Monday, December 21, 2009

Snopocalyptic Monday

I think this blog posting is going to be a big one...I had planned on talking about my shift from gardening to birding over the winter. Well, then Old Man Winter stepped in and clobbered us over the head. So, I am going to talk about both. As I'm sure you are well aware of by now, the east coast got nailed by a blizzard and heavy rains. This storm was pretty rare for us in RI because we normally get heavy wet snows in small quantities if it does snow in December. This one set was in the top ten for heaviest snow fall ever for RI and was the biggest snow fall ever for RI in December. Below is our little circle on mid Sunday morning...we didn't get freed by the plow until almost 11:30 am. Thank goodness I didn't have any place to be.

Here in Warwick, we got about 15 or so inches. Since it was light, it blew around a lot. Some places in my yard looked like we had a couple of inches and in some spots it was mid chest on Lars. Aquidneck Island got slammed with 20 - 24" which high winds formed into monstrous drifts . Eric has been plowing over there Saturday night, Sunday, and most of today. The drifts won't quit...some are as tall as Eric. I was over there today and the main roads are so bad with drifts they are controlling them with loaders on the side of the roads. I've never seen anything like it including when I lived in Central that's saying something. Eric thinks he may be home before midnight...he's being hopeful.

Lake Larson has been reduced to large piles of snow and some stakes sticking out of the ground where the nets are for the heron. They flash froze in there...looks like they may be there until spring. There is one little hole in the snow where the air stone bubbles away keeping a hole open for gas exchange.

Bird Central was a happenin' place to be on Sunday. There was bird feeder gridlock at some points.

Of course, after a snow storm, one has to go out and play with their dog. I'm not sure if Lars remembered snow from last winter, but he sure had a blast out there. He kept going to the door asking to head back out there and romp some more. After Old Man Winter dealt us a punishing blow earlier in the day, he softened and painted the sky with a sunset which I haven't seen the likes of in a long time.

Red sky at night, snow plowers' delight...

It was such an intense sunset, the snow reflected the cool.

Lars was not as impressed with the sunset as I was...all he wanted to do was chase his ball which was behind me. Sometimes he just humors me and my need to pose him in my photos.

Just this last week, I had moved the bird feeders up close to the house where I can easily see who's coming to dinner. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly they find them. I decided not to do the Great American Bird Feeder Count with Cornell's Department of Ornithology. I always have great intentions, log my birds for about a month, then I forget. So, I'm just going to enjoy the birds this winter. Just an informal tally of who's shown up so far: Cardinals, Juncos, Titmice, Chickadees, Nuthatches, House Sparrows, House Finches, Goldfinches, Blue Jays, White Throated Sparrows, and Carolina Wrens. Now that I have written it all out, that's a healthy guest list.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Indoor gardening takes over - the sexy orchids.

It's about that time of year where I pack it in, store away all of my tools and bid the garden farwell until about March. I now turn my eye to indoor horticulture where it is much more warm and colorful. Right now I have 4 phalaenopsis orchids which I really have come to love. I was all about african violets up until a couple of years ago. I don't know if I got bored of them or what...but I made the switch. I find the phalaenopsis orchids to be really easy to grow in my house. The slider must have the right light for them to be really happy. We also let our house drop in temperature at night and they really like that too. This is (I think) my 3rd year growing them and I tried something different this summer which I may not try again.

I attempted to place them outside and let them hang out there for the summer over by Lake Larson and the garage. I thought that may be just enough light but not too much for them. Well, when the sun did decide to shine, they got a little fried and had some sun scald on their leaves. Then the rains came...and why I didn't pull them back inside is beyond me. Maybe I had too much on my plate at the time to think about it. But, despite the rain, they flowered all summer...and because of the rain the flowers were riddled with black spots. Yuck. I should have brought them back inside. Oh well. This coming summer, they will be staying inside.

One thing people say to me all the time when they hear I do orchids is theirs never bloom again after they get them. I think one of the main reason is because people take off the flower stems when the blooms drop. Don't do have to leave them on because that's where most of my flowers come from. You can see in the photo above, there's a new sprig shooting off of that spent one. 80% of my flowers come from old stems so leave them on.

This winter I'm also attempting something I haven't done before and that is a new organic fertilizer for the orchids. Phalaenopsis orchids typically bloom from December through May and I'm going to use Neptune's Hydrolized Fish Fertilizer and it's make up is 2 - 4 - 1. It's basically a fish emulsion and I'm using it once a week just to see what results I get. I will say that Lars is fascinated with the plants after I water/feed them. I'm not sure if that's going to be the case with all dogs since he has been graced with a super sniffer, but I'm just saying. I will report, my cat couldn't care less about it.

You guys all know how I feel about Home Cheapo but I am not above rescuing plants from there if they are in good shape. I picked up this little orchid from there around Thanksgiving for 8 could I resist. I do have to repot it though because that is a tiny little pot. I was aghast at the instructions on how to care for this poor thing...water it with melting ice cubes once a week. Seriously? **face palm** Is gardening becoming so dumbed down that watering plants has been reduced to leaving ice cubes to melt on them? Ugh. "Gardeners" like that should just do themselves a favor and get a silk orchid from Home Goods.

This pot has three different orchids in it I don't dare separate...there's a plain white, a white with some pink hints, and the white with the purple netting. I have a yellow one that took the most of the beating this summer and it's just hanging out growing more roots. I hope it flowers this winter, but we'll see. I did repot everyone up this fall into much bigger and shallow pots with orchid substrate. I think they are going to like their new homes.

I did get to my winter window boxes this year! I never got around to it last year because Sam took up a lot of my time . I really like how these turned out and I have to get a better photo of the big one featured above...sometimes the iphone camera just sucks at taking photos. I'll have to use my real camera for it. I used cut holly, rhododendron, norway spruce, juniper, variegated boxwood, and lavender. For the accents, I used maiden grass, switch grass, hydrangea flowers, and crabapples. In the past, I have used cut white pine. But this year, I scored a ton of cut holly from some bushes I pruned back for a client. I LOVE IT!!!

Here's the garage window box and this photo was taken with my real camera (what a difference) It's similar to the big one but I kept a sedge in the front that was left over from the summer box and I used cut sweet fern from around the pond. I used the cut holly, lavender, switch grass, and hydrangea. I think it's darling. ;)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Um, the last time I checked...that looks like the color lavender

I want to know what kind of crack these geneticists are smoking...that's not a blue rose. Why do we even need blue roses? Roses come in every color under the sun as it is. If you want blue in your garden, there are umpteen different hydrangea and perennials you can use to achieve that. I can only imagine the hardiness issues and disease/pest issues this plant would have in the landscape. Yellow roses aren't very hardy because yellow is a massively recessive gene in roses...OMG, blue isn't even in the rose color wheel.

Before these scientists get all excited about their discovery....Conard Pyle already sells something "Blue"

Floribunda Rose "Singing the Blues" (Dare I say it...that's a better blue than the Frankenstein rose they featured in the video.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How does your garden Grow??

This week I'll do another dramatic transformation of one of my projects. This one is still a work in progress...we've been slowly chipping away at this garden since 2007. I met Kelly who was a referral from another past client of mine. She had bought a house and in the back was this mess (these photos aren't even remotely close to how bad it was.) of plants, weeds, and invasives. She was a novice gardener and was completely overwhelmed with the disaster behind her house. I'll admit now...I was overwhelmed too with the mess.

As we pulled and cleaned and pulled some more, an abandoned formal english herb garden started to appear. The photos here of the before were taken when this was discovered. There were some great plants hidden in the mess of bittersweet, stinging nettles, and overrun crap. Later I learned, the previous owner had worked at Blithewold, the arboretum in Bristol, RI. But, she had developed a phobia of going outside and the garden suffered because of that. So, we took an inventory of what was there and Kelly had me draft up a plan using the things she had and some new things she liked.

The entire garden had been surrounded by a wall of yews and the east side of them were removed to reveal the water view behind them. From a cultural standpoint, this was a good thing so we could open up the garden for air circulation and light. 2008 to this fall, we moved plants, shifted things to temporary places, and kept pulling out things we didn't want. Kelly was great through this whole project and I have to say the level of trust she put in me was huge. But, she has become a wonderful and talented gardener through all of this. I have been with her the whole way digging with her and teaching her what to do and how to take care of her new emerging landscape.

These photos below were taken on a whim with my phone in the middle of October. I do really need to take some real photos for the website because I think this garden is destined for some greatness. Her pink Knockout Roses and Geranium 'Rozanne' have been blooming like crazy all summer long and are still rocking and rolling as of last week when I stopped by for the last time this year. She couldn't be more happy with her garden and she tells me all the time how much joy they bring her. Once again, that's the real reason I do this job.

We've got about 85% percent of the moved plants moved and parts of the garden are completely planted. I think we just have to fill some holes with things we couldn't find or holes that housed something that had been moved this year. Next year, we're going to work on the shade side where the last wall of yews are now. It's close to being done and I think we can do it next year.

This corner both of our favorite spot in the garden. The camera cannot capture how cool this little nook is.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What's the big deal about invasives anyway?

Invasive plant material has become really pretty contraversial over the past couple of years. Most of the plants that are deemed invasives are plants that have become mainstays in the landscape - Norway Maple, Burning Bushes, Japanese honeysuckle, Japanese Barberry, Purple Loosestrife and so on. What makes these plants so durable in the landscape - nothing will eat them, they grow fast, and they are extremely adaptable. Well, those qualities carry over into natural areas too...nothing will eat them, so they grow with no checks and balances. They grow fast....they are the first to leaf out and the last to drop their leaves and native plants can't compete for space, light, nutrients, and water. They are extremely adaptable...they grow anywhere, under any conditions. You can sort of see where there's a problem starting to form. The icing on the cake that really isn't a landscape attribute is these plants produce a lot of seeds and these seed are capable of widespread dispersal. That is bad, really bad. Why this bad is that these plants are out competing our native plants which provide food for our native wildlife. No food means no wildlife and you can see the domino effect that has. Not to mention, if the naturalized areas begin to fill up with plants that deer can't eat, they are going to start looking for things they your front yard.

When people tell me they like the main offenders of being invasive and they would like to see Burning Bush or whatever in their landscape. They are gobsmacked when I tell them they are invasive and I would rather not plant them. Usually, they will say- "well, I've grown it for years and I never had a problem with it taking over my yard." Well, they are thinking of plants I like to call "garden thugs". Garden thugs are plant bullies and will try to overrun their immediate neighbors in their beds. True invasives cause issues mostly in areas we don't tend to.

Over this fall, I have found myself in the woods a bit with Eric and his friend Leo scoping out prime places for deer hunting or with Lars. My Lars missions are usually geocaching and they take us in some pretty secluded places. I have been taking pictures of where things are growing where they shouldn't be.

Japanese Honeysuckle growing in a DEM area in Smithfield. Um yeah...a million dollars says that no one planted that there.

Here I am in Goddard Park in East Greenwich walking the trails and I found these different burning bushes along a short part of the path. Two of them were taller than I am...deer won't touch burning bush and that's why they are so tall out there.

Once again in Goddard, now it's barberry which is a plant that deer won't touch with a 10' pole. Barberry is a huge problem in Maine that they are doing tons of research on finding herbicides to wipe out the barberry in the woods. They are doing this because the deer populations are really suffering up there because of the lack of food source from the competition of barberry in the woods.

So, hopefully these photos will show gardeners who think Burning Bush doesn't really cause a problem just because they don't have them popping up all over their yards. It's not the yards that the problem lies, it's the places Mother Nature gardens instead.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Calling all of you Facebook junkies (like me)

I love facebook. No, I really love facebook. I fall for a good "time sucker" - hook, line, and sinker. People have stopped emailing me on my personal home email and now contact me on facebook because they know I check that place way more than I do my email. LOL

I also know that Facebook has about a gazillion people on it now. So, I know there are many others out there with this hopeless Facebook addiction like me. So, I thought I should take the leap and make a business page for The Garden Consultant. Through the wonders of technology, they have this handy, dandy little fan box widget you can add to various places like blogs. I thought that would be a great idea as well.

So, if you are so inclined and as much of a "crackbook" addict as me, please feel free to visit and become a fan of The Garden Consultant! As you can see on the right side of my blog, I have the fan box and you can find my page through that. I've always been one of those jump in feet first sort of folks and did it with Facebook and the page. Which direction it will go, I'm not sure. But I know it's going to be cool!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Root Flares in the wild

I think one of the things I talk about the most lately is the root flare on woody plant material and why it is important. There's a big problem of root flares being buried too deeply in the nursery pots or the field for B&B material. If the root flare is buried below the surface of the soil...the plant will either a) languish in plant purgatory or b) just die. The tissue beneath the bark moves the water and nutrients between the leaves and the roots. If that is buried too deeply, that tissue can rot and die and then the plant dies.

So, one of the questions I get is what does the root flare look like and where should I plant it. This oak tree in my neighborhood is the best example I have ever seen of what we should strive for in planting. The roots on that tree break just under the soil and you can clearly see the flaring of the trunk. That is what we should do when transplanting a woody plant.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

How does your garden grow??

I haven't posted much about my work outside of my own garden on here. I've been taking some pics of various clients' projects this year and maybe I'll start doing some of that on here over the winter.

This project is in Rehoboth, MA and the clients own a bed and breakfast. I had met them at the Rhode Island Flower Show. They had taken a tree down before they met me and decided they needed to spruce (hah, pun not intended) up the area since it was the first thing you saw as you pulled in the driveway. It was interesting because there was an old foundation of an ancient greenhouse next to the parking lot we had to work around and incorporate into the design. Here's the before -


After working together and developing a landscape plan, the clients planted this area during this spring of 2009. They couldn't have lucked out more with the rain and they said they barely had to water at all! Here are some photos of the garden in June of this year...I think a month or so after the clients had installed it themselves. They even had their garden on the Rehoboth Garden Club Tour! I swung by that day and took these photos.

Later this past summer, their daughter had her wedding on the property so they had filled the holes with annuals and pots. I had popped over this past late September to check in and meet with the garden club about a lecture I was going to give to them.

So you've been able to see how one of my gardens progressed over the course of a season. Granted we had stupid amounts of rain which pushed a lot of growth from perennials this year. But you can also see how I leave space between the plants in order for them to grow (unlike some architects and designers who design for now and not 5 years from now.) I've seen perennials in my designs come into their own around 3 year and shrubs by year 5. The clients installed about 2/3rds of the entire design this year and they have some more to plant around the large pine towards the house and around the outer foundation wall where the walkway stops in the turf. They are excited about what happened in their landscape this year and even more excited to finish it next year!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Late season visit to The Farmer's Daughter

If you know me, you know that I yell from the mountain tops my love for The Farmer's Daughter in South County, Rhode Island. I dare say they are the best (hands down) garden center in the state in my book. Rhode Island Monthly has awarded them that award themselves. I love their creativity with displays, the quality of their plant stock and the variety of plant stock. Oh, this garden center is delightful.

A huge urn full of foliage plants...please note there are no flowers blooming in this pot, and it is still dynamic! They used cabbages, kales, and potato vine. This thing was about as tall as I am.

I love how they used the succulents in this shallow container. So cool! Most of these aren't hardy for a New England winter, but they can be brought inside near a very bright window.

I was down there about a week ago picking up some fall annuals for a garden club lecture I was doing on autumnal interest in the landscape.

Here is the basic fake layout of the container I was going to make for them. I had that upright brown colored plant (which I can't find the tag for and the name is totally escaping me at the moment), Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights', Artemisia absinthium (this is a perennial), Ornamental hot peppers, yellow and green variegated culinary sage, and last but not least - purple asters. I have a personal boycott on mums for fall annuals because I find them insanely overused and therefore, boring.

Their perennials and trees are packing up for the season, but they still had some killer displays. What struck me about the displays I saw was they were loaded with edible plants. The shift in gardening, especially in this recession, has been to people growing their own food. A lot of people will express their desire to grow their own food but have limited space in their yards for both ornamental plantings and functional vegetable, fruit, or herb gardens. I have always thought, why not have both. Both can be stunning if planned correctly.

These photos below are primarily edible leaf veggies, culinary herbs like sage and thyme and some flowering annuals. But it is fantastic nonetheless.

This photo below is near the tool shed and they used mums, big edible cabbages, rosemary, and parsely...and it was beautful! My iphone didn't really catch the wow factor of this bed as it comes across in real life.