Category Archives: Four-season interest

Spiders: Not So Scary After All?

Contributed by Libby Coley

SPIDERS!  Did a wave of “ewww” just go through your spine?  Often maligned and feared, these eight-legged critters should be considered one of our best friends in the garden.

Why, you ask?

Bottom line: spiders eliminate many insects that harm plants, and they themselves don’t harm plants.  Where web-spinning spiders are indiscriminate consumers of any bug unlucky enough to get trapped, common garden spiders such as wolf spiders and jumping spiders live on the ground and tend to be more particular about what they consume. These spiders also don’t seek out prey but will only prey on what comes to them.

For example, wolf spiders have the ability to sense vibrations and have sharp vision which allow them to hunt insects by foot. This type of spider lives in underground burrows, often beneath mulch. This makes prey bound to fall into their homes unsuspectingly. Jumping spiders conversely pounce on their prey and tend to go after small winged insects like flies. If they jumping spidermiss a jump, they have a web-like silk that they can produce in order to tether themselves to a nearby plant or tree.

Plant harming insects like mites, aphids, slugs, and earwigs are bountiful examples of harmful insects in your own backyard that spiders help keep at bay.  Some things that help increase spider populations are:

  • Perennials and groundcovers, which provide spiders with a protected hiding place
  • Mulch, which provides spiders with cover and humidity
  • Leaving plant stalks instead of pulling them for winter habitat, as spiders live through even harsh New England winter. They are thus one of the first natural control agents that emerge in the spring.

While few of us specifically spray to eliminate spiders, note that it takes a lot more pesticide to kill spiders and these higher levels of pesticide are lethal to other, beneficial insects as well as to us humans! The vast majority of spider species are not poisonous to humans, and here in Massachusetts, only the Black Widow is venomous.

Spiders Alive Ad 2
So celebrate and praise your spiders! If you want to learn more about them, check out the SPIDERS ALIVE! exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science running through September 6th. You can find more information about the exhibit here.

Starting my garden list again

2015-12-3 gloves -prunersContributed by Allan Robinson

Like many of you, last weekend I was completing one of the “final” final clean-ups of the year. I’m hedging to say “final” as this IS New England and for another few weeks leaves will accumulate beneath the Boxwood hedge along my front walk. As the garden winds down, I find myself ticking through my mental checklist, taking stock of my garden. The thought occurs to me – maybe I will be out at least one more time unless Mother Nature unleashes the first snowfall of the year soon – but I digress.

I began my mental list of autumnal tasks: leaves bagged and at the curb, mm-hmm; bulbs in the ground ready to pop in the spring, ok; spigots off, hoses and patio furniture in the basement – all present and accounted for.  Perennials cut back – I’ve even divided a few and transplanted them, ready to settle in for their long sleep.  The winter A-frames and other assorted structures are in place to protect the plants in case we have another monumental snow load like last year.  Holiday lights are on the tree and the ground is beginning to freeze.  I think I may be done, beyond those last pesky leaves.

Sadly another year of gardening is coming to a close.  I’ll continue to mark the calendar with the usual events like Christmas, New Years, MLK & Valentine’s Day until garden activities resume.  I will also follow many of the winter garden events such as my Hawthorne tree losing its berries, Hellebores blooming in late winter, Crocuses and Snowdrops poking their heads through the snow, and some of the surest signs of spring: Hostas, Daylilies and Peonies beginning to push their tiny tips through the ground around the beginning of April. I can’t wait!

Until then I’ll be planning for next year’s garden. Lining up more tasks and big ideas like I hatched during last year’s 106 inches of snow. More transplanting, new plants and bigger projects like a reconfigured deck and an artistic fence to frame a view. While I am sad to head back inside, I feel a sense of satisfaction and optimism for 2016. How about you?

Spruce up your entryway! Or Pine, or Cedar, or …

2015-11-19 winter container tall pixSubmitted by Tim Wholey

It seems like just last week we were discussing changing out our summer containers, but that was over two months ago now! People are already starting to ask when we will be making the switch over to our winter arrangements. I am still trying to experience the fall we are having. It is hard to picture a scene of drifting snow and barren trees while we still have such a colorful display all around us. Perhaps this is where the challenge lies between the two seasons: in one we are competing with the exuberance of nature’s own palette and in the other we are adding color to where there is almost none.

Yes, we were all pretty fed up with the perpetual mountains of snow of last winter, but I have to admit there is nothing prettier at that time of year than a backdrop of fresh fallen snow against a colorful display of evergreen cuttings of Pine, Spruce, Blue Atlas Cedar, Arborvitae and red-berried Holly.   Then of course there is that smell you get from freshly cut evergreens! It’s a lovely way to be greeted upon arriving home on a frigid evening, just before going inside to sit by the fireplace with a hot cup of tea. Keep color and texture in your life – let us spruce up your winter containers at home.2015-11-19 wint cont pine cropped

Please email us and we will send you our container questionnaire that helps us customize your arrangement.

Here’s Looking at You …

2015-9-10 cornus florida flowersContributed by Allan Robinson

Near my front door, which I use multiple times every day, is an ornamental tree that I admire. I take a sense of pride in this tree, as my partner and I planted it back in ’08. The day was warm and the tree perhaps a tad too big for both of us to comfortably handle as we slid it out of the back of a borrowed dump truck, scrambling out of the way in fear of bodily harm. With just the two of us we had one shot to size the hole correctly and position the tree in it. After much deliberation and a little more digging, followed by back-filling the hole and then a little more digging, we succeeded.

Since that memorable day back in 2008 both of us have admired our ornamental tree, a tree selected and planted purely for aesthetic reasons. We selected a tree for its four seasons of interest. Such a wealth of ornamental features may not be important if your tree won’t be seen throughout the year, but in our case this tree bids us a good-day every morning and welcomes us home each evening.

As the seasons progress, so does the beauty of the tree. In the spring we admire the large white flower petals before the leaves emerge. During the summer months we have lush green leaves changing to a rich purple-maroon in autumn. The berries, which have been hidden all summer, boldly announce their arrival to the birds by brightening to red in the fall. Before winter rolls around the last task of the tree is to set its flower buds for the following spring providing winter interest. We like to hang lights on it during the holiday season. With or without lights, the tree is quite handsome throughout the winter.

2015-9-10 cornus florida fruitAlthough we chose a native dogwood (Cornus florida) for our front walk, other popular deciduous ornamental trees include Birch, Paperbark Maple, Kousa Dogwood, Crab Apple, flowering Cherry, Stewartia and Washington Hawthorne. What special tree would you like to have welcome you home each day?

Adding Autumn Splash to Your Home

Contributed by Tim Wholey

2015-8-26 Tim gardenglove fall-containers-45-300x187Every year around this time we send kids back to school, dodge increased traffic and get the feel of shorter days, cooler nights, and hints of the crisp scents of autumn. Our gardens and seasonal containers also start showing their age but that’s no reason to despair. Fall offers a whole other season to enjoy some of our favorite fall flowers and plants in our beds or spicing up containers. We can steer toward the traditional seasonal choices of golds, reds, yellows and oranges that are sure to warm us up, or cooler colors in blues, whites & purples too if that is our thing.

Some favorite annuals include, as you’d expect, asters, mums, pansies & marigolds. But don’t stop with flowering plants. Adding ornamental grasses, peppers, kale, cabbage & millet adds texture and seasonal interest. Vegetables are not just for cooking anymore! We can also use perennials in containers that do double duty – just pop them into the ground before the first major frost and enjoy them next spring and summer. Heuchera, Euphorbia x martini, Sedums, Lavender and Sage are some great choices. We like the multitude of unusual gourds, colorful pumpkins and Indian corn that becomes available as well!

2015-8-26 Turbaned-Squashes-rd1So just like you buy the kids their school clothes, consider sprucing up your seasonal containers. We have 3 months of Fall ahead of us. Give us a call or email: Containers@christiedustman.com

Flea Market Finds … One person’s junk is another person’s garden treasure!

2015-7-16 Blue Torpedo croppedContributed by Brian McGinn

One Sunday every spring and one every fall brings a large outdoor Antique Flea Market to my local fairground. It boasts a very diverse group of vendors with a very diverse collection of antiques but more realistically they are selling junk. I am defining junk as:

Something you do not need. Something covered in rust. Something missing pieces or just pieces of something. Something broken/no longer in working condition. Something of no practical use.

See the picture of a seven foot tall blue WWII torpedo? By definition it is the epitome of junk…but to me it is beautiful and curious and sculptural. It is elegant and odd.

2015-7-16 Flea Market Finds moxie smallerWhen it comes to decorating the garden, the question of “usefulness” is the loophole. Does something have to be useful to have aesthetic value? Can the history, wear and patina of an object add interest without function? For me the answer is a celebratory yes! In the way that stone and plants add texture and depth to the garden, collected objects can do the same. The layers in the garden are what give the garden uniqueness and story. What is that? Why is it placed there? What does it mean? To me these are great questions to hear. It says that you have struck a chord, piqued interest and generated thinking. It also gives new life to a castoff. It brings a bit of humor or drama to the space. In some cases it can also bring the spirit of the object’s previous owner into your garden.

Building a garden is about discovery. Making connections to the past and re-use are great creative ways to express you!

P.S. The torpedo was being sold for $400…sadly I had to leave it behind…but it would have looked great with the Blue Spruce in my garden…

The ornamental grass isn’t always greener …

2015-7-8 Strictus grass

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’ – Porcupine grass

Contributed by Allan Robinson

What color is your grass?  Many idolize the rich emerald green of a lawn. I must confess that after I’ve planted a small patch of lawn in my reconfigured backyard, I have green lawn envy too.

But what about ornamental grasses that come in a wide range of colors, shapes, textures and sizes? The category of “ornamental grasses” encompass a larger range of species, including Bamboo, which is technically a grass, and Carex, which is a sedge and not a true grass. We tend to lump all plants that appear to grow like our beloved Lawn grass, regardless of its actual genus, into the ornamental grass family. Grasses provide a foil for the flowering lovelies of the season but also give seasonal variation including texture, showy flowers, fall color and winter structure and interest.

2015-7-8 hakonechloa 2

Hakonechloa macra

When it comes to ornamental grasses and color, do you have a color preference?  There are the cool blues which can vary from silver-blue to blue-green.  Think about those cute little tufted mounds of blue fescue or blue oat grass – I’ll admit it, I’ve seen it used well and not so well.  Also yellow, green and variegated are worth considering too.  Two of my favorites, which both thrive in partial sun to shady conditions are Hakonechloa macra (Japanese forest grass) available in green and yellow with bright green variegation, mounds beautifully on a slope or the edge of a path; and Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’  which has green leaves edged in creamy white.  This Carex stands up to winter  – just give it a serious haircut in spring before the new growth to keep it looking great for the rest of the year.  For sunny locations consider Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’ also known as Porcupine grass because of its yellow horizontal banding and stiff upright appearance.  It’s a real conversation piece.

2015-7-8 Miscanthus purpurescens

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurescens’

2015-7-8 Panicum virg Ruby Ribbons

Panicum virgatum ‘Ruby Ribbons’

To introduce red, there is Miscanthus ‘Purpurescens’ with its green foliage developing a red color in autumn as well as Panicum virgatum ‘Ruby Ribbons’ with hues of deep red and red seed heads in mid-to-late summer.  Purple can be found in the tinged blades of Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ that deepen in color during the season.

 

So you see, the grass isn’t always greener, sometimes it’s the color of the rainbow.

Let us help you find your color.

On the Rocks

2015-6-3 rock + evergreenContributed by Allan Robinson

For many of us, when we think of the contents of a garden we often think of plants – our favorite perennials, trees or shrubs.  Perhaps an arbor, wall, bench or chair, maybe even a hammock.  Some of us may think of sculptural elements like water, art, gazing balls or a bird bath.  But let’s look at another element that humans have been working with and around since time began:  rock.

From an early perspective, rocks were the byproduct of gardening, moved to the side of the field for easier cultivation.  Think of those iconic fieldstone walls running through the New England woods.  We’ve all come across plenty of rocks, perhaps more than we care to think about.  Just how many times has our planting progress been thwarted by that all too familiar jarring feeling and corresponding metal-on-stone audible clank?  Many of us would be happy to never see another stone in our gardens again!  But I suggest taking another look at stone.

Rocks can be used as sculptural elements in the garden to satisfy a need for form, function or both.  Smaller stones can provide a path to, or edge along, our favorite perennial bed.  Larger rocks can be an enduring four season focal point or act as a seat to catch a moment’s rest.  A jagged rock protruding from the earth creates a sense of drama whereas a rounded stone nestled among ground covers can be soothing and look natural.  Rocks can be the backdrop to show off one of our favorite plants.  Rocks with crags or a depression can collect water and attract wildlife.  And if your “thumb” errs on the brown side rather than green, you’ll never have to worry about watering, killing or overwintering rocks.

Let us help you look at rocks in a positive light!

Pining For My Pines

2014 final blog - CD fall gardenIn our last blog for 2014 you might expect the theme of gratitude: to our clients, our staff, our vendors and our colleagues. But that would be so predictable! (but really, THANK YOU TO ALL!)

Instead I want to talk about the sense of disconnection I feel in winter when I stop working in my garden. Perhaps you feel the same way. It’s like when you pile in your car to leave your childhood home and extended family after a great visit and you face six long hours in the car. Life is on hold during that prolonged drive until you arrive back home again.

Winter is kind of like that car ride for me. A suspended reality that, yes, I dig into and use wisely – but part of me feels on hold, waiting for spring. Cleaning the cobwebs from the ceiling and organizing my recipe binder is satisfying but lacks that active communing feeling I have when puttering in my garden. Me and the cobwebs are not friends and while recipes can feed me, they don’t commune with me.

Sure, I have a lot to look at in my garden out the window being a Conifer Queen, but passively ‘looking’ just doesn’t fulfill the ‘doing’ part of gardening that I love.

While I understand why so many people want ‘no maintenance’ gardens, for me it is the tangible action of plant care that gives me the greatest enjoyment in my own garden. Touching branches, wrestling with a multi-stemmed shrub, setting up my ladder to get to the top of a tree, deadheading, weeding – this is when I feel the comradery with my plants. We are buddies for that period of time and just as you feel closer to a friend after meeting over coffee, I feel closer to each plant.

So as winter sets in and most days I stay indoors, I miss my plant friends. I can watch them from a distance and know they are there – but I already long for spring.

See you all in SPRING 2015!

The Winter Garden: What do you see out the window?

12-5-14 snow BuddahA walk through the winter garden after a fresh blanket of snow has fallen…the angled sunlight streams through, casting shadows of the bare tree and shrub branches…a feeling of stillness and peacefulness surrounds you. A favorite view from a window reveals a distilled snapshot of simplicity, elegance and calm. Preparing for these moments is an essential consideration when creating a garden.

The winter garden has a completely different feeling and spirit than other seasons. The winter light casts longer shadows and seems to create a world apart from its seasonal counterparts. Thinking of winter as part of your overall design plan will not only extend the time you can appreciate and benefit from the garden, it creates a place of joy and serenity during a time that we can often feel blue and housebound.

Winter is a great time to focus on the core structure and basic form of your garden. Try this: slightly squint your eyes and look outside at the winter gardenscape. Is there a rhythm of shapes and mass or just a lot of emptiness? Perhaps these are areas that need additional woody plants or evergreens. How well does the hardscape, structures and/or garden ornament (i.e. stone walls, boulders, art/sculpture, trellis, arbor, etc.) add visual interest and value to the garden? How does the flow of energy and patterns of movement feel in winter? Can you easily get to or view special spots in your garden? Even if you cannot sit on those beloved benches or cherished chairs due to snow cover or freezing temps, can you see them and imagine yourself there?

Winter is the garden in its most basic form, stripped of bright color and most layers. Interesting bark, berries, evergreens with a variety of textures and/or colors are some of the greatest assets to your winter garden. For bark, trees such as Stewartia, Acer griseum (Paperbark Maple) or Betula nigra (River Birch) are great options. For color in stems, shrub dogwoods such as Cornus sericea (with yellow stems in winter) or Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Flame’ (orange-yellow and red stems) stand out beautifully against a white backdrop. For berries consider the many varieties of Viburnums, Ilex (Hollies) or Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissima’ (Red Chokeberry). Ornamental grasses and seed heads left standing add a softer layer and dimension. These things may be overlooked or underappreciated during the summer when all perennials, annuals and everything in leaf takes center stage.

Put the garden catalogues aside and take a look outside now. We are always here to help you evaluate and improve your garden in all seasons.