Tag Archive | Garden Design

Designing Tall

Want some color and height at the back of your flower garden, but not interested in shrubs? There are many tall flowers that can anchor the back of a border. Which ones you choose will depend on the space available (some of them are as wide as they are tall) and on your growing conditions.

Foxgloves, for instance, will grow to 6 feet if they’re in moist, nearly neutral soil in semi-shade, but they might top out a bit below 4 feet if they’re in average soil in the sun. The same goes for black snakeroot (Cimicifuga racemosa), which might stretch to 7 feet or more if happy and dwindle utterly if not.

Foxgloves are usually columnar, their tall flower spikes rising almost leafless from a broad rosette at the bottom. Snakeroot is rangier; sending out beautifully cut-edged leaves almost all the way up the stem. Meadow rue (Thalictrum spp.) also sends out leaves all the way up, but they, like the flowers, are lacy and delicate, so the overall effect is light. T. rochebrunianum, which has purple blooms, and T. speciosissimum, (aka T. flavum ssp. glaucum), which has pale yellow flowers and bluish leaves, are both 4 to 6 feet tall. White-flowered T. polygamum can grow to 8 feet.

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Joe Pye weed (tall and purple) in my garden

Other tall flowers include delphinium, Caroline lupine (Thermopsis caroliniana), plume poppy (Macleaya cordata), Ligularia spp., Japanese meadowsweet (Filipendula purpurea), foxtail lily (Eremurus stenophyllus), Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum), and globe thistle (Echinops bannaticus). Read cultural descriptions carefully before you buy; many of these plants have very specific needs and some — especially plume poppy and Joe Pye weed — are very aggressive spreaders.

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Plant Now for Fall Color

Ground covers are a frequently neglected part of garden design. How else to explain the overwhelming use of Vinca minor, English ivy, and pachysandra when so many other choices are available?

Instead of thinking only of very low-growing evergreen selections, broaden your possibilities to include other plants that can be massed to tie together areas of the garden. The relationship between a ground cover and its location and use should determine the appropriate height, not some limiting idea that anything more than 4 inches tall cannot qualify.

Fall color is an important part of garden design, and it should be part of your ground cover selection process, just as it is for trees and shrubs.

Some ideas for ground covers:

 

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Fragrant sumac

Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’): The glossy, deciduous leaves, which are aromatic when bruised, turn a fiery orange-red in the fall. The wide-spreading shrub grows to 2 feet tall and works very well, even on a slope, in full sun or partial shade.

Bigroot cranesbill (Geranium macrorrhizum): This

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Bigroot cranesbill

mound-forming semi-evergreen perennial has leaves with a distinctive medicinal scent that turn reddish in the fall. It grows from 12 to 15 inches tall and spreads well through a thick, rhizomatous root structure. It is easy to grow and is both heat and drought tolerant. Different cultivars have different spring flower color

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Leadwort

Leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides): Fall color and flowers occur at the same time. The shiny green leaves turn strawberry tints, then bronze-red in fall, while the cobalt blue flowers last from late summer until frost. Cut back the bare wiry stems in late winter.

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Siberian carpet cypress

Leaves appear in late spring, just after you’re convinced it is dead. Grows 8 to 12 inches tall. It works well in full sun or shade, but colors up better in the sun.

Siberian carpet cypress (Microbiota decussata): This wide-spreading evergreen grows to2 feet tall, with arching, scaly, feathery foliage that turns bronze after a frost. It’s unusual in that it is an evergreen that tolerates shade. It really is from Siberia, and very cold hardy.

 

 

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Rockspray cotoneaster

Rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis): The dark, shiny deciduous leaves turn orange-red, complementing small red berries growing along the stems. This densely branching woody shrub grows from 2 to 3 feet high, spreading to 6 feet. Its arching habit makes it looklike the perfect refuge for rabbits or chipmunks as it covers and cascades down a bank. Lower-growing cultivars are also available.

Growing Moss

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

We have a cottage in northern Wisconsin where the soil is extremely sandy, conditions are wet (at least most years), and there’s no direct sunlight. My husband spent hours and hours building new steps from bricks and sand, down from the driveway, and I was constantly battling the growth of grass or weeds settling into the cracks between the bricks. Finally, after several years of coddling the growth of moss, I now have a lovely set of steps with moss growing between the bricks — although there’s a way to go yet until it’s where I want it.

There are lots of places where we can’t get things to grow because of shade or moist conditions. Rock gardens always look good with moss between the stones and, of course, a natural, woodland look always needs large rocks with moss. You can grow your own!

07b00980d4f216a286fe4fd73a16382aThe most important ingredient in any recipe for moss is patience (as I learned): it can take years to achieve that fuzzy carpet. The next item on the list is the powers of observation. There are hundreds of different mosses, each suited to a particular ecological niche, and the best way to choose one that will grow well where you want it is to notice what’s already growing there or in a similar location. [Note: I’m chagrined to remember pulling out tufts of moss from between my bricks after they were newly laid because I thought it was ‘spoiling’ the look! Grrr!)

With any luck, the moss you want will be somewhere on your property or that of a friend, because the next step is to collect some. Taking mosses from public lands is not legal; taking them from private ones without permission is stealing. If necessary, moss starts can be purchased; specialists in bonsai supplies sell them.

Collecting Moss

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Collect moss after a soaking rain, or, if that’s not possible, water the mossy area thoroughly. Though there are some mosses that will grow on several different substrates, you’ll have the best luck if you collect from a surface similar to the one you want to cover (wood, soil, or rock).

Take small, roughly 1 1/2-inch diameter patches, and never more than two or three from a square foot of moss. If it is growing on soil, make sure you take the patches with soil attached. Keep the patches moist.

Growing Moss from Slurry

This method is mostly used for hard surfaces such as rocks, flowerpots, and concrete. The idea is to coat the object with a mush of ground moss that contains lots of spores. To get it, you simply process clean moss in a blender, combining it with a thick liquid that will hold it in suspension and help it adhere.

4912b88dde824566d0c7fa410fe5163c--growing-moss-grow-moss-on-potsYogurt and buttermilk are think and sticky — and acidic, which moss likes — and are therefore often used in slurry recipes, but they are not essential. Potter’s clay (from the craft store), thinned to thick-milkshake texture with water, works even better because it holds moisture longer. Diluted manure can also be used if you have a blender dedicated to garden purposes.

For about 3 cups of slurry, enough to coat roughly 1 1/2 to 2 square feet of surface, you’ll need: 

  • 1 loosely packed cup of moss pieces, or a bit more
  • 2 1/2 cups of liquid: diluted potter’s clay, diluted manure, yogurt, buttermilk, or whatever mixture you want to try
  1. Grind the moss in a blender with 2 cups of the liquid. The result should be about the texture of thin pudding. Add more moss (or more liquid), if necessary.
  2. Thoroughly wet the object, paint it with the remaining 1/2 cup of thick liquid, then paint on the moss slurry
  3. Keep the surface constantly moist, using a gentle mist so you don’t dislodge anything. Once a day will probably be enough if the item is in a damp, shady place, but don’t let it dry out. Within six weeks or so you should see the thin green, algae-like filaments that signal new moss is growing.

Transplanting Moss

This method is most often used where the moss will grow on soil, though transplanting will work on any surface as long as it is porous. Before you go out collecting, prepare the site. Remove vegetation (except existing moss, of course). Text for pH and lower it if necessary; most woodland mosses are acid lovers, happiest when pH is about 5.5. Rake the area smooth and water thoroughly.

Collect the moss patches. Place them on the prepared site, pressing down well, then pin them to the soil here and there with twigs to help them bond with their new home. If you’re doing only a small area, you can cover it with the moss “sod”, but otherwise, spread the patches out about 8 to 10 inches from center to center. They will grow together, eventually, as long as you keep the soil between them damp and free of weeds. For faster coverage, make some slurry and spread it between the patches.

Water well right after planting and frequently thereafter. The moss should take hold in about a month. Once it’s established it will tolerate a dry day or two, but not until then.

 

 

Add a New Color to Your Garden: Purple

Is your flower garden a study in pinks, oranges, and yellows? Wouldn’t you like to add a little drama? If your favorite color is purple, you’re in luck because there are a lot of choices for flowers, foliage, and berries in a wide variety of purple hues. You can create different looks, depending on the shade of purple you use and the other plants you combine it with. Purple isn’t always one of those “Wow!” colors, but it acts as a great contrast to orange and yellow, which command more attention. It adds a subtle sophistication to the showier colors, and when planted in a combo, that contrast actually makes each color stand out more.

Some ideas:

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‘Red Rubin’ basil

‘Red Rubin’ basil (Ocimum basilicum purpurascens)

This tender perennial is as attractive as it is useful. A staple in the herb garden, its fragrant purple leaves work well in containers and borders. Always pinch off flowers as soon as you see them starting to bloom. Doing so encourages the plant to keep producing leaves, making them bushier. It tastes as good as it smells! For culinary drama, combines it with yellow tomatoes. Or try making purple basil vinegar or jelly. Cold hardy: USDA zones 10 to 11.

‘Concord Grape’ spiderwort (Tradescantia hybrid)

The dark green grasslike clumps of ‘Concord Grape’ spiderwort are one of the first things

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‘Concord Grape’ spiderwort

to emerge in spring. Then a big show of flowers starts a few weeks later. Hot weather and lack of rain are hard on spiderwort. Cut plants back by two-thirds when the heat takes its toll and keep them well watered during dry spells. Dig the clump in spring and cut into smaller sections, then replant them. They recover quickly, and will probably even bloom the first year. Larger leaf plants contrast well with spiderwort’s grassy foliage. Try planting with Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum pictum) or Lungwort (Pulmonaria ‘Sissinghurst White’). Cold hardy: USDA zones 4 to 9.

KICKIN ‘Lavender’ aster (Aster hydrid)

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KICKIN ‘Lavender’ aster

In autumn, reds and oranges take over the landscape. Sometimes you want a little purple to add to that fall blend. Asters are perfect for that, and their late-summer flower show is a welcome sight. It starts when a lot of others are fading out. KICKIN ‘Lavender’ is on the small side compared to standard asters, so it can be planted closer to the front of the border or in containers. Blooming asters show up in garden centers in late summer, but they will survive better in the north if planted in spring so they can get established. Cold hardy: USDA zones 5 to 9.

 

 

Drought Tolerant

We’re entering winter and our green thumbs are itching to find a project, especially as the garden catalogs start filling the mailbox. What a great time to spend some time looking at your existing gardens and finding the weak spots! Do you have an area with little or no water so you’ve ignored it for too long? How about spending some of this long winter planning a drought tolerant garden?

Just because you’re designing for low water requirements doesn’t mean you can’t mix up the colors and textures just like you do with your other flower beds. Also, be sure to factor in various bloom times and plant height to provide interest and beauty across the growing season.

As with any garden, well-drained soil is a key to a successful garden so, if you’re stuck with compacted soil, dig compost into the bed before planing so the roots can grow deep. Though you may need to water it weekly to get it going (maybe the whole first year), plants with well-established roots will be better able to withstand drought.

Plants to consider that will provide height, texture, and color variety:

Don’t let lack of water deter you from having color and butterflies to enjoy all summer!

 

 

Miniature Neighbors

20170709_152219OCMGA Master Gardener Colleen Reed recently undertook a project to remove a small pond that had been in her yard, and replaced it with a whole new group of neighbors!

As Janit Calvo says in her book Gardening in Miniature, “What is it that draws the heart and eye to things smaller than real life? Perhaps the fact that anything miniature reminds us of play. After all, childhood toys were our first miniatures.”

Whatever the reason, gardening in miniature (or, creating mini-wonderlands) has become a huge industry. Once you are bitten by the miniature garden bug, there’s no turning back. The miniature industry is the biggest segment of the toy and hobby market, and the sheer number of sizes and scales is mind-boggling.

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To ensure the realism that creates enchantment, these critical elements are necessary: plants, accessories, and a patio or pathway. The planned, intentional aspect of a patio or walkway immediately signals to the viewer that this is no ordinary planting, teasing them to come in for a closer view.

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Creating your own little world is a lot of fun once you have the right parts, plants, and pieces all together. So collect the ingredients and tools, pour a favorite beverage, and enjoy some creative time with a new hobby!

Drought Tolerant Plants for Wisconsin Summers

As I write this, we just had two major rain storms pass through the area — one of them bringing high winds and doing a lot of damage. However, having lived through Wisconsin summers, I know there is a high likelihood that we may see little or no rain through July and August. If that’s the case, you’ll want to have these plants in your garden because, being native Wisconsinites, they’re used to living through droughts!

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Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) prefers well-drained sites in light to medium shade. Hummingbirds love this flower.

If native plants are chosen to match your conditions, they will thrive with minimal watering where others fail. To gain the full environmental benefit of lower water usage, it’s absolutely necessary to choose the plants that thrive in the conditions at your location. All native plants are “water-wise” to some extent, but to maximize their full potential, choose those naturally adapted to your specific conditions — soil, sunlight, and moisture.

Native plants create a naturally balanced ecosystem. When you plant natives in the landscape, birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators will soon follow. Because these plants and animals evolved together over thousands of years, they have developed interdependent relationships. Monarch butterfly caterpillars safely consume the toxic sap of the milkweeds. Karner blue butterfly larvae rely solely on leaves of wild lupine. Fritillary butterflies need violets for their larval food source. These are only a few of the necessary relationships between our native flora and fauna. The variety of species that even a small-scale native garden attracts is often amazing!

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Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.) is tough and beautiful! As other plants die off during a drought, Rudbeckia retains its beautiful colors.

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Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) grows 3 to 4 feet in sand, loam, or clay. Full to part-sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some additional species to try in your garden:

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    Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) grows 3 to 5 feet in sand, loam, or clay. Full to part-sun.

    Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

  • Sky Blue Aster (Aster azureus)
  • Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)
  • Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)
  • Smooth Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis)
  • Royal Catchfly (Silene regia)
  • Prairie Blazingstar (Liatris pycnostachya)