Saturday, June 20, 2015

Gardening in Containers

Lack of space in the garden should not stop your passion for purchase.  Your patio, deck or porch are perfect homes for beautiful container gardens.  Pots can be purchased in many sizes, shapes and materials and can be wonderful places for growing anything from vegetables to conifers or perennials.  Best of all you can grow plants that aren't hardy in your zone, because you can move pots to a sheltered location during cold weather

Below are just a few container Garden Design Ideas that have caught my eye.

Longwood Gardens Kennet Square PA

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square PA

Longwood Gardens Kennett Square PA

In the Conservatory at Longwood Gardens


Denver Botanical Gardens

Container success starts with good soil.

Soil (Soilless mix) I use in every container 
Good container soil is critical to successful root growth in containers. I  always use a good quality soilless mix in my containers. Don't use a cheap brand or regular garden soil because they will compress and make root growth difficult over time.  
I typically make my own mix. It works extremely well and the same soil can be used for a few years in the same pot.  Most important this mix allows for the best drainage and root growth.   Al’s Gritty Mix  is in my opinion the best soilless mix you can use.  Information on how to make it and why it works so well can be found on the from the Garden Web Forum (Houze).  You will need to assemble this fantastic mix.  (and yes it is worth the extra time and effort) .
Al's Gritty Mix - Equal parts by volume: Pine or fir bark in 1/8 - 3/8" size (no fines), Turface MVP, Crushed granite (Gran-I-Grit, in grower size) or #2 cherrystone  and gypsum.

My favorite Hypertufa container. Planted with a mini Hynoki Cypress, sempervirums  and Elfin Thyme.


Something new - Succulents in Concrete and Hypertufa containers  hanging in my sunroom.


Container of dwarf conifers and a sedum on my deck.


Dwarf Hynoki , Weigela Fine Wine and Coleus on my deck

 One last container tip -

"Its a myth that a layer of gravel or foam peanuts (inside the bottom of an individual pot) beneath the soil improves container drainage. Instead of extra water draining immediately into the gravel, the water "perches" or gathers in the soil just above the gravel. The water gathers until no air space is left. Once all the available soil air space fills up, then excess water drains into the gravel below. So gravel in the bottom does little to keep soil above is being saturated by overwatering."   

the University Of Illinois Extension

One of my Hypertufa container which featured in garden article by George Weigel, for the Patriot News, Harrisburg.

Bonsai at Longwood Gardens


Unique planting on a slate at the Kral Garden in Rochester NY

Container full of succulents

Hosta at Carolyn's Shade Garden  


Swathmore College, Swathmore PA


David Culp's Garden Brandywine


Enjoy your patio, deck or porch this summer by planting a few containers, and don't let lack of space dampen you  passion for purchase.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Gardening is like Therapy and You Get Hypertufa

Gardening has a way of calming the mind, reducing the stress of the day, and exercising those muscles that were idle because you sat in front of the computer all day.  The collection of busy thoughts running around inside my head somehow settles when I am in my garden.  Whether it is pulling  weeds, deadheading flowers or just cutting grass,  an afternoon working in my yard  can leave me feeling physically exhausted, but pleasantly  relaxed.

There is some discussion that  It’s in the dirt ! More specific, a strain of bacterium in  the soil - "Mycobacterium vaccae, has been found to trigger the release of serotonin, which in turn elevates mood and decreases anxiety".   

 As much as I like  working  in my garden (in the dirt) , I enjoy making accouterments  for my garden.  I have constructed  wooden planters,  trellis's and  pergolas and a crazy garden gate but  making  hypertufa  is much more fun and does not require a circular saw.  Mixing  up the ingredients is like making a cake.  Making hypertufa containers does not require artistic talent, however  it will help you  find your creative side.   And the end result is a unique container and one more  reason  (like you need one) to buy plants.

So why do people enjoy making these stone like pots?  You buy a few basic ingredients, get a mold at the Dollar Store  and with a little instruction and some water you can create a you own really cool container. The design, size  and shape is up to you.   Although you are not digging in the dirt and  there is no release  of serotonin,  the good feeling comes because the entire  process was done by you. You made it!   

Hypertufa is fun because it does not require you to be a concrete artist.    Google hypertufa  and you will find hundreds of experts and just as  many recipes


After making a few of your own  pots you will get the hang of mixing the ingredients.  I tell  my classes  the consistency of the mix after you add water should feel like a  moist meatball (in the bowl!).   As you slowly work the mix into the mold, getting the bubbles out of the mix, also seems to release some of the frustrations from the day!   Removing  the firm but uncured  pot  from the mold,  then carefully working out the rough edges with the flat trowel and wire brush  transforms the concrete pot to an aged stone trough.

I used a childs kick ball as the mold for this pot.
Even if you make a  mistake you have the ability to create something beautiful.   Once when giving a demo at a Garden Expo,  I broke the side of the container (made the day before)  when putting it back into the mold to take it home.  After a few unrepeatable word.  I  took my square trowel  and careful carved the damp Hypertufa, smoothing over the  obvious break.  The pot below,  now has  lowered front ( broken part)  planted with some nice plants  and  I believe it  turned out to be one of my nicest containers.
Fine Gardening Web Site


In all my hypertufa classes I  show participants how to use a wire brush and a flat trowel  to  texture the sides of the uncured pot after it is  unmolded  and also what to do to fix broken sides.  
Once  the pot has cured for about 2 weeks it is ready to plant.   There are so many choices, however because the  size of the container, plants that remain small grow best. Succulents are the easiest to grow, but conifers and herbs also do well in these containers.  The key to successful containers plants is well drained soil. I use Al's Gritty Mix.

Pots can be made in many sizes and shapes .  Just find a mold and you can create what ever size container you desire. The smaller pots were made using quart nursery pots.

You dont need a large yard,  or big deck, only a small patio  with  a little sun.  You can plant with one or two plants or a  combination of many plants.  If it does not look good one year, you can change it the next.  The containers are easy to weed,  add a little fertilizer and  require regular watering

Even a stay in the hospital can result in a usable mold. Its the small pink rectangular wash container  provide to every patient. 


Gardening has a way of calming the mind, reducing the stress of the day, exercising those muscles that were idle because you sat in front of the computer all day.  Making these pots is one more way you can  enjoy the beauty of your garden.
If you have never tried Hypertufa or if you have made a few pots and it did not turn out the way you expected  -  Use my "Hypertufa Instructions" on the blog and try it again.  I made a many  mistakes before I got it right.

Making hypertufa is  just like anything you do in the garden, it takes a little time,  some practice, and patience and the results can be pretty nice. The bonus is that you  will get to plant the container when you are done.  

And it is a great way to spend some time with your friends.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Finding a New Conifer

 Unusual looking conifers can be purchased  in many garden centers or nurseries.  Different than the traditional spruce or pine that will grow many feet tall.  These unusual conifers have weeping, twisted, or slower growing  dwarf branches, with bright blue, variegated or yellow needles. You will either love them because they are so different or hate them  because they are --- so different.
The conifer below is a weeping form of a Norway Spruce, called "Formanek". The branches bend over and grow towards the ground, forming a skirt around the base of the tree.  This plant was growing in the display garden at Iseli Nursery in  Boring Oregon.

The typical Norway Spruce is a very large conifer growing  50-60 ft high,  typically found growing  in the woods or mountains, with branches that are upright and very straight.  It will  grow about 12" per year.  Much different that the weeping Norway Spruce in the photo above.  If you decide to  plant  one, you will  need a very large yard.  However the weeping  version can be placed in the front or back yard of most  suburban landscapes.  Both trees have  similar sun and soil conditions because they are growing on the same root stock.

Other unusual conifers can be very small and compact, with branches only growing about 1/2" per year. Below is a mature dwarf variety of a white pine called 'Sea Urchin'. This plant  was growing in the conifer garden at the New York  Botanical Gardens. Sea Urchin will only grow about 3-4 ft wide and can be planted in most sunny gardens without fear of overgrowing its spot. 
White pines will typically grow very large, sometimes planted in a row as a screen on a large tract of land, or in a public park.  It is a fast going tree. Much different than Sea Urchin, which is also in the same plant family.


There are many unusual blue conifers. One of my favorites are the blue weeping conifers.  This weeping blue atlas cedar is growing  in my own garden , and it appears  to want to take over my yard, Branches  can grow 12-14" per year. Weeping very gracefully in all directions. It has been in this spot for about 22 yrs and is the focal point of my front yard.
Cedars are typically very large and upright , usually not found in a front yard, unless you own a several acres.

 So where do these unusual conifers come from.  White pine and Norway spruce grow in the forests of Pennsylvania, yet I have never come across a weeping plant or a dwarf plant along the trail. Some of these unusual conifers result because of abnormal growths on branches called Witches’-brooms.  They are caused by a number of factors that result in a great proliferation of shoots with short internodes that can look like a bundle of twigs. Some branches bend or weep,  others appear as a ball-shaped dwarf plant growing in a tree. Propagation of these witches’-brooms found in confers, is the major source of many dwarf or weeping cultivars.

The name witches broom resulted because early discoveries of these abnormal plant growths were found on trees growing in cemeteries.  And people believed these were places that witches rested when flying through the night skies.  So it was not a big surprise, when I found my first witches -broom on a noway spruce in a cemetery .

About 15 years ago I was working at a church, installing some plants. One of the conifers that I was planting was a beautiful weeping Norway spruce.   I frequently use unique plants in my designs and this church had the perfect location for a weeping plant.  I noticed that on one of the branches of this weeping spruce  was a witches broom.  Unlike most brooms, it was  not on a branch 50 ft off the ground, but it was at eye level.  So at just the right time I took a cutting and grafted this small weeping branch onto the rootstock of a Norway Spruce.  Grafting is the best way  to propagate these unusual plants.  With a little  TLC my newly  grafted  witches- broom grew and 12 years later this is what I have.  

It grows about 1/2 - 3/4 of an inch each year. So it will be several more years before I can see its true form. Since this is a new cultivar, I will eventually be able to give it a name of my choice.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Chanticleer Garden, Wayne PA

Each year I try to visit Chanticleer Gardens in Wayne Pennsylvania. Chanticleer Garden I truly feel,  is a magical place to visit. You could visit  several times in one year and always see something new and inspiring. The garden is very well maintained.  The staff does an amazing job, of planting and caring for their section of the garden. Plants are not labeled, it is not that kind of garden. You can find the names of the plants  on the plants list  located through out the garden, however some are so unusual you may not find them sold at the local garden center.
During you visit you will find  many comfortable chairs located all through out the garden. You are expected to sit and enjoy the beauty.  In fact Friday nights in the Summer, bring a picnic dinner and a bottle of wine and  relax.

Start you garden tour at the Kitchen Garden ( located next to the rest room) The kitchen garden is a great example of container gardening at its best. The area is small and enclosed by walls, which may be similar to many  townhouse gardens or city gardens.  All the plants are in containers are expertly arranged. Some of the most unbelievable containers that I have ever seen! The beautiful gate below leads you to the entrance to the teacup garden

The gardener for this area has planted the  yellow orange bromilaid in containers and also repeated in the  beds in the court yard, The repetition of this plant as well as the orange and silver plants  brings the space together.  Also notice that some of the planters are located out away from the house forcing visitors to stop and view the container from various positions.

This garden is called the Teacup Garden because of the large concrete water feature in the center of the bed.

You can see in the background one of the two large houses on the property.

The Chanticleer estate dates from the early 20th-century, when land along the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad was developed for summer homes to escape the heat of Philadelphia. Adolph Rosengarten, Sr., and his wife Christine chose the Wayne-St. Davids area to build their country retreat. The family's pharmaceutical firm would become part of Merck & Company in the 1920s.

The Rosengartens hired architect and former classmate Charles L. Borie to design the house, which was completed in 1913. Landscape architect Thomas Sears designed the terraces as extensions of the house. A 1924 addition converted the summer home into a year-round residence and the family moved here permanently.

Mr. Rosengarten's humor is evident in naming his home after the estate "Chanticlere" in Thackeray's 1855 novel The Newcomes. The fictional Chanticlere was "mortgaged up to the very castle windows" but "still the show of the county." Playing on the word, which is synonymous with "rooster," the Rosengartens used rooster motifs throughout the estate.

Adolph and Christine gave their two children homes as wedding presents. They purchased a neighboring property for son Adolph, Jr. and his bride Janet Newlin in 1933. It is now the site of the Ruin. Daughter Emily's house, located at today's visitor entrance, was built for her in 1935. It is presently used for offices and classrooms.

Container gardens  found through out Chanticleer are not you typical petunia , geranium and spike containers. Many unique and unusual plants that at some point will need to be relocated to warmer  greenhouse for the cold zone 6 winters. Container gardens are not limited to a pot filled with soil.
Below is a fabulous container that found on the Sun Porch connected to  one of the large homes on the property. It  is filled with leaves and flowers, just floating in water.  Gardeners change the arrangement in this container though out the season

The reflecting pool was built after Chanticleer became a public garden, to enliven the far corner of the rear terrace.

The ruins garden, was the home of Adolf Rosengarten Jr. Chris Woods the first executive director of Chaticleer decided to dismatile the home, built in 1925, to expose just the foundation.  The idea was to create a ruin garden similar to ones Woods had seen in his native Britain. However eventually due to safety concerns,  they tore down the entire structure and rebuilt the foundation as seen in this photo.

Niches carved in the walls are planted with tender succulents. The plantings  in the Ruin Garden are not  chosen for their floral display, but for the beauty of their foliage, form, and texture.

The garden is a place to rest and enjoy the beauty of the plants.  Many  chairs are located throughout the garden , placed where you can rest and view the beauty.

If you are close to Wayne Pa  and you have a few hours to spare, do take time to visit Chanticleer.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hypertufa With a Touch Of Glass

Glass Mulch used to Embellish this Hypertufa Container

 I visited a local garden center the other day, and found a bag of glass mulch. The price was reasonable so I decided to make a purchase.  Got the bag home and found out the glass is not sharp, and rather easy to work with.     Wondering  if it could be used with hypertufa,  I mixed up a batch  and placed a line of glass  in the wet hypertufa.  After the bowl was unmolded it was necessary to fill in some spots with  glass  using craft glue. Overall I was pretty satisfied with how it turned out. This project really  did not take much glass, - So I think I will try it something else.  


Ready for planting.