Friday, May 30, 2008

Chelsea links

I don't usually follow the Chelsea Flower Show but this year I stumbled on Cleve West's blog reporting the day by day building of his show garden. To get a feel for what it's like to be a part of this manic event, go to Tilth & Tillage and read about how it all comes together. To see the best of the gardens, and get an amazing 360 degree tour of each one, click this Telegraph link. You'll also find an interview with Tom Stuart-Smith, who got Best in Show, I think for the 6th time. Regardless of how you feel about Chelsea, you'll find some beautiful gardens here.

Gardens Illustrated has a podcast interview with noted garden critic Tim Richardson, garden designer Dan Pearson, and Chelsea judge Andrew Wilson.

(The photo is of a frog in my pond.)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cicada on Brunnera

Caught this cicada lolling on a brunnera leaf this morning. I'm certainly no cicada expert, but May 25 seems very early for cicadas.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Garden Diary: Rain, sun, the rising tide

After a week of cold and rain, the weather is shifting and we have a sunny windy day. The light comes in two ways - reflected, glinting off the flat surfaces of leaves, and filtered through the forest trees. This morning it's easy to see how medieval artisans "got" stained glass windows. (I tried to take a picture but my camera isn't up to recording qualities of morning light, thus these substitute photos.)

The last sparkles of the Brunnera are being over taken by feverfew above. The plants are swelling like a rising tide, much too fast, and many will flop if not restrained, cut back, or slowed by a dry spell. Time to get out the shears and prune the feverfew, cat mint and other smaller (should be) plants that will have time to thicken up and bloom later, in June.

The new Darmera peltata by the pond are liking the wet. I hope to transform this muddy edge with an herbal necklace before midsummer. By next year, I hope the pond will be a like a brown oculus reflecting the surrounding plants (think different heights and structures) and the sky. Well... perhaps oculus isn't the right word for my brown pond. We'll see.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Garden Diary: Speaking of Groundcovers

The experiment continues in the main garden - the wet prairie behind the house. Now that our cedar forest has become an open clearing, the light and air is changing the habitat that existed before. Though it makes for a rather messy look in spring and early summer, I'm leaving the established plant colonies such as bracken, sensitive fern, cinquefoil, violets, and equisetum to do their thing. In the newly opened spaces, ruderals (pioneer plants) have seeded in, and I'm leaving them too. I expect many of them to be here for several years until the more competitive species take over. With the passing years, and some judicious weeding to control such undesirable behavior as seeding into the crowns of established plants, I hope the natural process of plant succession and competition will result in the groundcover layer simplifying itself over time.

Here are some pictures of what's happening right now. First, a blanket of equisetum punctuated by a native Scirpus.

Though the equisetum is highly invasive, I like its soft, fuzzy effect seen from a distance, and its primitive character close up. I may as well; I couldn't get rid of it without some highly destructive intervention. And the Scirpus grows so large, and so profusely, it also behaves as a groundcover though on a much larger scale.

In wetter areas, sensitive fern, another "legacy" plant, slowly spreads. I guess it would be classified as a stress tolerator. It lives in very wet places where most other plants would languish. You can even see some pooled water here from a recent rain. Not an example of well drained soil!

Bracken and cinquefoil have covered this corner with two levels.

I know bracken has a reputation for being a real thug, but in my garden environment it is rather well behaved. And it's such an attractive structural plant I'd be happy to have more. In front of it is a carpet of cinquefoil in bloom. Not a beautiful plant, unless closely examined, but useful for covering large areas quickly.

Plants I want to suppress are multiflora rose and poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). They have no desirable qualities, in my view, and seem able to compete with just about anything in the plant kingdom, so I'm driven to digging and using Roundup in my struggle with these invaders.

Most of the large prairie-type plants I've inserted into the groundcover matrix - Eupatorium purpureum, Filipendula rubra 'Venusta', Liatris pycnostachya, Rudbeckia maxima, various Silphiums, and large grasses - have no trouble penetrating this dense cover. By midsummer, they'll begin to dominate the landscape and the less attractive lower level will disappear into the background.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Garden Diary: Two Exotic Groundcovers

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) and myrtle (Vinca minor) make a striking carpet at this time of the year. The myrtle has been in bloom for about a month. Only in the past week have the colonies of Sweet woodruff popped into bloom. Both are considered invasive exotics, but at Federal Twist they coexist happily, seemingly without affecting the native carexes, the numerous seedling trees, or the highly invasive, but native, poison ivy.

I know the myrtle was introduced over 40 years ago because William Hunt's architectural plans called for extensive plantings to control erosion on the steep banks surrounding the house, which was built in 1965. I welcome its periwinkle blue flowers every spring, especially in the wilder woods in front of the house. I have no idea when the Sweet woodruff was introduced; it has formed several distinct colonies that, I admit, seem to grow a little larger each year.

The thick mats of mixed myrtle and Sweet woodruff remind me of William Martin's "layering" planting technique, as he described it in his Vista lecture recently in London (see post below). At his well known garden, Wigandia, in Australia, he gardens on the side of a volcano, in soil and environmental conditions vastly different from mine. His technique does not involve horizontal, visual layering of plants as in a border, but rather vertical layering. He covers the ground thickly with a low, even "thuggish" (to use his word) kind of planting, then grows the larger, more structural plants through the layer covering the ground. I was happy to hear his description because I'm trying to use a similar technique in my garden on Federal Twist Road.

The mat of Sweet woodruff and myrtle is one preexisting example of this "layering" technique given to me by Edith Howeth, the first and previous gardener at Federal Twist. I'm experimenting with other combinations in the main garden at back, where conditions are different - more open, very wet, and sunny.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

If only ...

If only this ephemeral stream were about 400 feet east of its present location, I'd have it in my garden. Am I a hopeless romantic?

Well not in every way... I got Tim Richardson's new Avant Gardeners ("50 Visionaries of the Contemporary Landscape") last week. With its emphasis on conceptual gardens, it's a strong antidote to lingering romanticism. Richardson's writing is, as usual, stimulating, full of ideas, and a delight. I won't try to evaluate the book because I haven't finished it. Unfortunate that it's not a larger format though; it's rather hard to see the point with such tight page layouts. And I definitely find the graphic design to be lacking, really dated (think psychedelic 60s). It doesn't do the content justice. Nevertheless, I recommend you buy the book. The essays alone are worth the price.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Hawk in Dogwood and Alien Exotics

Sitting in the study overlooking the garden is like being in a tree house. This morning a hawk perched in one of the dogwoods outside the house. He didn't know he was sitting just above alien alliums about to burst into bloom, nor did he care, if hawks care.


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