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Hedgehogs, Floral Tapestries, and Design Inspiration from Harlow Carr

Hedgehogs, Floral Tapestries, and Design Inspiration from Harlow Carr

One of four public gardens run by the Royal Horticultural Society, Harlow Carr is set in the beautiful English countryside near Harrogate, Yorkshire, so of course I just had to visit while I was there a few weeks ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect but found myself totally charmed and impressed by the varied displays that were both inspirational and educational. These are just a few highlights from the 200 or so photos I took!

Hedgehog Street

Openings at the base of the walls allow hedgehogs to pass from one garden to the next

The British love their hedgehogs. I have fond memories of setting out a saucer of milk for night-visiting hedgehogs when I was a child, but sadly their numbers have been in a rapid decline as hedgerows have been lost and their natural food sources destroyed. A national campaign called Hedgehog Street has called for greater awareness and pledges to make gardens more hedgehog friendly by:

  • planting nectar-rich flowers that encourage insects that the hedgehogs eat
  • leaving piles of dead wood and compost for nesting sites and foraging
  • Avoiding chemicals on lawns to protect earthworms – a major food of hedgehogs
  • Avoiding the use of molluscicides and pesticides
  • Including a 13cm (~5in) diameter hedgehog highway between gardens for greater connectivity

I loved this example of a hedgehog-friendly design, designed by Tracy Foster and installed by First Light Landscaping. Truthfully, I stopped because I thought what a great example it was for ‘small space design‘ – it was only on closer inspection that I realized it had been designed to be equally beneficial to hedgehogs!

Embracing the Earthworm

Throughout the gardens there were fascinating willow displays including a huge stegosaurus protecting its eggs and this  wiggly worm that made me smile.

Floral Tapestries

Expansive beds were richly planted in a matrix of colorful perennials, an exciting take on the New Perennial Movement and a twist on the traditional English cottage garden style.

Mature trees added punctuation points to the intricate displays

Each block of color was clearly defined in most areas…

…yet rivers of certain perennials were allowed to flow more organically through other beds

Edible Ideas

The kitchen garden display was especially interesting.

Apples were espaliered on wide steel arches

English gardens are often small so making the use of vertical space is always a priority.

A gourd tunnel is created around a pathway using pruned branches

Rather than growing a traditional tall bean tepee where one has to get a ladder to reach the top, I thought this was a clever idea:

Growing beans at a 45′ angle makes harvesting easier and shade loving crops can be grown beneath

These twig prunings were put to good use as “pea staking”, preventing chard and nasturtiums from sprawling onto the path

Traditional “pea staking”

A thrilling moment

Harlow Carr also has a wonderful library that is open to all: students, researchers, and everyday gardeners. The collection includes practical gardening, garden design, wildlife gardening…and MY BOOK!! Yes, Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017), my second book co-authored with Christina Salwitz, was proudly displayed on their shelves. This was one of those moments that I would have loved to have been able to share with my Mum. I know she’d have been as proud as I was.

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Last Needle Hanging

Last Needle Hanging

Seen above in better days….

The conifer is failing

…but sadly a key plant in this scene has now become an embarrassing eyesore.  Time to take action!

Out with the Old

My Feelin’ Blue deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara ‘Feelin’ Blue), carefully placed to the left of the cabin, started to feel a bit “off” last year – and turned a dull olive green. This year she is decidedly brown. I could wait  until the last needle drops or just face the inevitable and dig her out. This is a prime location, visible from the home, the patio and even when driving onto the property so it’s not place for a Charlie Brown. I also painted the door of the cabin to match the conifer….. Geez, did she not understand that before she started with her chameleon attitude?

Not the look I was going for!

But what to replace her with? I like the idea of a conifer still, it needs to be low and spreading (so the cabin and orange container behind it are not obscured, it needs to be deer resistant, tolerate full sun, be drought tolerant once established – and be BLUE. The soil isn’t great in that spot. The native soil is clay and while it has been amended I suspect the water table is quite high which may mean soggy winter soil and be the reason for the demise of the deodar cedar whose sensitivities were upset by the short-term foot bath.

In with the New

Love the visible white stomata on the needles of the Spreading Star Pacific fir

I’ve chosen a selection of a native fir – the Spreading Star Pacific fir (Abies amabilis ‘Spreading Star’). I love the deep blue-green needles that radiate around the stems and the distinctive silver-white undersides which add a shimmer effect. It will grow to 6′ wide x 3′ tall; about the same size as the failed cedar that is being removed.

Regarding deer resistance, I’ve been fortunate with deer and fir interactions so far, the only casualty being rutting against a Korean fir, so I’m fairly optimistic on that front but may spray the first couple of winters to give it a chance to get established.

I’m not sure how it will fare in my soil, except that I have two other fir in the same border that are doing well so again am cautiously optimistic.

Temporary Design Assistance!

Silver Falls dichondra is often used as a trailing silver-leaved annual

 

The only problem is that while it will eventually grow to fill the space, right now it’s tiny! It would be easy to fill up the space with a wild assortment of bits and bobs but I want this to be a distinct focal point to anchor this bed and not get lost in a cacophony of botanical treasures. I’m therefore going to surround it with a temporary silver carpet of Silver Falls dichondra.

I like the silver color echo between the fir and the groundcover, and also the difference in leaf shape and texture

The small, metallic silver leaves will accentuate the color of the conifer and act like a series of floodlights lighting up the star. I know this is only an annual for me, but it’s a fairly cheap, short-term solution that won’t spoil my overall design.

Early results

The new look – day 1

Yes it IS small, especially when I’m used to seeing the larger conifer, but I like the direction this is going in now. Framing the fir with the silver groundcover really sets it off as I’d hoped. And I love it with the door!

Resources

If you love conifers, you might like this book. My copy is VERY well thumbed!

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Mission Impossible? Petunia Conversion!

Mission Impossible? Petunia Conversion!

“Oh boy,” was my less-than-enthusiastic reaction when I opened the box of plants to trial from Proven Winners and saw several petunias. PINK petunias at that. I can’t stand petunias. They get sticky, messy, don’t deadhead politely, get covered in aphids, don’t tolerate rain – and pink is NOT my color…

As I donned my gardening gloves and pushed my pride to one side I tried to focus on the fact that I was being asked to test these plants as a real gardener so that YOU would have an unbiased review of their performance. Sure it was going to be unbiased. I hate petunias. Did I mention that already? And I don’t especially like pink. I’m not completely averse to pink – I just wouldn’t choose it.

I hastily shoved them in a couple of spare pots adding whatever I could round up to work with them (did I mention that I don’t “do” pink?) and set up the drip irrigation system.. I then left town for 10 days – for 8 of which it poured with rain. When I got back home did I rush out to see how they were doing? Noooo. I hunkered down in my office for another 8 days to finish writing my book, during which time it rained – a lot.

When I eventually emerged and ventured out to check on them I anticipated a sticky, molten mess. I kid you not – they were stunning. No sticky goo. No aphids.

I didn’t even primp them before taking these photos – this is as real as it gets!

Et Voila: Supertunia Vista Bubblegum

Of the two, so far, I’d say Vista Bubblegum has a tidier habit – no awkward sprawly bits – and it is playing beautifully with the delicate, silver Artemisia ‘Makana Silver’. And although I don’t go for pink as a rule I could honestly be tempted by this one. It’s a lovely clear shade of pink with deeper veins- not too bright and not too pale. I think it will hold up well to bright summer sun come August. And just one little plant is really giving a lot for the money.

….and Supertunia Vista Paradise

Supertunia Vista Paradise is a little more sprawly but not excessively so and I am deliberately not going to pinch it back as I want to see how it performs on its own. Chances are it will even out and have a similar habit to Vista Bubblegum.

Supertunia Vista Paradise with a blue fanflower (Scaevola), Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’ and a lovely new Angelonia called Angelface ‘Steel Blue’ that will be available in 2019. All except the fanflower are from Proven Winners

It’s a really deep shade of neon pink that looks stunning with bolder shades of yellow and blue-purple so is a little closer to my usual color tempo. This one will be available in nurseries in 2019

Stay tuned for a late season follow up but dare I say I am impressed? By a petunia! Proven Winners  you have achieved the impossible.

Although the plants were from Proven Winners I have not been paid to give my endorsement. Opinions are my own and unbiased. (I DID tell you that I hate petunias, right?)

Watery Hues at Chanticleer

Watery Hues at Chanticleer

I’m sure you’ve heard of the renowned white garden at Sissinghurst. Even if you’ve never seen it in person there are countless images online depicting its quiet elegance. Does the idea of a monochromatic color scheme intrigue you but you’re nervous to try it?

  • Are you afraid it will lack interest?
  • You’re not sure which color to focus on?
  • You’d like to add just a hint of contrast but don’t know how or with what?

This may be just the inspiration you need!

I managed to squeeze in a short trip to Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, PA a week or so ago. I had been photographing the last few gardens for my new book Deer Resistant Design (Timber Press, 2019) and realized I was within striking distance of this magical garden that had completely captivated me when I visited last fall.

I arrived a little later than ideal for photography but was still able to find a few spots with soft light, including the gravel terrace adjacent to the formal pool, which was planted in a deliciously cooling palette of soft aqua tones, accented by the finely dissected blue-black foliage of Black Lace elderberry and a few light confetti sprinkles of coral-orange.

The watery hues of the pool house roof and pool itself inspired the monochromatic theme which in true Chanticleer style was not bound by limitations of hardiness or longevity so much as drama, texture, form and scale of foliage, enhanced by a few select flowers. In other words it is my sort of garden!

Finding Focus

Focal points are essential in any design, but are especially important where the color palette is restrained. Here a pair of weathered stone roosters stand apart from the exuberant plantings, while the bold succulent foliage of a stunning blue century plant (Agave americana) forms a counterpoint to a froth of finer textures.

 

A bold blue century plant (Agave americana) thrives anchors the design surrounded by the foliage and flowers of curly sea kale (Crambe maritima), annual long-headed poppies (Papaver dubium), donkey tail spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) and Dalmation bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana)

While these roosters stand sentry to the stepped path that leads to the pool, the borders they guard are not planted in a strictly symmetrical fashion. Rather the emphasis is on repetition of the color palette and textures.

Sea kale has been allowed to flower, its succulent stems and white flowers adding to the casual display.

Adjacent to a major pathway, this display also has to hold up to closer inspection by strolling visitors. I was fascinated by the plant selection the designers had thought to use and marveled at their inventiveness. I only wish I could visit again in mid-summer to see how this color story will continue to unfold.

Blue Glitter sea holly (Eryngium ‘Blue Glitter’) shows off its spiky blue bracts

Your turn!

Has this got you thinking? Remember you can design a single container, a feature border or an entire garden room in this way. It can be designed using hardy plants, annuals or a blend of the two.

Look around your garden for color cues. Perhaps your red front door? Or a specimen tree with silver leaves? Or a cobalt blue birdbath? Where the pool house roof guided the choice at Chanticleer any of those features could be a color springboard for your unique design.

Bismarck palms (Bismarkia nobilis) are planted in containers tucked into the border adjacent to the pool house, reinforcing the color scheme and seasonal display.

Be sure to visit Chanticleer if you can! It’s now open until the end of October.

Live too far away? Then treat yourself to this enticing book, The Art of Chanticleer photographed by award-winning photographer Rob Cardillo.

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Renovation of a Mature Border – Part 1

Renovation of a Mature Border – Part 1

Is your whole garden a place of beauty where butterflies sip, birds sing and you love to linger?

Or do you have an area of your garden that is “just what it is“. You neither love it, nor hate it – you just haven’t got around to thinking about it? I do.

June 2018 – drab and overgrown. Time to THINK about this space!

This is the only remaining part of the original garden installed by the previous homeowner, using by her own admission “leftovers’ from her landscaping business. In many ways it’s a good design: an arc of evergreen conifers is fronted by broadleaf evergreens (Rhododendrons) and a single golden leafed spirea. Boulders to one side and a clump or rhubarb (a great ornamental plant that is also edible) to the other gives this border year round interest that looks especially lovely in spring. For a few weeks.

In May 2011 it looked lovely but the red leaf maple died that same year and the golden spirea has long since been swallowed by the Rhodies

The Problem

And therein lies the problem. The dark green rhodie leaves against the dark green conifers become a visual black hole for most of the year. The single, golden spirea does help although it is now getting buried behind the rhodies as they have got so large. About 6 years ago I added two Coppertina ninebark into the mix, the bronze foliage adding some more color – which helped. But it’s still pretty blah, especially compared to the rest of the garden.

May 2013 – still acceptable in spring and the addition of two bronze ninebarks  behind the rhodies helped a little.

May 2013 – the ninebarks flank the still visible spirea and the rhodies look healthy. This was before we had several hot summers in a row though.

Other Challenges

Lack of irrigation and increasingly dry summers have added another issue. The shallow rooted rhodies really struggle by mid-August and there is just no way to get a hose to them. So drought stress, combined with lacebug stippling and vine weevil-notched leaves have left these “evergreen’ shrubs looking unsightly and unhealthy.

Vine weevil damage is unsightly and not easy to control organically

Plan A

We thought we had a solution, however. We discovered an old well head right in the midst of this border and surprisingly it still has water and is fairly shallow, so Andy has installed a sump pump and I have a professional quality 3/4″ soaker hose ready to wrap around those poor shrubs.

The well head can easily be disguised by plants yet accessed from behind

The plan was to hard prune the rhodies, fertilize , then allow them to re-grow lush and healthy over the next couple of years, with help from this newly discovered water source.

But then I stood back, both literally and figuratively and asked if that was what I really wanted. Did I love those rhodies enough to do all that and continue the battle with various insects? And the lack of foliage contrast wouldn’t really be resolved.

Did they meet my “low maintenance-high value” criteria?

In short – NO.

June 2018 – Past its prime and pretty ugly with badly disfigured shrubs

May 2018 – even in bloom this year it lacked the sparkle of its youth

Plan B

Those big, old rhodies are coming out, the smaller white-flowering azalea will be hard pruned/fertilized, I’ll amend the soil and then introduce a mix of low maintenance evergreen and deciduous shrubs for better foliage interest and greater unity with the rest of the garden. Shrubs here need to be deer resistant and cope with afternoon sun as well as root competition from the adjacent conifers.

My plant short list includes:

Gilt Edge silverberry will add some much needed color contrast and sparkle

  • Gilt Edge silverberry (Elaeagnus x ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’) – gold and green variegated foliage that is evergreen. Will eventually grow to 12′ x 12′ or I can prune as desired.
  • Charity Oregon grape (Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ ) – still debating this inclusion but I think it will tolerate the afternoon sun with watering. I will need to visually separate the glossy holly-like leaves from the conifers though – perhaps layer it in front of the silverberry. The hummingbirds will love it.
  • Exbury azaleas – taller varieties. Love these for the fragrant spring flowers and stunning fall color. Not sure of flower colors yet – it will probably come down to availability although I do love the orange -red of Gibralter
  • Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) – for the front edge if there’s room, or perhaps just add to the yellow Japanese forest grass already there

 

I’ll leave the two ninebark in place but will prune them for shape in winter and will have to spray them with Deer-Out until the plants in front are large enough to create a barrier from the deer. I’ll also leave – or move if possible, the mature golden leaved spirea and the rhubarb which will be much happier with more room.

The new design should better integrate with the rest of that border which features a greater variety of foliage color and textures

First things first

I’ve got a plane to catch. In fact when this post publishes I’ll be in New Jersey as part of a 10 day trip to photograph the last 3 gardens for my new book on deer resistant gardens, after which I’ll be in full-time writing mode for several weeks! Maybe the garden fairies will dig out those rhodies while I’m gone???? Or they/he may be too busy looking after our puppy! I’ll take some photos of the process to share with you though.

Bear in Mind

It’s not easy to renovate a mature border because whatever you do the new plants will look insubstantial compared to what was you’ve taken out and what has been left behind. But it’s worth it if you have time to invest in your garden (we don’t plan to move again) and are tired of just making do with something you never really loved in the first place. Plus I’m all about creating a garden that is lower maintenance.

A resource you may be interested in

Has this got you re-thinking part of your garden? Do you need help to assess which plants are worth the work – and which are just free-loaders? You might be interested in my short online course

Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants.

You can find out more and register using this link.

 

 

Plus the coupon code 15off will give you 15% off the price (valid until 6/30/18 only) - put the savings towards something that deserves to be in your garden!

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