It’s that time of year again, where I review my most viewed posts from all over the world and I was surprised at some of the posts that were at the top of the heap. The top ten countries that view my blog in descending order are the U.S. Canada, UK, Australia, India, Germany, France, South Africa, Brazil, and New Zealand. I am always amazed at this! India is near the top and reading my blog in great numbers? And Australia and New Zealand are reading too! That just goes to show you that gardening topics are a universal theme.
I have about 5,000 followers that receive regular emails when I post and my average viewings per day is around 250 to 300 readers. And for the year, I ran around 100,000 visits or page views.
For 2018, I gathered the most popular posts for the year, some of which are old and are continuously viewed from years ago, but others that are new. I work on some posts a year in advance. For instance, I am working on Christmas ones for next year. And I am working on a book with all new projects.
This is a golden oldie. Container plantings are one of my favorite things to put together, not just in spring, but all year long. Most people do their containers in the spring and are done! But I am coming up with ideas all year long. And with the recent addition of a greenhouse in my backyard, I am going coming up with lots of new ideas. Seasonal, and non-traditional containers are my specialty.
Winterthur in Wilmington, Delaware, has a tradition going back to 1986, of decorating a large tree with dried flowers. And the dried flowers aren’t your grandmother’s musty dusty dried arrangements that dotted the home. These are air dried and silica gel dried (think of those little packets that come with new purchases) to retain their jewel like tones that almost seem fresh. I made my own miniature dried flower tree that I will post about next season in time for the Christmas season.
This one was a surprise. There are a lot of bird watchers out there and there must be some super hungry birds that are getting a smorgasbord of home made treats. Easy to put together for anyone, these make great gifts for your bird loving friends.
Put this garden on your radar. It is a world class garden taking shape in Dagsboro, Delaware- on my doorstep! Designed by world renowned Dutch designer, Piet Oudolf (think High Line!), it has been in the making for some years and is scheduled to open in 2019. The development of this garden has been written about on my blog and I will keep you posted as it opens to the public.
Though I didn’t participate in decorating the White House in 2018, I have done it three times in the past and have lots of friends who sent me updates and pictures of the current decorations. Take a look!
A plant oddity that takes people by surprise when they see it growing in my garden. Having grown it for years, I am tickled when people exclaim over it. Easy to grow and attractive to Monarch caterpillars, this is a fixture in my garden.
There is a real interest and need for sourcing of pesticide free nurseries and seed companies. Posting this information brought in a lot of comments and appreciation from gardeners who strive to garden organically as much as possible.
My love of creating miniature little worlds has been with me as long as I can remember. The Philadelphia Flower Show has some of the best examples around and I visit every spring for my inspiration. I like to change my miniature gardens with the season and decorate my home with them.
As a landscape designer, I am frequently asked; “What can I plant in shade under a tree?” Besides Pachysandra, Vinca, and Ivy, in this post I give you lots of plants you might not have thought of that work much better than the “big three”. There are so many perennials suitable for this hard to work with area, and this post give you information on what works.
Bowl arrangements are for those who are too intimidated to arrange flowers. I started making these with leftovers after making a floral arrangement and sometimes like them better than the arrangement that I spent more time on. No mechanics are needed other than a wide open bowl and a few flowers and /or some foliage. Staged inside or outdoors, I have made these in the dead of winter with some odds and ends from my garden.
Comments about my posts are very much appreciated and I always read them and learn from them.
Thanks to all my readers out there, where ever you are, and have a great New Year!
This spring I toured a gorgeous private garden that is stunning for it’s beauty and classic garden design. I enjoyed strolling through the woodland gardens that were peaking with spring color and was struck by the innovative use of ground covers. No overly used big three – pachysandra, vinca, or ivy to be seen! There is a time and place for the big three, but consider the options before settling on the mundane.
Why use a ground cover? Simply, it reduces the empty space around plants that will require weeding. Ground covers crowd out weed seeds that can migrate into the soil spaces between plants, germinate, and start the process of invading garden space. Plus it adds a finishing touch to the landscape. It is similar to putting on your jewelry once you are dressed.
In practical terms, ground covers usually refers to any one of a group of low-lying plants with a creeping, spreading habit that are used to cover sections of ground which require minimal maintenance. Ornamentals such as hydrangeas could be used as a ground cover but more commonly low maintenance perennials like ferns are used to cover large expanses or slopes.
Usually chosen for practical purposes, such as an area where it is too shady for turf to grow or too steep to mow, the selections are many. My favorite selections are for shady spots with some even performing well in dry shade.
There are so many more interesting and attractive options, you just need to arm yourself with these choices and visit a good plant nursery. In addition, if you are a fan of the color blue, you will love these. So read on, and pick the best for your situation.
Who ever thought about using Bluebells as a ground cover? It blooms beautifully and then disappears for another late comer like lamium or hostas to cover up.
Spanish Bluebells, Hyacinthoides hispanica, is a great mid spring bloomer that spans the gap between the early arrivals of spring bulbs such as snowdrops, to the later arrival of mid summer perennials. Their best feature, other than the beautiful blue color, is that they bloom in deep shade as well as in full sunlight. You can naturalize them in a shady woodland underneath evergreen or deciduous trees and they will steadily increase over the years to carpet the ground in an azure swath.
Bluebells are a bulb and come in pink and white as well, but the blue is my favorite by far. They are easy to grow in any woodland condition but will thrive where it is well-drained and with ample moisture. I grow them in my perennial borders with no special care and the foliage will disappear by midsummer. Because of this feature, you can underplant it with another creeping ground cover such as ajuga or sweet woodruff that can will take over once the foliage has died down.
Virginia Bluebells – A Native
Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica, is the native version of Spanish Bluebells. Instead of the strap like foliage of Spanish Bluebells, the leaves are very broad and tissue like in texture. The flower color is an intense cornflower blue.
Virginia Bluebells are a spring ephemeral like so many early woodland bloomers, dying back to the ground. So be sure to have something else like the native woodland phlox to take its place. Later flowering annuals could be plugged into the spot that is empty when they die back or a perennial like late appearing hostas can do the job.
Lamium or Dead Nettle has been mentioned several times already as it is a perfect little ground cover for bulbs to sprout though in the spring. A ground hugging creeper with silvered variegated foliage and some really pretty colored flowers, Dead Nettles are an ideal choice for gardeners who want a tough plant with a variety of foliage colors and textures.
Tolerating a variety of light conditions, Lamium makes a good transition plant between shady and sunnier areas. The cultural adaptability of this great plant makes it a valuable tool in the gardeners planting palette.
Woodland Phlox, Phlox divartica, is a native about 9 inches tall that comes in pastel blue, pink, and white. I love it, but find that it is a very short-lived plant, only three or four seasons. Who knew that there were so many kinds of phlox? Available in creeping, woodland, tall garden, and miniature alpine varieties, and some variations in between, most people are not familiar with the range of varieties available. The Woodland Phlox is a very beautiful member of the family that blooms in April with a punch of color.
Crested Wood Iris
Another underused ground cover is the Crested Wood Iris, or Iris cristata. This diminutive little Iris is only about 6 inches tall and blooms with a miniature azure colored Iris bloom and will spread steadily but not aggressively. It is perfectly adorable! The deer ignore it also. Wood Iris will bloom in very deep shade.
Solomans Seal, Polygonatum variegatum, is a workhorse perennial for me. Plant a small colony of a dozen, and after splitting it up regularly for several years, you will end up with a large swath of nodding white bells! Be warned – Deer do like to browse on them. This perennial will not thrive amongst others as it covers the ground with underground tubers and lasts all season long. Nothing else will grow where Solomans Seal takes over but a large drift is a sight to behold. Yellow fall foliage is a bonus, something that surprises me every year!
Just about everyone knows and grows hostas. A tough plant that is hard to kill, it is a deer magnet for browsing. But if bambi doesn’t roam nearby, try planting large colonies of the same variety for a great looking ground cover. Or vary your planting scheme for interesting textures and hues. I find that hostas play well with other shade perennials and like to add clumps of them along with other ground covers.
Green and Gold
Another golden ground cover that will brighten a shady area is Green and Gold, Chrysogonum virginianum, or Golden Star. A native also, it is known for its star like flowers and creeping hairy leaves. Green and Gold loves moisture and will thrive in a boggy area. I grow it in ordinary garden conditions and it does just fine. It does need some shade or will burn in full sun. Deer leave this one alone!
Hellebores or Lenten Roses
I have been advocating the use of Lenten Roses or Hellebores, as an evergreen, long blooming, deer resistant ground cover for years. The plants are a little pricey but will slowly fill in and throw off seedlings that will cover your ground before you know it. Did I mention that it blooms for three months, sometimes longer? Everyone who has a shady garden should grow these. Tough as nails, this plant will gradually increase in size every year. For more information, read my post, Hellebores-Deer Resistant, Low Maintenance, Shade Loving Perennial.
I really hate that name! Golden Ragwort, Senecio aurea, is another native which I like to use in shady or semi-shady conditions. Senecio blooms with a cheerful daisy-like flower for weeks in the spring. The rosettes of deep shiny heart-shaped leaves are attractive the rest of the growing season. This ground cover will spread steadily and you might have to restrain it a bit, but it is definitely not a garden thug!
Forget Me Not
Another deer resistant ground cover which I recommend is Brunnera or Forget-me-not. This is the perennial Forget-me-not, not to be confused with Myosotis which is a biennial. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ was the perennial plant of the year for 2012 and deservedly so because of it’s beauty and toughness. Deer give it a wide berth because of the fuzzy foliage and it will hide early spring bulb foliage because it emerges right when the bulbs are dying back. ‘Jack Frost’ is a great cultivar with silver to white webbing on the leaf surface that shines in the shade. The plant is topped off with airy panicles of true blue tiny flowers.
Perennial Geranium does well in part shade to shade and many of the varieties are deer resistant. Blooming with delicate flowers in the spring, these are tough perennials that will form nice weed smothering clumps.
Mazus is a low-growing ground cover that spreads by creeping stems which root at the nodes as they spread. Growing only 2″ tall, this tiny creeper can spread pretty fast forming a dense, steppable cute ground cover. The foliage stays green for at least 9 months of the year and explodes in spring with purple tubular beautiful flowers. There is a white version also.One of my favorite ground covers, I use Mazus whenever I have a smaller area like between stepping stones to cover.
Euphorbia or Spurge is rarely seen as a ground cover and should be used as it can tolerate dry shade. Evergreen and deer resistant, spurge is topped with lime green flowers in the spring. I am a sucker for the color lime. The color really brightens a dark area. Euphorbia robbiae easily grows in shade or sun and sports rosettes of handsome leathery leaves all season long.
If you want to grow the ultimate flower buffet for butterflies and bees, try Joe Pye Weed. When there isn’t much else blooming, Joe Pye will surprise you with fuzzy pink umbels of flowers that flying insects clearly relish. I planted only one plant of the great late summer bloomer, Eupatorium dubium, ‘Little Joe’, which has spread to cover an area about 5 feet by 5 feet. After 5 years of growing this plant, I have found it not to be invasive but it definitely spreads. When it goes beyond its bounds, it is easy to pull it up.
In late summer, my ‘Little Joe’ patch has formed a nice clump in front of my greenhouse; it has finished blooming but I keep it up for structure. It will get taller as the summer progresses.
‘Little Joe’ tops out at 4 feet tall, as opposed to the more commonly grown ‘Gateway’ which can get up to 7 feet high and can flop. I hate to stake flowers, so picked ‘Little Joe’ to avoid that fate. Now there is another cultivar called ‘Baby Joe’ which only gets 2 to 3 feet high which I need to try next.
Joe Pye is a native wildflower which grows along streams in the wild near my house. It gets enormous! I stayed away from it for years because of the size and difficulty in siting such a large specimen. But I am in love with ‘Little Joe’ which has beautiful burgundy stems.
Once the flower starts to bloom, I am sure to see at least a half-dozen different types of bees and butterflies landing, and the other day saw 5 Monarchs resting on my one plant!
‘Little Joe’ comes in a ‘garden friendly’ package of a plant that is easy to grow in full sun to part shade and has sturdy stems that will support the flower heads and won’t bend or flop. The plant is drought tolerant and fragrant with mauve purple flower heads which can reach 12 inches across!
The flower persists for weeks and the seed heads will last through the winter and will provide food for the birds when food is scarce. What is not to like? A tough beautiful, easy to grow plant which provides entertainment. I visit it every day to see what insects and butterflies have made a visit. For more information on planting pollinator plants, go to my posts Creating Monarch Waystation and Plant These For the Bees. Also, my Garden Plan for Pollinators is a good resource.
Visiting the Delaware Botanic Garden in year two, one year later than my original visit, was an eye opener in the evolution of a major public garden. Even working as a landscape designer/installer, I was surprised at the great strides the difference of a year makes. For my first year post, go to DBG-From the Ground Up.
The first thing that hits you as you enter is the wild centerpiece garden- The Meadow Garden- full of thousands of perennials that have matured with just 18 months or less of growth. Pollinators were zipping and buzzing around me as I wandered the winding pathways.
Horsemint (Monarda punctata) is a standout for structure and insect visits in the Meadow Garden
World renowned Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf designed the showpiece Meadow Garden. The Master Plan describes it as “an exuberant palette of mostly native ornamental grasses and herbaceous flowering plants that will create spectacular four-season color and textural saturations against a distant horizon”.
An old planting adage is “1st year-sleep, 2nd year-creep, and 3rd year-leap” and this second year is more than “creep”. All the perennials in the Meadow Garden have absolutely “leaped” this second year and appeared very established. Located on a sunny 2-acre area adjacent to the woodland edge, the goal was to plant sixty-five thousand herbaceous flowering plants and ornamental grasses to provide multi-season interest. The first thing that visitors will see entering DBG, the Meadow was completed this spring except for some small patches, with volunteers. It is already an undulating textural mass.
The close planting will discourage weeds as the herbaceous perennials knit together as a ground cover.
Before the perennials form that weed smothering ground covering, opportunistic weeds, notably ‘dog fennel’ (Eupatorium capilifolium) have taken hold between the plants and tower over some of the new plantings. Volunteers were out in force when I visited recently and were pulling stinky dog fennel on a 95 degree humid day. Not fun for some 265 volunteers that work there throughout the year! Fortunately portable tents are set up to cast some much-needed shade and there is a camaraderie evident in everyone you speak to.
The native perennials are thriving and even in mid August when color is hard to find in a perennial border, texture and color abounded throughout the insect heavy plantings. Camera in hand, it was hard to keep up with all the native pollinators that were buzzing around.
New Hoop Houses
Brand spanking new hoop houses were just erected with a gravel base that can be put to use this winter in growing new transplants (plugs), cutting propagation, and overwintering of young, frost susceptible plants.
Eradicating invasive plants, installing pathways, careful tree removals, and shade plantings have been progressing in the Woodland Garden. With a phased implementation of DBG, the Meadow Garden is the first phase and the Woodland Garden is close behind, so intensive shade loving plantings are being installed along the newly placed pathways. Curving volunteer constructed stone walls make a nice addition as well as holding soil in place along many of the pathways.
Some areas of the Woodland Garden will showcase only native plants and others will contrast natives along with non-native plants from Asia and Europe. Plantings will be planted from the upland areas to the nearby water’s edge of Pepper Creek.
Trimmings and prunings are being recycled and reused as sculptural elements in bird’s nest structures and a porcupine “tree” is a sculptural stopping point on the path.
A wetland area will be an outdoor classroom called the “Learning Garden”. A high school class of seniors has already been hosted in a learning experience there. Interactive programs and living classrooms encouraging active involvement with nature is a major component of the DBG goals.
There have been no applications of fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides thus far. For pathway weeds, a 20% Horticultural vinegar was used which was quite effective.
A projected opening date of September 2019 is only a year away and lots of money and volunteer hours will be needed in the meantime. A fall tree planting campaign, planting of the dune gardens, and the east woodland border are next on the agenda. Frequent fund-raising is being done to feed the volunteer efforts and plantings. If interested in donating, go to Make a donation. This is an exciting opportunity to get on the ground floor supporting or volunteering at the incredible new Delaware Botanic Gardens.
Many pollinator species have suffered serious declines in recent years. Unfortunately, most of our landscapes offer little in the way of appropriate habitat, forage, and housing. Even the most beautiful gardens are not always healthy ecosystems. Design choices, plant selections, and maintenance practices can make a huge difference in creating your own healthy ecosystem, filled with life. As a garden designer, I use variations of this landscape plan for many gardens to attract the greatest varieties of pollinators.
Native Bee Habitats
Mason bee habitats attract pollinators to your garden also. Simple strategies, such as providing bee habitats and gardening with an ecological community approach, contributes to species diversity, attracting and supporting more birds, butterflies, pollinators, and beneficial insects.
Paper tubes or straws provide nesting areas for mason bees which are pollinator powerhouses, much more efficient than honeybees. Tubes of any kind can be used, like bamboo or hollow stems of sunflowers or other thick stemmed plants.
A pollinator garden can be beautiful as well as useful. Strategies such as planting in groups of at least 3 to 5 plants is very important. A single plant won’t attract pollinators, but groups of same plants stand out and pollinators use less energy flying to a compact group of flowers.
My planting plan for pollinators includes an array of plants that span the early spring-time starting with Aconites, Snowdrops, Willows, Crocus, and Scillas, ending with the late bloomers of Aster, Tithonia, and Agastache. Mid-summer is not an issue to have blooming flowers in your garden; it is the shoulder season of early spring and late summer/fall that keeps pollinators going.
Mixing shrubs and trees with perennials, annuals, and bulbs creates an all-season show of blooms for foraging bees for both pollen and nectar. Many of the plants are also host plants for caterpillars that produce butterflies. And caterpillars are the protein rich food that keeps our songbirds going as it is the primary food that many birds feed their young. For example in my plan, willows are known to shelter tiny overwintering Viceroy Butterfly larvae rolled up in a leaf. You could also plant an Oak nearby as according to Doug Tallamy of ‘Bringing Nature Home’, oak trees are top of the list for providing a host to hundreds of caterpillar species, critical for providing essential food source for birds and their young.
It is important to include both herbaceous and woody plants in your pollinator garden. Trees and shrubs not only provide pollinators with food but also offer protected areas from the wind and predators. Also, remember to plan for a sequence of blooms, staggering the flowering time of nectar sources so that butterflies will frequent your garden throughout the season. Water is an essential for attracting pollinators, and something as simple as a birdbath will work. Mud is the other ingredient that pollinators are seeking when they lay their eggs into the paper tubes that you put out for their use. So, don’t mulch every garden bed.
Meadow creation is an option if you have a large wide open area in full sun. Using a newspaper layer on top of the grass to smother it, you add compost on top and scatter wildflower seed.
You need a sunny spot in your yard for a pollinator garden to be at its best. If your garden is shady but you have a sunny patio, plant containers full of annuals and perennials instead.
The scourge of most people’s gardens, deer are cursed by everyone who plants a pricey carefully selected gem, that overnight becomes deer salad on the buffet line. Using fences, sprays, loud noises, and other innovative controls to some effect, deer will always find a way to get to a freshly planted tender morsel one way or another. Frustrating is not the word! Gardeners feel that they are under attack and throw up their hands in defeat against their Bambi foes.
The best defense against this concerted garden attack is to plant things that deer rarely if ever eat…. Kind of like putting out a liver dish for most people. But if you are unsure about the resistance factor, consider if the plant is fuzzy, fragrant or a fern… animals (deer and bunnies) tend to leave them alone.
On the other hand, don’t plant the big three-hostas, daylilies, and tulips. Plantings of any of these will entice deer to your property, like “M and M’s” scattered around that will draw deer in to your property. Or inviting them to a party! Instead, you want to put up “keep away” signs with your plant choices.
List of Plants That are “Usually” Deerproof (Some Always!)
Usually is the key here. I thought that Epimedium was a stalwart deer proof plant until someone sent me a picture of a stand of chewed up Epimedium from deer. Some of these plants are understandably resistant like lavender or nepeta, both being very pungent. But Shasta Daisy? This seems very juicy and succulent to me but I find that deer never touch it. Here’s my list from experience:
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’.
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.
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.
The sizzling effect of the different hues of the color orange was brought home to me on my recent trip to 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 is a color with a very wide range of hues from peach and apricot, to copper and ochre.
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.
Not only flowers are turning up orange, accessories are turning up the heat with eye-popping color.
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!
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 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.
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.
Include plants that bear orange fruits: pyracantha, sea buckthorn, and bittersweet, as well as some roses and hollies.
Bright orange can make a statement. Use it carefully!
Last year, I posted about installing a stone labyrinth for a client. We started in the fall, worked through the winter, and just finished up the spring plantings. Go to Healing Labyrinth-Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, to see how I created and implemented the design and installation.
The theme for the plantings was pollinator friendly shrubs and perennials to surround and embrace the labyrinth to soften the harshness of stone and to bring nature in. When it came time to plant, I had to consider that the site is shady to part sun, with some parts in full sun, so I had to use an entire spectrum of plants that would attract pollinators.
Where the wall surrounds the labyrinth pathway, I left a small space of 6″ to plant something simple but beautiful to soften the stone edge in the shade. Hakenochloa ‘All Gold’ was chosen for its bright color in the shade and its graceful form. It has no attribute as a pollinator friendly plant, but was perfect for the spot. A slow grower that stays under 12″ high, the grass will not outgrow its space and is very low maintenance.
The only plantings that were original were extremely fragrant pink climbing roses on the fence. I kept them as a backdrop for the new plantings.
The garden surrounding the labyrinth is in partial to full sun and I went wild with the pollinator friendly plants. The main shrub that I used was Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’ – seven of them spotted around the space. Clethra is a highly fragrant deciduous shrub that blooms in July and August in shade and partial shade and is frequently visited by an array of pollinators. The racemes of dark pink flowers last for weeks and the foliage turns a bright yellow in the fall.
Butterfly bushes were also used to give late summer color as well as perennials such as stachys hummelo, salvias, sedum, vernonia, hibiscus, coral bells, and nepeta. A few annuals were selected for color and pollinator appeal – petunias and pentas.
The upper slope over-looking the labyrinth was in full shade and was planted with colorful foliage plants-coral bells, hostas, carex, toad lily, Lenten Rose, tiarella, brunnera, lamium, heucherellas, and woodland phlox to give texture and brighten the shady area.
Under the teak bench, I planted Mazus, a steppable creeping plant with tiny purple flowers.
In and among the rocks of the water feature, I planted several Deutzias for spring bloom, and variegated Iris, sedums, annuals, coral bells, and balloon flower. The water feature looked very stark without any plantings, so I was careful to plant things next to and within the rocks surrounding it so that plants would cascade over it.
To frame the picture, and provide some privacy, a screen of Skip Cherry Laurels was planted behind the fence to anchor the new space. These will eventually grow up to over 8 feet and knit together for a nice hedge.
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.
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.
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.
Harvey Ladew took the art of topiary to new heights with his creations. Check out the giraffe, the Chinese Junk and the pagoda.
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.
Someone had made some miniature gardens for sale which I love to make and was interested in their take on the subject.
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!
Large Bird Houses or Dovecotes
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.
This dovecote was incredible when I visited surrounded by blooming bridal wreath 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.
What do you do when you move from a large beautifully landscaped property that is overflowing with texture and color, to a retirement community that is populated with yews and swaths of mint? Oh, and did I mention overrun with deer?
That was the tall order that I as the landscape designer had to deal with. My client was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable gardener so she wouldn’t be satisfied with ordinary plantings. She wanted unique, colorful, and scaled down – but beautiful. Also, she wanted a pathway to be able to walk around the entire property which was sloping, so that she could enjoy the plantings.
The unit was large but the limitation was we could only extend out from the walls six to eight feet around the perimeter! And the existing plantings were the usual suspects – yews, hollies, runaway mint, and overgrown trees. Any plantings that were installed had to be small in stature in ultimate height and breadth, but also imposing enough to make a statement upon first installation. The drain pipe consisted of black corrugated above ground short lengths, that were visible and unsightly. Those were my challenges when I started to design a workable plan.
We started by tearing out most of the overgrown shrubs and trees and then we began the transformation.
Grading – The most important element
Because of the sloping site, a wall was required to level the grade around most of the unit. The finished height of the wall ultimately was only about 15 inches, but was mandatory so that my client could safely navigate the sloping terrain. With those features in mind, my stone mason came in and installed an 85 foot long dry stack wall of colonial bluestone around the unit until the grade leveled off towards the rear. The wall was needed so that we could install a 30 inch wide pathway winding pathway to circumnavigate the entire landscape.
The drains were replaced, extended, and buried, ending with a pop-up green cap. The cap pops up when a downpour dumps rain and forces the top up to release the excess water. When installed, the only visible sign of the drain is the small green cap.
A 30 inch wide pathway was dug out, edged with a very sturdy metal edging that had to be staked and hammered in. No flimsy plastic edging would be adequate for the heavy-duty river jack that would be used for the pathway. Landscape cloth was pieced in on top of the soil so that the river jack would stay put and not be mixed into the underlying soil. Soil pins fastened the cloth securely to the ground. Then the river jack was dumped in and raked about 2 inches thick.
Outside of the sun room area, the client wanted a small sitting area to sit so that she could enjoy a nice summer day outside in the garden. A small patio 8 feet x 8 feet was installed with irregular bluestone pieces in stone dust edged with cobblestones to give it definition.
The plantings were installed immediately next to the wall area bordered by the pathway and wall. I had about 3 to 4 feet to plant things so each plant was carefully selected and placed. On a large south-facing wall that deer eaten yews had been removed earlier, we planted an espaliered magnolia flanked with fastigiate boxwoods, with an underplanting of apricot drift roses and Artemisia stelleriana ‘Silver Brocade’. The Artemisia is a great little silver leaved creeping ground cover for hot and dry situations.
The shady front was planted with ‘Girards Rainbow’ Leucothoe, Cephalotxus fastigiata, or upright plum yew, Japanese Forest grass Hakenochloa ‘Aurea’, Hosta ‘MouseEars’ and a Tassel Fern, Polystichum polyblepharum, a real mouth full! Smallish boulders were sited to give some contrast with the Leucothoe. A small Acer ‘Butterflies was sited at the corner.
The rear was anchored with a tall 10 foot Cedrus deodor ‘Kashmir’, a very narrow upright variety. The tree was beautiful! I also included in the plan a miniature Crepe Myrtle ‘Cherry Dazzle’, a miniature Butterfly Bush ‘Blue Chip’, Nandina compactas, ‘Little Honey’ Oak Leaf Hydrangeas, ‘Centennial Spirit’ Hydrangea, and ‘Twist and Shout’ Hydrangea. The perennials included ‘Eveline’ Salvia, one of the best Salvias on the market. Also, Anemone ‘Whirlwind’ , Heuchera ‘Dales Strain’, miniature Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’, Geranium ‘Max Frei’, Ajuga ‘Caitlin’s Giant’, and Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea’.
Along the wall in pockets, we planted Sedum ‘Angelina’ , and Sedum ‘Silver Stone to cascade. Also, some creeping Phloxes were planted in the wall crevices to grow along with the Sedums.
After the plantings were installed, the next step was drip irrigation. The irrigation is laid down with brown rubber hoses along all the plantings so the water is applied precisely to each plant. It is all connected to the control box which we was located in a nearby utility shed for easy access.
The property was divided into three distinct watering zones, a shady front, a hot south-facing area, and a partially shaded area in the rear. Each zone could then be calibrated to deliver water to the plants that had different water requirements.
Initially, we set the drip to go on twice a week for 30 minutes at a time. This will be our base line and we will adjust as the conditions get hotter throughout the summer.
Icing on the Cake – Mulch
After the irrigation, the tan bark mulch was laid down to a depth of about 2 inches to cover up the brown irrigation pipes and to give it that finishing touch. Now the only thing left to do is to watch the irrigation and calibrate it to the correct times depending on the water needs.
The entire job work time was only about 2 to 3 weeks in length. The planning process was much longer, a couple of months to get everything drawn out and prepared. I will be posting pictures of the installation as the summer progresses with updates.