The Earliest Plants, Zone 5B

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You can make Winter shorter.

The earliest flowering things of Zone 5B can grant this wish.
You can count on certain early plants absolutely. Just as the snow recedes, they flower, and we are encouraged in the impression that the winter is ending.

Some are common kinds, but many others, though entirely hardy and dependable, are more rarely seen. Each kind is precious and deserves more opportunities to flourish.April CollageFinding things that will flower very early in your garden can be tricky.
The kinds you may not have met yet can be just as reliable and welcome as the varieties typically planted. Often this is the case because Garden Centers and small Nurseries know that whatever is in flower is most appealing to the customers, so they tend to handle plants that flower later in the year, when people are more likely to be there shopping.

Conni Cross, a highly respected Landscape Designer, when asked which were her favorite plants after decades of Horticultural immersion, answered:

“If it’s in bloom I love it.”

Many of us are subject to this predilection.

Thus, for the less common but wonderful earlies, you will perhaps need to find sources on line, but once you get some of the rarer but recommended ones into your grounds they will return to greet you every year and announce oncoming spring. Many will multiply along over time, making it worthwhile for you to have gathered some of these good parents to get things going.

Favorite Early plants you may not have met.

Knowing the names of some uncommon early plants may help you to find some of them for your future. Below are some of my favorite kinds, and each has proved as reliable as spring itself.

Hellebores are Amazing

This ultra hardy group of perennials includes some kinds that flower at Christmas time, and various other cultivars can appear in sequence through the early months of the year, some with their flowers still looking good in late May. Their foliage is evergreen, and that helps us get through winter too.
For information about Hellebores, please click here for my recent article about them.


Among the familiar earliest bulbs are Snowdrops, Crocus and Squills, but each of these kinds may be found in multiple varieties. For color, stature or other behavioral reasons you might like alternatives better than common forms. Most of the bulbs are best acquired in fall by mail order, but are fine as a direct garden transplants in spring if you have an endowed garden friend or neighbor.

2011 04 13_mhdland_0335
Crocus tommasinianus

This little species Crocus is an early bloomer, up with the first flowering things and willing to propagate along, so this is a great one for colonising. Since it is smaller in size and finer in foliage than the more usual Dutch Crocus, C. tommasinianus often seems a better choice.

If you plant them a few feet back in the perennial beds instead of in the front, after they decorate bare ground in March, they can soon be covered by the oncoming leaves of other things.
Their color is a good lavender, and there are other forms of tommasinianus with various tints and shades of the species amethyst color. Having some variants of color sprinkled in gives the colony a shimmering  quality.
I tend to keep these Crocus away from the true blue squills, who make the subtle lavender crocus less lovely than when it is paired instead with other jewel toned spring colors.

The lovely white bulb pictured below is Pushkinia libanotica. It is very willing and prolific. These and the true blue Siberian squills in the next picture do not mind driveways or roadway edges, salt and all, and multiply along. Both are happy to occupy the same ground as Corydalis lutea, a perennial who will light up the same difficult places with yellow flowers from May to November. Or they can be interplanted with most any perennial plant whose foliage will soon grow in to cover the place.

PushkiniaPushkinia libanotica

Scilla sibirica

The blue siberian squills are tough enough to colonise even in the midst of  Phalaris albopicta, the ribbon grass, and both are good roadside plants. The grasses cover the passing foliage of the bulbs. The white version of Scilla sibirica is lovely and useful too, though it may arrive a bit later.

White Scilla sibirica, Pieris little heathScilla sibirica alba

Eranthis, March 1st Eranthis hyemalis

Scilla sibirica, Eranthis, Saxifraga cotyledon C. Lloyd formAround here, the Eranthis hyemalis provide sunshine yellow flowers in March, often earlier than the squills. In the photo above, theirs is the palmate foliage between the blue Squills. Though the flowers have finished already, you can see how many there were since each early leaf carries its own central flower. Eranthis multiply slowly at first, so try to start  off with quite a few individuals.

Chinodoxa in an old gardenChinodoxa

Chinodoxa’s white or lavender-blue and white forms light up old properties, the spreading colonies quiet testimony to the number of years the place has been gardened and noticeably loved. Be glad if you can have some but beware of their fast multiplying character with lots of foliage to deal with afterwards. You will want some plants amongst the bulbs whose fresh enlarging leaves will help to cover the messy foliage, with maybe some shearing on your part. If you want multiplication, shear after the seeds mature and self sow. In the picture above they are distributed in the grass areas also and are mowed, but sometimes after they go to seed it would appear. Scilla sibirica is fine with mowing too but visible for a while in the lawn.

Corydalis bulbosa
Corydalis Bulbosa

The first Corydalines to arrive each year are the bulbous types. These grace early April and are reliable, here reappearing in the same place for more than 30 years, with each colony enlarging little by little. Soon after flowering the Corydalis bulbosa foliage melts quickly into the ground, but for ornamental garden purposes is perhaps best nestled into some neat, shallow rooted groundcover who fills in to discreetly cover them as they go by. Sweet Woodruff, Asperula odorata, can do a great job in the ‘up and over’ department. The Woodruff also flowers beautifully in the same place a bit later. Phlox stolonifera and Vinca Jekyll’s white are also favored overplantings for areas with small early bulbs .

Arum Italicum pictum Arum Italicum pictum

Okay, okay, these are leaves not flowers….but unless the snow covers them up the leaves can be cut for every flower arrangement from November straight through the winter and on into the next early summer.  This Arum is therefor beautiful in the landscape from the earliest days of the year. And, somehow, each and every leaf is perfect. Since the leaves stay impeccable under snow, the day it melts, there they are, and so I include A. italicum pictum here to help you shorten your winters.

Disporum flavum

Also called Fairy Bells, these Disporum arch gracefully at 2 to 3′ with yellow flowers in  April.  They don’t mind quite a bit of shade later in the season, and so can live happily in a woodland margin or under deciduous trees. Being early, they are ideal for the midground or back of beds, behind perennials that fill out a bit later.

Some Very Early Flowering Shrubs and Trees

The evergreen Pieris japonica and cultivars provide buds that look like flowers all winter. In earliest spring their open flowers in white or pinkish tones are enhancing to everything around them. Great in views with small early bulbs.

In February we can welcome flowers on the Witchhazels (Hamamelis), then when the twigs of grand old Weeping Willows glow yellow against blue sky, it signifies the beginning of the unfolding of spring.

The Pussywillows (in variety) provide branches of downy cottontails sometime in March. Although these are not flowers, they often make the first bouquets of the year for the house. The cuttings shown below are from an 80 year old Salix discolor, an American Pussywillow. Once cut, the branches can stay in vases without water and look great for a year or until you are tired of them. Some Pussywillows are shrubby, but this one becomes a very large tree.
Before planting any pussywillows, I would do alot of reading and looking at mature ones though, as they tend to take up alot of space, make for alot of pruning work and drink alot of water.
But what a Harvest, plenty to share.
It might be a good shade tree for a Community Landscape, especially there was an overabundance of ground water. We find Willows in general residing in places with a high water table. They have always been helpful in keeping the water level lower where people want to use the land.
Pussywillow Harvest - A Reasoned LandscapeDaphne mezereum, on the other hand, is wonderfully easy and early shrub to have.
(Shown with Scilla siberica below).

Daphne mezereum with Scilla Sibirica
Daphne mezereum

Viburnum bodnantense and Daphne mezereum albumDaphne mezereum album

The white form of Daphne mezereum is early and reliable also, and makes a nice companion for the beautiful lavender Viburnum bodnantense shown here, which is one of the first of the tree forms to flower hereabouts.

Spirea thunbergiiSpirea thunbergii

The very early white Spirea thunbergii flowers before most things leaf out, and this plant doesn’t mind living in the partial shade that comes afterwards in a garden or woodland setting with deciduous trees. Its fine and feathery foliage remains freshly lovely throughout the garden season. As with Forsythia, you can bring in cut stems before flowering time, and then soon have indoor flowering in your vase.
S. thunbergii was once a very popular garden shrub, but nearly disappeared from the trade, out of style it seems, batched with ‘old fashioned’ plants. Being beautiful and easy to please, these should not be forgotten. You may need to locate them from a specialty nursery via an internet search. They root very easily.

In the very early shrub department there are also quite alot of Azaleas, and of course I don’t know all of them, but among the very best I have found are Azalea Mrs John Withington, Azalea Hally Jolivette and Azaleas Westons pink diamond, A.Aglo and A.Olga.
For more about the earliest Azaleas and Rhododendrons, click this link to an article from Weston Nurseries.

Earliest Perennials in the Rock Garden

The first arrival here is Saxifraga apiculata. These are nearly evergreen and just tiny, but now they have presence as spring heralds with their pale yellow flowers. I keep them in troughs.

Draba siberica is among the first things to flower in the  rock garden, bright as butter. If you plant Vitaliana near Draba, later she will provide the bright yellow after Draba goes by, doubling the flowering time at that scale in the rock garden.

Potentilla alpinaPotentilla alpina

By mid April this alpine Potentilla is covered with leaves and white flowers. This habit may be a result of its place of origin, because with the short warm season of the mountains, it is a good strategy for the plants to get off to an early start.
This tough but beautiful plant has enough substance to be grown in the open perennial garden. Its size and quality of appearance through the garden year make it a very satisfying front row plant in general, while also lovely in a rock garden.

Happy Almost Spring….
I hope you will find some new

Early Friends for next year among these favorites.

My Best,
Ellen Cool
A Reasoned
Landscape Composition.
Stonework and Garden Design.

Unusual Plant Materials, Troughs
Tools and Antique Garden Ornaments

Posted in Garden Making Guidance, Plant Portraits and Stories, Your Reasoned Landscape | 1 Response

Stone and Hypertufa Container Gardens

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Cigar Plant and Salvia Black and Blue

Stone Trough Gardens

  •  Miniature gardens can be very satisfying elements in small personal landscapes. Hypertufa and stone troughs or copper pots are among the best of planting containers, remaining in place outdoors through all the seasons, and lasting for many years.
    It turns out that there are a lot of perennial plants which are preadapted to the kind of life one can have in a trough in New England. Certain kinds of plants, many of which are choice and beautiful, will return on their own year after year within such outdoor containers, without any protection in winter. Floriferous annual plants and quite a few useful herbs also thrive in these small habitats.
    If you are very fortunate, an old stone sink or a horse trough may turn up. Such things can make ideal small garden beds, but are hard to come by, so I would start with hypertufa containers which can be bought or cast with a good recipe.

Hypertufa is a man-made material, so named because it imitates natural lime laden, porous Tufa rock in chemistry and in physical properties. Many kinds of plants will grow well in either one, and some especially like the lime.
After a while, when in touch with the earth’s surface and organic materials, hypertufa containers gradually green up and come to resemble local fieldstone in color and character. Perhaps the nicest compliment mine have ever recieved is that “they look like God made them.”……

  • When you are choosing the plants, if you will be having multiple varieties in a single container, it will be important to find kinds which have similar biological needs since they will share this small ecotome. The little gardens also will usually look best and be most easily kept if the companions are chosen to be similar in scale and speed of growth.
  • For easy sustainability, the trick  is to choose appropriate plants for the ecological circumstances you can offer. When the troughs are planted to suit the place where they are sited, they never have to move. The tending maintenance of well planted and considerately located containers can be very minimal.

Siting Trough Gardens : Zone 5

  • Basically, these are self-contained ‘raised beds’. You can choose to keep them at a heights which allow you to easily see, touch and tend the residents. Located by design in places where you can get near to them, each trough can become a whole landscape picture, filling your close view. The container can stay there for life or move readily if that pleases you.
    If you have a stone wall, atop it may provide an ideal place to set them, but they can be sited on any sturdy shelf or structure that can support their weight.
  • The troughs allow their chosen occupants to avoid competition from other plant materials. Such miniature gardens can therefore be especially enhancing when sited under trees. With freshly beautiful colonies settled safely in their special ‘beds’, they can ornament rooty places where, otherwise, not many things could manage to grow.
  • It is perfect when, in their chosen locations, your containers get lightly watered automatically by in-ground irrigation, if you can arrange it. Even if you irrigate though, it is advisable to select sites where you can easily provide a little custom watering sometimes. Being small in volume, containers lose their moisture more quickly than earth places do. They don’t need a lot of water, but they need it regularly.
  • Locating your troughs where there is some shade at the hottest times of day will make things easier to manage. Too much sun may cause the containers to heat up and dry out too fast, even for sun tolerant plants.

    Saxifrages, mini Hostas and Thalictrum kiusianum
    Making Troughs

  • Hypertufa troughs and pots can be made in a great variety of shapes and sizes, custom to whatever your spatial needs may be.
    If you have the ambition and a largish place to make an outdoor mess, you can create your own containers if you wish to.
    Basically, the material is composed of a simple mixture of cement, perlite and/or very course sand, strained peat moss and water, whose proportions vary somewhat depending on whose recipe you use. When thoroughly moist, the composite material is simply pressed into a shape with a form or over sand, then allowed to set for a span of days in a shady place. The mixture will be stronger if it cures slowly, so it is kept covered in plastic sheeting.
    Although I may take the container off of its mold after a few days to use a wire brush or file on it for shaping and/or texturing before it sets up fully, after this touch up, I turn it upside down again in its curing place, re-cover it with the plastic, and give it a few weeks to sit quietly. At this point I turn it right side up and let it get rained on for a few more weeks, then it is ready to use.
  • An exemplary article by Helen Dawson about making  hypertufa containers, with images showing the details of the process, was recently presented by Fine Gardening (.com). The recommendations nearly match the recipes and procedures that I have used, except that I have not added fiberglass. I hope that you will look at her excellent instructions if you plan to do this yourself.
    The only additional details in method I might mention would be that I use type 2 Portland cement because it gives a deeper grey color, and I use less perlite and add some very course sand. This way I end up with fewer ‘white dots’ of perlite and so perhaps a more naturalistic appearance overall, but the sand adds a bit of weight to the structure.
    I like the walls to be at least 1 1/2″ thick, and in large containers, 2″ is good.
    When you cast upside down over a sand mold, it may also be nice if you can make a moat shape in a soft ‘base’ pad of sand where the lip of the container will be formed, so when you eventually turn it right side up, you will have a softly rounded rather than a flat upper edge on your container.
    I have made quite a few of these over time, but for the larger ones, I usually give the project over to a professional. Well constructed troughs and pots have typically lasted 15 years and more in my landscapes.

    Gypsophila muralis, Corydalis lutea

    Considerations of Shape and Size

  • In my experience, the most versatile troughs are 12 to 18″ wide and 20”+ long with an interior depth of 7” or more.  I find my most popular shapes are a foot or so wide and 20″ to 36″ long, probably because those sizes sit nicely on many commonly available surfaces. A rough minimum for sustaining perennial plants over time would be an interior depth of 6”, with a 10” width or diameter.
  • Whether you choose perennials or annuals, good surface and bottom drainage will be essential.
    A fine ¼” stone mulch at the surface is often ideal. This also makes a receptive seedbed for your chosen things to seed into their home grounds.
    For Alpine plants, drainage is extremely important. Many Alpine plants are preadapted to the settings these containers can provide, but often they can’t withstand wet crowns for long, and so must  drain quickly when the snows or rains impinge. To this end, I embank the earth in the overall container so as to create a slope gently descending  outward from the center . I sometimes use stones in a few places to support this banked presentation to the view.
    Choosing your Trough Shape

  • In general, more kinds of plants can be sustained through the winters in larger containers than in small ones. Wide and deep containers provide more earth around the plants, which seems to help cushion the extremes of our New England weather.
  • For colonies of things, bigger is also better. It is just that there is more room for your various kinds of plants to develop gracefully into meaningful groups within your miniature gardens.
    Whenever the container is big enough, it may be esthetically interesting to give it dominant and subsidiary plants, perhaps choosing ones that flower in various times of year, as you might if you were organising a larger landscape, just on a smaller scale.….

    Earth for Sustainable Planters

  • I always mix perlite and ¼” stone into the planting substrates to help keep the mix perpetually free draining. I add some compost and slow release fertiliser too. Depending on who you will be growing, what else you use in the container to make up your planting ‘earth’ can be adjusted somewhat. Some kinds like lean earth and others prefer theirs to be organically rich. When the plants are generalists, they are easily kept, and there is usually nothing very exact about the mixtures.
    I usually choose the easy, adaptable plant varieties but there are even some easy Alpine plants requiring particular planting and special ingredients in their mix, but afterwards easily sustainable.In the end, you will know if things are fine by the apparent well being of your plant materials. When you need to add more earth or ingredients later, or you want to adjust the pitch of  the container’s surface, you can work a trowel or small spade underneath the plants. Cutting around the interior edges of the pots, release the plants and lift whole interplanted planted groups while tucking extra substrate into the crevices you create with the lifts.
    This way you won’t disturb the colonies too much, and surface seeds will not be lost. …..
  • For clues about the best substrate for your planter, you may want to Google your candidate Plants’ names to read about their original and preferred habitats. The North American Rock Garden Society has been helping people (including myself) to grow plants in rock gardens and troughs for a great many years. If you have alot of questions, you might want to join the Society. They have local chapters under whose auspices you can see and learn alot, and they will help you to locate plants that might be hard to find on your own. The level of knowledge within their membership is beyond amazing, and always has been.

    Babson Boulders, Dogtown, Ma.

    Babson Boulders, Dogtown, Ma.

             Tough Miniatures

  • Certain particularly durable perennial things can easily manage through the winters in very small troughs or pots.
    For example, most miniature Hostas are as easy to take care of and tough enough for just about anything. Like their full size Hosta relatives, as long as you avoid hot and sunny places and trim them twice a year, that’s that. There are lots of other easy care things that do very well.
    For a small or medium alpine trough with partial days of sun, the encrusted silver Saxifrages are very desirable. Many are beautiful, fully evergreen and fortunatelycertain kinds are also easy and reliable. Saxifraga callosa (lingulata), S. cotyledon and S. longifolia in variety have proved especially adaptable. Saxifraga apiculata, which is the first to bloom in spring, has returned here for 15 years.
    In shadier places, Saxifraga cuneifolia and S. umbrosa x urbium,  in both their green and their yellow variegated forms, are particularly willing and able.

    Encrusted Saxifrages in Variety / Joe Puleo

  • Little containers can easily be moved to a wind protected place for the cold season, but I rarely find that I need to, if the occupants were chosen for their resiliency.
    Annual plants

  • The most important size consideration for the non-hardy decorative annual plants you choose may be that they are in scale with their container for good appearance. Nomatter what size of container they live in, most annuals will need some liquid fertiliser every couple of weeks.
    Some Easy Perennials

  • The ever flowering Corydalis lutea and C. lutea alba, the indefatiguable Kenilworth Ivy including a new pure white form, Cymbalaria alba compacta, Linaria Canon Went and the tiny Thalictrum kiusianum will be readily pleased in these semi sunny places, just to name a few of the easiest and longest blooming candidates.
    ….latives of the Japanese painted fern…….
  • Although containers in hot sun are the most difficult to sustain, but even there, the simple but beautiful Hieracium pilosella will enthusiastically decorate a container forever, though often too aggressive for much companion planting. The flowers are modest but my, what lovely silvery foliage it has..

    Clematis Betty Corning and Hieracium pilosella

    Special Uses for Hypertufa Troughs and Pots

             Encouraging Propagation

  • When you have just one or two of something special, keeping these ‘parent’ plants in troughs or other permanent containers allows them to be protected and watched over until the time when they begin to self sow or are divisible.
  • If you locate a trough in a setting which has an inviting ecology for seeds, and you leave the ground around your container undisturbed, next year you may have babies appearing on their own. Many of the Zone 5 hardy annuals and perennials suggested in my articles will happily sow themselves in.
  • After a couple of years, when you have quite a few of your chosen kind established, you can put some of them in the open garden and feel safe.

  • You could decide to let only one beautiful kind of plant completely occupy a trough or pot, in which case the planting is a monoculture. With this method there is no risk of losing your unique kind of plant to other competing colonists. I keep a lot of very lovely containers this way, letting one particular kind of plant thrive and show well. These are perhaps the easiest kind of containers of all to manage.
    Mixed Colonies of Plants, some Admonishments

  • If there are multiple kinds of plants within a trough, without intervention, there will probably be winners and losers. As the mixed colonies develop, there will invariably need to be decisions about who has priority over whom.
    Certain plants can co-compete somewhat equally, but other types can easily lose their ‘ground’ to rootier or otherwise more vigorous things. If rambunctious plants land themselves in your troughs, you can’t let them stay or your other precious denizens can quickly be crowded out.
  • For each trough I simply establish rules of who gets to stay and who will be subtracted, and then try to keep to them. To be a good gardener, one has to learn to be a bit ruthless.

    Sculptural Forms

  • In winter, outlined in snow, the trough shapes show their sculptural qualities, and I treasure them for this too. They seem such protective places as I think of their sleeping inhabitants.

Snow BlanketMy Best,
Ellen Cool

Landscape Composition.
Stonework and Garden Design.

Unusual Plant Materials, Troughs
Tools and Antique Garden Ornaments


Posted in Garden Making Guidance, Long Blooming Plants, Plant Portraits and Stories, Your Reasoned Landscape | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 66 Responses

Wreathing the Beds

Greens After Christmas Rust-line1151093480-724_edited-1copper-line1_edited-1

  • A second purpose for the branches of Christmas trees and other holiday greens is to re-use them as decorative wreathing for your otherwise somewhat bare perennial beds, but the reason to use them is usually to help insulate plants residing in the earth beneath. I find this branch overlay technique especially useful wherever it can help to protect small or shallow rooted plants, often in the front and middle ground of the planted beds.
    The branches help to buffer the temperature ups and downs which cause the earth movement. I typically apply this protective layer to beds which get alot of sun in winter, where temperature changes tend to be rapid and so heaving is a frequent problem.
    Snow would do much of the job of protection by itself if there were a reliable covering of it through the freeze-thaw cycles, but in this part of New England you can’t count on a snow blanket..

    Branches cut roughly 18″ to 48″  from Post-Christmas trees or wreathing materials can be used, whether yours or contributed by a neighbor. Waiting until this time of year to prune your evergreen trees or shrubs can provide useful cuttings too.
    I weave the branches together by crisscrossing in an over and under way to help them resist being blown about by winter winds.
    These greens can be laid out along the edges of your perennial beds or wherever vulnerable plants are sleeping.
    Or One might choose to lay evergreen branches on some beds just to have them look wonderful through the winter.
    The insulation is most needed through the late winter thaws.
  • It is just perfect that these lovely evergreen recycle materials are so readily available just after Christmas since the insulation this handsome wreathing can provide is most needed from January through March or so. Setting the branches out any earlier would not be better, since it is good for the plant materials to get a thorough soaking before the deep freezes set in.
    If there is some snow on the ground, you can wreath right on top of it and as the snow melts, the branches will settle roughly where you wanted them. Adjust as needed.
  • The evergreen boughs protect the plants in much the same way that hay would, if it would stay put. The difference is that you will have green beauty through most of the winter, and a much easier cleanup in spring.
    In my experience, if there is any wind at all, hay straw distributes itself absolutely everywhere. Plucking it piece by piece out of the shrubberies, evergreen groundcovers, pebble paths and underdecks can prove extremely annoying. One would prefer not to make this mistake in an ornamental garden setting...

    Double Safe
  • Even if you have done your best to protect your plants, whenever there is a substantial thaw, you may want to scout around a bit and see if any plants have been heaved up out of the ground. Locations that get alot of winter sun can thaw out surprisingly quickly. When they do, the the ground may pop up precipitously and the roots of newly established and shallow rooted plants may be lifted up too. With their roots exposed, they could easily be killed by the next cold snap.
  •  Quickly you need to press the individual plants back down into the earth while it is still soft, before it gets cold again and the ground closes out their roots..

For your future planning, try to avoid locating
delicate plants
in places where the winter sun hits heavily.
In Britain, winter protection is sometimes conferred by sheaves of cut deciduous branches, with the charming name of ‘twig thatch’.
In their famously beautiful and lovingly tended North Hill Gardens, to soften some of the harsh aspects of the climate of Vermont, Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd have used cut Miscanthus bundles from their own stands of these grasses. They are laid out as needed before winter to protectively insulate the fruit trees** who also live within their ecotome.

 * Don’t use limbs if the needles have begun to dry out. The fresher or moister the better.
Firs and other soft greens will be the most pleasant materials to handle.
Short needled Pine and Hemlock branches don’t last as well as most other evergreen things.

** lecture, personal communication, 2008

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Landscape Advisories: Chapter 7 / Evergreen and Ever Seen Landscape Framing


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Chapter 7  

Evergreen and Ever Seen Landscape Framing

In our northern landscapes, attending to the winter appearance of a place is a priority since what we see changes dramatically as many plants drop their leaves or disappear entirely through a long cold season. This can leave an empty feeling in the garden unless you plan in some winter pictures.

The framing design of a property will be described by the forms you will see and experience in your all year views.winter pictures

Designing Your  Landscape Framepeastone line

Begin by choosing the placement of ever seen elements.
The buildings, stone and masonry, fences, tree and shrub outlines, furnishings and earth co
ntours along with your evergreen plant materials are ever seen parts of your landscape. Their all year visibility means they are always important, making up the framing on which your all year views depend. Such things should be considered in the first round of design thoughts to allocate the best possible locations and configurations for them.

The evergreens and other ever seen things should make beautiful pictures alone.
In the simplified compositions of winter, the evergreenery and ever seen things will be experienced as a group. You can arrange for complete and satisfying pictures by considering these elements together, thinking of your winter garden as a somewhat separate landscape, while carefully designing plenty of  in-between places for the plants of other seasons.

The quiet, spare landscape of winter is a perfect time to assess what you may want to add or subtract for your future cold seasons.

line snow Put some Evergreens in the Background and some in the Foreground You will want some evergreens in the background, midground and foreground. With important roles in every season, these are key design choices. Their density and outlines can give body and shape to the winter scene and then flatter the perennials and shrubs in subsequent seasons. Levinson GardenThey may serve as quiet backgrounds, frames and surroundings to spring and summer pictures, then in winter become more visible, taking prominence in your views. Color, texture and form relationships should be considered carefully. conifer garden When the contextual frame always looks good, it is much easier to organise lovely gardens for all seasons.
The low evergreens can make edge outlines for the winter and the summer floors. The medium and larger evergreens can provide a visual framework for the enhancement of the other season’s flowering things. Well shaped spaces you create between the winter elements provide in-between places for your warm season plant materials. A handsome evergeen context lends itself easily to satisfying combinations...
Click here for other articles about Shaping the Landscape.

“The spaces between the things are just as important as what is in the spaces.”
Allen C. Haskell

Positive and Negative spaces must both have pleasing shapes.
Positive spaces are the ones being considered at the time. The surrounding forms are the negative spaces, the secondary shapes that result. Both of them matter. Each shape you make by design should accommodate and enhance the reciprocal shapes it creates.

Cobbles entering the gardenWhen you begin thinking about the negative spaces, they can become the positive spaces at that point in your thoughts, shaped respectfully with their adjoining forms to optimise both.

“When negative and positive spaces are reversible no space is wasted.
Every piece contributes to the pattern”
Christopher Alexander

positive and negative space

The framing of your planted compositions might be the floor.
For pictures we see from above, the floor layer becomes the background and frame of our view. The carpeting effect of many evergreen leaved perennial groundcovers together is satisfying year round. Also pleasing is that in earliest spring, woodland plants and small bulbs can emerge through evergreen blankets instead of twiggy ground. The effect of many small leaved evergreen shrubs or perennials together on your earth floor can be unifying to a picture or view.

Don’t make the Backgrounds of your planting places too Busy.
Backgrounds should be simple enough to flatter what will be seen against them. If there is too much diversity in the background, whether plant materials or built structures, the things in front may not show well.

 Every foreground element benefits from a considered background, and vice versa.
Consider your structure colors in relation to the things that will be seen against them. You will often want some contrast between the elements seen together in a view so as to perceive each at its best. Red foliage will show better against weathered grey wood than the red barn. Green houses are often the wrong green when seen close to the true greens of nature, and green on green can get visually muddled.

DoorMaple2‘Something dark, Something light, ..
Something dull, Something bright.’
….Old saw from the decorator’s trade

Alternating heavy foliage and fine, putting light leaves against dark ones, glossy against matte, are simple strategies which, through contrast, can be planned in to add interest, each enhancing the other.

Textural variety in plants allows the same lighting to have various effects on the picture. Amongst the many kinds of evergreen plants, foliage comes in a fantastic range of textures, matte to glossy, corrugated to velvety with varying leaf shapes and sizes running from tiny to huge. Each type reflects or absorbs light in its own way at any given moment in time. The enhancing effect thoughtful combinations can have upon the scene will be something you can orchestrate.

Don’t use too many strikingly different plants all together in a view.
When you choose the plant materials for a given landscape picture, you will be looking for pleasing groups with respect to colors, forms and textures. Your elements, whether planted or built, should be beautiful with their particular surroundings as well as by their individual character. Strongly divergent plant personalities may work best with some degrees of separation, in different views perhaps.
Click here for more of my articles concerning Views.

Nursery gone wrongIf you use too many different diverse plants or colors all together your place may look more like a garden center than a composed garden.
As with most things, the number of pleasing solutions is outnumbered by the possible displeasing ones.  Some combinations are more compatible than others.
Among the many beautiful conifers and broadleaf plant materials available, the foliage may have bright or soft yellows, greys, blue greens, purples, mahogany, magenta, lavender or pink tones. We don’t have to use them all together to have them. Many pleasing groupings can be made by using evergreen color forms in considered combinations. Pinus hillside creeper, fukozumi, Picea montgomerey, CotinusUse alternate color family associations in separate pictures.
If you bring together things that have suitable ecological preferences and complementary forms and colors, you can organize these in a given view, but remember that you don’t need to use all of the possibilities in a given view. Alternative color groups of companionable sociations can be used in separate views. This is the most reliable solution for harmonies if you want to use alot of colors and kinds overall on your property. Evergreen hues you select for a part of your garden will need to complement the colors of the warm season plants in that place.

Plan in pleasing winter surprises.
The white winter outlining of things brings out the essence of every shape, whether trees, sculptures or buckets. sax player collage Some features of your landscape may be invisible for many months, covered in effervescent foliage once the perennials get going, and seen again only when the ground is cleaned in fall. Placing them where you will enjoy their reappearance in the composition of the off season will perhaps prompt you to say ‘Hello old friend, good to see you’, well, maybe not out loud…

granite acorn

LINK to Chapter 8: Choosing Stone and Hard Materials

My Best,
Ellen Cool

A Reasoned
Landscape Composition.
Stonework and Garden Design.

Unusual Plant Materials, Troughs
Tools and Antique Garden Ornaments

Posted in Landscape Design Advisories, Landscape Making Guidance, Your Reasoned Landscape | 2 Responses

Pretty Pink Pumpkins and Breast Cancer Research

 Some New Varieties of Pumpkins
Support Breast Cancer Research

In this year’s farm and nursery travels, Pretty Pink Pumpkins
turned up here and there.
The name of this kind is Porcelain Doll.
She is a shiny corally pink, and each individual pumpkin
seems to have its own personality.
Mine had blue underlying highlights here and there
which gave her an iridescent look.

The ivory color companion is a recent variety of
Acorn Squash, and this one tastes nice too.

pumpkin porcelain doll

The Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation

Some years ago a farmer from Colorado spotted a pumpkin with a light pink hue
and carefully grew its offspring. Now there are enough that we can all enjoy them.

The organization Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation was founded in 2012
to establish that the growers of the Pink Pumpkins would pay
a percentage of their earnings to support Breast Cancer Research.
Seed purchases contribute to the fund too
if you want to start your own Patch for next year.
If you want to grow them, you can send a note to
Otherwise you are likely to find them next year anyway
because it was such a good idea that the Pinks, though so recently rare,
are quickly developing a wide distribution.
Your purchase encourages and supports the grower.
The growers in turn are supporting the Foundation.

Pink Porcelain Doll makes good pies but they
won’t be pink pies since, like their traditional cousins,
these pumpkins have a vibrant orange interior.
Porcelain Doll and friends
Black Stemmed Pumpkin
The striking variety of pumpkin below tends to have very
black, twisting, trunkish stems.
Its name is Cronus.
It is shown here with brown stem pumpkins so you can see the difference.

Cronus, Black stem PumpkinThis heart shape was just a lucky find, but perhaps some clever grower
will figure out how to make pink heart shaped ones………

Double PumpkinEllen Cool

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The Latest Flowering Shrubs

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 ‘Recency is Primacy’
n general, people call to mind most easily those things that have happened most recently.
Each year, the last plants to flower in a freshly beautiful way seem very precious. In fond memory, they seem to stay close by as we go through the grey and white seasons.

Actually anything that we, as gardeners, can do to make the winter feel shorter will probably feel good.
Having some of the latest and the earliest flowering plants of all kinds and sizes in the tree, shrub, perennial and wildling departments helps alot.
Most months of the year in
Zone 5b can have some plants naturally flowering – or otherwise looking fabulous – if you just choose the right plants.

Thoughtfully Shaping the Evergreen Landscape  for satisfying winter pictures helps too.

viburnum summer snowflake and viburnum watanabeVIBURNUM PLICATUM TOMENTOSUM SUMMER SNOWFLAKE  =  V. WATANABE

This wonderful plant blooms continuously in diminishing degrees of fullness from Memorial Day into September, even carrying a flower here and there until frost. Throughout the summer season, red berry clusters ornament the branches wherever it has flowered. Look quickly though, you may not have much time to enjoy the beauty of those berries since the birds and squirrels will take most every cluster, once they decide they are just right. Delicious, apparently.

This Viburnum likes a woodland edge situation, with at least a half day of sun, and 2/3+  is better. While often presented as a small and slow growing thing, in my experience it matures fairly quickly in a good exposure and a small specimen can grow into the 12’ height range after 6 years or so. While it can accept a shadier situation, it won’t flower as much and grows more slowly.

Although Viburnums are thought of as shrubs, not trees, this one tends to have a nice shape on its own without much trimming. It can easily have the appearance of a small and well-formed pyramidal tree if you start it young and keep it to a single trunk. The white flower highlights may be enhanced in a view including other plants with white in leaves or flowers.

Allocate some width for its future, 10’ on center perhaps, as it has a graceful architecture when its limbs are given some radial freedom. You can prune it up later and treat it as a canopy tree as it matures. It is rarely troubled by pests and has proved solidly hardy here in zone 5b for 13 years.

Viburnum x rhytidophylloides 'Willowwood'VIBURNUM RHYTIDOPHYLLOIDES WILLOWWOOD

Another handsome and reliable Viburnum is V. rhytidophylloides willowwood, shown above, which  often flowers here in fall and also in spring. The flowers are, however, a modest attribute compared to the handsome glossy, corrugated foliage which is particularly  since it is evergreen through most winters in zone 5B.

It is especially useful because it can be grown in modest light conditions, and we all have our shady spots.
It is somewhat drough tolerant and competes well even in rooty surroundings. Although a shrub, it attains a tree type height and stature, with the advantage of keeping its leaves at the bottom as well, if you want it to. Or prune to taste.

( Not to be confused with  Viburnum rhytidophyllum varieties, for while their leaves are similar. This shrub is very different in ways that have made it less useful in my experience. It seems to need more sun, more water and its leaves are less cold tolerant. )


Daphne t. summer ice is somewhat new to the trade, but destined to be a centerpiece wherever it is grown, a truly beloved plant. She has proved very reliably hardy in zone 5B for 6 years. This Daphne is somewhat similar to the familiar Daphne Carol Mackie, the beautifully variegated form that many gardeners know and love, just with less ivory variegation on the leaves.
The difference between them that matters so much is that Daphne summer ice produces  fragrant flowers continuously and abundantly throughout  the entire summer and into late fall.
While D.
Carol Mackie has an extravagant and fragrant flowering time in May for a few weeks, there will be no more flowers until next year, though her leaves contribute beautifully in the garden until hard frost.

Daphne summer ice is more floriferous  and sturdier here, hardiness-wise, than the green leaved, reblooming Daphne transatlantica and D. caucasica forms I have so far tried.

All the aforementioned Daphnes are semi-evergreen to one degree or another, so their leaves will please you even as the early frosts come in.

These Daphnes need a good amount of sun but not too hot of a place. With some wind protection, adequate water and drainage they will please you for many years to come.

It seems to be the natural habit of all of these Daphnes to want to lean and drape, so find a spot where that will be ok with you.
When you choose a place for a Daphne, choose carefully because they do not transplant well.

For all of these Daphnes I would choose a specimen with a sensible volume of roots. Very small young ones have shown a dismaying failure rate when transplanted to open ground. A bit bigger and older is better to avoid problems in this crucial matter, but if they get much older and fuller and reach 2 feet or more in height and girth, they may have adjustment problems in a new home, perhaps from having lived a long while elsewhere.


Heptacodium micionoides flowers wonderfully late in the garden. In early September or so in Marblehead, it will be freshly covered with white panicles of flowers that last many weeks. These myriads of blossoms emit a subtle intoxicating aroma, pleasing to both pollinators and people. Their silvery exfoliating bark is an attribute through all the seasons.

After flowering, the pink calyces stay behind (originally the sepals of the flowers), and these miniature bouquets redecorate the whole shrub / tree with a rosy glow. I harvest some of them and let them dry for winter indoor arrangements. A bowlful is lovely to have.

The greatest challenge is the pruning of Heptacodium for good shape, since her branches go eagerly in many directions. You need to decide which ones have good shape, leave them and ruthlessly prune off the odd ones. Without such attentions, her overall look can be awkward.

Lespedeza gibraltar pinkLESPEDEZA

One of the latest glories of the garden, there is little else as exciting as Lespedeza gibraltar at this time of year when her fountainous form will be covered with deep pink flowers. Lespedezasometimes referred to as the ‘lets be friends’ plant, since it’s a tough name to remember – is invisible through the winter and spring, and develops modestly through the summer, so she takes up virtually no room in the garden, though she is preparing for spectacular glory in the fall.
Sometime before winter, the ritual is to cut her back to a nubbin some inches high and she will start all over next year.
In this way, it will be out of the way of other plants until next midsummer when its drama will begin again, from the ground up.
The white form, Lespedeza avalanche, is even a bit later, and gives us flowers in October. Equally hardy and beautiful, it is especially easy to site because white is so versatile.Lespedeza avalancheBoth of these Lespedezas prefer quite alot of sun, but can be rewarding in places that only have a 2/3 day exposure, they will just lean towards the light, but you can plan for that. I tie mine up on an arch where earlier in the season, the place was adorned  by Daphne Carol Mackie, then miniature climbing Rose Jeanne la Joie and Clematis Julia Correvon, and they all live quite happily together.
The cut down system is very convenient in a small garden where the fountainous excesses of Lespedeza’s leaves and flowers wait to shoot up until after the understory plants have finished flowering, so you can have earlier things sharing the same places as these lovely late ones.

Lonicera sempevirens and Ampelopsis elegantissimaLONICERA SEMPEVIRENS DROPMORE SCARLET

So long flowering and sturdy that, though a vine and not a true shrub, I wanted to link you to things I have written about this Lonicera’s stellar late performance.

There are quite a few more favorite late flowering shrubs that I will write about later, along with a raft of the best Late Flowering Perennials and self sowing Annuals.


Posted in Garden Making Guidance, Long Blooming Plants, Plant Portraits and Stories, Your Reasoned Landscape | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Response

Marblehead Open Garden Day 2015

Time4 Private Gardens in Marblehead
and 1 in Beverly
will be Open for viewing on August 8th
from 10 AM until 4 PM
(Click above for further information)

40% of our proceeds go to the

Marblehead Gardens 2015

Hope You May be able to Visit
One or All of Them ……..

Below is a list of things likely to be
in bloom or of note on August 8
at 19 Circle Street.





















































































































Ellen Cool

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The Longest Blooming Clematis of my Acquaintance

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09 03_3810_edited-2


Many of the longest blooming Clematis are found among the smaller flowered kinds. Their myriads of small individual flowers combine to make as exciting a show as any of the large flowered Clematis can offer. I find that their stems and foliage also last more nicely and can be managed more neatly in the garden than is typical among most larger flowered forms.

These details of behavior and appearance are particularly important in gardens that are enjoyed from close up. Long blooming plants are very desirable in small gardens where the number  of plants you can have is limited by the space available, and foliage quality matters alot too.

The siting of all Clematis should take into account their not very lovely ankles. Some sort of a nice looking skirting plant located in front of the climbing place will be helpful in this matter. This is  to provide a façade for the least lovely parts of your otherwise beautiful vine, and not usually for the Clematis to climb onto. Clematis prefer a somewhat shady base, but sun on the flowering parts, so a skirt helps in this. You need to allow some bed width in anticipation of esthetically needing a skirting partner.

“Grace at the Base

The support system is a different matter. Whatever support you use, whether living or constructed, you will have to tie your Clematis up a bit every week in the growing season, but you will always get a very generous reward.

Flowering lasts Particularly Long
where Sun and Wind
Not Too Strong



Betty takes first prize for the longest blooming Clematis in my gardens. Her pagoda shaped lavender flowers make her an easy friend in many garden pictures since her foliage is beautiful, and, as Christopher Lloyd was fond of saying,

“Lavender goes with everything.”

She starts blooming in mid June here and continues, in profusion, long after most of her close kindred have gone green again, with some flowers until September.

Each additional year in the ground here has corresponded to an increased length of time that Betty remains in flower. From the 5th year of her residence, she has covered herself with flowers for three months.

It is said that Betty doesn’t get the ‘Wilt’ that can spoil many kinds of Clematis. She is certainly  extremely resistant, as I have had the ‘Wilt’ trouble with other Clematis, including some small flowered forms, but never Betty in 14 years of growing her.


The original Betty Corning was the wife of Erastus Corning II, mayor of Albany NY. His father, Erastus Corning the First, was a New York businessman after whom the city of Corning, NY was named, the Corning Glassware Company being such an important business there.

In addition to being an aristocrat, Betty Corning was a passionate gardener. The story is told that one day Mrs. Corning was walking through a steelworkers’ neighborhood and saw a Clematis that was completely unknown to her. It was truly outstanding; an extremely vigorous vine with beautifully shaped fragrant lavender flowers. She knocked on the door and asked about it; the lady of the house said she’d received it from an aunt, “rooted in a potato.” The last detail is rather unlikely, but whatever its origins, Betty Corning asked if she could take a cutting. The lady obliged, and Betty nurtured the cutting and began to propagate it. Several years later when she was in the same area again, she went back to ask for some more cuttings, only to find that the entire neighborhood had been razed for new development.

If Betty Corning had not taken her initial cutting, this Clematis would have been irretrievably lost.*[1]

Knowing the story also helps one remember Clematis Betty’s last name, as Corning Glass comes easily to mind. The plant was named and distributed in the 1930s. This story comes to us through Steve Antonow, a Seattle gardener, as recorded on Kiporos Blog.

Betty overlaps her flowering time with Clematis Crispa, who is extremely long blooming too. Betty is thought to be a hybrid between Clematis Crispa and a Viticella, and luckily Betty seems to have gotten all the genes encouraging a long blooming season.


Also called the marsh or swamp Clematis, this vine is extremely long blooming and graceful. Her small crimped and serrated bells are each perfectly lovely. It is a great thing to bring a vine to maturity, since if you can do this, your crispa will be decorated with these perfect bells for ages each summer, ever afterwards.

Her heritage is from moist places, and so predictably this vine prefers such an ecology. She also needs a lot of space and sun on the flowering parts.

You could choose to have more than one of these as there are color variants from lavender to nearly white, with some bluer and pinker ones inbetween. I have never met one who wasn’t exquisite in its flowers. Over time these do have some babies by seed, which may be considered a good or a bad quality, depending on the context.


This wonderful vine glows with wine red flowers from early July until September. Very vigorous as well as free flowering, she needs plenty of room to spread out horizontally and vertically. As long as she is well supported in her continuing climb, and has space  and sun enough for new flowers, she keeps going for three months.

Though she has Viticella blood, her flowers are open faced and quite large (3-5”w) and so make a very substantial impact even at a distance with their rich coloring.


Julia originated in 1900 from a Francisque Morel cross between C. viticella ‘Rubra grandiflora’ with C. ‘Ville de Lyon’ (with C. texensis lineage).

Lost to the trade entirely at the time of World War 1, thankfully it was restored to the English market from a single specimen at Hidcote Manor, in Gloucestershire, and given back its correct name in 1972.


This lovely Clematis flowers with sunny yellow lanterns all along the top of my wooden arch. This structure is the braced frame built originally to carry the children’s swing and trapeze, but now it supports Clematis climbing up from each side, marrying with one another along the top.

Before blooming C. Tangutica has lovely buds you can admire while you wait for it to bloom in early July. After some three to five years in a good place she will typically flower for two months, through July and August, and partially rebloom in September.

This variety has the loveliest seed clusters of any Clematis I have ever met, and so even after flowering, remains so beautiful for a while that I am reluctant to do anything but lightly trim her.

The late rebloom of C. Tangutica often allows her delicate yellow lanterns to accompany the pearly bud clusters and fresh panicles of white flowers of C. paniculata with whom she interweaves at the top of my arch.


As the C. Tangutica display ends, Paniculata takes over the starring Clematis role. Shown climbing the left side of the arch with tangutica, C. paniculata is dressed in her white buds and blossoms by the tail end of August, then for 2 ½ months or more. Lovely in leaf throughout the garden year, once her roots have had a few years to establish, she will be effervescent in white panicles She refreshes the 20 feet of space over which she reigns, at a time of the year when few other perennial plants are providing nascent beauty.Clematis paniculata

Clematis paniculata will have occasional flowers until it so cold that you must cut her down soon or let her be decorated for the winter in true snow white. Which is fine, if you like the effect. Just trim her down before April or so.


Clematis Jackmanii and Lonicera John Clayton Jul 07 2012CLEMATIS JACKMANII

Though belonging to the large flowered group of Clematis, Jackmanii and some of its near relatives are fantastically long blooming after some seasons of establishment.

These, while very satisfying in their blooming habit, have stems and foliage which I find are less easily kept attractive through the growing season than those of the small flowering types.

Most people leave some old wood through the winter on large flowered Clematis vines as they flower the next year on both old and new stems. I have found the need to retain old wood is sometimes a hindrance in the esthetic maintenance of space limited gardens, and so I more usually use small flowered long blooming types that thrive on being cut down to 12″.

If you have a large property, this may not matter as much to you. Perhaps you can have very many kinds, keeping the easily trimmed ones close by and the trickier ones at a distance.

What and Who to Climb

If anyone says that the Clematis don’t harm the things they climb on, I would ask you to be skeptical, and careful in your choice of climbees.
If the shape of the supporting plant character matters to you, and it is a kind that does not spring new wood from the interior readily or is slow to replenish lost parts, you may be sorry to lose the branches that your Clematis could inadvertantly damage.

Whether large or small flowered, and even if the Clematis is a kind that is cut down close to the ground each year, the shade and weight added in the growing season can cause problems for limbs of its supporting companion.

Shrubby plants whose individual branches are unimportant to their overall good appearance can be good choices as climbees. I would try for a well grown specimen before asking it to support a Clematis companion.

If you want something which is evergreen, Yews are a very good choice for support because if any portion of their wood is harmed it will soon be replenished by new growth from a nearby shoot, even, as needed, from within its interior structure. Not many evergreens can do this trick well.

Because of the different soil needs of Yews and Clematis, the vine should be physically planted so its crown is at a bit of a distance from the Yew so as not to be affected by any local treatment of the soil meant for acid loving things. Over time you may want to give your evergreens some Hollytone™ or other acidifying agent, and your Clematis won’t like that if it’s close by or downhill.


To keep my Clematis going as long as possible at a height I can manage and enjoy, I may wrap the Clematis tendrils around and around things that are in their climbing paths.
The Clematis discussed herein seem inclined to flower longer and better if the vine can keep growing along. A support system like a trellis or wire system is needed for vertical climbs, and wraparounds are a space saving way to keep them recurrently flowering in the horizontal plane. One can wrap around any artifacts placed in their paths to keep them elongating. This wrapping works nicely, for instance, around the bases of the planted tufa containers residing at the tops of  stone walls. Well supported or encouragingly wrapped, most all of the Clematis do their best work when tied and tended.

My Best,
Ellen Cool
A Reasoned
Landscape Composition.
Stonework and Garden Design.

Unusual Plant Materials, Troughs
Tools and Antique Garden Ornaments


Revised from an article of the same title I published in 2010.

[1] Steve Antonow, Seattle Gardener / ref Kipouros blog/

[2] Brewster Rogerson :

Posted in Garden Making Guidance, Long Blooming Plants, Most Popular Posts, Plant Portraits and Stories, Your Reasoned Landscape | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 402 Responses

Fourth of July Plant, Spigelia marilandica

Spigelia marilandica is spectacular every Fourth of July
- A living Sparkler.

Spigelia marilandica

If you have a few hours of good sun somewhere, this beautiful and tough plant will return each year, bringing in Hummingbirds for the festivities. It will give you its amazing display for quite a while, and if you trim it after flowering, rebloom some as the season progresses.

In zone 5B it fortuitously flowers  around the Fourth of July, is fully hardy and reliable,  likes a sunny place, is fine in a moist place, and even happy in a typically drier spot, once established.
This plant is neat in its habit, and takes up only a couple of feet in width and height and so is quite easy to site, spreading gradually from the crown. The only potential problem is the color. You just want to choose its place carefully. If you have nearby plants with pinks and jewel tones or reds with blue in them, there may be color conflicts. Spigelia is, on the other hand, seriously great with light yellow, true oranges, orangey reds or any backdrop of green.

In the photo above, it is shown with Coreopsis moonbeam and the fluffy green of Euphorbia cyparissias. The Lonicera dropmore scarlet shown below  can be a good companion with its complementary orange, and this long blooming vine is typically fabulous before 7/4 and on through summer and early fall.

Lonicera dropmore scarlet and a Kousa dogwoodI have recieved excellent Spigelia marilandica plants from Barry Glick at
Sunshine Farm and Gardens,

Ellen Cool

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Hellebore Favorites

Some Hellebore Favorites

An Evergreen groundcover plant with fresh flowers for Christmas and New Year’s Day in New England, Zone 5…..

Seems quite magical.
Hellebore Jacob, Dec 25th

Staunchly evergreen, most Hellebores are treasured for their handsome leaves in all seasons and for their flowers through winter and early spring, when there are few other showy plants in the landscape. Some have a unique and endearing quality of flowering in subfreezing winter temperatures, even when snow is on the ground.

Hellebores are available in a great variety of kinds, with various statures, colors and flowering times. Those that flower outdoors around December 25th   are colloquially called ‘Christmas Roses’ (often Helleborus niger varieties).
Spanish researchers Carlos M. Herrera and María I. Pozo have discovered that among yeasts common in nature, some react particularly well with the sugary nectar of Hellebores, warming the airspace within their flowers. It is likely that this reaction is a great help in allowing some Hellebores to bloom through the cold months of Zone 5b.Helleborus Jacob

Wonderful things about Hellebores in general are:

1. Shady places are usually fine for them.
2. They have few pests and are deer-resistant.
3. They require maintenance only once or twice a year.

4. They are often evergreen, and handsome individually and in groups.
5. Most of them flower for a long time.

The favorite kinds I represent below have everything – fabulous flowers, lovely leaves and good behavior in the gardens here. Most gardeners end up needing to make choices for the allocation of their planting places, so I thought I would share my very Favorites.

Not all Hellebores are equal.

The biggest problem is that lots of kinds of Hellebores have flowers that face the ground so we can’t see them very well from above. Downfacing flowers can be lovely, but if you could see them better you would be happier still.
While they are great plants in many other ways, Hellebores don’t generally look at you.

Helleborus niger ‘Jacob’

Helleborus Jacob jan20When I first met H. Jacob, the Heuger company was introducing it at ‘New England Grows’ in Boston. Their entire display was made out of this plant and another, H. Joseph. There were perhaps 100 plants in full and perfect bloom and as I walked by they were all looking at me !
That stopped me in my tracks. The delightful habit of this particular plant is to have upward and outfacing flowers.
H. Jacob have proved reliably perennial here in Zone 5B since 2009.

Their dark evergreen mounds are a handsome winter feature when they are not in flower. Since H. Jacob begins to flower in late December or so, truly it is a ‘Christmas Rose’. The flowers continue to develop and cover the plant, the scene lasting beautifully for months outside. Even if they spend some time under the snow, the flowers will be there for you when it melts and reveals them. Trim when tatty.

H. Jacob is also sensational as an indoor Chanukah/Christmas/New Year plant. If encouraged by the grower, once you acquire it in bud, you can expect a month of  flowering in the house. Luckily, for a couple of years now, our local good ol’ Trader Joe’s has had H. Jacob for sale in full bloom by December. Google can surely provide other sources.
As soon as the ground thaws, you can plant these among your perennials and they will probably return happily ever after.

Helleborus Jacob and other similarly special plant outcomes are a result of  extensive Heuger breeding programs. In the years since I met them in 2009, they have developed white doubles and deep maroon forms and many with brushed faces of two colors.and they face outwards.

……I will be surely be watching their future releases for more good bets in this Genus especially their Helleborus Gold Collection, HGC for short. These initials will identify the Heuger varieties.Hellebore Royal Heritage series May 24

Helleborus Royal Heritage

The various Hellebores provide a wide variety of flower colors including near blacks, tints and shades of purples, wine reds,  greens and pinks. I especially like the deep wine and purple colors of some of these cultivars. The reds draw your eye from a distance, and show well with their own greens against snow white. The Royal Heritage hybrids closely resemble H. orientalis. Nodding flowers adorn graceful, glossy evergreen clumps around 2’ tall. Many spread extremely well from the parent clump. These are more of a ‘Lenten Rose’, typically flowering closer to Lent than to Christmas. Unless tattered by the elements, they stay nice until late May. The flowers look great even as they go to seed. Leaving them on the plant for a long while increases the probability that some babies will appear nearby, over time. While the seedlings will not be just the same as the parents, one can select one’s own best babies, and keep a good colony going.
The crown of the parent plant will expand over time and you can get more plants that way too, and those will be like the original parent.

Tending your Hellebores

In fact, the foliage and flowers of many Hellebores last kind of indefinitely, but at a certain point begin to look a bit dingy and frankly Helle-boring when seen next to other freshly unfurling spring leaves. If by June you have trimmed off the flower stems and oldest leaves of your Hellebores, the airspace the old leaves occupied in the cold weather can be ‘borrowed’ for a few months by nearby effervescent perennials in their showy seasons. The cut down provides light and air to the crowns of the Hellebores, encouraging new shoots to develop. When these next new leaves arrive, you will be rewarded with a fresh appearance which will last throughout the coming winter.

Ellen Cool

[1] From an article by Henry Fountain in the New York Times Science section February 26, 2010

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Designing Your Views

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Designing Your

You can lead the eye wherever you want to.

Controlling the view Control the views.

Work around existing features
Make whatever you add complementary to what you already like and will be keeping in the place.

Plan to erase whatever does not please you.
Through your design, you will want to show the virtues and hide the defects of your landscape situation.

 “Make the longest view into the longest vista and give it a focus.”
Rosemary Verey

Donna's view

Often the farthest away places of a property are important starting points in the design thought process. Determining where you can create your best focal places and destinations can guide the heights and breadths, shaping and relational placement of built and planted features.

 “Build around a vertical point.”  
Beth Chatto

 A strong vertical feature, such as a tree, structure or any individual element, can create a clear dominant focus, making a comfortable beginning place for your thoughts on the design of the surrounding areas. This applies in every scale, from grand vistas to planted troughs.

The vertical point does NOT have to be in the middle.
It is often better somewhat off center unless the design is formally symmetrical.

“If we look at a satisfying planting
(whether it is) a small garden or a large border,you find
it is dominated by one thing, with lesser things arranged around it.”

Graham Stuart Thomas

 People seem to like to know where to begin and complete their visual experiences, where to rest their viewing and thoughts.

You need both dominant and subsidiary shapes.

Flamingo relativesIf you have more than one principal dominant in a view, the various things of equal strength will compete for your attention all at once and so create a restless feeling for the viewer. It is usually more satisfying to arrange things so that there are clear dominants and subsidiaries arranged in a somewhat graded series with respect to one another, no matter how large or small the scale of your picture may be.
You will often want to break horizontal sweeps, but without creating too many primary focal places in any one view.

Subsidiary forms are just as important as the primary ones.
It is the relationships between  the dominants and subsidiaries that you need to thoughtfully establish.  All forms and sizes can have important roles in landscape composition.

Go to the Mother
It may help you to think of how a natural woodland edge is organised. The use of the light available results in plants of descending heights coming out to the margins.
When we imitate nature somewhat for our own landscapes, we are benefiting from eons of experiments the plants have done amongst themselves. What we see recurring in nature can feel right when we bring some  of that vision home to a similar ecotome.

There are helpful Universal Guidelines that you can seek out in matters like proportions which please most everyone, or ways to achieve balance and harmony in different aspects of your work, and I will also talk about such things in future articles.

The Viewer and the View

A vista needs a place from which to enjoy it.

BelvedereInsert a “place to be” by putting some seating there.

The Emperors of China made many special ‘places to be’ within the land contained in the “Forbidden City”, where they and their families were destined to spend so much of their lives. Many of them became very personally involved in the creation of the landscapes and gardens within those walls.
Contained in the Quianlong Emperor’s gardens of the Palace of Tranquility and Longevity is a special building from the late 1700’s called the “Belvedere of Viewing Achievements”. It was designed as a place dedicated to viewing and reflecting on all that was created in the landscape and on the achievements of their lives and those of their predecessors.

I would wish everyone such a Belvedere. Even a small one is good, a chair in a just right place. When you have spent time making your landscape, you too will have earned your views, so think about siting your best viewing locations right along with the views you will create.

There should be a focus from any usual place of viewing.
Where will you wandering most often? You will want your compositions to be particularly satisfying from the places you will experience frequently in your daily views and meanderings.

The scale of the compositions that matter in a location will depend upon the distance of the viewer to the view.

close up view
A picture seen typically from a certain distance should be made in a scale that will be most effective at that distance.
In close up places such as the foreground edges of planted beds or near your steps and paths, you will probably want things that are pleasing close up most all of the time. Basically, in the places you walk close to, things you choose should become more beautiful as you approach. There are certain ‘Sunday Best’  plants for the front row category, you just want to be choosy.

Thoughtfully combined tree and shrub shapes or wonderful plants with large, coarse or short lived foliage can perhaps be most satisfying when seen from further away. The attributes you cherish about them may be best shown at a distance, where modest character flaws, gangly legs or disappearing leaves can be masked by chosen plant associations in larger, layered plantings. Ephemeral plants you treasure can flower and disappear into populations of overspreading bed fellows whose good appearance will continue through the subsequent part of the year.

“Put as few obstacles and diverting lines as possible
between you and your view.”

Thomas Church           Gardens are for People

one flamingo
Wherever you have a nice view, whether technically what you see belongs to you or not, you will want to flatter that view and be careful not to compete with it or obscure it. If you had a real Flamingo distracting you it might be all right, but generally you wouldn’t want your planted composition or sculpture to try to compete with an ocean or other handsome natural view. You can enhance such scenery by greening the edges.

Everything seen together should look well together as a view.

Entry ViewUsually the composition should allow you to see through to more distant desirable views, except where you are after an enclosure or surprise effect.
When layering your landscape pictures, check carefully about the mature heights, breadths and textures of fore and mid-ground materials.
It is unfortunate that there are many mistakes in the attributed size classifications of particular kinds of plants, especially if the plant has been introduced in the last 20 years. Dwarf plants are slow growing, but when they are introduced, still too new to anticipate the mature sizes, yet sometimes guesstimates get into the literature and onto plant tags. Most times, the plants will end up larger than predicted, sometimes substantially. Thus it may be best to check a few recent and authoritative sources, or better yet, find someone who has one growing.

 “Take care of the corners
and the centers will take care of themselves.”

F.L.Olmstead [1]

The corners of a property are key elements in the shaping of the enclosure of personal grounds. The interior triangles of land they naturally form often become important focal places and key planting areas. Their careful shaping will suggest the forms of the places in between.

Go Around the Corners
Create corners with your fences or background plantings.
This will create interior triangular enclosures, focal ‘triangles’ where you can readily insert curves on the infacing borders of your place. For multilayered plantings, such triangular spaces seem to me much easier to organize compositionally than strictly linear beds.

Without turning the corner, the fence or boundary planting may read visually as an unfinished straight line in space.

 There should be
“Nothing to detract from the picture in its season.”

Christopher Lloyd

 This is a cardinal rule in planning. If a kind of plant or anything else diminishes the beauty of a particular place just when other plants and most everything is lovely nearby, best re-site the detractor.

Whatever looks dead or messy when the things around it look good should probably go elsewhere. If it is a good plant in other ways, you can probably find it a place where it will be more enhancing, in a scene more suited to its annual time of beauty. You won’t want something that doesn’t green up in springtime nearby your lush early spring foliage and flowers. Hibiscus syriacus, for instance, is so late to leaf out that it inevitably causes people to worry whether theirs is alive or not. It will probably look great in August, if you chose a hardy variety.
Similarly, if you have ornamental onions such as A. Globemaster or A. Mars, their leaves will turn brown before their fabulous flowering time, so you will want to put them where their leaves will be automatically covered by bedmates.
And so forth.

Plant evergreens in front of the bare deciduous things.
For the sake of the green compositions in your winter views, deciduous woody things with messy sorts of habits may be better sited quietly behind, beside or above your better shaped and evergreen things. This way there is nothing unlovely in between you and your winter assets.

Bank the beds whenever possible, to keep the maximum in the view.
This technique is used by Jewelers, Caterers, Restauranteurs, Farmers and others
who tilt or bank their creations so details can more readily be seen.

Balsam Farms, Long IslandSimilarly, creating garden beds with a gentle pitch from the back to the front will help the plants contained to show well.
In the landscape, the embanking angle usually needs to be shallow to be sustainable in relation to erosion.
If it happens to be too steep where you want to plant, a bit of contour terracing or rock support may be helpful.Hosta embankmentTo accomplish an embankment easily, look for places on your property which are masonry materials,  “back support” for raising some earth up against to grow your plants at a slight angle. Unattractive masonry foundations, steps and corners can be softened in this way.

Consider a grade change in your land form.

raised bedGrade changes often lead to a feeling of increased space overall, making each part of the scene distinct. A raised bed can also lead to a greater intimacy in the experience you have of your plants and earth materials by bringing them closer to you and making them inviting to touch.

Adding edge stones can help make a raised place safer in relation to paws, feet and corded edge trimmers.
A line of handsome large-ish single stones well laid can be support enough for such a purpose, acting like a low stone wall. If an area is too steep for good planting, raising the edge may allow you to create a more level planting place, less susceptable to erosion. This is surely more handsome and enduring than the wooden perimeters often used to make ‘raised beds’.

The curves of the plant shapes themselves can allow a banked presentation to the view.

Pinus hillside creeper, fukozumi, Picea montgomerey, Cotinus

A similar principle is shown in the designed layering of your chosen plants with decreased heights from back to front.
Nature tends to accomplish this on its own in typical woodland margins.
Plants of different characteristic heights occupy all the possible ‘altitude’ niches there and, so layered, can share the light of the edge space.
By consciously arranging things this way with your plantings you can increase the diversity of plant materials in your views.

Ellen Cool

With many Thanks to my Clients for generously
allowing photos of my work in their landscapes to be used on this site.

[1] A Favorite saying of Olmstead, in “The American Gardener” Allen Lacy

A Reasoned
Landscape Composition.
Stonework and Garden Design.

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Choosing Stone and Hard Materials: Landscape Design Advisories / Chapter 8

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Chapter 8
Choosing Stone and Hard Materials

stone materials

Choose a Family of Stone and Hard Materials from the Beginning.
It will save alot of problems if you considerately select the set of stone and hard materials you will be using together for your ‘palette’ before you begin to design your projects in any detail.
You are after a sort of family of materials, a set that looks well together. Your early choices may strongly influence the overall appearance of your landscape because the initial selections will often establish the kinds that you will be using in subsequent work for the sake of continuity within your place.

Each particular kind of Hardmaterial has a typical shape, color and texture range, and other inherent characteristics which make it suit some building applications and not others. For this reason, for all the different uses you will need to choose multiple kinds of stone and hard materials.
Once you have thought about your necessary applications, you can choose your ‘family’ of specific building materials from those that are well suited to their jobs.
The materials you select also affect the cost, the ground preparation needed, the sequence of the work and the maintenance needed afterwards.

“Devi Guardare Tutto”

=  You need to look at (absolutely) everything.
From the advice of Italian Master Mason, Carmelo Messina.

The difference  between your options in terms of the quality of appearance may be priceless, so you will want to look around and have an opportunity to choose.
Get the best materials you can afford. Durability is an issue. Materials that seem a bit more expensive may actually be a far better buy because their  lifetime in the landscape is a lot longer.
Time goes by quickly in a garden setting, and you won’t want to replace things just when the plant materials are maturing nicely. Or ever, preferably. If you do things right the first time, and quality stone is your medium, the work will last. Sometimes the handsomest and best overall materials may even cost less than alternatives if the source is nearby.

“Oh thou sculptor, painter, poet!
Take this lesson to thy heart:
That is best which lieth nearest;
Shape from that thy works of art.”
Longfellow,  Gaspar Becerra

The enduring materials such as wood, stone, concrete, metal, asphalt (and even plastics) you choose to use are fundamental in establishing an esthetic connectedness for your property.

“Constancy (is) generated
by the repetition of underlying patterns.”
F. L.Wright

Consider the character of  the various stone and materials types already in the view.
The chosen set of  materials may be more pleasing if it seems an appropriate part of the local landscape in general. If you are choosing between alternative materials, consider how their color and character will work in relation to whatever else is already on your property or in the views. There are so very many kinds of Fieldstone, each with their own colors and textures, since their appearance depends on which field they come from, and the geological history of that place. Whatever you choose to bring in should be harmonious with existing elements that you like and are keeping.
If the family of materials you build with originally came out of  the same area as you reside in, or from similar geological earth areas, when you build them in, they can seem as if they had always been there. For the purpose at hand, sometimes the material will need to be flat and thin, other times flat and fat. In other contexts, larger three dimensional kinds may suit the purpose better. In certain places you will want a free draining surface, in others an impermeable one. If you use the same or a related kind of material in similar contexts throughout your property, the consistency will have a unifying effect on the place.

Horizontal Contexts
The type of
Stone or other particular material chosen for horizontal building contexts can be consistently the same kind(s) throughout the property..
Materials with durable flat surfaces will be good choices for the horizontal planes that you will have, such as terraces, paths, and treads of steps. You may want to choose the very best and most long lived kinds where the floor is busiest and most visible.
An even sturdier kind of flat material may be needed where cars will drive over it.

Vertical Contexts
You can be equally consistent for vertical applications, but you probably need a different kind of material.….
When the goal is some elevation, as in stone wall work or construction of step risers, raised beds, rock gardens or fire pits, 3 dimensional kinds of hard materials are probably needed.  You often need small, medium and  large versions of the dimensional kinds of stone you choose. If they come from the same bedrock, they will usually look well together. Size classes roughly like Marbles, Golf balls, baseballs, and soccer balls each have different jobs.

Stone that Drains away Water
You may need a small kind allowing good drainage in some areas. Your gravel or crushed stone may be visible in walkways, drives, surface drainage areas, or stone garden mulches. If this small material is taken out of the same geological location as the larger stone you are using, the color set can provide consistency.

Propriety is a universal test.
F.A.Waugh, Landscape Gardening

Look around at nearby built work to find out what materials may suit your local esthetic and be available to you.
A particular vernacular visual character is established by the kinds and colors of materials that have been commonly used in your area over a long span of time. Often this is because they have been available close by. Their character is part of your biogeographical destiny, an intrinsic part of the ecoesthetic nature of your place. There are choices that are a natural part of the local palette.

“Do experiments with the materials at hand
to find out what you can do
with what is locally available…
so that people can do gardens beautifully in that area.”

Mien Ruys / Dedemsvaart, Netherlands

What is beautiful in your eyes and locally available can help you determine the range of good choices for your projects. Go see nearby stone and hard materials suppliers, quarries and maybe even excavation and blasting projects that might be sources for you.
To find suitable matching material, it will be important to travel with a few photos and physical samples of stone and materials in your car. These will speak volumes to knowledgeable masons, or the masonry and stone suppliers. Color and character are hard to describe in words.
Truly local materials may or may not be available, so if what will be used must be brought in from other areas, your job may be to locate the best match for that typical local material. This will be especially important if you want to blend with some already in your home surroundings.

Keep Track of Your Sources.
Try to get kinds of stone and other hard materials that you will be able to get again, as this will be important for your future projects. Many of the most beautiful landscapes are made over some years. If you have found a source for any wonderful material, this may be treasure for your place down the lines of time.

Keep track of where each of your chosen kinds came from, and find out how to request those particular types again. When you are engaged in making a landscape, you will be needing matching materials later, more likely than not.

Keep Track of Your Recipes.
For stone constructs with visible cement or mortar joints, or if you mix stucco, the components of the mix matter for the outcome color. There are different mixes and various proportions used by different masons and this can affect the color.
You will want to use the same recipes as are established on your property, so ask your builder or your sources how to specify them in future.If you make notes for your files at the time of the work, it saves a lot of time and trouble later, just as it does in your home when it is time for touchups and you kept track of the specific paint colors you used.
Asphalt can have different textures and colors depending on the size and color and the proportions of the sand and stone embedded in the matrix. The color of the bedrock that the small stone came from will determine the overall hue.
Nearby here, we see driveways with a decidedly purple caste due to the color of the bedrock in Saugus, Massachusetts. Elsewhere we see the range of tans and greys typical of the Cape Ann gravels embedded.
Thus even when sourced locally, driveways made from materials from different quarries can have very different appearances, so where your contractor buys his asphalt, crushed stone or peastone matters. If later you need to add or patch with something resembling what you already have, it will be infinitely easier to succeed if you noted down the original source.

  • Keep track of your Artisans.
    The hand of the particular mason or builder can be very important to the character of each built project, and to the appearance of the property overall. Consistency is most easily accomplished if you begin with an artisan whose work you love, and can who can probably come back over time for subsequent similar projects.
    If this is not possible, for continuity in your place, choose someone who can build in the established style. There are many kinds of masons. Best to visit their work.
    LyricalA connected composition with some repeating portions
    wherein a person is led on a journey by repeating or related parts….

* A gravel or peastone path is not all gravel. The peastone needs to be underlain and prepared with the right base materials to be solid enough for walking comfortably.
** Be careful of what you buy as peastone. You will want to check the source pile since some distributors of  ‘peastone’ blend in crushed stone of the same size with the gravel, making the product less desirable for garden uses.

A Reasoned
Landscape Composition.
Stonework and Garden Design.

Unusual Plant Materials, Troughs
Tools and Antique Garden Ornaments

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Long Island Harvest Stories

09 13_0177_edited-1
Around this time of year, there is always a wonderful
Harvest Fair at the Hallockville Farm Museum on Long Island.
This year the Quiltmaker’s Guild, the Basket Maker’s Guild, the Rug Maker’s Guild, the Herb Society,  the Woodworker’s Alliance and other masterful craftspersons were represented. Members worked at their respective crafts all day, providing continuous demonstrations using antique and new tools.
The members of the Antique Power Association are always present in good numbers, showing working examples of the antique and vintage machines that helped the Farmers of Long Island to flourish through the last centuries. Their collection of Stationary Engines, Tractors, Mowers and other tried and true machines is organised for our better understanding how things worked, from back in the day through the sequence of innovative designs leading them into present forms. Many of the old machines wander around the Fairgrounds for this occasion.
Much of the Homesteader’s work in the early 1900′s was done by a stationary engine, which could be put to many purposes on one’s farm. Here, with different attachments, this simple machine is shown pumping water, grinding corn, and running a small ferris wheel.
Stationary Engine
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Elsewhere on Long Island………………
This was the solution to the problem of a lost cork.
Long Island Vodka
The cork had exploded off somewhere as I was driving around Long Island, which meant the Vodka was splashing out.
I presented the matter to Nelson, a farmer at the Briermere Farms on Long Island, where I always stop off for beautiful Jams and Jellies.
So Nelson said “wait a minute, I must have something”. He spun around, looking at all his vegetables, and a moment later he reached up to grab a decorative dried Indian corn, broke off the narrow end and stripped the kernels from it. He wrapped the point in a bit of plastic and twisted it in tightly. Sealed very well !
Brilliant solution.
Long Island Potato Vodka

The L.I.V. Vodka
is created on a nearby farm, distilled from Long Island potatoes.
It is definitely the finest Potato Vodka I have ever tasted.

And then there was a Fleet of Giant Pumpkins……Suitable for small Cinderellas.

09 15_0111Ellen Cool
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In Bloom Plant List / August 10th 2014 / Zone 5B


AUGUST 10th 2014
08 11_9275
The plants listed below were among those in bloom or looking great on our
Open Garden Day. This list was very popular, so I thought I would provide it for those of you who could not be there or didn’t get things written down that you might have liked to.





























2011 Aug 24_1330_edited-1







































Thalictrum, MaryJo McConnell……………………………………. Thalictrum …..MaryJo McConnell 2014




ANNUALS in Containers









2009 june 25014 GYNURA 







SENECIO SERPENS (no flowers but wow)






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Scaring Skunks Away



All of a sudden, after years of peace in the skunk department, we had a nasty nightly fragrance in multiple adjoining yards. Several dogs and a couple of people had been squarely hit, and the neighborhood smelled decidedly skunky most mornings. Just a few weeks before our Open Garden and a family party, a serious scourge of skunks. Oy.

One night I saw the stripey fellow go through the yard. Luckily I was behind a window observing unsuspected. It would seem he or she was trying to make a home under our upper shed. Having just seen the preferred path through the yard, what could I do with that information?

Tethered leftovers from a garden party, two shiny helium balloons bounced around in the wind. I had noticed that in our night lighting, their silvery hue and bright smiley faces eerily jumping in the breeze made them seem startlingly alive. At least, they kept startling me, so I tied the balloons low down, right where they would glare at him alongside the runway in his nightly journeys. It would seem that our visitor was spooked, because he moved camp within a day or two.

Skunks have low vision and a keen sense of hearing, so the shininess of the balloon may have mattered, and the krinkling of the plastic as the balloon bumped into its tether post may have helped too.

In case it was the balloons, it would be an inexpensive trick to try if you want to discourage a visiting skunk. The Dollar Store will provide. You will need some outdoor lighting to shine on them. Maybe it was all those people, dogs and balloons to defend against in this neighborhood, but ………..might it have been the guard balloons ? You could call them semi – automated skunk scarers. I hope this trick may help some of you to scare away some skunks.

 Ellen Cool


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Thankyou Salem News and Marblehead Reporter

We got some very nice press for
August 10th Garden Conservancy event……….

from the Salem News, Marblehead Reporter and Boston Globe !

It was a perfect Open Garden day………..221 people contributed to the Conservancy, and with the children counted in, about 233 attended.

…….One couldn’t ask for better attention than that….

The energy in the air was positively swirling around all of us and innumerable questions got answered………..

Precious was a two year old sniffing everything with her Mother’s help…and smiling each time, as we humans tend to do when experiencing garden intimacies. Our grownup smiles are often inner smiles, but she expressed herself so openly……..

And there was young girl who was crying because she had lost the ‘grass bracelet’ made in the previously visited garden… I gave her leafy strands of Myrtle Jekyll’s white, whereupon she made herself a crown and was fully consoled.

Wonderful to have so many people sharing a love of plants and beauty all together, talking Garden life, Horticulture and Design all day long…

I had a list of the plants in bloom hanging on the door to my shed / office in plastic, and that was covered with thumbprints, much better attended than the one with absolutely all the plants of 19 Circle Street.
I will soon publish that shorter August 10th In Bloom list as a post on this Website.

And so……….Thankyou Salem News !

and Thankyou very much
to the Marblehead Reporter

for putting us in the
Top 10 Things to do in Marblehead !

Photo by Joe PuleoAnd Thanks to the Boston Globe for including us in their unusual things to do that weekend.

Ellen Cool

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Garden Conservancy Open Day in Marblehead 8/10/2014


Garden Conservancy Open Day in Marblehead

(click above for descriptions of and directions to the gardens)

Sunday, August 10 | 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Visit four gardens in Marblehead, MA. in any order you like.
Admission is $5 for each garden.

Proceeds are shared with
Marblehead Conservancy
and Symphony by the Sea

Copy of Copy2 of Ellen's Garden Panorama

Rich’s Cove   289 Ocean Ave, Marblehead

                          Music in the Garden here !

Kearney Garden  13 Flint Street, Marblehead

The Parable, Ellen Cool’s Garden  19 Circle Street, Marblehead

The Seven Muses   21 Circle Street, Marblehead

We all hope to see you in our Gardens on this special day !

Ellen Cool

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Long Blooming Plants, and how to make them Longer Blooming Plants: Zone 5

Tricks to Keep Plants Long Blooming

K. pinnatifida, Hypericum Hidcote, G. Rozanne
1.  Use Various Exposures

If a long blooming kind of plant is sited in various locations, it can have an ultra long flowering season.
If any given kind of plant can thrive in a range of exposures, and you put some in a shadier and some in a sunnier place,  you will typically have a longer season of bloom of this favored plant within your landscape.
Anemone robustissima

2. Use Various Cultivars

From the same Genus, choose multiple varieties which bloom at somewhat different times.
As an example,
among the late blooming Anemones, beginning in August there is a parade of the flowering of different forms which continues through much of October. In my own gardens I have a dedicated Anemone bed where I keep 3 distinct varieties, each of which is long blooming in its own right, but in addition, the varieties have overlapping but sequential seasons.
The leaves of all of these kinds of Anemones are similar, so the combined appearance is that of a unified colony. My pink A. robustissima starts things off in late August, flowers for a month or so, and then the goneby flowered stems are trimmed off. The deeper pink A. Bressingham double chimes in afterwards and ultimately the pure white Anemone japonica Honorine Jobert becomes the reigning star of the bed. Definitely my very favorite. The flowers on any one plant can last for 6 to 8 weeks in the cooling temperatures of September on into October. They will start later and end later in shadier spots. Among the long blooming hardy Geraniums there are such ‘relay race’ varieties also. Please see my list of long blooming forms below.
Anemone Honorine Jobert

3.  Avoid Extremes

If you have chosen garden places that will not have extremely hot or very dry episodes, most long blooming plants will flower and keep nice leaves  longest.

Flowering lasts Particularly Long
where Sun and Wind
Not Too Strong

4.  Tend to Their Water Needs

All plants need attention to their water needs. Some need less than others, but especially when you are establishing any garden place, your attentions to suitable watering are needed from the start.
Puddle planting, which means heavily watering each individual until the earth around it puddles at the time of planting is usually the most secure way to establish a plant.  Do this right away, not later.
If you keep up with the water according to their needs throughout the various seasons, the plants will be able to perform at their best in your place.
2011 Jul 09_0995

5.   Have Different Ages of Plants

Last year’s plants may start earlier than the new young ones. Babies may get started later, but sometimes continue to flower even when the parent plants are looking tired. For this reason having various ages of plants may increase the overall contributution of that kind of plant to your gardens. Have patience, colonies take a while to establish.

Among the long lived and long blooming perennial plants, shrubs and vines, there are many kinds where the older individual plants flower for an increasingly longer span of time as their years of residence accumulate. This is probably tied to how well they like the place you have found for them, and how many roots support them there.

6.  Keep them Trimmed

If you trim, you often improve the performance of the plant.
From the perspective of plant and garden health, it may not be necessary to trim most perennial plants but perhaps once in the season, but in the personal landscape we typically want a good appearance over as long a span of time as possible, and for this purpose, extra touching and snipping is a ‘pay it forward’ way of encouraging more flowers or better growth in the nearby future. If you cut away away goneby stems of a potentially long blooming plant you will be helping the plant to conserve energy for new stems and flowers instead of spending it on seed production.
So you can do what you want about neatness, trimming to your taste and preferences, but if you want things to look the best they can, for as long as possible, you will probably be following the advice of the famous British gardener Christopher Lloyd :
….……………………“Don’t go out without your pruners.”

Favorite Garden Scissors
Taking down the spent stalks of most plants post flowering helps keep the rest of the plant looking fresh in the garden. If it has nice foliage, it can then continue to contribute to the garden composition. Even if old stems are somewhat hidden under flowering skirts, such as is the case for the self sowing California poppies and Corydalis lutea and C. l. alba, if you lift the foliage skirts and trim off the old bits underneath, afterwards the overall plant will have a rejuvenated appearance.

7. Prune at the correct time for the plant at hand.

Pruning soon after flowering is the general rule to follow. Of course there are exceptions, but typically this will mean the plants can put their energy into just the parts of themselves that you will be keeping. If you wait to prune until long after blooming, the plant will already have spent energy in renewing parts you may later prune off.

To help you to decide how much to prune away, you will want to consider the amount of growth that kind of plant puts on each year, and whether your landscape context would benefit from somewhat less of that anticipated enthusiasm. If something is going to put on three feet a year, for example, and you don’t have room to accomodate three feet more than the individual occupies already, you will have some purposeful three foot pruning back to do at the time of year most appropriate for that plant. In this way you are making room for the new growth of the coming year, while ultimately remaining within your chosen bounds.

The exceptions are those plants that fruit, berry or have beautiful seedpods.
Since the fruits and berries typically develop where the flowers were, you would not want to prune these kinds of trees or shrubs until after the harvest (whether by you or by the birds and friends), or after your enjoyment of the winter pictures.

There are many variations in when and how to prune, depending upon who the plant is and how it behaves, so to do the right thing, you may want to Google your possible plant choices and find out about their individual habits.
Some people really love the pruning part, as is reflected by the estate tool collection below, but most folks will be fine with just a few pruning tools to cover the range of typical needs. If you choose to buy excellent tools and take care of them, they can be an investment in a long garden future.

Some examples of my Favorite
Hardy, Long Blooming Plants

If you enter the name of any particular plant I have mentioned into my search box, you may turn up other information I have provided about it in previous articles.

Lonicera sempevirens and Ampelopsis elegantissimaEllen Cool

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Useful Snow Ideas

 The Parable / Rug
The rug in my Garden Studio gets alot of footfalls.
Muddy, slushy and sandy ones.

My Polish Mason showed me what to do about that, then my Italian friend Janey said “of course that’s how you do it”.

Well, I didn’t always know about this traditional method of winter cleaning rugs, but for years now I have found snow a fun, easy and inexpensive way to clean them, so I thought I’d show you the trick. Best with newish snow on a sunny day. You can see in Picture 4 how much sand and dirt can come out. That is very satisfying for me and healthy for the rugs.

I wait for the right snowfall. A light to medium fluffy snow, up to the heaviness you would want to make a snowman from, is fine.
Heavy wet snow is a much messier proposition, I wouldn’t recommend trying that.

In order to get the snowflake moisture into the rug I use a wide soft push broom.
Almost any broom will do except for stiff, course kinds since they might harm the textiles. With the broom I firmly tamp the whole rug down until every square inch has been snuggled into the snow. Then I flip the rug over in a nearby place and do the same thing.

rug washing in snow

snow - washing my rugs
03 22_7979
Next I go over the rug with a rug beater, one side then the other, moving it to a patch of clean snow each time. You have finished when the snow beneath stays white.
Before I acquired this rug beater, I accomplished the whole process with the push broom and that works very well too. And you don’t have to lean over as much.
The rugs usually don’t get very wet in fluffy snow, so won’t take long to dry. I typically drape each one over something in a sunny place for the rest of the day, maybe with a rag towel underneath if there is excess moisture.
Often they can be put right back in place on their pads that same day. Or you can hang them over a bathtub until they are dry enough. It is better not to leave them to freeze outdoors since this is hard on the fibers.

I clean all the small rugs from the house like this, up to 3′ x 5′ or so.
While these are not usually as dirty as my garden studio carpets, the elixir of snow freshens their colors in a very meaningful way.
Anything to get me out into the garden in all seasons, it would seem.

 Ellen Cool









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Landscape Design Advisories: Chapter 1 / Finding the Beginning

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Landscape Design Advisories
Chapter 1

Finding The Beginning


‘A Good Beginning is a Good Ending’

Creating a place to recieve your life in a considerate way usually takes alot of thought and planning. You will want the elements of your outdoor life to be comfortable and well organised so that you can enjoy whatever you will be doing in your landscape. Just walking your paths can be a daily source of joy.
So now you just need to find the Good Beginning and all will be well.

You will probably enjoy your own landscape making journey more if you have clues that reliably lead you to pleasing outcomes while avoiding common pitfalls. The guidelines provided in these chapters should help with that.

Making the landscape ready to recieve people and plant materials is where it all begins.
Thoughtful design with both hard and soft materials will make for successful plantings. .The
If you care deeply about your landscape and gardens, once you make a good beginning, the interactive immersion may never really have an ‘ending’, no matter how well planned for low maintenance the place may be.  There will probably always be little things you want to do. If you have others doing the mowing and general upkeep, you may not ‘need’ to do many things, but if you have a biophilic nature, you may well want to. It always makes things better.
As your living things grow and change, there will always be some touching involved in your relationship with the plants. For many people, that is part of the charm.

Organising Your Journey

  • Take a photo series of the whole property before you begin.
    These will be your ‘before’ pictures, so be thorough because like baby pictures, you won’t be able to take them later. I promise that you will enjoy having a record of how far you’ve come, as things progress.

I typically take a sequential series of  photos, images of views seen traveling back and forth in all the natural pathways of the property. Unimportant views can become important later as your place develops.
You are after a record of what is accomplished, as well as of the underground work which will become invisible later. Photos during the landscape making process become part of the history of your place.
Your photos can become working images. With them you can readily reflect on whichever context you happen to be thinking about, even after dark and in the winter. The pictures can provide elevational views, and with tracing paper overlays you can see how your ideas will look as you approach them in the 3 dimensional world. From small photos you can make larger images for more realistic views. It won’t matter much even if the enlargement is a bit blurry, as long as you can see the shape outlines of the things you’re thinking about.

  • Start a file folder labeled Landscape.
    Even if you are keeping much of your information in a computer, there will be lots of images and bits of paper from the tangible world that you may want to refer to later. A legal sized folder may serve you best because drawings and plot plans are often oversize, and anyway things accumulate.
    Receipts for the landscape work can be important to keep since they can become potential ‘capital gains’ deductions applying to the cost base of your home, should it be sold later in its life.
  • Gather images which reflect your Favorites.
    Collections of images of the kinds of colors, places, trees or features of any kind that appeal to you will be useful in many ways. Gathering visual aids encourages you to think about ideas further, perhaps refining your own vision.
  • Color, texture and spirit are notoriously hard to describe.
    When you talk through your ideas with the designer or builder of a project, conceptual sketches and gathered images will help you to communicate your wishes.  A picture can easily be worth a thousand words when you are trying to explain esthetic things. 
  • Property lines are not always as you think they are.
    If the edges of your property are involved in your design and there is any question about them, to avoid future neighbor or town problems a survey of those boundaries  is recommended. Surveys are important to the future of a place.
  • Don’t accept bits of orange ribbon in the shrubs.
    If a survey is done, you will want somewhat permanent markers to be placed on the land in key locations. Ask for this, as strangely it is not always provided otherwise.Deeply set metal stakes can work well, unless you have some large chunks of granite to move into place as handsome boundary markers.  A 10 or a 12″ nail can be used in a pinch and replaced later with something more permanent.
  • Locate or make a basic outline sketch of the house on the land.
    You will probably want basic sketches of  your buildings and landscape parts drawn in relation to your overall grounds, with some dimensions. Existing plot plans or architectural drawings may be helpful but are often incomplete concerning details of outdoor features.
    Older plans of any kind should be checked for accuracy, since one finds that the particulars may not have been taken as seriously as they are today, and anyway changes could have occurred over time and not been recorded on the particular documents you have in hand. If the available documents are too large or too small to be useful, have the relevant parts reproduced in a better size.
    You may decide to begin by just sketching one part of your landscape, making a simplified base drawing of the part of your grounds that you will be reworking. You will want to note the locations and dimensions of all elements you have and will keep.
  • Copy your base drawings a few times.
    To avoid having to make basic drawings by hand more than once, file away clean copies of them for future use before you begin to add any exploratory ideas to them. This way you can take messy notes as you gather information and ideas and consolidate later on a clean copy.
  • Play with the Possibilities
    Before building anything, you will probably be considering alternatives mentally, visually and physically many times. Moving things around on paper and in your mind is the easiest way. During the process of co-developing the designs for all the related parts of the landscape, you may make a few wrong turns and need to back up. Adjust until you have finished thinking.
    This is the iterative phase of your design process, the exploratory part, and you can learn alot by playing with the possibilities and moving things around on paper. You are making thinking drawings and tools of memory. These just represent a previsualisation of your evolving  ideas, with some dimensions and notes, reminding you of things you have decided or ones you want to think about more. The quality of your sketches won’t matter much since the only person who will need them at these early stages will be you, so don’t be shy. Nothing will be ‘set in stone’ until you decide it is time.
  • Keep a record
    As you find things out about your place, whether concerning boundaries, drainage, underground lines, loyal service providers or stories of your plants and your land, try to write them into your files. Otherwise, before long, you will probably wish you had done that.

Sketch for a Bluestone Path

  • What matters is the thoroughness with which you can consider the projects if you have drawings and images at hand.
    Through the rough but tangible exploration that drawing engenders, many considerations come to mind, and thinking about them will infom your design solutions. The sketches are a tool in your design thought process. They are not intended to be building drawings, which come later, perhaps through the hands of professionals, if they are needed.

Racket Shreve, Bollard and Corydalis

Take Precautions

Proper Planning Prevents Problems

  • Prepare carefully for upcoming work.
    Take time over your planning stages. It will make all the difference in how well everything will go. Sequencing the work well, preplanning details and staying amply supplied with your chosen materials will help to keep your overall costs down in the end.

    Measure Twice, Cut Once.’
    This adage, when literally translated from the Italian of my Sicilian Masons, is
    ‘Measure a hundred times, cut once’.
    Basically, however many times you have to think about something until you are sure of your decisions will be the right number of times.
  • Digsafe markings are essential.
    To do any digging for the projects on your property, you will legally, and for the sake of Safety, need a Digsafe Permit.  This will show you where and at what depths underground services come into your property from the land around it, locating gas, electricity, water and sewer pipes are so that you can work safely around them.

For design purposes it is good to know early in your work where the underground utilities run since this can affect where you locate other things in your landscape. Once you have the markings, you can make a record of where things are for general reference in future. If some time elapses between the designing and the actual digging work, you may need to renew the permit for official markings.
Requesting a
Digsafe Permit will result in physical markings being drawn on your land by various utility companies and town departments, usually within a few days of your call. Unfortunately the marks are often in brightly colored, non-soluble paint. When the work is complete, if they are on asphalt, you can overspray them with asphalt colored paint to help them disappear.

  • Private Service Providers
    To avoid interfering with underground utilities within your property you may also need to contact private service providers. Such things might be, for instance, cable lines, private electrical lines, invisible fencing, irrigation and outdoor lighting conduits or drainage systems.
  • Consider the History of your Land
    No matter how young or old your house is, your land had a history. Some investigation may help you to find out about your place, historically and/or ecologically. You can gather old photographs and documents that you, the town or the local Historic Commission may have for your house and land.  Old pictures may show details of things lost over time that could be restored if worthy.
    Who knows… a foundation may still be there…or maybe the original brackets and ballisters on the porch show in that 1920 photo… Rock gardens can be made to reappear. Maybe your land was once a swamp or a quarry or a farm ?
    Old houses have especially many stories embedded in them in relation to the land and local ecotome they have been part of. You would probably enjoy knowing some of them. In the course of our work we have uncovered old well sites and bridges, native american hearthstones, hand cut granite foundations and pavers, beadmaking stones, stone toys, and lots of 18th and 19th century artifacts and shards buried by time. The revealed history often influenced the design spirit of what was made for the particular place.
  • LINK TO CHAPTER 2 / Approaching Your Land

A Reasoned

Landscape Composition.
Stonework and Garden Design.

Unusual Plant Materials, Troughs
Tools and Antique Garden Ornaments

Posted in Landscape Design Advisories, Landscape Design Advisories: Chapter 1: So Where is the Beginning ?, Landscape Making Guidance, Your Reasoned Landscape | Tagged , , , | 3 Responses

Best Evergreen Floor Plants

A Suitable Plant for Memorial Day : Vinca

 The word ‘Vinca’ can be derived from the Italian verb ‘Vincere’,

which refers to success by winning or conquering,
whether I, you, he or she.

The Vincas are a seriously reliable and handsome Genus of plants,
so it is easy to think of them being referred to as lauded ‘winners’.

Some sources find derivations for Vinca’s name in the Latin ‘vincio’,
to bind or to band, the reference perhaps derived from the use of myrtle strands
wreathed together to make crowns,
worn in honor of a success or an occasion.

So my blended thoughts of Vinca went to those who honorably
won over the world for all the right reasons
and deserve every wreath of gratitude we can provide.

Crowns for our American Veterans,
who by persevering
have given us the world as we know it.

Vinca Gertrude Jekyll's white

 The Best of the Vincas

Vinca minor Gertrude Jekyll's white, Euphorbia Chamaeleon
Vinca minor alba ‘Gertrude Jekyll’

In my view, perhaps the most beautiful and useful of Myrtles is Vinca minor alba ‘Gertrude Jekyll’. This favoritism has developed because her glossy evergreen leaves are smaller than those of most Vincas, and so the overall texture made by the colony is finer and neater than other kinds. Spreading and mounding at just 8” high, her gracefully entwined foliage makes a neat, all year, low maintenance floor. This kind of Vinca grows by rooting along her leafy strands, and so she is easy to increase, but that habit means you will have to blow or hand clean, not rake, the beds she lives in. If you over sprinkle a top dressing of composty loam once a year or so, and tuck in Gertrude’s outreaching strands, you will soon have a respectable colony.

Growing in part shade as they often do, Gertrude’s white flowers brighten the woodland margin in late April through mid-May. Miss Jekyll herself even used this plant under hedges. She can also thrive in a sunny location when plenty of water is provided.

The evergreen V. m. Gertrude Jekyll provides a fine textured shiny background for the many prior and subsequent picture events that will overlay the floor blanket her colonies make. Within the bounds of each shining colony other, more deeply rooted kinds of perennial plants and bulbs can appear and disappear, Jack in the Box style.

If you would worry that you might miss the typical blue flowers of the myrtle clan, it would be easy to have plenty of flattering blues nearby using various Pulmonarias, Fragrant Dutch  Hyacinths or the little blue grape Hyacinths that bloom around the same time in similar habitats.

Vinca m. argenteovariegata
Vinca minor argenteovariegata

For variegated green and white leaves, the only attractive and reliable Myrtle I have found is Vinca minor argenteovariegata. It has a pronounced white outline and its offshoots do not typically revert to green. The foliage will light up a shady place and give you blue flowers in May. Like Gertrude, this form has a root-as-you-go habit, making a strong colony. It earned an award of garden merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Vinca Ralph ShugertVinca minor Ralph Shugert

For bicolor leaves Vinca minor Ralph Shugert is handsome, but it’s more of a clumping than a running kind of Myrtle, and increases more slowly than the two kinds above. Though often referred to as white, the outline of its green leaves is more of a parchment yellow color to my eye.

While this plant  looks great in the nursery pot, and is thus very popular in the trade, many offshoots of this variety disappointingly revert to all green leaves as you can see in the above photo, so I don’t use Ralph much.

The Myrtle Clan

Vincas have almost no pests and even the deer don’t favor them as edibles, but they may not be a good solution if you have sizeable dogs. As their paws wander around innocently, they tend to pull up Vinca’s shallowly rooted stems.

The larger leaved all green forms of Vinca minor can be used very successfully as groundcover in a large landscape, but maintenance shearing is recommended to help keep the colonies looking neat and fresh.

Vinca minor
Ellen Cool

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Good Green Words

____Green Words You May Enjoy Knowing___

 Picea p. procumbens

Viridescent = Iridescent Green

Etymology: Latin viridis green + iridescent

Originated Circa 1847

An iridescent surface is one that appears to change color

as the angle of view or the angle of illumination changes.

 “It is hard to photograph sparkle”

Isaac Mizrahi, 2009


Hosta Popo ______________________________________

When you see a prefix of  Ver- or Vir-,

you can suspect the word may refer to greenness of some kind.
Or possibly Truth…..(Veritas)


Viridity is a noun denoting the quality or state of being Green, either in reference to color, or to the alternate meaning of youth or naive immaturity, described by the French, middle English or Latin root origins of the prefixes Vir- and Ver-.

Pluralised, this becomes Viridities = Many green qualities.

Some other nice green words are:

Viridis = general green of any shade

Viridiflorus, viridiflora and viridiflorum = green flowered

Viridifolia = green leaved

Vireo = refers to a family of small, typically greenish birds

Veridian = a chrome green pigment between green and cyan on the color wheel.

Verdancy = noun referring to greenness.

Verdant = an adjective describing the greenness in hue, generally of growing things. It has a lush sort of connotation to it.

Verdure = greenery, green growing things.

Verdigris  = the greenish patina color of oxidised copper, from the French ‘vert de grice’, literally, the green of Greece.

Hosta blue mouse ears

You may also find the Vir- inside a word, as with

Atrovirens = dark green

or Flavovirens = yellowish green.

And then there is this very lovely word referring to the

greenness of the soul -


In the 12th century, this word began to be used to describe the inspiring “greening power of God”,
referring to the animating life-forces within all creation. (Hildegard of Bingen)

 Ellen Cool

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Free Flowers for Valentine’s Day and Beyond

Free Flowers for Valentine’s Day and Beyond

In February and later, nicely shaped cut branches of  Forsythia
brought inside to a vase with lots of water
will flower gracefully within 2 weeks.

Yes, it really is as simple as that. Just keep the water refreshed, nearly to the top of the container.

If you cut some pieces just as February begins, you should have flowering by Valentine’s Day. If you cut some a little before Feb. 1st and some a little after, you can be sure to have plenty whose flowering time is just right.
If you take groups of Forsythia cuttings at interval cycles of a couple of weeks, you can have fresh flowering branches from now through the time this shrub flowers outside.

I have a friend who keeps her bunches in an unused bathtub. She likes fresh armloads of it around in February, March and April.
Personally, I just pop some shapely stems into the intended vases right after cutting them and enjoy watching the buds swell and then flower. I swap
out these branches for fresh ones, cut at a later date, when I want another round of sunny yellow.

If, instead, you nonchalantly leave the branches in the vase after the flowers have dropped, and you keep the water refreshed, the stems will soon have fresh leaves. These can be pretty too. You would just have to be willing to pick up the fallen flowers, and to be patient waiting for the foliage.

Forsythia, Daffodils and Anemone in February

The photo includes purchased Anemones and Daffodils, but the Forsythia and the sword shaped Arum leaves are straight from my garden in February.
Unless covered with snow, the nearly evergreen Arum italicum pictum is an amazing perennial whose foliage can be cut  for one’s vases throughout every winter.

I will be writing about this plant and other evergreen perennials very soon. 

You will have to find a Forsythia to trim, but our ecotome is full of them and most would benefit from some annual pruning. This is a multi-purpose time to do some of it. Each shrub has so very many flowers that a few stems from considerate places will never be missed.

If you haven’t got one of these rambling reliables, you can ask a neighbor or friend, or respectfully diminish a shrub that is encroaching on a public way.
If, by mistake or on purpose, you prune stems from some other
kind of rambunctious shrub instead, don’t worry. It may give you lovely leaves for your vase. Surprises can be sweet. You might have to wait quite a while though. Some shrubs and trees are difficult to bring into leaf or flower indoors. You can try. The grace of the branches alone can be satisfying, but if any of your experimental stems displeases you, just subtract it.

Another Good Candidate

Salix hakuro nishiki is a beautiful willow with variegated leaves in summer. If you take in these slender red stems in February or March and treat them the same as Forsythia branches, you may get charming tiny catkins along their length. It has been widely planted in recent years, so you might find a good gardener who could spare some modest branches.
This Salix is a great treasure, and I rarely make a landscape without one somewhere, but it is a fast grower can be hard to keep up with if you are trying to keep it small. Luckily, that same enthusiasm lets you prune it quite alot, just about any time of year, and it will be right back.
Through the warm seasons their delicate green and white leaves make these useful in arrangements.

 Some Other Considerations

Considerate winter pruning for decorative branches of Forsythia would be to take each stem nicely back to any growing point. These shrubs typically grow several feet a year, so trimming off  branches 2 or 3 feet long will just give you back a few feet for that individual to grow into for next year. There will still be innumerable quantities of flowers on any well grown specimen.
Just don’t shear Forsythia back in summer or fall since this unnatural technique removes many of the buds and makes unnatural stubs. You would lose the possibility of graceful branches of indoor and outdoor flowers that year.

As a shrub, Forsythia is perhaps most attractive in a fountainesque form. The correct general pruning technique to accomplish this would be to cut some of the oldest and woodiest of  its stems all the way to the base of the shrub, and take away crossover branches that interfere with the fountain shape. This will rejuvenate the overall plant. Other needed pruning is best accomplished soon after flowering so as not to cut off branches when they are preparing flower buds for the following year. Forsythia is forgiving. Whatever you do, these plants will recover.

While not a favored plant for a small landscape because of its overenthusiasm and taking ways, it announces spring wherever it resides, and having one tucked into a corner somewhere can be precious in giving you free winter flowers forever.

Ellen Cool______________________________________________________________________________________________

For Valentine’s Season
I want to refer you to this beautiful

Film of  Free Hugs Day
from Milan, Italy

Since the Idea of Free Hugs began in 2004, such events have taken place
all over the world.
Films have been made of these special days
in myriad individual cities.

The First Saturday after June 30th is the appointed ‘Free Hugs day’ each year, Worldwide.

Free Hugs Campaign Italy – Abbracci a Milano – YouTube


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Recycling Christmas Greens

Wreathing the Beds

Greens After Christmas

  • A second harvest purpose for the branches of Christmas trees and other holiday greens is to use them as decorative wreathing for your otherwise somewhat bare perennial beds.
  • One might choose to lay evergreen branches on some beds just to look wonderful through the winter, but these branches can also do the very important job of helping to insulate the plants residing in the earth beneath them. I find this branch overlay technique especially useful wherever it can help to protect small or shallow rooted plants.
  • Branches 2 to 4 feet in length cut from Post-Christmas trees or post-wreathing materials can be used, whether they are yours or contributed by a neighbor.
    Considerate pruning of resident evergreens can provide cuttings too. These greens can all be laid out along the edges of your perennial beds or wherever vulnerable plants are sleeping. I weave these offcut branches together by crisscrossing in an over and under way to help them resist being blown about by winter winds.

    The picture below was taken at Pepsico Corporate Headquarters in Purchase New York, famous for its Arboretum and the Kendall Sculpture Park. Here sheaves of pruned branches of evergreens are used to systematically protect the planted edges of beds. The woody ends of these sheaves are shallowly dug into the earth before it freezes, and by ‘planting’ them in this way, they stay in place through the winter to protect the edge plantings, remain green pretty well through winter with the help of the moisture around their cut ends, yet are easily removed in Spring.
    These 3-4′ evergreen offcuts are taken from trees elsewhere in the arboretum when routine pruning is done, and they are used particulaly in windy places or where low plantings are subjected to snow plow piles in winter. In the photo they are wreathing a beautiful edging of boxwoods.
    Insulation is most needed through the late winter thaws.
  • It is just perfect that these lovely recycle materials are so readily available just after Christmas since the insulation this handsome wreathing can provide is most needed from January through March or so. Setting the branches out any earlier would not be better, since it is good for the plant materials to get a thorough soaking before the deep freezes set in.
    If there is some snow on the ground, you can wreathe right on top of it, and as the snow melts, the branches will settle roughly where you wanted them. Adjust as needed.
  • I apply this protective layer religiously to beds where temperature changes tend to be rapid and heaving is a frequent problem. It  helps to buffer the temperature ups and downs which cause ground heaving. Snow would do much of the job of protection by itself if there were a reliable covering of it through the freeze-thaw cycles, but in this part of New England you can’t count on a snow blanket.
  • The evergreen boughs protect the plants in much the same way that hay would if it would stay put. The difference is that you will have green beauty through most of the winter, and a much easier cleanup in spring.
  • In my experience, if there is any wind at all, hay straw distributes itself absolutely everywhere. Plucking it piece by piece out of the shrubberies, evergreen groundcovers, pebble paths and underdecks can prove extremely annoying. One would prefer not to make this mistake in an ornamental garden setting.
    Suspenders and a Belt 
  • Even if you have done your best to protect your plants, whenever there are are substantial thaws, you may want to scout around a bit. Locations that get alot of winter sun can thaw out surprisingly quickly. When they do, the the ground may heave up precipitously and the roots of newly established and shallow rooted plants may be lifted up too. Their roots are then out of the ground, exposed, and so could easily be killed by the next cold snap.
  • To keep such perennials and new plantings safe, you need to
    press the individual plants back  into the earth while it is soft.
    Quickly, before the ground gets cold again and closes them out.
  • Planning wise, in general it will be best to avoid locating small or vulnerable plants in places that thewinter sun hits heavily.

  • In Britain, winter protection is sometimes conferred by sheaves of cut deciduous branches, to which the people have given the charming name of ‘twig thatch’.
  • In their famously beautiful and lovingly tended North Hill Gardens, to soften some of the harsh aspects of the climate of Vermont, before winter Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd have cut Miscanthus bundles from their own stands of these grasses and then laid them out as needed to protectively insulate the fruit trees* who also live within their ecotome.

* Don’t use limbs if the needles have begun to dry out. The fresher or moister the better.
Firs and other soft greens will be the most pleasant materials to handle.
Short needled Pine and Hemlock branches don’t last as well as most other evergreen things.

* lecture, personal communication, 2008

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Winter Preparation

 Anticipating the End of the Year

Some More Things They Never Tell You.

Save the final blowing and cleaning of your diverse planted beds until after the ground is cold hardened.

  • For the thorough cleaning of beds in which perennial and self sowing plants reside, it is safer for those inhabitants if you wait until frosts solidify the ground.
    Necessary walking in the beds and the directed winds of the finish blowing then happen after the hard ground closes and protects the subterranean tenants.
  • I will imagine that you have been lightly cleaning the leafage throughout the fall, now you can safely finish up. For earlier raking, I find that a soft fingered rubber rake is the only tool gentle enough to leave the perennial crowns and soft earth undisturbed.
  • Where shallow rooted plants and self sowers you treasure reside, you may want to keep the blower away altogether and just work on those areas by hand.
    Where the parent plants or I have sown seed I may set a croquet hoop or a ten penny nail in the ground to remind me to be thoughtful in that place, both for the present and then in the spring cleanup.

Don’t let your Trees and Shrubs go Dry into winter weather.

  • It is very important for your plant materials to have moisture at their roots before the hard winter sets in. Nature usually provides this end of season water, but you will want to be watchful.
    If nature does not provide at this important time, it will be valuable if you can bucket or otherwise provide some water to any trees and shrubs, especially if you have planted them within the last few years.
  • Full settlement time for your recent plantings is often estimated as at least a year per inch of  girth.


  • For many woody plants, this will be a good time to fertilise. Application at this time of year allows the waters of winter to slowly distribute the nutrients. For the same reason it can be a good time to distribute any compost you may have available to you.
  • Topdressing with composty material in the perennial beds is well accomplished after the cutdowns, when you can see the low places especially well.

Anti Dessicant Sprays

  • If your plant residents are in the path of extreme drying winds through winter, this can have a damaging effect. Many kinds of evergreens can benefit from an anti dessicant (= anti-drying) spray, which can provide a protective coating on their leaves or needles that helps them hold on to moisture within their sylvan selves……..

Winter Work for your Buildings and Grounds

  • For construction, repair or painting projects on structures and buildings lying behind the planted beds, the safest time of year will be now and soon, or just pre-spring, before the first bulb thinks about coming up.
  • When the ground is frozen solid you can walk everywhere with impunity,  so this is a good time to transport needed things across your planted land if doing so might cause damage to your soft grounds at other times of the year.
  • With a durable hard freeze, you might even get a bobcat in if you needed one.
  • Or move a building across a lake or pond.
    In long ago times, before elaborate trucks came along to help us, this was a typical practice, requiring alot of patience, alot of man and beast power and perfect timing. Where it was the shortest distance between two points, buildings that needed to do so crossed the water with specialised boats, or on sled contructs over ice.
  • Overland night trucking is probably the go-to solution now, especially since some bodies of water in our region used to freeze most years, and now almost never do. Also, we have no oxen and few horses to help.
    In places that still have a thick hard freeze transport over ice is still done, but trucks usually do the pulling.

Arrange Your Winter Views

  • In winter much of the essence of the landscape is expressed through its embedded shapes. Evergreens and architecturally fortunate trees and shrubs, wonderful stone, wood and iron elements are set off at their personal best. You can count on them.
    Each element in the built and structured landspace reveals the form of its true self when the white overlay of snow arrives to outline all its details.
  • If you arrange all the objects in your landscape thoughtfully; sorting, stacking, coiling and otherwise neatening before snow comes, you can make your landscape appearance more sculpturally satisfying for the whole winter. Try to take care of these things before the ground hardens and the buckets and such freeze solid.
    If you have placed them nicely, your work will spring freshly to life with the upcoming brushstroke outlines of snow.
    In our climate, the good effect of your end of season attentions will last for many months.

    ...The wheelbarrow  photograph was taken next door to one of my favorite nurseries, the Conifer Connection in Pembroke, Massachusetts
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