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.

Starting from Scratch ~ Create the Landscape of Your Dreams

Feeling overwhelmed in a new house surrounded by a barren landscape can seem dismal and daunting? To get the ball rolling and move toward the landscape of your dreams start the process quickly on paper.

Start by creating a simple plan for your landscape on graph paper. You do not have to be artistic to make a basic layout – the first step is to establish your property lines, put in any significant trees and utility boxes, Include the footprint of the house within this framework. A plot plan is usually available through your local town hall. This can save a lot of time with hand measuring and can be enlarged to make a good base drawing. Try to be as accurate as possible, using one square foot of space for each square on your graph paper. Add any significant existing elements such as walkways, decks, patios, trees or shrubs. A copy shop can enlarge your plan so it will be easier to work with. Once the basic design is on paper, the whole site can be viewed from a fresh perspective. Differing shapes and proportions will start to emerge as you start to see both the positive and negative aspects of your site. Your goal will be to enhance and embellish those positive elements and lessen or camouflage the negative elements.

When applying a simple geometry to our home landscapes, boundaries are delineated, potential screening borders are defined and areas for shade providing trees becomes more apparent. Avoid turning large areas into water demanding lawns-this only reinforces the redundant use of wall-to-wall green carpets of grass. An American cliché that needs to change if we are to support self-sustaining, healthy landscapes devoid of chemical dependency. Select shrubs such as abelia, deutzia, itea, Lespedeza and viburnums because they bloom at different times in the season- interplant with ornamental grasses and native perennials to break up large areas. To offset these beds, consider using grass as more of a visual “scatter rug” that links one area to another. Working in this way, creates more fluidity and spontaneity in the landscape-while creating separate and perhaps more intimate areas in your garden.

For example, strategically placed flowering trees may define where a pathway starts as well as eventually add a nice canopy of shade. The verticality of trees brings the scale of the house down while adding a cohesiveness to the overall landscape. Aim to select a palette of plants that complement each other-it is better to choose a limited amount of varieties that blend and reinforce each other in terms of bloom sequence, form and texture. Filling a border as well as the overall landscape with too many differing varieties creates a chaotic look – giving an unsettling and even conflicting relationship with the architecture of the house. The plant selection should enhance, echo and lend a sense of continuity to the lines of the house. Good plant selection along with well-designed hardscaping will anchor the house to the site providing a sense of coherence and stability. This is especially important when working with a new home.

Understanding and appreciation of the style of your home is vital to creating a landscape plan that marries the hardscaping to the plantings. An orderly Cape Cod home works well with a curving brick walk that is edged with lush perennial beds. A more contemporary home may lend itself to large irregular stones laid in sweeping patterns that echo the lines of the home. A wide curving path with planting beds on both sides will soften the long, horizontal lines of a ranch house. Straight somewhat geometric stone patterns can work well with the clean linear lines of an early 1900s home. Patterns, motifs and prominent feature of the house in the form of roof lines arched windows or ornate entrances can be clues to connecting the walkway to the house as well as creating a pathway that flows and encompasses the rest of the landscape. For instance, a repeating path from one doorway should lead seamlessly into a back patio or deck.

Aim to address the hardscape first. Specifically the main walkway from the driveway to the front door keeping in mind the potential for patios, decks and other walkways that may be added later. If the contractor has left you with an uninspired straight and narrow walk that goes from the drive to the front door, consider rethinking the walkway and making it at least 4′ wide. Adding curves will add some drama and make the walk to your front door more visually interesting. A gracious wide walkway with some gentle curves will also suggest areas for interesting planting beds that will add interest and a strong visual appeal to the house. Unifying the plantings and the walkways together provide a strong underpinning that will give the house a more finished look.

When creating a planting border against the foundation of the house, aim to create borders that are 8-12′ deep which will provide for a multilayered planting bed. Also, avoid planting too close to the foundation-a good rule is to plant shrubs about 2-3′ away from the house. Deep beds allow you to be able to select many more interesting plants that will allow for a beautiful succession of blooms. If a cement foundation is unsightly, a solid line of low growing evergreens such as Ilex crenata ‘compacta’ is a good selection that will not only camouflage the foundation but also act as a nice backdrop for flowering shrubs planted in front. Select compact and hardy shrubs that will provide a consistent progression of flowering from Spring to Autumn. Aim to create a border that will have a graduated look in terms of height, balance and form. Embellish the front of your border with long blooming perennials and sweeping ground covers. Low growing Spring bulbs can be added between the ground covers to create additional color in early Spring before anything else is in bloom.

 

Take a Fresh Look at Your Landscape

Winter is the perfect time to think about creating a fresh and vibrant garden design that can be implemented this spring. Taking the time now allows you to explore what may be missing in your home landscape. Perhaps, you might consider a new walkway that leads out to the backyard for a more intimate connection between house and garden. Privacy screening in the form of large evergreens will block some unsightly views that have been bothersome in the past. The dream of a stone patio with a fire pit surrounded by billowy flowering perennials might fit perfectly into a large swath of unused lawn.

This is true for new homeowners who may have a totally blank slate as well as those who have an existing garden that may look congested and overgrown. A fresh perspective now may be the incentive to really dig in this spring to create a fresh and exciting new look to your landscape.

The view out of a main doorway or larger window of your home is the perfect starting point for creating a new garden this Winter. This is the perfect opportunity to frame a view that links the inside to the outside.

From the warmth of your interior — inspiration for a grander garden scheme becomes more apparent.

The simplicity of a lovely view offers a wonderful relaxing moment — a true break from a busy day

An arbor is helpful to frame the view and increase the drama to entering a garden.

A long axial walkway leads the visitor into a pergola covered dining area – trees flanking the walk represent the “walls” of the garden room.

A nicely proportioned home entrance is enhanced by an overhanging tree and well positioned planting beds.

A garden bench allows for a quiet meditative moment in a May blooming garden.

Planting Spring Bulbs

 

Early bulbs are much smaller and will do well planted about 3-4” deep. Top dressing with an autumn mulch keeps the ground warmer allowing for root development before the deep cold of winter sets in. This insulating mulch also protects the bulbs from quick freezes and thaws that often occur in late winter.

A generous mix of bulbs are being incorporated into any existing garden.

As the days become longer and the daytime temperatures gradually rise, the bulbs will naturally begin to emerge and start the wonderful process of sequential blooming. Since the early spring bulbs are low growing and devoid of a lot of foliage, the first flush of flowers magically appears making the early spring garden abundant in a sea of blooms–creating a breathtaking picture that can last for several days of even weeks. When one group of bulbs start to fade, another grouping takes center stage quickly filling in any vacancies in the garden.

 

After flowering, it is important to give them a feeding of organic fertilizer and allow the foliage to die back gradually. Later bloomers like tulips and alliums along with emerging perennials will eventually camouflage the waning bulbs. By creating a design that promotes a progression of bulbs, the garden will never be without something in bloom.

In late April and early May, tulips the grand-dames of the garden lend flirt and fancy in an abundant array of colors and shapes. Species tulips are tiny in size often blooming along with daffodils which makes them less likely to be eaten by deer. To deter rodents from eating the bulbs, use a rodent repellant or add cayenne pepper or garlic flakes to the planting hole.

Spring bulbs in a sculpture garden.

Another trick is to spray bulbs (especially tulips) with a diluted solution of old fashioned liquid lysol and let the bulbs dry completely in the sun prior to planting, The offending critters are hindered by the smell and taste of this strong smelling cleaner. Another tip from a bulb importer is to plant them in the same hole as the allium. The strong onion odor of the allium helps to keep critters away as well.

The dynamic and vertical lines of flowering onions or Alliums continue the show into June- globe-like flower of the allium may be allowed to dry in the garden, which adds texture and interest to your perennial borders. There is a multitude of allium varieties in the market–from very low growing to impressive 4‘ varieties. Alliums add an elegance and dramatic verticality to the late May and early June garden Fragrant and dramatic lilies, “the wings of the garden” take flight in late June and July. You can find a multitude of different hybrids in dazzling colors and shapes in all of these species of bulbs.

An enchanting collection of peony-flowering tulips and late daffodils in a seaside garden.

To encourage your bulb garden to flourish, select a site that has well-drained soil. If the soil needs work, start by enriching the proposed area with good top soil or compost to a depth of about 6”. Bulbs do not like to be planted in area that is usually wet–so good drainage is essential when preparing your site for a bulb garden. Plant bulbs with the pointed side up adding a tablespoon or so of an organic fertilizer that contains rock phosphate, which will ensure proper root development.

It is especially important to plant the bulb to the proper depth which is about 3-4 times the bulb’s length. For example, a tulip which is about 2” long needs to be planted about 6-8” deep. The earlier bulbs are much smaller and will do well planted about 3-4” deep. Top dressing with an autumn mulch keeps the ground warmer allowing for root development before the deep cold of winter sets in. This insulating mulch also protects the bulbs from lifting when quick freezes and thaws occur in late winter. As the days become longer and the daytime temperatures get warmer, the bulbs will naturally begin to emerge and start the wonderful process of sequential blooming. When one group of bulbs start to fade, another grouping starts to take center stage and fills in any vacancies in the garden. Since the early spring bulbs are low growing and devoid of a lot of foliage, the flowers in full bloom appear as luscious masses of color–creating a breathtaking picture that can last for several days of even weeks.

After flowering, it is important to give your bulbs a feeding of organic fertilizer because this is the time they are storing food for next year’s blooms.

Always allow the foliage to gradually die back naturally. By late June most of the foliage has completely withered and can then be safely cut down. Later bloomers like tulips and alliums along with emerging perennials will eventually camouflage the waning bulbs.

By creating a design that promotes a progression of bulbs, the garden will never be without something in bloom. At present, bulb supplies are still plentiful and you can safely plant your bulb garden right up to Thanksgiving. A warm sunny afternoon in late October or early November is the perfect time to plant your spring garden–so don’t hesitate to get out there soon!

 

You’re never too young to learn how to plant bulbs for the family garden!

The Serendipity of Spring Bulbs

 

I never feel a perennial garden is complete without the addition of spring bulbs. The wonderful serendipitous quality of bulbs make the early spring garden truly come alive — a vivid reminder that we can bid adieu to the long cold and grey of winter.

Whether you are just a beginner or a more seasoned gardener nothing will feed your soul more than a fabulous display of spring bulbs. Planted en masse, the luscious colors, subtle fragrances and long blooming flowers creates a wonderful prelude for the unfolding spring season. A carefully selected collection of spring bulbs will provide a symphony of successive blooms that will enliven your garden with many months of amazing color and fragrance.

By incorporating a mix of early, middle and late blooming bulbs, you are ensured of a display that will span several months. The early bloomers of March and April are snowdrops, crocus, Iris reticulata, Scilla, Chionodoxa followed by daffodils and hyacinths. With careful planning now, the entire month of April can be a spectacular display of flowering bulbs in a multitude of forms and a rainbow of colors.

Autumn Considerations

Hydrangeas — The Flower of Tranformations

Homage to the Hydrangea…a delightful cupcake!

In most parts of New England, this has been a glorious year for hydrangea shrubs and it’s about time! The past two years has been inhospitable to these shrubs with excessively cold temperatures for long periods causing the tender buds to be killed. In the very early spring of 2016, it looked promising but unfortunately the emerging buds were hit by extreme and unexpected temperature drops which killed all the potential flowers. Many of us wondered if we would ever see those beautiful blue flowers again as they are the quintessential mainstays of our summer gardens.

Now as I drive around to visit gardens, I am amazed by the dazzling and voluptuous hydrangeas shrubs that are gracing our gardens this summer. It is gratifying and comforting that our patience over the past two years has paid off with the abundance of vivid blue, purple and pink flowers that are now so plentiful.

This beloved plant originated on the coastal and smaller islands of Japan. In Japan it is called the “flower of seven transformations” or Nanhenge because of the plant’s ability to change color based on the chemical nature of the soil. An acid soil produces a bluer flower while a soil that is more alkaline turns the flower pinker. Growers have produced a vast amount of differing hydrangeas to choose from in terms of not only color, but also sizes from massive to quite diminutive. The newer varieties also bloom continuously from July into early Autumn.

In my own garden, I have seen hydrangea flowers emerge as soft green transforming into pale blue. As the summer progressives, the pale blue turns to cobalt and vivid mauves and purples. Cooler temperatures in autumn bring on a rich burgundy, while a quick frost may turn the flowers to a tawny silver. This multitude of colors produces lovely flowers that can be cut and dried as beautiful arrangements for your home in the winter.

Walk This Way

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“No single element in the design of a garden is as important as where you put your paths.” — Hugh Johnson

Spring is a great time to take a fresh look at one very important passageway leading to your front door. Yes, it’s your walkway. While the journey from driveway to front door may not be long, it can certainly be inviting, even welcoming. It is one of those key elements that connects your home to the overall landscape.

Before the season gets into full swing—and it will, despite appearances—take advantage of the bare natural architecture of your home to get a clear vision of the style, shape, material, and plantings perfect for your home and garden!

Here are some things you should consider when designing a walkway:

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Style of Your Home
Understanding and appreciating the style of your home is vital to creating a walkway that truly works. An orderly Cape Cod home works well with a curving brick walk edged with lush perennial beds, whereas irregular bluestones laid in sweeping patterns can echo the lines of a contemporary home. A wide curving path with planting beds on both sides softens the long, horizontal lines of a ranch—incorporating a tall, thin tree to breakup the line will add vertical interest.

Patterns, motifs and prominent features of the house—rooflines, arched windows or an ornate entrance—can be clues to how to connect the walkway to the house and surrounding landscape.

If existing significant trees and shrubs are present, use their solidity as a starting point or framework for the pathway. Those existing elements, like a light post or mature planting bed, can be very helpful in determining where the path might begin.

If you are in a new house, you may not have any of these preexisting features. That’s a great opportunity to consider adding a few small trees to provide scale and balance. Of course, you should select trees carefully—consider the eventual size of the tree, and find a location that will allow it to fully mature without overpowering the front of the house.

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Walkway Shape
Start by creating a simple scaled drawing on paper including measurements of the house and significant landscape features. This will allow for a bird’s eye view of the walkway in relation to the overall lay of the land. Visualizing your plan on paper may provide design ideas you may not have considered.

One of the best ways to preview the shape and flow of the front walk is to lay out the path with a garden hose or use a spray can of brightly-colored marking chalk. This makes the design process a bit more fluid as it can be altered and reshaped several times before the actual construction on the walk begins.

Generally, a walkway should be about 4-6 feet wide to accommodate two people walking side by side. Pathways that are generous in size and well-organized are more inviting for visitors. To define the transition from driveway to walk, allow for a larger entrance pad or a generous flair that may be detailed in a different stone pattern from the main walk.

You may want this new layout to be a long linear path with a 90-degree turn at the front of the house, or possibly some grand sweeping curves that encompass more of your front lawn. Be creative in using the space around your home- move beyond the conventional narrow walkway, tightly-clipped evergreen plantings and expansive front lawn. Allow the walkway and plantings to flow into more of your front yard to soften and frame your home. Your property will start to come together once you expand and incorporate all these elements together into a more cohesive whole.

Once you have roughed out the design, live with it for a while. Give yourself time to get an overall sense of how it frames and enhances your home. View it from different vantage points—from the street, driveway, and interior of your home. Walk up and down this path to get a sense for how it feels underfoot.

This temporary layout will help you envision the shape, extent, and overall size of the walkway. It will also provide the context for plantings that will provide a finished and more decorous look to the front entrance.

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Walkway Materials
There are a number of materials to choose from when designing a front walkway. Some popular options include cut bluestone, brick, or pavers that should be laid tightly to prevent weeds and for a clean and well-delineated look. Selecting the right stone for your project will lend a sense of safety, permanence, and long-term durability.

Keep in mind that inexpensive alternatives like crushed stone or randomly placed stone can be difficult to maintain. This type of path often requires a lot weeding and ongoing upkeep, and does not provides much stability and long lasting endurance.

It is best to speak with a professional about the materials you want to use. They will know the pros and cons of each option, and can best guide your selection.

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Walkway Plantings
As you layout your walk, allow for wide, gracious planting beds in front of the house. If space allows, create garden beds that are 7-10 feet wide to accommodate groupings of shrubs that are massed together and layered in graduated heights and textures. Mass planting a particular shrub has high impact in a foundation planting. Imagine the effect of large clusters of hydrangeas 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 year, a balanced combination of dwarf evergreen and compact flowering shrubs underplanted with appropriate perennials and ground covers will anchor the walkway as well as lend a sense of permanence to the house. The addition of spring bulbs and long blooming shrubs and perennials will provide color throughout the seasons. In the end, you want the final configuration of the walkway and plantings to be in harmony with the home and its surroundings. Above all, it should invite your family and friends to savor and linger along the new walkway to your home.

Click on an image below to see a slide show of walkway ideas!

Make It Tulips!

French Tulips

French Tulips

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 undulating 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 garden. Species or “wild” tulips are smaller and more delicate in form—often the colors are quite vivid in hues of red or yellows. They tend to be easier to establish in the garden, multiplying and reblooming each spring. Some other reliable establishing varieties are: sylvestris, clusiana, humilis, saxatilis and dasystemon. These are perfect for planting near doorways or rock gardens as they are the first to bloom every year.

There are other varieties, too:

  • Triumph tulips bloom in late April and come in a multitude of colors. They are also good for forcing in pots.
  • The Darwin category contains some of the largest and sturdy growing varieties. They are truly impressive when grown en masse.
  • Peony-flowering tulips are highly scented looking like luscious peonies or bowls of ice cream in the garden. Their strong, thick stems lend support to the massive flowers.
  • Parrot tulips contain some of the most dramatic colors with flamboyant and frilled shapes— a magical addition to any garden.
  • Viridiflora or green tulips have subdued green markings, which contrast with the muted tones of pinks and purples of the petals making the whole flower appear feathered and elegant.
  • Lily Flowering have tall, elongated and flared stems that create a beautiful vertical line. They bloom later in the season, which makes them the perfect addition to the back of the border fully extending the long season of blooming tulips.

(Click on an  image below to see a slideshow.)

Mass planting tulips in drifts creates an alluring and voluptuous feeling to the spring garden. Bold plantings are sure to inspire and lift spirits, and provide an abundance of color before spring perennials even start to bloom.

Tulips can be incorporated into shrub and evergreen borders to fill in gaps and provide wonderful color in the early spring. The later blooming shrubs will camouflage the waning foliage of the bulbs.

By staging different varieties of tulips in graduated layers the garden will unfurl in a succession of blooms providing wonderful color and fragrance for many weeks. Enjoy!