Iron in the Garden

Garden Shoots

I have a thing about ornamental metal work in the garden. I like it a lot, if it’s well designed and works with the space it’s in.

There are so many ways to use it – benches for a start. OK, so they probably aren’t as comfortable as wooden benches, but they can really smarten up the space. The Victorian style of this iron bench works well with the Ripley Garden.

ornamental ironwork, garden benches, Ripley Garden, Smithsonian Museum A heavy, well-painted iron bench invites visitors at the Smithsonian’s Ripley Garden.

More commonly, you may come across beautiful garden gates and fences to add a special touch to the garden; to let passers-by look but not touch, or just to serve as a backdrop to a glorious planting area.

ornamental ironwork, garden gates, Charleston gardens This circular design on a gate leading to a small garden in Charleston SC is inviting. I wanted to step inside!

ornamental ironwork, garden gates, Charleston gardens Detail of an ornamental gate in Charleston. Love the brass insets…

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The Blushing Beauties of the Spring Garden

Fine Foliage

IMG_3223 Many Japanese maples exhibit beautiful spring color

We expect the color blast in our spring garden to come from flowers – daffodils, tulips, bleeding heart and primroses  are just a few I am enjoying in my own garden right now. But have you noticed all the colorful foliage – and its not just that fresh shade of green we have been coveting all winter.

The leaves of many perennials, shrubs and trees display warm shades of copper, rose and burgundy as they unfurl even if they mature to green or yellow.

Double Play Gold spirea Double Play Gold spirea

Double Play Gold spirea (Spirea japonica

Perhaps the best known shrubs for warming the early spring garden this way are the birchleaf spirea. I have several groups of the one shown here and they create a striking splash of color, especially when seen against a backdrop of evergreens. The foliage will eventually transition to a warm…

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Winter Flowering and Fabulous



This is a must have in the garden for me –  an early flowering witch hazel: Hamamelis intermedia ‘Jelena’.

It is considered by many to be one of the best cultivars to result from crossing Hamamelis mollis, a Chinese cultivar and H. japonica, a Japanese cultivar. Attributes include vigor, coppery orange flowers, and warm fall color. ‘Jelena’ is consistently one of the first H. x intermedia cultivars to bloom at the Scott Arboretum. The cultivar was named in 1954 by Robert de Belder, a witchhazel enthusiast responsible for naming many cultivars, in honor of his wife.

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Wishlist For 2014:

A design mix for a new small seating section of the front garden:  

Inspiration is H.F. du Pont’s Sundial Garden at Winterthur – spring color progression choreographed to change gradually, week by week.

 Snowball Viburnam (Viburnum x carlcephalum) – pale pink flower buds which open into big round fragrant flowers

Chinese Snowball Viburnum  (Viburnum macrocephalum ‘Sterile’)– large flower heads and a jolt of chartruse

Bridal Wreath Spiraea (Spiraea x arguta) – cascades of white flower sprays

Japanese Quince formerly ‘Apple Blossom’ (Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Moerloosei’)– Pink-flowering 

Red-flowering Quince (Cydonia jaonica rubra ) Always a favorite and one of the first to bloom in the spring













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5 Quick Ways to Improve Your Garden:

Winter is dreary, and the months can drag on for what seems like forever. But that makes it the perfect time to start thinking about the big picture: overhauling your garden, repaving a walkway, adding a focal element to create a lovely moment, (maybe a visual pause?) or just improving a garden bed. Here are some things to consider before you get down to actually making decisions.



  1. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good view. Consider the three most important views from inside your home, and make them more rewarding visually. At my house I have an extraordinary one out into my backyard and onto a neighbor’s meadow—what those of us in the garden-design business call a “borrowed view”. In evaluating your property, look out each window and consider what meets your eye. Does it measure up to what you see in your home’s interior? Is there perhaps an ugly chain-link fence that can’t be moved? Perhaps you could cover it with a wood exterior that would make it more soothing to the eye. If you paint it a deep green (like Benjamin Moore’s ‘Essex Green’) it will actually fade into the background.


  1. Focus on Flowers: Now is the time you should be honestly evaluating which flowers have performed well and which haven’t. It always shocks my husband how ruthlessly I eliminate a plant that hasn’t performed. My motto is: If it doesn’t measure up, rip it out, enrich the soil, and start again! Winter is a perfect time to research color combinations, maybe with an eye to extending the growing season. Know your bed’s orientation in relation to the sun and how many hours of light an area receives when making plans for the plants and colors you most enjoy. Yellow and white are usually our earliest seasonal colors followed by the pinks and rose of late spring and early summer, moving into the vivid yellows and blues of mid-summer, which deepen to scarlet, rose and purple in fall. You can elaborate on this natural scheme or emphasize one as much as you wish, but settling on an underlying theme will simplify your planning. For variety add a layer of bulbs like snowdrops, fritillaria and grape hyacinth, which will begin to bloom towards the beginning of spring. I like to plant in drifts of about twenty bulbs.


White and yellow daffodils are beautifully suited to New England. Strong performers are Mount Hood, a favorite white, Carlton, a creamy light yellow, and Las Vegas, which has white petals with a yellow center. Introduce festive, fantastic allium bulbs to any part-sun-to-sunny bed area for a mid-June pop. Purple Sensation, sporting a four-inch globe of rosy-purple flowers on long stems, is an excellent choice. I plant these in clusters among perennials and shrubs.


  1. Key on Trees and Shrubs: Winter is also an excellent time to look at the “bones” or underlying structure of your landscape.  Is there a coherent relationship between the trees and shrubs on your property, or are there gaps in the landscape?  Consider improving the visual dynamics by planting a specimen tree. Here along the shoreline—a friendly, mild Zone 6—we have lots of options.  The Magnolia cultivar Butterflies is a small tree or multi-stemmed shrub with beautiful yellow star-shape flowers. Paperbark maple has a stunning cinnamon-colored peeling bark for year-round interest, and boasts bright orange fall foliage. Coral Bark Maple, with its brilliant red new growth, is another favorite, as is a Japanese Dogwood, which offers tons of flowers and pink fruit. Consider trees that offer more than one seasonal attribute such as color, blooms, fruit and interesting bark or leaf shape that create a new emphasis in the garden.



  1. Welcome Wildlife: Is your garden a butterfly magnet? A Hummingbird attractor? It should be. In border beds, try a new hybrid, like Blue Chip Buddleia, a dwarf Butterfly bush that stays under three feet without any pruning. Or how about Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpura), which comes in many, exciting new flavors like Pow Wow Wild Berry and Summer Sky? Plant them all in full-sun in beds with a Yarrow like Paprika, a Coreopsis like Zagreb or Moonbeam, and New York Asters, which will extend your blooming season into October.


Place plants that attract hummingbirds in containers near seating areas where you can see the action. Salvia ‘Black and Blue’ is an excellent candidate, as are any of the Catmints (Nepeta). Lantana is easy to grow, comes in vibrant colors, and is excellent for summer containers. Petunias are perfect for a hummingbird snack as they are high in nectar. The new, easy-care hybrids are more weather-resistant, do not need as much deadheading, and work well in hanging baskets, pots, and containers.


  1. Just Add Water: Every garden should have a water feature, even if it is just a bowl of water on the deck or a small fountain with a pump somewhere within earshot. The gurgle of water will deflect attention from the street noise beyond and create a serene retreat right outside your door. Wall plaque fountains work beautifully in even small garden spaces. (Campania International ( is a good place to start.) We have a simple Japanese stone fountain alongside our backyard deck. Its low stone base has a rough finish, which creates an interesting visual as water trickles down the sides. I’ve surrounded it with a polished river rock, and it creates a lovely vignette beneath a low Japanese maple. Its soft sound creates a relaxed atmosphere.


Don’t let the depths of winter get you down – now is a great time to be thinking about your garden and envisioning spring!






Trees Make the Best Neighbors’, Michael Tortorello, The New York Times, 2.7.13.

Color in My Garden’, Louise Beebee Wilder, Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1990.

Ten Ways to Improve Your Garden’, Jinny Blom, Garden Illustrated, Issue No. 192.

Breaking Ground’ by Page Dickey, Artisan, New York, 1997., ‘Gardening for Birds’



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The 7 to 1 Solution Tip or Pickling your Paperwhites:

I love to grow paperwhite narcissus bulbs to give as gifts this time of year, and to fill my house with their fragrance and flowers during the holidays. Simply placed in a shallow bowl with some stone or gravel, or planted in a bit of soil, paperwhite bulbs root almost immediately and will put out fragrant flowers within two to three weeks. The problem is that they usually grow so tall that they eventually flop over, and staking them in a shallow bowl with small stones can be difficult if not impossible.

Paperwhite bulbs

But recently a friend offered me an unusual solution that came to her via the Flowerbulb Research Program at Cornell University. Their research has found that watering paperwhites with a bit of diluted alcohol mixed with water stunts the stem and leaf growth and precludes the flopping over that occurs so often.

The secret is to water the bulbs as usual when first planted, allowing about a week for them to begin to root. When shoots are green and growing 1-2” above the top of the bulb, change the solution to a mixture of one part liquor (gin, vodka, whiskey, rum or tequila) to seven parts water. It’s that simple! The resulting plants will be about a third shorter, but the flowers will be as big, fragrant and long-lasting as ever. Resume with just water after flowering.

For a great step-by-step planting guide:



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Acer rubrum

Acer rubrum

Great comparison, don’t you think?

Some fall color by Barbara Yaeger Landscape Design

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Monarchs Fight for Their Lives

In The New York Times this week Verlyn Klinkenborg has written with sensitivity and passion about the Monarch Butterfly’s fight for its life in recent years. Here is the link:

One study the author cites suggests Monarchs might very likely be facing extinction. Illegal logging in Mexico, where they overwinter, has reduced their habitat, and the ecotourists who go there to witness their multitudes actually disturb the creatures they have come to observe.

Ironically the most critical element jeopardizing their lifecycle is the demise of milkweed. Monarchs rely almost exclusively on this plant, which farmers in the Northeast and Midwest consider a weed. Writes Klinkenborg:

There is a direct parallel between the demise of milkweeds — killed by the herbicide glyphosate, which is sprayed by the millions of gallons on fields where genetically modified crops are growing — and the steady drop in monarch numbers.

As a result of this revelation, townships and counties are now being asked to let milkweed thrive on their roadsides, and gardeners are being encouraged to nurture and cultivate the plant to help stave off “a butterfly disaster”. Klinkenborg observes that with increasing swiftness we are witness to a “world full of unintended consequences of our own making”.  These are consequences that cannot easily be undone.

To read the complete article go to this link:

Help bring back the Monarchs by planting milkweed and educating others about the importance of planting it. A great site to visit is:, which sells milkweed seed specific to areas in the United States. I got interested in trying a host plant called Poke Milkweed, or Asclepias exaltata, which does fine with only a few hours of morning sun or filtered light. The website states November is a great time to plant the seed in the Northeast. Water once, and then allow the rain and snow to provide needed moisture. My kind of seed!

We continue to see species in the natural world reduced from human impact. As gardeners we can make a difference with our actions and put host plants for Monarchs on our landscapes and in our gardens.  Here are some nurseries where you can get Milkweed plants in Connecticut:

Broken Arrow Nursery – – 203.288.1026

Earth Tones Native Plant Nursery and Landscapes – – 203.263.6626

Natural Attraction Project, Inc. – – 860.376.2513

Sunny Border Nurseries, Inc. – – 800.732.1627


For a comprehensive list of nurseries elsewhere in the United States:

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APLDCT Designer Forum – Groundcovers

From Debbie Roberts and the CT APLD blog:

APLD Connecticut Chapter

Here’s a look at some of the photos that didn’t make it into the  APLDCT Designer Forum article on Groundcovers in the July/August edition of Connecticut Gardener magazine.

A big thanks to APLD Connecticut chapter members, Carrie Greenwald of Maher & Greenwald, Laura Rock of Laura Rock Landscape Design and Richard Schipul of, who contributed to the article.

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Using Pinterest to find Fine Foliage

Fine Foliage

This week, I just had to relay a lovely thing that happened to me! When I’m not writing for Fine Foliage, and I’m not working on my business as “The Personal Garden Coach”, and I’m not in my own garden, I am working at a lovely nursery just south of Seattle called Furney’s.

I approached a nice lady looking at some Rodgersia (a VERY cool choice, so I KNOW she had great taste) to offer my help. She told me that she was re-designing a portion of her garden based on this fantastic post that she found via Pinterest. I said, “That’s a wonderful tool for getting inspiration, great idea. What did you see?”

The woman begins to tell me about this post that had a combination of Rodgersia combined with Pieris ‘Little Heath’ and how much she LOVED the foliage texture and contrast, not to mention the…

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