True-Blue Flowers: A Dozen Of The Best And Brightest

Himalayan Blue Poppy at Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens/Kari Wilner

Years ago, in an effort to distract my middle-school aged daughters, I dragged 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, a supersaturated deep 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 all of us.

The exhibit was accompanied by Klein’s commentaries on the role he believed blue played in our lives. He wrote:

“All colors are associated with concrete ideas whereas blue calls to mind first and foremost the sea and the sky, that which is the most abstract in tangible, visible Nature.”

Klein likened blue to an open window. He believed that the color blue defined the very edges of our visible reality. Think about it – do the sea and sky have any distinguishable boundaries? Maybe this is why what lies behind or beyond these two constants in our world has been the subject of speculation for centuries.

In Klein’s view, blue distinguished what was visible while expressing what was not. To illustrate this idea, he worked with a chemist to develop his own brand of blue. Introduced in Milan in 1957, the supersaturated ultramarine pigment took the world by storm. It came to be known as International Klein Blue (IKB).

Yves Klein Blue Monochrome 1961

The hardest to see

Due to its shorter wavelengths, blue is a harder color for the eye to see. This, coupled with the proximity of blue to the end of the visible spectrum, may explain why for centuries blue color has symbolized that which is mysterious or unknown.

BLUES IN THE GARDEN

So what role can blue play In the garden? Does it inject the same abstract note, evoking a sense of wonder and mystery? Or does our difficulty in discerning it add an important structural element to our compositions? The answer is all of the above.

Bigleaf hydrangea and Blue coleus, Plectranthus thyrsoideus

Blue and perspective

When it comes to perspective, ‘hot’ colors seem to move forward in space while ‘cool’ colors appear to recede. As a cool color, blue can add depth and volume to a composition where it often appears more as an ‘impression’ than as a discernible flower.

Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ appears as a blue ‘haze’ in this garden

Blue harmonies

Blue flowers form pleasing harmonies with pink, apricot, butter cream and violet blooms, where they help to add volume to a composition.

Blue and apricot make a pleasing harmony

Blue contrasts

On the other hand, when paired with yellows and whites, blue flowers provide contrast, helping to point up the brighter colors.

The blue hydrangeas make the white orchids ‘pop’

Blue/purple compositions

Many blue flowers tend toward a purple/lavender tint. Combining blue with purple blooms makes for a restful composition. I like to inject a note of bright green to liven up these peaceful garden spaces.

A blue and purple garden

GREAT BLUE FLOWERS

Following are some outstanding blue flowers, all photographed at Longwood Gardens’ spectacular ‘Winter Blues’ exhibit on view now through the end of March. See if some of them don’t work in your own garden!

Himalayan blue poppy, Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’:  A hybrid perennial poppy that produces large, sky blue blooms in late spring. Likes partial shade and grows to a height of between 3 and 4 feet.

Himalayan blue poppy ‘Linghom’

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’ is a great shrub for the semi-shade border, big blue blooms in early summer. Blooms on old wood.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’

Blue Coleus, Plectranthus thyrsoideus, also known as Bush coleus, is a member of the mint family. Originally from Africa, it is grown primarily as an annual in our area.

Blue coleus

Blue Flax, Heliophila coronopifolia, is a delicate blue daisy grown as an annual in full sun.

Blue flax (a little more purple than blue)

Blue Daisy, Felicia amelloides ‘San Gabriel’ produces blue, daisy like flowers from summer to autumn. Grow in full sun.

Blue daisy

Muscari aucheri ‘Blue Magic’, also known as grape hyacinth produces fragrant, true-blue flowers in late spring. Best naturalized in large groups in full sun. Plant bulbs in fall.

Muscari ‘Blue Magic’

Portuguese squill ‘Sapphire Blue’ is a perennial bulb with large, conical racemes of star-shaped violet/blue flowers in early summer.

Portuguese squill

Pride-of-Madeira, Echium candicans ‘Select Blue’ is an evergreen shrub with gray-green leaves and long stalks of periwinkle flowers that bloom in late spring to early summer. Hardy to about 25° F.

Pride-of-Madeira

Delphinium ‘Blue Jay’ bears tall spikes of deep blue flowers in early summer.

Delphinium ‘Blue Jay’

Ground-Ivy Sage, Salvia glechomifolia is a creeping perennial native to the highlands of Central Mexico. Bears light blue flowers atop scalloped, yellow-green leaves.

Ground-ivy sage paired with lilac pansies

Columbine, Aquilegia, ‘Bluebird’ produces large, 3″ light blue and white upward facing blossoms in late spring. Grows 12 to 24 inches.

Columbine ‘Bluebird’

Happy planting!

 

Spring Bulbs: Still Time To Plant Some Of These 10 Great Varieties

Spring bulbs in a formal garden setting

Yesterday I directed the planting of two thousand spring bulbs. We placed them individually in patterns and our very capable team dug them one-by-one into the ground. When they were finished, we dressed the bulbs with a thick layer of mulch and all stepped back to admire our handiwork. The garden felt as if it were bursting with energy with so much spring promise nestled snuggly underground. Continue reading

Five Reasons Your Trees Are Failing: A Bartlett Tree Expert Speaks Out

Trees are generally admired for their surface beauty, but their health and vigor springs from what’s underground. That’s according to Dr. Kelby Fite, Director of Research for Bartlett Tree Research Lab in Charlotte, North Carolina, who spoke to Maryland’s master gardeners last week. His lecture entitled ‘Managing the Landscape Below Ground’ provided a wealth of information about how to improve the life of the trees in our landscape. According to Fite, it all starts with the soil. Continue reading

Shady Behavior: 20 Great Plants for Shade Gardens

“Ferns are the embodiment of green thoughts in a green shade and if a leafy shadow could take root, moss would surely be the result” –Hugh Johnson ‘Principles of Gardening’

I was always drawn to shady nooks as a child. In my mind, a deep green space spoke of mystery and enclosure with its long shadows and dappled play of light. This fascination has continued into adulthood where my earliest memories now inspire many of my designs, particularly when it comes to creating a shade garden. Continue reading

How to Keep Your Potted Plants In Shape All Summer

Most of us who grow flowers in containers in summer know it can be a constant battle to keep things looking their best. We feed and water our plants diligently, yet in no time the flowers stop blooming and the stems become long and leggy. As a garden designer, I find that how to care for plants in containers is one of the most frequent questions I am asked. So, what can we do to keep our potted plants in shape all summer? Continue reading

Nine Things To Ask Yourself Before Designing A Garden

celeste in garden

One of the many things I love about being a garden designer is getting to know my clients’ story. By this I mean what role gardens have played in their lives, what plants, structures, and ornaments evoke certain memories, and what kind of garden makes them feel relaxed and most happy. Continue reading

For the Love of Forsythia: Five Great New Varieties

Cascading forsythia hedge

My sister Cindy was born in late March and every spring, we welcomed the first blooms of our neighborhood forsythias with a family-coined phrase. I can still remember my mother’s voice: these are for-Cynthia she would say. My little sister would puff up with pride and maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that later on she naturally gravitated towards the color yellow. I will never forget the canary yellow bedroom carpet she insisted on having in the 70s. Continue reading

What To Do If Your Spring Bulbs Come Up Too Early

(Last week it was 70 degrees, now it’s 20)

Let’s face it. It’s hard not to stress when your daffodils start coming up mid-winter during a warm spell. With all the erratic weather we’ve been experiencing lately, early growth is becoming more and more common in spring bulbs. Not to worry, though. Your plants have seen it all before. And they’re built to handle a few temperature swings.

The underground world of bulbs

To understand why spring bulbs can weather a little early growth, it helps to take a peek underground.

Just like a seed, a single bulb contains the entire life cycle of a plant, including roots, food storage “leaves” and a flowering shoot. As soon as you plant it in the fall, a spring bulb starts growing.

The action begins in the bottom part of the bulb known as the basal stem. During the winter months, roots begin emerging from the underside of this base. As they penetrate the surrounding soil, they absorb water and other nutrients, which they store in the fleshy leaves of the bulb called scales.

In some flower species like alliums, a thin papery covering called the tunic protects the bulb’s scales from damage and drying out.

Papery thin tunic keeps bulbs from drying out

The scales’ job is to provide food and protection to the flowering shoot, which contains all of the above-ground parts of the plant, including stems, leaves and flowers. During the winter months, the shoot slowly grows upwards within the bulb underground.

In the spring, as temperatures rise, the bulb’s biological clock tells its leaves to break through the soil where they begin converting sunlight into energy for plant growth. A few weeks later, the flowering stems begin to emerge.

The key thing to remember is this: Leaf development occurs independently of flower development. The leaves might jump the gun, but flowering shoots need an extended period of time (between 5 and 7 weeks) before they begin sending their stems up towards the surface. Before that happens, the bulb has most likely weathered the warm spell and resumed dormancy.

Strategies for protecting early growth

If you see foliage poking up out of the ground too early, don’t worry. A cold snap may cause its leaves to yellow and die back, but your bulb will wait things out and send up new growth once temperatures warm up again.

There are a few strategies, though, you can undertake now to slow things down while adding an extra layer of protection to the flower shoot.

1. Cover your plant

Covering the soil around your spring bulbs will provide insulation against frigid temperatures and drying winter winds. Try mulch, straw, bark chips, leaves or pine needles.

Or, if the plant is budding too early, try draping a cloth over it (securing it above the plant with stakes.) Remove the drape during the day so the foliage can absorb sunlight to warm back up.

2. Water

Bulbs will rot with too much water, but if there’s been a dry period for a long period of time, providing them with a little extra water during the day helps the bulb expand and grow. Make sure your soil has good drainage, though.

3. What to do if flowers start to appear 

If the weather continues to stay unseasonably warm, your spring bulbs may start to produce flowers. Don’t worry. Even if frost kills off some of the initial buds, it usually doesn’t affect flowering in the coming months.

4. Plant bulbs late in the fall

The later you plant in the fall, the longer the bulb will take to sprout in the spring. Wait until the temperature is cold enough (40°F or below at night) to plant your spring bulbs. This will ensure they are fully dormant.

And make sure to plant bulbs at three times their height in depth with base down and bud up. Planting bulbs too shallow can cause premature growth.

For a list of popular spring bulbs and an expert’s recommendations on when and how to plant them, click here for my November post Spring Bulbs: Still Time To Plant These 10 Great Varieties.

 

How To Protect Your Evergreens From Winter Damage

cover

You could say that evergreens are the stars of cold weather, instantly infusing drab winter landscapes with color and texture. When well sited, watered and fed, most can stand up to the harshest of conditions. Still, some evergreens are less equipped than others to battle icy winds and harsh winter sun. These are the plants that can benefit from a little extra TLC to prepare them for colder temperatures.

Without proper preparations, cold weather can spell disaster for evergreens. Here are steps you can take now to fortify your most vulnerable plants for winter. HINT: The most important step is to water.

 

WATER YOUR PLANTS

The most important thing you can do to prepare your evergreen shrubs and trees for winter is to water them. And that means making sure they’re well hydrated beginning in early fall, a time when many people stop watering.

Rainfall can help with the job, but if you experience a dry spell it’s important to water your evergreens and continue to do so regularly until the soil freezes. Plants will hold on to the water and use it throughout the winter.

watering-an

The most important thing you can do for your evergreens is to water them

Watering is crucial because all evergreens, and especially broadleaf varieties like rhododendrons and hollies, lose moisture from their foliage in a process called transpiration. Once the ground has frozen, it deprives plants of water, making it impossible for them to replace what is evaporating. This can lead to a common type of winter injury called desiccation, also known as ‘winter burn.’

evergreen.frozen yew

Signs of desiccation can begin appearing as early as mid winter, when leaves of a plant may turn brown at the tips or several branches start to dry out or die. (This kind of damage typically shows up on the side of the plant that faces into the wind or has a southwestern exposure.) Other plants will hold on to their green color until spring or early summer when they begin to push new growth. Then their leaves will suddenly turn brown, start to curl and fall off.

TO DO:   “Winterize” your evergreens by deep watering, which promotes deep rooting of plants and shrubs. Water them every other week, making sure the soil is moist to a depth of between 12 to 18 inches. Do this until the ground freezes.

 

PROTECT WITH SPRAY

Evergreens that are prone to desiccation, especially the broad-leaved varieties, often benefit from a little help in the form of spray. Anti-transpirant (or anti-desiccant) sprays, readily available at nursery and hardware stores, can protect tender leaves and stems by reducing water loss during times of plant stress.

www.wilt-pruf.com

www.wilt-pruf.com

Sprays provide a protective, film-forming coating that slows down moisture loss and protects plants from drying out. The transparent layers wear off gradually without interfering with plant growth or respiration.

In the winter, most sprays can remain effective for up to four months. Proper timing is key: it’s best to spray your plants in the morning when temperatures are above 50 degrees so the product has time to dry. You’ll need to reapply the spray once or twice during the winter.

(By the way, the sprays work great on indoor holiday greenery, too.)

TO DO: Spray plants once in December and again in February to prevent water loss and protect their leaves.

 

BUILD A SCREEN OR SHELTER

Shelters and screens are great for smaller shrubs that you’d like to protect from excessive wind, falling snow and road salt damage. Although you can buy ready-made frames at the store, burlap, some lumber and a few stakes are really all you need to make one on your own. Steer away from plastic, though. You could cook your plants.

How to at hgtvgardens

How to at hgtvgardens.com

To make a screen, drive the stakes into the ground on the windward side of the plant or on its southern exposure, where it is at greater risk of exposure to swings in temperature. Staple the burlap to the stakes.

To make a shelter, place stakes all around the plant to form an A-frame. Stretch the burlap across the structure. Or, you can attach plywood panels to the stakes to create an even sturdier frame.

TO DO: Take an inventory of your landscape and pinpoint any plants that may be vulnerable to winter stress. Evergreens that face the wind or have a southern exposure may need screens to guard against winter burn. Pay particular attention to plants that are located under the roof line, where falling snow could be a hazard. A-frame shelters are great at shedding heavy snow and ice. For a great tutorial on how to build screens and shelters, go to thisoldhouse.com.

 

TIE THEM UP

How to at gardeners.com

How to at gardeners.com

Evergreens can be damaged by heavy snows or ice storms that snap their branches. Foundation plantings can be particularly vulnerable, since they are often exposed to snow falling from the roof. A good way to protect your plants is to tie them up to give them a little extra support.

Using heavy twine or string (I use green-colored twine so it doesn’t show), begin by attaching the twine to the base of the plant and wind the plant up, drawing in clumps of branches as you go. Once you end up with a tight spiral, you can leave it alone or cover the shrub with burlap.

TO DO: Tie up foundation plantings like boxwood and azaleas to prevent against breakage and dust snow off of fragile bushes with a broom or by shaking to make sure it doesn’t accumulate.

 

MULCH

mulchMulching in the fall is a great way to protect your evergreens from fluctuations in soil temperature and damaging moisture loss. Mulches are proven water conservers; able to reduce moisture loss anywhere from 10 to 50 percent. Adding a protective layer of mulch insulates your plant and prevents water from from escaping from the subsoil.

TO DO:  Depending on how big the root zone is, make a 3- to 6- foot diameter circle around the shrub or tree and apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch, making sure to mix in some organic materials to add nutrients to the soil.

A word of caution: don’t pile the mulch up around the plant crown or tree trunk. This could cause the plant to rot and die. A distance of six inches or more is a good rule of thumb to follow.

 

Last word

Even if your evergreen looks bad, try to refrain from pruning brown foliage or branches until after the winter. Wait until the spring or you risk further damaging the plant.

 

The ‘Roomba’ of Gardening: Tertill Is A Robot That Weeds

Franklin Robotics ‘Tertill’ promises to weed your garden for you

Last year was a particularly big one for weeds, with many of us struggling in vain to control them in our gardens. But thankfully, just in time for next summer, there’s an invention that just might alleviate this tiresome chore. It’s called Tertill and it proposes to do the weeding for you. Continue reading