Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hot Plants for Spring 2011

With Witchhazels in bloom and daffodil buds emerging, my spring fever is nearing its peak.  I wanted to dedicate a few blogs to plants that I think will be hot this spring.  I’ve spent time going through stacks of 2011 catalogues, going to nursery trade shows, and talking to designers and breeders, so I have narrowed down my finalists.  Today’s pick for hot plants 2011:
The Genius Geum Genus
Geum 'Totally Tangerine' bred by Tim Crowther UK.  Image from Bluestone Perennials.
Try and say that three times quickly.  It’s clear that this once overlooked genus is hotter than ever this spring.  It’s easy to see why these plants have been ignored.  They tend to take a year or two to get established, can sometimes look scraggly, and don’t really stand out in a pot.  But what makes Geums uninspiring the first year turn into assets over the long haul.  By the second year, Geums really make a show and prove themselves to be long blooming additions to any border.  Plus, they come in almost every color imaginable.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Two of the Nation's Most Beloved Trees Poisoned

David Bundy/Montgomery Advertiser via AP
Have you heard this story?  Two of the most beloved trees in the country were poisoned because of a sports rivalry.  The 130 year-old live oaks that graced Toomer’s Corner in Auburn, Alabama mark the spot where Auburn University fans celebrate victories.  On January 27, a man identifying himself only as “Al from Dadeville” called a local sports talk radio show and said that a week after the Iron Bowl—the annual football game between Auburn and Alabama—he had driven to Auburn and poisoned the trees at Toomer’s Corner by injecting Spike 80DF, an herbicide that inhibits photosynthesis. 
“Is that against the law to . . . poison a tree?” asked the radio host. 
“You think I care?” replied the caller.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Horticulture Magazine Names Grounded Design "Best Gardening Blog"

Horticulture Magazine named grounded design “Best Gardening Blog” for 2011.  I’m delighted and humbled by the recognition from such a great magazine.  The article highlighted the recent series on native plant myths, as well as other postings for 2011.  Many thanks to the magazine for the recognition, and mostly, thanks to all of you who keep coming back to read my ramblings.  Happy gardening!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Slumming It

Help me!  I need your advice
I’m spoiled.  My job as a landscape architect has distorted my notion of how to install a garden.  For years, I’ve devised grand plans for gardens and landscapes.  Plants show up to the site by the thousands, and the contractor installs them over a period of a week or so, creating a dramatic and instant transformation. 
Now my wife and I prepare to move into a new house.  All the money went into the down payment and renovation (we essentially gutted the inside).  So now, penniless, I turn to yard and wonder: how the heck do you install a grand garden for cheap?  I mean, really cheap.
This spring, I will dig up several thousand square feet of lawn to create garden beds.  It will take thousands of plants to create the lush, richly layered garden that I want.  So I’m wondering: how the heck do you populate a garden with no money? 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Warm Season vs. Cool Season Grasses

Understanding the distinction can improve your designs

Confessional moment: I am a grass freak.  Of the vast universe of plants I adore, ornamental grasses are among my favorite plants to design with.  No other plant expresses the ephemeral and sensory beauty of a garden like grasses.  They catch light like a stain glass window, rustle with the slightest breeze, and glisten with the morning dew.  Grasses are a wonderful and sustainable addition to any border, yard, or planting.  But there is one pitfall to designing with grasses that almost no one mentions: understanding the difference between warm season grasses and cool season grasses.
Before a garden book seduces with you photos of a grasses glowing in the sun, you really should understand how to use warm season and cool season grasses in a designed setting.  I’ve learned the hard way.  Some of my biggest planting fiascos resulted when I failed to pay attention to this distinction.  Here’s what you need to know. 
Gardeners frequently call anything that looks grassy a “grass.”  True grasses are members of the Poacaea family.  Other grass-like plants include the popular  Carex genus (Cyperaceae), rushes (Juncaceae), and cattails (Typhaceae). But none of these are true grasses.  Horticulturists divide true grasses into two general categories that describe their growth cycle through a year: cool season and warm season grasses. 
Cool season grass Nasella tenuissima "browns out" in the heat and creates a lovely effect.
Cool season grasses start their growth early in spring and continue that growth while cool temperatures and rain prevails.  When summer gets hot, these grasses typically go dormant, often “browning out.”  Some cool season grasses even die back in the summer, leaving seeds to germinate during the next cool season.  If you’ve ever seen your lawn covered in Annual Bluegrass (Poa annua) in May only to see it disappear by June, it’s because this is an evolutionary strategy devised by this cool season grass. Cool season grasses are best planted/seeded in early spring or late summer/early fall.  They tend to germinate and establish quickly.  Cool season grasses foliage color looks best during late spring and early summer.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Is Your Planting Evocative or Provocative?

The secret of great planting revealed.

Of all my various rants, one point I am consistent: planting design is an art.  Planting design needs to be liberated from its traditional role as ornamentation to architecture.  For too long, the role of the American planting designer has been to ‘shrub up’ the base of buildings, like placing parsley around a pot roast.  Instead, planting can be an expressive and dynamic medium in itself, capable of conveying meaning and emotion. 
If you’re reading this blog, you are obviously highly intelligent and artful (wink) and believe that garden design is an art.  So dear readers, here is my question for you: is your planting evocative or provocative? 
Here’s what I mean.  I’ve been mulling over great planting design.  Not just good planting, but the icons of great planting: Getrude Jekyll’s borders, Jens Jenson’s prairie-inspired landscapes, Roberto Burle Marx’s cubist ground-planes, Christopher Lloyd’s border at Great Dixter, Beth Chatto’s gardens, Piet Oudolf’s perennial landscapes, Tom Stuart-Smith’s cutting edge designs.  Each designer is incredibly different, but what they all have in common is an ability to manipulate human’s associations with natural landscapes.
Evocative planting design: Beth Chatto's gravel garden.  Courtesy of BBC.

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