Archive for the ‘plants’ Category

trellis jealous?

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

My plants are pining for vining and just can’t wait any longer. So in addition to the arbor that just went up, David whipped up a trellis for our oddly shaped concrete retaining wall out back. Remember that massive thing?

the retaining wall

Measures about 6’10 high at one end and just over 2′ at the other end. The usable wall face is roughly 14′ wide. The crazy insane slope and our pickiness made it impossible to find the perfect trellis, which essentially meant make one. David picked up copper tubing at the hardware store — the heavier walled Type M.

Then he broke out the graph paper…

mad genius calculations

I can only assume the question marks in his mad genius calculations are an indication of chaos theory. After that, he moved on to real-world application…

david engineering those right angles

He soldered the tubing together one joint at a time to create a frame for the trellis. Dudes dig fire…

soldering the joints together

After that, he drilled holes into the concrete to attach the trellis frame to the wall. Not easy…

concrete drilling

Keeping it level was a challenge but it all worked out…

lots more drilling

David DIYed some brackets out of the same copper pipe. Clever boy…

DIY brackets

Then drilled holes through the pipe and used 3/32″ steel wire to oh-so-patiently create his trellis grid…

steel wire spool

threading the wire

bolting the wire in place

And look — DONE!

detail shot

Simple. Ish. Minimal. Love it. And to adorn his new creation…

trellis with rubus calycinoides planted

Rubus henryi bambusoides (also called Rubus henryi var. bambusarum). From China, the leaves resemble bamboo…

rubus calycinoices closeup

… although it’s actually a bramble, like roses, raspberries and blackberries (all related). Tiny thorns. Small pink flowers. But it’s really all about the foliage. Planting this is kind of an experiment as I’m not sure it will be hardy here in New England, although it appears that Arnold Arboretum may have had some success growing this. We’ll see. Should it not return next year, I can always move my Akebia quinata Shirobana here. Nothing kills an Akebia.

gnome, part deux

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Remember a few days back when a tall, handsome garden gnome showed up in our yard and knocked together that arbor? Well, he returned, worked his gnomey-is-to-nub-me magic again and now the arbor is installed. Yay!

Graham worked up a sweat digging post holes 3′ down…

post hole digging

Note his precise motions into the hole. There was much repetition…

post hole digging, mo deepa

Holes primed, it was time for insertion. Of Sonotube. G-rated…

sonotube in the holes

David added longish bolts to the ends of the arbor posts…

long bolts added to arbor posts

Graham whipped the concrete to a froth. Of a sort…

concrete mixing

Then, um, the holes were filled to the top with the stuff…

concrete in the holes

The boys set the arbor into the mixture. There was hardening…

setting the arbor in place

not going anywhere

And then everyone smoked a cigarette…

a job well done

Meanwhile, in the wings, my vines have been waiting…

passionflower in waiting

One of my passion flowers (passiflora cereulean) has already started to bloom. Look at that! Like a daisy in a grass skirt! Butterflies, bees and hummingbirds LOVE these. Native but not perennial here in New England, it seeds freely and returns year after year.

Also planting hyacinth bean vine, which starts looking really good in the heat of summer. The dark purple beans in the fall are what I really love. A nice companion for the passion flower and another great butterfly attractor…

hyacinth bean vine |

hyacinth bean vine |

And last but not least, as I’m always one to cram way too many plants into one spot, I have an akebia quinata ‘Shirobana’…

akebia quinata shirobana foliage |

akebia quinata shirobana foliage |

akebia quinata shirobana flowers |

akebia quinata shirobana flowers |

Only flowers for a few weeks, as I recall from my last garden (3 years ago!), but the foliage is bright green 3/4 of the year and has that Asian look I’m going for. I suppose if I were to plant just one vine it would be this one. Just really, really pretty and people always ask what it is.

So anyway, I’m thrilled to get the arbor up. And the next morning, no regrets.

the next morning, no regrets

big whoop

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010


I’m sure nobody else cares but WOO HOO! AW YEAH BABY!! I stumbled across cardoons in the Briggs Nursery greenhouse a few days ago. Finally, a fruitful end to a quest I assumed was hopeless. Big whoop, yes. But it’s MY big whoop.

cardoon character

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

cardoon at denver botanic garden

So maybe you’ve seen this before. It’s a cardoon. The first time I saw one was last fall at Denver Botanic Garden — that’s where I snapped that shot. They used them in several focal point areas, usually at the end of a walkway or to anchor a bed. Hard to tell from the photo but these suckers are easily 3′ across and as high. Want. Not to eat. Just for the drama.

how’s that curlex holding up?

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

curlex rolls

So the Curlex has been in place for a few weeks now. Has it kept our slope from washing away? I am pleased to report that yes, so far, it has successfully b**ch-slapped our erosion issues.

Here’s where we were on March 30 after all that flooding…

washouts on march 30

More soil was added during the first week of April…

new soil added in the first week of april

Then the Curlex erosion control matting was added and erosion control plants put in the ground…

slope fully curlexed

And here’s what it looks a few weeks later after planting and some fairly heavy rains…

dirt from above

No dirt under the matting has washed out. However, dirt from above (not held by the matting) washed down over it. Just a little. And no wonder, with no grass, very few plants and absolutely no mulch, the water just rushed down the slope and took some of our new topsoil with it…

up above, it’s all dirt

Very happy with the Curlex. I see a few weeds beginning to poke their heads through here and there…

weeds coming up thru curlex

I’ll have to put a stop to that immediately.

Remember the slope between us and our neighbor? The area where we found the lead levels so high and had the soil dug up and carted away?…

removing lead soil from other slope

Our lovely neighbors and I thought it would be smart to put down Curlex on this slope, too, before the spring rains washed all the new soil downhill…

adding curlex to the other slope

So I took care of that a few weekends ago and then started plugging in some plants sure to hold that slope back…

curlex and some erosion control plants added

On the front slope, one of the native plants we chose was a Symphoricarpos var. albus (Common Snowberry), which produces big white berries in autumn. I figured that closer to the house it would be nice to have more color, so I chose Symphoricarpus x ‘Kordes’ Amythest (Coralberry)…

amythest coralberry

Not a native variety but it produces the most irresistible, insanely colored berries you’ve ever seen — good for the birds…

amethyst™ coralberry |

amethyst™ coralberry |

I also threw in a few native Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ‘Massachussetts’ (bearberry) like we have on the front slope…

more bearberry

Not only good for erosion control, it also produces bright red berries for the birds in the fall…

common bearberry |

common bearberry |

And for good measure, I thought I’d see if some of my brilliant chartreuse Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ might work here…

sedum angelina

Like all sedums, it’s a tough little stonecrop that covers the ground quickly and doesn’t ask for much care or much water. Flowers for the butterflies in summer. And in the fall, it takes on the most gorgeous pinkish-orange overtones that will look fab with the colorful berries on the plants around it…

sedum angelina | the BEST gardening blog EVER

sedum angelina | the BEST gardening blog EVER

I’m not done adding plants to the slope…

back corner still to be planted

Something ferny with a bluish or silvery cast would make a nice foil to the other shades going on. I’ll report back when I find just the right thing. In that far back corner slope starting at about the oak, I want to plant Rhus aromatica ‘Gro Low’ (Fragrant Sumac). I just discovered it during last week’s trip to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden…

fragrant sumac at brooklyn botanic

A native great for holding slopes that fills in quickly, is undemanding and drought tolerant, and offers flowers and catkins (food for birds) in the spring. In the fall, it turns flamey red…

fragrant sumac gro-low |

fragrant sumac gro-low |

What a showstopper. I haven’t found a local nursery that carries it, although there’s bound to be one. High Country Gardens has it, for sure. I think I may be able to use it under our dogwood out front as well.

For those of you have slopes like I do, I came across another great article on not-your-typical groundcover alternatives. Worth exploring.

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UPDATE: Okay, I’m having some luck in hunting for slope plants with blue foliage that can handle a mix of sun and shade. There’s Carex Glauca Blue Sedge

carex glauca (or flacca) blue sedge |

carex glauca (or flacca) blue sedge |

Or Carex Glauca (also Flacca) Blue Zinger

carex glauca (flacca) blue zinger |

carex glauca blue zinger |

Ferny, no. But they have a similar upright and then arching manner that make them strong contenders.

spring at brooklyn botanic

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

PVD-NYC-LAS. What a crazy week! Looking back on it I must say the absolute best part of it all was a trip to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It’s a must whenever we’re in town. Last weekend was the height of the cherry blossoms. Springtime in New York never looked more incredible… (as always, click to biggify)

cherry blossom alley

Hanami is April 3 through May 2 and “celebrates the Japanese cultural tradition of enjoying each moment of the cherry blossom season.” It’s truly magical…

a ceiling of cherry blossoms

white cherries

Wish we were there this weekend for Sakura Matsuri, which closes out the month-long festival.  Instead, I’ll be getting dirt under my fingernails here at the homestead. Can’t exactly complain about that.

Also a riot of blossoms: the magnolias. Their perfume is intoxicating…

magnolias in bloom

And the lilacs. A huge field of them — and so many different varieties!

field of lilacs

heavenly scented lilacs

The French cultivars seemed to have the best smell. I think I sniffed my sniffer off…

lilac closeup

Closer to the ground, the grape hyacinths and euphorbias looked amazing. What a great combination of shades…

grape hyacinths and euphorbias

And these little minty looking guys with pink heads. Anybody know what these are? So cute. I need some of these…

looks like mint

The jonquils and epimediums look great together. My epimediums are just starting to pop in Providence…

epimidiums and jonquils

Between the foliage of the Japanese maples and the azaleas just starting and the cherry trees in full bloom, the Japanese garden was bursting with color…

japanese garden

Japanese torii gate

I’ve been researching Japanese maples so I geeked out over this linearlobum (also called threadleaf). Love the bright green against the red bark…

green japanese maple

Currently considering adding a Crimson Queen Japanese maple — it’s a dissectum. Here’s one at BBG viewed through a Weeping Katsura

japanese maple thru the weeping katsura tree

Can’t forget the wisteria. Some of the vines were still bare. Their gnarly structure looks so great all year. I might even love that more than the flowers…

wisteria vine

Some of them were already in bloom, though…

wisteria on display

In May, this place is insane with scent of wisteria. Heady stuff. If you haven’t been to Brooklyn Botanic, go around Mother’s Day. It’s fantastical.

busta slope!

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Can I just start with the incredible view from my backyard across my neighbors’ yards towards Providence College?

springtime view of neighboring yards

Spring is suddenly busting out of her halter top! It’s like a botanic garden back there, which makes our dirtscape look all the more desolate…


That changed somewhat on the front slope today. The truck from Sylvan Nursery pulled in at around 9 this morning and dropped off our plants

sylvan truck arrives

Shiva and Rich offloaded 199 in all…

plant lineup

The four flowering currants arrived from Forest Farm just a few days ago — flowering!

flowering currants — arrived in the box, flowering!

Today’s arrivals are also showing signs of spring. The cute little bearberries are blooming…

bearberry in bloom

And the yellowroot plants are fully in flower already…

yellowroot in flower

And the heavenly scented sweetferns will soon unfurl…

signs of sweetfern fronds

Shiva and Rich started getting things in the ground right away, first cutting holes through the Curlex matting so they could dig holes for the plants…

digging thru curlex

They made their way through most of the plants today…

slope progress

By the end of the day, I’d say they probably made it about two-thirds of the way across the 100-foot stretch…

the slope at the end of day

They literally stopped traffic all day. So many rubber-neckers curious to see the transformation, I guess. Or Rich and Shiva busting out of their halter tops.

Tomorrow, Shiva and our friend Ellen will finish up and determine how many more plants we’ll need to fill out the space nicely. I can’t wait to watch this happy hillside transform as things grow over the next year. Thanks to everyone who helped to make this happen!

day 3: a whole new yard

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

What a difference a day makes! It really does look like we have a whole new yard.

Yesterday morning began with the arrival of a tri-axel filled with Smithfield Peat’s finest screened loam/compost mix. Impressive. The Savages broke out the big guns…

tri-axel truck arrives full of loam

7:30 am, Adam starts with a little more grading out back with the mini excavator…

7:30 am grading begins

You can hardly even tell the water collection tank is there. Well, except for the giant manhole covers and the filter, of course. We’ll remove one of those covers and screen it all with plants soon enough…

water collection manholes

For future reference, David marked down where the overflow piping and other underground bits of the system are hiding. Probably a good idea…

rain collection diagram

The veggie zone got raked out…

ready to spread compost in veggie zone

… then the loam was brought in and spread with the bobcat. So rich, it looks like brownie mix…

loaming veggie zone

Our plants are going to be soooo spoiled…

finished veggie zone

Rich and Mr. Savage perfected the grade out back so that water would flow away from the house and down the slope…

getting the grade right so water will drain

Then it was ready for loam…

back ready for loam

Which  Adam had spread in no time…

backyard with loam

Ever since we moved in, I’ve been looking forward to finding a new home for five fairly young rhododendrons. The last owner must have put them in hoping to add privacy to the downstairs patio area… which is ridiculous for several reasons. One: those suckers take forever to grow, so there wouldn’t be privacy screening for at least another decade. And Two: they planted them practically on top of each other and way too close to the pathway — hard to believe looking at them now, but these will be monsters when they finally reach 12′ tall and 12′ across…

row of rhodos

So Mr. Savage dug them up for Rich to take home with him. Plant them and love them, Story!

bye rhodos

Mr. Savage added a little soil and smoothed out the eroded slope along the road…

adding to slope

… the entire 100′ foot length of it. Wow, that looks incredible!

slope prepped and ready for curlex

Then Rich and Shiva dug a shallow trench along the top of the slope where the biodegradable Curlex erosion control matting will be secured…

digging the trench up top

That was a lot of digging…

top of slope trench

Then the two of them rolled the Curlex down the slope…

first roll of curlex

… and secured it with our natural, biodegradable staples at the top and bottom.

second roll of curlex

Up the hill, down the hill, up the hill… and so on. Thanks, Rich!

two more rolls

sixth roll of curlex

closeup curlex

twelfth roll of curlex

By late afternoon, the slope was completely transformed. The Curlex won’t break down for three years, which is plenty of time for plants to get established. Speaking of which, the plants arrive this Tuesday…

end of rolls

Meanwhile, David made a trip to Sylvan Nursery in Westport, MA, to pick up our focal point tree for the backyard…

tree in truck

Doesn’t look like much in the truck…

tree arrives

After months of deliberation, I finally settled on a Betula nigra Cully Heritage River Birch. Yes, I considered many other gorgeous options — Perrotia Persica (Persian Ironwood),  Stewartia Pseudocamillia (Japanese Stewartia), Fagus Sylvatica Tortuosa (Tortuous European Beech) and Cercidiphyllum Japonicium (Katsura or Caramel Tree), were top contenders. But the size and multi-trunked habit of the Heritage Birch was just right. I’ve been stalking just such a tree in a neighborhood where I run. This is what it looked last last summer…

heritage cullen birch

The peeling bark is really something…

birch bark closeup

So with the help of Adam in the bobcat, Shiva, David and Rich got the tree up the slope…

tree wrangling

… and hoisted it into the hole..

putting tree in hole

And, voila! Landscaping has officially begun. Thanks to Shiva and Ellen for making the tree-sleuthing trip to Sylvan last week to find the perfect specimen for us. It’s gawgeous!

tree planted

Birches grow quickly, so this should fill out nicely in no time. Will look lovely from the living area…

goodnight yard

Thank you so much Savages. You rawk!

savage trucking

the erosion zone: plant choices

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Did you catch Erosion Zone, part one? This is part two, Revenge of the Erosion Zone, in which the battle against a tyrannical slope continues. Now that you’ve seen the problems that need solving, here are the plants that are up to the job.

1. Arctostaphylos uva ursi ‘Massachusetts’… also known as Bearberry or Kinnickinnick (Algonquin Indian name)

arcostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry) |
arcostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry) |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? excellent slope erosion control, loves crappy soil, recommended under oaks, native to the East Coast, it’s a spreader, white/pink flowers in spring and red berries in fall for birds, evergreen so it has year-round color, disease- and bug-resistant, long-lived, should do fine in morning sun/afternoon shade, rare and protected in some states

READ MORE ABOUT IT: here and here

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2. Comptonia peregrina … also known as Sweetfern

comptonia peregrina (sweetfern) | shot at Garden in the Woods
comptonia peregrina (sweetfern) | shot at Garden in the Woods

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? native to the East Coast, great for stabilizing slopes, thrives in dry spots on woodland edges, food for moths and butterflies, gorgeous blue-green foliage will look great peeking out above brighter greens, excellent spreader, it’s actually shrub that looks like a fern, should do great in morning sun/afternoon shade

READ MORE ABOUT IT: here and here

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3. Cornus canadensis… also known as Bunchberry or Creeping Dogwood

cornus candensis (creeping dogwood or bunchberry |
cornus candensis (creeping dogwood or bunchberry |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? nice bright green with white flowers just like a dogwood but only 8″ tall, as a northern native shade-loving woodland groundcover it prefers morning sun and afternoon shade (hey, I have that!), good spreader, likes medium moisture which may be helped once other plants are established, reputed to be dependable so I’m willing to see how it does on-site


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4. Ribes sanguineum ‘White Icicle’… also known as white flowering Wild Currant

ribes sanguineum hannaman’s (white flowering currant) |
ribes sanguineum hannaman’s (white flowering currant) |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? native to the dry open woods and ravines of the Northwest coast, absolutely gorgeous pendulous white flowers, fruits, food for hummingbirds, butterflies and birds, good in zones 4-9 (I’m 5-6ish), drought-tolerant, recommended under oaks, should do great with morning sun/afternoon shade


WHY NOT A NATIVE CURRANT CLOSER TO HOME? our regional variety, known as American black currant or wild black currant (Ribes americanum), has been banned since the early 1900s in an effort to prevent White Pine Blister Rust. Sounds painful. It’s a fungus that was bad for the logging industry at the time. Black currant is officially deemed “a public nuisance” in RI and MA. Heavy. The ban has been lifted in most states. btw, red-flowering currant and pink-flowering currant are two great alternatives to the white — we went with white to unite the color scheme on this slope.

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5. Rubus pentalobus ‘Emerald Carpet’… also known as Ornamental Raspberry

rubus calycinoides (ornamental or creeping raspberry) |
rubus calycinoides (ornamental or creeping raspberry) |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? loves climbing steep hillsides, used for erosion control (mostly on the West Coast), very drought-tolerant, from the thickets of Taiwan and has a slight Asian look about it that will tie nicely to the garden above, white flowers in spring, golden fruits for birds later in the season, bright green will really pop in the shade, leaves turn purple in fall and only fall off in extreme cold, insect- and disease-resistant, says hardy in zones 6-9 but in canvassing plant chats about this species (yeah, I’m a geek that way) I see that fanatics from Canada to Connecticut say they have no problems, local nursery endorses it… am willing to experiment

READ MORE ABOUT IT: herehere and here (Arnold Arboretum magazine feature on unique Asian plants grown in the Boston arboretum, including ornamental raspberry — another reason I’m sure it will do well here)

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6. Symphoricarpos x chenautlii ‘Hancock’… also known as Chenault Coralberry or Snowberry

symphoricarpos x chenaultii (chenault coralberry) |
symphoricarpos x chenaultii (chenault coralberry) |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? native to the West coastal range but disappearing on the East Coast, pinkish flowers attract hummingbirds, white berries in fall and winter for birds, good spreader, used to restore embankments, drought-tolerant, not picky about soil, hardy in zones 4-7, likes some sun to full shade

READ MORE ABOUT IT: here and here

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7. Xanthorhiza simplicissima…  also known as Yellowroot

xanthorhiza simplicissima (yellowroot) in flower |
xanthorhiza simplicissima (yellowroot) in flower |

xanthorhiza simplicissima (yellowroot) in fall |
xanthorhiza simplicissima (yellowroot) in fall |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? native East Coast woodland shrub accustomed to stream banks, thrives in bright shade to full shade, bright green with small purple flowers in summer, fruit for birds, turns an amazingly deep purple in fall, average soil, great spreader, appears to like some moisture so protection of other plants may help

READ MORE ABOUT IT: here and here

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So Shiva talked me into bearberry. I talked her into flowering currant and creeping raspberry. I’m sure her bearberry will do well — great idea, Shiva! I think the fruit-bearers will thrive but I’ll probably give them special attention until established. Garden experiments. Ya never know.

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How much will it take to fill 95′ x 8′?

Shiva suggests the following, although we’ll likely need to add after it’s had a year to get established…

1. Arctostaphylos uva ursi/bearberry:

6″h x 1-3’w at maturity … need 15 plants

2. Comptonia peregrina/sweetfern:

2-4’h x 4-8’w at maturity … need 75 plants

3. Cornus canadensis/bunchberry or creeping dogwood:

6-9″h x 2’w at maturity … need 50 plants

4. Ribes sanguineum Hannaman’s White/white flowering wild currant:

roughly 6’h x 6’w at maturity … need 4 plants

5. Rubus pentalobus Emerald Carpet/ornamental raspberry:

6″h x 3’w at maturity … need 9 plants

6. Symphoricarpos x chenautlii Hancock/snowberry:

2’h x 6’w at maturity … need 8 plants

7. Xanthorhiza simplicissima/yellowroot:

2-3’h x 2-3’w at maturity … need 42 plants

Oof, that’s a lot of plants. Now you can see why I need help! Thanks, Shiva, for doing the figuring.

erosion zone

More to come on our erosion zone project as springtime unpacks its bags and the real work begins.