Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Garden Labeling

Over the years I have experimented with many different types of labeling. I started out, as many of us have, by sticking the labels that came with the plant into the ground next to it as I planted. Not only was this ugly, but these labels are cheap and disposable and degrade in the sunlight to the point that within a year they shatter. There is nothing fun about kneeling by a plant and picking up a hundreds tiny bits of shattered white plastic.
So I graduated on to sturdy plastic stakes that I wrote on with a sharpie. Not long after I learned that sharpies wear off within a year and I'm left with a blank label. Great for temporary labeling, but disastrous when trying to remember the name of some rare little something wonderful. Another thing I found really annoying with the white stakes was they looked like little headstones placed throughout the garden.
I finally began to hit on something great while I was visiting the Van Dusen Garden in Vancouver, British Columbia. They had black labels with white lettering. They were very unobtrusive, yet easy to find. I called the garden when I got home and talked to the volunteer who headed up their labeling program and she was very helpful. They bought their stakes from a Canadian company, but I was able to find black stakes through a wholesaler here in the States. The labeling was done with a Brother labeling machine, available at any office supply store. The hardest part was finding the label tape that is black with white lettering. Some office supply stores carry it, but you may have to special order it. It's also more expensive than the white tape.
I was told by the lady at Van Dusen that these labels would last for at least 3 years, but I have most of my original labels that I made 9 years ago, still intact and looking good. If the label is getting direct sun, the stake will fade to a charcoal grey color after 5 years or so, but it still is very unobtrusive.

This is an interesting way to label shrubs or trees. The label is just for the purpose of identification by the gardener. It isn't easy to read from the path. But if that's all you need. it works great. The wire slides as the shrub or tree grows, limiting the possibility of girdling.

One last tip - If I have a perennial that I think I may remember, but I'm not sure, I usually bury the label that came with it alongside it as I plant. The label will usually stay intact without the sunlight on it and if I forget what it is, I can find out again when I dig it up to divide it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Appreciating Winter

Winter is the least favorite season for most gardeners, but it doesn't have to be all drudgery and misery. Keeping a positive attitude and looking for the beauty in winter goes a long way. The garden isn't dead, it's only sleeping, and walking through the garden on a frosty morning, you can see many of her dreams.
A few tricks I came up with to appreciate gloomy days are:
*Foggy days are now misty days. Mist sounds more magical than fog.
*The structure of the garden is much easier to see in the winter.
*Mosses are verdant, velvety accents.
*Seedheads left up in the garden feed the birds and add rustly sounds.
There are many plants that add interest to a winter garden. I would never be without Sarcococca (Fragrant blooms in January) and Daphne odora (fragrant blooms in February). I planted them by my front door so I can enjoy their fragrance as I go in and out. They both need shade in the summer, so plant them on the east or north side of the house by a door or window.
Hellebores bloom from late January into late March and then hold their bracts in muted tones much longer. New breeding has come up with fabulous colors and forms.
Witch hazels are another excellent choice for a winter garden. Most bloom in January -March and some are fragrant. My favorites are 'Ruby Glow', Jelena, and 'Sunburst'.

This picture of Hamamelis 'Ruby Glow' was taken on January 24th. It has wonderful fragrance and beautiful flowers. An added bonus is spectacular foliage color in the fall.

Flame Willow gives brilliant color in the winter. These plants benefit from a hard cutting back in the spring. The best color is one new wood. They grow back with amazing speed. Picture taken January 17th

Coral Bark Maple is another bright barked tree that glows in the winter. Picture taken October 21st

Snow is beautiful in the trees and on the ground. Ignore the negative aspects of it and savor the small gifts like these quail tracks. Picture taken March 9th.

Rime on roses is a sublime treat. Anytime there is heavy frost in the garden is a good time to get out with the camera. Picture taken November 27th by Greg Smith

A single Hellebore blossom frozen in a basin is a thing of beauty. Picture taken January 19th

Thursday, November 5, 2009

From Ugh to Awesome for $0

I have learned that there are good things that come from a recession. One of them is creativity. When faced with projects that have no budget, what do we do?
One of my autumn projects is to replant the planters in front of the lodge. I usually fill them up with sword ferns, cyclamens, maybe some pansies and flowering kale. But this year there was no money for fall planters. Many of the plants I had in them over the summer were done, leaving more plants dead than living. Before I could wring my hands in dismay, however, Melinda (our so-savvy manager) reminded me of a planter I had done last year using twigs and berries and evergreen boughs. So off I went, clippers in hand to gather whatever I thought would look good stuck into the dirt of the planters. I concentrated on things that I knew would hold over for a long while. I didn’t want to have to do the planter over anytime soon. I collected artichokes, Corsican hellebore, cotoneaster berries, pyracantha berries, callicarpa berries (purple), red twig dogwood branches, rosemary, rosehips, gourds, small white pumpkins, and laurel clippings. I started by wetting the soil well and then just stuck the branches in until I had built up a pleasing arrangement. Most of these elements should last a month or more. Some will last all winter. I can remove anything that looks ratty later and add season favorites like holly and juniper. Where I would normally have spent approximately $150 - $200 for fall plants, I now have all of my planters done for free.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rake or Hammock. Hmm...

Today was one of those perfect Fall days. Sunny, cool, colorful and that wonderful smell that comes with falling leaves. I did some light pruning, planted some elephant garlic in the Children’s Garden and moved compost. It feels great to be out in the sun.
Long ago, I used to teach a class called “Putting the Border to Bed”. In it I would outline all of the tasks for autumn, including clipping all perennials back and cleaning the ground spotless. I don’t do that anymore. One reason is that a super tidy garden is not conducive to wildlife habitat. The birds and the beneficial insects like a little leaf litter here and there to rummage around in and hide under. Perennial seed heads left up offer an abundance of seeds for little birds. A certain amount of leaf litter adds insulation to the soil and feeds it as it breaks down.
After a good storm I love to walk through the woodland, picking up small branches that have fallen from the trees and breaking them into smaller pieces. Then I toss them back into the woodland to decay and nourish the plants there. Large, matting leaves are removed from the woodland so that they don’t smother the plants beneath them, but smaller leaves, such as Raywood Ash and Japanese Maple are left where they fall. Larger branches are piled on the side as habitat for toads, frogs, newts and such which help keep the garden free of pests.
A wonderful book, which I re-read often, is Mirabel Osler’s “A Gentle Plea for Chaos”. It reminds us that the best gardens are where we gently sculpt Mother Nature, not dominate her completely. Let the roses ramble a bit, don’t be too quick with the rake and look at your garden from the viewpoint of the little creatures that live there.