Fab Foliage Friday

Flap Jack (Kalanchoe thyrsifolia)

Lots of sun brings out the red in this great container plant.


Bringing in the Brugs

I've got a thing for Brugmansias. I had 11 going this season. Love their every detail, but most especially the fragrance. So it was a sad day indeed last week when I had to face the facts of a frost. That meant I had to bring them in for winter storage. Here's how I did it, step by painful step.

First thing I did was cut them back hard. If I can get a plant inside without pruning it, I will, but these were just too monstrous. So, I had to get in there with the pruners and whack the thing back to its main trunks. While lopping, I kept in mind that in the end, I wanted the remaining branches to create a pleasingly sculptural shape.

One of the most distressing aspects of the whole process was looking at the ever-growing pile of flowers I'd cut off. All those beauteous blooms. All that fragrance. No more evenings out sitting on the top step, watching those peachy trumpets glowing in the twilight. It's a garden tragedy to have to cut these things down in their prime!

Once I had the thing cut back to about head high, I started digging. I often grow brugs in large pots and just store them pot and all, but this one was in the ground so I had to dig it out, preserving the biggest possible rootball I'd still be able to move.
To do that meant turning a wheelbarrow on its side, rolling the rootball in and then tipping the barrow back upright. Then I wheeled it to the basement Bilco door, and turned it out onto a plank, which I used as a sliding board to get the plant down to the basement. Lastly, I tucked the stubby rootball and remaining trunk into a cool dark corner of our root cellar, where it's dark, kind of humid, and winter temps average 45-60 or so. Now I can just forget about the plant--I don't water it or anything--until spring, when back out into the light it goes.


Curiously Odd Pods

They're weird! Wacky! Wonderful! One of Fall's garden pleasures is the appearance of all manner of strange looking seed pods, each one fully freighted with the results of a flower's season-long labor. Seeds, after all, are what it's all about. The production of functional seed rather than frilly flower is what rules the plant kingdom. And some plants prep their seeds with flair, creating a vehicle to nurture embryonic seeds until they ripen and are ready to burst forth to usher in a new cycle of growth. Here are a few of my favorites.

Two annuals, at least they are annuals for me, Begonia 'Bonfire' and Golden Jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum 'Kingwood Gold') create a dynamic pairing by late September. The Jewel's tiny orbs and the Begonia's maplelike winged pods have been performing their duet for more than a month now. I'm still not tired of the intriguing contrast they make.

Bed of Nails (Solanum quitoense) is grown--when it's grown at all-for the freakish splendor of its big, big, thorn-studded, purple-befuzzed leaves. But its also boasts a singular-looking seedpod, sized somewhere between a ping pong ball and tennis ball and covered with downy fuzz. I'm not exactly sure, botanically, when a seed pod becomes a fruit, but the orbs on this plant are also prized for their ambrosial juice, much prized in parts of Latin America. Though they never fully ripen here, I always like seeing the pods, which lie tantalizingly hidden beneath the cover of this tomato relative's big leaves.

I grow castor beans (Ricinus communis) for their big leaves too, but I'm not about to ignore their threatening-looking, spiky Sci-Fi seedpods. These glossy red stars appear on a castor bean that s been self sowing in my yard for years. It's a giant plant--12-15 feet tall, with burgundy leaves and these lurid looking pods. Hope to see it again next year.

Sweet hibiscus (Abelmoschus manihot) is another annual with lot going for it: Gorgeous hand-shaped leaves 12-15 inches or so across, elegant stature-to 6 or 7 feet, glorious primrose yellow flowers in late summer (a pale pastel hue not usually seen in the summer garden), and then these neat fuzzy seed pods shaped like a flower bud. Fun!

Yellow wax bells (Kirengeshoma palmata) is a choice woodland-edge perennial with the stature of a shrub. It takes a few years to reach impressive size but it's worth waiting for. It's beautiful foliage makes it a fine companion for hydrangeas and ferns. It also bears late season flowers, which are kind of a tease, since they never fully open. But then come these weird winged seedpods, which look like little flying saucers ready to take off. In a way that's what they are. Destination: next year's garden.

Last but certainly not least are the malevolent looking pods of white devil's trumpet (Datura metel 'Belle Blanche'). I grow these plants as annuals though in a very mild winter they reappear in spring. And the reason I grow them is for their evening fragrant, moonlight-white goblet-shaped flowers. They also have neat, downy, silvery green foliage. And of course these dangerous looking seed pods which have evolved, I figure, to ward off vegetation eating critters and buy enough time for the seeds to fully ripen. They sure don't ward off observers though.

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Japanese Maple Magic

I have yet to meet a Japanese maple I didn't like. They have just about every attribute you could want from a small tree: Graceful habit, a right-sized cultivar for almost any size bed or border, attractive foliage that keeps its looks all season long. There are the beautiful butter-gold leaves of Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum', orangey Acer palmatum 'Katsura' and the burgundy hues of many others. OK, so they don't flower dramatically--some do have emerging leaves in colors vivid enough and shapes intriguing enough to challenge many a blossom. And then there's fall color, perhaps the Japanese maple's most attention-getting feature.
I have a unique opportunity to appreciate that not far from home. Of course I can revel in my own many maples, but a few miles away in wooded neighborhood, someone must have planted a few quite a number of years ago. Now, a whole swatch of woodland is awash in Japanese maples. They've been hybridizing themselves, and seeding around for years. And each fall, they put on the best show in town. Tempted though I am to take a shovel and do a little digging, I restrain myself and take only pictures. For more fall foliage photos, check in at The Home Garden, where Dave is hosting the Garden Bloggers' Fall Color Project.


Fab Foliage Friday

It's no secret that the best gardens are built from the leaves out. A sturdy structural framework of reliable foliage plants ensures that a bed or border looks good from one end of the season to the other. Hence the value of somewhat staid players like boxwood and Alberta spruce. But good foliage gardens also need zippy things, intriguing, dramatically shaped and or/colorful leaves that add a filip of interest all by themselves. So I'm celebrating plants that provide just such a jolt with Fab Foliage Fridays, which I intend to be primarily a photo gallery, since these are plants that stand on their own in any setting. The plant above is a tomato relative, Solanum pyracanthum.


Color on the Wing

Fashion photographer Solve Sundsbo turned his lens on a faster-moving subject-- a parroquet --to create a collection of still photos and brief videos brimming with dazzling color and graceful motion. These spectacularly beplumed birds are vivid testimony to nature's often exuberant palette and, possibly, an inspiration. Imagine a garden of these colors.

Happy Color

Some folks have an incredible flair for using color in a celebratory way. This is not about about combining delicately harmonic hues, or creating carefully wrought tasteful vignettes. It is about COLOR, and having fun with it. I call this go-for-broke, no-holds-barred assault on more mannerly palettes Happy Color. Seeing it brings a smile to my face. It's an approach that can work in everything from painting to interior design.

Gardeners especially, sometimes use a riot of colors, and let loose a whole host of wildly varied hues. The New York Times profiles Anado McLauchlin and his partner, two guys who have totally embraced Happy Color's sheer sensual glory. A great little slide show, with photos by Adriana Zehbrauskas, accompanies the story. While there's no chance my house is going to look anything like the Casa de Colores, ever, I'm very happy that there is such a place in this, in-where else-Mexico, the spiritual home of Happy Color.


Three Ways to Overwinter Tender Plants

The folks at Fine Gardening magazine just posted a video they shot that details my three ways to overwinter tender plants--without a greenhouse. my technique calls for having taking advantage of three different indoor microclimates common to most homes; the video provides a little show and tell about each one. Basically you need a spot that is dark and cool (50s or lower), a spot that's bright and cool (ditto), and a bright warm (60s or better) spot. For a list of what plants to put in which spots, and more overwintering details, look for this list in a story I wrote for them a year or two ago.

Wordless Wednesday


An Oasis of Blue

The color blue has its place in almost any garden. But perhaps in no garden does that hue dominate the way it does in Jardin Majorelle, the amazing blue garden in Marrakech, Morocco, the land of the Blue Men, as the local Tuareg tribesmen are known. I've been to Marrakech a few times, and once even got a role as an extra (a very extra) in Ishtar, one of Hollywoods most high-profile bombs (Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty starred). Until my next visit I must settle for this video tour of Jardin Majorelle, a garden that is a major inspiration for my own use of paint as an element of garden design.

Seriously Strange Socotra

The island of Socotra is where Sinbad the Sailor landed to seek the Rukh, a bird of prey big enough to carry an elephant in its talons. The Rukh remains elusive, but Socotra abounds in surpassingly strange life forms. This isolated archipelago in the Arabian Sea near Yemen is home to a host of utterly bizaare plant life, much of which is found nowhere else on earth. UNESCO just named the entire Socotra island chain as a Natural World Heritage Site, a wonder of the world. The photo below, by Jan VanDorpe, shows a Dragon's Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari). Its red sap was thought to be dragon's blood and was prized by ancient Greeks, Romans and others as a dye and for medicinal use. In Medieval times, it was used in magical potions and alchemical concoctions.

Thanks to eons of isolation, and the necessity of adapting to extremes of heat and drought, Socotra-sometimes called the Arabian Eden for its abundance of life amid the harshest of climates-abounds with other plant oddities. How about this caudiciform bottle tree (Adenium obsesum ssp. Socotranum)? For a more in-depth look at seriously strange Socotra, stop by the most alien-looking place on Earth.

Michael Pollan and the "Farmer in Chief"

Michael Pollan is our most eloquent writer on food. But he doesn't worry about recipes. Instead Pollan tirelessly explores the thicket of fact and fallacy that surround the production, distribution, and consumption of food, and posits new ideas for solving some of the ills caused by industrial farming, a problem many of us are just starting to recognize. "Farmer in Chief", his article in last week's New York Time's Sunday magazine outlines what our next president can do to begin restoring balance and responsibility to our food chain. It's fascinating reading for anyone who cares about what we eat and how it gets to our table.
While we're on the subject, I'd like to get in a plug for another of Pollan's books, "Second Nature: A Gardener's Education." It's a meditation on the meaning and practice of gardening that rehsaped some of my thoughts on what tilling the soil is all about.

Bulbous Blast from the Past

Though I usually stick to the three-times-as-deep, and three-times-the width-apart rule of thumb for bulb planting, I got a kick out of this retro chart. No idea who King Nitrohumus is, but he looks like a royally good gardener. For a blast-from-the-past bulb narrative, check out the rest of this deeply dated comic book from 1956. It's about creating curb appeal with bulbs in a uniquely retro, keeping-up-with-the Joneses way.
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Ten Terrific Garden Books

Go ahead. Blame it on all the top 10 lists that have become pervasive in the publishing world. You know, the 10 best movies, the 10 best CDs, the 10 Bests DVDs, the 10 best fiction books, the 10 best non-fiction books, and so on ad nauseum. Sorry, but I’m going to go add yet another.

I’ll call my list My 10 Most Inspiring Garden Books. I read tons of gardening books, and they’re one of my favorite ways for plodding through the off season. But there are a few that have really stood the test of time, books rich enough not to surrender all their ideas in a single sitting, ones I can read and reread and still come away with something new. I look to them as a treasure trove of ideas for making new designs or improving old ones, for learning about plants, and for just plain getting fired up about getting outside and getting down to work. If gardening is equal parts inspiration and perspiration, a good book can help me get a good start on the first half of the job before spring comes around.
Here are 10 of my most inspiring favorites:

Eden on Their Minds: American Gardeners with Bold Visions by Starr Ockenga (Clarkson Potter)
The Collector’s Garden: Designing with Extraordinary Plants by Ken Druse (Clarkson Potter)
A Garden Gallery: The Plants, Art, and Hardscape of Little and Lewis by George Little and David Lewis (Timber Press)
When I’m paging through garden books, I’m often looking for examples of exceptional personal gardens, those handmade by their owners. Seeing what one person or one couple can create over the years can be inspiring not only for the sophistication of the design or plantsmanship, but for the simple virtue of showing just how much can result from the work of one or two. A garden like that tells me, “You can do it too.” And so I’m inspired to persevere. My favorite books of all time for this kind of browsing are “Eden on Their Minds”, “The Collector’s Garden” and "A Garden Gallery."These superbly photographed tomes offer glimpses of extraordinary gardens and brief profiles of their owners. The Collector’s Garden features luminaries such as Dan Hinkley, Marco Polo Stufano, Nancy Goodwin and Ruth Bancroft. Eden on Their Minds sweeps us into the gardens of Linda Cochran, Marcia Donahue and others. Little and Lewis stays put in their extraordinary Bainbridge Island garden, which is equal parts plantsman's paradise, imaginary archaeology, and magical spell. For my money, these books offer the best garden tours you can take this time of year. And for anyone who fears they may be teetering on the edge of gardenmania, Ockenga, Druse and Little and Lewis offer proof positive that there are people out there who are far more afflicted than you’ll ever be.

Hot Plants for Cool Climates by Susan A. Roth and Dennis Schrader (Houghton Mifflin)
Having been bitten hard by the tropical bug-figuratively, and, at times, all too literally-I’ve found Dennis Schrader’s book the best title of the lot when it comes to growing tropical plants in temperate climes. Besides stunning photos by Susan Roth, it’s filled with great information on design, and on overwintering tender plants. It also includes a super encyclopedia of plants worth trying—along with propagation and overwintering tips for each variety. And last but not least, it includes a comprehensive list of sources for tropicals.

The Inward Garden Creating a Place of Beauty and Meaning by Julie Moir Messervy
(Little, Brown)
Julie Moir Messervy has a unique spin on garden design, one based primarily on the psychology of the garden’s owner. Her purely personal approach paves the way to creating gardens that really resonate. Stripped to its essence, her approach returns us to childhood, and the memory—and meaning--of those special places we held dear. From there, she asks us to recall the landscapes we have found meaningful in the world at large. Julie then shows the way to translate those spaces into garden places all our own. Her trailblazing book on design is one to turn to again and aagian. Plus it's got great photos by former National Geographic staffer Sam Abell.

The American Horticultural Society A to Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants edited by Christopher Brickell and Judith D. Zuk (DK Publishing, Inc.)
A good reference is indispensable for checking how to grow unusual plants, for identifying some of those prized plants whose names have long been forgotten, for learning about the ultimate sizes or growing conditions required some strange specimen and for all matter of inquiries. Thanks to its many pictures, the hefty The American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants is my favorite.

Second Nature, by Michael Pollan
I mean no disrespect in calling Michael Pollan an egghead. He is, without doubt, the deepest thinking garden writer around. His collection of essays about gardening in its largest and most all-inclusive sense is one of only two gardening books I’ve ever read that made me stop and consider what all my efforts were about. (The other of those two books, it so happens, is “The Botany of Desire”, also by Michael Pollan.) Whether he’s writing lyrically about mowing the lawn or examining the bloodlines of roses, Pollan is utterly compelling. For a more cosmic look at the world of gardening, go no further.

Planting Combinations: Winning Plant Combinations for Every Garden by Jill Billington (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
Great plant combinations are the building blocks of a great garden. This thoughtful volume, filled with stunning photos by ace garden photographer Clive Nichols, covers all the bases, from big picture ideas like overall style to nitty gritty details like working with smooth-leaved plants. Among the many great thing in its pages are photo series showing the year-to-year development of several gardens.

Color by Design: Planting with Color in the Contemporary Garden by Nori and Sandra Pope. (available in paperback as “Color in the Garden” (Soma Press)
This Canadian expat couple has become the kings of color in Great Britain.. The Popes are known best for the fabulous musings on single colors schemes. Their Hadspen House garden recreates the color wheel with segment devoted to exploring every nuance of each color as they make their way around the palette. Their provocative colorist theories are intriguing, but I’m afraid to say I find the essays—one for each color--kind of stilted and of less than practical value. The book’s best feature is easily the photos, again by Clive Nichols, which will inspire all but the color blind to look at their gardens in a new light.

Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia by Michael A. Dirr (Timber Press)
This compendium of hardy woody plants is tough to beat. It’s comprehensive, well illustrated (especially worthwhile are pictures of plants in different seasons, in fruit in flower and or fall foliage), and full of hard-won knowledge about what works and why.
It’s also got a very useful set of lists in the back-with detailed plant lists for a whole range of varying conditions as far as light, soil type, moisture levels, and more. Anyone intent on introducing a greater range of woody plants should stop here first.


Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers

Every mixed container planting or grouping of pots needs plants with different design characteristics. I think they need a thriller-a dramatic, eye-catching centerpiece plant; several fillers, mounding billowy partners to nestle around the thriller; and a spiller, a cascading plant that tumble s over the edge of the pot. This PowerPoint presentation offers a rundown of some of the best of each type as well as design ideas for creative containers.

Passion for Pots

Gardening in pots opens a whole world of easy experimentation for new and experienced gardeners alike. Try out new plants, playing with color schemes and learning about how to create dynamic plant combinations are all easier when the ingredients are in pots, and thus easily rearranged. This PowerPoint presentation covers the gamut of container gardening, from using an empty pot as a focal point, to a few plants in a single pot, and on to whole container-based gardeners utilizing scores of pots and arranged into potted borders. It also touches on horticultural techniques including basic propagation, overwintering tender perennials, fertilizing, deadheading and watering.


Adventurous Annuals

Gardening is rarely a source of instant gratification, but there are plants that provide almost sudden impact. Many have colorful foliage, season-long flowers or heady fragrance. And they are just the thing to beef up a new garden or to add an exotic touch to even the most established planting. “Adventurous Annuals” is a slide lecture detailing dramatic, fast growing annuals with almost architectural splendor. It covers everything from self-sowing annuals to easy-to-overwinter tropical plants and includes ideas for using these same plants for maximum effect in the garden, in beds or in containers.

Quest for Color: Going Beyond the Bloom

Color brings a garden to life. Whether it’s serene green, or eye-popping reds and yellows, the many hues of flower and foliage delight the eye and engage the mind. And for those who believe they can’t have too much of a good thing, “Quest for Color”, a PowerPoint presentation detailing my search for unconventional ways to use color in the garden. It starts where flowers leave off, and shows how colorful ornaments, foliage, furniture and treillage can be used to brighten the garden all season long. Using examples drawn from nature, from my Farmington, CT garden and from some of the most creative, color-conscious gardens in the Northeast, I'll show how trowel and paintbrush can be used to create bold, bright color schemes or subtly harmonious compositions.
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Garden Partners: Using Shape and Color to Create Pleasing Plant Combinations

Making compelling plant combinations is the core of the gardener’s art. This PowerPoint presentation proceeds one simple step at a time, examining ways to use the elements of shape, texture and color to create beds and borders that look good all season long.

Garden Photography: Seeing the Picture

This garden photography workshop covers basics like film, lenses and lighting, but its emphasis is on the seeing the picture. Because if you can’t “see” a picture, that is recognize the elements of a strong composition and portray your subject in a visually pleasing way, then it really doesn’t matter how fancy your equipment may be—you’re simply not going to take a good picture. Though it’s geared for serious photographers, even beginners using point-and-shoot cameras will learn a few tips to improve their garden photos.
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The Crazy, Mixed-Up Border: An Eclectic Approach to Using Trees, Shrubs, Annuals, Tropicals, Edibles and Perennials

This PowerPoint lecture takes the kitchen sink approach to garden making, which welcomes representatives from every corner of the plant kingdom. No leaf is left unturned in this search for the best and brightest of forms, foliage and flowers, which are then combined to create garden vignettes whose beauty lasts from Spring through Fall. This is a style that celebrates change and experimentation.
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