|Posted by Sam Valentine on April 30, 2014 at 6:45 PM||comments (0)|
The Saucer Magnolia
Image: Ryan Hide
The first time I looked at the flower of a saucer magnolia, I found myself in a state of slight disbelief. I should note that this was not the first time I saw a saucer magnolia in bloom but just the first time that I actually looked at one. As I studied the flower, I found it, quite honestly, a bit too flawless. It was not easy to accept that such a perfect, perfected, flower was growing out there in nature.
In early spring, saucer magnolias are among the first flowering trees to display their blooms, and they do so quite emphatically. In most climates, before the tree's leaves have budded out, the saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) bursts forth with multi-toned, fist-sized flowers. The outsides of the robust, silky petals are defined by their crimson- and rose-tinged veins and often exhibit brilliant white interiors. These colorful blooms stand in dramatic contrast against the tree's stark gray trunk and branches.
Images: Jayme Frye & Rex Bennett
Saucer magnolias grow as multi-stemmed, spreading small trees. While younger trees stand relatively upright, as the plant matures, its profile fills out to an oval, eventually becoming rounded. The rate of growth is moderately fast, but it slows down around the tree's second decade. Trees generally reach a height of twenty-five feet with a spread between twenty and thirty feet. The bark of a saucer magnolia is the relatively smooth, gray bark that is characteristic of most magnolias.
Images: L. Sloan, Neil Hunt, & The Lovely Room
Earlier, when I mentioned that I found it hard to believe the saucer magnolia bloom was natural, it was because of its immaculate form. Even up close, the "cup-and-saucer" flower seems almost, in fact, like a work of painted porcelain. To be fair, "natural" is not the best descriptor for the plant -- it is a hybrid created in seventeenth-century France. It is unlikely that, in the Southern landscape, saucer magnolia will ever have the mainstay status of the evergreen, large-flowering, and native southern magnolia (https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=MAGR4" target="_blank">Magnolia grandiflora), but it should be considered an excellent complement to any garden.
Generally, I am not one to fall for "perfect" blooms like those you might find in the floral department, but there is something about saucer magnolia that is different. The flowers are not long-lived, and yet year after year, I look forward to seeing them as one of my favorite signs of spring.
Image: Ryan Hide
|Posted by Sam Valentine on April 7, 2014 at 9:25 PM||comments (0)|
Sometimes, the value and complexity of landscape designers' and gardeners' work is underestimated. The successful composition of an outdoor environment requires informed analysis, design, planning, and -- yes -- planting. Most real-estate developers, architects, and homeowners know a lush garden when they see one, but some forget that executing such a design requires more than simply "shrubbing it up."
Putting those thoughts aside for the purposes of this post, I would like to share a fun and whimsical way you can "shrub up" various real landscapes around the world. Introducing "Urban Jungle Street View," an animated visualization "hack" that lets you visit and reimagine any spot that https://www.google.com/maps/views/streetview?gl=us" target="_blank">Google Maps has photographed with their panoramic "Camera Cars."
Scroll down to see a variety of scenes that have been dramatically reinvented without even picking up a shovel:
Peachtree Street, Atlanta, Georgia
River Street, Savannah, Georgia
Mojave Desert, Shoshone, California
Times Square, New York City, New York
At first glance, the imagery is surprisingly convincing, but the rendering style is not completely realistic. I have little familiarity with the computer programming that makes this automatic magic happen, but I will confess that the environments are a bit primitive when looked at too closely. The finer details, though are really all of that is beside the point, and I imagine the web developer would agree.
The added shrubs, grasses, vines, and trees are intentionally unruly and jungle-like. What is startling, though, is to see is how much richer and healthier each of these varied environments look with the addition of (even wild) vegetation. "Shrubbing it up" certainly does not sufficiently describe the undertaking of landscape design, but perhaps it is alright to accept the addition of lush vegetation as one of common, important components of our work.
Screenshots by Sam Valentine via Urban Jungle Street View
|Posted by Sam Valentine on March 9, 2014 at 2:55 PM||comments (0)|
Image: Schuler Miller
It's a fair assumption that, as a gardener, you are familiar with the concept of "native" landscape plants. Selecting trees, shrubs, and perennials that are native to your locality (or at least your region) offers many advantages, including reduced maintenance. It is only logical that if a plant could thrive in a region for thousands of years -- long before humans invaded its ecosystem -- it can survive comfortably without artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and watering.
It also would not be surprising if you have looked to a few plant distribution maps over the years to determine the extents, or "range," in which a plant has been observed in the wild. Depicted above in red, are the geographical zones in which southern live oak (Quercus virginiana), bottlebrush buckeye (https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=AEPA2" target="_blank">Aesculus parviflora), and Franklinia (https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=FRAL" target="_blank">Franklinia alatamaha) have been found to grow naturally.
All plants, and all forms of wildlife for that matter, are limited in geography by such factors as precipitation, climate, and natural competition. In the above range map for bottlebrush buckeye, for example, the species can be seen to have staked out its habitat and adapted to the precise soil conditions, annual inches of rainfall, slopes, and mild temperatures found in central Alabama's foothills and coastal plains.
What is surprising, however, is to see how isolated and diminutive Franklinia's native range is. As far as American colonists were concerned, Franklinia was first documented in 1765 by John and William Bartram, growing in a small grove along the Altamaha River in what is now McIntosh County, Georgia. Over the next few years, as William returned to collect seeds and propagate them back home in their Philadelphia garden, the Bartrams and other horticulturists began to admire the plants' pleasant form, fall foliage, and flower, which William described as "of the first order for beauty and fragrance."
Images: American Philosophical Society Museum, Karl Gercens, Behnke Nurseries, and Carol Drew
Also noted by these botanists, was that the plant could not be found elsewhere in the region. Or elsewhere in the country. The two or three acre population in southeastern Georgia dwindled, and the last wild Franklinia was observed there in 1803. It is rare and peculiar to see a plant with such a small native range, and botanists have put forth various theories as to how this occurred. In Michael Dirr's Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, he describes the plant as a beauty with "handsome foliage," but notes that Franklinia oddly seems to perform better in northern gardens than in the South.
Image: Christopher Hiester
|Posted by Sam Valentine on February 8, 2014 at 1:25 PM||comments (2)|
Image: Len Matthews
Glass is a material that can be formed and finished for a near-endless variety of purposes. Intricate sculptural pieces, conventional, crystal-clear window panes, and crude, murky slag masses are all variations on the theme of melting sand and cooling the molten substance into a desirable or useful form. From a gardener's perspective, what is interesting here is how each one of these glass types has found a way to intersect with and enrich the landscape.
Images: Alex King, Lynn Harris, Carlo Natale, and Trevor Lowe
Except for volcanic substances, glass is a decidedly manmade material, and over the last two centuries, man has made [italics] glass the basis for inspiring garden works. Landscape-based structures -- from Sir Joseph Paxton's "Crystal Palace" to Philip Johnson's "Glass House" have influenced generations of architects. On a significantly smaller scale, skilled glassmakers, such as Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, have created painstaking replicas of landscape plants whose form, color, and even life-like appearance have been captured in glass. Chihuly Studio, likely today's most recognized group of glass artists, has realized that the landscape offers the ideal gallery for their wild, vibrant abstract forms. Chihuly's glass works have appeared in several gardens around the world.
Even when it is not composed with elegance or intricacy, it is important, to appreciate glass's value as a material in the garden. Glass can be thought of as a permanent kind of ice, and even commonplace forms of it have a special way of catching sunlight or artificial illumination.
Images: Nathan Kolb and Ahuva Burcat
Glass, as a garden material, often appears in the form of glass mulch or slag "boulder" objects. There is a growing selection of suppliers for these types of landscape glass, and some have realized that there is extra value in offering a "green," recycled product.
Images: Brew Brooks, John M. P. Knox, and Arby Reed
If you are considering bringing a touch of glass into your garden, keep in mind that you are in no way stuck with the vibrant, colorful tones that seem to be the most popular. Mulch and boulders come in many different colors, and at least one of these colors is likely to complement your garden, whatever your aesthetic.
Image: Gardening in a Minute
|Posted by Bonnie Helander on October 23, 2013 at 12:10 AM||comments (2)|
This past spring on a trip to see our son and wife in Virginia Beach, we stopped and visited several public gardens in North Carolina,including the Sarah P. Dukes Gardens on the campus of Duke University in Durham. This exquisite garden (really four distinct gardens) is free and open to the public and students to enjoy all year round. It was named one of the top ten public gardens in the United States by Tripadvisor.com.
During the three hours or so that we spent wandering around the 55-acre space, I enjoyed watching how a diverse group of people interacted with the garden. Students found private nooks to study for final exams. Others were jogging along the paths, dodging high school girls in vibrant-colored prom dresses that matched the flowers who were having their pictures taken. Families were picnicking and young children were fishing and enjoying the wildlife. Brides and grooms posed at lovely garden focal points to have cherished wedding photos made. Older folks sat on benches and watched the birds and the butterflies flitting around. The gardens provided the perfect backdrop for people to interact with others or just relax.
Families enjoying picnicking and feeding the ducks at the Sarah P. Dukes Gardens. (Images: Bonnie Helander)
The gardens on the Duke campus are a lovely place to get the perfect wedding shot! (Image: Bonnie Helander)
A high school girl, decked out in prom dress, gets her time in front of the camera lens. (image: Bonnie Helander)
Many studies have documented the amazing benefits of public gardens, parks and natural spaces. They connect us to the natural environment and all the health benefits that nature supplies including fresh air, sunshine, exercise, the reduction of blood pressure and the sense of nourishing our souls. Beautiful and well-kept public spaces increase our town pride, raise property values and help reduce crime. Gardens add beauty to our lives and provide places of tranquility and relaxation.
One of the best and most comprehensive books on advocating well-designed parks, gardens and public spaces, is Parks, Plants and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape, by Lynden Miller. (Norton/2009) This book will give you lots of ideas on not only promoting more public natural spaces in your own hometown but ideas to make your own personal garden more beneficial to your family and friends.
Take a look at some people enjoying public gardens…
Girls picnicking and checking their social media sites at the Cheekwood Gardens in Nashville. (Image: Bonnie Helander)
Left: hiking a trail at Dunaway Gardens in Newnan; Right: Enjoying a rest duirng a garden visit. (Images: Bonnie Helander)
Left:Children decked out in Sunday finery enjoy feeding Koi at Missouri Botanical Garden. Right: Children hiking along a creek at The Biltmore Estate in Ashville, North Carolina. (Images: Bonnie Helander)
Small boy fascinated with the garden train at Cheekwood. (Image: Bonnie Helander)
Start children out early experiencing the wonder of the natural world by taking them to explore a public garden. (Image: Bonnie Helander)
|Posted by Sam Valentine on October 17, 2013 at 8:05 PM||comments (2)|
Images: Nature Project and HorticulturalArt
This time of year, it always seems that the trees are vying for your attention.
In autumn, ginkgos, American beeches, and locusts repaint their green leaves into a spectrum of golds and yellows. Sugar maples burst into yellows and reddish oranges, and red maples show off their seasonal color, which is, well, red. Even deciduous conifers, like baldcypress, get in on the action, exhibiting fall foliage that can be reddish orange or even ruby red. Like a fireworks show in slow motion, all of these colors beautifully flare up and then fall, and this seasonal show takes place in front of a reliable, bronze-brown backdrop of oaks and other hardwoods.
With all of this action overhead, it is all too easy to forget about the shrubs below. Autumn has a wide palette of showy shrubs, including burning bush, barberry, and red- and yellow-twig dogwoods, but perhaps my favorites are the two fothergilla species. Just a quick look at the plants' seasonal transformations -- from white flowers to blue-green spring leaves and vibrant, variegating foliage -- evidences an valuable and noteworthy landscape plant.
Images: John Hagstrom and Clemson Extension Home & Garden Information Center
Fothergillas are remarkable, and remark about fothergillas is exactly what Michael Dirr, America's woody-plant guru, does. "Among native plants I have many favorites," Dirr writes, "but (Fothergilla gardenii and Fothergilla major) are near the top." In his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Dirr offers a litany of reasons why the fothergilla species and their many cultivars stand strong among native shrubs.
Though the two species differ in height, form and leaf size, they share most landscape characteristics. Offering year-round interest, fothergillas exhibit small fragrant, bottlebrush flowers in April to early May, sometimes before fully leafing out. The leaves, which resemble those of the witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) are a robust green in the spring, and then, as Dirr reports from his Athens garden, coloration develops in mid-November.
Images: John Hagstrom, Carex Grayii, K. Brown, and Maggie Hopper
When the leaves begin turning color, fothergillas are at their most striking. Though Fothergilla major is more reliable in vibrancy, both species produce "excellent fall color ranging from yellow, orange, to red," and Dirr notes that this color variety can appear not only on the same plant or same branch but often within the same single leaf.
The height difference between the species is important to understand. Fothergilla gardenii, native to pine savannas and wetland edges of the Coastal Plain, generally stands two to three feet tall in southeastern gardens. Fothergilla major, native to an region of the Appalachians stretching from North Carolina to northern Alabama, grows taller, reaching six to ten feet on average. "No two are exactly alike," Dirr writes, "which adds to their interest."
Michael Dirr heaps a surprising, but deserved, amount of praise on these "great American native shrubs for fall color." Virtually free of diseases and insect problems, fothergillas are a strong candidate to consider adding to your own garden. "Fothergillas," Dirr writes, "ask so little from gardeners, yet give so much; all friends should exhibit this kind of relationship."
Image: Distant Hill Gardens
|Posted by Bonnie Helander on September 24, 2013 at 9:55 AM||comments (0)|
It’s always a challenge to know what plant to put in my garden. I find something that looks just awesome in the nursery but seems to fade with time once planted in my yard or simply takes too much work to maintain. Even though I’ve learned all those gardening “rules” about selecting plants that work for our environment and putting them in the right place, I am still often disappointed by how some of my plants perform.
If you want to stop wasting time and money on plants that don’t work in your garden, take a look at the Georgia Gold Medal Winners. The Gold Medal plant program takes all the guess-work out of finding superior plants that perform in Georgia. Horticulture staff from the State Botanical Garden of Georgia and University of Georgia, along with local growers, have done all the research, testing plants for how they will thrive here and then selecting those that are the best of the best. Winners are chosen in five categories, Annuals, Natives, Perennials, Trees and Shrubs and Vines and Groundcovers.
If you select a plant chosen as a Georgia Gold Medal Winner, you will not be disappointed! It’s about the best guarantee you are going to get that your plant will thrive in your garden with less fuss and pest issues.
The Georgia Gold Medal Winners have been selected for 2013 and you might as well shop for them now and plant them (except annuals) this fall.
Left: Wishbone Flower; Top right:: Sweetflag; Bottom right: Gardenia (Images by Missouri Botanical Garden)
Annual Winner: Wishbone Flower (Torenia fournieri) – You don’t often find such vivid flowers blooming in shadier spots but the cheerful, bi-color torenia thrives in shade and adds whimsical interest. This annual is sometimes called “clown flower” because of its multi-colored face. The bushy torenia only gets about 6-12” tall and does not have to be deadheaded – another plus for busy gardeners.
Groundcover/Vine Winner: Golden Sweetflag Grass (Acorus gramineus 'Ogon' and 'Minimus Aureus') – This miniature yellow grassy plant spreads by creeping roots, making it an excellent choice for a groundcover. As an added bonus, the foliage is fragrant and deters deer! This groundcover does best in light shade in our climate. Sweetflag is also a nice addition to a container, paired with blooming plants for each season.
Trees/Shrub Winner: Compact Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) – Every Southern garden needs this lovely evergreen shrub or two or three or more! It only gets about 3 feet tall and wide and can be planted in full sun to part shade and tolerates a variety of growing conditions. The luscious white blooms provide a subtle fragrance, so plant near where you enjoy sitting outside. I will admit, however, that I have “issues” with gardenias. They often have a yellow leaf drop. (I am going to try Epsom salts and Ironite for this issue) and I often deadhead the spent blooms because the brown and dried blooms stay on the shrub a while and don’t look so great. But the fragrance seals the deal for me!
Left: Muhly Grass (Image by Bonnie Helander) Right: Variegated Solomon's Seal (Image by Perennial Plant Asso.)
Natives Winner: Muhly Grass (Muhlenbegia capillaries) – A few years ago when visiting Athens for a UGA football game, I noticed a garden bed that contained a swath of shimmering pink grasses swaying in the breeze. I was so “wowed” by the sight that I pulled over to see what it was. And, yes, it was pink Muhly grass – a show stopper in autumn! During fall, the pink inflorescence (flowers) on the green foliage catch the sun and just sparkle. Plant it in the sun where it can take center stage for fall interest.
Perennial Winner: Variegated Japanese Solomon’s Seal (Polyganatum odoratum variegata) I love variegated plants that provide color and interest in foliage and also have blooms and variegated Solomon’s seal does not disappoint with its cream stripes on green leaves and its aromatic bell-shaped flowers that pop up in the spring. Plant in your woodland garden in shade and divide it when you want more plants to spread around. This plant was also named the 2013 “Perennial Plant of the Year” by the Perennial Plant Association, so it is a double trophy winner.
I continue to add Georgia Gold Medal Winners to my garden. Some of my favorites include the Oakleaf hydrangea, Chinese snowball viburnum, tea olive and American beautyberry. If you are planning a new garden bed or working with a landscape designer to come up with a design, consider adding some Georgia Gold Medal Winners. You won’t be disappointed.
Left: Oakleaf Hydrangea; Right: Tea Olive (Images by Bonnie Helander)
Left: Chinese Snowball Viburnum; Right: American Beautyberry (Images by Bonnie Helander)
|Posted by Bonnie Helander on September 10, 2013 at 3:40 PM||comments (0)|
It’s always fun to visit a garden and see something unexpected and fun that adds a little “tongue-in-cheek” personality. When I first visited a friend’s garden years ago and saw a face container, filled with ornamental grass as the “hair,” I was enchanted and hooked on finding some for my own garden. I love containers of all shapes, sizes, colors and textures. Face Pots add that little extra focal point appeal.
You can find interesting face/head containers at many local nurseries or gift shops that specialize in garden accessories. There are some wonderful online shops that feature a plethora of pots with personality that include classical faces, funny faces and even animal faces. Kids are especially charmed by animal pots and it is a way to get them interested in gardening.
Kids love pots with animal faces and bodies like this fish I have near my pond.
The appeal of the face pot is creating the hairstyle with plants. Ornamental grasses are a great place to start. Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') adds movement and a bright burgundy color. Japanese Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus 'Ogon') is the perfect selection for a small face pot because it stays short while adding a nice color and scent. Fiber optic grass (Isolepsis (Scirpus) cernus) shimmers as the sunlight catches the blades for additional interest.
Spiky plants like cordyline (Cordyline australis ‘Red Sensation’ ) add a young, hip look to your face pot. Ferns add a more bouffant, classic look. Ground covers can give you long hair. Add creeping jenny, thyme or variegated ivy for a flowing look. You can even add bulbs this fall for a surprise burst of colorful hair this coming spring.
Two of my classic face pots -one with a spiky sedum and one with ferns. The "lady" was given to me by a friend, Judi Kubitz. I love the patina of moss/algae on the pots after all this rain we have had over the summer!
My favorite plants to use in face pots are succulents.They just have that special sense of whimsy that adds extra personality to your pots. Sedum, string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus), hens and chicks (Sempervivum) haworthia and echeveria are perfect for face pots. These act as hair, hats or hair accessories in your container.
But who wants just a face? If you want to get really crazy, use terracotta pots to make a whole pot man or pot woman to take up residence in your garden.
Pot Man created by my friends, Chuck and Janet Behnke, of Peachtree City
|Posted by Bonnie Helander on August 19, 2013 at 1:20 PM||comments (0)|
In my last blog of August 6, I wrote about the charming old-fashioned tradition of sharing pass-along plants – plants that are tough, easy to propagate and have been passed along and shared for generations by gardeners everywhere. It wasn’t that many years ago when new plant varieties were unavailable or hard to find. Pass-along plants were the staple in a garden. We are so fortunate that times have changed and new plants are popping up all the time. Today your garden can be filled with hundreds of newly-introduced plants that sizzle with color, delight with interesting foliage and amaze with gorgeous blooms.
Favorite pass-along plants include antique roses and geraniums. Fortunately we can enjoy these old-fashioned favorites as well as all the stunning new plants that come on the market each year.
As a proud graduate of the University of Georgia, I am always looking for any excuse to go over to Athens for a day trip. One of my favorite destinations while in town is the UGA Trial Gardens tucked away near Stegeman Coliseum. The Trial Gardens are the fruition of work started by two retired UGA “rock star” horticulture professors – Dr. Allan Armitage and Dr. Michael Dirr. Here you will find a stunning array of new plants being “tested” before being released on the market.
While visiting the Trial Gardens this past year, I got to say "good-bye" to the amazing "Dr. A" - Allan Armitage - who has made the Trial Gardens so sucessful.
At the Trial Gardens new annuals, vines, tropicals and perennials are tested, reviewed and graded on how they hold up in our challenging Southern climate. Testing criteria includes overall appearance, tolerance to heat and humidity, resistance to disease and insects, ease of propagation, production time and cutting efficiency. Those that score the highest are then sent to growers to be cultivated for the general public. The best-of-the-best are honored with the annual “Classic City Award” – the top honor for any plant in the garden. If you purchase a plant that has survived “boot camp” at the UGA Trial Gardens, you know you are getting a superior plant that will thrive in your garden. The Trial Gardens also serve as a major research and teaching facility for those lucky horticulture students who call UGA their home.
Since August is such a challenging time in the Southern garden, I thought it would be fun to see what is thriving at the Trial Gardens this month. If you need to add some pizzazz to your outside space during the “dog days of summer,” then you will enjoy seeing some of the best performers at the Trial Gardens right now. The only problem is - you will want them all!
Who needs blooms when you can enjoy vibrant variegated foliage! On the left is Calladium 'Starburst' from Classic Calladiums and on the right is Coleus 'Kong Jr. Lime Vein' by Ball Ingenuity. Both are growing merrily along in August heat at the Trial Gardens in Athens.
Calibrachoa 'Aloha Kona Mango' (left) in bright mango orange is great for containers and Zinnia 'Zinnita Yellow' by Benary will make a cheerful addition to the late summer garden.
Nothing is more luscious and regal than purple! On the left is Petunia 'Flash Mob Bluerific' by Burpee HG and on the right is Phlox paniculata 'Shock Wave' by Proven Winners. Note the variegated leaves.
Ask about these amazing new plants at your local nursery and make sure they order them. If you are going to "lust" after these plants, you might as well own them as soon as you can!
|Posted by Sam Valentine on August 6, 2013 at 9:00 PM||comments (0)|
In more ways than one, the garden is a place for reflection. If the city and workplace is the realm of tedium, then it is in the unique refuge and seclusion of a garden landscape that one may contemplate life's more important topics and find room for self-reflection. In some gardens, placid, still bodies of water allow for another type of reflecting to occur as well. If you recall the Greek myth of Narcissus, you may be reminded of water's mirror-like quality; in that legend, the smooth surface of a forest pond allowed a young handsome hunter to fall deeply in love with his own reflection.
Image: Dr. Lisa K.
Observing reflecting pools in various settings across different states and continents, I have come to recognize them as compelling landscape elements. Reflecting pools come in a wide range of scales and vary in shape, depth, and proportions. Common among all of the examples that I have seen is the sense of dimension and visual interest that the mirrored surface of these ponds, fountains, and pools can lend to a garden environs.
Images: Liz Delia, Glenn Fisher, Oddlittlebird, and Brian M.
If you recognize any of the above landscapes, it is likely that you find the precedents on the right end of the spectrum -- those reflecting pools that are the largest -- most familiar. I would caution the reader, though, from deducing that larger bodies of water are inherently superior. Even a modestly sized mirrored pool can quietly and elegantly hold influence in a garden.
When coupled with picturesque tree branching, seasonal color, architectural and site lighting, or landscape sculpture, reflecting waters can become even more visually interesting and engaging. In the same surface that Narcissus found the enthralling mirror image of his own face, you may be surprised to find the many beautiful new perspectives a reflecting pool will offer your garden. As the parable goes, the vain and conceited Narcissus met an unfortunate end in the pond's reflection, but if you take a moment to view the beauty of your garden in the still surface of a reflecting pool, you can be confident that your experience will be nothing less than rewarding.
Image: Patricia Hensch