbia, Euonymous fortunei, and numerous sedums (much more on Sedums is to be forthcoming). Many of my  experiments failed. It's okay. There was enough success to render bliss.

Garden Lesson: There is an advantage (on one level) to not knowing the scientific way to go about such things as propagation. I have benefitted from not knowing what I was doing because I was unafraid to try anything, even if is was deemed unconventional. Plants love to grow!

Life Lesson: Starting a new life from a severed and prematurely uprooted one requires patience, diligence, watch care, warmth, refreshment and a willingness to believe that growth is happening, even if you don't see it.

Go here to read "First Steps," then follow on through to "Second Steps"

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What To Do with Broken Troughs: An Option

Don't throw away those broken corners of a broken trough! Give it to a goofy relation and see what he or she makes of it. In this case, I broke a wide and shallow Zen trough while removing it from its mold. My son, whose name is Ben, helped. He then rescued the broken pieces and crowned himself Zen Ben.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Growing Tiny Gardens: Second Steps

We quickly realized that, as a small growing business, it's all about getting out there. (Aspiration.)

Garden Lesson: Once we had put a dent in our inventory (read: up to our ears in hypertufa), we knew we had to understand "the market" and how to cobble together a "plan." We made a good effort by attending the New England Grows! conference in Boston last February.

Wow. I say it again. Wow. New England Grows! 2012

Wow -- and I mean that in an overwhelmed kind of way.  Life Lesson: One of the benefits of getting out there is coming to realize what, truth be told, isn't your strong suit. What isn't mine,  I learned, is trying to navigate conference-center space with 1000s of vendors and little idea what I was looking for.

Chamaecyparis obtusa
Good news! The highlight of my day was discovering the booth of Iseli Nurseries and having the chance to buy my first miniature conifers from them, right off the floor. I was especially thrilled to take home a new cultivar that has just recently entered the trade: Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Chirimen'. (Pronounced cammy-SIP-ahr-us --get used to it.) I love this little tree! It reminds me of the elegant commanding Cypress trees that adorn the landscape of Umbria, Italy, which I beheld daily during my years living there.

This little evergreen (hardy to Zone 5) "displays multiple textures and colors, which explains the Japanese name, 'Chirimen' a dyed crepe silk fabric." (Direct quote from GardenWeb.) The upright growing habit becomes a cluster of thick, vertical shoots with tightly congested blue and green foliage.

You'll be hearing much more about this cultivar. Later in the season I bought ten of them.

Go here to read third steps.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Trough of the Week: Lilly

Lilly shines in a 14" x 14" trough

Question: What do you see in the picture above?

Answer: A universe of decisions. Meet Lilly Trough. Helping her reach her beauty -- even as she is rockin' it  in her non-blooming season -- was complicated.

First decision: I had to determine the size and shape of the trough mold I used. (Did I want edges? A circle? Oblong?)

Second decision: Proportions of the respective ingredients for the trough (cement, peat & perlite). In this particular trough I used less peat since -- another decision -- I attached a screened bottom, instead of  cement with drainage holes. (The screened bottom diminishes the weight of the trough and enhances good drainage - - a must for the sustainable trough garden).

Third decision: Proportions for the soil mix specific to the plants in this trough. Which brings me to the

Fourth decision: The plants. This trough has been made for full sun  ~ standard rock-garden fare. This means the soil mix must be a healthy gritty mix of a little compost, sand -- maybe even grit or small gravel. These hard-core stone-croppers thrive in harsh conditions, which is why I love Lilly. Her respective parts include:
     Upper right corner: Cerastium tomentosum ~ Snow-in-summer. (Blooms white flowers in summer)
     Lower right corner: Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Bath's Pink' (Blooms pink in summer)
     Center: Sedum acre 'Golden Carpet' (Blooms yellow in summer)
     Lower left corner: Sempervivum arachnoideum tomentosum

Even off-season, Lilly shines! She's edgy, with a center of warmth, a good solid mix-up of moods and expressions, and she's got attitude.  She can be yours.

Fifth decision: What's she worth? Contact me here if your are interested.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why Miniature Gardening?

A Large Conifer World
A Miniature Conifer World 

Is it hokey? Is it like playing dolls? Or with army men? I tell people I like miniature gardens because at least on one level -- these small, magical worlds are something I can control (as opposed to the massive huge, immeasurably fast and unstable big world in which we live).  It takes great patience to work in a small scale and steadiness of hands. Good eyes help, but magnifying apparatus can save the day.

Plants, especially, carry their own magic in miniature. One man once said to me, "If you can't eat it, why grow it? We don't need pretty. We need edible." I said, "Have you seen what I am growing?" He said (of course), "No.  I don't need to see it." I said, "Can you see that pine tree over there?"-- pointing to an Eastern Red Cedar about 50 feet tall. He said he did. I said, "I grow those, only six inches tall. Don't you think that's worth looking at?"

He didn't answer. Which, I think, is a good thing.

Aspiration: Joy in creating small living worlds.

Garden Lesson Learned: Growing in miniature can be easily managed on one level but demands vigilance on another level. Small plants in small containers need watered more regularly and will respond to adverse growing conditions in a more accelerated fashion. That said, once the stress factor is remedied, small plants in containers also rebound faster. Always keep sharp snips at the ready. These little friends will be gratified with regular grooming.

Life Lesson Learned: Gardening in miniature creates an aptitude of patience with an element of whimsy. People might not take you seriously until you show them the true scale of things and do so with a glint in your eye.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Growing Tiny Gardens: First Steps

A year ago, my friend Heather and I began making troughs. We knew what we were doing only insofar as knowing how to mix the needed ingredients (cement, peat and perlite). Beyond that it was an anything-goes proposition. We tried molds; we played with shapes and sizes; we experimented. Rain or shine.

Aspiration: Start somewhere -- build inventory.

Garden Lesson Learned: Making trough gardens takes time and involves a lot of combinations. The first time element is the making, curing, and leaching of the trough, which you've made with the proper balance of the three ingredients noted above. The second time element involves thinking through plant choices, learning their habits and light & soil needs, and then finding (or propagating) the plants. The third time element occurs after the previous two steps have been realized and you've introduced plants to your trough. The waiting and watching begins.

Life Lesson Learned:  Try anything. You'll be amazed at what works (and what doesn't).  Be patient: anything this good and long-lasting is going to take time. Watch your troughs as you watch your life: watch for evidence of stress and look for answers on the internet.

To view "Second Steps go here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Year of the Trough

For over a year now I have been experimenting with hypertufa trough-making strategies; plantings that are congenial to this horticultural arrangement; propagating, purchasing and otherwise playing with a variety of plant types building knowledge and skill at creating exotic and quaint small precise landscapes. Over the next several posts I will unpack this year of experimentation and thereafter we will enjoy the adventure together as I document in this blog new troughs I'm making and fun plants I'm discovering to fill them.

Please join me! I'd love to hear from you.