Monday, December 31, 2012

A Hopeful New Year

The most sheltered branch of my winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) was in full bloom on Christmas Eve.
Day 253  
The Daily DuBrule

It's New Year's Eve, and I feel like I have run a marathon in the past month. As I look back on my blog, I realize I haven't written a thing since December 3rd. Yup. That's when the craziness began. Two open houses, decorating a designer house for the holidays, first ever Ladies Night, and hundreds upon hundreds of wreaths, swags, and arrangements made over the course of the past 28 days. Oh, I might also mention a staff pizza party in the wood fired oven at my fully-decked out house for 30+ people to celebrate Natureworks' first official retirement. Then we hosted 12 for Christmas Eve (I married an Italian, need I say more) and another big meal for my family of 6 on Christmas Day. Company stayed on for a while, I collapsed for one day, then onto Natureworks' cleanup day after the retail store closed which included grappling with inventory procedures with our young P.O.S. system. That was truly humbling. Yesterday, to top it off, shoveling a foot of snow that was TOO WET to go through the snow blower. All of that is a lot to handle, but as I look back now, I think I became uninspired to write about plants after the Newtown tragedy. It seemed too trivial all of the sudden. I put my nose to the grindstone and did all that I had to do. Now, I can finally sit, rest, relax, and think again. Which leads me back to this blog. 

I went out on Christmas Eve day and walked around my yard picking greens and taking photographs of all of the signs of life in the garden. I was quite astounded at what I saw. I knew December had been warm, but I really only understood just how warm when I saw plants a bit too far along for this time of year. The other thing I observed was the wide range of plants that don't go completely dormant. There was quite a bit of green out there! Enjoy these pictures, may they remind you that gardeners are, essentially, quintessential optimists. We believe in life reborn every single New Year.
I have been eying this giant rosette of biennial foxglove for a while now. It's in my courtyard. Doesn't it look like a big fuzzy star? I hope it's happy under the snow this winter. If it makes it through, it will be amazing. I also found tons of babies in another area, but they won't bloom until 2014.

My 'Crimson and Gold' quince had swollen buds in the middle of December. I picked them and brought them indoors and they bloomed on Christmas Eve. I then picked some Atlantic white cedar and branches of 'Midwinter Fire' twiggy dogwood, put it all in a ruby red vase, and plunked on my writing desk. So pretty, such an inspiration. A second branch cut on Christmas Eve day is starting to swell it's buds now. Quince lasts a LONG time in the house once it opens, many weeks. If you have quince in the yard, try it.

Since late fall my Viburnum carcephalum has been popping open a bit. If you bring a bud in the house, it will smell so sweet, especially in a small, warm room like a south facing powder room.
The buds of my 'Arnold's Promise' witch hazel are very abundant this year and I can't wait to pick branches and force them. Soon. I can smell that spicy scent now. Those are seed pods of my Rudbeckia 'Herbstonne' that snuck through the fence into the courtyard. The birds will love to munch on them this week.
How is it possible that my ruby chard, which was frozen solid in November, has sent up a new crown of fresh foliage that is so intensely red and green just in time for Christmas Eve? This would have made a good Christmas card!
I was enchanted by the stack of seeds and the pattern of the seed pods on my white Japanese iris by the water garden. I just pulled out the pump and shut the water garden down yesterday afternoon as the first snowflakes started to fall.

Fasciated pussywillows are starting to open. I cut my plants REALLY hard this spring after blooming and BOY did that make a difference. I will have a great crop of branches for the flower show in February.
I brought my night blooming Jessamine (Cestrum nocturnum) indoors for the winter and cut it back HARD as advised by Dave Pliska, my tropical plant expert. It has suffered from the transition but I just noticed all new shoots arising on Christmas Eve. I can't wait for this to bloom in the house. The fragrance is insanely intoxicating.

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Circle of Green

Day 252
The Daily DuBrule

Yesterday was a stunningly beautiful day, warm, sunny, and mild, a perfect day to work outdoors. I tackled my annual wreathmaking project, twisting up a giant wreath for the front of my house. I started by taking the stepladder, my loppers, pruners, and a wheelbarrow for a tour of my yard. I harvested white pine, American holly, juniper, Norway spruce, hemlock, curly willow, and lacebark pine. This involved climbing to the top step of the ladder, extending the loppers to their longest reach, and lopping off giant branches, ducking as they fell to the ground. Because my wreath was going to be big I was going for the longer branches higher up on the trees. 

Harvest complete, I spread everything out in my courtyard around the center circle of my labyrinth. The sun was shining, the water garden was bubbling away, the birds were singing, my heart was happy. I grabbed my trusty roll of green florist wire, my 20" wreath ring (which I re-use year after year), and set to work.

After wiring big hunks of greens to the circle for one go around, I stuck long, thin branches of hemlock and three dimensional sprays of curly willow into my creation. Back around the wreath I went again, wiring this second batch of wilder stems into my wreath. Then I leaned it up against the steps of my deck and added a very strong wire hanger. I fluffed up last year's bow, tied it on, and strung tiny white lights around the wreath twice, wiring them into place. Voila. Complete. I was so excited to march this masterpiece to the front of the house, hang it up, and plug it in.
When I was done, I still had tons of greens left. I made a huge swag, complete with my peace sign. I studded three large pots. What a wonderful, peaceful, creative afternoon. My reward? Pizza and wine for dinner, out on the town with my husband, followed by chocolate covered macaroons. Sweet.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Now THAT'S a Swag!

Day 251
The Daily DuBrule

This week has been very busy in our holiday design department. I am asked to do some crazy things at this time of year but I have only myself to blame for the giant swag project that I decided to tackle for one of my clients. In the past I have simply swagged pine roping around her porch post and tied on cones, berries, and sparkling and ornaments. This year I had a creative brainstorm and set about to create a swag that turned out to be over six feet tall! 

I gathered large branches of fraser fir, douglas fir, white pine, cryptomeria, blue juniper, and upright 'Hetzii' juniper. I carefully layered the greens in a long line spanning three wooden pallets. I then set about, a spool of 22 gauge green florist wire in hand, to wire this swag together. For the better part of an hour I wove in and out of the evergreens, securing them to each other. I added a horizontal piece to go across the top of the porch. When I was done and picked it up, I couldn't believe how heavy it was!
When I got to my client's home, I climbed a very tall ladder and proceeded to secure wire to the top of the post and along the roof of the porch. My helper handed me up the swag and then climbed a second ladder and help hold up the horizontal arm while I wired it in place. When we were done, we couldn't believe our eyes. It fit perfectly and framed the doorway in a way that roping could never do. Of course, a great big bow made with three different ribbons and the addition of gold birch branches and pine cones helped to bring it to the next dimension.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Why Gardeners Should Use Fresh Greens

Day 250
The Daily DuBrule

I've been out shopping in the wide, wide world of big box stores. Let me tell you, it is a soul-damaging endeavor for a woman who has owned a small business for almost thirty years. I was on a quest for a particular purple ribbon for a decorating project I am working on. My husband was looking for some kind of DVD's for his son. We braved the crowds and the traffic on a Monday in November and made it home in one piece, still speaking to each other. But MAN did I see a lot of "plastic fantastic" Christmas decor in my travels. It was enough to make me shake my head in wonder at how we have evolved as a society in terms of hall-decking behavior. 

I am surely convinced that gardeners NEED fresh, live, beautiful greenery around them at this time of year. We MISS the live plants. Have you noticed, when driving around, how your eyes are drawn to all things evergreen right now? That's because you miss the lushness of your garden. Decorating with live evergreens dates back to centuries ago and is intertwined with the celebration of the winter solstice, the darkest and shortest day of the year. In 2012 it falls on Friday, December 21st. Evergreens have always been the symbol of the life force that remains in the dead of winter. They were used to celebrate the return of the light, the lengthening of the days, and the onward march to spring.

As soon as I got home and unpacked my purchases, I headed outside to deck my deck. I dragged a giant clay-like pot filled with soil to the prime spot outside my office door. I took a wheelbarrow and picked the following:
  • Red 'Sparkleberry' winterberry branches
  • Variegated holly
  • American holly with a few berries
  • Tall stems of upright juniper
  • Drooping branches of Norway spruce
  • White pine limbs, cut down with a pole pruner (risky but exciting to do!)
  • Limber pine (Pinus flexilis 'Vanderwolf's Pyramid). I continue to cut back this plant to assure it grows fat and full for screening
  • Lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana) Ditto on the cutting back for fullness routine, it's growing FAST!
I also picked up a bunch of white pine and spruce cones off of the ground for decorating purposes and I am happy to say there are more where they came from. Darkness descended before I could fill more than one huge pot with these aromatic, beautiful fresh evergreens and berries. I left the wheelbarrow filled with my evergreen harvest under the eves of my deck in case it really does snow tonight. Tomorrow morning when I wake up I will look out and smile at the progress I've made. I found all of my ruby red vases and have started placing them about the inside of the house, ready to be filled with sprigs of evergreens. I get it. This is what this season SHOULD be all about. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Grateful for the Garden

Day 249
The Daily DuBrule

It is the last day of Thanksgiving weekend and it's been a whirlwind. I traveled to northern MA on Thursday, back on Friday. Saturday was Small Business Saturday in the store and it was insanely busy and lots of fun. This morning is the first chance I've had to catch my breath. 

I have been thinking about how grateful I am to have a garden that I love so much. My garden feeds my soul, calms me down, and sustains me through all the trials and tribulations of my daily life. This photo essay takes you through the year so far to illustrate this idea. Enjoy...
January: the winter was so mild I was able to force 'Crimson and Gold' quince that lasted for weeks
February: "Midwinter Fire' dogwoods glow at sunset. I placed them so carefully to get this effect and it worked!

March: winter aconite grace my favorite saying. They spread like crazy in one year!

April: garlic and purple tulips, a delightful design experiment

May: heaven is when my wisteria is in bloom. I love to sit beneath it and listen to the bees buzzing

June: the pond makes me sit and relax

July: abundance fills my heart with joy

August: goldfinches and sunflowers sing happy songs

September: Bella is timid but not when I am outside with her in the garden

October:I  moved this moss from the north side of the garage to the pond. The bright green color catches my eye every day.

November: 'Bright Lights' chard still glows like the sun on a summer day so late in the season

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Frosting on the Cake

Day 248
The Daily DuBrule

I just helped my crew lay out hundreds of bulbs in a landscape that we have been working on for many months. This was the last thing we had to do in order to wrap this garden up for the winter. I had done a bulb plan, in the form of a velum overlay, showing how the bulbs would blend with the plants and embellish the color in the spring. Not everyone we work for is around when the bulbs go in. This particular client not only watched us lay out the bulbs, he also expressed his excitement over the process. 

Bulbs are an act of faith. In large bulb planting projects like this one, the client gets the bill and sees...NOTHING. Nothing is visibly changed in the landscape, it looks exactly the same as it did the week before. It's only when you watch the bulbs going in (or you plant them yourself) that you catch a bit of the anticipation of delight that "bulbing" offers. (Yes, I made up the word bulbing, which is a verb. It just works for us...)

As I was explaining how the bulb plan and layout worked, I said "bulbs are the frosting on the cake of the landscape". It just came out of my mouth. Afterwards I kept saying it over and over. Nothing could be more true. Just when you think you are done, when you have prepared, dug, designed, planted, mulched, and watered and are satisfied with your efforts, there is ONE MORE THING you can do to take a garden over the top. That is to plant bulbs, which will double the color come spring. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Thanksgiving Week Garden Tour

Day 247
The Daily DuBrule

Where have I been? Why haven't I been writing? I guess this time of year has me a bit uninspired. Usually I leap out of bed, my head brimming with ideas. For the past week, that hasn't been the case. It's not that I haven't been busy, or immersed up to my eyeballs in all things horticultural. In fact, I have been traveling, visiting client's gardens, working in my own garden, and I even had a vendor booth at a wonderful event at the Mark Twain House in Hartford where I got to hear (and meet and sell plants to...) P. Allen Smith. But in terms of my blog, it hasn't happened.

Today I woke up in a new headspace. The transition is over from the gardening season to the holiday season. For goodness sake, Thanksgiving is less than four days away. I need to face the facts and move on. I thought I would begin my journey back to the blogosphere with some pictures of my yard this morning. Enjoy.
Orange and red winterberries glow in the morning mist

The irises are a sea of yellow at the feet of my dogwood.

Iris pods are great in winter porch arrangements

A red dogwood? No: Rose 'Therese Bugnet'

The leaves prove it's a rose!

Buttonbush pods

Andromeda buds for my holiday arrangements.

Beautiful bark on Heptacodium.

My hemlock that I wait all year to prune for greens for swags.

Mossy green stems of Kerria are great in arrangements.

Cute little cones on dwarf Scotch pine planted last year.

Asclepias tuberosa pods still bursting with seeds.

Ilex pedunculosa in deep shade. Love this plant.

I grow Boulevard cypress specifically for holiday greens. Love it's soft and fuzzy texture.

My Leucothoe hasn't turned burgundy red yet.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Day 246
The Daily DuBrule

Yesterday I finally got around to digging my tender bulbs. Actually, what I dug were tender corms and their accompanying cormlets. I love the word cormlet, even more than I love the word bulblet, because it just sounds so fun rolling off my tongue. I'm weird like that. What is a corm? It is a fleshy storage organism for a plant. Unlike a bulb, which has concentric rings of tissue (consider the onion and you will know what I mean), a corm is a solid mass. Cormlets are baby corms and each one has the capacity to become another plant some day. 
Acidinathera, my Abyssinian gladiolus with amaranth
I was digging gladiolus and Acidinantheras-these are called Abbysinian gladiolus. I have been planting these same corms for many years and they have multiplied and gotten bigger, to my delight. I was pretty freaked out by last week's snow storm because I had so much unfinished business in the garden. My raised beds and the borders surrounding them were covered with nearly a foot of wet snow. By Sunday, most had melted but everything that remained was a sodden mess. 
Glads with 'Ruby Streaks' mustard and amaranth
I grow my gladiolus amongst other plants as I find them stiff and not very graceful alone. In fact, I never used to grow them at all until my mother died and I decided to plant them in her honor as they were her favorite flower. Now I love them. I have always grown Acidinanthera as they are sweetly fragrant. So Sunday, I attacked the mushy foliage of mustard, arugula, and borage in order to find my corms and lift them. I was relieved to find they were plump and solid, no worse for the wear despite the snow and cold. I laid them on the stone wall to dry as I continued to work in the gardens. Right before I packed it in for the day, I put them on the floor of the back garage to dry further. Once they are completely dry I will store them in the cellar for the winter and then start the cycle all over again next spring.
Corms ready for storage

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Saffron Crocus

Photo courtesy of Netherland Bulb Co.
Day 245
The Daily DuBrule

It's not too late to plant bulbs. Sounds crazy, I know, but this week's big snow is melting as fast as it fell and by the weekend we will see bare ground again. One of the most unusual bulbs you can add to your garden is saffron crocus. Yes, this inexpensive bulb really does produce the spice saffron which is the stigma of the flower. We have a patch of these perennial, late fall blooming crocuses (croci?) in front of Natureworks. They have a completely backwards growth cycle.

The bulbs are available in the fall and as soon as they arrive you will notice that they are sprouting and trying to grow. If you plant them in the garden, they will send up thin, grass-like leaves (they are easy to recognize as they look pretty much like the spring blooming crocuses). These leaves will grow during October and then, at the end of the month or early in November, the soft lavender flowers will appear. It is really fun to show them to garden visitors. They are usually surprised to hear that we can grow saffron in CT. I love to grab the stigma and get the dark, orange saffron on my fingers. You can taste the flavor! 

Now you will understand why saffron is so expensive. It is normally grown, harvested, dried and sold in vials or tins for as much as $75-140 per ounce. It has been called the most expensive spice in the world because it must be harvested by hand. It is usually produced in Spain, India, and the middle east. Why not try something totally new, quite delicious, and really pretty for your late season garden this year? You don't need a lot of room and you can even plant them in partial shade. The only thing to be careful of is not to dig them up in the spring and summer when they are dormant. A permanent metal label is just the ticket for this plant.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Day 244
The Daily DuBrule

Sunday I planted nine blueberry bushes in my yard. Three were a highbush variety called 'Earliblue' which is, of course, early bearing. The other six were 'Tophat', a new hybrid that grows only 18-24" tall and gets full sized berries. I planted these in a newly cleared bed that used to contain gooseneck loosestrife. After two weeks of painstaking digging, I deemed the soil ready.

The purpose of clearing out the gooseneck was not to plant blueberries. It was to plant a peach tree for my husband. But the bed was huge, mostly because the gooseneck had spread an extra 2-3' out into the lawn in the eight years I've lived here. I decided to make this bed yet another edible landscaping project. The peach, the blueberries, and a border of chives created the structure. Very easy care perennials were added to introduce color in other seasons. 

Blueberries are ornamental in every season. In the winter it is easy to recognize their reddish stems in the landscape. I can't tell you how many times I meet a new client and inform them that their woods are filled with native blueberries. In the shade, they don't produce many berries but they are a great plant anyway. Spring brings beautiful white flowers. Often times it's when the native blueberries are in bloom that I spot them. Summer, of course, brings the fruit which I share with the birds. In the photo above, another form of Lysimachia, L. puncata or circle flower, has wandered in amongst my original blueberry patch. Although I have since beaten it back to a smaller clump, it sure looked pretty!
It's in the fall that the real landscape value of blueberries really shines, when their leaves turn bright red. Think about using blueberries in foundation plantings, in mixed shrub borders, even to add structure to perennial beds. They don't just have to be in rows, netted and fenced, to give you flowers, berries, and red foliage. They are ericaceous (acid loving) and can tolerate my wet, heavy clay soil. They don't need it wet, however, and average garden soil will suffice. There are now tall ones and short ones. This week I am using our native lowbush blueberries as a groundcover in the foreground of a shady foundation planting where native plants were required. The enlightened homeowner specifically requested these plants! My crew removed a truckload of English ivy and some very overgrown shrubs to make room for the new design.