Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gardens and Memory

Photo of Reservation 232 taken in 1927 (photo courtesy of Historical Society of Washington)

Gardening for me is mostly a solitary activity.  But the last few months, I’ve been sharing my watering, weeding, and transplanting with my ten-month old. 
It gives my wife a few moments of peace, and it is a pleasant distraction for Jude, who would otherwise be tugging on an electric cord or grubbing dust balls from underneath the refrigerator.  Jude is fascinated with the ornery mockingbirds (“dta” while pointing), the cloud of bees over our perennials, and the raisiny fruit on our Serviceberry tree.  He often notices something that I do not.  Yesterday, he leaned over to grab the seed clusters of our Kousa Dogwood.  They had budded into these gorgeous emerald orbs.  “Huh,” I thought.  “That’s cool.”
Image by Fred Jeranes
To see the garden with my son changes the way I experience it.  The filter through which I see the garden is dislocated, and I not only see the garden in a new way, but see my son as well.  I get these glimpses into his precious mind, experiencing the world all fresh and new.
Moments like these make me think about other gardeners.  If I feel most like myself—most grounded—while I wander through my garden, then I want to know other gardeners as they are in their gardens.  How do they see their gardens differently than I do?  What do they care for and love? 
Kim Breneger
Several months ago, I was contacted by a woman who is working with a group to create a memorial garden for Kim Brenegar.  Kim was a garden designer who lived and practiced in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Washington, D.C.  Kim died at the age of 49 in a tragic car accident.  Although I never knew Kim personally, her presence was everywhere in the neighborhood.  Friends of mine were her clients, and they raved about her.  Kim was passionate and colorful gardener and designer.  I only knew people who knew Kim, but her enthusiasm was infectious.  Her loss was not just for those who loved her, but the entire neighborhood and gardening community in Washington, D.C. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Native Combinations: Late Summer Glory

Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) has seduced garden designers for the last decade.  Its haze of hot pink inflorescences set the late summer garden ablaze.   But unlike other ornamental grasses, it is a surprisingly tricky plant to design with.  Muhly Grass does not offer the same early season mass and volume that Switchgrass and Fountain Grass provide.  In fact, through most of the summer, it sits low and wiry—barely substantial enough to cover the mulch.  I planted a large mass of 120 plants beside a path in a southern garden I designed.  The result was rather disappointing.  Until August, it looked rather weedy and insubstantial.  Once it bloomed, the effect was glorious.

Friday, June 3, 2011

2011 Topic List for Speaking Engagements

I occasionally get requests for to speak to garden clubs, public agencies, or other groups.  I love nothing more than talking with other interested gardeners, designers, plant geeks, and landscape architects.  I've just added a page to this blog that list topics that I have already developed talks for.  I've attached a link to the sidebar called "Talks."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Best Planting Tip I Ever Received

This spring my wife and I started to convert the expanse of lawn around our newly purchased ranch house into gardens.  While we focus on renovating the insides of the house, the focus for our garden is its infrastructure and bones.  To that end, we’ve been smothering several hundred square feet of lawn under cardboard, newspapers, and compost; planting young shrubs to create screens; carefully carving specimens out of overgrown trees; and generally preparing the soil for future garden spaces.  Last week we installed several hundred perennials and grasses on the side of our house.  During that planting, I remembered the best planting advice I’ve ever received.

This advice came to me by way of a representative from Monrovia Nursery.  Monrovia is one of the sleeker national nurseries with big ad budgets and relentless branding strategies.  While I’m typically turned-off by glossy national nurseries and their patented plants, I must admit that Monrovia knows their stuff when it comes to installing plants.

A root bound container plant. Image from Virginia Cooperative Extension
The advice focused on techniques of installing container plants.  The big problem with container plants is that they get root bound.  Roots naturally grow out and down (mostly out) away from the plant.  When the roots of a plant in a pot reaches the wall of a pot, it has nowhere to go and will begin circling the perimeter of a pot over and over again.  Almost any gardener who has brought home a new plant from a nursery has seen how a container plant can get root bound.  It’s best to avoid plants in this condition, but often gardeners don’t have that option.

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