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.
Although 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?
Don’t look for the whole crew and I on August 14th – 16th. We will be in Philly for the Northeast regional meeting of the American Conifer Society. The Society’s purpose is “…to promote the use of conifers in the garden and landscape and to educate the public about their care and preservation.” If you have met me, you know I spread the gospel of conifers everywhere I go. Much like Johnny Appleseed spread apples, I can’t plant a job without adding some conifers and I can wax poetic about my favorite specimens like old friends.
Over the 17 years that I have been a member, I have visited countless gardens all over the US and in England that use conifers, but also showcase great garden design and other plants. Think of what you collect – pottery, art, salt/pepper shakers, pens, etc. I happen to collect conifers and other plants. And this plant society gives me entry into some of the best venues to see other people’s collections- many privately owned gardens. Seeing plants all over the country and talking to other confirmed plant fanatics is a great way to spend a weekend. And I bring home a couple new plants each time!
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!
As the temperature warms this week, the woody plants of your garden will start to show again. Oh, the irony of finally seeing your “winter interest plants” now that spring is almost here!
We are getting inquiries about how to handle damage seen on shrubs and small trees. You may see more evidence of broken branches as the snow recedes – or you may find that the snow acted as a support cushion under the branches.
What can you do?
We are advising that you resist pushing on or otherwise testing the branches. If we provide garden maintenance services for you, we would prefer to evaluate any partially detached branches to see if they can be reattached. And wiggling them to see just how much they wiggle (admit it – you want to do this) can make the tear more acute. In some instances, a clean removal cut may be advised to allow the plant to start healing the wound immediately. But in some cases, when the branch is still mostly attached, and if determined to be significant to the plant for health or aesthetic reasons, we can bind, brace or use a stainless steel screw to bring the two split sides together. Some of you may have seen us use this approach with a Japanese Maple branch and the plant heals over the crack and envelops the screw.
If you want to tackle this on your own – observe the crack and figure out if the branch is still attached by greater than 50%. If the branch is a major branch for form, structure and/or leaf coverage (food production), try binding it with a splint to stabilize the force pulling the two sides apart. Don’t tie so tightly that you overly constrict the sap flow in the bark, and remove it this fall to evaluate whether the crack has healed enough to stand alone or take a looser brace for the winter. If the branch is not healing quickly, we would most likely advise removing it since leaving a torn wound is an entrance point for disease and pest invasion.
Summer is almost here. Summer means vacation and a chance to beat the heat in the city. Perhaps we head out to the beach, the mountains or a walk in the woods. Somewhere cooler. When we picture comfortable summer temperatures, we seldom think of heading into the city, unless our destination is a climate controlled movie theater, shopping mall or office building. Why are cities so hot?
The building blocks of the city – steel, asphalt, concrete, glass and brick- have high absorptivity, which is a measurement of how strongly a chemical species absorbs light. When the sun beats down on these solid materials, they absorb and store heat from the sun. In contrast, green vegetation has low absorptivity, reflecting much of the solar radiation back to the sky. Lower absorption means lower stored heat.
When the sun goes down, the dense building blocks of the city release their stored heat, keeping the city hot well into the night. Tall buildings prevent the radiating heat from escaping into the night sky. Consequently urban settings have two disadvantages to cooling: trapped heat in the building blocks and poor air circulation. It’s not unusual for cities to be 10-15 degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside on hot summer nights.
“Urban Heat Island” is a term used to describe these city areas that trap heat. The magnified heat triggers an increased demand for electricity for cooling which increases greenhouse gas production. As you might imagine, the heat and smog contributes to a number of heat related ailments such as heat cramps, exhaustion and heat stroke or simply the discomfort walking to your car across a sea of pavement.
So when you pack the car to escape the heat, nod appreciatively at your trees and garden plants who stay behind and help to cool your property. And if you want to strategically plant trees to aid in cooling your house – we are the right folks to help.
The show is over…spring blooming shrubs and trees have put on their much appreciated display. With blossoms just passing by, your plant is already planning for spring 2015. It is hard for us humans to remember that this is the right time to prune those same plants. Timing your pruning correctly will positively manage the shape and health of the plant as well as promote their bloom performance in the years to come. As a general rule of thumb: don’t prune spring blooming shrubs and trees more than a month or so after they finish blooming unless you are willing to sacrifice some bloom. Plants like Forsythia will now start developing their 2015 flower buds so waiting too long to prune will eliminate some of next year’s display.
Spring bloomers like Forsythia and Lilacs renew themselves by sending up new stems at or near ground level each year. As plants age, older stems begin to crowd each other and the plant will flower less than desired. Cutting away some old stems will make room for new vigorous ones to take their place and gives the new shoots time to grow and bud up this year for flowers next year. Making selective pruning cuts to older stems promotes the overall good health and vigor of the plant. This is also a good pruning approach for Red Twig Dogwood and other multiple stem shrubs like Spirea. Do this type of thinning now.
For more bushy shrubs with side branches off of a main trunk, like Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Pieris, and Kalmias, they can use some shaping after they bloom too. Consider their current shape and make some cuts inside the plant to increase air circulation and sunlight penetration. All too often, these shrubby plants get too dense and the flowering decreases. Shrubs that have been pruned incorrectly in the past or outgrow their location may require more radical considerations. This is often called rejuvenation or renovation pruning. Some mature or neglected shrubs may need several seasons of renovation pruning to bring them back into scale with the landscape and restore their full beauty.
To do any of this pruning, sometimes you need courage, sometimes you need coaching and sometimes you need a professional to take charge. We’re available if you need help.
These are some of the plants that stop me in my tracks, regardless of what I ’m doing (driving, talking on the phone with a client, heading to a meeting, walking around the neighborhood…) and persuasively beckon me to record their undeniable beauty on film.
Sometimes you see something and wonder “huh?” What was the landscape designer thinking? Or not thinking…. Probably your first thought was, where are these trees going to go once they reach maturity? If the trees survive past next month (since they are placed under the roof line and so how will they get watered?), what is the long term plan?
The countryside in Southern Spain is rolling hills with millions of olive trees. The silvery green foliage of the olives mixes with the dusty orange soil and the greenish grey lichen on the rocks. What a color palette. Riding by these rows and rows of Olive trees was fascinating. There is something beautiful about the simplicity of a monoculture (planting of only one plant), yet some blocks of Olives were several hundred years old with gnarled trunks and some were brand new fields of lithe trees. Upon closer inspection, there was variety. Continue reading →
This spiral garden that I designed a number of years ago has 3 Amelanchier trees in it. They are the white foamy flowering trees in the photos. A design challenge of this design was to integrate a created garden along the back woodland tree edge. How do you do it so that you don’t have a line of tiny plants and then tall 80′ trees behind them? The Amelanchier trees, or Shadblow or Serviceberry trees, are considered understory trees. They grow to about 20′ tall and in this design help to graduate the height of the big trees down to the shorter plants in the garden. They are that middle level of height – the glue between the woods and the shorter garden plants. Continue reading →