February 26, 2011

Purple Paddles

Tired of snow.  Tired of rain.  Went to the photo archives and found an old friend from summer:

Bergenia 'Rosi Klose':
Fat glossy green leaves in summer .....

.... turn to purple red paddles in fall
Honestly, sometimes I hear the sound of applause coming from my back garden as Bergenia claps those broad, wide palms together in smacking approval.

This shameless self promoter is called Pigsqueak.  That's because the leathery leaves actually make a squealing sound when you rub them in your fingers.  A plant that squeals!  A plant with paddles big enough to applaud with!  Green in summer, deep red in fall, a low grower.  A wide, sun-snatching shape that complements every other form of foliage it grows near.  This is such a keeper.

MoBot file photo
but you have to be on your knees to see this bloom detail
Perennial profiles always show you the little spikes of Bergenia cordifolia's pink (or white) flowers and tell you this is a charming spring bloomer.  No it isn't.  My Rosi Klose has the typical little wands of flowers, but they pop up in earliest spring when the overwintered foliage of Bergenia is ratty and wasted.  The flowers are not why you want this glossy groundcover in your shady damp garden.

It's the paddles of foliage.  It's the squeak when you rub the leaves.  It's the fall color.  And it's the sound of applause you hear on late summer nights, as Bergenia puts those big clappers together to celebrate being in your garden.

February 22, 2011

Creating a Forest

Planting trees made me a gardener.  I did not start out with a vegetable patch or some flowering annuals and then expand into woody ornamentals and mixed borders.  I started with trees.  I started out gardening to build a forest.

When we moved in, the builder left us this for a back yard view. 

A street runs along the top of the little ridge (our house backs up to this street, it fronts to a quiet cul de sac).  I wanted to sit in my back yard and be screened from the street, the traffic running on it, and the houses lining it.

I didn't want a row of evergreens or a living fence of arborvitae, or any other kind of artificial landscaped look.  I knew what it should look like: a typical wooded New England hillside, dense with forest trees, like it had grown there naturally.  That led me to research what would actually be found on a typical wooded hillside here, and that led me to learn about native trees.

What an education.  I learned about the diversity of our cold climate forests, and I was quickly overwhelmed with how many choices there were.

So, fearlessly, I planted what I had researched.  I got cheap rootbound saplings at Lowe's and free bare root 10 inch twigs from ArborDay.  I found tiny volunteer saplings growing in the woods nearby and moved them.  I ordered some one gallon whips from a mail order catalog.  Where you see a round of brown dirt on the greening hillside, that's where I put in a tree.

I had trouble with rabbits and deer. The scrabbly dirt the builder left on the bank was no good, loose and stony.  I learned I had to encase the spindly trunks in plastic mesh to protect them from critters.  Early in the season, as you can see below, the weed layer was low, but by midsummer monstrous weeds engulfed the baby trees and choked them (this was bulldozed earth, after all, disturbed and opened up).  Bittersweet and poison ivy entangled every sapling.  Goldenrod shaded them and ragweed smothered them.

Out of respect for their suffering, I never actually photographed the wild, tangled, struggling forest-to-be in full summer.

But the ones that didn't strangle or get eaten started to grow.  And some started to overtop the weeds.  I helped, by freeing them from the worst of the poison ivy and bittersweet, and clearing out the rampant autumn olive bushes.  When it was very dry I watered the little saplings; no easy feat to get water out to that back hill, and it was no small commitment to water more than 50 saplings.

It's been a few years, and I am beginning to see a native New England woodland emerging as I sit on my back deck.

And now, in winter, the slender trunks are clearly visible.

To those of you who have lovely woodland gardens, this scrawny strip of a hillside doesn't look like much.  But it takes my breath away to see it.  In every season.

I wanted this strip of woods to appear as if it had grown there naturally; I later learned that meant using "native plants".  I wanted it to be mixed and jumbled up; I later learned that meant "diverse".  I wanted birds to come; I later learned that meant creating an "ecosystem". 

About 40 of the trees I planted survive, not just in the sections the photos show, but stretched out along the whole bank for a couple hundred feet.  Another dozen or more volunteers are growing there too, including some aggressive Eastern cottonwoods, Staghorn sumacs, and some Norway maples, unfortunately not native, but hard to eradicate.

What did I plant?  In no particular order, here is my native, diverse, burgeoning ecosystem:

Red maples, lots (Acer rubrum)
Silver maples, many (Acer saccharinum)
Black gums, several (Nyssa sylvatica)
Sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Tuliptrees (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Pin Oaks (Quercus palustris)
Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)
Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Sassafras, many (Sassafras albidum)
Sweet Birches (Betula lenta --- but I lost all of them)
Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)
River Birches (Betula nigra)
White Pines (Pinus strobus)
Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) 
Persimmons (Diospyros virgiana, originally native a little further south)
Eastern Red Cedars (Juniperus virginiana)

Once I got the hang of ecosystem forest creation, learning to garden with perennials and shrubbery was easy.

February 20, 2011

Stylish Blogger Award

How fun!

Deb at Deb's Garden has nominated my blog for the Stylish Blogger Award.  It's an honor.  Thanks, Deb!

It's been going around for a little bit, so most of you know I have to do three things: link back to Deb's Garden, tell you seven things about myself and nominate 15 stylish blogs that I read.

Here goes.

7 random things:
  • I learned to fly an airplane before I could drive a car.  My Dad was a test pilot for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft back in the 1960s and he taught me to pilot a small Cessna when I was a teenager.  He was a stern and unforgiving instructor, but I cherish those times in the cockpit with him.
  • I met my husband randomly online.  Not through a dating site or a match service --- I sent a completely unsolicited random e-mail to a person whose profile on AOL intrigued me.  And he responded.
  • I worked for one company my entire career, all 34 years at one place.  No one does that any more.  Or wants to.  Or should.
  • I spent the entire summer of 1969 in the Soviet Union (now Russia) as a student in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).  It was the height of the Cold War and it was scary and foreign and intense, but quite an experience.
  • I didn't know a digitalis from a penstemon from a viburnum or a stewartia when I started gardening 5 years ago.  Nada, I knew nothing.  I learned it all after I retired, mostly from the internet, from playing in the dirt, and from all your wonderful informative blogs.  Still learning.
  • I love Wyoming.  I was born and raised and lived all my life in Connecticut, but I have some kind of special connection to the high plains and the peaks of the Big Horn Mountains.
  • I can complete the New York Times Sunday crossword without looking anything up.  Most of the time, and if my husband helps with the sports clues.  And with some of the old movies clues.  And politics references.  Thank goodness for collaboration.

15 stylish bloggers:
If you are listed below, you can link back to my blog, post seven things about yourself and your own 15 nominations for stylish bloggers.

This has been going around for some time, so some of you may have been nominated by others before.  I am a regular reader of the same blogs Deb nominated and would nominate them too, but I tried to nominate some stylish blogs she didn't list!


February 18, 2011

Color Pairs

On these cold snowy winter days I've been gardening inside.  Not houseplants.  Not seed starting.  I'm gardening in books.

I'm reading Tracy DiSabato Aust's book The Well-Designed Mixed Garden.

Her section on color theory got me thinking about what I have planted in my own garden.  My design has focused on trees and woody plants --- their form, leaves, structure, their function in the garden (fruit / fall color / shade / screening) and height.  I then plunked perennials in between the woody plants and called it a garden.  Some of it turned out really nice. 

Now, reading the actual theory behind garden design and color pairings, I'm thinking I should take a look at what I've done.  Have I followed any of the recommended color pairings?  It turns out I have, but honestly, most of it was pure accident and the happy collaboration of the plants themselves.

A classic pairing of intense cool purple and soft warm peach

Cool and warm again with blue gray lambs ear and golden Hakone grass

Wine colored drumstick alliums, this time against a hotter orange Helenium

The sweetness of pink and white are tempered with a gray blue spruce and neutral green foliage

Ruby red lobelia and pink zinnias are analogous (near) shades, really almost the same color

Orange zinnias and blue caryopteris are opposites and naturally complementary

Deep red penstemon foliage under a chartreuse leaved Japanese maple contrast beautifully

It turns out my untutored eye knew what was soothing and what popped, and lo and behold, those successes actually followed color theory guidelines.

It's more than just using hot and cool colors together.  The book delves into intensity, hue and value, and the things that affect them, such as distance and reflectivity.  The last pairing above of the 'Huskers Red' penstemon and the Japanese maple works well because the red hue is a saturated value and the maple is a light reflective value and we're getting that contrast as well as the color contrast.  There's more.... but some basic reading tells me why this works.

But it hasn't been all goodness and joy.... there have been some bad pairings in my garden, and they clash, just as the guidelines tell us they would.  For example, pink and yellow, adjacent on the red-pink-orange-yellow section of the color wheel, do not play nicely together.
This is a very jarring combo -- bubblegum pink snapdragons and yellow allium moly
The snapdragon and the little yellow onion are each pretty plants on their own.  Just not so near each other.

And it's not that they are too bright.  A softer shade of pink and a mellower shade of yellow-gold in autumn is even more off-putting, as the witch hazel and hardy mums below show:
This color combo doesn't work, and the mums will have to move next year

It turns out garden design is intuitive.  There are specific and predictable reasons why pairings look good, and a sophisticated and complex theory about why they do, but the bottom line is: you know it when you see it.

February 17, 2011

Busy Planting

I have been very busy planting for the past week.

It's the dead of winter, but I was planting outdoors.

If you are curious about what can be planted outside in the northern hemisphere in winter, read on.

I planted my ski poles at every turn, and made some nice long sweeping linked S turns.

I planted my keister in a snowdrift and slid on my backside a little ways, completely without dignity of any kind.  There are no pictures of this.

I planted my skis on the storage rack and went inside for a rest.

I planted my feet in front of the fire and made my cold toes happy.

I planted a big kiss on my son's cheek to thank him for a wonderful family filled adventurous holiday in the California mountains.

Now I am back home and more than ready to do some real digging in the earth and some real planting of green things.  But that will have to wait a few more months.

February 8, 2011

Back Soon

I will be gone for a little while.

I'll be back later in February, if I don't break every bone in my body.

See you then,

February 6, 2011

Pencil Sketches

Photos edited in Pencil Sketch in Picnik.  Fun for a gloomy, icy winter day.

February 3, 2011

What I Miss

Know what I am missing right now?  The color green.

Know what I am dreaming of?  A long arbor with vines and a view.  I have room to put one in.  Somewhere.

Know what I am longing for?  Flowering trees.  A Snowbell -- Styrax japonicus.  A Kousa Dogwood.

Know where I want to be sitting right now?  On a bench in dappled sunlight under a shaded pergola.

Know what would make my heart jump?  Wild flowery shrubs, blooming with abandon, even unkempt ones like a big Lespedeza -- Bush Clover.

Know what I hear outside my window right now?  The last gasps of the Rudbeckia seedheads as they disappear forever, and a feeble hiss of steam as the heated birdbath goes under. 

Know what I am seeing now?  My relax sign as it succumbs under a white tidal wave.

Know what I miss?  My sanity.

All pictures were taken at Wave Hill Garden on the Hudson River last May.  Except the last two, which were taken out my window yesterday morning.