Ten Great Ideas For Decorating With Gourds

If you’re like me, when those big boxes of gourds arrive at the grocery in October, 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 seem somehow lacking. Sure, you can just toss them in a bowl. But, if you really want to get creative, decorating with gourds requires some key added ingredients. Continue reading

The Best Late-Summer Flowers For A Beautiful Garden

Come August, a garden can begin looking a little tired. Months of heat, insects and disease can take a toll on summer flowers. But that’s precisely the time many late-summer flowers are just coming into bloom. All it takes is a little advance planning and some deliberate pruning, and you can enjoy a gorgeous garden all the way until fall. Continue reading

10 Great Plants For A Care-Free Spring Garden

In the plant world, spring flowers are in a class of their own. Bursting to life after a long, cold winter, they never fail to evoke feelings of happiness. And spring gardens bring hope this time of year, renewing our faith in life and everything growing. 

Here are ten of my favorite spring flowers that will only grow more beautiful year after year. 

PEONY

Pink peony

Celebrated for their enormous blooms, these low-maintenance spring garden favorites will live on for generations. Peonies generally start blooming in late May and continue flowering well into June. The plants perform best in full sun. 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 to prop up other flowers. I cut them down to the ground in the fall.

Here are some of my favorites: Sarah Bernhardt (pastel pink), Festiva Maxima (highly fragrant, pure white with crimson flecks), Kansas (double, carmine-red) and Bartzella Itoh (a cross between a bush and tree peony with huge yellow blooms.)

SIBERIAN IRIS

Iris siberica

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 to only 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.

Standouts include purple-blue Caesar’s Brother, sky-blue Silver Edge, deep purple Ruffled Velvet, and soft yellow and white Butter and Sugar.

AQUILEGIA (COLUMBINE)

Aquilegia ‘Origami’

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.

Check out Origami Red and White, sky-blue and white Blue Bird, or spectacular, pure-white Dove.

LADY’S MANTLE (Alchemilla mollis)

Lady’s mantle, Alchemilla mollis

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.

BEARDED IRIS

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.

For deep color, almost nothing surpasses almost-black Hello Darkness, or opt for the reverse and check out bright-white, re-blooming Immortality. For outstanding pastel shades, try apricot-peach Champagne Elegance, lavender-pink Celebration Song, or Schreiners Gardens’ pastel blue Into The Blue.

BAPTISIA AUSTRALIS

Baptisia australis, blue false indigo

Commonly known as blue false indigo, this beautiful native plant is growing in popularity. 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.

Try out the common form or go yellow with Lemon Meringue or go all-white with Baptisia lactea, white false indigo.

CREEPING PHLOX

Creeping phlox, Phlox sublata

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.

Try lavender-blue Emerald Blue, soft-pink Fabulous Rose or for bold color, check out magenta Scarlet Flame,

BRUNNERA

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Sea Heart’

If you’ve got part-shade, nothing says spring garden 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.

VERBASCUM (MULLEIN)

Yellow verbascum

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.

Try bright yellow Jackie In Yellow or go soft pink with Southern Charm,

HARDY GERANIUM

Hardy geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’

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.

ALLIUMS

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.

LOOKING FOR MORE?

Of course, this is by no means is an exhaustive list of suitable plants for great spring borders. For more information on other spring bloomers that look great in shady areas or on their own in clumps, check out my posts Shady Behavior: 20 Great Plants for Shade Gardens, Spring At Winterthur Gardens, and Why Lily Of The Valley Is The Official May Day Flower.

Happy planting!

 

USPS Puts Its Stamp On America’s Most Beautiful Blooms

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

Longwood Gardens’ 10 Best Christmas Trees of 2017

Orchid Tree/A Longwood Christmas

The Orchid Tree at Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens

OK, so maybe you won’t be copying the orchid tree above, but this time of year Longwood Gardens is teeming with ideas, especially when it comes to Christmas trees.  Located in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania (an easy two-hour drive from Washington, DC), Longwood is resplendent this December as it pays homage to France. And the eye-popping horticultural displays are nothing short of ooh-la-la. Continue reading

12 Great Holiday Design Ideas From Longwood Gardens

This week I’ll be writing about Longwood Gardens and my annual visit to its spectacular holiday display, A Longwood Christmas. I was thrilled to discover that this year’s show is dedicated to France. Entitled ‘C’est Magnifique!’, it was inspired by founder Pierre S. du Pont and his vision for the property, which was named after his great-great-grandfather, a French economist and writer who immigrated to America at the end of the French Revolution. Continue reading

Spring-Flowering Bulbs: 10 Great Varieties

Spring bulbs in a formal garden setting

Yesterday I supervised the planting of two thousand spring-flowering bulbs. We laid them individually in patterns and dug them one-by-one into the earth. When we were finished, we dressed the bulbs with mulch and stepped back to admire our handiwork. You could almost feel the energy emanating from all those future flowers tucked so snugly underground. Continue reading

The September Garden: How To Wind Down On A High Note

My September garden

The end of September can be a tough time for gardens. Leaves lose their deep green luster, stems start to brown and many perennials have simply lost their will to survive. Add to that the fact that the lower the sun gets in the sky, the more dull colors can appear and suddenly, the same flowers that looked so vibrant in summer begin to take on a more muted, less enthusiastic look. Continue reading