Monday, December 31, 2012

Five Garden Highlights of 2012

Various mosses with
European Ginger and
5. Discovering the beauty of moss for troughs and other containers.

4. Missing only one on my shrub I.D. class mid-term: Forsythia!

3. Working for five months in formal gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, famed landscape architect of Central Park and the Biltmore Estate (to name a few) where I discovered the joy and beauty of sedums and sempervivums.
Sempervivum arachnoideum
Sedum hispanicum

2. Successful propagation of a fig tree, miniature azalea, and galium (to name a few).

Buy it here
1. Discovering Zen Gardening and making Zen Trough Gardens.

All good wishes for the upcoming new year. And keep growing!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Indoor Holiday Troughs

Sorry for the lapse in postings, my dear readers. The holidays brings its own set of urgencies, doesn't it? I hope you found a place of growth and small shoots of life growing up inside yourself, despite its being the dormant season, horticulturally.

I share with you a few surprises that came to me this season and lessons learned about troughs as gifts. I had a surprising number of requests for the dear simple trough I named Jingle (below).
High demand and not enough supply for this winner

Alas, I had not purchased a sufficient number of Chaemacyparis obtusa 'Chirimen' -- nor had I constructed sufficient numbers of 8 x 8" troughs to fulfill these orders. Dang!

Another lesson: the medium-sized troughs seemed to be the ticket and my daughter-in-law asked me to put together two indoor troughs of this size so she could give them to family members. Another revelation: not everyone wants a miniature alpine forest growing in a hypertufa container on their back patio. With the advice of my trough consultant Chris, I found some lovely durable indoor plants and managed to fill two medium troughs that delighted those who were the recipients. Good idea, Chrissy!

Indoor troughs: Who knew?

In this trough: Polka Dot Plant (Hypoestes), Golden Spike Moss (Selaginella kraussiana 'Aurea'), and "Dwarf Umbrella Tree (Schefflera arboricola ~ syn. Heptapleurum arboricolum)

This trough contains English Ivy (Hedera helix 'Glacier'), Christmas Cactus (Zygocactus
Schlumbergera x buckleyi) and more of the above-mentioned Polka-dot plant.

Final holiday lesson: Some people simply want troughs (usually of a reasonable size) without the plants so they can do with them what they want. My sister purchased three empty troughs from me and filled them herself to give to her adult children as a Christmas gift. She filled them with bright red Violas!

Lessons for the season:  Keep making those 8 x 8s, and keep those Chaemacyparis obtusa 'Chirimen' in good supply!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

5 Holiday Gifts for Your Favorite Gardener

Two of my sons are farmers.  What does one give a farmer for Christmas? I had to look it up on the internet.  Sadly, I cannot afford an Ingersoll Rand’s 259G Impactool offering 1,050 foot pounds of torque in both forward and reverse. Fortunately for you, a gardener's love affair with tools and supplies is more manageable and might even fit in a Christmas stocking. (I'm thinking specifically in terms of the gardener who gardens, as I do, with troughs, containers and small spaces.) This is my Christmas wish-list, which I dare say probably isn't far from the hidden secrets of desire for the gardener in your life.

5.  Super-duper hand cream. It's one thing always to have dirty fingernails. It is another thing to have hands that are constantly dry, cracking and bleeding. This stuff is a gardener's best friend before going to bed at night.

4. Rubber Garden Shoes. I don't care what anybody says. Wearing your walking shoes or hiking boots in the garden undermines their true functionality and they don't serve so well in the rain and mud. Kick these babies on and off at the door and resume life as usual inside (or outside) without having to chisel dried mud from treads.

3. Root rake. Few people recognize the meticulous care container plants require: especially miniature shrubs, conifers and evergreens. It's all in the roots, and the success or failure of a trough landscape depends upon the roots getting well-placed and having a good start. Raking them before placement is essential to their wellness.

2. Gardener's Vest and Hat. (Sorry. That's two.) I am forever dropping snips and misplacing pruners for want of a convenient means of keeping them at the ready. When you are contorted inside a holly (Ilex meserve) or rhody, groping for the right tool to prune the branch that is pulling your hair, it is a nightmare and cause for saying a curse word. The many-pocketed light-weight gardening vest is to the gardener what a holster is to a cowboy. As for the hat, one loses all pretensions about style, even dignity, in deference to find a good hat to protect from the sun.

And finally . . .

1. Bonsai tool set. Some container gardening doesn't require specialized tools. But the troughs I make, which include several plants in a single container, require orchestrated arrangement and shaping of the plants in a way that brings harmony to the ensemble. This kind of detail and intention does require specialized tools. Your miniature gardener will strongly hug you upon receiving this gift.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Winter Garden: Witch Hazel

Chinese Witch Hazel ~ Hamamelis mollis

Please forgive the extended absence from my blog posts. Since the gardening season is in its hibernation, I have had to go to the hinterlands to get work ~ an adventure in and of itself that merits its own blog. I have been working on a bean farm in Maine and will write about that unusual, elemental and in every way, life-giving subcategory of gardening/farming in future posts.

But for now, I continue with thoughts of the winter garden. Even in its most stark season, the life of the garden is ever generous and ready to give.

I learned this, notably, after a year of having worked in the Long Hill Gardens at the Sedgwick Estate, in Beverly, MA. After nine months of seasonal on-site classes, I returned for a winter visit to see the property in its naked winter architecture. Property superintendent, Dan Bouchard, took me to a shrub I would easily have missed had he not pointed me that way. “The Chinese Witch Hazel’s blooming,” he said. I looked but could not see what I was supposed to be looking at. So he took me over to it. What does one do when surprised by alarming and unexpected beauty? I took a photo (above). Why? Because when one is confronted with explosive intricate splendor of these winter blossoms, like little bursts of light, one wants to keep it and to hold the magic.

Helpful Information

Habitat: garden hybrid between H. japonica and H. mollis; Zone 5

Habit: a deciduous, large shrub or small tree 15’ to 20’ tall, multi-stemmed, loosely branched, upright oval outline in youth, more rounded and spreading with age.
Foliage: Alternate, simple leaves
3” to 6” long; somewhat rounded
acuminate tip; leaves are a downy, gray-green high quality. In the Fall they turn yellow to yellow orange and can be very showy.

Flowers: Four, long, narrow petals; spider-like open early, late January to March; flowers open and close, depending on weather conditions
different colors depending on cultivar; long lasting, slightly fragrant
very showy for late winter.
Fruit:  a capsule, not of major ornamental importance.

Bark: smooth gray to gray brown.

Use: specimen border for late winter bloom, for fall color of foliage;
good with a background of evergreens or snow.

Liabilities: relatively problem free; must prune suckers from below graft union.