Saturday, October 23, 2010

My camera died again so I've been fudging these pictures for the past 5> days

It's kind of exciting. The camera works but not the monitor so I can't change any setting....well, I can't change them and know what I've done...and I can't see the pictures till I download them. I guess whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger, right?

The garden was nice this morning. The replacement camera should arrive today, so no excuses tomorrow! I go through them about one every other year but I take ~30 pictures a day 365 days a year all amortizes pretty well. The dogwood is one of the only things coloring up in the garden.

Achillea Tutti Frutti 'Pomegranate', Phygelius x rectus 'Cherry Ripe' and Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'

I found another one of those plants I fell in love with at Jimmy Turner's presentation at the Perennial Plant Conference at Swarthmore last year. Phygelius x rectus 'Cherry Ripe'. It is a spectacular plant. I have to admit I though it a fuchsia from three aisles away. It's dangerous cruising nursery after nursery. We bought Achillea Tutti Frutti 'Pomegranate' and I finally replaced Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii' that was lost during a garden renovation three years ago. I'd had the Aconitum, it's fun to call it "wolfbane" this time of year, for many years. It's the closest I can come to Delphiniums here; they, the Delphiniums, can't take the heat while the Aconitum just wants more water than my sandy soil provides. I can fudge the water but am unable to cool the garden. Aconitum is poisonous in case your garden entertains browsing toddlers.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Computers don't have a lick of common sense

Another truckload of plants for the Sunday installation. There are two Hydrangea macrophylla selections in the bed just behind the cab. If you buy two, as I did, they cost 35 dollars each. If you add a third, the total cost for all three is 60 dollars. Wow. I did read the sign that said 3 for 60$. I wouln't have assumed necessarily that I could buy one for 20$, but it seems just wrong to charge more than 60$ for fewer than three plants. I mean if the customer, that would be me, is dumb enough to not take the third plant, fine. But......oh never mind. I eventually went back, took a third plant, and got my 15$. Oh my.

This load came from Homestead Gardens; they had bigger discounts on their perennials than Behnke's though their selection was much smaller. I got a few nice things there. As the plants accumulate, I can visualize what the planting will look like. Doing the shopping myself gives me a chance to add a few items. When you're doing a design you have to decide whether to use material that may be difficult for the client or a landscape contractor to come by. There are many plants I love and would use far more often if I though they would be available; Paw paws, Pachysandra procumbens, all manner of Acanthus, I could go on forever or at least for a page or so. Making this decision depends on the client. If I think the choice matters enough, I'll make 'em look for it. More often though, I move on to something more common.

Today I happened upon some nice pots of Acanthus mollis 'Morning Candle'; they were ridiculously low priced at ? 6 dollars so I added three to the design. This selection was named because it flowers heavily. Acanthus mollis is a wonderful bold textural effect for the shade garden. The leaves on the capitals of classical Corinthian columns are modeled after the foliage of this species. The flowers are a nice bonus. Eventually they become good sized plants are good sized, the clumps get quite large over time. This is one of those plants that is normally in such short supply that I tend to leave it out of designs. I was excited to find it today and for such a good price. I'm looking forward to planting day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

This doesn't look like Hippeastrum x johnsonii

Which is what I bought it as. This is another one of those Nerine/Amaryllis hybrids. Reading I've done since my last post (about the hybrids) has both made me more informed, and, as so often is the case, more aware of my ignorance. I find many crosses were made, some including other species of Nerine. For obvious reasons much of this was done in South Africa. More hybridizing was done in England. Some were named many were not. I have no idea what this is but I do know it has survived the past two winters here though it didn't flower last year. Finding that at least one is at least a bit hardy, makes me wish I'd bought some of the mixed selections at the FONA sale this spring.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Death, taxes, and these three plants: Dendranthema cv., Symphyiotrichum oblongifolium, and Anemone x hupehensis

Actually they're in the second tier of dependability: just below death and taxes. But as far as color in the late fall garden is concerned....they're the best.

When I did three hour designs for Behnke's Nurseries, I came up with some cheats to help me speed the process up. Sometimes the clients were perfectly happy with me choosing their plants. Sometimes they wanted input. Hey that was always fine with me; I figure if it's your garden so you should get to decide what goes in it....within reason. It's just that we didn't have enough time to dilly dally, so I made lists of rock solid plants: trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, and bulbs. If the goal was to design a perennial garden, I handed them the list of "rock hardy perennials"; they chose plants they recognized and liked. I added what was needed. It helped speed the process up and avoided time consuming detours into delicate, disease susceptible, pest ravaged, short-lived taxa. For beginning gardeners it seems to work to start with non-problematic plants. As skills, knowledge, and confidence grow they can make their own ventures into the rare and the fragile.

The perennial list included these three fall bloomers that actually are among the most dependable perennials for any season. The Aromatic Aster is a full sun plant that will tolerate poor soil and essentially no water. I grow it in Adelphi in sand. All watering is done by hand directly on the plant and this plant is never watered. I've never seen disease on it and never seen it eaten by vertebrate or invertebrate. Like the other two plants, it flowers reliably and heavily. Like the Chrysanthemum it also holds off flowering until October. Yes, this mum won't start to flower in mid-summer like so many of the "bedding mums". There are a handful of varieties; the foliage is clean and distinctive and the flowers, like those of the Anemones, float above the mass of the plant on elongate peduncles. The Anemone in the picture is 'Honorine Jobert'; it doesn't flower until late summer to fall. There are other varieties, and other colors ranging from white through pink to rose-not-quite-red, that begin as early as June. The bulk of the selections, though, do flower in the fall.

A couple of hours later I have a truck full of plants...I haven't done this for years and I'd forgotten how much fun it is.

Karen Upton and Sons doesn't mark up plants. They do charge for shopping, but the client pays what they paid and gets the receipt. Even so, it's incredibly satisfying to find bargains. Some of them were serious markdowns....on superior plants. It's no bargain to pay less for a smaller or less healthy plant. I found some wonderful Heucheras for 1/3 the estimated (and the usual) price. Found boxwoods for 1/3 less than the estimateed cost and bigger. And Hosta 'Guacamole' in a 3 gallon pot for 10 dollars. Wow, Box Stores, gotta love 'em.

I even found bargains I couldn't use! Behnke's in Beltsville had both Yucca 'Bright Edge' and 'Color Guard', beautiful plants in smallish pots for 9.99 minus 25%. They're in the perennial department right next to the one gallon Japanese Anemones that I did buy for 25% off. These are my favorite variegated Yuccas and that's an unheard of price. Actually 'Bright Edge' is one of my favorite plants. It's not unusal to have to spend 30 dollars or more for either. These plants, granted, are on the small side, but they grow at a good pace and they are beautiful specimens. They, Behnke's, had nice fastigiate Yews, not cheap, but the alternative is a 60+ mile drive. Actually Behnkes woody plants department is well=stocked.

Still working with the family: my assignment today is to buy these plants!

I like buying plants; for one thing, it means I get to go to nurseries where there'll be thousands of plants just waiting to be checked out. I'll do it. You never know what you'll see at a nursery. There could, actually there will be exciting things out there. Just because I'm not shopping for myself doesn't mean that if something wonderful appears it can't go into the cart.

I remember one season at Behnke's when my duties included not only doing the designs, but also pulling the plants from their various locations around the nursery and assembling them for the installation crews. I arrived at work about 5:00 am in order to have two hours to pull the orders before the crews arrived. It was exciting. Anything problematic, that might have sold out, I pulled ahead of time but even so I never knew for sure. Maybe somebody came in and bought 1200 liriope leaving me without my 25. It was fun though. I've always enjoyed being places when no one else is there. Not for long periods, I do like people, but there's just something exciting about being the only person in a store, a building, or even a nursery...

I shouldn't have trouble finding most of these, but the Daphne may be a problem. Fall is the season to plant Tree peonies but they are a lot more widely available in the spring. Some things will be available but won't look great: hostas, hakonechloa, I may have to go to Susannah Farms Nursery outside of Poolsville to find a fastigiate Yew. If so, I'll see some very cool plants.

Fall is an interesting time to buy plants. Most growers don't keep perennials over the winter, and sometimes it just isn't going to pay to step up woody plants to the next size. If you don't sell most shrubs when they hit the 3-gallon pot size....well, the market is limited for larger sizes so only a few get stepped up. The rest will either be composted or sold at a discount. If perennials or annuals didn't sell "in season" the grower will often make them available at irresistibly low prices so that we, the end consumers, occasionally stumble upon great bargains. If you've got a good eye, and your client trusts you enough to be a bit flexible, sometimes you can save them a good bit of money in the fall.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Michelia champace is barely 4 feet tall; can it have a flower bud?

I think I may see a small flower bud on Joy Magnolia, Michelia champaca. I bought this plant two and a half years ago from Dragon Agro Products at the Philadelphia Flower Show. The floral fragrance is the main constituent in the exorbitantly expensive perfume "Joy". I remember it costing 55 dollars and having just a handful (fewer than 10) leaves; something about $10 per leaf sticks in my head. It's made good progress over the past couple of years. It's four feet tall, has a trunk as big around as my thumb, and now possesses more than 100 leaves. I like the fact that it's nicely branched too, with dozens of small branches. The only other plants I've seen in real life are those at the US Botanic Garden and they are very tall and only lightly branched far up the trunk. I guess it is, after all, grown for timber where it occurs naturally.

I'm not sure what to do with this one. I think it'll be hardy in the Florida garden but likes more water than it will receive from rainfall and most of the year no one is there to water it. I noticed GrayC has this on a list of desired plants for the Herb Garden so I'll donate some cuttings if it seems likely they will root. A quick check online for propagation techniques suggests seed propagation and grafting are the primary techniques and layering is occasionally useful. I see nothing about rooting cutting. I'll continue research.

About those other 1,000 gardens.....I'm revisiting a few this week

My wife and two sons do garden installation and maintenance, for almost 9 years now. Time flies! The three of them, Karen, Max, and Peter are in great demand and for the next week or so, I'm going to be a "guest laborer/visitor" on some of their jobs. It's a great position. Since I'm not on the payroll, they don't make me do the real heavy labor, but I get to see the gardens and how they've progressed since the initial design/installation. Most are gardens that I designed, so it's eye-opening to me to see how they've evolved, or devolved.

Yesterday I went to a garden in Bethesda that was designed to be viewed, like a picture, from inside the windows across that back of the house...these clients preferred looking outside to being outside. Our goal was to create a space with the appearance of a jungle, an Henri Rousseauean sort of jungle. The space already included two large metal cut-outs strikingly reminiscent of the black silhouettes in some of Rousseau's paintings. We needed textural variety not only at ground level, but at least 25 feet up in the air, so we used some interesting plants including, Pawpaws, Red buckeyes, large Ferns, a Bigleaf magnolia, 'Black Lace' Elderberries, and a drifting mass of Hydrangeas. It's grown in fairly well over the last four years but some of the trees behind the planting (the planting is backed up by a wooded area) had grown toward the house/sun and were shading the "jungle plants" and in turn, causing them to lean forward. I removed a few ~6" diameter volunteers, staked a Paw paw upright, and things seem back on track.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Morning sun sneaks under the trees: Acer palmatum, Chrysanthemum 'Cambodian Queen', Salvia x 'Mystic Spires', and a Camellia x oleifera

Fall seems to have settled in; night time temperatures have been in the 40's F for the last week or so. Clear air and abundant sunlight tend to make the lighting harsh but morning dappling generates the odd interesting effect.

Maples have barely begun to color but the samaras on this Japanes maple are beautiful. Chrysanthemum 'Cambodian Queen' has the best color I've seen in....well, only three years of experience; in the past it's been washed out and pale. We seem to have some saturation this year. Nathan asked me about it a week or so ago and I was unfairly dismissive. Of the plant, not Nathan. Maybe she deserves another chance.

There are so many incredibly blue salvias. I met this one in Florida last January, brought it home, nursed it through the winter in the basement, and planted it this spring. It grew gangbusters and has been flowering for the past few months. While traditionally a plant of southern gardens, the consensus seems to be that it's hardy at least to USDA Zone 7b. I can do that. Maybe even 8a. Here's hoping.

This unnamed seedling camellia has been in the garden over 20 years. It's always the first camellia to flower in our garden in the fall though the Tea camellia is always close behind it. The snows of this past winter did some pretty severe damage to it but it's come back and, other than being oddly shaped now, looks fine.