Finding Your Center on the Labyrinth Path

Sometimes life can seem like a maze, full of twists and turns and lots of dead ends. It’s not always clear how to approach the center. But for those willing to walk its cousin, the labyrinth, there can be true transformation. Some say the process ultimately leads to insights into the circuitous path of life itself. Continue reading

The Secret To Creating Fabulous Fall Containers

Cool-season flowering plants

In my view, autumn doesn’t have to spell the end of the show in the garden. Fall containers offer countless ways to still enjoy seasonal splashes of color. Moreover, these mini gardens no longer have to be all about flowering kale or mums. With a little ingenuity, you can create autumn planters every bit as beautiful as their lush summer cousins. Continue reading

How To Design With Naturalistic Plantings: An Expert Speaks Out

Naturalistic plantings at the Denver Botanic Gardens

If you’re used to order in the garden, naturalistic plantings can seem a bit out of control. But installations such as New York City’s High Line are bringing this new, plant-driven approach more and more into the mainstream. That’s according to award-winning designer Carrie Preston of the Netherland’s Studio TOOP. She spoke recently in Maryland on how to incorporate naturalistic plantings into all types of landscapes. Continue reading

10 Great Christmas Tree Ideas From Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens

OK, so maybe you won’t be copying the tropical tree above. But in December, Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens is teeming with Christmas tree ideas.  And the displays are nothing short of spectacular. Continue reading

Ten Great Ideas For Decorating With Gourds

If you’re like me, every October, when those big boxes of gourds land at the grocery, your mind whirls with possibilities. The cute little shapes seem to embody the essence of fall. The problem is, once you get them home, the gourds seem somehow lacking. Sure, you can toss them in a bowl. But, if you really want to get creative, decorating with gourds requires a few added ingredients. Continue reading

The Best Late-Summer Flowers For A Beautiful Garden

By August, your garden may look like it’s winding down, making it tempting to throw in the trowel. But that would be a shame with so many late-summer flowers just starting to bloom. All it takes is a little advance planning and some careful pruning, and you can keep the display going all the way until fall. Continue reading

Top Red, White and Blue Flowers For The Summer Garden

For many Americans, the 4th of July is a time for celebration. But for gardeners, the fireworks start early. That’s because by mid June, spring pastels are already giving way to bright colors as red, white and blue flowers begin lighting up the summer garden.

RED FLOWERS STIR EMOTIONS

On the color spectrum, red is the most attention-grabbing of colors. In China, it is a symbol of prosperity and good luck, while on Wall Street ‘in the red’ means you’re losing money. And on the American flag, the red stripes symbolize ‘hardiness and valor.’

Hybrid tea rose

In the summer garden, red flowers make a bold statement, too, especially when framed by red’s complementary color, green. Looking for drama? Try grouping red flowers in front of an evergreen hedge for a big impact.

red roses and green hedge

Red roses and green hedge

 Or, combine them with other hot colors for an eye-catching composition. 

Too many red flowers? You can cool things down by pairing them with silver. 

red salvia and silver ragwort

Red salvia and silver ragwort

And just like the stripes on the flag, white flowers offer a crisp contrast to all shades of red.

Here are some of the best red flowers for your summer garden. 

Red-Flowering Shrubs

Quince ‘Double Take ‘Scarlet’

Crimson bottlebrush, Callistemon citrinus

Stewartstonian azalea

‘Mister Lincoln’ Hybrid Tea Rose

Red-Flowering Perennials

Begonia ‘Dragon’s Blood’

Geranium ‘Americana Red’

Dahlia ‘Bishop of llandaff’

Daylily ‘Always Afternoon’

Asiatic lily (red)

Gaillardia ‘Spin Top Orange Halo’

WHITE FLOWERS ARE THE ESSENCE OF LIGHT

The purest of all colors in terms of composition, white is considered by most cultures to represent goodness and light. It can also indicate cleanliness and perfection. On the American flag, the white stripes signify purity and innocence.

White hydrangea

In the summer garden, white has a certain innocent quality, too. Since white flowers reflect light, they instantly brighten key areas of the garden. They also help highlight other colors. 

Below, Echinacea ‘White Swan’ brightens a mixed border.

Drift of white echinacea

Some gardeners go all out and create an all-white garden. (The great thing about white flowers, by the way, is that they look especially good at night.)

Garden composed of all white flowers and silver foliage.

Here are some of the best and brightest white flowers for the summer garden:

White-Flowering Shrubs

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’

Mock Orange ‘Snow White Sensation’

Azalea ‘Delaware Valley White’

Rose ‘Boule de Neige’

White-Flowering Perennials

Phlox paniculata ‘David’

Iris germanica ‘Immortality’

Allium ‘Mount Everest’

Echinacea ‘Pow Wow White’

Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’

Physostegia virginiana ‘Crystal Peak White’

BLUE FLOWERS COOL THINGS DOWN

Blue is found at the other end of the color spectrum from red. It is considered the hardest color to see. For this reason, it is known as a cool color. On the American flag, blue is the color of the Chief and signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice.

Himalayan blue poppy

The thing about blue is that it appears to recede (notice how the blue section of the flag seems less intense than the red.) Because of this quality, it can add depth and volume to a garden composition. The only problem with blue flowers is that there aren’t many that are actually blue. Most are tinged with lavender or purple.

Here are the truest blue flowers I’ve found to date for the summer garden:

Blue-Flowering Shrubs

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’

‘Bluebird’ lacecap hydrangea

Caryopteris ‘Longwood Blue’

Blue-Flowering Perennials

Blue coleus, also know as bush coleus

Gentian Sage, Salvia patens 

Lewis flax, Linum lewisii

Blue Daisy

Muscari aucheri ‘Blue Magic’

Mostly blue with lavender tinge

Hidcote Blue English Lavender

Veronica spicata ‘Royal Candles’

Russian sage, Perovskia

Catmint, Nepeta

Wishing you all a very Happy Fourth of July!

 

 

10 Great Plants For A Care-Free Spring Garden

In the plant world, spring flowers are in a class of their own. Bursting to life after a long, cold winter, they never fail to evoke feelings of happiness. And spring gardens bring hope this time of year, renewing our faith in life and everything growing. 

Here are ten of my favorite spring flowers that will only grow more beautiful year after year. 

PEONY

Pink peony

Celebrated for their enormous blooms, these low-maintenance spring garden favorites will live on for generations. Peonies generally start blooming in late May and continue flowering well into June. The plants perform best in full sun. And many are fragrant, in particular the double white and pink varieties.

After the flowers fade, peonies’ deep green leaves stay looking good most of the summer. I use them to add bulk to my garden and to prop up other flowers. I cut them down to the ground in the fall.

Here are some of my favorites: Sarah Bernhardt (pastel pink), Festiva Maxima (highly fragrant, pure white with crimson flecks), Kansas (double, carmine-red) and Bartzella Itoh (a cross between a bush and tree peony with huge yellow blooms.)

SIBERIAN IRIS

Iris siberica

Smaller and less showy than the bearded irises, these delicate plants produce a wealth of spring blooms on tall, elegant stems, usually in shades of blue or purple. The flowers are characterized by three petals on top and three below called falls. There are tiny varieties that grow to only about a foot and larger ones that can reach three feet tall. And their bright green grassy foliage adds a nice vertical dimension to the garden.

Standouts include purple-blue Caesar’s Brother, sky-blue Silver Edge, deep purple Ruffled Velvet, and soft yellow and white Butter and Sugar.

AQUILEGIA (COLUMBINE)

Aquilegia ‘Origami’

The botanical name aquilegia comes from the Latin ‘aquila’ meaning eagle; a reference to the flower’s petals that are said to resemble an eagle’s claw. Aquilegia’s beautiful nodding blooms come in dainty shades of purple, red, yellow, blue and white. A hardy perennial, columbine will grow in sun but prefers partial shade, especially in the afternoon. After a few years, it often dies out. But, it easily self-seeds.

Check out Origami Red and White, sky-blue and white Blue Bird, or spectacular, pure-white Dove.

LADY’S MANTLE (Alchemilla mollis)

Lady’s mantle, Alchemilla mollis

One of the ‘freshest’ perennials around, Lady’s Mantle acts like a cool splash of water amidst all the colors of the spring garden. Easily grown in full sun to part shade, this low-growing perennial forms clumps of circular, lobed leaves crowned by tiny, star-shaped chartreuse flowers held aloft on 12″ to 18″ stems in late spring to early summer.

Tuck it under upright plants at the front of the border to disguise stems and dimension to your border.

BEARDED IRIS

Iris germanica, tall bearded iris

Tall and stately, bearded irises make a grand statement in the May garden. I go all-out and plant the deep purple varieties that provide great contrast with other pastel spring colors. Bearded irises grow from rhizomes, or sideways-growing stems, so they should never be buried completely in the ground. The plants need at least 6 hours of direct sun to flower.

For deep color, almost nothing surpasses almost-black Hello Darkness, or opt for the reverse and check out bright-white, re-blooming Immortality. For outstanding pastel shades, try apricot-peach Champagne Elegance, lavender-pink Celebration Song, or Schreiners Gardens’ pastel blue Into The Blue.

BAPTISIA AUSTRALIS

Baptisia australis, blue false indigo

Commonly known as blue false indigo, this beautiful native plant is growing in popularity. The upright perennial has 10″ to 12″ spikes of violet-blue, pea-shaped flowers that can last up to four weeks. Typically growing 3 to 4 feet tall, baptisia australis forms a large clump of bluish-green, clover like leaves that over time take on a shrub-like appearance. This makes it an excellent addition to the back of the border.

Try out the common form or go yellow with Lemon Meringue or go all-white with Baptisia lactea, white false indigo.

CREEPING PHLOX

Creeping phlox, Phlox sublata

This front-of border perennial forms large mats of brilliantly-colored, star-shaped flowers in blues, pinks and purples. Plants have semi-evergreen, needle-like foliage that produce long, spreading stems.  However, the plant tends to get woody over time, so best to cut out older sections to encourage new blooms.

Try lavender-blue Emerald Blue, soft-pink Fabulous Rose or for bold color, check out magenta Scarlet Flame,

BRUNNERA

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Sea Heart’

If you’ve got part-shade, nothing says spring garden like Brunnera macrophylla, also known as false forget-me-not. The low-growing plant produces miniature, sky-blue flowers atop heart-shaped leaves in shades ranging from bright green to green with white or silver. The leaves form clumps that look great all season. For best impact, try silvered-leaved Jack Frost, or even larger-leaved Alexander’s Great.

VERBASCUM (MULLEIN)

Yellow verbascum

A short-lived perennial known for its beautiful, tall flower spikes, verbascum adds an important vertical element to the spring garden. Easily grown in full sun to part shade (although it prefers full sun), the plant produces 2′ to 3′ flowering stems bearing long terminal spikes of 1′ diameter flowers in pastel shades of cream, lavender or rose. It easily self-seeds, but best to plan on replanting each year as an annual for best results.  Tall silvery-gray leaves look great in the back of the border.

Try bright yellow Jackie In Yellow or go soft pink with Southern Charm,

HARDY GERANIUM

Hardy geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’

Not to be confused with annual geraniums, hardy geraniums (commonly known as Cranesbill) come in different shades of pinks, purples and blues often with deeper colored veins that look like whiskers. Most varieties start flowering in late spring and continue blooming well into the summer. The plant thrives in full sun at the front of the flower border.

My favorite is lavender-blue Rozanne. Other great varieties are crimson-throated, deep pink Patricia, unbelievable mauve-pink Miss Heidi, whose petals look like they were painted with butterfly wings and light pink with bronze tinted Ingwersen’s Variety.

ALLIUMS

Ornamental onion, Allium

A spectacular addition to any spring garden, alliums nonetheless take some advance planning. Their giant, onion-sized bulbs must be planted in late fall.

Come spring, most alliums make their appearance in late April when large florets of tongue-like foliage become visible on the soil surface. The foliage is followed by the emergence of tall, upright stems carrying a single round ‘flower.’ Composed of hundreds of tiny star-shaped blooms, the huge spheres tower over other flowers, injecting a playful note into the spring border. 

My favorite variety is the impossibly large Globemaster, with deep purple Gladiator a close second. But don’t stop there; there are many varieties to choose from including the unusually shaped Drumstick, the fireworks-like Schubertii and the all-white Mount Everest.

LOOKING FOR MORE?

Of course, this is by no means is an exhaustive list of suitable plants for great spring borders. For more information on other spring bloomers that look great in shady areas or on their own in clumps, check out my posts Shady Behavior: 20 Great Plants for Shade Gardens, Spring At Winterthur Gardens, and Why Lily Of The Valley Is The Official May Day Flower.

Happy planting!

 

True-Blue Flowers: A Dozen Of The Best And Brightest

Himalayan Blue Poppy at Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens/Kari Wilner

Years ago, in an effort to distract my middle-school aged daughters, I took them to an avant-garde exhibit at Washington, DC’s Hirshhorn Museum. The show was a one-color retrospective on the works of the French artist, Yves Klein (1928-1962) and it focused on the color blue. Specifically, it featured a supersaturated blue created by Klein that made you feel like you had been sucked out to sea and were drowning. Needless to say, it left an indelible impression on us all. Continue reading

USPS Puts Its Stamp On America’s Most Beautiful Blooms

Floral stamp from the USPS Pollinator stamp series

You may think that gardens and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) have little in common, but The National Postal Museum, located in Washington, DC, is currently challenging that point of view. It recently opened an exhibition featuring the botanical art behind 50 years worth of floral stamps. And it’s delivered the goods just in time for the spring season. Continue reading