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Mission Accomplished

October 5, 2015

entry gardenThis was year one in my five-year plan for creating a new front garden. The addition I had built onto the front of my house this past year provided the impetus to get started on this long-time dream. Because the job is big and a bit overwhelming, I hired a landscape architect to help me with some of the big-picture design elements, and I divided the project into smaller, manageable chunks. This year’s mission was to get the hardscape in place for a small patio and four connecting walkways and to dig and plant four flower beds around the patio and walkways. On September 29, I finished digging the last of these flower beds, the Patio Border; and on October 1, I added plants and declared this year’s mission accomplished!

I have been designing the plantings as I go. The Patio Border is one of three flower beds that surround the front entrance to my house and that I think of collectively as the “Entry Garden.” This garden area sets the mood for the approach to my house. I wanted it to have large enough plants to create some sense of privacy and enclosure, and I wanted it to feel welcoming. But because this is the more formal front entrance to my house, I also wanted the planting to be restrained. To get that sense of restraint, I have been focusing on repetition of just a few plant types in each flower bed and restricting the color palette to shades of pink, lavender and blue. Variation is created by foliage shapes and textures and by designing for a succession of blooms.


You can see these principles at work in the plan for the Patio Border (above). There are only 5 different genera of plants represented in this 18’ x 4’ planting; and, except for the shrub Spirea japonica ‘Magic Carpet,’ all are repeated at least twice. The spirea, which is a division taken from the back garden, will mature quickly into a 4’ diameter clump that will fill the corner where the wide walkway to the front door intersects with the narrower walkway to the patio. The back of the planting, which extends along the top of the retaining wall to the patio, is anchored by three peonies. ‘Monsieur Jules Elie,’ will grow to about 3’ tall and is in the center. It is flanked by two plants of the slightly shorter variety, ‘Bowl of Beauty.’ Fairly tall daylilies (Hemerocallis) will grow between the peonies.

patio border plantedI struggled a bit with what to plant at the front of the border. I thought about bordering the entire walkway with a groundcover dianthus; but when I saw the dense mats of this growing at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, I knew this was not the look I was going for. I have divided a gift Dianthus x ‘Shooting Star’ and planted it at each end of the planting. I’m considering it on probation; we’ll see how it works out. The rest of the front of the planting combines varieties of Hemerocallis that are all less than 2’ tall with clumps of Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo.’ Given its exuberant growth patterns, I’m not sure ‘Biokovo’ is the right plant for this area; I don’t want it to grow out over the walkway, which is only 2’ wide. ‘Biokovo’ has the virtues, however, of being low growing, with foliage that is attractive all season long and that echoes the shape and texture of the  Geranium x oxonianum and Heuchera foliage growing across the walkway at the front of the Porch Border. This “Perennial Plant of the Year” for 2015 is also easy for me to acquire, since it always needs thinning out and I seem to have an infinite supply. Like the Dianthus, it is on probation here.

rosy returns openingThe Dianthus ‘Shooting Star’ and Geranium ‘Biokovo’ plants at the front of the border should begin blooming around the end of May, along with the Heuchera  and Geranium plants across the walkway. Spirea ‘Magic Carpet’ will join in 2-3 weeks later and will continue blooming until fall. (I still have a few scattered flowers on the one in the back garden.) In late June, the peonies will bloom, and the daylilies will dominate in July. I have included early, mid-season and late-blooming daylilies here, along with several rebloomers, so I should continue to have daylily blooms in August and September. Even on a chilly morning in October, ‘Rosy Returns,’ which came from the nursery with buds still on it, was opening a flower.

I’m delighted to have arrived at the beginning of October and the end of the gardening season with this front garden project on schedule. Next year, I will focus on two much larger areas, the big slope that runs from the patio border down to the driveway, and the 20’ x 10’ fragrant garden which will be created at the front of the house, under my bedroom window. These garden areas will include a much greater variety of plants, and I will use the winter to think carefully about how to use plants to give the plantings structure, coherence, and focal points. I am looking forward to those design challenges for next year and to the pleasure of watching the entry garden plantings begin to mature.

Plant Information on the Internet: A Cautionary Tale

September 29, 2015

Amsonia bloom (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)Recently, I noticed that many readers were coming to my blog from a website I had never heard of, so I clicked through to check it out. The link took me to a blog that claims to provide “the most comprehensive gardening information, as well as hints and tips to help the gardener at every skill level.” I found myself looking at a photo of Amsonia blooms from my garden. The photo was part of an article entitled “The 11 Best Fall-Blooming Flowers for Your Yard,” with Amsonia listed as #6. Huh??

The problem here wasn’t with the use of the photo from my blog. I don’t object to others using my photos as long as they provide proper credit, and the amsonia photo included my watermark and a link back to my blog.  The problem was with the information provided. If the person who wrote this article had bothered to read my post on Amsonia, she would have known that it blooms in early summer, not in fall. The article on Best Fall-Blooming Flowers advised that “The small bunches of whitish-blue flowers look great scattered across your yard and garden. They give a cool, calming texture that fits perfectly with fall!” Really?? I’d love to see how that would work. It might be possible to scatter the dwarf variety Amsonia x ‘Blue Ice’ through the garden, but most Amsonia varieties are big architectural plants that are a challenge to divide.

The blog that used my photo as part of its misinformation does not allow for comments, so I was not able to correct the errors in that way. I did fill out a contact form advising about the wrong information, but I received no reply and the post has not been corrected. I can only hope that all the readers of the “The 11 Best Fall-Blooming Flowers for Your Yard” who have clicked through to my blog have actually read the post on Amsonia so that they don’t try to use the plant in the way advised. Unfortunately, the blog providing this bad information seems to have a large readership, and I wonder how many readers who haven’t clicked the link to my blog will go out and plant Amsonia for fall flowers.

The lesson here is to beware of plant information on the internet; you can’t trust everything you read there. Here are some suggestions for evaluating online sources of plant information:

  1. Most university and botanical garden sites are trustworthy sources of information. The Missouri Botanical Garden plant finder is an excellent source of information for those who garden in climates similar to that of the garden.
  2. I also find the USDA plants database a good source of information about native and naturalized plants (including which naturalized plants are not native, but invasive).
  3. If you are interested in learning about a particular genus of plant, national societies devoted to that genus can be a wonderful resource. For example, the American Hemerocallis Society daylily database provides information about every daylily cultivar registered with the society.
  4. Some plant nurseries have extensive information about plants in their online catalogs. Nurseries that specialize in particular types of plants can be particularly helpful. For example, Perennial Pleasures has excellent information about phlox for northern gardens. Be aware, however, that putting information up on a nursery’s website is sometimes a job assigned to relatively inexperienced workers, and mistakes do get made.
  5. Some garden bloggers are recognized authorities about particular types of plants or particular climates, and their blogs can be excellent sources of information. For example, Noelle Johnson, who blogs at AZ Plant Lady, is a trained horticulturist and an expert on desert plants. Carolyn Walker at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens has excellent information and advice about (mostly) shade plants. If I were looking for information about succulents, I would certainly trust any information from Debra Lee Baldwin at Gardening Gone Wild. Beware, however, of blogs that claim to be providing expert advice but which provide no information about the author’s credentials.
  6. Bloggers who are writing about their own experience with a particular plant can also provide helpful information. (This is what I was doing in my post on Amsonia.)  But beware of blog posts that are not written by experts and don’t seem to be based on the blogger’s own experience.

There is a lot of great plant information available on the internet – but not all of it is great, and gardeners need to be vigilant in separating the great from the not.

A Blue and Gold Season

September 23, 2015

blue&gold seasonI think of seasons as having colors. Winter is, of course, white. And spring is yellow and pink (think daffodils and tulips and fruit trees in bloom). Summer is a lush mix of many shades of green. And the colors of fall are blue and gold. For me, these colors represent the vibrant blue of an October sky and the golden hues of fall foliage. Today is the autumnal equinox and the official beginning of that blue and gold season.

I can find something to love about every season, but fall has always been my favorite. I don’t love heat, so the cooler temperatures of autumn are something I look forward to. And classic New England fall weather is sunny and crisp – a great time for working in the garden. I also love the vibrant colors of the leaves on our deciduous trees in fall.

The first half of September was unusually hot here, and I was feeling a bit grumpy about the way summer was hanging on. But then this week, right on cue, the weather pattern shifted. On Sunday night, I went to bed with the windows open as they had been for several months. When I woke up on Monday morning, I was greeted by a chilly house and outdoor temperatures in the mid-thirties (Fahrenheit)! I looked out at the big red maple tree that grows beside my driveway and noticed the first leaves turning color in its canopy. Then I noticed that the rhododendron on the back slope had begun to turn and the first fallen leaves of the season in the driveway. Autumn is here!

rhododendron foliage first fallen leaves

Of course, the turn from summer to autumn is also a turn toward winter (which usually arrives here in late November). It’s time to finish digging new flower beds and start preparing the garden for winter. But until the frost comes, I can enjoy the deep blue flowers of morning glories on the fence and the blooms of aster and sedums. It’s a glorious time of the year!

morning glory blue fall aster alma potschke

I am linking this post to Donna’s Seasonal Celebrations at Gardens Eye View.

September Blooms: GBBD, September 2015

September 17, 2015

I’m a couple days late joining the Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day party, which is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

false sunflowerThis is a time of year when many flowers in my Maine garden, like these tattered specimens of false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), are starting to wind down. I would normally expect to have a few daylilies (Hemerocallis) blooming at this time of year, but the September-blooming ‘Sandra Elizabeth’ didn’t send up any flowers at all this year, and none of my reblooming varieties have sent up new scapes. Balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) are opening a few last blooms before they go dormant for the winter.

The summer phlox (Phlox paniculata) are still providing color in the early fall garden. A few white flowers of ‘David’ can still be found in the back garden, and nearby ‘Blue Paradise’ has produced a small second flush of blooms. In the front garden, the recently planted ‘Bright Eyes’ still has a few flowers, and the late-blooming variety ‘Robert Poore’ is still going strong.

september phlox

This is the time of year when sedums come into their own. In the newly planted Lavender Walk, flowers of ‘Autumn Fire’ are living up to their name. Elsewhere in the garden, ‘Matrona’ has attained a fairly deep coloring, while ‘Neon’ is just starting to deepen, and ‘Autumn Joy’ is still the palest pink. autumn fire new planting

september sedums

morning glories on fenceSome plants are just beginning to bloom. Morning glories (Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue’) have been opening a flower here and there on the back fence. These vines are loaded with buds, and may well provide a lush display in a few weeks if frost holds off long enough. On one side of the front steps, aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) ‘Bluebird’ is loaded with buds, but has not yet begun to bloom. On the other side of the steps, the New England aster (Symphyotrichum novii-angliae) cultivar ‘Alma Potschke’ has just begun to unfurl its buds.

alma potschke buds bluebird buds

But the most vibrant display of flowers at this time of year is not in my flower beds at all, but in the wild spaces along the side of the driveway and the edges of the woods. There several different species of wild asters combine with the vibrant flowers of goldenrod, reminding me that what I do is just a pale echo of Mother Nature’s art.

asters and goldenrod

Seasonal Changes: My Red Maple in September

September 12, 2015
red maple no color September is the month of transition from summer to autumn, and in New England autumn is almost always called “fall” – short for “leaf fall,” which speaks to the importance of deciduous trees like my red maple in the life of the region.

The first third of September brought the hottest, most humid weather of the summer, so it has definitely not felt like fall. Nevertheless, as the autumnal equinox approaches and the days get shorter, the trees have begun to slow their photosynthesis in preparation for dropping their leaves and going into dormancy for the winter. Here and there in the woods around my house, I can see bits of the leaf colors usually hidden beneath the green showing through.

1st fall foliage

This does not seem to be the case with my red maple, though. Peering at its extensive canopy from my various vantage points at my bedroom window, on the front deck, and in the driveway, I don’t yet see any signs of the glorious color to come.

red maple canopy september

This post is part of Lucy’s tree-following meme at Loose and Leafy. Visit her blog to see what’s happening with other trees that bloggers are following.

The Lavender Walk

September 8, 2015

lavender walk plantsI’ve been so busy gardening, I didn’t get a chance to post!  In the two weeks since my visit to Plainview Farm, I have been working on the next section of my new front garden, the Lavender Walk. The Lavender Walk consists of two flower beds that run along either side of a narrow walkway at the front of my house.  The walkway is 28’ long, linking the patio to a future path down to the lower garden, but the Lavender Walk extends only the first 11’, filling the space between the front of the deck and the retaining wall.

The Lavender Walk was inspired by my mother’s love of lavender and her desire to have it growing in her garden. I never succeeded in getting it established there, but I think the conditions of my sandy soil and this full-sun location will be more to its liking. I am planting it here as a tribute to my mother (and also for the sensual pleasure of its fragrance!). Planting lavender in this location also helps make the transition from the entry garden to the fragrant garden, which will be bordered by this same walkway, in the area  beyond the deck.

Lavender Walk plants_1

I bought most of the plants for the Lavender Walk two weeks ago during my visit to Plainview Farm nursery. As you can see, this is not just a planting of lavender – although two different varieties of lavender (‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’, the only two that are reliably winter hardy here) anchor the planting. On the side of the walkway by the deck, Lavandula augustifolia ‘Hidcote’ is planted with Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’, a combination that I used to admire in the garden of one of my mother’s neighbors.  On the retaining wall side, Lavandula augustifolia ‘Munstead Strain’ is combined with two types of sedum, Sedum x ‘Autumn Fire’ and the groundcover Sedum spurium ‘Tricolor’. I am hoping that the latter will spread over the top of the retaining wall and spill down its exposed side.


Before I could plant, I needed to prepare the soil, removing the weeds that had seeded themselves since my construction was completed last fall and adding soil amendments. I amended the soil less than I normally would because these plants like a lean, dry sandy soil. I did, however, add some wood ash to sweeten the soil at the front of each bed for the alkaline-loving lavender.

lavender walk prep1 lavender walk prep2
lavender walk prep3 lavender walk plants spotted

Once I had finished preparing the soil, I let it settle for a couple of days, then tamped it down with the back of my garden spade and spotted the plants. As you can see, I didn’t have all the plants I need to fill these flower beds. This was not the best time of year to buy lavender, and I could only find two healthy specimens of each variety at the nursery. I’ll add two more of each next spring when they are more readily available. I’m also thinking of adding another low-growing sedum, possibly Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’, to fill in between the lavender plants along the walkway.

lavender walk planted

For now, though, I am considering this planting done and moving on to the last section of the entry garden to be created this year, the Patio Border.

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.


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