Archives for September 2013

Sunday Opinion: A Life Span

Everything in the garden has a lifespan.  This is a polite way of saying that every living thing lives their life, and eventually dies.  The redwood trees in California, and the old yews in England, among other ancient plants, are prized by many not only for their size and shape, but their astonishing longevity.  The Wollemi pine trees-of which there are 40 trees in some unknown location in Australia-date back thousands of years.  The National Geographic has made a big issue of protecting first, and secondarily propagating these trees.  Their sales of new starts of Wollemi Pines helps to cover the cost of their protection. They grow no where else on this planet, but for a remote valley in Australia.  Yes, I did buy small starts some 8 years ago-why wouldn’t I?  Both of my Wollemi pines belong to my landscape superintendent-Steve Bernard.  They were a gift.  They are at this moment, thriving.  As is our relationship.  We work together.  But not every plant thrives.  Plants which have lustily grown for years eventually die.  Some plants die just days after they are planted.  Do I have an explanation for this-not really.  The life and death in a landscape is an issue both Steve and I deal with every day.

Landscape clients want me to guarantee that the plant material I put in the ground will live-for at least the warranty period.  For one year, I am asked to stave off death.  I oblige, in spite of the fact that the life of a landscape and garden depends more on nature than me.  I do what I can, but I am rarely in charge. Some plants thrive in spite of my skepticism.  Other robust plants inexplicably die, leaving me with lots of questions and not so much comfort.  Anyone who gardens knows that every plant has a lifespan.  Every gorgeous moment in a garden is just that-a moment.  And that which is treasured is ephemeral.

I have a few plants that are original to my garden from the day I moved in.  A magnolia, some dogwoods, a pair of picea mucrunulatum, some rhododendron, a norway spruce some 40 feet tall,  some azaleas, and some challenged maples in the tree lawn.  But these plants are not centuries old. They are at best 90 years old.  Ninety years old is a blip that one blink will miss, in the history of our planet.  Every gardener needs to realize that their influence is short.  And not necessarily what nature values.  Peonies and asparagus are very long lived.  Trees that have a good siting and thoughtful planting live a long time.  As in my lifetime.  Perennials live but a very short time.  Foxgloves are beautiful, and short lived.

The lifetime of the planet-vastly more years than mine.  I understand that eventually, and sooner rather than later, I will wear out and die.  The numbers of perennials and annuals in my garden that will wear out and die before me-considerable.  Lots.  The trees that will mature and finally die-they will be much older than me on the day of their demise. My gardening is but a brief moment in a scheme that is long, substantial, and just about impossible to predict.

Does the prospect of a limited lifespan to my landscape worry me?  Not really.  A beginning and an end to anything significant in the landscape is beyond my grasp to orchestrate.  I spend an extraordinary amount of time in an effort to keep every plant in my landscape happy and healthy.   Every gardener, just like me, learns, and leans into the natural demands of a life span.  Leaning in-what every gardener knows how to do.

At A Glance: Brown

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Generous

fall-planting.jpgThough we have had some very warm weather lately, our the fall gardening season has begun.  There are telltale signs.  Shorter days, a decidedly cooler quality of light, and the the chilly mornings are all signs that summer is coming to a close.  But the end of summer is by no means the end of the garden.  The abundance that results in the harvest season is one of fall’s great pleasures.

fall-container-plantings.jpgThe grasses are maturing.  Our farmer’s market is overflowing with squashes, greens of all kinds, pumpkins,  cabbage and broccoli, gourds and tomatoes.  Many vegetables need our entire season to mature.  Locally grown fruit of all kinds-especially apples-are available at market.  Similarly, there are lots of beautiful materials available to the avid container gardener. I like for the fall containers we do to have a generous and abundant quality to them. A fall centerpiece for a container is usually comprised of harvested goods.  Millet, dry twigs, broom corn, eucalyptus, milkweed pods and dried perennial stems are all natural materials in a harvested state.

planting-for-fall.jpgWhen the temperatures begin to drop, there is not so much growing going on.  We rely on large material to give containers the scale they need right from the start.  The centerpieces have large stout bamboo stakes at their center.  These stakes go deep into the soil, keeping a big heavy centerpiece not only aloft, but straight up and down.

fall-container.jpgThe cabbages and kale are the mainstays of our fall plantings.  We are indeed fortunate to have growers that supply them in one gallon pots this time of year.  A container this size represented in a generous way makes a visually pleasing statement.

fall-plantings.jpgThis material will persist and look good long into the fall.  The cabbage and kale will shrug off the frosts in November as if they were nothing more than an annoyance.  The dry and preserved material is very happy outdoors in cool weather with great air circulation.  All it takes is a willingness to scoop up what materials are available that interest you, and make something of them.

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgThis Friday past we planted 24 pots in downtown Detroit-we will finish up the last 7 on Monday.  Assembling the materials for a planting takes a lot of time and planning, especially if the pots are large.  My group has worked together long enough to have established a working routine.

fall-container-plantings.jpgAhead of the planting, the pots need to be designed.  Once I put that on paper, Steve will coordinate the installation.  Everyone has a job such that the work can be completed with dispatch.  All of the summer material needs to be removed and put on the truck; that material will be added to our compost piles.  The new material is sorted, and distributed where it needs to go.  Assembling centerpieces on site take 2 pair of hands.  We try to clean up as we go, to keep the mess at a minimum.

planting-for-fall.jpgThe centerpiece goes in last, and is firmly secured.  The construction of fall pots is entirely unlike planting pots for summer, and more like planting pots for winter.  There is more arranging going on than growing.

fall.jpgBittersweet stems are zip tied to bamboo stakes, and set in the pot at the very last.  Bittersweet is not a plant I would want in my garden-it is highly invasive.  However the dried stems and berries are very durable and beautiful outdoors in fall pots.

generous.jpgThe dried and dyed yellow twigs provide lots of color at a time of year when color is at a premium.  Preserved eucalyptus is another great source of color.  The plum eucalyptus in this arrangement is subtle, but it picks up the dark carmine pink of the cabbage and kale.

fall-planting.jpgI like fall represented as a celebration.

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Pansies and violas are great in small pots, or as a accent in a large pots.  These bowls are 6 feet in diameter, and take a lot of material.  The contemporary shape benefits from the repetition of materials.  Each of the 11 pots we planted for fall has the same overall design, but features different and alternating materials.

moss-dog.jpgThe fall planting for all of the dogs at Chase Tower have a center of dusty miller and cut green millet.  The silver and light green help the dark moss sculptures to stand out.  The pots are located under a very high overhang, so they are always in the shade.  The cabbage and kale will tolerate this for the several months they will be planted here.

moss dog.jpgThe moss dogs add so much visual interest, and they can be retained season after season.  The moss can be be sprayed with moss food coloring once it fades.  When the time comes that the moss deteriorates, the steel frames can be re stuffed.

moss-dog.jpgThre dogs themselves are welded onto steel posts that are 30″ tall.  This keeps the sculptures above the top of the plant material.

1001-Woodward.jpgOur last stop-the stock tanks at 1001 Woodward. The espalier pear trees will spend the fall season here, and then be moved into storage for the winter.  The redbor kale and frilly purple cabbage look great with the black tanks.

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This small urban park is as friendly as it is stylish.  The stock tanks are an unexpected choice for containers.  The artificial turf is just plain fun.  It was a gorgeous day to be downtown planting.

A Case For Planting Containers For Fall

 

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Our summer season has not been so friendly to those of us who garden in containers.  All of the tropical plants in the containers despised the cold, and the relentless rain.  Why do I even plant tropical plants in my containers?  Annual plants bloom, set seed, and die, over the course of one season.  If I remove the dead flower from an annual plant, I am thwarting its natural instinct to reproduce itself via the act of setting seed. This annual plant will bloom again, hoping to set seed, the next time.  This means there are flowers coming on all season long.  Some hybrid annual plants are sterile-they do not set seed.  They will continue to bloom over the warm months in spite of this.

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Warm months is the operative phrase here.  Many of our common annual plants are native to climates much warmer than the midwest.  They dislike being planted in cold soil in our spring, and they faint dead away with the first frost.  Why do I put up with this?  I like that group of annual flowers that grow larger and bloom with abandon all summer long.  Those plants with oversized tropical leaves-as in alocasias, calocasias, cannas, tree ferns and the like-are equally as pleasing.  They represent lush in a way that few plants hardy in my zone can match.  Container plantings help make my landscape feel like summer.

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I admire those gardeners that plant hostas in pots-bravo.  However, I like my hostas best, in ground. I have tried lots of perennial and shrubby plants in containers-by this I mean lavender, hydrangeas, hyssop, buddleia, gloriosa daisies, boxwood-I could go on, but won’t.  The only perennial plant I really value in containers is strawberries.  The leaves are large and beautifully serrated.  The unripe fruit is a beautiful color.  The ripe fruit is irresistible.  Some gardeners are attracted to the idea that their containers full of hostas could be brought out of the garage in the spring, and put in place-as usual.  Other gardeners are determined to keep boxwood, boxwood topiaries, junipers and their topiary variants alive in containers, season after season, year after year.  One of the things I value the most about the planting seasonal containers is how a fresh start energetically engages the imagination.  Last year’s containers-more about history than the moment.  I am not enchanted by my containers being over and done with.  Done-I dread both the adjective, and the noun.  So does nature, by the way.

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The prospect of my containers being filled with the same plants year after year would bore me beyond all belief. I would not care if the boxwood sphere put on another six inches in height and girth.  I value the change up pitch better than a fast ball down the middle.  My landscape has taken many years to bring to a level that pleases me.  Any major change would be a major upheaval.  Not that I adverse to some upheaval.  A landscape is a big fluid situation that evolves over a period of years.  There is no fast forward.  No matter how loud you are able to snap your fingers, the landscape will take years to really respond.  But my summer containers reward my efforts relatively quickly.

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The second reason I so value tropical plants in my containers?  I can plant something different next year, and the year after that.  I can ditch my failures, and move on.  I can entertain a color scheme on a whim.  A cold and rainy season will not stalk me beyond the frost.  Next year will be different.

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As for planting fall pots-let’s agree that this summer was not the best for container plantings.  I have appreciated the summer heat we have gotten in September-all of my containers look much better than they did a month ago.  Most of my containers have dark empty spots.  Those holes are from the begonias that rotted.  What coleus didn’t give up has spots-the tell tale sign of cold.

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In late September, there are several options for a container that has unnattractive gaps.  Those tropical plants that have faded away can be replaced with cold hardy plants-as in parsley, 4″ cabbage and kale, pansies, bok choy, Napa lettuce, ivy of every description, chrysanthemums, asters-there are no end of fall hardy and fall blooming plants that could fill your gaps.

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Or you could replant you containers for fall. I have lots of containers.  I will stand pat with most of them until the frost takes them down.  But the pots I drive up to every day, I replant them for fall.  I have lots of choices for material.  Broom corn, fresh and preserved eucalyptus, twigs, preserved leptospermum, asters, gourds, dried grasses, cabbage, kale, lettuce, pansies, rosemary, thistles, pumpkins, bittersweet, dried hydrangeas from my yard, twigs from the field, chrysanthemums-you get my drift.  It is entirely possible that my fall containers will be the best of the year.  I have no regrets about the annuals going down.  I have the fall season coming on.

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All my driveway pots need is for me to assemble a group of fall materials, and soldier on.  Soldiering on?  This means plant.  Stick.  Arrange.

fall-planting.jpgEnjoy the season.

 

 

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