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.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Oriental Spruce

The Oriental Spruce is a conifer that makes the average garden look great. In most cases conifers are evergreens, however there are a few exceptions . As winter approaches and leaves drop, the visual interest in the garden is directed towards evergreens. The oriental spruce in one such plant. There are a variety of shapes and sizes, however the cultivar, Skylands, is one of my favorites
Before selecting any plant for you yard it is important to know the mature size and the plants cultural requirements. Too many times we buy plants with limited knowledge about the plant and then plant the tree or shrub in a location that has building or overhead limitations. Most conifers including this one enjoy full sun. My recommendation is to grow this in a location that gets about 6 -7 hours of sun with a little afternoon shade. I have found that 10 or more hours of sun may cause the needles to brown a little. Something that is not uncommon with yellow needled conifers. This spruce is planted in a bed that is mounded with 3-6 inches of soil. I do this because mounding the soil allows for better drainage. The soil does not have to be rich top soil any soil free from clay will work. Also a planting bed that has a slight mound has more visual interest. This tree is classified as a zone 5. This is a slow growing conifer that will reach 10 feet x 4 feet in ten years. Its ultimate mature height is 35 feet x 12 feet. This tree is a good choice as a specimen, or for smaller gardens where a tall conifer is wanted without giving over too much horizontal space.

You are not limited to the cultivar "Skylands". Some of the other cultivars you may find in a nursery or garden center are Picea orientalis Nana, Aurea, Connecticut Turnpike, Bergman Gem, Acrocona .

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Layered Garden

On a rainy afternoon this spring, I had the opportunity to visit the garden of David Culp.  David  and his partner Michael are the owners of a magnificent garden called  Brandywine Cottage,  located near Downingtown PA.  If I had one sentence to describe this garden, I would say -  It is truly an amazing display of creativity.

It is obvious that this garden was created  (and continues to evolve) because two gardeners are  passionate about  plants.   As gardeners we  hope to be able  to create a space in our yard  that is visually appealing, hoping that all the plants selected will  thrive ( or at least live for a couple of  years).  Brandywine Cottage is the complete garden package. Every part of the garden  has plants that are visually appealing  and  growing well, because location and soil conditions were carefully understood before planting, 

The tour was set up through the Pennsylvania  Horticultural  Society.  And for obvious reasons it quickly sold out.  Located on  a wooded parcel,  the property includes a very old but elegant home, built in 1790,  a barn  with the  foundation of an old stable attached, a garden shed, vegetable garden, beds of perennials and a modern chicken coop.   As you enter the property there is a wooded hillside garden, ( about 1 acre) that has been planted with hellebore, hostas, ferns, bulbs,  epimedium,  trillium, azaleas, dogwoods, hydrangea  ....  more plants than  can be imagined.  Paths and stone steps wind carefully through the wooded hillside allowing you to access every part of the wooded garden.

The gardens around the house are very private. There are  many places to sit and enjoy the view or just relax.   If you like containers you will be more than satisfied,  finding quite a selection, and lots of inspiration for new ideas. My favorite are the many stone and hypertufa troughs planted with conifers and succulents.   As a testament to his devotion to his plants,  each winter, all the non hardy plants in containers are brought into the barn  for a little protection from the cold winter winds and low temps of south eastern Pennsylvania.

The back yard has a rectangular vegetable garden  surround by a white fence that has been carefully located directly behind the house mirroring the house's foundation.   Surrounded by beds that are full of hundreds of perennials  that burst into bloom at various times of the year.  Weeds do not stand a chance, the perennials have control of this garden.  No chemicals or extra water is used for the gardens, only the containers are watered.  Because this garden is located in a wooded area,  many products like Deer Off applied  regularly basis to keep the garden free from damage.

Behind the white stone barn, below the deck, is the remains of  two  6 ft walls that were the foundation for an old horse stable. The wooden  roof is no longer present  allowing the inside of the foundation  to become another secluded garden filled with containers. The container plantings arranged  inside the stone foundation are amazing. Stone troughs,  ceramic pots, wooden boxes are filled with a collection of unique plants.  The old stone walls, covered by  flowering perennials, planted in the crevices of the wall,  whereever there is space for roots,  creating a tapestry of flowers flowing down the wall.  Within the walls a micro climate, for  the many plants growing.   When I first saw a  photo of this garden in a magazine many years ago, I knew that immediately I needed to see it  first hand.  It was definitely  my favorite section of the garden.

The walled foundation garden in front of the barn.

Just a few of the many containers within the walls of the stone foundation.

David has recently written a book called the Layered Garden.  It is based on the design principles that he used to create this beautiful garden.   The book  discusses "how to choose the correct plants by understanding how they grow and change throughout the seasons, how to design a layered garden, and how to maintain it." Photos in the book illustrate each part of  this garden: the woodland garden, the perennial border, the kitchen garden, the shrubbery, and the walled garden.

If you cannot find a way to visit the garden, the book will inspire you to create some beauty in your yard.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Cercis canadensis ‘Appalachian Red’

’. As you drive down the highway in Pennsylvania in April you will see beautiful lilac flowering trees  decorating the landscape. The flowers seem to line the  smooth bare branches in small clusters.  Today, as I walked through the nursery , this redbud caught my eye.   I am not a big fan of hot pink flowering trees, but these small red/pink flowers ( not yet fully open) caught my eye.  Appalachian Red has the brightest flowers of all the Eastern redbuds I have  seen.     This tree was  discovered by plantsman Dr. Max Byrkit along a roadside in Maryland.   Its magenta buds open to hot neon, pink flowers. Like other redbuds , it is hardy through USDA Zone 5, After the flowers start to disappear,  large heart shaped light green then dark green leaves appear. Fall color is yellow.  Place this tree in front of   a few dark green evergreens and the pink color will pop even more. 

Full sun to part shade (I would give it a little afternoon shade)  20' x 20', Native,  medium growth rate, and tolerates a wide range of soils. Blooms mid to late April.  A nice addition to any yard.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

 Clematis  'Diamantina '

Growing clematis can be very easy if given the right location.  Sun on the top, shade on the roots, and a nice trellis to grow.  This plant is growing in my garden on the east side of my house.  It gets about 6 hrs of sun in the morning ( afternoon shade) , its roots are shaded most of the day by a step going up to my deck, and the soil has been amended with compost. 
Most clematis will perform better with regular  pruning. Clematis that bloom during summer on new wood need  pruning in winter or early spring, or they will look thin.  Clematis  that bloom in the spring on last year's wood  do well   if cut back lightly after they have finished flowering in the later spring or summer.
This cultivar  is a classified as Group 2B clematis.  It can be pruned in spring before new growth begins for a great flower display later in the summer or pruned after spring flowering for that the earlier show of larger, (but fewer)  flowers.   
I try to fertilize every few years.  I  may use  Tomato fertilizer, rose food, or anything that has low nitrogen  like  5-10-10.   


If you are not lucky enough to have a sunny spot in your garden, no worry, there are several clematis that do well in part shade: Nelly Moser, Jackmanii, Alban Luxurians, and Silver Moon  just to name a few.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Heuchera's in Your Garden

I  remember seeing Coral Bells   growing in my grandmothers garden.   They had ordinary green  leaves  with  small pink flowers floating on tiny stems.  Then in my first garden I planted Heuchera Palace Purple, a greenish maroon leafed Coral Bell that had more colorful leaves, white flowers  and was not a challenge to  grow for a beginning gardener.   Over the years Heuchera's, or Coral Bells,  with the help of hybridizers , have evolved into some very incredible  perennials. 

 Heuchera villosa 'Bronze Wave' and Stachys 'Helen Von Stein'

Go into you local garden center and it is not unusual to find at least a dozen different Heuchera (HEW-ker-a)   cultivars.  Once limited to shades of green and maroon, now the color palete includes, yellows, caramel ,cinnamon, peach,  all shades of maroon,  chocolate,  and greens with red veins , red with green veins,  the list continues to grow,  and did I mention that this perennial has flowers too.

Bronze Wave - Foliage is dark with copper, purple and brown tones, blending into a metallic bronze color. The large wavy-margined hairy leaves are 6 to 8” across and make a clump about 24” across and 18” high. 24” wands of pinkish-white flowers are produced from mid to late summer.  

 Heuchera Pewter Veil

Grow them in some sun,  with a little late day shade and the seem pretty happy.  Although  not the best planting I have seen cultivars like "Palace Purple" grown in full sun. Currently I am  growing  "Midnight Rose' in a container ( photo below) with as little as 2 1/2  hours of sun,  planted  along side hostas and ferns.
Over-watering  will rot the roots.  They are happiest, in a decent soil, mulched, with occasional watering, more frequent in the hot summer. In containers,  you will have success with potting soil that is a little coarse and well drained.

 Heuchra 'Midnight Rose' and sedum in hypertufa bowl

The reason that these two unlikely partners do well  in this containers is the growing  medium .
Peat moss, small bark fines, perlite. 

Al’s 5-1-1 Mix is a bark-based mix that also provides great drainage and aeration. This mix is  created by Al from website. The mix composes of 5 part fine bark, 1 part sphagnum peat, and 1 part perlite. This mix is recommended for annuals or anything that only last a few seasons.
The ingredients are:
5 part partially-composed pine bark fines
1 part sphagnum peat
1 part horticulture grade perlite (coarse size)
1 tbsp per gallon of garden dolomic lime

Heucheras look great with many other perennials and annuals in containers. Here are just a few examples.
  • Heuchera with sedum Angelina and festuca Elijah Blue
  • Heuchera with festuca Elijah Blue and lysimachia Aurea (golden creeping Jenny).
  • Ipomoea batatas 'Sweet Heart' aka 'Sweet Caroline Purple' (Sweat potato vine) with Heuchera 'Caramel
  •  Hakonechloa ‘All Gold’ , Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger’ , Heuchera ‘Mahogany’, Heuchera ‘Lime Rickey’

Heuchera villosa 'Caramel' and Liriope muscari 'Peedee Ingot'

The bold leaves of the Heuchera 'Caramel' contrasts nicely with the fine leaves of the Liriope.  This combination can be found under some trees in the perennial gardens at Longwood Gardens.  With regular watering and mulch these perennials do well under many trees. 

 In fall, the foliage of Heuchera Caramel turns a beautiful  salmon red. Like many of the new cultivars this hybrid does great in heat and humidity and is happy in a wide range of soil conditions. Tolerates a good deal of sun, where the foliage color intensifies. Another good selection for the shade garden Best grown in rich, humus, well drained soil with adequate moisture. Once established, it can take on heat, humidity, even poor soil.

Great Combinations -  Heuchera villosa Beaujolais with  Hakonechloa grass at Longwood Gardens 

 Heuchera  Beaujolais -,  is a super vigorous variety with large 5" burgundy leaves.growing 8-10" x 12-16" , very tall 24" cream colored flower stems appear mid 4a - 9 and is listed a deer resistant plant.  This  Coral Bell is different from other plum colored varieties by its unique color, tolerance to heat & humidity and its vigor.

Another favorite combination for your shade garden is Heuchera  "Plum Pudding" and Japanese Painted fern Athyrium niponicum picutum.  These two will bring attention to front of any shady foundation planting. 

Heuchera americana Marvelous Mable  

Spring foliage begins  purple and eventually  matures through the season to  green with, dark veins and silvery mottling.  White flowers form early in the season.  Because of their low, mounding habit, they can be planted along paths or in containers.
 Height: 8-13". Spread: 17-19". Leaf color: purple in spring turning to deep green through the season. Zones: 4-9. Flowers: Creamy White on 16" scapes.

Heuchera Problems - not really!
No serious insect or disease problems. Frost heaving of roots may occur when winter temperatures fluctuate widely.


 Heuchera americana Green Spice

‘Green Spice’ is a clump-forming Coral Bell cultivar that  has silvery, gray-edged leaves with purple veins (in cool weather) and not particularly showy white flowers. The rounded, lobed, long-petioled leaves  (to 9” tall) which may spread to 16” wide. Tiny, whitish flowers appear in late spring to early summer on slender,  stems rising well above the foliage mound, typically to 24-28” tall. Leaves turn orangish in autumn.

These  are just a small selection of the hundreds of cultivars of heuchera.  They have come a long way from the ones I first found in my grandmothers garden.  Happy Gardening !


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Conifer Cones 

Color  in the garden is sometimes found in the oddest  place.  One does not always look at the end of a conifer branch to find beauty.  These three small  cones are perched at the end of the branch of a very small conifer -  Picea abies "Pusch".  The needles of the conifer look like most any conifer, but the cones in the spring are outstanding.  There cones contain the seeds of this plant, brightly colored, but eventually  turning a dry brown. This small drawf growing evergreen is a springtime jewel. While some are looking for blooming bulbs and bright flowering azaelas, I have found interest in this display of red cones.
 Slow growing to about 2'x3', likes well drained soil, and a sunny location. Because it is zone 3 hardy, it will be ok in most climates, and in my zone 6 will do just fine in a container.  I purchased this plant from Bob Fincham's  nursery in Washington -    Coenosium Gardens  




Picea abies 'Pusch'

Picea abies 'Pusch' is a witches broom, found on the parent plant, Picea abies `Acrocona Pusch'. Check it out at  Rich Foxwillow Nursery  and also in close up photo below.
The two photos (top and below) look very similar, (well some kids do look like their parents) however Pusch is a very dwarf  almost basketball sized conifer ( and will stay small), Acrocona is about 6x6 irregular shape, growing larger and more irregular, considered an intermediate conifer.  In comparison the cones on the parent plant (see below) are about 2x the size of Pusch above.  Either plant is a prize to behold in your garden.

I will go into more detail about witches broom in upcoming post, when I can post best photos.  But the short and simple explanation is that the parent plant will begin to grow a branch with a strange twist, or weep or very short growth, like a mutation. When discovered, a branch from the mutation will be removed and grafted to form a new unnamed plant. 

It is not surprising that interesting cones can also be found out in the woods.   The photo of these cones, some type of fir,  were taken  while hiking Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park.

Conifer cones are cool!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Early Spring Creates Pleasant Surprises ...and some work

Cornus alternifolia 'Golden Shadows'

 Spring has come early this year. Its March and the temperatures are more like May or June. Temperatures have forced  the buds to open early and leaves begun to unfold.  The forsythia is in full bloom, daffodils are up  and its time to put down the lawn fertilizer with crabgrass preventer. I am not one to use lots of fertilizer, so this application of preventer and fertilizer may be all I do until fall.  Trees and shrubs will get an application of Espoma products, Holly-tone, Plant-tone....

 Sassafras albidum male flower

Roots have begun  to grow and if that tree or shrub is not planted where you want it,  now is the time to transplant it .  Don't wait too long, or you may  risk damaging the newly formed feeder roots. It seems like each year I put off this chore. As I get older the thought of moving large shrubs gets less appealing. 

This native Sassafras tree  grows wild in a tree line next to my house.  Flowers are not fragrant but are a pleasant surprise in the spring. Leaves come in different shapes, check out the link. 

It does not take long for these hosta leaves to open up fully . 

March 25

April 1


Acer rubrum  Red Maple

   Red maple is a great  native  tree which will  grow 40-60' tall providing lots of shade for your yard.  Called  red maple because its green leaves turn red in fall. As a native it may be found  in wet bottom land, river flood plains, and wet woods, which is good because that means it will tolerate poor soils in your yard.  Red flowers ( above) in dense clusters in late March to early April (before the leaves appear), red fruit  two-winged samara.

Acer Shishigashira  - Lions Head Maple

When you go to purchase a Japanese Maple, most of us think of  finely cut palmate leaves, red in color.  Most novice gardens would not recognize this as a Japanese maple. This maple has green   star shaped leaves formed in dense groupings. My  tree grows slowly upright,  vase shaped ,  hoping one day to reach 15 ft .  Great plant for a patio or a large container.

 I really don't have to do much to care for this tree. Mulch and occasional light application of organic fertilizer.  

Spring is officially here. The garden has provided many surprises, and although there is still the possibly that we could get some cold, frosty weather, I guess it's time to go out and get my hands dirty .

If you would like to attend some fun and informative gardening classes in the Harrisburg Area.  Go to this link