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Favorite Nurseries: A Visit to Plainview Farm

August 27, 2015

plainview farm entranceYesterday, I joined friends from the Foothills Garden Club for a visit to one of my favorite nurseries, Plainview Farm in North Yarmouth, Maine. Plainview Farm combines the strengths of the small specialty nurseries that are extensions of the owners’ homes and gardens and the larger garden centers with their broad range of products and plants. Less than 20 miles from my home, it is my go-to nursery for most of my garden needs.

Our garden club visit combined an opportunity to view the beautiful Plainview Farm display gardens with shopping for plants. The display gardens allow gardeners to see mature plants. All the beautiful late-summer blooms were also instructive for those of us whose gardens are looking more than a little bedraggled in late August. I was particularly taken with this display of cup plants or compass plants (Silphium perfoliatum) lining a garden path, plainview cup plant display
plainview joepye … and this Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium) in all its late August glory.
In the shade gardens, this ‘True Blue’ gentian seemed to glow from within. plainview blue gentian

plainview yellow waxbellsI have always been impressed by the range of plants available at Plainview Farm. I arrived yesterday with a long list of plants needed for my new front garden and went home with almost everything on it. A friend found a cultivar of Joe Pye Weed (‘Little Joe’) that had not been available elsewhere.

In addition to the currently fashionable plants and cultivars, the selection includes rare plants like this Kirengeshoma palmata (yellow waxbells), a plant I had never encountered before. I wish I had gotten a photo of the miniature goatsbeard, Aruncus aethusifolius, which forms a neat mound about a foot high, with finely cut foliage that was still looking fresh in late August. Several members of our group succumbed to the charms of this particular plant and took one home with them.

plainview royal standard hostaAnother Plainview Farm characteristic I value is that they also continue to stock old tried-and-true varieties that can be hard to find, like this ‘Royal Standard’ hosta with its big fragrant white flowers that bloom in late summer.

Seeing this nursery through the eyes of friends who had not been there before reminded me what a gem Plainview Farm is and how lucky I am to have this source of plants and garden inspiration so close to home.

The Porch Border

August 21, 2015

porch border dugMy garden project for August and September is to dig and plant the flower beds immediately surrounding my new patio and walkways – most of the entry garden (around the front entrance to the house) and the Lavender Walk. I got the tiny Blues Border done as a break in the middle of the paving stone project. Once I completed the hardscape, I got to work on the first major section of the entry garden, the 18’ x 4’ Porch Border that fills the space between the walkway to the patio and the porch and front deck.

I finished digging this border on Wednesday morning. Because I must amend my sandy soil heavily to make it garden-worthy, the level of the dug flower bed has been raised about eight inches.  I tamped it down with the back of my shovel and then left it to settle. On Thursday afternoon, with five days of rain in the weather forecast, I decided to get plants in.  My design for this border (shown below) calls for flowers in the pink/lavender range, with a succession of blooms from late spring (hardy geranium and heuchera at the front of the border) to autumn (phlox and New England aster at the back). I’ve also chosen fairly tall plants, from 2’ at the front of the border to 4’ or more at the back, because I want this planting and the one that will go on the other side of the walkway to provide some sense of enclosure for those approaching the front door.

imageList of Plants:
  1. Heuchera ‘Raspberry Regal’
  2. Geranium x oxonianum
  3. Tradescantia ‘Pink Chablis’
  4. Hemerocallis (various cultivars)
  5. Phlox paniculata  (various cultivars)
  6. Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England Aster) x ‘Alma Potschke’
  7. Astilbe thumbergii ‘Moerheim’s Glory’

porch border 1st plantsThe plants for this border are a combination of newly purchased plants, plants from my holding area, and divisions of plants from elsewhere in the garden. I began by planting my three recently purchased Phlox paniculata plants at the back of the border (‘Bright Eyes’ near the front steps, ‘Robert Poore’ in the center, and ‘Miss Pepper’ near the patio). Then I added two plants of the tall Astilbe thumbergii ‘Moerheim’s Glory’ on either side of the central phlox. This plant is a vigorous grower and has graceful inflorescences of palest lavender. One of these was newly purchased and the other was a division from a plant in my deck border. The large spaces between the astilbe and the phlox plants on either end of the border are for plants of New England aster ‘Alma Potschke’, which I hope to purchase and plant next week.

Once the back-of-the-border plants were in place, I moved to the front. My plan called for four plants of Heuchera ‘Raspberry Regal’. I had an existing plant in my holding area that I thought I could divide in two, but I had been having trouble finding a source for two more plants of this older cultivar. When I dug up my existing plant, however, it conveniently fell apart into four pieces, solving the problem.

porch border with dayliliesMy next step was to add daylilies, two groupings of three each. Four of these simply needed to be transplanted from my holding area. The other two needed to be divided from plants in other parts of the garden. The group closest to the front steps (near the middle of the photo) includes ‘Final Touch’ at the front and ‘Lily Munster’ and an unidentified deep pink cultivar behind. The other group includes ‘Protocol’ at the front and ‘Caribbean Pink Sands’ and ‘Mariska’ behind. ‘Protocol’ and ‘Caribbean Pink Sands’ were a bit difficult to find in my holding area. They were not happy residents of that temporary home and were shadows of their former selves. I think ‘Protocol’ will recover; ‘Caribbean Pink Sands’ may need to be replaced next year (easy enough to do with a daylily nursery, Grenier Gardens,  just four miles away offering large clumps for $6!).

My final step was to take three divisions of Geranium x oxonianum and two divisions of Tradescantia ‘Pink Chablis’ from elsewhere in my garden and add them to the front of the border. With these plants in place, I gave the whole planting a good watering. The several days of intermittent rain that are forecast for us (and that began last night) should help all these plants get settled in their new homes.

planted watered porch border

Next week, I will move around the corner from the Porch Border and begin work on the Lavender Walk.

Waning Blooms and Swelling Buds: GBBD, August 2015

August 16, 2015

semi-double yellow daylilyMid-August is a transition time in my Maine garden, with the blooms of high summer waning and the flowers of fall still in bud. The daylilies have been winding down fast over the past couple weeks. Each day seems to bring one more variety opening its last flower; on bloom day, it was this unidentified cultivar with a semi-double yellow flower. There are still a few daylily varieties with buds left, especially the fall-blooming cultivars ‘Autumn Minaret’ and ‘Final Touch,’ which are just getting started. I also expect fall blooms from the early rebloomers ‘Happy Returns’ and ‘Boothbay Harbor Gold’ – but right now they are resting, like actresses between gigs.

autumn minaret 2015 final touch 2015
Among the astilbes, only A. chinensis taquetti at the back of the deck border is still in flower – and it is nearing the end of its bloom. astilbe chinensis

There are, on the other hand, a number of long-blooming yellow composite plants that are going strong. These include Coreopsis verticillata (I think this is ‘Golden Showers’),  Heliopsis helianthoides (false sunflower), and the wonderful tall rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne,’ which lights up the back of the blue and yellow border at this time of year.

coreopsis verticillata heliopsis helianthoides

Geranium x oxonianum stalwart One of the true stalwarts of this summer’s garden is the pink Geranium x oxonianum. I have this planted in a number of different places, and it has been blooming continuously since the first week in June. Other impressive long-bloomers have included Geranium x ‘Nimbus’ and Spirea japonica ‘Magic Carpet.
geranium nimbus spirea magic carpet

liatris & heliopsisOne late summer flower that is putting on a good show right now is Liatris spicata ‘Floristan White,’ which grows in the circular bed at the turn into my driveway.

The tall garden phlox, P. paniculata, should be the glory of the late summer garden in northern New England, but my early-blooming variety ‘Blue Paradise’ has already finished and my late-blooming variety ‘David’ has not yet begun to flower (despite lots of tantalizingly swelling buds). Happily, I have just acquired three new varieties of phlox to go in the new front garden, and two of these (‘Bright Eyes’ and ‘Miss Pepper’) are putting on a good display in their pots.

new phlox
Bright Eyes phlox
Miss Pepper phlox

David budsPhlox paniculata ‘David’ is not the only plant in my garden whose swelling buds provide a promise of blooms to come. A number of fall-flowering plants are also making new buds. These include the aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) ‘Bluebird’ and three different varieties of sedum (S. x ‘Matrona’, S. spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ and S. spectabile ‘Neon’). In addition, there are many tiny buds on the morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor) vines on my garden fence, promising a ‘Heavenly Blue’ display to come.

Swelling buds

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see other late summer (and, in the southern hemisphere, late winter and early spring) blooms.

Maple Leaves

August 11, 2015

red maple leaves August

It’s time to revisit the red maple tree (Acer rubrum) that I am following for a year as part of Lucy’s meme at Loose and Leafy.

When I think of maple (Acer) trees, I think of their iconic palmately lobed leaves. For as long as I can remember, maples leaves have been my favorite tree leaves – probably because I grew up in New England where maple leaves are loved for their vibrant fall foliage colors.

Although most maple trees have similar shaped leaves, I find it easiest to distinguish among different maple species by looking at their leaves. Many gardeners are familiar with the leaves of the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), with 5-9 sharply pointed and strongly differentiated lobes.

The maple leaf of the Canadian flag is the sugar maple (Acer Saccharum), which typically has five lobes and rounded notches between the lobes.


imageWhen I go for my morning walk, I can easily recognize the maple trees that grow along the river near my house as silver maples (Acer saccharinum) because their leaves have more sharply differentiated lobes (similar to Japanese maples) than do other maple trees that grow in Maine. Growing right next to the silver maple is the Norway maple (Acer platanoides) which is easily distinguished from other maple trees in my neighborhood by leaves that are much wider than tall. imageThe Norway maple is the only maple tree growing in my neighborhood that is not native to Maine. It is a European/Asian native that was introduced to North America in the 18th century and earned a reputation for being able to thrive in difficult growing conditions. In the 20th century, it was widely planted as a street tree to replace elms that succumbed to Dutch Elm disease. Unfortunately, the Norway maple has turned out to be invasive. It is now illegal to plant it in the the neighboring states of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and the Maine Forest Service “discourages” planting it.

Two other native maple trees that grow widely in Maine (although not in my neighborhood) are striped maple (Acer Pensylvanicum) and the mountain maple (Acer spicatum). These are similar in that their leaves typically have only 3 lobes and the lobes are not strongly differentiated.

image image

red maple leafLike these, red maple (Acer rubrum)  trees sometimes have only three lobes; and when they have five (like the one I am following), the bottom two lobes are often not very differentiated. The three main lobes, however, are separated from one another by fairly deep v-shaped notches (in contrast to the rounded notches on striped maple and sugar maple).

You can see here that the maple leaves on my tree are a bit chewed up by this point in the summer. This is not a cause for concern. These leaves are being eaten by herbivore insects. Some of these are caterpillars that become butterfly and moth pollinators for my garden. Other herbivore insects provide needed food for birds to feed their babies. I’d be much more concerned if my maple leaves looked pristine. As Doug Tallamy (Bringing Nature Home, p. 95) says, “A plant that has fed nothing has not done its job.”

Bones for My New Front Garden

August 4, 2015

hardscape bonesGardeners and garden designers often talk about the “bones” of a garden to refer to the fairly permanent structures that give the garden form and frame the plants. These structures might include specimen trees, hedges that are used to create garden rooms, berms that define the shape of a garden, and grassy areas that separate and connect plantings. The bones of a garden can also include non-living structures like a garden shed or a seating area or hardscape.

When I began planning the new addition for my house and thinking about a new front garden to go with that addition, I was intimidated by the blank slate that this project presented, the lack of any bones to structure the garden other than the house itself. So I hired a landscape architect, Peter Burke, to design the bones of the new garden. My hope was that Peter would be able to design the contours of the land around the new addition, the hardscape, and the location, sizes and shapes of planting areas. The reality was that my landscape budget wasn’t large enough to pay for such an extensive design and that the excavation for the new addition changed the contours of the front of my property considerably. So what I got from my landscape architect was an invaluable conceptual design for hardscape – including an L-shaped retaining wall to divide the front of my property into two levels; a patio atop the retaining wall that echoes the size and shape of the deck on the front of the house; and a series of walkways that connect the patio, the front and back doors, the steps up from the driveway to the entry level, and the lower garden level.

The retaining walls were created as part of the construction process in the fall; and last week, I completed the two-month job of laying the 1’ square concrete pavers (220 of them!) to create the patio and the walkways. This hardscape provides a good set of bones to shape the design of my new front garden. It clearly separates the garden into two levels, and it defines the shapes and sizes of planting areas on the upper level.

I am anticipating that realizing the garden to go with these bones will take about 5 years. This year, I am focusing on the upper level, where the walkways and patio have clearly defined planting areas. I have already planted the small ‘Blues Border’ in the area between the front stairs and the front of the house, and I have bought some creeping thyme to plant in the narrow strips on two sides of the patio where it is bordered by the retaining walls. This week, I will begin amending the soil in the 18’ x 4’ area between the porch and deck and the walkway leading to the patio. lavender walk bonesI have already selected plants and created a planting plan for this area. Once this ‘Porch Border’ is planted, I will move on to the ‘Lavender Walk,’ the two rectangular areas between the front deck and the retaining wall that are divided by the walkway leading from the patio along the front of the house to the lower garden. As the name suggests, this planting will be anchored by lavender plants, and I already have a good idea of what I will combine with those plants. By mid-September, I hope to be done with all this and to tackle the area bordered by the front and back door walkways and the walkway to the patio (the ‘Patio Border’).

fragrant garden bones side slope

Next year, I will move on to the large area under my bedroom window bordered by the front of the addition, the walkway, and the deck (the ‘Fragrant Garden’) and the large slope on the driveway side of the retaining wall. Because these areas are so large, shrubs will be important in creating structure beyond the bones provided by the hardscape.

lower garden site1 lower garden site2

In the third year of this project, I will move on to the even larger, undifferentiated area at the front of the house below the retaining wall and hardscape. I am thinking of this whole area as the “lower garden,” and it consists of a fairly steep slope with a flat area at the bottom. I am happy to have two years to think about how to create a good set of bones for this area. I already know that I want to create a wide grassy swath along the flat part at the bottom of the slope that will curve around and up the slope near the woods to create a path from the driveway to the walkway along the front of the house (thereby connecting the upper and lower gardens). I also know that I will create a large roughly triangular planting of shrubs at the front corner of my property away from the driveway (which will balance the L-shaped retaining wall), bordered by the grassy path where it will curve around to go up the slope. I am also imagining some kind of small seating area in that grassy curve near the shrubbery.

My new front garden is a big project, both to design and to execute. By dividing it into smaller segments and thinking first about the bones, I can make it more manageable, much more enjoyable, and (I hope) more beautiful.

A Visit to Barred Owl Daylilies

July 28, 2015

barred owl viewsLast week, I had the pleasure of visiting Barred Owl Daylilies, the garden and nursery of Rex Beisel and Craig Cote in Otisfield, Maine, as part of a group from the Foothills Garden Club. I was wowed by the beauty of the place. It was a perfect Maine summer day, the daylilies were at their peak, and they were blooming in a beautiful ridge-top setting with breathtaking views.

As the name suggests, Barred Owl Daylilies specializes in growing daylilies (Hemerocallis). The nursery stock is mostly planted in row after row of raised beds crammed full of the hundreds of cultivars that they grow for sale. More daylilies grow in display gardens that have curved edges and are connected by wide, sweeping grassy paths. barred owl display gardens
Display gardens made up almost entirely of daylilies might seem a bit lacking in variety. But, in addition to the enormous variety of the daylilies themselves, the masses of daylilies are balanced by being set among mature trees, like this gorgeous variegated maple.

In areas close to their house, Craig and Rex have created non-daylily gardens.

These include a dry garden that features walkways set in wooly thyme and a collection of dwarf trees (mostly conifers), among them this very special dwarf gingko. barred owl dwarfs
barred owl cat The non-daylily gardens also include this quiet corner.

Of course, no visit to a daylily garden would be complete without sharing a collection of favorite flowers that captured my attention that day.

barred owl daylilies

Barred Owl Daylilies specializes in growing cold-hardy tetraploid daylilies for northern gardens. Happily, this is a mail-order nursery, so those who do not live nearby can also enjoy the wonderful cultivars that they grow and sell.

A Sunny Garden: GBBD, July 2015

July 18, 2015

sunny happy returnsI am very late with my bloom day post this month (the consequence of a busy week), but I certainly don’t want to skip the best month of the season in my garden. So here’s my report on the state of my garden this month – better late than never.

This is a time of  transition in the garden, from the early summer blooms of June to the peak summer blooms of  late July.  This is also a color transition,  from the blues and pastels of June to the sunny yellows of high summer.

Pastels can still be found in the mid-July garden, particularly in the deck border, which becomes the central attraction during this transition period. There the airy white plumes of goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) float over the pinks, white, and lavender display of astilbe, astrantia, tradescantia, spirea ‘Magic Carpet’ and Geranium x oxonianum. deck border July pastels

deck border pastels

The raised bed that separates the clothesline area from the serenity garden is also planted in pastels. Here the plants of Geranium x oxonianum are spreading and flowering so exuberantly that the more delicate flowers of Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ are just about swamped. raised bed july

exuberant geranium blue ice july
fence border pastels There are also pastels in the fence border, where tradescantia blooms with hardy geraniums, and clematis ‘Comtesse de Bouchaud’ flowers on the fence.
On the other side of this border, however, the transition to high summer has begun with the first flowers of the tall rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne.’ herbstsonne first flowers

B&Y yellowsIt is in the blue and yellow border that the yellows of high summer are coming on strong. There, Coreopsis verticillata ‘Golden Showers’ and Heliopsis helianthoides are fully in bloom, as are five different varieties of yellow daylilies. There are a few contrasting blues in the flowers of Linum perenne and Tradescantia ‘Zwannenburg Blue;’ but blues will increase in the next week or so as blue varieties of delphinium, Phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise,’ and blue balloon flowers all begin to flower.

july yellows & blues

holding area july colorThe holding area, where plants are waiting for new homes in the front garden, is a riot of strong colors in July. There are several more varieties of daylilies blooming here, along with lilies, coreopsis, heliopsis, astilbe and tradescantia. I’m not a confident enough gardener to intentionally mix all these different colors, but I’m enjoying the effect.

holding area colors

vevety red daylilyMore coreopsis and more daylilies are blooming on the back slope. In addition to the early reblooming daylily, ‘Happy Returns’ (in the image at the top of this post), I have a deep velvety red daylily, passed along from a friend many years ago, blooming by the back door. There I have also let a number of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) plants grow, and they are currently blooming.  Even if they don’t attract any monarch butterflies (mine serve as host plants for milkweed tussock moths, instead), their heavenly scent makes them more than welcome.

milkweed flowers milkweed flower

We have been having a heavenly summer in Maine, with lots of sunshine and temperatures that are warm without being too hot. As the state tourist slogan would have it, “the way life should be.” Having the sunny colors of some of my favorite flowers coming into bloom makes this time of year blissful. As of mid-July, about 25% of the daylily varieties I grow are in bloom, so there is a lot of bliss still to come.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month (give or take a few days for some of us!) by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Check out her blog to see what’s blooming this month in gardens around the world.


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