Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Other New Bed

As promised, here is a picture of the other new bed I laid out last week:

The new front yard bed as seen from the street

My mom thought that our large front lawn was a bit boring and asked me to come up with some sort of planting to beautify it. She wanted a Japanese maple, and we went from that idea to find  other plants to go along with it. I ended up planting the lace-leaf Japanese maple Acer palmatum dissectum atropurpureum 'Tamukeyama' flanked by two 'Little Lime' hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata 'Jane') and a Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard'. Eventually some sort of decorative light fixture will probably go in front of this arrangement, nestled in the slight curve of the planting.

Monday, June 27, 2011

... And Just One More Picture

Here is a particularly nice shot of a section of the front yard from yesterday morning:

The front border, in full bloom

Now if only I can get the rest of the garden to be this lush...

Another New Bed

Last week I converted a section of the backyard that had previously been covered with decorative pebbles into another flower bed and connected it to the existing border running along the edge of the terrace, so that the latter is now completely surrounded by flower borders. The pebbles were nice in theory, but it was almost impossible to keep them clean. Apart from the many weeds that would constantly germinate among them, even a few stray seedlings of perennials I like had started to come up and I was loathe to tear them up. So I removed the pebbles and moved them to a corner at the edge of the backyard where they are out of the way until they might be needed for some other project. I also had to tear up the sheets of plastic foil that had been under some parts of the pebbled area in order to keep soil and roots out of the pebbles but which had long begun to fail in carrying out this original function as well as a narrow strip of weedy lawn that had separated the pebble bed from the flower beds I had laid out earlier. The volunteer perennial seedlings could stay, as could a large trimmed yew and a small purple-flowered azalea that had been growing smack in the middle of the pebbles. I then planted a small apricot tree (Prunus armeniaca 'Tilton') which I hope will grow up to not only bear yummy apricots but also to complement the peach tree (Prunus persica) my parents planted on the other side of the terrace shortly after moving into this house, making the terrace bit more secluded in the process. In addition, I planted some perennials, including two hardy ornamental sages that had previously graced two large pots in front of the main entrance and were just past blooming, some Mazus reptans and Liriope muscari, and three 'Firewitch' pinks (Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Feuerhexe'). Lots more plants will be able to go in this bed in the future but, after being mulched, it at least looks decent for now.

The partially planted section of the new bed; all those stakes in the background have wires stretched between them and serve to protect a few plants that the deer are particularly fond of, such as the peach tree and some lilies

Apart from this new border, I also created a small new bed in the middle of our front lawn as a sort of center piece, and I will soon post a picture of that one as well. I hope to lay out even more beds further towards the back of the garden to create a woodland garden but those will probably have to wait at least until next year. We are not sure yet if we will have some of the large trees in that part of the garden cut down since there are some that have grown sort of awkwardly and are mainly taking away space, light, and water from nicer specimens as well as the flower beds closer to the terrace. If they do end up being cut - and I kind of hope we, or rather my parents, will get around to that step - it would not make sense to create beds and fill them with costly woodland rarities only for them to be trampled during the removal of the trees. Besides, the removal of the trees in question should also improve the growing conditions in that part of the property.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

More Flowers Coming into Bloom

Here are just a few more pictures of plants that have just begun flowering in the last day or two:

A yellow selection of orange milkweed or butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa); the milkweeds are among my favorite native plants - they have gorgeous, exotic-looking flowers in a range of colors, come in different sizes, are all-around tough and vigorous, and serve as food for wildlife as glamorous as the caterpillars of the gorgeous monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

An Acanthus - I am not sure which species, though that does not really matter since this is another genus of which I would happily cultivate every species

Pineapple cactus (Coryphantha sulcata) - the flower should open wider once the sun comes out

I hope you like these... As always, more to come soon!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Article on Rooftop Gardens

From The New York Times comes this downright touching article about the trials and tribulations of rooftop gardening in New York City:

In the Garden: On City Rooftops, Scrappy Green Spaces in Bloom

It kind of makes me wish more people were this appreciative of the opportunity to have a little patch of green...

The Cacti Are Blooming!

Eastern prickly pear cacti (Opuntia humifusa) to be more specific. One of my favorite native plants, this little beauty is definitely one of the stars of the south-facing border in our front yard. See here for a Plant Care Profile I did for this species.

Eastern prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa)

Encouraged by the success I have been having with this plant, I recently added another species of cactus to our garden. The pineapple cactus (Coryphantha sulcata), also known somewhat more awkwardly as nipple cactus, is supposedly hardy to Zone 5 and produces pale yellow flowers on rounded little plants.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Places to Visit: Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Cranbrook is a place I really should have blogged about a long time ago. One of a number of interesting historic estate gardens in the Metro Detroit Area, it is located a mere five minutes from my parents' home and they occasionally go there for walks. I, too, tour the grounds at least once almost every time I am home. Why, then, have I not posted about it before? I think it had to do a with a lack of pictures; perhaps because I never have the sense that visiting Cranbrook is a one-time opportunity, I kept forgetting to take a camera along when going there. Not so on our last walk there a few days ago! This time, I took plenty of pictures, and I will try to give a thorough overview of the Cranbrook grounds.

A partial view of the Arts-and-Crafts manor house at Cranbrook

Cranbrook House and Gardens form the origin and center piece of a much larger complex which today includes some of the area's most elite private schools, a renowned school of art and design known as the Cranbrook Academy of Art, an art museum, a small theater, an Episcopalian (Anglican) church, and a museum of natural history. Built in 1908, the house is the oldest surviving manor house in the Detroit Area. It was designed by the famous Detroit architect Albert Kahn for newspaper magnate George Gough Booth and his wife Ellen Scripps Booth. Ardent followers of the Arts and Crafts Movement, they envisioned early on that their private residence would become the center of a larger educational community. The house itself can be toured and the principal gardens are arranged in its immediate vicinity. They offer a lovely example of Arts-and-Crafts-inspired American estate gardening and although not all parts of the grounds are as well-maintained as they could be - much of the garden upkeep today depends on volunteer labor and financial contributions - the more formal flower gardens adjacent to the house are meticulously cared for. On the west side of the mansion  lies Library Terrace, a long panel of lawn edged with mixed flower beds and trimmed yews and adorned with a pair of statues known as "the gardener and his lady."

The Library Terrace

Below the Library Terrace lies a garden space arranged around a long reflecting pool that culminates in a large fountain edged by massive boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens). The beds running along the pool are planted with a mixture of perennials, annuals, and flowering shrubs in shades of yellow and blue, punctuated by silvery columnar junipers. Further beds running along the bottom of the retaining wall that separates this part of the garden from the Library Terrace contain shade-loving perennials as well as large Kousa dogwoods (Cornus kousa).

View from the Library Terrace along the Reflecting Pool

Plantings along the Reflecting Pool

A section of the shade border at the foot of the retaining wall

Along the long north front of the house are a series of formal, simple terraces of lawn connected by stone terraces. Below the terraces the slope drops steeply to the wide lake at the bottom of the hills, just glimpsed through a narrow vista cut through the tall conifers that flank the stairs descending from the terraces. Seen from below, the structure is adorned by a sort of grotto with a statue. 

 The narrow vista from the north side of the house down to the lake

The little grotto in the staircase

At the eastern end of the lawn terraces that run along the north front of the house one finds the Turtle Fountain, a large, ornate fountain named for the small turtles included in its decorations and set in its own terraced garden "room."

The Turtle Fountain

Beyond the Turtle Fountain one reaches yet another lawn terrace, though this one is edged with perennial borders and overlooked by the little pavilion that stands at the edge of the herb garden on a higher terrace directly adjacent to the eastern end of the manor house.

View along the lawn terrace, culminating  in an ornamental well set at edge of the woods

Some of the flower borders

View back towards the Turtle Fountain

Continuing on towards the eastern side of the house, one now reaches some of the most charming and impressive parts of Cranbrook's formal gardens. Deep below the terraced lawns and almost completely hidden until one looks over the edge sits the magnificent Sunken Garden, beautifully backed by a cluster of  greenhouses and other functional buildings climbing up the opposing hillside. The center of the space is taken up by two long panels of lawn which are edged with bands of wildly colorful bedding plants in elaborate geometric patterns, while each corner of the panels is punctuated by a massive boxwood. Lush herbaceous borders filled with both common-place plants and botanical rarities run around the outer edge of the garden, backed in turn by the tall stone walls smothered in clematis, climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris), and various other climbers.

 The Sunken Garden with its elaborate bedding scheme

 The lovely terrestrial orchid Bletilla striata in the Sunken Garden

 The white form Bletilla striata 'Alba'

Ascending up towards the house high above the Sunken Garden are the two much more intimate spaces of the Herb Garden, one very sunny, formal and geometric, the other a bit shadier and more informal.

 The lower, formal terrace of the Herb Garden

 The upper terrace of the Herb Garden

 An unusual yellow foxglove (Digitalis sp.)

Beyond these manicured formal gardens, Cranbrook has a number of other lovely features nestled in the extensive grounds designed by Ossian Cole Simmonds between 1910 and 1923. These include the large lake and various ponds and fountains, a Bog Garden, a Wildflower Garden, an Oriental Garden loosely based on Japanese garden design ideas and adorned with stone lanterns and small wooden bridges, and a Greek Theater used for outdoor performances. On the whole, this is truly one of our local gems and well worth a visit if you are in the area. For more information, you can find the website of Cranbrook House and Gardens here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Flower Update

I am hoping to finish a larger post about a local estate garden later today but  for now I wanted to share a few more pictures of some things that have come into bloom in the garden during the last couple of days:

Blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata)

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam'

Common mallow (Malva sylvestris)

Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac) - Unfortunately this is nowhere near hardy but hopefully it will not mind spending the winter month on a window sill inside. The fragrance is heavenly!

Bush basil (Ocimum basilicum) - This little bush has grown from a February sowing on the window sill of my dorm room and seems to enjoy its summer home on the terrace. The scent and flavor is somewhat sweeter and more intense than that of the more common large-leaved varieties. My batch of seeds was from an Italian seed company but I have also seen this variety grown in Portugal and Turkey.

This rather odd inflorescence belongs to the small needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) which I planted in the front yard last summer. I was really surprised that it was developing flowers and hope that this is to be an interpreted as a sign that it likes its new home, rather than that conditions are so bad that it is desperate to procreate before dying.

A red-flowered seedling abutilon (Abutilon x hybridum) which flowers almost all year long, whether on the terrace in summer or next to a large window in the living room in winter.

A small foxglove (Digitalis sp.)

So far this summer we have lucky to been getting rain somewhat more regularly than usual, which means that we have had to water less and that the garden on the whole is more lush than in most years around this time, when the effect of heat and drought is starting to make things look a bit ragged.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

More Flowers from the Garden

A few more flowers have come into their own since I last posted a batch of garden pictures a few days ago, so here are a few more photographs:

A red pink (Dianthus sp.) that originally came in a mixed arrangement of perennials

Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa)

Kamtschatka stonecrop (Sedum kamtschaticum)

Musk mallow (Malva moschata)

Hemerocallis 'Stella d'Oro'

Asiatic lily (Lilium cv.) - this was one of the only buds spared by the deer

Another shot of the front border, just because it looks particularly nice at the moment

Originally I had intended to make some progress on a new flower bed in the backyard today but my work was cut short by rain, so hopefully I will get that done tomorrow instead. Not that I am not thankful for the rain, since this is usually about the time of the year that the garden becomes dependent on extensive irrigation.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Plant Care Profile: Pink Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa)

Every once in a while I pick up a plant on a whim because it seems interesting without expecting much from it and it ends up becoming a garden staple for me that I rely on to fill in bare spots, provide color when little else looks good, or some other such use. The pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) is one such plant. I had never seen one flowering and new very little about the plant but at some point five or six years ago I bought a small, flowerless specimen. Since I had a vague notion that it was a plant that occurs in arid habitats, I planted it in a bed at the south side of a group of blue spruces (Picea pungens) that was very dry and sunny and which I had therefore planted with such species as eastern prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) and sedum (Hylotelephium spectabile). It did not appear to do much during that first summer but in the following spring it emerged in a clump several times the size of the original plant and produced an abundance of light pink, wide-open flowers approximately 2" (ca. 5cm) across from late May through most of June. Over the subsequent years the clump kept spreading, weaving its way through much of the border and forming an effective ground cover, while always being easy to pull up when it got too close to other plants. When my parents moved to their current home two years ago, I only managed to transplant a few shoots with barely any roots, and that, too, in the worst heat of midsummer. Nevertheless, the following summer brought a sizeable clump  bearing plenty of flowers, and this year this remarkable little plant has filled in most of the empty space in that bed with its charming flowers.

Close-up of the flowers of Oenothera speciosa

Origin: Oenothera speciosa is native to approximately the southern two-thirds of the continental United States as well as northern Mexico.
USDA Hardiness Zone: The pink evening primrose is listed as hardy to Zone 5a.

Pink evening primrose and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) in the frontyard of my family's suburban Michigan home (Zone 6a)

Size: Oenothera speciosa shoots vary somewhat in height but they will usually be between 5" (ca. 12.5cm) and 1' (ca. 30cm). The horizontal spread of the plant is practically unlimited, since it spreads by underground stolons that can travel quite far.
Flowering Time: The flowering time of pink evening primroses will vary considerably based on the local climate; here in southeastern Michigan they generally begin blooming at the end of May and keep on going through June.
Light Requirements: The pink evening primrose requires full sun.

Colony in my parents' front yard, grown in one year from one small plantlet

Soil Requirements: This plant is not picky about the soil, provided there is decent drainage.
Siting in the Garden: Oenothera speciosa should be planted in a sunny, well-drained spot with plenty of space to spread. The shoots can come up through turf, though mowing should get rid of them. Nevertheless, if this will bother you the plant should be sited at a good distance from any lawns. Also, since the plant is of relatively short stature, it should not be planted too close to any tall, vigorous plants that might crowd it out.
Care: A resilient and vigorous wild flower adapted to a huge geographic range, pink evening primrose is virtually carefree in the garden. They can be planted anytime from spring until mid-summer and should be watered regularly until established. A light mulch of shredded bark or wood is beneficial as well, though by no means necessary. Once established, the only care required is to pull up shoots that are coming up in unwanted locations, which is quite easy since the individual stems are quite delicate. Over the years, colonies may not only spread but also shift somewhat, with shoots coming up more densely in one area one year and in another the next. Unless the plants are used in a fairly relaxed planting, this may necessitate some moving around in the long run.

Pink evening primrose flowering in my family's garden last week

Propagation: The easiest way to propagate this plant is by separating off shoots with as many roots as possible and planting them in the new location. Keep them well-watered until established, as indicated by new growth and the absence of drooping in hot sunshine. This can be done any time from the onset of warm weather in spring to the middle of summer. Propagation from seed is presumably possible as well, and the dry seed pods can be collected from the plants in late summer.
Use in the Garden: Oenothera speciosa is a great ground cover or plant for the front of a border in a dry and sunny location. I find it easy to control and have not had issues with it crowding out other plants but its growth habit nonetheless means that it is more suited to naturalistic and lush plantings than to formality and excessive order. In other words, if you prefer a garden that consists of clumps of hosta separated by two feet of immaculate mulch, this is not the plant to use. Otherwise, it is a great plant to perk up spots that are otherwise hard to manage without constant irrigation, and since it retains its foliage long after flowering ends, a carpet of pink evening primroses usually continues to look neat for much of the summer and even into fall, at least here in Michigan.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Some More Pictures from the Garden...

Apart from planting a few new shrubs, including a small oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), I have not made much progress in the garden in the last couple of days. This is partially due to the fact that as of last Monday I resumed my usual summer job helping out in some large private gardens nearby. Lots of things are blooming, though, so here are a few pictures:

A pink herbaceous peony (Paeonia lactiflora)

Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena)

A white herbaceous peony (Paeonia lactiflora)

Pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) in the front yard

Red valerian (Centranthus ruber)

Pincushion flower (Scabiosa columbaria)

Helianthemum 'Annabel'

Hopefully I will get around to some lengthier posts, including a new Plant Care Profile, in the coming days.