I don’t cut back most perennials. This is why.

Perennial border in snow. North

There is a movement, increasingly popular, to use perennials and grasses year-round, even when they are not in flower.  The mantra seems to be “Brown is a color too”. Well yes, brown is a color–but it isn’t as colorful as blue and purple and red and yellow—or even green.

And I certainly don’t plant perennials for their winter brown color.  Like most of us I plant them for their cheerful, subtle, happy summer colors. That is how I choose them. For their color combinations and compositions.

I also choose them for their forms, the contrasting leaves and heights.

But, yes, I  leave most of them up until the end of winter.  And I do that for the masses and shapes that a varied perennial border can give to a garden.

For me, for this garden, the purpose of the perennial border is not just color.  It is to give shape to the whole garden.  And now is when that technique is so effective.  We had about 5” of snow, a pure white canvas on which the form of the young garden shows up beautifully.  And this perennial border is a destination, which shows itself better now than it ever can in the colorful, lively height of summer.

There are delicate seedheads, silvery in the sun.  Masses of frozen (yes, brown) leaves.  Icy stems.  They don’t look that pretty when you are close up.  In a smaller garden, where you are always close up, I might not do this.  But in this garden, when you are usually 50’ or so away, ( with the temperature at about 15F,  it is not a time for a garden stroll) the border is simply mass and shape.  It helps define the garden, the now-white paths, and helps give a reason for the location of the leafless trees and shrubs.

I know a lot of my friends are longing for spring.  I, on the other hand, am enjoying what I have now. I am enjoying the peacefulness and structure that a tidily deadheaded garden could never have.

 

When nature gives you water…pay attention

When I started Timshala, I had no idea what the conditions here were like.  And of course, I should have known. I could have known.  If I were advising a client who had just bought a new multi-acre site and needed a design, my advice would have been:   live with it for a year; learn about the site, the soil, the climate, the wind.

Well, I didn’t follow my own advice.  I made a gorgeous plan.  I did take into account the soil (did a soil test) which is somewhat alkaline.  I knew the zone was 5b.  But grades, water, wind, drainage? I ignored them.  I turned into an amateur.  I could not wait the year.

And the result is I don’t exactly have water, water, everywhere…but when there is rain I sure do have a lot of it.  More than the plants I planned for could live with.  More than my plans can live with.  So I’ve changed a lot of the plantings I had planned, trying to keep the forms I had in mind originally, but changing the plants.

And now, finally, some great successes: Weeping Willow  (Salix babylonica),  Button Bush (Cephalanthus oxidentalis) and Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice) .

Willow. Buttonbush. Clethra June 2019

The Willow went in two years ago, a small tree about 8’ tall.  Now it is a gorgeous, 20’ tall weeping background for the flower border and the Button Bushes.

The Button Bushes were planted bare root, about 18” high, two years ago, and are flowering this year for the first time.  I love the white “button” flowers on the coarse leaves, and particularly the contrast with the delicate Willow leaves.  They look wonderful together, and both can happily take some standing water.  The Clethra also were bare root, about 18” high, and actually flowered their first year. They like it moist, though not quite as wet as the other two, not standing water; they should be luxuriously pink in a few more weeks.

And if I had been a better client, I could have started with them and had a lot less heartache.

 

More Like What I Hoped (and Planned)

The perennial border is really the center of the whole six acres of Timshala Gardens.  It is (or is supposed to be) an explosion of color that is reached from everywhere, along a series of paths.  And now, really for the first time since we moved in and began to plant, it is indeed that.

Perennial Border May 5 2019 161738

Looking north from the house

Perennial Border toward House _085602

Looking South toward the house

Perennial Border toward benches May 5 2019 161846

Through the border toward benches

Right now the colors are mostly purple and mauve and pink.  Shortly there will be contrasts of pale yellow and gold and blue.  And later in the season, red and orange and bright yellow.

But from May through October this should be the main attraction, from all views.

Mass and form in the perennial border

It has been a long haul, and it is far from over.  But the perennial border finally is showing the mass and shape I want it to.

Yes, mass and shape, not just flowers. I find it interesting that while I love flowers and color, what really makes my heart sing is shapes and spaces.

When I first did the design for Timshala Gardens, I put the perennial border in the plan as a shape.  It was a destination, reached by walking through the pergola, with a seating area drawing you through the perennials.  I didn’t know what plants I would use, though I did know the sizes of the plants.

Because the site is so large, and because the perennial border will most often be seen from a great distance, either the plants need to be tall, or, with smaller plants the masses of color need to be large.  I plant perennials by the 50’s, so even if an individual plant is delicate, from a distance the mass will give an architectural effect.  Just a few (in this garden less than about a dozen is a few!) would have no effect.

Here are a couple of sections of the border, from last year. More to come.

Perennial border 6.16.2017.f

Perennial border verbena.clethra.willow 20180728_075050

 

I turned my back on the Rose Above & Beyond—and one year later!

Rosa Above and Beyond May 2018 cropped

This huge, magnificent climber is so happy, so gorgeous, so profuse.  I haven’t tied it up yet, though I put nice, sturdy wires for it right at the beginning.  But it has managed to tuck itself in behind some of the wires. 

This year spring was so late—and then so sudden—that somehow there were always more urgent chores to do.  And this just looks magnificent.

I see it whenever I am ironing–and somehow I am ironing more often 😉. And I see it every time I come home and park the car. 

It is also quite fragrant, so the whole back of the house sings with it.

 

Poppies & Nepeta & Ferns & Oh My

People often ask me, “What’s your favorite plant?”  My answer is always the same.  It depends.  Partly it’s the old song, “When I’m not with the plant I love I love the plant I’m with.”  But I think maybe the answer really is, Poppies.  Specifically red Poppies.  Annuals, Papaver rhoes –Flanders Poppies or Corn Poppies —  as here, scattered in the Nepeta, the beginning of my succession garden.   Nepita edit

But also the perennial Poppies, Papaver orientale Beauty of Livermere,

much taller and more dramatic.Papaver orientale beauty of livermere in nepeta

I am hoping these will be available this fall for next year’s bloom.

I did not want a waterfront property

Last year, after some of the most dramatic rainfalls since we have been here, I woke up to look out at a garden almost completely submerged.

 I already knew we had some water problems in some areas.  I had some dry wells put in; I planted various water loving plants.  I added a river of Willows (Salix Mt. Aso)  groves of Cephalanthus (Buttonbush),  Clethras.  I redesigned some parts of the perennial border.  Everything helped a little.  Nothing really solved the problem.  Soil and mulch were washing away, trees and shrubs were drowning. 

So now we are in the process of putting in about 150’ of French drains with beautiful river rocks covering the drains.  Most run along the center of the path, creating an extra line of direction and motion.

This is the beginning of the trenching.  MFrench drain under construction20180309_163501 (002)ore to come, when the reconstruction is complete. 

And while I hate to be spending the money, I actually think it is going to look quite good.  There is a Japanese style of design called Wabi-sabi, which uses nature’s imperfections as part of the design. Wikipedia calls it the “appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes”.   

The water isn’t exactly keeping to the path and therefore, neither are the French drains.  But the effect is of an interesting interplay between the direction of garden path and the direction of the water. 

 

Perennial Border is gradually coming along

A couple of years ago, when I planted tiny plugs of some of the perennials I want in the border, I did it with crossed fingers (and toes, too I think).

Well, it is finally starting to look like something.  A few plants have done extremely well…as here, the Echinacea paradoxa, Veronicas (don’t remember which one) and Baptisia moonlight. Perennial border 6.16.2017.f

Because some of it is screened (deliberately) by a growing Weeping Willow, some partially hidden by the driveway trees and shrubs, I wanted the border to be visible, giving hints of its exuberance, from quite a distance.  It is intended to be appreciated not only as you walk along the path, but by glimpses from anywhere.  So I aimed for bright color, contrast, height.

Now that I am getting more familiar with what will—and will not—grow here, I am starting to plan the rest of the border, the places where plants did not succeed.  I’ll be planting next spring, and in a couple more years…heaven.

Our country garden has some new neighbors

Meet the Neighbors June 2017

This post is not really about gardening…but it sure is about a country garden.  No other garden I’ve ever done could have equine neighbors.  But an Arabian and a Welsh pony now live right next door.

Our five-month old puppy Yale is fascinated, as, I must say, am I.  The horses are enjoying the Brome grass and the clover and we are all enjoying watching them feel at home.