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.

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 !