It’s So Nice to Fool Mother Nature!

One of the glories of my garden right now is my ‘Blue Chiffon’ rose of sharon. The plant’s flowers have a frilly center that qualifies them as “double” (a status much valued in the gardening community). I also love their bluish color, which is further enhanced by where I’m growing them. I grow mine near some coneflowers. Now, when you hear mention of the latter, you probably think of purple coneflower; but mine are orangey. Color theory tells us that blue and orange are contrasting colors. Maybe that’s why this particular patch of the garden is really catching my eye these days.

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Trees, the 800-Lb. Gorillas in the Yard

Don’t get me wrong, I love trees. I’ve never actually been caught in the act of hugging any, to be sure. But neither will you ever catch me with a yard without trees. I just couldn’t imagine warming up to a landscape without them. The importance of the vertical element they supply in landscape design is not to be underestimated.

But now that I’ve established my credentials as a lover of trees, let me state what I really set out to say when I sat down to write this blog post today. Large trees, as indispensable as they are, pose an awfully difficult challenge in landscaping — unless that’s all you wish to grow in your yard. Read more…

3 Little Giants

Some plants classified by the experts as “shrubs” are often thought of as “trees” by the general populace. And while the experts employ technical definitions to make the distinction, even they admit that there are exceptions to the rules that they come up with, rendering their definitions less than completely satisfying.

Further clouding the issue is the age-old debate of whether we should classify something according to its intrinsic qualities or how it is used by humans. The uses for a landscape plant such as rose of sharon include mass usage in a hedge to form a privacy screen and individual usage as a specimen plant.

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Help! My Roots Are Showing

A question I often receive from homeowners goes something like this:

“I have this big pine tree out in my front yard. Nothing grows very well under it, making that area basically an expanse of dirt and weeds. Over the years, some of the roots have become exposed, making the area even messier-looking. Is it OK to cover the area under the tree with a load of loam, then plant perennials in that soil?”

Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? Read more…

Bone Up on Your Evergreens!

It’s easy to ignore evergreens when the yard is loaded with flowers. Often called the “bones” of the landscape, some evergreens are about as sexy during the summer as just that — bones. The “flesh” draws all the attention when times are good: flowers, bolder and more sensual, steal the show while warm winds blow.

But when Old Man Winter arrives in the North, blowing icy gusts that chill us to the bone, we rediscover our admiration for that mousy little Blue Star juniper over there in the corner. It’s not that the evergreen, itself has changed; it’s just that the deciduous flowering plants around it have been deprived of foliage and flower alike. Evergreens have become the only game in town, a rare commodity. Suddenly, their stock price soars. Read more…

The Immortal Evergreen

How are the plants in your yard looking these days? If you live in the North, as I do, your deciduous trees and shrubs are probably looking pretty bare. My sweetgum tree, viburnum shrubs and spirea shrubs were some of the last holdouts. Even my neighbor’s Bradford pear tree, always one of the last to give up the struggle, has shed the remainder of its tardy but oh-so-brilliant fall foliage.

But not all is lost — well, not if you’ve had the foresight to plant evergreen trees, that is. They just keep chugging along, oblivious to the changing seasons. Even that Grim Reaper of the seasons, winter, fails to stifle needled evergreens. Old Man Winter meets his match in this Old Man River of the plant world.

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Hickory, Chicory, Dock

Think for a moment about the origins of the various culinary and medicinal purposes to which plants have been put over the millennia. For every fruit, nut, leaf, berry, etc. that became food or medicine for us at some point in history or prehistory, somebody initially served as the “guinea pig.” That is, somebody in a particular tribe was the first to try ingesting taro root, for example (better known as elephant ears). Said guinea pig survived (in this case), and others followed suit. Through a less fortunate guinea pig, people learned that foxglove didn’t make for a very good snack! Read more…

Fall Foliage Trees: The Good, the Bad and the Invasive

We take our consolations in life where we can. I live in a cold climate and dislike the onset of winter, which brings harsh weather, along with shoveling snow, scraping ice off car windshields, etc. As if the dreariness and the drudgery weren’t bad enough, winter robs me of one of my chief passions in life: my outdoor plants. Oh, sure, I can still enjoy my evergreen shrubs and ornamental grass; and other plants inject some visual interest into the winter landscape via interesting branching patterns and whatnot. But none of this makes up for the loss I’ve suffered. I’ll mourn till spring.

That’s why I drain every ounce of satisfaction out of fall foliage season. Whether it’s “leaf peeping” on vacation or selecting superior fall foliage plants for my own yard, fall foliage is a big deal to this Hyperborean: It’s my ultimate consolation as another long winter stares me in the face.

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What’s So Hot About Autumn Blaze?

It’s August now, and I admit that part of me is starting to think about the upcoming fall season. It’s the landscaper part of me that’s looking ahead; the outdoor enthusiast part of me is quite content with the current season and has no desire to rush the summer!

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Don’t Look Down on Dwarfs

Mugo Pine“What’s up with dwarf trees? Who would want a tree that’s essentially a runt? I’d somehow feel gypped if I bought a tree that stayed short instead of growing up tall like all the normal trees.” I can easily imagine such lines appearing in a Jerry Seinfeld act. Or to put it more succinctly, in honor of a comedian from an earlier era: “Small trees get no respect.” But dwarf trees can be a valuable addition to many landscapes and landscape design projects.

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