Saturday, April 15, 2017

April Bloom Day

In my old, mostly mature garden, I designed for late season interest so April was never a banner bloom day month for me but I usually had enough to toss together a reasonably respectable post. Not this year.

Spring arrived late to Connecticut this year.  On March 14th a blizzard dumped a foot and a half of snow on my garden.  Usually March snow doesn't hang around long but the storm was followed by a few of weeks of lower than normal temperatures. I was just about ready to rent a giant blowtorch, when normal weather returned.

With no established garden areas yet, I don't have much but here goes:

Cornus mas 'Variegata' is thriving in it's new home

In the fall of 2015 when I made the decision to move, I immediately started thinking about plants I wanted to take with me. I had many small, choice trees in my old garden, but only one was small enough to survive a move.  Cornus mas is unique here for it's early season bloom (often beginning in March although not this year).  When I saw this variegated cultivar offered for sale in the Fairweather Gardens a few springs ago, I just had to have it.

Even the Hellebores are late this year

I inherited this lovely double white Hellebore with the garden.  

A single Chionodoxa managed to hitch a ride to my new garden

Chionodoxa was naturalized in some of the beds and the front lawn of my old garden.  A single bulb must have been in one of the perennials I moved.  I smiled when I saw it blooming and made a mental note to add some to my fall bulb order this year.

Inherited Daffodils

I brought a few later blooming daffodils from my old garden but also inherited many.  I'm currently battling a plethora of invasive plants in the center section of a tiered rock garden in front of the house. Last weekend I raked it out and started digging out everything except these daffodils that are thriving despite the neglect.

Pansies are tough to resist after a long winter,

OK so I planted pansies in a couple of pots.  In a month or two I'll be yanking them out or pinching them way back to tuck into mixed containers but for now I'll enjoy their cheerful little faces.

Why in the world would someone plant this much Forsythia?

A hedge of Forsythia in the front yard of my new house.

Yes, I have Forsythia.  Lots and lots of Forsythia.  I apologize in advance to any die hard Forsythia fans out there but I will eventually be removing all of it.  Since it's an absolute bitch to dig out, I'll likely start with the "specimen" plants situated around the property and work my way up to this "hedge".

If you follow me on Instagram you know that we (i.e. Dave) are currently knee deep in a back yard DIY tree removal palooza in preparation for the patio installation next month.  I'm hard at work improving and enlarging garden beds.  At times all the work seems overwhelming and I have to remind myself that Rome wasn't built in a day.  I do enjoy the process though and look forward to seeing things come together.

Before I forget (because it's been a while), let me thank Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting this widely popular monthly meme.  With any luck I'll have more to offer in May.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tetrapanax in Connecticut

I started writing this blog post about four years ago after I returned from a week of garden touring in Oregon and Washington. For years it's been suspended in the dreaded "draft" status. Given that I have little or nothing to offer on the gardening front right now I figured it might be a good time to resurrect and post this relic.

After drooling over plants on that trip, most of which I would have a snowball's chance in hell of growing in my own garden, I decided I wanted to walk on the wild side and try growing Tetrapanax papyrifer in my central Connecticut garden.

If you follow this blog, you know that I moved last year.  Even though the USDA zone map for Connecticut illustrates that my zone did not change, I suspect that may not be the case.  I commute about 25 miles each way to work now which is relatively close to my old garden stomping grounds and it's always consistently warmer by four to six degrees.

Below are just a few of the plants that caught my eye on that trip.  We always want what we can't have, right? When it comes to plants I'm always on the hunt for something different.

Melianthus major 'Purple Haze' was one of those plants.  Melianthus major can be purchased in some of the better greenhouses as an annual in New England in the spring but I've never seen the cultivar 'Purple Haze'. Two winters in a row I had M. major return in a pot that was stored in my detached, unheated garage.  Maybe there's hope in a cool basement because there is no hope at all outside.

Melianthus major 'Purple Haze' with Imperata cylindrical 'Red Baron' at Far Reaches Farm in Port Washington

A second plant I absolutely lusted after was Lobelia tupa.  Just about every garden we visited featured large, well grown specimens of Lobelia tupa.  My pictures below taken at Linda Cochran's garden and at  Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, WA don't do the plant justice.

Linda Cochran places Lobelia tupa on her list of top ten favorite plants.  Far Reaches lists it as zone 8a.  Both Kelly and Sue, at Far Reaches honestly didn't think I had a prayer of overwintering Lobelia tupa in central CT even with protection so I guess I'll just have to admire this one from afar.

Lobelia tupa in Linda Cochran's former garden on Bainbridge Island

Lobelia tupa in the display garden at Far Reaches Farm

A third plant that stopped me in my tracks because I'm a sucker for bold foliage was Tetrapanax papyrifer.  Hmmm, somewhere in my travels I vaguely remember reading that with winter protection, Tetrapanax could be grown successfully in CT.  Louis the Plant Geek grows it in Rhode Island. Rhode Island is not that far away. If Louis could grow it maybe I could too.

Tetrapanax papyrifer in the former garden of Linda Cochran

So in April 2013 I ordered a Tetrapanax from Plant Delights Nursery. Siting it was somewhat of a challenge.  I didn't have any room in my sunny south facing patio garden.  The south facing wall of the shed was the next best thing, but with no foundation and part sun exposure I wasn't hopeful.

All went well the first year except I did not get around to shoring up winter protection until well into winter.

Tetrapanax emerging in May 2014

Despite my botched protection attempt, in late May of 2014 a small unfurling Tetrapanax emerged!  It had died back to the ground over the winter but was returning from the roots. Maybe Louis the Plant Geek was right.

I wasn't encouraged though.  My Tetrapanax was alive but it was acting more like a ground cover than a bold specimen plant. I suspected my garden nemesis, lack of sun was the likely culprit but in my overplanted quarter acre garden I had no better spot.

Tetrapanax in my Connecticut garden in September 2015

Much to my surprise, in July of 2015 it came back again but never grew much more than a about a foot.  In the fall of 2015 I didn't even bother to protect it.  At that point I knew I was moving and I knew a zone pushing plant like Tetrapanax wouldn't take a late season move-especially to a colder location.

Did my poor tetrapanax come back in 2016?  I couldn't tell you.  I moved out of my house in May, closed in July and was so overwhelmed with moving that I didn't even think to look.  I'm going to assume it did though because the 2015-2016 winter was relatively mild..

So what did I learn?

With winter protection and proper siting I believe it's possible to grow a sizable Tetrapanax papyrifer in Connecticut zone 6. The way the schedule is unfolding, I won't have a good spot for one in my current garden until fall.  Fall planting won't work for a borderline plant like Tetrapanax though so realistically I'm looking for a spring 2018 planting.

Fortunately gardeners are patient people and I'm no exception.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

My Annual Pilgrimage to the Connecticut Flower & Garden Show

Over the weekend I attended the annual Connecticut Flower and Garden Show.  Years ago I used to eagerly mark my calendar and take time off from work to attend this show.  In recent years not so much.  But curiosity usually gets the better of me.  Curiosity and the desire to smell fresh mulch in February.

A succulent rooster greets visitors at the CT Flower & Garden Show.

I understand the huge commitment of time and expense required to put a live landscape exhibit together and I understand the economics behind the decision a business makes as to whether to participate or not.  I greatly appreciate the time and resources spent by the businesses and organizations who choose to design and set up exhibits at the show.

I also understand that it's the vendors and sponsors who provide the bulk of the financial support that allows the show to exist. Unfortunately many of the vendors have nothing to do with gardening and just don't interest me.  Quite a few are annoying, predatory "infomercial" types.  I had to be down right rude this year to avoid some aggressive carnival like sales tactics.  For me this takes away from the show. 

Maybe I'd be more tolerant of the vendor situation if there were more landscapes to divert my attention. Over the years, the number of garden exhibits seems to have shrunk and the number of non garden type vendors seems to grown.  Could this be a result of pure economics or some other factor?  I'm not going to pretend to know.

Aquascapes of CT

Aquascapes of CT

Aquascapes of CT

Aquascapes of CT

All of the above photos are from Aquascapes of CT display.  Year after year, they have been a mainstay at the show and have always had one of the more elaborate pond displays.  Someone must have declared open season on pond contractors at the show this year.  Aquascapes was the only one.

Miskovsky Landscaping

She shed schmee shed...give me one of these bar sheds!

Miskovsky Bar shed

Excuse the crappy cell phone photo.  I had problems getting a good picture of the inside.  The d├ęcor was a bit masculine for my tastes but as long as the bar is well stocked...

Miskovsky Landscaping

Miskovsky Landscaping

Swaths of simple white tulips for the win.

Miskovsky Landscaping

One of the main reasons I attended the show this year was to see the display by Miskovsky Landscaping.  My friend, Monique posted a few pictures of it on her Facebook page on Friday night as a "must see".  For a small display it was packed with features and plants.  In CT, all plants used in the show must be forced which does tend to limit quantity and diversity but Miskovsky nailed it.

Miskovsky is located in Falmouth, MA on Cape Cod.  He told us he was in Hartford because the Providence show no longer exists .  News to me but not all that surprising.  Hartford and Providence are about two hours driving distance apart and the shows were always held on the same weekend.  According to the article the Providence garden show was sold and will now be part of the Home Show.

The CT Rose Society exhibit went with a Snow White theme

Supreme Landscapes went with this interpretation of Woodland Enchantment, the theme of the show this year.

Also from Supreme Landscapes

Earth Tones Native Plant Nursery

Earth Tones Native Plant Nursery

I regret that I did not get a few more photos from the Earth Tones Native Plant Nursery display.  I heard someone say one of the forced blueberry bushes was 30 years old!  Since I now live in bobcat and coyote country I can appreciate the nod to my new neighbors.

Believe it or not but I always enjoy the floral and table setting competitions.

Natureworks-one of my favorite CT garden centers.

Every year at least one display leaves me scratching my head.

Before I could capture all the pictures I wanted, my camera battery chose to die.  If you've ever attempted to photograph these shows you know how difficult it is to get a good shot between the glaring lights, black curtain backdrops and crowds of onlookers.

Now that the garden show season is over, time to let the garden season begin!


Friday, February 24, 2017

Believe it or Not-I'm Attending the Garden Blogger's Fling!

I know.  Can you believe it?  If you're wondering what kind of standards could possibly exist that would allow the likes of me to attend a garden blogger event, you're not alone.  Whatever radar I managed to fly under is just fine though because I get to hang out for four days in a bunch of kick ass gardens with the some of the rock stars of the garden blogging world.  So I ask you, "Who lives better than me?".

Rumor has it there a still a couple of open spots for the fling.  If you haven't registered, what are you waiting for?


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Patio Plans in the Making

Last year I missed the entire spring and most of the summer garden season due to my move.  At the time I was too busy to dwell much on what I left behind at my old garden, but once the dust of the crappy soil in my new garden settled, I realized what I missed most was my patio.

After all I moved hundreds of plants, all the garden ornaments, patio furniture and both of my fountains.  I moved just about everything but the patio.  Well, and all of my unusual specimen shrubs and trees that were too big to dig but those I can replant.

At the new house, I inherited a small deck and a couple of acres of overgrown gardens and scraggly lawn, but no patio.  For the entire summer and fall my former patio fountain lay sadly scattered in pieces on the driveway and along the side yard.  I arranged the patio table and lounge chairs on the back lawn in the approximate area of a new patio.  Not only did they look sad but became annoying obstacles for the lawn mower.

Just after the holidays I contacted a landscape designer who I had been stalking on Houzz, Jennifer Noyes of Creative Contour Landscape Design.  In January Jennifer came to the house for a design consultation.  Jennifer is so much fun and we hit it off immediately.  I was relieved when she seemed unconcerned by my confessed stalking.  In fact, a few weeks after our initial meeting she actually came back with a design concept.  Could the patio of my dreams actually be within reach?

Current view of the back of our house.  Yes, the deck needs TLC but it is level.

Proposed view from approximately the same angle.

For most of my life I've been longer on ideas than cash so the end result may be a bit less grand than what you see here but with some sweat equity I believe we'll get what we want.  Blue stone is my first choice for material and the most expensive and I'm not ready to compromise on that front yet. Also, I don't need design help with plant placement or selection.  The plants illustrated in the design will likely be far different than the end result.

In this design view, a double window has been replaced with french doors.  The new doors would enter into the breakfast area of our kitchen.  Swapping out that window was an eventual change we had been tossing around in conjunction with a kitchen remodel that in a best case scenario would be a few years down the road.

Once I saw the way the patio design came together with the addition of the door, we reshuffled the priority list.  Fortunately my other half is extremely talented in most areas of home improvement and will install the door this summer.

A precast fireplace will replace the fire pit and we'll be relocating the grill from the deck to somewhere near the new french door.

Current view of the breezeway

Proposed integration of the breezeway and patio

The garage is attached to the house by a breezeway.  Currently the breezeway is unfinished space. Originally we envisioned the main access to the patio to be through the breezeway.  Now that the decision has been made to install french doors in the kitchen, that will no longer be the case.  The breezeway will be finished as an unheated screen porch.  The proposed window on left wall is also part of the eventual kitchen upgrade and when completed will flood the kitchen with much needed morning light.

Before the patio is installed, the door from the breezeway will be relocated to the middle and will be swapped out for something more weather tight and secure.  I would prefer to narrow the steps and patio space here to provide for larger planting beds in this south facing alcove.  A protected spot like this may be my only hope of ever growing a crepe myrtle or Musa basjoo here.  What was I thinking when I moved from zone 6 to zone 5?

Access from the patio around the back of the house to the driveway is likely going to have to wait or be scaled back to stepping stones to keep the budget in line.  The pergola isn't a feature we're wild about so that may go by the wayside.  Incorporating my old fountain is important since it was such a focal point on my old patio.  Naturally, dining and entertaining space is high on the list as we enjoy outdoor eating, drinking and general merrymaking on a regular basis.

From this perspective, you can look back into the proposed patio space.  Due to budgetary constraints this part of the design will be scaled back.  I think we can DIY this area to my satisfaction and have enough money left over to fund a lifetime supply of ibuprofen.

Due to Jennifer's schedule, the patio won't be installed until late summer.  As much as I'd like it to be sooner, we still have so much to do in advance of the installation and as industrious as we tend to be, things like work and life often get in the way.  But this is a start on one of the major projects we plan to tackle at this house and I couldn't be more thrilled.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Winter Garden

Here in the northeast, not much garden related activity goes on outdoors in the winter.  Plants are frozen and dormant, the ground is normally snow covered and the weather can be downright inhospitable.  Most people who know me know I'm not shy to admit that winter is my fourth favorite season and January my twelfth favorite month.

If I had to guess, I'd say this picture of me was taken in January.

January is not only my twelfth favorite month, it's my busiest month at work. Consequently we keep plenty of firewood and wine in the house allowing me to remain sufficiently distracted, properly toasted, and more than ready to take on whatever crap January hurls my way.  So far, so good.

A week or so ago the weather changed.  Average daily temperatures started running ten or more degrees above normal.  It's been raining.  All the snow has melted.  It feels more like March than January.  Yesterday I stood on the front steps and took this picture of the front yard.  Not too shabby, eh?  Maybe this year January will end up being my eleventh favorite month.

Where is the snow? The cold? The gloom?

With the exception of what is being called a nor'easter of mostly rain that is scheduled to arrive tomorrow, this oddly mild weather is predicted to continue for at least another week. I'm not naive enough to think that winter is over.  Not by a long shot so quick, somebody pinch me!

By now you must be thinking that this is all fine and good but the only reason you came here was to see what qualifies as a winter garden in New England.  And so you shall.  But it won't be my garden.  I barely have anything that qualifies as a summer garden yet at the new house and I doubt the half dormant bananas I have stashed in the basement would be much interest to anyone.

As luck would have it, yesterday I attended a late Christmas get together with my good friends and gardeners extraordinaire, Monique and Les.  Monique and Les have one of the best small residential gardens I've ever seen.  During the regular garden season it's a sight to behold.  In winter, the hardscape, thoughtful placement of specimen evergreens and trees, and eclectic collection of garden art combine delightfully together and prove that yes we can have an interesting garden in New England in the winter.  Yes we can.

Peeking through the gate to the back garden my friends Monique and Les.

A view from the deck

When they aren't buried under snow, variegated Yuccas are great friends of the winter garden.

Grasses and the peeling bark of a Heptacodium

One of the nicest specimens of Picea orientalis 'Skylands' I have ever seen

And in case you don't believe me, here is a picture of the same Skylands spruce taken at the end of June.

Monique and Les have collected quite a few of Inta Krombolz's garden sculptures.  Inta's garden, located in Chester County PA is a jaw dropper.  A few years ago I had the good fortune to get in for a private tour during an "Idyllunion".  

Yes that is a specimen size Magnolia grandiflora.  Can you stand it?

In summer these trellis panels are smothered with honeysuckle and hummingbirds.

Guess what I'm wishing upon this star?

All of the container arrangements are created with cuttings from the garden.

The welcoming entry has a beachy vibe that continues throughout the garden and into the house.

Trust me this garden looks way better in person.  One of my Christmas presents was a new point and shoot Sony Cybershot which I used to take these pictures.  I'm still playing with settings and getting used to the camera.  To be honest I'm not thrilled with the quality of these pictures which were taken on an automatic setting.  No doubt the issue is with the operator because a photographer I'm not but with a bit of practice I hope the quality of my pictures will improve.

Happy January!