Spring Bulbs: A Quick How-To

Make it simple – combine tulips, dwarf daffodils and alliums for a 3 month display of color this spring.

To create an interesting color scheme, mark off different areas with spray chalk prior to planting bulbs.

Be generous with bulb planting – stingy planting won’t give you the show your garden deserves.

Pretreat tulilps with spray detterents such as deer repellents and “Plantskydd.”

To deter critters from eating your bulbs, sprinkle the tulip and crocus beds with cayenne pepper and garlic flakes.

Bulbs Glorious Bulbs!

Many layered and multicolored spring bulbs brighten a pathway.

Mad about pink tulips!

Native American bulb blue Camassia in a bed of daffodils.

Peony-flowering tulips.

Scilla is very inexpensive and will spread quickly over the years to bring you waves of blue under trees and in your lawn–these are tiny easy to plant bulbs that bloom in April.

Stop the car colors!

Grouping differing bulbs in terms of form and height provides beautiful color in May

For late spring color in June go with alliums, they dry nicely in the garden to add texture and interest mixed with your perennials.

Janie McCabe Selected for Colorblends Spotlight

Janie McCabe, owner of M.J. McCabe Garden Design and popular shoreline landscape and garden designer, has recently been selected for a Colorblends spotlight on the website Bulb Design Notes.

“We reached out to three designers whose work we admire and asked if they’d be willing to share the thinking behind some of their successful spring bulb and perennial combinations. All three generously agreed,” says Tim Schipper of Colorblends, a national flower bulb wholesaler.

As part of Bulb Design Notes, each designer chose five or more photos of spring bulb and perennial combinations they’d designed and provided design notes on each. Their photos and observations are assembled into personal galleries. Combined, the galleries present images of 20 garden scenarios. All scenes are annotated with plant IDs, location, hardiness zone and design notes.

CLICK HERE to visit the website.

Bold and Bright Drought Tolerant Plants for Late Summer

August weather can be a challenge—it’s too hot, humid—and rain is not dependable. Needless to say, who wants to drag a hose around everyday sometimes morning and evenings too. So don’t despair, I am including some perennials that can stand up to some pretty difficult conditions and still make your garden seem alive and thriving. Late Summer perennials have bold and intense colorings that will provide a nice infusion of energy into your garden. (Click on the photos below for more details.)

Finding Beauty in Imperfection

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that reflects the very core of Zen philosophy. Age, imperfection and impermanence are the underlying qualities inherent in Wabi-Sabi. This cultivated and refined approach in all art forms suggests the sublime transient beauty in all living things.

It is a significant concept in Japanese culture, and one that can be appreciated in many art forms such as pottery, painting, as well as gardening.

In applying this concept to gardens, it is important to honor and respect what is inherent in the natural, unaltered landscape. Nature is abundant with random imperfections. An ancient tree, enduring years of turbulent weather appears sadly leaning while the roots remain surprisingly anchored to the earth. Random patterns of wild plants echo the innate flow and of nature; this is certainly apparent in the abundance of the often disdained “invasive plants.” Applying the simple principles of a Asian inspired garden provides a place for contemplation, calmness and simplicity.

What remains is the very essence of the pure, natural world—its imperfections and inherent flaws remain constant; it is the acceptance of such flaws that opens us up to the raw, unaltered beauty of nature.


“Wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all.” — Robyn Griggs Lawrence, author, The Wabi Sabi House Finding Beauty in Imperfection


Walk This Way

When designing walkways for your home think of them as being generous in size, well-defined and most importantly very inviting — aim for them to be at least 4-6’ wide to give maximum appeal. Walkways that are lavish in size and possess a natural kinship to the site feel well organized and inviting to visitors. One of the best ways to preview the shape and flow of the walkway is to lay out a temporary path with draping a garden hose or use a brightly colored can of spray chalk. This makes the potential design more visual and fluid and it can be reshaped and altered several times before the actual construction of the walkway begins. It also always you to visualize the potential walkway from different vantage points both from the outside as well as from the interior of your home. Try framing your walkway from an upstairs bedroom as this will provide a whole different perspective.

Consider how the walkway curves and frames not only the planting bed but the architectural lines of the house and surrounding natural terrain. To define the transition from driveway to the actual walkway, allow for a larger entrance pad or generous flair that might be detailed in a different stone pattern from the main walk.

There are a number of different materials to choose from when selecting stone for your home walkway. Some popular options include cut bluestone, brick, or pavers—all should be laid in a well-prepared base that has been heavily compacted and extremely well leveled.

Selecting the right material for your project will lend a sense of safety, permanence and long-term durability. Avoid inexpensive alternatives such as crushed stone or randomly placed stone as they will be difficult to maintain and cause uncertainty when underfoot. These types of materials require a lot of weeding and ongoing upkeep and will not provide much stability and long-lasting endurance.

As you layout your walk, allow for a wide, gracious planting bed that will frame the enhance the front of your home as well as enhance the overall landscape. If space allows, create garden beds that are 7-10 feet wide to accommodate groupings of shrubs and perennials that are massed together and layered in graduated heights and differing textures. Mass planting a particular shrub has high impact in a foundation planting. Imagine the effect of large clusters of hydrangeas, shrub rose and lavender in full bloom as opposed to a single hydrangea in a narrow bed of low juniper.

Consider how the beds will look throughout the garden year, a balanced combination of dwarf evergreens and compact flowering shrubs underplanted with appropriate perennials and ground covers will anchor the walkway as well as lend a sense of permanence and elegance to your home. The addition of spring bulbs will infuse early color and fragrance after the doldrums of winter — long blooming shrubs and perennials will provide color and texture as the changing seasons unfold. Well-designed borders always have something in bloom and provide interesting texture and color throughout the yearl

Finally, the final configuration of the walkway and plantings should always be in unity and in accordance with the style of your home and its natural surroundings. Above all, it should invite family and friends to savor and linger along the walkway and provide a sense of welcome and harmony to your home.

A very narrow brick walk with tightly clustered boxwood hedges makes this entrance look claustrophobic and uninviting.

The walkway is widened with a mixture of bluestone and the brick is reused to edge and define the walkway–plantings are lower and work to enhance and make the walkway more inviting.

The new walkway flows seamlessly into a generous patio.

Dreaming Roses

When we think of Roses it immediately conjures up lots of romantic thoughts— our grandmothers may have had fabulous beds of roses, weddings are festooned with roses — they are luscious, fragrant and abundant in our contemplated garden.

When thinking about designing a new garden everyone wants to weave in some of these fanciful beauties as they epitomize the idealized garden.

But they can also be known to be persnickety and overly fussy —they get black spot, a vast array of bugs descends seemingly out of nowhere to devour the leaves and precious flowers. Japanese beetles seem to be visiting our gardens earlier and earlier each summer to do their dreaded damage.

But take heart, there is a lot you can do to prevent these diseases and critters from destroying your dream rose garden. Initial good preparation of the soil is vital, along with selecting the right varieties that are disease-resistant and long-blooming.

Select a site that gets about 6-9 hours of sun a day, and good drainage is imperative as roses do not like having “wet feet.” When planting a rose, dig a very generous hole about twice the size of the rose. Be sure to give the rose a generous area to grow in as good air circulation is essential to healthy roses.

Plan on planting new roses either early in the morning or on an overcast day — avoid planting on sunny hot days or late in the day.

Remove heavy or clay like soil and discard replace with either home grown compost or lobster compost which is abundant in beneficial trace minerals. Fill the new hole with approximately 1/3 compost, add a slow release organic fertilizer which will gradually feed the rose throughout the growing season. Carefully, remove rose from the nursery pot and place gently in the new hole. Continue adding compost allowing the roots to settle in and fill the hole. At this point, it is time to water the rose before filling the hole completely.

Fill a large watering can with about 3 gallons of water, add about 4-5 tablespoons of liquid sea weed and fish emulsion fertilizer. Water the hole well, allowing the water to seep in very gradually. Wait several minutes and water the rose again — repeat this process a third time before backfilling the hole with more compost–tamping gently with your foot to fill in any air pockets. Aim to position the rose at the same depth it was growing in the nursery pot.

Allow the rose to settle in for a few days and repeat with a very diluted solution of sea weed and fish emulsion. Aim to allow the rose to receive about 1” of water per week to get it well established.

To prevent black spot and other diseases, spray regularly with diluted Neem oil, 2 tablespoons of baking soda and a small dash of liquid dish detergent. Consistent use of this combination will prevent and eliminate the typical dreaded rose diseases. I aim to spray my roses every 7-10 days. Spray early in the morning or on cool overcast days. Do not spray rose on hot sunny days. Excessive periods of rain may increase mildew and black spot. To revive them, you can cut them back about 50% — remove and discard any diseased leaves and flowers especially from the ground surrounding your beds.

Tips for getting your garden in great shape this year

I find early April to be the busiest month for getting your garden in shape for the coming season. As gardeners, we are so eager to get out and work in the garden on the first warm days. In truth, it is better to be patient, let the sun warm the soil and let it dry out somewhat before doing any major cleanup. Stepping on sodden soil can really cause compaction and overall damage to soil structure. Be patient-allow for a sunny stretch of weather to dry out your garden beds before attempting any major garden work.

Take the time to organize your garden tools early this year — being able to quickly locate the right tool makes garden work so much easier.

Top dress around the crowns of your perennials and shrubs with about 2″ of garden compost. Your plants will explode with vigor & vitality this year.

Once your perennials have been cut back and fertilized, mulch with a top dressing of Sweet Peet mulch. Your gardens will thrive under a blanket of this manure-based mulch. Some studies have found that it hinders weed growth while retaining moisture all season.

Be Inspired – Make It Tulips

Tulip eau de parfum – fresh, clean, & soothing

Tulips are truly a breath of fresh air-like taking in the fragrance of sheets off the clothesline. For early spring color and sheer garden abundance, nothing beats a bed of willowy tulips in full bloom. A sea of tulips will certainly lift your spirits after any lingering grey of winter.

Generally, tulip varieties are divided into 15 different groups which categorizes them by bloom time and overall shape and form. Very early blooming and low growing, the greigii and kaufmanniana varieties are a great addition to your early spring garden. Species or wild tulips are smaller and more delicate in form-often the colors are quite vivid in hues of red or yellow. they tend to be easier to establish in the garden as they are somewhat less resistant to rodent damage.

Once established in well-drained soil, they multiply and rebloom each spring. Some reliable varieties to try are: sylvestris, clusiana, humilis, saxatilis and dasystemon. These are perfect for planting near doorways and rock gardens as they are the first to bloom in early spring.