If you’re used to order in the garden, naturalistic plantings can seem a bit out of control. But installations such as New York City’s High Line are bringing this new, plant-driven approach more and more into the mainstream. That’s according to award-winning designer Carrie Preston of the Netherland’s Studio TOOP. She spoke recently in Maryland on how to incorporate naturalistic plantings into all types of landscapes. Continue reading →
OK, so maybe you won’t be copying the tropical tree above. But in December, Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens is teeming with Christmas tree ideas. And the displays are nothing short of astonishing. Continue reading →
If you’re like me, every October, when those big boxes of ornamental gourds land at the grocery store, your mind whirls with possibilities. The cute little shapes seem to embody the essence of fall. The problem is that once you get them home, the gourds are a bit lacking somehow. Sure, they look OK on their own in a bowl, but if you really want to get creative, design-wise, you’ll need to add some key seasonal ingredients. Continue reading →
Listen up! Now is the perfect time to replace faded summer blooms with cool season annuals in your fall containers. With the sun lower in the sky, a whole new spectrum of colors suddenly looks fresh and appealing. And fall containers don’t have to be all about ornamental kale or mums. With a little ingenuity, you can dream up planters every bit as beautiful as their lush summer cousins. Continue reading →
In late August, the looks of my dried-out garden often tempts me to throw in the trowel. That is to say, cut down all the used-up stems or turn a blind eye to the whole debacle. But that would be a shame with so many late-summer flowers now coming into bloom. It just takes a little advance planning (and some careful pruning) and you can have a garden that keeps flowering all the way until fall. Continue reading →
For many Americans, the 4th of July is a time to fly the flag and dress in patriotic colors. But for gardeners, the fireworks start early as red, white and blue flowers begin taking shape in summer gardens. As nature’s palette turns from pastels to brights, white never looked crisper, nor red so fiery-hot. Blue, well, that’s a different story, so please see below. Continue reading →
A spring garden brings renewed hope in all things growing
There’s nothing quite like the look of spring flowers. Bursting to life on the heels of winter, the delicate forms are so fresh as to almost seem edible. And spring gardens bring hope this time of year, renewing our faith in life and everything growing. With that in mind, following are 10 great plants that can get you started.
The great news is that there’s plenty of time to plant a garden that will bloom from May until summer. Moreover, the nurseries are full of stock that have put on some additional growth in the pot. It’s the perfect time to pick up some plants and get a jump on the flowering season.
Here are ten of my favorites for a fail-safe spring medley.
Known for their enormous flowers, these low-maintenance spring staples will live for generations. Peonies begin blooming in late May and continue flowering well into June. The plants perform best in full sun (where they will produce the best blooms). And many are fragrant, in particular the double white and pink varieties.
After the flowers fade, peonies’ deep green leaves stay looking good most of the summer. I use them to add bulk to my garden and prop up other flowers. I cut them down to the ground in the fall.
Smaller and less showy than the bearded irises, these delicate plants produce a wealth of spring blooms on tall, elegant stems, usually in shades of blue or purple. The flowers are characterized by three petals on top and three below called falls. There are tiny varieties that grow only to about a foot and larger ones that can reach three feet tall. And their bright green grassy foliage adds a nice vertical dimension to the garden.
The botanical name aquilegia comes from the Latin ‘aquila’ meaning eagle; a reference to the flower’s petals that are said to resemble an eagle’s claw. Aquilegia’s beautiful nodding blooms come in dainty shades of purple, red, yellow, blue and white. A hardy perennial, columbine will grow in sun but prefers partial shade, especially in the afternoon. After a few years, it often dies out. But, it easily self-seeds.
One of the ‘freshest’ perennials around, Lady’s Mantle acts like a cool splash of water amidst all the colors of the spring garden. Easily grown in full sun to part shade, this low-growing perennial forms clumps of circular, lobed leaves crowned by tiny, star-shaped chartreuse flowers held aloft on 12″ to 18″ stems in late spring to early summer.
Tuck it under upright plants at the front of the border to disguise stems and dimension to your border.
Iris germanica, tall bearded iris
Tall and stately, bearded irises make a grand statement in the May garden. I go all-out and plant the deep purple varieties that provide great contrast with other pastel spring colors. Bearded irises grow from rhizomes, or sideways-growing stems, so they should never be buried completely in the ground. The plants need at least 6 hours of direct sun to flower.
Commonly known as blue false indigo, this beautiful plant is growing in popularity with new flower colors being introduced. The upright perennial has 10″ to 12″ spikes of violet-blue, pea-shaped flowers that can last up to four weeks. Typically growing 3 to 4 feet tall, baptisia australis forms a large clump of bluish-green, clover like leaves that over time take on a shrub-like appearance. This makes it an excellent addition to the back of the border.
This front-of border perennial forms large mats of brilliantly-colored, star-shaped flowers in blues, pinks and purples. Plants have semi-evergreen, needle-like foliage that produce long, spreading stems. However, the plant tends to get woody over time, so best to cut out older sections to encourage new blooms.
If you’ve got part-shade, nothing says spring like Brunnera macrophylla, also known as false forget-me-not. The low-growing plant produces miniature, sky-blue flowers atop heart-shaped leaves in shades ranging from bright green to green with white or silver. The leaves form clumps that look great all season. For best impact, try silvered-leaved Jack Frost, or even larger-leaved Alexander’s Great.
A short-lived perennial known for its beautiful, tall flower spikes, verbascum adds an important vertical element to the spring garden. Easily grown in full sun to part shade (although it prefers full sun), the plant produces 2′ to 3′ flowering stems bearing long terminal spikes of 1′ diameter flowers in pastel shades of cream, lavender or rose. It easily self-seeds, but best to plan on replanting each year as an annual for best results. Tall silvery-gray leaves look great in the back of the border.
Not to be confused with annual geraniums, hardy geraniums (commonly known as Cranesbill) come in different shades of pinks, purples and blues often with deeper colored veins that look like whiskers. Most varieties start flowering in late spring and continue blooming well into the summer. The plant thrives in full sun at the front of the flower border.
My favorite is lavender-blue Rozanne. Other great varieties are crimson-throated, deep pink Patricia, unbelievable mauve-pink Miss Heidi, whose petals look like they were painted with butterfly wings and light pink with bronze tinted Ingwersen’s Variety.
Ornamental onion, Allium
A spectacular addition to any spring garden, alliums nonetheless take some advance planning. Their giant, onion-sized bulbs must be planted in late fall.
Come spring, most alliums make their appearance in late April when large florets of tongue-like foliage become visible on the soil surface. The foliage is followed by the emergence of tall, upright stems carrying a single round ‘flower.’ Composed of hundreds of tiny star-shaped blooms, the huge spheres tower over other flowers, injecting a playful note into the spring border.
My favorite variety is the impossibly large Globemaster, with deep purple Gladiator a close second. But don’t stop there; there are many varieties to choose from including the unusually shaped Drumstick, the fireworks-like Schubertii and the all-white Mount Everest.
Himalayan Blue Poppy at Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens/Kari Wilner
Years ago, in an effort to distract my middle-school aged daughters, I took them to an avant-garde exhibit at Washington, DC’s Hirshhorn Museum. The show was a one-color retrospective on the works of the French artist, Yves Klein (1928-1962) and it focused on the color blue. Specifically, it featured a supersaturated blue created by Klein that made you feel like you had been sucked out to sea and were drowning. Needless to say, it left an indelible impression on us all. Continue reading →
Floral stamp from the USPS Pollinator stamp series
You may think that gardens and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) have little in common, but The National Postal Museum, located in Washington, DC, is currently challenging that point of view. It recently opened an exhibition featuring the botanical art behind 50 years worth of floral stamps. And it’s delivered the goods just in time for the spring season. Continue reading →
Sometimes life can seem like a maze, full of twists and turns and lots of dead ends. It’s not always clear how to approach the center. But for those willing to walk its cousin, the labyrinth, there can be true transformation. Some say the process ultimately leads to insights into the circuitous path of life itself. Continue reading →