Tag Archive | Garden Design

Sundials

Sundial at Kew Botanic Gardens, Richmond, England

I’ve always wanted a sundial in my garden: kind of elegant and very Victorian-ish. As it turns out, though, way older than the Victorian era. The first device for indicating the time of day was probably the gnomon, dating from about 3500 BCE. It consisted of a vertical stick or pillar, and the length of the shadow it cast gave an indication of the time of day. By the 8th century BCE more-precise devices were in use. The earliest known sundial still preserved is an Egyptian shadow clock of green schist dating at least from this period. The shadow clock consists of a straight base with a raised crosspiece at one end. The base, on which is inscribed a scale of six time divisions, is placed in an east-west direction with the crosspiece at the east end in the morning and at the west end in the afternoon. The shadow of the crosspiece on this base indicates the time. Clocks of this kind were still in use in modern times in parts of Egypt. With the advent of mechanical clocks in the early 14th century, sundials with equal hours gradually came into general use in Europe, and until the 19th century sundials were still used to reset mechanical clocks.

So, great history but a sundial still makes a charming garden accent. Whether it is a common horizontal type (meant to be mounted on a pedestal) or the less common perpendicular form (for wall mounting), a sundial must be placed with care.

*It seems obvious, but make sure the spot gets unobstructed sun all day.

*The sundial will be a focal point no matter where you put it, so put it where a focal point makes sense — in the (wide) intersection of two paths, for instance, or at the end of a long axis.

*The mounting spot must be level, and it must be accessible; if you put the sundial in the middle of a flower bed, no one will be able to read it.

*Don’t forget about daylight savings time when you set it up. The sundial should tell the true (sun) time, even though it’s likely to be used mostly in the summer.

*To avoid mistakes, place the sundial provisionally, without affixing it to the spot, and check it every few hours for a couple of days.

Note: the part that casts the shadow is still called the gnomon.

Ornamental Grasses – Part 1

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Ornamental grasses add color and texture to landscaping

Frequently overlooked and under-appreciated by most gardeners, ornamental grasses can add beautiful height, texture, and even fragrance. While it is true that the majority of ornamental grasses do best in full sun, a number will also tolerate shade as long as it is not too heavy and their other cultural needs are met.

Grasses for Part Sun

Among the useful grasses or grasslike plants are tufted hair grass (Deschampsia caespitosa), millet grass (Milium effusum), Hokonechloa macra ‘Albo-aurea’, variegated lily turf (Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’), and ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea var. picta). These vary from about 1 to 3 feet tall. Somewhat shorter are Virginia wild rye (Elymus virginicus), Alpine hair grass (Deschampsia alpina), and blue fescue (Festuca ovina glauca). And quite a bit taller are northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), creeping bluestem (Andropogon stolonifera), bluejoint (Calamagrostis canadensis), and bush grass (Calamagrostis epigejos), which may range from 2 to 6 feet tall.

Well-Behaved Grasses

One of the common complaints about grasses is the invasive nature of many of them. Anything with runners — ribbon grass (phalaris arundinacea), blue lyme grass (Leymus arenarius), and switch grass (Panicum virgatum) are the classic examples — is likely to be a problem. If you’re taken with something that comes without a description, tip it out of the pot and look for signs of runners (underground shoots with upward-pointing tips) before you take it home.

And almost anything with seeds will self-sow, that being what the seeds are for, though some, such as the fountain grasses (Pennisetum spp.), do it more aggressively than others. Be careful of plants described as self-sowing “manageably”; someone has got to do the managing, and that someone will be you. Nurseries are increasingly conscientious about labelling possible invaders, but it’s still best to check with your local extension service before you purchase and plant.

Fragrant Grasses

Several ornamental grasses give off appealing fragrance when their leaves are rubbed or broken. They include lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus), and sweetgrass or vanilla grass (Hierochloe odorata). When dried, sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum) is fragrant as well. Sweet flag (Acorus calamus) is a scented grasslike plant, but not a true member of the grass family.

Grasses for Cold Climates

Many of the most popular ornamental grasses are very hardy, including Miscanthus sinensis cultivars such as ‘Morning Light’ and ‘Purpurascens’; midsize favorites like the feather reed grass Calamagrostis arundinacea ‘Overdam’; yellow foxtail grass (Alopecurus pratensis), which seldom grows taller than a foot; and it’s even shorter cousin, A. alpinus ssp. glaucus, a 4-inch charmer with very blue leaves.

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum conducted a large study of cold-hardy ornamental grasses and has published the results in North Central Regional Publication No. 573, “Ornamental Grasses for Cold Climates.” Call 952.443.1400 for information about how to obtain the booklet.

 

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.

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.

Siberian

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.