Black Goes With Everything

Black Iris
Iris ‘Black Suited’

Black is Beautiful

There has been an explosion of black flowers and foliage in the past couple of years in the gardening world.  It started out as a trickle and now is a tsunami of everything black! When I go to the nursery and look at new cultivars of annuals, perennials, and shrubs – all shades of black are represented.

A black foliaged smoke tree sets off the white Alliums

Bat Orchid

The Bat OrchidTacca chantieri  is one of my favorites but needs to be grown in a greenhouse. An exotic plant with flowers that mimic a bat in flight, deep purple to black, with ruffled wings and long, hanging filaments, the flowers last for weeks. Large, attractive leaves surround the bloom.

Bat Orchid has dangling whiskers
Bat Orchid has dangling whiskers

‘Black Magic’ Hollyhocks

These blue-black, tall, stately plants look good in any garden. They should be planted at the back of borders to give a beautiful classic garden look. They flower mid to late summer.

Hollyhocks display nicely against stone walls
Hollyhocks display nicely against stone walls

 

Black Magic Hollyhock
Black Magic Hollyhock

You have to know how to use black for the best effect. I like to place black flowers or foliage next to very bright intense colors, such as hot pink or lime green to get the biggest impact. The black color gives the eye a rest when you pair it with bright vibrant colors. If you place black plants next to darker hued plants, it just doesn’t work and the black color fades in the background. So use black carefully and site it with some thought.

Anvil of Darkness Iris

'Anvil of Darkness' Iris
‘Anvil of Darkness’ Iris

The bearded black Iris’s are particularly showy with the velvety falls of  black draped against the foliage.

Black and White Iris
Iris ‘Full Figure’

How to Use Black Well

Black plants can also echo other plants that have black stems, black venation or black undertones. I find that if you have a boring or blah border/container, black instantaneously ramps up the visual interest. It can become a focal point if you have a particularly beautiful black plant and enhances nearby plants.

Black in a container makes it stand out
The black foliage of ‘Purple Knight’ Alternanthera picks up the black venation of the petunias

There are all different hues and variations on black and sometimes the amount of sunlight a plant receives will affect the coloration. Also, juvenile foliage will generally be a darker, more intense, shade. In the plant trade describing many of the black plants, you hear adjectives such as chocolate, deep burgundy, midnight, dark purple, or coffee.

The black foliage of the Canna makes it stand out
The black foliage of the Canna makes it stand out and picks up the venation of the larger leaf

Jack in the Pulpits

Arisaema sikokanum with chocolate coloration

The Japanese Cobra Lily, Arisaema sikokanum, is an elegant cousin to our native Jack In The Pulpit. The spadix is a pure marshmallow white which gives the flower such great contrast.  It looks like a flower all decked out in black tie ready for a party. And the scarlet berries make this expensive plant worth the money for their multi-season interest.

An unfurling Jack in the Pulpit
An unfurling Jack in the Pulpit

Petunias

Black petunias don’t seem natural. But I really like their velvety texture and tones and the Black Phantom one is a stunner and has real ‘wow’ impact .  Many black flowers are black wannabees because they are more a dark purple, but the black petunias are closest to the true black color.

‘Black Phantom’ petunia

black Petunias
Black Petunia playing off of the black Phormium

Black Elephant Ears
Black Elephant Ears

 

Chocolate Ajuga used in a container

Black Sempervivum ‘Dark Beauty’
Black Parrot Tulip
Black Parrot Tulip
Black Hellebore
Black Hellebore
There are even black tomatoes
There are even black tomatoes

Art of the Seed

Botanical Illustration is Alive and Well

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At this time of year, I actually have time to look through the seed catalogs that I have stacked up. I automatically throw away any miscellaneous catalogs that come to my mailbox, but still keep the seed catalogs. I much prefer to order seeds from a print catalog than on-line. The tactile experience of leafing through the beautiful pages of a seed catalog is not the same as ordering on the computer. I get to see what is featured brand new in the front of the catalog, and visit old friends in the later pages. And some of the art work that is done with botanical illustrations is outstanding and should be framed!

Seed Art
Seed Art

Botanical illustration fortunately is not a lost art.  It is still being pursued today and you can see great examples at Renee’s GardensHudson Valley Seed Library, and Botanical Interests.

Rack of seeds for sale
Rack of seeds for sale

Renee’s Garden Seeds

According to Renee’s Garden Seeds website, her seed line is a “personal selection of new, exciting and unusual seed choices of time-tested heirlooms, certified organic seeds, the best international hybrids and fine open-pollinated varieties”. Her seed packets are water color illustrated with personally written descriptions, growing tips, planting charts, harvesting information, and cooking ideas. It is a company run by gardeners, for gardeners. Organic for over 25 years, Renee Shepherd has several cookbooks filled with garden fresh vegetable and herb recipes to use up all those fresh veggies.

Tomato seed packet
Tomato seed packet

Hudson Valley Seed Library

Hudson Valley Seed Library commissions artwork for their pack covers. Over 300 artists applied to be pack cover artists last year, and 24 new varieties were added to their collection of art packs with heirloom seeds. Their blog claims that the seeds are art packs – heirloom seeds and contemporary art, all in one pack. You can plant the seeds, then frame the art!

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Botanical Interests

Starting out in their spare bedroom in 1995, Curtis and Judy wanted to make sure that gardeners were getting the information they needed to be successful from their seed packets.  As a result, they have created a unique seed packet that is beautiful as well as informative.

Botanical Interests seed packet
Botanical Interests seed packet

Botanical Interest‘s seed packets are like mini-encyclopedias, full of information to help out the inexperienced as well as the experienced gardener. I love their collections, like the “Baby Vegetables”, or the “Bee Happy” collection. The colors and detail on all their seed packets are extraordinary.

The inside of a Botanical Interests seed packet contains lots of useful information
The inside of a Botanical Interests seed packet contains lots of useful information
Kale is beautifully illustrated
Kale is beautifully illustrated

Early Seed Growers

Commercial growers of seeds and nursery plants played an important role in the development of horticulture in America. Many early seed growers and nursery owners were horticultural experimenters and botanical enthusiasts, and were largely responsible for the introduction and spread of new garden species in the United States, and the development and popularization of new plant varieties for the American garden.

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Crimson Poppies at The Tower of London

Sea of red poppies at the Tower of London
Sea of red poppies at the Tower of London

A sea of crimson poppies has sprung up in a 16 acre barren dry moat surrounding the Tower of London. Starting on July 17, a total of 888, 246 hand crafted ceramic poppies, each one representing a British military death in WWI,  have been individually placed in the moat with the final one being placed today, November 11, culminating with a ceremony and a two minute silence to honor the dead.

tower1

The art installation is called “Blood Swept Lands And Seas of Red” and is literally a sea of blood-red tide of poppies. Each poppy represents an individual who did not grow old.

Poppies

 

An army of volunteers will dismantle the exhibit, checking, cleaning and packing each poppy to be shipped to new owners. Each poppy was sold for 25 pounds or about $40 to benefit the six armed forces charities. More than five million visitors trekked to the Tower of London to view this incredible art installation. Photos courtesy of Amy Sparwasser.

towerjjj

 

This 3 minute Youtube video shows the scope of the installation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q56BJGUUL5A

 

Orange is the New Black

Collage of oranges seen in Portland, Oregon at the Garden Bloggers Fling
Collage of oranges seen in Portland, Oregon at the Garden Bloggers Fling

Orange is the new black in flower colors. If you like black flowers and there are plenty, look at my post, ‘50  Shades of Black’.

Nearly black clematis
Nearly black clematis

Bright and bold orange flowers  are being used more and more in gardens and hybridizers are churning out new varieties of orange flowers all the time.  A few things to remember about using  orange flowers is that they appear closer than they really are, making them easy to see at a distance, and orange can also make a small garden seem larger.

Orange draws your eye
Orange draws your eye

I love this new trend of bright orange as I was getting tired of the typical perennial border in hues of pink, blue, and lavender. Orange amps up the color impact and opens the possibilities of creating some beautiful new color combos.

Magic Yellow flame Mimulus
Magic Yellow flame Mimulus

The sizzling effect of the different hues of the color orange was brought home to me on my recent trip to Portland, Oregon.

mosaic
The color orange really pops in this mosaic at Floramagoria in Portland, Oregon

Orange was front and center and it inspired me to plant more orange flowers and orange foliage plants like this peachy colored Heuchera called Peach Flambe.

Orange and peach Heucheras are a dime a dozen

 

Orange is a color with a very wide range of hues from peach and apricot, to copper and ochre.

Rudbeckia Joy Creek Select
Rudbeckia Joy Creek Select

According to Pantone, the global authority on color,  orange expresses energy and vibrancy. Tangerine Tango was the color of the year in 2012, so maybe the trend has taken a while to catch up with the plant world. But every time I turn around, it seems like a new variety of flower that hits the market is bright orange with names like these Echinaceas –  Flame Thrower, Hot Papaya, Mama Mia, Tangerine Dream, and Tiki Torch.

Orange Echinacea
Orange Echinacea ‘Tiki Torch’
Orange Abutilon
Orange Abutilon ‘Bartley Schwartz’

 Not only flowers are turning up orange, accessories are turning up the heat with eye-popping color.

Orange accessories seen at J J De Sousa's garden in Portland
Orange accessories seen at J J De Sousa’s garden in Portland

Garish and striking with flaming orange shades, or subtle peachy shades paired with creams, olives, and greys, orange is a color that many designers fear and avoid. The picture below has greys and olive-green intermixed to enhance and soften the color impact. Using an orange urn was a brave choice and it worked beautifully with the right shades!

 

Orange urn with orange Kangaroo Paw at the Kuzma garden in Portland
Orange urn with orange Kangaroo Paw at the Kuzma garden in Portland

How to Use Orange for Best Effect

Here are a few pointers for designers who are hesitant to jump into the orange maelstrom.

  • To bring out the best in both bold and pale oranges, blend them with their color wheel complement blue. Fiery orange flowers paired with blue or lavender will make your border sizzle.

Orange and blue colors complement each other
Orange Nasturtium and blue Hydrangea colors complement each other

  • Orange is in its element in sunny, bright exposures. Choose hot orange flowers for hot sunny climates and softer peaches and apricots for regions that are a bit cooler and experience cool, cloudy weather. Soft yellow goes great with a soft peachy orange.

    An pastel orange color for a cooler, shadier exposure
    A pastel orange colored Begonia for a cooler, shadier exposure
  • Because orange enhances appetite and promotes sociability(according to color studies), plant plenty of orange-flowering plants near outdoor eating areas.

  •   Incorporate orange into your garden by using orange terra-cotta pots, copper accessories, bamboo, metal art, and orangey brick accents.

    Orange really pops on this mosaic seen at Floramagoria in Portland, Oregon
    Close up of orange element in mosaic

    orange gate
    Orange carrot gate at J J De Sousa’s garden

Colored bamboo for accents
Orange bamboo at Floramagoria in Portland
  • Include plants that bear orange fruits: pyracantha, sea buckthorn, and bittersweet, as well as some roses and hollies.

    Orange berries on Mountain Ash with creamy flowers of Yucca
    Orange berries of Mountain Ash with creamy Yucca flowers

    Bright orange can make a statement. Use it carefully!

    Bright orange gnome in garden

     

Scarecrow on Duty-The Fun of Creating a ‘Scarey’ Scarecrow

Scarecrow made out of found objects
Scarecrow made out of found objects

Scarecrows are fun to create from found materials in all shapes, sizes, and materials! Fabricated from a left over metal trash can and dryer vent pipe, and sheet metal findings from a house installation, my scarecrow was a fixture in my garden. When a recent blog posting of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society announcing a scarecrow contest hit my computer, I was all over it! I gussied up my 5-year-old scarecrow a little, adding a blue watering can, and pulled a wiry red wig out of the trash can (my daughter is into costuming), and added their insignia (PHS harvest festival) to the front of my scarecrow.  She was ready for primetime and I clicked a few ‘posed’ pictures of her. A week later,  I received word that my ‘garden goddess’ won the contest and was happy for her!

My scarecrow in dressed down mode
My scarecrow in dressed down mode
Creative stuffed scarecrow
Creative stuffed scarecrow

If you ever get a chance to go the family friendly PHS Harvest Festival held every fall, the event is fantastic. I have judged the veggie displays in the past and the displays have been over the top with the varieties and colors. Their blog is http://phsblog.org/2012/10/02/contest-winners-celebrated-at-the-phs-fall-garden-festival/ On the PHS blog, you can see pictures of the competition of “Garden Giants”, larger than life vegetables, and “Garden Bounty”, showcasing generous displays from local gardens.

The PHS is a great organization that puts on the incredible Philadelphia Flower Show every spring, that if you have never been, will knock your socks off. If you want more information about this wonderful society, go to  http://phsonline.org/events to check out their list of event and happenings.

The basket below is from my recently judged fair closer to home at the Hereford Farm Fair. This fair is for entries from people 18 and under. Quite impressive!

A basket of veggies that won first prize at the Hereford Farm Fair
A basket of veggies that won first prize at the Hereford Farm Fair

A Cut Above – Creating Sculptures from Wood

Play area at Oregon Ridge Nature Center

It doesn’t seem possible to be able to use the words ‘chainsaw‘ and ‘art’ in the same sentence.  The chainsaw is such a workmanlike and crude tool that it is always surprising to me what beautiful carvings can be made within a couple of hours with the right kind of wood and a noisy, sawdust spitting, dangerous chainsaw. But when I visited Oregon Ridge Nature Center recently, my eyes were opened to the possibilities, as soon as I saw the new play area that was designed with all chain saw creations by Pat Hundley, a local chainsaw artist.

Creative seating bench by Pat Hundley

Creations from Logs

These chainsaw creations are perfect to decorate your garden or outdoor space and will last for years. You can get one to hold up your mailbox, embrace a sign, use as a play set for kids, or just for decoration.

Bear emerging from log by Pat Hundley

Chainsaw art has become very popular, especially in timber heavy areas of the country. In Western Maryland, Deep Creek  Lake is chock full of chainsaw artists on every corner, advertising their masterpieces. There is even a new TV show called Chainsaw Gang, which features premier chainsaw artists from around the country who battle each other to deliver incredible works of art.

Fox sculpture by Pat Hundley

I talked with Pat Hundley, who has a day job as a teacher for Baltimore County Schools, about how he got started in this unusual hobby. He said that he got started after Baltimore Gas & Electric did some tree trimming at his house and left some logs behind. Pat got the idea of carving a bear out of one as a surprise for his wife. An hour later, he created a bear coming out of a log and he hasn’t stopped since.

One of Pat Hundley’s creations

Pat says it takes about an hour to do a bear and he will charge around $100 for the piece, depending on the complexity. The carving can last for years if you seal it at least twice a year with deck sealant and/or polyurethane. He paints some of the pieces also to make the details pop. Pine is the primary wood that he carves in as it is readily accessible in MD, but he uses anything that becomes available. Pat is friendly with some tree removal professionals to obtain the materials that he needs.

Painted Bald Eagle on log by Pat Hundley

The most popular design that Pat does is the bear emerging from a log and I can see how that one would fit right into my garden! Pat sells his creations at local craft shows and by word of mouth.

Large bear by Pat Hundley

There are special tools of the trade to make the detailed carvings come to life. Pat uses guide bars or carving bars called ‘quarter tip’ and ‘dime tip’, that have very small ‘noses’ that allow finer cuts for details such as fur and feathers.  The important advantage of these special bars is that they do not produce ‘kickback’ when using them, and are much safer than the standard bars.

Pat in action

In order to reach the high levels of skill required to be a “chainsaw carver“, a good amount of instruction and practice is required in the safe operation of a chainsaw. This is then followed by plenty of study and practice in carving basic shapes which then ultimately leads on to more ambitious projects. It is extremely important that anyone using a chainsaw wear the proper protective clothing, like leather chaps and ear protection. A cut from a chainsaw is not just a cut, it  can actually remove a chunk of flesh and bone.

Chainsaw Women

Chainsaw art is a relative recent art form dating back to the 1950’s. Not only is it seen as a sculpture, but also as performance art or spectacle –  with the noise, flying sawdust, and very fast carving results. It is stunning how fast the carving comes to life, as opposed to old-fashioned carving using mallets and gouges that can take much longer. Also, the detail that you can achieve with chainsaws amazes me.

Turtles by Cherie Currie

I was also delighted at the number of women who make a living out of chainsaw art. There is even a group called ‘Chainsaw Chix’ which is the first group of all-female sculptors. Go Girls! Chainsaw art is not limited to the United States either. There are international artists all over and competitions all around the world.  There is even a chainsaw carving school in Toei, Japan.

World's tallest Virgin Mary carving at Schochw...
World’s tallest Virgin Mary carving at Schochwitz, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, I just need to find that perfect spot in my garden to showcase one of these pieces of art!

Magical Mystery Tour – Ladew Topiary Gardens

Ladew Topiary Gardens

I feel fortunate that I live just 6 or 7 miles from one of the most innovative and beautiful public gardens in the United States, right here in Monkton, MD, called Ladew Topiary Gardens. I first saw these whimsical and  enchanting gardens about 25 years ago that were created by, Harvey S. Ladew, a traveler, fox-hunter, artist, and gardener extraordinaire, who lived from 1887-1976. Harvey, a bon-vivant, was born to wealth and loved to fox-hunt. Fox-hunting drew him to the Monkton area in mid-life and he bought 200+ acres of land with a decrepit house and a few lilac bushes and proceeded to transform the house and gardens into one of the foremost topiary gardens in the country.

Topiary hound

Garden Rooms – Architecture for the Outdoors

I was first introduced to the concept of ‘garden rooms’ when I went to see Ladew for the first time. Among the rooms which are devoted to a theme or color are the Rose Garden, the White and Yellow Garden, the Garden of Eden, the Sculpture Garden, the Iris Garden, the Victorian Garden, the Croquet Court, the Berry Garden, the Cutting Garden, the Portico Garden, the Cutting Garden, the Keyhole Garden, and the Water Lily Garden. Each ‘room’ is totally separate from the others with the use of hedging or shrub borders. It is almost like walking into an open air house with no ceilings but having distinct colors and design unique to that room. There are pathways connecting each room and you can’t see the next room until you actually enter it.

Topiary Magic – Sculpting in Yew

Ladew is a must-see for it’s sweeping gardening vistas, garden themed rooms,  as well as the jaw-dropping topiaries. The most famous of the topiaries is the life-sized hunt scene of horse and riders and hounds which is a unique and stunning topiary scene because it acutally implies movement of the hunt.

Horse jumping over fence

The Sculpture Garden features lyre birds, Churchill’s top hat, victory sign, a heart with an arrow through it, a butterfly alighting on a flower and sea horses and is imposing! I feel like an ant next to these towering sculptures.

Eighty percent of Ladew’s topiaries were made with hemlock, but once the wooly adelgid starting to attack them and suck the sap out of the hemlocks, they started to die.  Ladew’s board started a campaign in the nineties to replace the hemlocks with yews which aren’t susceptible to the pests. Other materials used in the topiaries are boxwood, euonymous, and holly.


Scultpure Garden

Harvey Ladew took the art of topiary to new heights with his creations.  Check out the giraffe, the Chinese Junk and the pagoda.

Pagoda at Ladew
Chinese junk at Ladew
Giraffe with gold Euonymous at Ladew

Garden Festival

I recently went to Ladew’s Garden Festival that has become an annual event for many area gardeners as it draws vendors from all over with unusual plants and garden statuary and knick-knacks. I always go with the intention of ‘not buying any more plants- I don’t need them!’ attitude but come home with armloads that I just couldn’t do without.

Interesting garden trug made with a branch and some lengths of wood

Someone had made some miniature gardens for sale which I love to make and was interested in their take on the subject.

Mini garden for sale

I saw a lot of succulents for sale as they are in vogue right now and was really interested in the use of succulents in window boxes. What a great idea for a sunny window box! I hate watering my window boxes and when it gets really hot, I sometimes neglect them and they wilt. But not these!

Succulent window box
Succulent window box

 Large Bird Houses or Dovecotes

Large Bird House at Ladew

I have always been intrigued by the use of the ginormous bird houses at Ladew. They are actually dovecotes and they are scattered all over Ladew and each one is unique. I liked the one surrounded by bee skeps.  The bee skeps are ornamental only.

Ladew dovecote

This dovecote was incredible when I visited surrounded by blooming bridal wreath spirea.

Ladew dovecote surrounded by spirea

Springtime at Ladew

In my opinion, there is no better time than spring to visit Ladew to see the bulbs, azaleas, rhododendrons, and wisteria in their full glory. The mansion is also very unique to tour but the gardens are so beautiful and stunning that I prefer to  stay outdoors and catch what is happening in the garden and see what is blooming on my visit.

Wisteria in full bloom at Ladew
Full-blown tulip at Ladew
Iris garden at Ladew
Garden gateway at Ladew