Monday, October 3, 2011

It’s Time to Redirect Energy in the Garden

This is a guest post from my friend and amazing garden photographer Karen Bussolini, shown here giving a workshop on color at Natureworks this summer... Enjoy!

If you didn’t get around to pruning to shape that overgrown Japanese maple or clean out the congested clump of powdery-mildew plagued lilacs, you’re off the hook for now. Plants are redirecting their energy to get ready for winter and so should we. Pruning stimulates the growth of new branches and leaves, which is good in spring and early summer, but not now. Tender new growth wouldn’t have time to harden off before temperatures drop. There is a lot going on underground, with roots still growing, but above ground, woody plants are going through chemical changes that cause them to drop their leaves and go dormant for winter. With so much recent storm damage, of course there will be broken branches that need to be removed. But after basic cleanup, it’s time to put away the pruning saw and loppers until mid-winter and turn to weeding.
            While we’ve been taking a break from spring’s gardening frenzy, weeds have been completing their life cycles by setting seeds. When I hear gobbling out back I know it’s crabgrass time. Wild turkeys love crabgrass seed. While I try to attract wildlife, all those big feet scratching around in my garden do a lot of damage, so I chase them away and start pulling weeds. Check out all those fuzzy seedheads, the  sprays of crabgrass sneaking through the garden, the pink clusters of smartweed and the many low-profile green seeds of plants that slip under our radar. It’s time to pay attention to weeds and other plants that self-sow too enthusiastically. Eliminating seeds now will save much work next year.
            If seeds are very ripe or spring-loaded, seed will spill with the slightest handling. Plants like garlic mustard and dock, a big-leafed perennial with a deep tap root whose spikes of rust-colored seeds seem to be everywhere lately, are best snipped right over a big container. Digging tap rooted plants out one by one is a chore, but at least you can prevent further seeding with one snip. Many weeds are annuals. Since they’re going to die anyway, if possible cut them rather than pulling. Pulling disturbs the soil, which promotes germination of seeds already in the soil. Keeping ground covered by plants or mulch goes a long way toward keeping weeds down. Cutting invasive barberry and burning bush euonymous now prevents birds from ingesting and spreading seeds. But don’t just send them through a chipper or even think about composting; that’s just planting them somewhere else. If you have too much material to put in household garbage, choose one spot to pile up problem plants and keep an eye on it, maybe cover it with an old rug or tarp so plants will rot rather than germinate.
            Then there are the seeds of plants we want to spread. Beautiful native woodland asters and goldenrods are beginning to bloom. They can be encouraged to spread by strewing their seed around once it is ripe, so see where they are now and collect a bit of seed later. Cardinal flower and its cousin, great blue lobelia is blooming in my wet garden now and big white puffs of white snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum) are in the woodland garden. After they set seed and start to fall apart I cut flower stems and bash them around where I’d like more plants. Other welcome self-seeders, like Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba), stand up to winter and feed the birds, always dropping enough seeds to ensure their presence in the garden year after year.

Karen Bussolini is an eco-friendly garden coach, a NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professional and garden communicator. She can be reached at or (860)927-4122.

Photographer and co-author, with Jo Ann Gardner, Elegant Silvers: Striking Plants for Every Garden 
Photographer The Homeowner's Complete Tree and Shrub Handbook, Storey Publishing, 2007

Monday, March 14, 2011

Microclimates and the melting snow

My dear friend, former college roommate, and amazing garden photographer Karen Bussolini and I are seen here at the book signing table at the UCONN Home Gardeners Conference last year. She writes with an artist's eye.
Enjoy her guest post below.

March 10, 2011

This winter’s deep snow protected leucothoes planted later than I probably should have, covered a multitude of things undone and, with drifts of 3 feet or more, allowed me to prune on snowshoes rather than hauling out a ladder. But I missed all the thoughtful time at the window spent gazing at gardens simplified and stripped bare. Winter usually helps me see how to tweak edges and connect everything more gracefully. The gardens are full of herbaceous color – plants I call my foul weather friends. But this year the only visible color was the top 2” of blue wrought-iron chairs sticking up out of the snow. All the ‘Golden Sword’ yuccas, hellebores, Helictotrichon sempervirens, ‘Berggarten’ sage, dianthus, lamb’s ears, heucheras and other perennials whose foliage usually persists long into winter have only just now made an appearance, but they’re looking really fresh.

Snow melted first in perfect circles around each trunk of my oak grove and along boulders and rock walls and got me thinking about microclimates. Snowdrops are blooming like crazy in those warm, protected places. I’ve made a note to plant more in the places where snow first melts, for who can get enough first flowers? But I’m also paying attention to where snow still remains. I’ll plant some there too, so that I’ll have a really long season of bloom. And more of my beloved silver plants will go where it’s high and dry and sunny.

When the garden is bursting with plants, it’s hard to see beds any way other than how they already are. But after 22 winters of window-gazing at this land, I noticed something new this year. Heavy rains that last week flooded the Housatonic River and lifted icebergs onto Route 7, left quite a bit of water in my yard. A patch of sitting water next to a neatly edged bed full of Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ (yellow all winter) and other moisture-loving plants suggested that I incorporate that patch into the bed. Contours of the land, defined by water, are just now clearly revealed in a way they never are when things dry out. An interesting pattern has emerged, with drier light-colored leaves on higher ground, darker leaves lower down where it is wet, pools of water on low ground and the end of a wood-chip path has washed out onto the lawn. These intricate patterns are far more interesting than the long simple curved line I drew. They show me how to integrate the garden beds and lawn into my wild natural landscape, and give me great clues about what to plant where. When it stops raining I’ll lay down newspapers and old cardboard to kill the grass and mark these patterns before they disappear. But first I’ll take a photo from inside to remind me when all is lush and green, where the water is.

Karen Bussolini is a professional garden photographer, author, eco-friendly garden coach, and speaker. She resides in South Kent, CT. Here books are available for sale at Natureworks.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tiny Treasures

Yesterday, I bundled up and prepared for an afternoon outside in torrential rains doing garden consultations. Boy, was I surprised when the sun came out just after noon. Spring was in the air as it warmed up to the point where I sat outside with my client and literally watched the flowers bloom! It was magical. As my eyes first spanned the property, all I saw was tired lawn and vole tracks everywhere. The longer I sat, the closer I looked. Soon, I noticed that the lawn was filled with tiny tufts of species crocus foliage. Wait a minute, there's a flower bud. Hey, when did that bunch of crocuses open? They weren't there before. Flower after flower appeared, as if by magic, before my eyes. Now I can't say that they were all open when I first sat down. Maybe they were and I missed them as I was so used to looking at the barren winter landscape that I didn't expect to see flowers. Or maybe, just maybe, I happened to be there when they emerged and flowered. It certainly made me spend the rest of the day a lot more aware of my surroundings. When I arrived home, out to my own gardens I went. There they were, my very own beloved species crocus, in flower everywhere. I had forgotten how many little bulbs I had popped in at the tail end of the season, just before the snow arrived. Snowdrops too. I added hundreds of them. As I turned the corner to the south side of my house, there was the very first Iris reticulata flower in full bloom. Never underestimate the power of a tiny flower to stir your soul. I have a feeling things are going to be in fast forward now with the weather promising to be in the 40's and 50's all next week. I have a serious case of spring fever, that wondrous feeling of anticipation that wakes me up at sunrise every morning because I can't wait to get outside and see what's up. Spring officially starts next Sunday, March 20th but for me, it started yesterday.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pass the Bottle! Here Comes a New Name...

Welcome guest blogger Stephanie Cohen. Enjoy her post!

          Once upon a time plants were named for real people. In jolly old England, both first and last names were always used. So we have plants named for some of their illustrious plant hunters, breeders, and designers such as Vinca ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, ‘Dianthus ’C.T. Musgrove’, and Syringa ‘Miss Ellen Willmott’.  Others are named for famous personages as Picea ‘OttoVan Bismarck’ or Paeonia ‘Joseph Rock’.  In recent times Calycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ was named for Richard Hartlage,  Hosta “Paul’s Glory’ was named for hosta great Paul Aden, and Hemerocallis ‘Stephanie Returns’ named for yours truly. America, being a tad more casual, allowed first names to suffice. Later on, the first name plus an adjective would do the trick as with Dianthus ‘Spotty Dottie’ or Hemerocallis ‘Sassy Shannon’. Other  unique names were for places that the plant could be found as Coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’ or Sequoia ‘Filoli’ and ‘Los Altos’. Plant names often help you visualize something tangible about the plant, such as tell you its color as in Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ or Boltonia ‘Pink Beauty’.  Some names like little, dainty, and dwarf reassure us that this is a small plant. And certain perennials are even named for lively dances as ‘Rhumba’ ,‘Samba’, or ‘Bolero’ which means the colors are hot and vibrant.
For a while it seemed we had run out of good new names. “Never!” said the new name gurus. Let’s use food names! It’s no wonder we are gaining weight with perennials such as Hemerocallis ‘Cotton Candy’ and ‘Cream SoufflĂ©,  Heuchera ‘Chocolate Ruffles’, ‘Cherries Jubilee’, and ‘Brownies’,  or Pulmonaria  ‘Spilled Milk’ and ‘Raspberry Ice’. Once in a while a food name was used that was actually healthy, such as Hemerocallis ‘Carrots Forever’  This list is as endless as a grocery order for an NFL Team.
Next we started to get very playful as we went from Hosta ‘Great Expectations’ to ‘Hanky Panky’, ‘Striptease’, ‘X-Rated’, ‘Breeders Choice’ and ‘Bridegroom’. Then there’s Actea ‘Black Negligee’.  Not to be outdone, check out Daffodils with  names like ‘Peeping Tom’, ‘Salome’ and ‘Rapture’ . Are the plants having relationships we dare not talk about?  Radio, television, movies, email, blogs, and Facebook have all influenced our sexual behavior and now it is creeping into our plant names.
Last but not least, over 20 years ago we started with Begonias named ‘Gin’, ‘Whiskey’, and ‘Vodka’ . It always made me laugh. Many years later Spring Meadow introduced Weigela ‘Midnight Wine’,  followed by ‘Summer Wine’ and ‘Wine and Roses’. The race was on  to see how many delicious concoctions we could identify. We have Miscanthus ‘Cabaret’ , Lamium maculatum ‘Cosmopolitan’, Heuchera ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, ‘Lime Rickey’, and ‘Southern Comfort’, Coreopsis  ‘Tequila Sunrise’, Hosta  ‘Manhattan’, Gaillardia ‘Burgundy’, and Papaver ‘Champagne Bubbles’ all adding to our increasing list  of drink names. I do think hardy hibiscus wins the prize for names like ‘Bordeaux’, ‘Chablis’, Grenache’ and ‘Cranberry Punch’ as well as the Cordial series. I often think of Luther Burbank thinking about the white snow on his beloved Mount Shasta and naming Leucanthemum ‘Mount Shasta’ for it. I know times are tough, but what is our green industry thinking about as they sit and ponder names as “Mint Julep’ ‘Raspberry Wine’, ‘Partytime’, ‘Vintage Wine’ or ‘Sangria’? Are they discussing their plant qualities or their libation exuberance?
Perhaps they have exhausted this trend. Otherwise, we will be forced to go back to my friends the begonias with ‘BadaBing’ or ‘Bada Boom’ and ask this version of the Sopranos to help us because all that we will have left  after getting rid of sex and drink names is Hosta ‘Praying Hands’ and Resurrection Lilies.

Submitted by Stephanie Cohen
, author of "The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer" (co-authored with Nancy Ondra) and "The Nonstop Garden" (co-authored with Jennifer Benner, a CT resident). These wonderful books are available at Natureworks and at our classes. 
Visit her website:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Two Moons

What a winter this has been! Since the beginning of the year, weather has been the topic on everyone's mind. As I sit here in my warm, cozy home office and look outside, it appears as if a bomb has gone off in my yard.

It was right around the full moon last month when we suffered our first major ice storm. Sitting inside during  the evening, we could hear the ice tapping on the roof. True to form, the weather men had been predicting a really bad scenario. Well, this time, it turned out they were absolutely right. After an hour or more of nervously looking outside, my husband and I heard what sounded like a steady series of loud explosions. Finally, we had to go outside to see what had happened. Precariously walking on a thick glaze of ice, we traversed the driveway and the front walk. All three of my 25 foot tall curly willow trees (Salix matsudana 'Toruosa') had snapped off at the top! 10-15 foot long branches were either lying on the icy ground or bent over, completely twisted apart. A phrase went through my mind: the moon of the popping trees.

A few decades ago, I was seriously into studying native American culture. It always stuck with me as really cool that they named their moons. I set about surfing the internet looking for this phrase. Wouldn't you know it, it popped right up on this site:  It turns out that this is what the Northern Cheyenne called the first moon after the winter solstice. The Lakota called the January full moon the moon when the trees crack because of the cold.  My take on it was that the sap in the trees was frozen solid and then the ice, coating these especially weak-wooded plants, simply made them explode. I found it comforting to know this has been happening in America for a long time. But I still had a mess on my hands. The following morning, the extent of the damage was amazing. Not only did the three curly willows lose their tops, half of a large sugar maple in my lower back yard split in half and landed on my pussywillow patch.
It is now the week of the February full moon. In the interim, we have gotten so much snow that my entire landscape has been hidden. A few weeks ago, I put on my tallest rubber boots and ventured out to the back yard to pick pussywillows. I sank to my hips (and I am close to six feet tall!). It was hard work, but worth it to have a vase filled with living branches opening in my house. This week, the blessed snow melt began as temperatures rose up into the 50's three different days. My landscape has slowly been revealing itself. Shrubs are emerging. The pattern of my 14 raised beds is now apparent. Yesterday, I took advantage of the warm sun and the shrinking snow to go out and cut Forsythia, Abeliophyllum, Chinese witch hazel (which was in bloom it turns out!), and winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum). I put those same rubber boots back on and was surprised that the snow was still so deep that I sunk to over the top of my boots many times. But I prevailed, and there are now vases on every available surface in my dining room and office filled with flowers and budded branches.

The moon was full yesterday, February 25th. The wind picked up to 50 miles per hour last night and blew away the warm weather. Now it is bitterly cold again. I was curious. What did the native Americans call the February full moon? Well, the Abenaki called it makes branches fall in pieces moon. Yup, that's happening again. Many of the still-dangling branches of my curly willow are snapping off and falling to the ground. The yard is a mess, littered with debris on top of the snow. The Eastern Cherokees called it the bone moon. That was because, by then, there was so little food, people would gnaw on bones and make bone marrow soup. The Wishram called it shoulder to shoulder around the fire moon. If I was living in a tipi, that's exactly where I would be right now.

Luckily, I am cozy and warm inside my house. Flakes are swirling through the air, the wind is howling, and I plan on spending the day working on a garden design. Spring is less than five weeks away, and it always comes, even if it is a bit late. In fact, the full moon in March is on the 19th, the day before the spring equinox, and the day before Natureworks reopens for the season. The Eastern Cherokees called it the wind moon.  The Eastern Comanche called it the hot and cold moon. The Shawnee called it the sap moon. All clearly apply to March in Connecticut. I can't wait!

Nancy DuBrule-Clemente