Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Has the Cottage Garden Lost its Way?

A Stylized Traditional Cottage Garden
     Photo by Peter Whitcomb
In my view, the key element to the quintessential cottage garden is abundance. But with that abundance comes a certain amount of order. Simply throwing a huge bag of seeds onto a blank canvas will result in chaos. While suitable for a wildflower meadow, as a garden, it won't be pretty. It may even be garish. Why? Single plants disappear in the jungle and the tapestry will have no picture. The best cottage gardens are created with a great deal of thoughtful consideration to design, plants, succession of color, balance, height, and structure. They are gardens that aren't over-charmed with painted birdhouses, tea cup candles on sticks, garden junk, or pretty china plates bordering the flower beds. And while I think all those elements are funky and fun, they aren't the elements that will turn an ordinary garden into a cottage garden. The beauty of the cottage garden is in the plant material and how that plant material plays off each other. It's the natural elements that make the cottage garden, not the cottagey things we bring into it.

Maybe my thoughts about over-charming the garden are slightly elitist, but I honestly believe the concept of the "cottage garden" is getting lost. 

In very early cottage garden history, the gardens were created for sustenance. Poor crofters filled every bare patch of earth on their tiny plots with cabbages, potatoes, fruits and so forth. Flowers were brought in from the woods and roadsides, but only if space allowed and if they were plants that made good companions for other plants. We learned a lot of wise garden lore from those early cottage gardeners. They had all sorts of tricks to extend the season, keep critters from nibbling in the carrot patch, saving space and everything we ever wanted to know about companion planting. The gardens may not have been big on style, but they were certainly big on function. By the 19th century, the cottage garden had evolved into the traditional floriferous cottage garden we know today. It still has the abundance, but it's got style as well.

One might view the cottage garden as an ever-evolving tradition, from a garden of bountiful sustenance to one that offers bountiful flowers, to one where cottagey decor is the main feature. I choose the middle ground. When it comes to adorning my cottage garden, less is more. When it comes to planting out my cottage garden, more is almost enough. Let the flowers, roses, and hedges tell the story.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day Essay:
Our Connection With Trees

When our early ancestor, the ape, lived in Africa millions of years ago, he was surrounded by natural environments. Trees still covered most of the earth's land mass, and the ape relied on those trees for its survival, its safety and means of travel. As we evolved, these environments remained as part of our psyche, leaving us with an inherited, ingrained need for trees.

When troops of apes evolved into tribes of humans, trees played a spiritual role in our cultural and social existence. Inherent memory has left us with that spiritual connection to trees. We may not cognitively relate to that connection, but it's there, hidden in the deep recesses of memory passed down through millions of generations of human history.

It took man millions of years to leave the trees for the condos, but the human need for trees is still with us. Research has shown that for urban dwellers, long periods without trees wreak havoc on their psyches. Cognitive skills lessen ... they become irritable, unhappy, and negative. The impact of a short walk in a tree-covered park is a quick pick-me-up for people living and working in cities. Trees calm us.  They can act as a refresh button for our brains. On this Earth Day, join the ranks. Hug a tree, and remember.

For more about the role trees play in our lives, please read (scroll down) Trees and Meditation.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Garden Study #1 ... "Allium in a Sea of Blue Flax"

About Garden Studies

Every once in a while, we will study a photo of a garden scene that inspires us. 
The studies offer ways to recreate these garden scenes
in our own gardens.
I hope my readers will be inspired as well.
Garden Study #1
A garden scene from Great Dixter
"Allium in a Sea of Blue Flax"

Great Dixter Garden Scene
© Copyright Oast House Archive
This is a lovely little garden study from Great Dixter in England. The thing that really pops for me, the main focus in my view, is the allium poking up through a sea of blue flax. I like the juxtaposition of placing the top heavy allium, Allium giganteum, in a bed of delicate blue flax, Linum perenne. In this photo there are what appears to be spent irises, as well as some yellow flowering plants, possibly common sundrops. If I were making this bed, I think I'd keep it simple and focus only on the main subjects. The yellow flowers and the spent irises seem a bit intrusive to me, even though yellow and blue are complimentary on the color wheel (apologies to Great Dixter and how dare I). The cropped view below is less busy to me and more subtle.

© Copyright Oast House Archive
It wouldn't be difficult to emulate this garden in a corner that has a backdrop of taller shrubs, trees or hedges. Consider a smallish space surrounding your favorite lilac (instead of the heavily pruned shrub visible between the trellises),  or another large and interesting shrub. I'm suggesting a lilac because most gardeners love it and have at least one in their gardens. It's a good spot to use as a foundation for this Garden Study. Place a simple rustic trellis on each side of the lilac. Add a white flowering climber to each of the trellises in the background. In front of the trellises and lilac, use blue flax as groundcover and intersperse with allium bulbs so that they poke up like sentinels through the wavy blue sea.

As you can see from the backdrop in the photo, there is what appears to be a shaped and pruned shrub or tree. I'm not personally a fan of this sort of heavy-handed manipulation to trees and shrubs. Pruning is necessary to shape and encourage, but this looks like a princess in a Mohawk. Some gardeners do it simply because they can and they believe it adds architectural interest to the garden design. Maybe so, but if a shrub could think I'm sure it would feel humiliated by the hair cut. My romantic garden tastes always lean to the natural aesthetic, letting the plants simply be what they are supposed to be. I prefer a less contrived shrub.
Note: If you have a very old lilac with thick stems, you can still add that architectural interest by doing some major pruning of side suckers after flowering each year and throughout the growing season. Lilacs do throw out a lot of suckers at the base, and this is why most lilacs have that bush shape. To get an interesting shape, keep them pruned out, so that the shrub has three to five main trunks to promote growth on the ends of the branches. Eventually, you'll have a lilac that looks like a small tree with long shapely branches. I'm going to try to find a picture of a pruned out lilac, but I may have to wait until May. 
 Ingredients for "Allium in a Sea of Blue Flax"
  • 2 rustic trellises 4' to 5' wide x 6' to 8' tall
  • 48 Allium giganteum bulbs
  • 100 or more blue flax plants or forget-me-nots (both easily grown from seed)
    Note: I'm not 100% sure the blue flower in the photo is blue flax, but it's very similar in color-shade, height and delicacy. Blue flax should flower at the same time as the allium. There are few true blue flowers like this.
    They could also be forget-me-nots. Both allium and forget-me-nots flower at the same time in the UK, where the Garden Study picture was taken. Have a look at this article at Alternative-Planting. It's another lovely scene, and the flower is credited to forget-me-nots. Forget-me-nots do tend to spread like mad, more so than flax, so there are choices.
  • Either 2 white climbing roses, 2 white-flowered clematis, 2 simple ipomea grown from seed, or any other white flowering climbing plant that pleases your garden palate
Serves an area up to 100 sq ft in allotted garden space of 20' long and 5' deep. Ideally, give a bit of shape to the bed when you dig it out. Curves or asymmetric shapes are more natural looking, a style befitting this garden study as well as your more relaxed romantic gardening tastes.

About Blue Flax
Blue Flax
© Copyright Derek Harper
Blue flax is a lovely plant and a rare true blue color. It has delicate, but very strong stems and feathery leaves. It is easily grown from seed and freely self-seeds which makes it a good choice for this garden study. The idea is to use the plant as a groundcover plant, filling in the whole square or rectangle you've prepared. It grows about 12" to 16" . Blue flax has a main flush of color in spring, and it flowers sporadically throughout the growing season. 
Note: It's always a good idea to add fresh seed from another source every two - three years. It ensures the bed is always vibrant and full, keeping the stock healthy, diverse and renewed. Otherwise it could end up looking a little sparse and spindly.      
        About Forget-me-nots
© Copyright Steve Daniels
Forget-me-nots Myosotis are members of the borage family. There are 50 different species of forget-me-nots grown in northern or temperate zones. The most commonly grown forget-me-not is sylvatica. It's a lovely little plant, with true blue flowers. It can fill an area in no time by self-seeding.

For gardens in shorter growing seasons, it's best to sow the first seeds directly outdoors in early spring, after the danger of frost has passed. They will flower the following spring. For gardens with milder winters, you can sow the seeds in the fall for spring flowers. 

Forget-me-nots prefer dappled shade over bright sunlight and actually do better in cooler temperatures.

About Allium (giganteum)
Allium giganteum grows to about 4' tall. They grow best in sunny locations. This is partly why I think it would work best with the flax. Both prefer sun. 

The bulbs should be planted at a depth three times their size, about 3", and they are best planted in the fall. 
          About White-flowered Clematis
Clematis Miss Bateman
© Copyright Oast House Archive
  In this Garden Study, there is a white-flowering climber growing up the rustic trellis. Since this original garden scene is at Great Dixter in the UK, it may be a clematis, in particular, 'Clematis Miss Bateman' which grows there. But there are lots of white clematis varieties available, so the gardener shouldn't have any difficulty finding one variety for each trellis or two varieties to mix it up.  
 Clematis Montana Albens
© Copyright Maurice Pullin

Clematis should be planted in spring in alkaline soil. They like there roots shaded or cool, so many gardeners plant a small evergreen in front of them the keep the soil shaded. For this purpose they plant it slightly on its side to ensure it grow up the trellis and and not into or through the small evergreen.


About White Climbing Roses
Some great white climbing and rambling roses include 'Sombriel', 'White Dawn', 'Climbing Iceberg', 'Felicite et Perpetue', 'Rambling Rector', and 'Sander's White."

There are many to choose from. Look for a white rose that will suite your garden zone as well as your tastes. 

Other white flowering climber choices might include Jasminum officinale, or ipomea, but there are many climber plants with white flowers.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Blush Rambler Rose

Blush Rambler Photo by Ulf Eliasson
I've been admiring this rose for years and have yet to bring it into my garden. Saving the thought for my next garden. I love rambler roses with multiflora heritage, partly because they are vigorous and require little maintenance, and partly because the flower clusters are thick and showy. The show is short-lived, it's something to look forward to when the snow leaves the ground and it's little leaves begin to unfurl on the canes.

Blush rambler was bred in 1903 by Cant. This was a period when English rosarians were busy creating all sorts of interesting ramblers including 'Paul's Scarlet', 'Emily Gray', 'Sander's White' and 'Goldfinch' (a rambler I do have and adore.)  These new ramblers, along with an array of newly bred climbing roses quickly became popular among the gardening elite, like Gertrude Jekyll, a go-to garden designer and plant diva among English Edwardian gardeners. It also became a popular rambling rose in cottage gardens. Edwardian women of taste enjoyed 'Blush Rambler' in the garden, but the also enjoyed adding large sprays to bowls and vases for the house.

Blush rambler will grow to 16 ft or approximately 5 meters in USDA garden zones 4 to 9.  It has light scent, inherited from one of its parents, 'The Garland'. It is an early musk R. multiflora cross between the 'The Garland' and 'Crimson Rambler'. The leaves are light green and may have the appearance of chlorosis. It blooms in clusters with cup-shaped flowers in various shades of light pink.

Stylized Illustration of 'Blush Rambler'

It is a vigorous rose that is nearly thornless and therefore easy to work with. Can be used to scramble over fences or trained as a pillar rose over arbors.

Like all multiflora roses, it can also be trained to form a dense hedge for boundary lines or garden room divisions. If creating a hedge with 'Blush Rambler it's best to plant them six feet apart and train them early along post and wire guides.

This is a lovely soft pink rambler that is definitely on my wish list.



Sunday, April 8, 2012

Smaller Roses for Smaller Spaces

Gardeners often require smaller shrub roses for specific areas of their gardens. These roses are especially useful for gardens with narrow borders, or borders less than 3 feet wide where large bushes will be overpowering.

'The Fairy' R. Polyantha
Polyantha roses are all good choices where a smaller rose is required. The selection might include the 'White Cecile Brunner', 'Madamoiselle Cecile Brunner', The Fairy' and 'Rita Sammons'. 'Marie Pavie' is an antique polyantha shrub rose that only grows to about 3 feet in most gardens and it's beautifully scented.

'Pretty Jessica' David Austin Rose photo by Stickp
Another rose worth considering is David Austin's Pretty Jessica rose. Most of David Austin's roses have old rose shapes, similar to cabbage roses, but 'Pretty Jessica' has traditional tea-shaped blooms. This rose offers great repeat blooms. All David Austin roses are worth considering for smaller spaces because many of the bushes are known to be smaller in size.

David Austin's 'Winchester Cathedral" photo by Anna Re
"Raubritter" Groundcover Roses
There are also low spreading shrubs known as flower carpet roses.  These are especially useful when planted on slopes where soil erosion may be a problem.  Carpet roses can be vigorous and tough, need little maintenance and are available in a variety of colors with many offering repeat blooms. They are ideal groundcover roses.

Groundcover roses will grow in most locations and they will thrive as well as offer repeat blooms after the initial spring flush of color. The most popular varieties include 'Raubritter', 'Stanwell Perpetual', 'Pierette Pavement', 'Snow Pavement' and 'Scarlet Pavement'.  The Pavement series are all repeat blooming rugosa roses. Low growing or groundcover roses can be used to best effect by lining pathways or lining the drive for showy curb appeal. Use colors that compliment the house and if mixing the varieties, be careful about overdoing all hot colors in a border of roses. Pastel colors are softer and easier on the eyes, whites to pink flushes, creams and roses with hints of mauve for example ... a good balanced mix.

David Austin's 'Constance Spry' Rose
Gardeners looking for smaller roses to place in narrow borders should also consider climbing roses. These are ideal when those narrow borders are along the foundations of the house or other structure. The simple upward growth, rather than outward fills the space beautifully. Let them cascade over the underplantings for a more romantic and abundant scene. Consider a traditional climber like 'New Dawn' or David Austin's first English rose cultivar (and my personal favorite), 'Constance Spry'.

There is a rose and rose type for every garden. For the best choices view the photos found online at various rose nursery websites. Study the rose's attributes to learn if it will grow in your space and for the purpose you have in mind.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Roses for the Romantic Garden: 20 Tips and Ideas

Romantic gardening always includes roses. They soften the garden space, and add those scents reminiscent of ancient times, scents you remember, but just can't place. They add color and a richness like no other plant will offer. And they are fun to play with. You can grow roses up through a tree, plant a climbing rose in the middle of the lawn with no support to create a cascade of color, or any number of things their bendy canes will allow.

   1. Lay banana peels just below the soil surface. They are a good source of magnesium, sulfur, phosphorus and other elements roses need to perform well.

   2. For stronger scent from tea roses, add used tea bags or loose tea to the soil and lightly hand-cultivate.

   3. Grow a rose hedge with low-maintenance roses. Rugosa roses are a good choice because most flower on and off throughout the growing season. Rugosa roses will grow as wide as they grow tall. They're a prickly bunch which make them perfect hedging.

 4. Plant roses that have an especially strong scent just below a window, so that the scent wafts into the house.

   5. Plant a well-chosen climbing rose in the lawn with no support – one that will form an abundance of canes. The canes will layer one on top of the other and it will appear like a small flowering specimen tree in the lawn.

   6. The Explorer Rose, William Baffin is an excellent choice as a lawn specimen. I saw this done in an Ontario garden and I was instantly smitten.

   7. Add a few "old roses" to the garden for scent and form – roses like the damasks, musks, centifolias and gallicas.

   8. An assortment of pink roses in several shades could be the basis for a pastel garden. Add an assortment of perennials like mauve delphiniums and white phlox to give this rose garden structure and balance in both shape and color.

   9. Once per week, spray rose leaves with milk to keep aphids away.

  10. Keep groundcover roses pruned to keep them from spreading beyond their allotted space. Some get a little tangled and need to be maintained with the pruners.

  11. Soak bare-root roses in water for 24 hours before planting. Bare-root roses are how most mail-order nurseries ship their stock.

  12. Stick to a care and maintenance schedule, which should include, fertilizing, watering, pruning, winterizing and natural methods of thwarting pests and diseases. Create your own guide specific to your roses' needs because each is unique.

  13. Take cuttings of your favorite roses. For fun, you can start roses from the seed found within the hips, but these offspring are seldom true to the original rose, and they are usually more tender and seldom as strong or diseases-resistant as those propagated from cuttings. Cuttings are the best route for increasing stock. Keep in mind, there are licensing rules of order here and you must not sell roses you create from cuttings.

  14. You can also propagate by layering. This is a good choice for roses that have very long canes.

  15. Underplant roses with low growing herbs or perennials. Lavender is a traditional underplanting material.

  16. Wear leather gardening gloves when working with roses to avoid Rose Thorn Disease.

  17. Keep at least one good rose guide or rose encyclopedia for reference. My favorite is Botanica's Pocket Roses from Whitecap Books, but there are many good guides.

   18. Grow a rose up through a tree. The best roses for this purpose are the old ramblers and climbers like Rambling Rector, Kew Gardens, or Rosa Longicuspis.

   19. Dress up your boundary fences by growing rambling roses along them. Traditional rambling roses for this purpose include the pink American Pillar rose, Dorothy Perkins, and my new favorite, Blush Rambler. From a design perspective, roses on a white picket fence add curb appeal and give the house a little cottage garden style.

   20. Grow roses. Lots of them. Take care if you grow all pink roses, and balance it with flowering perennials in other pastel colors. All red roses would just be too hot. If you don't have confidence in your design skills, an artists' color-wheel might help. In general (but not always and I'll write about this in a later post), side-by-side plants in colors on opposite sides of the color-wheel will work together well.

Photo by A. Barra
 All photos in this post are copyrighted by Lorraine Syratt unless other otherwise stated.
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