Archives for August 2016

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

pool and landscapeI don’t recall the topic under discussion, but at one point Buck said to me, “Well you know, a rising tide lifts all boats”.  That got my attention, as I had never head this expression before. From Wikipedia, ” The “a rising tide lifts all boats” is associated with the idea that improvements in the general economy will benefit all participants in that economy.”  Though this saying is usually associated with economic theory, I do not see why it could not be applied to a variety of other topics – like the landscape design process. It seems almost too obvious to say, but I will say it anyway. To my mind, the most striking change in perception and knowledge about the landscape over the past 20 or more years has been fueled by the availability of information – both of the written and visual sort. Thirty years ago, even the most well travelled clients were not necessarily aware of the history or current practice of landscape design. Or what materials and plants were available. Their focus was on their lives. They had me, as my focus was on their landscape. Of course there is no substitute for personal experience, but it requires almost no effort to see pictures and read about landscapes both historic and contemporary, in other parts of our own country, and in other countries. Information and pictures are readily available. It is just as easy to research materials and ornament for the landscape. We completed the landscape pictured above early in 2013. We still work there, doing the seasonal plantings. A few months ago she gave me a photograph she had seen in a magazine of a landscape feature predicated on a pair of parallel hedges of arborvitae, and asked how I felt about a similar feature at the far end of her pool. I thought it was a great idea. We left the space behind the chaises open, in case there were ever a reason to tent the space for a party. After living with the landscape for 3 years, my client was interested in a more finished gesture, and she had a way to explain to me how she would like to see it finished.

arborvitae Emerald Green (7)Is it unusual for a client to suggest a change or addition to a landscape? It may have been so years ago, but not now. A client who is interested in a shade tree, an arbor, a bird feeder, a swimming pool, terrace furniture, a vegetable garden, a fountain, a hedge, a certain architectural style or a perennial garden has most likely done some research on the topic. A picture or article that explains or illustrates what appeals to them gets their idea across clearly. No one installs a landscape hoping it will satisfy. Everyone wants to feel some measure of confidence that they will like the results of a landscape project. I might do research of my own for images that illustrate a landscape concept I am trying to explain to a client.

arborvitae Emerald Green (3)The 2 parallel hedges are set 7 feet apart.  The opening in the front hedge is 10 feet wide. After seeing this, my client decided she wanted the opening a little smaller.  We will add two more Emerald Green arborvitae in the front row.

arborvitae Emerald Green (4)The planting of these 23 arborvitae will provide structure to a space. It will take several years for the plants to grow together, and act like walls.  I am quite sure we will trim the tops parallel to the horizon. What comes next will be determined when this part is finished. Whether there is a large planter, or benches or a fountain-I have no idea, nor do I need to know right now. For sure there are no end of options for consideration. The rising tide of available information means that any project can be lifted up. More personal.  better.

arborvitae Emerald Green (6)A recent landscape consultation involved a discussion of a fountain which would be a focal point in the landscape.  My client wanted me to tell her what options were available. I could easily provide scores of fountain options that would be properly proportioned to the space, and amiable to the architecture. But having only met her once, I might not be able to find that one fountain that would greatly appeal to her. I told her she needed to put her boat in the water. I gave her a list of possible search phrases, to which she could add her own. Once she could show me pictures of fountains, or fountain shapes or styles that appealed to her, I would be better able to help her select one.

arborvitae Emerald GreenFor those clients who have looked at too many pictures, or read too many articles, a designer can be useful as an editor. Too many choices can be paralyzing, and just as bad a situation as having no choice.  I like to advise, to a point. Any client who is instrumental in making decisions about their landscape takes ownership of it more readily. This is why I think designers (myself included) have such a hard time making decisions about their own landscapes. Too much exposure to too many options can bring a decision making process to a standstill. If you only have room for one tree, and there are 20 that could be beautiful, how do you make a choice? What do you need most from the tree? shade? flowers and fruit? screening?  That should narrow your list of 20. Most places have state parks, arboretums, botanic gardens and public gardens of one sort or another where anyone can see trees in person. Or you could look at each tree on google images, and compare.  On the Missouri Botanic Garden website, go to

arborvitae Emerald Green (2)We’ll see what comes next.

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The Hydrangeas

Little Lime hydrangeasSometime between mid July and mid August, the Limelight hydrangeas come in to bloom. It is a moment worth waiting for. The fast growing large leaved plants bloom profusely on the current year’s growth. They are easy to cultivate, asking for not much more that some decent light and some regular water. The spectacularly large flowers are a gorgeous mixture of lime green and white. Limelight hydrangeas are known for their sturdy stems, which keep those flowers aloft in all but the stormiest weather. They do need a lot of room. A single well grown shrub can grow 8′ tall by 8′ wide. Hydrangea “Little Lime”, pictured above, is a hybrid of Limelight that only grows 4-5 feet tall, and as wide. They make themselves right at home in an informal or cottage style garden. But its relaxed habit of growth can look just as interesting in an alternative universe –  a more formal planting.

Little Lime hydrangeasThis mature size is not only friendly to smaller gardens, it looks great in a mass planting. This landscape is situated on a very steep slope, so these Little Limes are responding to the force of gravity. Some gardeners may find their sprawling habit unruly and irritating. Others will find them charming, even beautiful. They certainly endow the late summer garden with their willingness to bloom. All of the pictures in this post but one were taken on days with temperatures above 90 degrees.

hydrangea LimelightMy Limelights are 12 years old, or more.  Some years I prune them down to between 24″ and 30″ inches.  Some years I only remove the old flower heads and 6″ of stem. I always prune them in the spring, when the leaf buds begin to swell. The final result in terms of the flowering and height is fairly uniform, year to year, no matter how I prune. This illustrates the important of choosing shrubs whose mature size will fit the space that is available. I have been watering them twice a week for the past several months, as we have had very little rain.  The group to the far right in this picture get the least water, as they are difficult to reach.  They are shorter than usual, but they have plenty of flowers. How reliable they are to grow and bloom is a very good reason to plant them.

after the rainYesterday morning, after an exceptionally heavy and blustery rain, the water soaked flowers had fallen over in to the path. We’ll see what happens once they dry out. There is no staking hydrangeas at this stage.  If you are bound and determined to keep them upright, very stout and tall tomato cages need to be put in place in the spring. If the flower heads do not spring back up, I will cut some, put them in water, and let them dry indoors.

limelight hydrangeaLimelight hydrangeas can provide an easy going and breezy sense of enclosure. My hydrangeas are planted in a block, not in a single row.  Though the shrubs are very open growing, multiple staggered rows provide a dense green screen which makes my front yard garden quite private.

hedge of limelight hydrangeasGiven enough room, a generous sweep of Limelight hydrangeas can be quite architectural in feeling. Once these hydrangeas are pruned in the spring, they are not pruned again until the following spring.  Few deciduous shrubs can tolerate or perform well having been sheared. Hydrangeas are no exception. Prune to the best of your ability in the spring, and then turn loose of them. Looking for a rule?  The plants will tell you a very detailed story. Very few things bother hydrangeas.  They will bloom in part shade, but not as profusely. The flowers will be smaller, and the leaves will singe on the edges if they get too dry. I mulch them with bark fines in the spring after I prune. I water infrequently, but regularly. Outside of that, I just enjoy them.

limelight hydrangea Limelight is a hybrid of hydrangea paniculata.  Paniculata refers to the fact that the flower heads of these hydrangeas are comprised of hundreds of individual flowers arranged in a cluster around the flower stalk-this flower form is called a panicle. The individual florets will acquire a pink tinge as they age. When the temperatures cool down in the fall, the flowers will age to rose pink. I water the plants more in the early fall than I do in late summer. Truly?  The sure sign of a plant that has gone too dry are flowers that brown before their time. I do everything I can to extend the hydrangea season. I do leave the flower heads on all winter – why not?  Most of them stick tight throughout the winter for me.

August 10,2016 (64)I do not grow hydrangea Little Lime at home, but I have planted plenty of them elsewhere. Their shorter stature means there are flowers at eye level, on top of this retaining wall.  Had I planted the much bigger Limelight in this location, I would be looking in to the stems from the lower level. I recently planted a row of Little Limes in front of an old hedge of Limelights.  This will insure flowers from top to bottom.

August 10,2016 (71)The Little Limes smaller size makes them quite companionable to a host of other perennial and annual plants.

hydrangea BoboHydrangea Bobo is not related to either Limelight or Little Lime, but it is a panicle hydrangea.  Hybridized by Johan Van Huylenbroeck, the same breeder that developed the Pinky Winky hydrangea,  was patented and introduced by Proven Winners. Topping out at 3′ tall by up to 4′ wide, it is beautiful in a mass. Though this group has only been in the ground for 2 inhospitably hot and dry months, they are blooming.  By next year, the chances are good they will completely cover this large sunny area. I can cross this group of Bobo’s off my list of plantings to worry about. They’ll be back.

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Covering The Ground

groundcover (2)Not every plant in the landscape is the star of the show. What constitutes the star of the show, and whether you need one in a landscape is a subject for another post, but suffice it to say that if a design is deliberately composed around a center of interest, or constellation of interests, that focal point organizes the visual experience.  Every visual element has a different visual weight. The sum of all of the visual weights is zero – zero at the bone. What do I mean by this?  That incredible feeling that accompanies the experience of anything landscape that is breathtakingly beautiful. I am sure every gardener understands that moment. That most important landscape element, whether it be a beautiful beech, or a gorgeous arbor, or a pool, asks for a supporting cast. That cast may involve a whole host of shrubs or perennials of more modest demeanor than the diva plant. Or a series of plants that willingly covers the ground in proximity to that focal point. Little plants can do big work. Bare soil is an invitation for weeds and permits water to evaporate too quickly. Bark mulch is useful for slowing the evaporation of soil moisture, but it is not a ground cover. Some ground cover plants, with very little intervention on the part of a gardener, enable a good green show to go on. Ground cover? Ground cover is the green equivalent of a green skin, or the green equivalent of a considerable or deliberately designed mass. What does it take for you to notice a plant that is covering the ground? Lots of them. Truth be told, any plant, or combination of plants, could be a ground cover. If you think ground cover only applies to pachysandra, vinca, baltic ivy, and low growing junipers, there is a whole world of ground cover plants, and ground cover combinations that could energize, and de-mulchify your garden.  What are the options? I cannot take any credit for this mix of campanula porscharskyana and sweet woodruff in my yard.  I planted both in proximity to each other.  Nature did the rest. How this group of plants cover the ground is a partially shady area is beautiful.

groundcover (3)Sweet woodruff is a determined grower.  4 years go I tried to dig it out of my hellebore beds.  So much work to no end. It took four years, but every bit of it is back.  Sweet woodruff is small and hard working.  How did it jump my gravel path? How did that sweet woodruff get established in the ivy?  I have no answers. It is a good idea to make some moves, and then let nature respond to your ideas. I am in favor of a ground cover that is a mix of plants. Interested in a vigorous mixer?  Creeping jenny, either the lime or the all green version, will cozy up to anything it is planted with.

groundcover (4)The hosta Gold Drop is an old cultivar, but it covers the ground as if it were a teenager. What would I mix this hosta with? It is already mixed with baltic ivy.  Were I to try to introduce another plant, I would go for something taller.  As in variegated Solomon’s seal, or in lighter shade, kalimeris “Blue Star”.

groundcover (5)Lily of the Valley is a ground cover that spreads all over the place.  The beautifully scented flowers in the spring are delightful.  They need a careful placing.  Not too much sun. A liberal dusting of shade.  Lacking a perfect setting, this groundcover will tolerate both deep shade and a fair amount of sun.  A ground cover that is this easy to place and grow is a .  Easy to place and vigorously growing might mean invasive.  Planting invasive plants in certain areas in a landscape might be a good idea. Think that through. Some years, the leaves of Lily of the Valley are singed with fungus. It is not perfect, but that is no reason not to consider it.  groundcover (6)I do like my Japanese beech ferns. They spread more readily with some sun, but they tolerate deep shade.  It is a ground cover with more height than the usual  ground cover plants.  I did mix them with European ginger.

groundcover (8)European ginger is a ground cover any gardener could love.  The round to heart shaped leaves are glossy gorgeous.  They can prosper in a wide range of conditions. When it is happy, it will seed vigorously.

groundcover (7)The conditions around my fountain range from full sun to considerable shade. The isotoma I planted here is happy as it can be – from the shade to the sun. It is a supporting cast to my lead cherubs sitting on limestone spheres, and my fountain. Isotoma Fluviatilis is a willing ground cover in full sun to part shade. It likes plenty of water, even going into the winter.  When it is happy, it readily creeps in every direction. I like that it stops short of covering the feet of these lead sculptures.  This groundcover bed is only 18 inches wide.  This would not be a spot for baltic ivy, vinca, or pachysandra, or any other large growing plant.

groundcover (9)Hellebores make a beautiful ground cover. They are crown growing, which means you have to plant them fairly close together. Given a few years, they will cover lots of ground with gorgeous glossy leaves that persist well in to winter, and early spring flowers.

August 7 2016 (33)I have ground cover of a different sort on my deck. My wood deck would be a bleak affair, but for all of the pots I have planted there. All of my planted pots are a ground cover for the focal point. This deck is a place for Buck and I to meet at the end of the day, and a place for our friends to come for dinner. All of these deck covers make having dinner outdoors a pleasure.

006I planted lots of 15″ Green Gem boxwood as a ground cover for this client with a very contemporary home.  The idea here is that a ground cover could be 2 inches tall, or three feet tall. Any plant that is planted in a mass constitutes a ground cover.

bobo hydrangeaBobo hydrangeas are fairly new to me. They grow 30″ tall, by 30″ wide. This is my first effort to cover ground with hydrangeas. I’ll bet within a year or two they will completely cover this large area.

groundcover (10)Happy coming home tonight-to all those plants that cover my ground.

 

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