Drama Queens I can’t Live Without

Acanthus mollis (Bear's Breeches), Agave, and

Acanthus (Bear’s Breeches), Agave, and

Every garden needs a little drama, or at least a few big plants that stand tall and take an extra bow.  Of special note are those that have huge leaves, super fragrant flowers, or alien-looking parts.  Beware however, many of these drama queens are high maintenance (think of them as movie stars in your garden) – some need a bit of coddling, props and stakes for support when they get tired, they can over-share (lots of seeds), be aggressive (invasive rhizome root systems) and be darn right nasty (prickly or poisonous), so be prepared. However, in small doses these “wow” plants are worth the trouble.  I have a long list but will select five of my favorites at random that will enjoy a place in most gardens.

Acanthus spinosus

Acanthus spinosusAcanthus (Bear’s breeches)

– Acanthus spinosus is the hardiest type of Acanthus (Zones 4-9).  It has white flowers with purple hoods on plants up to 4 feet tall. The drama of the plant has been noted for centuries and is one of the oldest forms of ornament, showing up in Ancient Greek architecture in the capitals of the Corinthian and Composite orders, and applied to friezes, dentils, and other decorated areas. The oldest known example of a Corinthian column is in the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae in Arcadia, circa 450–420 BC.

Orienpet Lily Golden stargazer

Orienpet Lily ‘Golden Moonlight’

Orienpet Lilies – The O.T. lilies are cross bred between Oriental Lilies and Trumpet Lilies.  The advantage to this breed of lilies is they are generally more tolerant harsh growing conditions, compared to the normal Oriental Lily. The bulbs are typically larger than other lilies due to their fast growth rate.  Yet they have an exotic appearance, size and superb fragrance like that of the Orientals.  Growing quite tall, they are also known as “Tree Lilies”.  Staking is also recommended due to their large stems and heavy flowers.  For the most part, they are tolerant to hot sun but intolerant to wind.  They need well-drained soils (medium sandy loam is ideal – in our heavy clay we need to create a special bed for them), full sun, and a bit of extra mulch in the fall to help them winter over.

Vernonia gigantea (Tall Ironweed)

Vernonia gigantea (Tall Ironweed)

This Tall Ironweed is one of my favorite plants to check out every fall when we go to the Montreal Botanic Garden.  Easily 10′ in height, it is usually covered in butterflies and bees.  It is considered by the Xerces Society to be an important plant for native bees.  The common name refers to the toughness of the stem. The genus name honors the English botanist William Vernon, who did fieldwork in North America. At least 6 additional species are found in the East, including the more common New York Ironweed; some were once used for treating stomach ailments.  This giant can be considered invasive farther south so mind the seeds, but worth it here along the back of a border in a wet area.  Definitely needs staking and a network of sturdy bamboo and jute twine does the trick.

Hibiscus and Arundo donax

Hibiscus acetosella ‘Red Shield’ and Arundo donax

Hibiscus ‘Red Shield’ is a favorite annual for creating a dark background upon which tall light colored flowers can shine (try it with sunflower ‘Starburst Lemon Aura’).  It can grow 3′-5′ tall in one season and looks best when a few plants are massed together.  Technically it does flower in zones 8-11 but it always dies off here before it sets buds, so we use it solely for the foliage.

I’ve used Arundo donax (Giant Cane) a few times in designs at Basin Harbor for it’s lightening effect, especially useful in gardens with a dark evergreen background.  It’s an annual here and easy to control in beds where the entire plant is removed and composted at the end of the season, but it can be very invasive in temperate regions, especially the Northwestern and Southeastern U.S., and is generally considered a “no-no.”  Arundo does not provide any food sources or nesting habitats for wildlife, and when grown along riverbanks the rhizomes may break up into individual clumps, spreading the pieces, which may sprout and colonize further downstream, crowing out native species such as willow which are highly beneficial.  On the positive side it is sometimes used in biomass energy plants and phytoremediation, as a plant that can absorb toxins and heavy metals, especially arsenic from contaminated groundwater, but those two pros do not seem to outweigh its damaging effects.

large yellow perennial sunflower Helianthus sunshine daydream

Helianthus sunshine daydream

And now for a perennial sunflower that doesn’t flop over or take over the world – “Sunshine Daydream’.  It’s the easiest drama queen of the bunch for sure.  Introduced by North Creek Nurseries, this lovely plant grows 5-6′ tall, is hardy to zone 4, blooms June through August, holds up well as a cut flower, and is beloved by butterflies – what more could you ask for?

 

Perennial Meadows for Pollinators

Liatris heliopsis pollinator meadow

Liatris and Heliopsis in a Linden L.A.N.D. Group meadow

Meadows can be beautiful aesthetic features of a landscape and can also provide breeding habitat and critical sources of nectar and pollen for beesbutterflies, and moths, in addition to habitat for birds and mammals.  We will be creating two pollinator meadows at the new Linden L.A.N.D. Group office in Shelburne, one in a wet area and one in a dry area, and will follow some of the recomendations made by the Xerces Society in their book: “Attracting Native Pollinators” published by Storey Publishing in 2011.

We often start our design process by observing patterns in nature – I half close my eyes on a hike and look to see what fuzzy shapes seep through, then try to reproduce these colors and shapes in a garden.  The design aims to be wilderness reorganized into graphically clear forms, distilled, flowing, blending, overlapping.

planting meadow with landscape plugs

Linden crew planting a meadow with 5″ landscape plugs

An important prerequisite is volume – thousands of plants, timed like an orchestra.  It can be overwhelming, but there’s a lot of work being done now using plugs and seeds to keep the cost down, and even better, getting plants to reproduce themselves (I especially enjoyed Larry Weaner‘s presentation at the 2013 New Directions in American landscape conference titled “The Self Perpetuating Garden”).

Echinacea purpurea meadow VermontWhich plants should we include?  Selecting plants varies by site of course, but you’ll commonly see sturdy, daisy-like perennials that don’t require staking, mixed with tall grasses, and plants that have dotted spires and umbels.  Annie White, a grad student at UVM, is studying native plants and their cultivars to see which ones are the most attractive to pollinators.  We eagerly await the results of her research, but in the meantime here is her list of Top 10 Plant Choices, including one of my favorites – Helenium.

Helenium, Rudbeckia and Little Bluestem native meadow

Helenium, Rudbeckia and Little Bluestem in a Linden designed meadow

Creating Eco-Landscapes Where there’s No “Nature” Left

Burlington, VT

Burlington, VT

In cities, even Burlington, there is a lack of nature, soils, biodiversity, and ‘green’.  Impermeable surfaces channel stormwater runoff down the hill directly into Lake Champlain.  A proportional lack of trees elevates temperatures and causes heat island effect.   To fix the problem our first reaction is to try to put back the nature that we’ve removed, to put a few artificial organs into an otherwise still functioning body –  and in rural areas where fragments of functioning ecosystems remain that we can splice into, restoration efforts are successful.  But what happens when the whole ecosystem in an urban context has been destroyed?  Where there are no native soils left, no open land large enough to accommodate the vegetation that once lived there, no corridors extensive or wide enough for migrating terrestrial animals – in essence no hope of ever replacing the complexity and diversity of the original system?  That’s when you start hearing terms like Urban Greenspace, Novel Ecosystems, and Future Nature.

Nigel Dunnett meadow

Nigel Dunnett meadow

I heard a presentation on Novel Ecosystems last winter by Nigel Dunnett, a Professor of Planting Design at the University of Sheffield, UK.  He and James Hitchmough of the Department of Landscape along with Sarah Price designed the meadows at the London Olympic Park.  (Thomas Rainer has a great blog post about Dunnett’s meadows here.)  They went to great lengths to create sterile planting environments, with carefully designed soil mixes, weed-free seeds of annual and perennial species choreographed to bloom in a dramatic sequence, planted in exact weights and proportions, and then groomed to create incredibly colorful “pictorial meadows” for the Games.  This approach has come to be known as ‘The Sheffield School’ of planting design.

Dunnett and Hitchmough wrote a book called The Dynamic Landscape, Design, Ecology and the Management of Urban Planting in 2004.  Dunnett also co-authored a book on Rain Garden Design (the first one I ever read) in 2007.  In both instances his expertise lays firmly in the built environment and in finding ways to marry aesthetics with functional solutions.  He proposes that we need to reconsider our definition of ‘ecological’ in the urban context, and specifically that native plant communities may not be the best adapted plants for highly modified and disturbed urban sites.  Instead a Novel Ecosystem approach could be used that is based on:

  • choosing species from different places to maximize aesthetic and ecological functions
  • choosing species that are adapted to the urban environment
  • developing systems that deliver ecosystem services (slowing stormwater, providing nectar and pollen, nesting sites etc.) with minimal inputs (fertilizer, water, weeding).
Highline in August

Highline in August

I agree with him that in many cases it would be impossible to try to recreate a natural system where none exists.  The High Line is often given as an example of re-introducing a wild aesthetic using plants (many of them native) that are adapted to an urban environment.  I hope we continue to see more examples of a wild aesthetic in urban areas mostly because they generally contain a larger diversity of species.  In comparison to NYC, Burlington is more of an urban island floating in a sea of functioning ecosystems, and it’s still possible to splice into those systems. Where we can, I think it’s still a good idea to select native plants from our knowledge of the plant communities that existed here before.  There are lots of exceptions of course – you can’t put Clayplain Forest species on an extensive green roof and have any of them survive.  So yes, it’s a balance of native and non-native, ecological and aesthetic.

Here’s an example of an urban backyard we designed for the VT Flower Show in 2011 that demonstrates how this Novel Ecosystem concept could be applied here – we mimic the style of woodland and meadow plant communities, as well as urban agriculture (greenhouse, spindle fruit trees, compost and chicken run) and green infrastructure components (Permeable paving, RainXchange system, green wall, green roof).  The scale is micro rather than macro, as are most urban backyards – yet if we can cobble together many examples of this type of landscape we might supply some of those ecosystem services that are lost in an urban setting.

2011 VT Flower Show Plan

2011 VT Flower Show Plan

Linden L.A.N.D. Display 2011 Flower Show

Linden L.A.N.D. Display 2011 Flower Show

 

Is it time to plant yet?

annual hibiscus flowers

Getting ready to plant at Basin Harbor last May

Flowering plants are practically bursting from store shelves at this point and look mighty tempting.  I don’t want to rain on any parade but a few helpful hints will save you from buying plants twice.  Planting time is based on soil temperature not the calendar, and we are several weeks behind our average.   An easy way to tell soil temperature is simply to stick a thermometer about 4″ in the ground.  You can take a measurement in the early morning and late afternoon to get a high and low for the day, then average them.  When the soil temp is around 65 degrees, Petunias, Begonias, Lobularia (Alyssum) and Snapdragons can go in the ground.  More sensitive crops like Vinca (Catharanthus), Celosia, Lantana, Melampodium, Zinnias, and Pentas need soil temperatures of 68-70 degrees.  These are the flowers that thrive in the heat of the summer and need those high temperatures.  Most everything else falls in between.

Linden crew planting

Linden crew planting

This is the year to have patience.  Wait until soil temperatures are up for a couple of days before rushing out to plant.  I just bumped the plantings at Basin Harbor to the week after Memorial Day (which is early this year) to be safe.  Monitor your local soil temperature and save yourself some money!

Old-Fashioned Favorites that just won’t Die

peonies dames rocket

When I sit down with residential clients and begin to make wish lists I find that the old fashioned favorites still top the list, despite my lectures on the benefits of densely layered native plants.  Hydrangea, roses, daylilies, peonies, iris, and lavender will never die in the eye of the garden romantic.  I believe that our collective design aesthetic is gradually changing thanks to our modern naturalistic landscape heroes (Oudolf, OvS, Dan Pearson, Ken Druse, Sarah Price, Adam Woodruff, Nigel Dunnett, Ken Druse and Reed Hilderbrand), but until that paradigm shift happens I continue to share my list of the best classic performers.  Here they are:

hydrangea fence Limelight

Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ in one of our designs

1) Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ – while there is a hydrangea for every day of the week, this one is tough to beat if you have the space for it.  Limelight is a vigorous variety that fills in a hedge, doesn’t flop over and once dried the flower heads have that lovely dusty pink and green color – your arrangements will make Martha proud.

 

Lavender at Linden Farm

Lavender at Linden Farm

2) Lavender ‘Hidcote’ – In Vermont we have had good luck with growing both ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’ but the color on ‘Hidcote’ is the most vibrant and lasts better when dried.  I used to be industrious and make things with it, but now I just enjoy it while it lasts, which is only a week or two around the 4th of July.  Care must be taken to ensure good drainage and use either no mulch or a pebble mulch.

'Honorine de Brabant', a tough bourbon rose that smells divine

‘Honorine de Brabant’, a tough bourbon rose that smells divine

Roses – oh man, I have an instant headache.  No really, I love roses, and when we bought the farm I had oodles of hardy shrub roses from the Rosarie at Bayfields in Maine.  Of those oodles only a few remain 15 years later.  The ones that can handle our tough winters, wet clay soils that dry to brick, and survive pure neglect are the pink Rugosa hybrids – “Jens Munk’, ‘Therese Bugnet’, and ‘Hansa’, as well as a few Bourbon roses protected on the south side of the studio.

yellow daylilies near patio fireplace

Hemerocallis ‘Big Time Happy’ with Phlox ‘Laura’

Dayliles – Hemerocalis, or as the locals call it “Ditch Lily”.  Way too many rugged colorful varieties to list but if I could only pick five: ‘Baja’ (red), ‘Big Time Happy’ (yellow), ‘Ice Carnival’ (white), and ‘Pretty in Pink’ and ‘Strawberry Candy’ (pink).

dayliliy Strawberry Candy

Hemerocallis ‘Strawberry Candy’

Iris – generally we plant three types – Iris cristata (Crested Iris, a miniature woodland groundcover); Iris ensata (Japanese Iris, very dramatic around water features and in big swaths), and Iris siberica (Siberian Iris) tough as nails, graceful upright form).

Iris ensata at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Iris ensata at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Iris sibirica 'Caesar's Brother' in one of our designs

Iris sibirica ‘Caesar’s Brother’ in one of our designs

 

 

Peonies – There are also a million of these to choose from and can understand the overwhelmed glaze I see in the eyes of garden center shoppers.  Luckily, it’s hard to go wrong – they are tough plants, often outliving their gardeners and found around old cellar holes here in New England.  The traditional double flowering peonies (‘Sarah Bernhardt’, ‘Felix Crousse’) are inexpensive and reliable.  The Japanese and single flowered peonies are lighter and more graceful.  The new ITOH or intersectional crosses of Tree and Herbaceous peonies are fragrant, sturdy and exotic, but very expensive (about $60 ea).  Someday I would like to add ‘Border Charm’ to my garden in Shelburne.

bright reddish pink peony

Paeonia ‘Charm’ is a Japanese type that can handle the heat

ITOH Peony 'Border Charm'

ITOH Peony ‘Border Charm’

Intimacy of an Old House

barnsunset

Tonight is one of those rare spring evenings where the sun shimmers off the lake and sitting on the west facing porch is like being wrapped in a blanket until the sun sinks below the mountains.  The birds are sounding out their evening mating rituals and neighbors drive by slowly, engrossed in a twilight trance.

I get to thinking about the house under my feet – we are under contract after just three days on the market, and our heads are still spinning trying to catch up.  The building inspector is coming next week and despite 15 years of major remodeling, in my panic all I can see are the imperfections, the odd jobs we never quite finished.  The front porch deck needs a coat of paint, as does the chicken coop, the master bath needs regrouting, the fence posts straightening, and on and on and on.

Tim reminds me of the truth – that living with an old house requires a certain acceptance that the work is never done.  The farm is a living breathing entity, with a lifespan far beyond our own, and we are simply stewards in this symbiotic relationship.   We provide the care, like clown fish to the sea anemone, and the house continues to shine and wave it’s protective arms.  I hope the new owners will come to realize this, as we did, in their own time.

I will forever be grateful for this haven, and the opportunity to have known it in its  intimate moments – to have been a part of the rebuilding of something abandoned and reborn.

Dreaming of a VT Gentleman’s Farm? Now’s your Chance

two girls on a porch swing with lilacsIt still seems surreal to me, the fact that we are leaving the place we’ve called home for the last 15 years, the place we’ve toiled over, the place we’ve raised our babies, the place we’ve loved.  But the new house in Shelburne is almost done so we are putting our farm in Addison on the market today.  Yes, the new house is an exciting adventure, where we will be closer to 90% of our clients, have access to fabulous schools and lots of other enriching experiences, but I’m still sad about leaving the farm.  When we settled here, and during the years of renovations and improvements, we said we would never leave.   I’m telling myself the move is a lesson in flexibility, fluidity, adaptability, and resilience – and that the new owners of the farm will love the place we’ve created, make it their own, and its deep history will continue to evolve.

outside - southWe have built a website www.EverestFarmVT that describes the farm and has a ton of photos.  The property sleeps 20 with all the outbuildings (5-bdrm farmhouse, summer cottage, studio and guesthouse) and would be perfect as a farmstay B&B, or as an elegant summer home with a year-round farmer/caretaker living in the guesthouse.  We renamed it Everest Farm since it was the Everest family who built it in the late 1700s and occupied it for four generations.  A new Linden Farm will be built on our 15 acres in Shelburne.   So if you’re in the market to buy a lovely property on the shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont, or know somebody who is looking, let us know.   Everybody is welcome to enjoy a taste of the Good Life in the gallery below.

Great Shade Plants for that Boggy Backyard

wild orange lilies in the woods

Lilium superbum (turkscap lily, native to New Hampshire to Georgia

In the spring I meet with dozens of new clients and many of them have a similar problem, a seasonally wet area that’s too shady to grow decent lawn, sometimes it’s right against the house, and other times it’s on the perimeter of the backyard.  Either way my answer is to promote drainage away from the house and then plant it!  The old standbys of Astilbe and Hosta are reliable and beautiful and I list a few of my favorite varieties below shown in combination with other worthy plants.  Whenever I can however I encourage people to venture beyond the familiar shade plants and try a few unusual ones, preferably native to the U.S. and even better their region.

white veined leaf of Jack in the Pulpit

Arisaema t. ‘Starburst’ from Plant Delights Nursery

Here are my Top 10 (mostly) natives that can tolerate wet feet and some shade:

  1. Actaea racemosa (also love Actaea ‘Chocoholic’ for its fragrance and butterfly charm)
  2. Arisaema triphyllum (Jack in the Pulpit – check out Plant Delights Nursery introduction ‘Starburst’ which has white veined leaves)
  3. Aruncus dioicus (Goat’s Beard, gets Huge!)
  4. Catha palustris (Marsh Marigold)
  5. Carex – (a very diverse grass, some of the best ones for wet areas are not native – my favorite is Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’
  6. Chelone glabra (also love Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’, pink and showy non-native)
  7. Ferns – Onoclea sensibilis (Sensitive Fern), Osmunda cinnamomea (Cinnamon Fern), and Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich Fern)
  8. Iris versicolor (Blue Flag iris)
  9. Lobelia cardinalis (also check out the nativars ‘Black Truffle and ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ which boast darker colored foliage)
  10. Phlox divaricata ‘Blue Moon’
shade garden combination with japanese forest grass

Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’, Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, and Viola

 

 

marsh marigold

Caltha palustris (Marsh Marigold) – a cheerful early spring ephemeral

Lobelia cardinalis around pond edge

Lobelia cardinalis around pond edge

Lobelia cardinalis

Lobelia cardinalis

 

 

There are also some great astilbes out there – my four faves are ‘Vision in Red’ (bold color), ‘Colorflash’ (awesome leaves that look great all season), ‘Deutschland’ (classic white) and ‘Purple Candles’ (can tolerate more sun and gets huge).

Astilbe Visions in Red and Dogwood Ivory Halo

Astilbe ‘Visions in Red’ at CMBG with Cornus ‘Ivory Halo’ in the back

 

Astilbe Deutschland white

Astilbe Deutschland at CMBG

 

Linden L.A.N.D. Group wins the 2014 Environmental Awareness Award

Green Works award

Green Works, established in 1964, is a non-pro?t professional organization for the Horticultural Industry in Vermont.  The Environmental Awareness award is given in recognition of an individual that has implemented an environmentally sound practice that contributes to the protection of the environment.  Winners received their awards at the recent 2015 Green Works Winter Meeting & Trade Show held on 1/27/15 at the UVM Davis Center.  This is the second award given to Rebecca by Green Works – she also received the NENA Young Nursery Professional of the Year Award in 2009, given by the New England Nursery Association to an individual under 40 who has contributed to the growth and success of the industry in the eye of the public.

Raising “Mongrel” Bees without Chemo

bees on front of hive with snow

The bees first flight of the year

Hooray, they made it, they made it!  We can’t help but do a little dance at the end of winter when the bees emerge.  The hive on the right is the stronger of the two it seems, but I won’t know until it warms up a bit more and we can open them up.  The left hive has a bit of brown goo from their cleansing flights, which makes me worry a bit about Nosema, a microscopic organism that destroys the lining of the bee’s gut.  It’s mainly a concern during the winter months when the bees have been confined for long periods of time and can’t get rid of the indigestible matter that builds up in their digestive systems.  The conventional treatment is to use the chemotherapy antibiotic treatment fumagillin.  Wait, what ?!?  No thanks.  Luckily, in Vermont it hasn’t been too much of a problem and we keep following the advice of our local Organic beekeeping guru, Ross Conrad, who believes that if we continue to raise the overall immunity of the hive by ensuring proper nutrition, ventilation, and avoiding heavy fall feeding of syrup we will raise strong healthy bees that can avoid most diseases like Nosema.  Ross says:

 

“The more genetic diversity that exisits in your hives, the better… Raising “mongrels” rather than “thoroughbreds” gives a greater depth of genetic diversity that will give the bees an edge when dealing with unexpected challenges”.

 

raising queen bees man in bee suit

Picking up a new Queen from Lemon Fair Honeyworks

We also increase the vitality of the hive by re-queening package bees with local mite-resistant, super hygienic queens, that we buy from Andrew Munkres, Lemonfair Honeyworks in Cornwall, VT.

We are very lucky to have a world class queen breeder here in the Champlain Valley – Kirk Webster of Champlain Valley Bees and Queens, as well as his long-term apprentices (including Andrew Munkres).  Kirk holds two open house field days: April 25, and July 25, 2015; rain or shine–9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, at his apiary located at 1437 South Street, New Haven, VT.

queen bee cell in box

Queen cell ready to be inserted into one of our hives

I’m very encouraged by the enthusiasm of so many people that want to keep bees and the patience of our mentors.  I was just talking with a friend who is a teacher and her class is taking on beekeeping under the mentorship of Ross Conrad.  Go bees (and students), go!