Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Trough of the Week: Jingle Troughs ~ On Sale This Week!

I will be at a holiday craft sale this Saturday at the First Parish Church in Beverly 9a - 2p. If you are in the area, drop by and see these new living festive creations. These long-lasting troughs make a wonderful gift that keeps on giving.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Winter Garden: Beautyberry

Helpful Information
Habitat: Native to Japan. Hardy to zone 5.

Habit: A multistemmed deciduous shrub, 4’ to 6’ tall with an equal width, rounded shape, upright branching.

Foliage: Opposite, simple elliptic leaves with acuminate tips; margins are finely serrated, medium green.

Flowers: Small pale pink flowers in 1” to 1.5” clusters in July, often obscured by the foliage.

Fruit: Small metallic purple berries in rounded axillary clusters, color develops in October, fruit display is at its best after the leaves have dropped, very showy in full fruit well into December, “the quality of the fruit color is unrivaled.”

Bark: Stems are slender and bark development is not ornamental.

Use: Shrub borders, in groupings and mass plantings, showy fruit display, a semihardy shrub or herbaceous perennial.

Liabilities: when not in fruit it is an ordinary shrub without multiseason appeal; lack of cold hardiness in zone 5; needs regular pruning to remove winter injury and control rank growth.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Life on the Farm with Chris: Don't Pardon Turkeys ~ Honor Them

Chris takes good care of his birds; and they take good care of him.
Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers. What a great holiday -- nothing to do with "gifts"; everything to do with "food" and more, the blessings of the abundance we enjoy in this country.

I am weary of the "pardon Turkey" phenomenon and believe our President has more important things to think about than pardoning the turkey who has garnered the most Facebook fans. (Huh?)

My friend, Chris, whom you've heard about, raises turkeys (male turkeys are called toms) and when the time comes, he also harvests some of them. He purposefully uses the word "harvest" over-against "slaughter" or "dispatch" because he believes the word harvest embodies the true sense of process. His turkeys have lived pleasant lives in the company of geese, chickens, roosters, ducks and a miniature pig named Lydia. Chris faithfully feeds them, changes their water, cleans the coop and breaks up any unsavory pecking-order henhouse battles. When he harvests a turkey he is accepting the gift that has been their life and it is a gift that he shares and blesses many. The turkey gives back what has been given to him -- all good things.  It seems the natural conclusion to cycle of life and a way of honoring the good life of a grand fowl.
Hello, Lydia. And in this case, no, she will not become bacon.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Trough of the Week: Jingle Troughs ~ Phase One

As I have laid to rest a solid stash of 3-season troughs, I turn my thoughts now to my holiday line. I call them "Jingle Troughs." I am preparing them for a Holiday Market I will be attending on Dec. 1.
Behold the be-decked Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Chirimen'! For now,  I am playing with the idea of having this unique miniature conifer be the only star in the Jingle-trough show, along with various holiday accoutrements that inevitably warm one's heart in the season. One of the two (above, left) is livened up with a cutting of Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), God's gift to gardeners during the winter. The other (below, right) is the tree, a rock, and some ACMoore specials. I'm still playing with various arrangements, so don't judge me yet. This attempt is Phase One: to be looked at by me for a few days and then expanded upon as my sensibilities dictate.

Back to some life lessons:

Aspiration: To make money selling these babies because I am broke.
Garden Lesson: So many versions of natural life play well with another to create an ambiance unmatched by plastic and glitter.
Life Lesson: Take pleasure in the simple, natural, beautiful gifts of earth which, by the way, don't cost a penny.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Winter Garden: Winterberry

Now that the cold airs have taken the bloom out of fussy perennials and the doomed annuals, the real champions of the garden step up. I speak of shrubs! But trees too fall into this category. I will be posting about the gifts these champions render during the stark, hard months with little growing life and lots of monotone.

The generosity of shrubs had been lost on me until the day last winter I needed beauty for a festive event that was to take place in otherwise rugged and stark setting. Christmas in Maine: on a farm in a house heated only by a wood stove and walls laid bare to the beams. My son and I trekked through a meadow near the woods and, as we looked about for beauty, I heard a friend calling. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) was saying: “Hey you! I was made for this!” We tromped through the twigs and vines and made our way to the shrub with the bright red berries raised in hilarity against an otherwise unadorned landscape. Our table was filled with color and hopefulness because this generous joyful shrub that saves its biggest show for winter, when we need it.

Helpful Info about Ilex Verticillata:

Habitat: Native to native to the eastern and central United States; parts of Canada. Zone 3 to 4; often found at the edge of the woods.
Habit: A deciduous, multi-stemmed shrub generally 6’ to 10’ tall; oval to rounded form upright and spreading; tends to sucker and form clumps.

Foliage: Deciduous with alternate leaf arrangement; leaves are 1.5” to 3” long, elliptical with an acute base and acute/acuminate apex; green to dark green leaves vary from flat to shiny on the upper surface with an underside of leaf somewhat pubescent; serrate leaf margins.

Flowers: Dioecious, with male and female plants, male flowers in clusters; female flowers solitary or in 2’s or 3’s, small white flowers in early June.

Fruit: Only present on female plant, bright red and glossy, held well into winter close to the stem, singly or in pairs. Green during the growing season, changing in October.
Bark: Dark gray to brown smooth with some lenticels.

Use: Fruit display in fall and winter; useful in wet soils in mass planting along water; shrub border.

Liabilities: Fruit set only on pollinated female plants; need a male pollinator nearby.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Another Storm

The beauty of living on the New England coast is the beauty of the New England coast. The price we pay for living in this beautiful place is the Nor'easter ~ one of the three combined storms related to Hurricane Sandy last week and the storm that is bearing down on us today and tomorrow. There is a reason for the term "Hardy New Englanders." This both challenges and strengthens (or kills) growing things in the garden. One must be made of tough stock to keep a stiff upper lip in this environment! New Englanders are very tough. I, alas, was born and raised in the mid-west, so am trying, desperately to inculcate New England hardiness!

Hence, my post about the beauty of the November garden will be postponed until after the storm.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Trough of the Week: Luke

Luke: Very cool in his 14" x 14" trough

Meet Luke: he's cool. He isn't impressed with fussy showy blooming displays. He just keeps growing, keeps building his root system and stands out as a go-to champion when other, more delicate and temperamental troughs show fatigue.

His stand-out feature is the miniature conifer (upper right) Blue Foliage Cypress Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Glauca Compacta Nana'.  (Why the horticultural world attaches so many extraneous denotations to the name of a small tree is lost on me -- but there you have it.) Blue Sterling Nursery says of this winner:
'COMPACTA' Rich greenish-blue bun that has nice compact recurving sprays and a good tight habit. The size in ten years will be somewhere around 12" high and 12" wide. Good selection! 
Photo by Wolfgang Putz
To the left of the tree is a miniature hosta 'Cat's Eye.' The little bit of bloom that will come from this trough arises here, from the mini-hosta, which blooms a delicate lavender flower in early summer.

The mounding growth below the hosta is Greek Oregano, a subspecies of Origanum vulgare. What a great herb! According to
Historically, as the name implies, Greek oregano originates on the mountain slopes of Greece. It continues to be an important erosion-control plant: its roots reduce soil erosion on mountain slopes. Greek hillsides covered with summer's growth of wild oregano in bloom are a fantastic excursion for eyes, feet, and nose!
The name "oregano" means "joy of the mountain" and has its origins in the ancient Greek "oros" (mountain) and "ganos" (joy).
According to Greek mythology, the sweet, spicy scent of oregano was created by the goddess Aphrodite as a symbol of happiness. In ancient Greece, bridal couples were crowned with garlands of oregano. Oregano plants were placed on tombs to give peace to departed spirits. It was also used as a laxative because of its cathartic effect.
Oregano has powerful bacteria and fungi killing properties. It is used as a painkiller and anti-inflammatory, . . .  a treatment for indigestion, coughs, and to stimulate menstruation. The oil of oregano is used for toothache, and in some cosmetics. The leaves and flowering stems are natural antiseptics because of high thymol content.

To its right you'll find a small delicate patch of green moss, which, I've discovered, enhances any shade-loving trough. (I plan to write a future post about mosses.)

Finally, lower right, is the beginning of a stunning bundle of European Ginger  Asarum europaeum,
a low-growing ground cover that adds shiny green accent and keeps on giving (it spreads and at points needs to be divided).

Final note on Luke: He is at rest right now, bundled in for the coming cold winter (as noted here). When he re-emerges in the spring the single contingency he imposes is how much sun he will need. All of the plants in this trough are shade-loving, with the exception of the Chamaecyparis pis. Glauca Compacta Nana.  Most Chamaecypari love sun. I may need to transplant it and replace it with a shade-loving Taxus cuspidata ‘Nana Aurescens’ or Abies koreana ‘Starker’s Dwarf’. But we'll see. As I said, this trough is a champion and the Blue Foliage Cypress might do just fine.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Good Night, Troughs

There is a time to plant and a time to cease from planting

The troughs are heeled in and covered with salt marsh hay, ready for winter. I know of some people who don't go to these lengths and swear it is not necessary. Others wouldn't go through a New England winter without imposing some defense against the cold, wet and wind.

Aspiration: To give these little worlds the best possible chance to survive a punishing season.

Garden Lesson: Conifers and hardy sedums are strong. But even the strongest need help against extreme conditions.

Life Lesson: There is a time to cultivate and encourage growth, and there is a time--after having done the best you can do humanly -- to stop.

Next Post: The Trough of the Week

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Propagating Miniature Arborvitae

In anticipation of my upcoming line of Holiday Troughs I recently purchased some miniature conifers that take on the look of Christmas trees. (More on my Holiday Troughs soon.) I have become especially enamored with the Wansdyke Silver Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis 'Wansdyke Silver').  The Evergreen Plant Nursery describes it this way:
An absolutely gorgeous arborvitae that has nice dark green foliage that is speckled with bright, white to very light cream colored variegation. Very pyramidal in growth, and holds its green color well in the winter. We suggest planting in full sun for best color, but will accept partial shade as well. This particular arborvitae is one of our latest additions to our arborvitae selections - and it is extremely hard to find. 

Having shared my enthusiasm about this great find with my (now) trough advisor Chris (read about him here), he immediately said, "You oughta propagate it. See that double-leader? Cut it off and see if you can get a two-fer." That's Chris -- always knowing the exact thing to do with a conifer and the exact way to do it.

The steps for propagating the Wansdyke Silver Arborvitae are as follows (per Chris):
Behold! Miniature Wansdyke Silver Arborvitae
with obvious "double-leader" making it a good
candidate for propagation.

Close-up: the double-leader

Before making the cut, be sure to have on hand your mix
of special propagation soil: some sand, Pro-Mix, compost,

Make a clean cut near the base of the second leader.
Can you tell where my cut is? It is the second white-looking
thing to the left of the main stem.

The look of the tree with only the single leader.
As Chris says, "It looks more like a tree."

At the base of the cut stem, shave the bottom
half-inch or so, exposing the inner live flesh

Dip the tip of the stem in water
Then dip the tip of the stem in rooting hormone. Some people
do not like to use rooting hormone. I sometimes do and sometimes
don't. In this case, Chris told me to use it, so I did.

After dipping the stem in rooting hormone, plant it in a
container filled with the special mix of propagation soil.
(While I was at it, I planted several double leaders off of various plants.)

During the incubation period I have tucked the
specimens into a dry-cleaner bag to create an
environment that encourages root growth. I will check
them again in several weeks, watching to make sure
the soil stays moist but not drenched.
Thank you, Chris!

Special Note: My Holiday Troughs will be on sale soon, including three that contain miniature Wansdyke Silver Arborvitaes. Reserve yours today by emailing me here.