Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Snippets from the Gardens of the British Embassy in Washington, DC

Fall is a lovely time to tour gardens.  The weather is cool, the leaves are beginning to change and everything seems to be slowing down before winter.

This week, I toured the gardens of the British Embassy in Washington, DC.  Originally designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the house and grounds are magnificent.
The gate in the courtyard to enter the gardens (notice the Heuchera 'Bridal Veil' that has been allowed to seed into the wall).
The front of the house and the rose garden.  The Gingko biloboa (male, of course) trees that flank the front entry were planted after Japanese Maples on decline were removed.  Pictures of Teddy Roosevelt on the front steps, with Gingko trees on the sides, guided the horticulturists to plant these new ones. 
Rather than simple limestone, Lutyens added slate pieces placed on edge, to add visual interest.  Set in sand or stone dust, these sections of the large hardscape are permeable and drain well.  
The view from the front entry across the lawn.  Before the Magnolias and other trees were so large, the view was of the Washington Monument.
Over time, some of the slate has grown moss, giving it color and variation.
The head gardener prunes the Wisteria two times a week.
Steps to the perennial borders and upper lawn.  Even with nearly 10,000 for EU Day visiting the gardens, the Heuchera 'Purple Palace' survives in the crevices of the limestone steps.
Long into October, the perennial border is full of color and interest.

The walk to the kitchen garden.

The kitchen garden includes espaliered apples and pears with multiple varieties grafted onto the same stock, and Meyer lemons as large as a cantelope.
Inside the greenhouse, orchids are abundant.  Apparently, there are usually 40 blooming orchids inside the residence most of the time.
An orchid in bloom in the greenhouse.
Believe it or not, this is a cultivar of Trascendtia (Spiderwort) called 'White Velvet.'
I love peaking into other gardeners' potting sheds!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

No, Colored Mulch Is Not Pretty

Nicely landscaped garden bed with awful dyed mulch - perhaps to match the bricks?

Have you seen the commercial with the Irish man who has more time to spend with his wife because he uses dyed mulch?  I have never been so disgusted by a commercial, ever. 

Here is why.

Mulch is not a ground cover! 

Here is another reason why.

Mulch should absolutely break down over the year in order to add organic material back into the soil!

Garden beds are mulched for several important reasons:
  • To suppress weeds that might grow between plants.  A light mulching (1-2” deep) creates a nice barrier to help prevent weed seeds from germinating.
  • To help the soil retain moisture.  A light mulching allows rainwater to seep through and helps keep the soil from drying out too fast. 
  • To help the soil stay cool during the heat of summer.  Again, a light mulching helps keep the sun’s direct rays from penetrating and heating the soil and plants’ roots. 
  • To add organic matter back into the soil.  As the mulch is broken down, important microscopic organisms are working to do their jobs and enrich the soil.

Today’s residential and commercial landscapes are over-mulched.  Rather than planting, weeding, and maintaining a garden or landscape, garden beds are spread thickly with mulch, giving “green space” a nice brown coating, or in some cases, a wash of blood red wood shreds.  Where in nature would one find a blanket of red except on a field after a bloody battle?

Dyed mulches (black, red, dark brown (the actual color of shredded wood)) are often composed of recycled wood waste such as old hardwood pallets, decking, or worst of all, old pressure treated CCA lumber.  Ground up trash wood is treated with chemicals (for bonding) and dyes to give it a uniform color.

The biggest reason why I abhor dyed mulch is that it does not break down to enrich the soil as natural and organic soil does.  The possibilities of chemicals in the recycled wood trash that leach into the soil could harm, or even kill, beneficial soil bacteria, insects, earthworms, or even the plants the mulch is supposed to protect. 

When you mulch, you should use 100% and organic shredded hardwood, pine, pine straw or fines, or composted leaf mulch to do the jobs that mulch is supposed to do, and to make your garden full of beautiful plants (and not painted wood trash)!

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Cicadas Are Coming!


Famously known as Brood II, the 17-year cicadas are due to begin emerging by the end of May.  To some, witnessing this natural phenomenon is awesome; to others, menacing and grotesque.

For me, it means calls from clients wondering what to do about their recently planted gardens.

Adrian Higgins, the Washington Post's garden writer, sums it all up nicely.  Not everything in your garden is at risk - in fact, unless your garden was planted in the past two years, you shouldn't worry at all. Established trees  and shrubs will recover.  Perennials and evergreens are not plants in which the cicadas like to lay their eggs.

So no worries, enjoy watching the beastly creatures and be grateful they won't return until 2030.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What are other gardeners reading?

I wonder what other gardeners and landscape designers are reading, not just for inspiration, but to gain historical perspective, or, perhaps to fall asleep?  I have shelves of books about gardens, many that I've read cover-to-cover more than once, others that no longer have a spine (not unlike my old Bible), and some very pretty ones that don't do much more than collect dust.

A few weeks from now, I'm thrilled to attend a book signing party for David Culp, and his new book The Layered Garden:  Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage.  Of course, this is on my list of books to read and add to my collection - and one that will likely lose its spine.  I've heard David Culp speak about winter gardens and read articles he's written about plants and plant design.  His excitement for plants, particularly perennials, is contagious.  

Peeking into the book online, he includes a list of some of his favorite garden books . . . what a rare treat! I have quite a few on his list, but now have a few more to add to my library.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus flores!

Spring is almost here . . . holding my breath . . . and enjoying the early (and fragrant!) blooms of Hammamelis x intermedia 'Jelena' (Witch Hazel) and Sarcoccocoa hookeriana var. humilis (Sweetbox) in the garden.  

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rare Finds

One of my favorite plant catalogs arrived in the mail today - Rare Find Nursery.  With gorgeous pictures and very detailed descriptions, it's like walking through a specialty nursery right from my desk.

As one of my winter projects, I have been reworking the front entry to our home, creating two new planting areas (and of course, giving me an excuse to re-plan the rest of the front garden).  Lucky me, I have part-sun, part-shade giving me many options for experimenting with some unusual perennials.  With gray fieldstone as a backdrop, I'm considering some plant colors I wouldn't normally combine such as the orange daylily Hemerocallis 'Barnegat Bittersweet Eyes' and Solidago sphacelata 'Golden Fleece.'  Adding something medium purple (the complementary color to orange) like Liatris pycnostachya and Allium spp. could prove to be quite stunning.
Hemerocallis 'Barnegat Bittersweet Eyes'

Solidago sphacelata 'Golden Fleece'
Liatris pycnostachya
Allium spp.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spring Garden Tours in Washington, DC

Each spring, I take several garden tours, not just for ideas and inspiration for my work as a garden designer, but also to enjoy the labor and love that others put into their own gardens.  Last April, a friend passed along White House Garden Tour tickets (2012 dates are yet to be announced).  
View across the White House Lawn to the Washington Monument

Petals of Magnolia soulangeana spilling onto lawn by walk to the West Wing

A cherry tree hides the view of a bee hive (across from the kitchen garden)

The Kitchen Garden newly planted

Tulips and grape hyacinths