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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.