Neighborly Garden News
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Ecological Landscaping: Beauty from the Wild
In a recent interview by Margaret Roach (of the NY Times) with Darrel Morrison, renowned landscape architect and ‘father’ of the ecological landscaping movement; highlighted a typical response to this subject, “people think it will be as if it were a compromise or concession meant to limit their creativity”. There is an unfounded notion that utilizing ecologically sound landscaping principles will mean you have to give up something, and it will be restrictive. The truth, according to Mr. Morrison, is these concepts only enhance the landscape experience. Mr. Morrison has created some truly inspiring landscape designs that you may have visited: Storm King Art Center in Orange County, NY, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX, and Brooklyn Botanic Garden, NY, NY, to name a few. His recent book: “Beauty of the Wild: A Life Designing Landscapes Inspired by Nature,” published by the Library of American Landscape History, chronicles his life and design career.
Morrison’s landscape design at Storm King
Growing up on the plains of Iowa have influenced Mr. Morrison’s design ideas. He has replicated the concept of a prairie in many of his garden designs. Morrison studied the relationship of the plants within native plant communities, and credits the 1929 book “American Plants for American Gardens” by Roberts and Rehmann for giving him the spark to merge ecology with design.
Mr. Morrison manages his design practice utilizing four design principles. He says: “First, it must be ecologically or environmentally sound, meaning that it has a level of natural diversity that will provide resilience against climate change.”
“The species in the landscape must be adapted to the site and region, and hence not require a lot of support like watering or applying poisons to the earth,” he said. “It also means we don’t introduce nonnative invasives that will diminish diversity.”
“A landscape must also be experientially rich, beyond the visual dimension.” That means considering “the nonvisual aspects: the feel of the wind, the aroma of prairie dropseed grass that permeates the air,” he said. “And the other forms of life, too: the bees and butterflies that move through it.”
A design must, likewise, be of the place — averting the fate conjured in a favorite quote. “When you have standardized landscapes with the same plants, all irrigated and on artificial support, “there is no there there,” he said, “A native landscape gives you a clue of where you are. You should know if you are in Des Moines or Connecticut.”
Last, a landscape must be dynamic, changing over time. “We spend all kinds of effort to keep our landscapes looking the same, mowed and clipped and unchanged,” Mr. Morrison said. “You are missing out by doing that, missing out on the change from one growing season to another, and over time.”
One of Mr. Morrison’s novel concepts is called ‘Landscape Luminosity’; placing plants with translucent foliage in areas where they will be backlit by sunlight. Many plants, such as ferns and native grass catch the light in such a way as to create ethereal colors and patterns as the light changes. Morrison says, “Start with the pretty element”, “But then you start to see the patterns. And then you begin to understand the processes that led to them that you can integrate into your designs.” Words to live by from Darrel Morrison: “Painting is two-dimensional; architecture and sculpture, three-dimensional,” he said. “But landscapes are four-dimensional, with time being the fourth dimension.”
So true! The young trees we plant now will be for our children and grandchildren as they both mature. How would you feel about an ecological do-over for your garden?
October’s ‘to-do’ list
I believe this summer is going to be one for the record books. I’m writing as the first day of fall approaches, and we’re having the great weather we seemed to have missed during July and August. The unsettled weather certainly made for the kind of challenges to growing that might discourage all but the most seasoned gardeners. We have been harvesting tomatoes from the most beaten-up-looking plants you’ve ever seen. On the up-side, our garlic heads were as big as apples this harvest. I hope we can remain frost free for a few more weeks; but keep those frost blankets handy to protect any tender plants if you hear of any frost warnings. A change of seasons can foster a feeling of beginning something new. Many people become reinvigorated with the cooler weather, and like to delve into new outdoor projects before winter sets in. Now is a perfect time to get back into the garden, if you’ve been putting off that unfinished project.
The heavy rains we experienced this summer may have promoted a temporary leaching of soil nutrients. You can help revitalize your soil over the dormant season by adding a layer of compost, and chopped leaves. Nature and the worms will break it all down come next spring. Fall is also the optimal time to add lime to your garden beds. The freeze/thaw action of the soil structure will naturally distribute the lime over winter.
Leaves have begun to prematurely fall, as they look more brown than colored. Falling leaves mean it’s time to clean out your gutters before winter. Clogged gutters can create ice dams over the winter; which often leads to leaky roofs and big headaches. A sound roof is an investment to protect, so as to give many years of service.
Plan on collecting at least some of those fallen leaves to be shredded and composted into leaf mold, a free alternative to peat moss, it is a superb soil additive that will increase the water holding capacity of your soil. You can also use your shredded leaves to insulate borderline hardy plants; surround the plant with a wire fencing ‘cage’, then fill the caged area with your shredded leaves up over the top of the branches.
Once you grow your own garlic, you’ll never go back to store-bought garlic! Here is a photo of my apple-sized garlic. Plant garlic now for next summer’s harvest. Sow garlic cloves 1-2” deep, spacing them 6” apart. They may sprout a few greens before winter sets in, this is normal, and won’t affect next year’s crop. Mulch the row with a few inches of chopped leaves or straw to keep the garlic cloves protected from thaws and freezes. Garlic will continue to grow until the ground freezes, and resume growth again next spring; harvest usually begins in late July.
My apple-sized garlic
The cooler and wetter fall weather allows for easier planting and transplanting, of perennials, trees and shrubs. The soil is consistently moist and still warm enough to encourage good root formation before the plant goes dormant for winter. Mature trees and shrubs have different requirements than newly planted or juvenile plants. To enhance the root system, and promote longevity we recommend a fall deep feeding. This special formulation has a balanced concentration of phosphoric acid and potash; to help your plants through our tough winters, and a healthy long life.
Don’t wait-Last call for spring and summer flowering bulbs; we only have about 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes, and that is just enough time for new bulbs to set down roots. You know you’ll love seeing the cheery blooms next spring! As a general rule of thumb, bulbs should be planted at a depth equal to 3 times their diameter. If you’ve never planted bulbs before, you can safely experiment with any kind of daffodil. They are pretty much deer-proof, rodent-proof, and fool-proof.
Need a hand with fall clean-up? Thinking about screening out the deer this winter? Want to schedule a fall deep feeding? Give our office a call to schedule your fall and winter services: (413)458-5586 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
8 Smart tools that can make gardening a less of a pain (in your back, knees, etc.)
Face it; most of us have reached the age where we should learn to work smarter not harder. Gardening is not exactly a relaxing, leisurely activity. It involves countless hours of bending, flexing, lifting and yes; pulling hundreds of weeds. The weekend warriors among us can attest to the strenuous nature of gardening by the sore muscles we have on Mondays. The answer is not to quit gardening, and take up other pursuits, but to work out a strategy that will minimize the bodily strains and aches.
Modifying, not eliminating is the key to enjoying gardening in our later years. Medical advice says staying active as we age is crucial, particularly if you experience chronic types of pain. Regular movement helps to strengthen muscles which support and protect our joints. So all that mulching, weeding and planting not only benefits your plants, but keeps you fit and flexible.
- Not surprisingly, kneeling is one of the most demanding tasks during gardening. It can affect both your knees and your back. Using a deep-seat type kneeler can allow you to garden more comfortably, without having to bend too far forward. It also has cushy padding to protect your knees, and sturdy handles to assist you getting up.
- Raise up the garden to you, with a raised bench garden bed. Bending over repeatedly can aggravate a back problem, and cause undue strain on your lower back. This type of raised bed can be tended to while sitting on a stool or standing.
- Instead of lifting and carrying those bags of soil, garden tools and flower pots, use a garden caddy to ease this job. The cushioned handle sits high enough that you don’t need to continually bend over to pick it up every time you want to move.
- If you experience wrist pain like I do from a lifetime of repetitive motions, having a wrist brace can help support your wrists. The brace helps keep your wrist in alignment, and gives extra support while doing tasks.
- Choosing tools with soft and well balanced handles can go a long way to help minimize pain in your hands. Trowels with ergonomically designed handles can also help lower the stress on hands and wrists. Look for lighter weight tools that will be easier to lift.
- Let’s not overlook your feet. Wearing supportive, non-slip footwear is important for protecting your joints as you go about your day.
- Stop squeezing so hard! Most hose nozzles require you to squeeze the trigger for the sprayer. Look for a thumb operated nozzle so you don’t have to tightly grip the hose. Look for one with an extendable length so you don’t need to reach so far.
- Weeding is really a chore, and tough on your back, shoulders and hands. An upright weed remover can help you get out the most stubborn weeds and their roots. The long handle gives you just the right amount of leverage, saving you the backache.
Having more time and less work in the garden is a goal for many of us, as we manage our leisure time. Wouldn’t having flowers that pretty much lived and took care of themselves, be a dream come true? There are some very hardy annuals that do just that, set seed, and then re-seed themselves year after year. The trick is to allow the seeds to develop (no deadheading!) and disperse where they fall. A few are very vigorous and you may have to intervene by thinning the seedlings out; but on the whole these flowering plants should be allowed to grow in place, and they will be very showy for the season, or until killed by frost. Here are a few that I’ve grown that can thrive in our New England weather, and come back every year.
Ipomoea purpurea; Morning Glory ‘Grandpa Ott’, is a vigorous vine that would be a great plant to cover a banking, dead stumps, railings, or just about any sunny area. It produces hundreds of jewel toned flowers over the entire summer. Grandpa Ott has come back every year without fail at my home, and also at some properties we maintain in Williamstown. Morning Glory flowers will close by mid-day in the hot weather, but will stay open most of the day in cool and cloudy weather. Grandpa Ott can grow to 15-20’ ft vertically or horizontally! I recommend thinning seedlings to just a handful of the strongest.
Morning Glory ‘Grandpa Ott’
Cleome hassleriana; Cleome, or Spider flower is a great plant for vertical appeal in your garden. They bloom in shades of white, pink, lavender and purple, and can grow up to 48” tall. Part of their charm is the ornamental seedpods which give them their spidery look. Cleome will re-seed prolifically, and start to bloom in late June, continuing up to frost. Spider flowers are also very easy to transplant, so thin the seedlings and pot them up to give away to friends, transplant to bare areas of the garden, etc.
Cleome, or Spider flower
Papaver somniferum; Pepperbox or Bread Poppy will delight both you and the Goldfinches in your neighborhood. The pink-to-purple colored flowers begin blooming in May, and follow with interesting seedpods in late June/July. If you leave the seedpods intact, flocks of Goldfinches will arrive to snack on the nutritious seeds. These poppies grow in planters outside my dining area windows; and it was so sweet to watch the birds feeding every morning. Bread Poppies produce thousands of seeds, more than enough for the birds and next year’s flowers. Poppies like a sunny spot, and are not at all fussy about the soil type. Grows 2-3’ tall.
Pepperbox or Bread Poppy
Nigella damascena, ‘Love-in-a-Mist’ flower has the most poetic name! This old fashioned bloom is not commonly seen, first utilized in England in the 16th century, Nigella makes a stunning cut flower. Blooming in shades of powder blue, white, pink and purple, the seedpods resemble striped balloons and are fun to pop. Grow 18-24” tall, very hardy flower, that re-seeds easily. The dried seedpods are good in arrangements as well.
Cosmos sulphureus or Sulphur Cosmos is a golden-yellow form of the garden favorite, Cosmos bipinnatus (these are the pink, white or red flowered ones). Both Cosmos species are native to Mexico and South/Central America. Sulphur cosmos are the hardier specie, and will re-seed themselves if left in place. These bright blooms will grow in part-shade to full sun, and will grow to 36-48” tall. Cosmos are much loved by butterflies and hummingbirds, and will bloom right up to frost. They make wonderful cut flowers, and will also grow well in containers, if you should want to transplant extras around your yard.