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Wisteria

A Vine that Just Won’t Quit

wisteria seed pods

English Ivy is a bad weed and Chinese Privet is difficult to control, but the most tenacious, invasive plant of them all is Wisteria. So robust is the growth of Wisteria vines, they grow up and across the road on power lines and tree limbs. Once its roots establish a spot in the ground, it is almost impossible to eliminate it. Spraying with herbicides is relatively ineffective. Thank goodness it doesn’t cover territory as vigorously as Kudzu! It can easily grow to a size that can collapse a sturdy trellis, and will grow trunks the size of trees. My typical advice to homeowners with a Wisteria problem is to move.

You can make a floral arrangement container out of anything you can imagine. Where I live, the Wisteria grows in every empty lot. They call the streets in my area “the flower streets”, and one of them is named Wisteria Way for good reason. I made the one pictured above from Wisteria pods.

On a winter walk, I heard popping sounds, and discovered the furry Wisteria seed pods were exploding overhead and dropping to the asphalt by the hundreds. It seemed like I was in the crossfire of tiny cannons. The seed pods are beautiful, furry, long, twisted fingers. The pods curl back as they release the shiny, black seeds. I returned the next day with a grocery bag and gathered up bunches of the felt-like spirals. Walking through this amazing tunnel of bursting seeds, I was inspired to make something useful from the pods. Look around to find items for your next floral arrangement.

Finding Plants

Happy Surprises Bring Joy to Gardening

hidden plants, finding plants for free

One of the happy surprises of gardening is finding lost and forgotten plants—plants that you thought had died—plants that somehow have managed to survive in spite of serious neglect on your part. In our move from our previous home, I hastily dug up anything small enough to carry and plopped those plants wherever I could get a shovel in the ground at the new place. That was several years ago, but recently, after a whirlwind of busy work, I found some extra time. It allowed me to finally focus on the new yard and see things typically unnoticed. I was delighted to witness the resurrection of some plants from the old home place! Happy surprises bring joy to gardening.

Tucked among the leaf litter and spreading Liriope grass, I spotted Geranium maculatum, the Wood/Spotted Geranium, quietly struggling to survive amid the competing foundation shrubs and ground covers. The Wood Geranium is not the same plant as the weedy Geranium dissectum or Geranium carolinianum, which are wild Geraniums that litter lawn grass in early spring. This one has flowers that are pretty—big, pale rose-colored blossoms with darker stripes radiating out from the center. It forms a nice mound of interestingly-lobed foliage and blooms.

I tried rescuing it today by relocating it to a partly sunny location out of the line of footpaths, in decent soil. I suppose it will be several years before it flowers, but it has sprouted new leaves. I hope it naturalizes and thrives in its new location. It is amazing to see it still alive. The ground where I found it was solid, compacted clay, having gone through at least four droughty seasons without withering away. Only two or three leaves were remaining, but it is obviously resilient and can handle difficult soils. It prefers and deserves better treatment.  I don’t see how it could have lived another year, so the rescue came in its last moments of life.

Some Interesting Seed Companies

The Magic of Trilliums

Resurrection

trilliums, woodland flowers, ephemerals

Each Easter, the Trillium cuneatum rises from my woodland garden floor in camouflage colors and whispers that spring is here. It will quietly disappear a few weeks later and cause me a bit of concern. Will it return next year? I feel honored it has chosen to survive in the dry shade of my back yard. It seems so Appalachian to be growing in the Deep South! Little Sweet Betsy is an appropriate name. It causes me to slow down and appreciate the beauty of nature with quiet reflection.

Flower gardens are created and planted according to the will of the designer, but there are some plants that can’t/won’t be forced into an artificial design. Spring ephemerals are like that. They typically don’t like to be moved or bothered. If you have them, respect their location and work with their whims. Digging them up to transplant will probably kill them. Native spring ephemerals can never be used as part of a large-scale landscape project. Their place is with knowledgeable native plant gardeners, botanical gardens, and as protected volunteers in your landscape. They are special because they can’t be tamed.

Purchasing woodland ephemerals should be done with care. There are people who collect these treasures illegally, sometimes by poaching them from public parks. Do some research. Find out how the plants were propagated, and only purchase them from legitimate sources. 

Year-round Color with Bulbs

Plan for Spring this Fall

roadside flowers, ice follies, double smiles, narcissus

Old-fashioned spring bulbs keep giving and giving and giving. They come back year after year in spite of stress because they are dormant and store energy underground during the worst heat and drought of summer. They have very few insect pests and disease problems. Some are deer-resistant and can be very poisonous. Your childhood home most likely has a clump of German Iris still living, Spring Beauties in the lawn, and cheerful yellow Daffodils scattered randomly. Nothing lasts like self-reliant bulbs! I love them, because they are a connection with perennial gardeners of the past.

The time to buy spring bulbs is in the fall. It pays to know which bulbs can take clay soils, heat, drought, and humidity. If you live in the Southeast and purchased Daffodils from a wholesale nursery in Oregon, where they propagate their cold-loving bulbs in moist, well-drained soil, new bulbs may only last one year. Bulbs have a range of cold-tolerance, so check out the hardiness of each species before you buy. When you make your fall bulb purchase, choose varieties adapted to your area, and if possible, buy from a local or regional supplier. If you wait too long to plant in the fall, your new bulbs will dry out and mold, just like onions left too long in a refrigerator. Planting by Thanksgiving gives bulbs exposure to cold and improves the bloom.

In heavy clay, forget trying to grow Anemone sp., Camassia sp., Dahlia sp., Eranthus sp., Fritallaria sp., or Galanthus sp., unless you’re up for some disappointments. They’re not impossible, but they are a challenge for beginners. Here are some recommendations for bulbs and bulb-like favorites for heavy clay.

Plant Annuals Three Times a Year!

How the Seasonal Color Calendar Works

It is surprising how often you need to replace seasonal color displays. Once a year is not enough. The schedule landscape professionals use for temporary floral displays follows the calendar in a unique way. Plants labeled as annuals do not last a full year, but they can stretch through more than one season. Seasonal color typically needs refreshing at least three times a year.

One way to stretch the effectiveness of a floral display is to replace beds just as one set of annual flowers end their peak flowering period, using cool-season annuals in winter and warm-season annuals in spring and summer, but there are no annual flowers that perform a full six months of the year. Popular annuals have a long bloom period or provide extended color through striking foliage hues, but even with excellent plant choices, there are gaps with a semiannual bed switch.

An annual isn’t called an annual because you plant it once a year. It is called an annual because, if left to its own devices, it will complete a full life cycle sometime within one year. A seed can grow into a full-sized plant, flower, and then go back to seed and die long before twelve months go by. The process often takes only a few months. Corn seeds can be planted, grow to over six feet tall, produce ears, and die in just a few weeks! Annuals can sometimes re-seed in place and repeat the cycle of germination, growth, and seed production, appearing to act as perennials. Most often annuals depend on gardeners to continue the process.

Party Decorations

Christmas Party Potluck

party decorationsOur party is tonight. It has been fun preparing for guests and decorating. Here are some tips that we learned by doing this for several years in a row.

• Start planning early. We decide on a theme a year in advance, and then look for items on sale throughout the year that fit the theme. This year we are doing a peppermint candy theme. Gathering up a bunch of themed items provides inspiration for your decorations, and shopping with a mission is fun—like a scavenger hunt.

Arranging Flowers the Easy Way

The Fun Part of Setting a Table!

You’ve selected your vase or container, secured the oasis or frog, purchased and gathered flowers and greenery, and conditioned the plant material. Now you can finally start flower arranging!

First, provide a collar of greenery around the edge of the vase. Then add floral stems. Keep the larger blooms near the base of the arrangement, and decrease the size of the blooms as you work your way to the top. One easy method to insert the stems is to simulate a clock. Put matching stems at noon, three, six, and nine. Then put a few more at one, four, seven, and ten.  Keep inserting stems at two, five, eight, and eleven. Add filler material in the holes. Done! It’s not imaginative, but it looks great, if you are using pretty flowers.

Traditional mass arrangements can be dense and tightly filled, or left open and airy, for a more natural look. Try to keep the size of the arrangement no more than two-thirds the size of the container, or it will be top-heavy and out of scale with the vase. You can create strongly shaped domes, cones, or squares with tightly spaced blooms. The stems on geometrically controlled arrangements need to be short to maintain the form of the oasis material which has been cut into the final geometric shape. Many of Martha Stewart’s table arrangements are done in traditional mass form.

You can build easy, posey-style bouquets by hand-holding the arrangement and adding stems radially around the outside of the bunch, and then tying the stems together with ribbon. The stems can be long and elegant for a tall, columnar glass vase, or short and hidden in a smaller container. By tying the stems together, you may be able to omit the floral oasis or frog. You can also avoid the need for oasis by using a fish-bowl-shaped vase and dropping the hand-held bouquet into the opening, with all the stems falling into a pleasing and casual angle, evenly distributed around the bowl.

Real-life Wildflower Plots

Success with WIldflowers

Planting a wildflower meadow in real life is a complex, difficult task. The seed companies will tell you, if you want a completely care-free garden with lots of color, just plant wildflowers. All you have to do is buy a seed mix in a bag or a can (they usually have a photo of a kaleidoscope of blooms on the front cover of the seed packet), and then scatter the seeds on the ground. Then wait for the magic to happen. The ad representative for wildflowers has been very busy the past couple of decades spreading misconceptions about wildflower meadows. I don’t think there were any marketing conspiracies. It’s just that we all hope and wish it were true, and we have seen evidence of the self-sufficiency of wildflowers. We’ve seen amazing outcroppings of colorful flowers sprouting and flourishing on their own in abandoned lots. We’ve seen native primrose plants germinating in cracks in street gutters. If wildflowers are so tough, then why can’t we simply purchase a mix of wildflower seeds and cast them onto the ground and let the garden fairies do the rest? In reality, a self-sustaining wildflower plot requires planning to work well in the field.

The definition of a wildflower is not clear. Wildflowers and weeds earned their reputation by adapting to local conditions without any help from humans. They come, invited or uninvited, and naturalized themselves. The distinction between a naturalized wildflower and a weed is a fine, subjective line. Naturalized species are typically called wildflowers if they are pretty, and are called weeds if they are awkwardly out of place. Botanists can be very fickle! A wildflower mix you purchase at a garden center is typically mixed with invasive species that happen to have a decent bloom. Most of the successful germination you see from an inexpensive wildflower mix is from the invasive plant seeds. The results of a planting of a canned mix will most likely be Queen Ann’s Lace, Cornflowers, and Oxeye Daisies. The more refined species do not establish easily when merely tossed on bare ground.

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