Year

MY LONDON EYE


As temperatures drop to freezing here, I am already nostalgic about a recent September trip to London and a few of its local gardens. The British climate, more temperate in every season than ours, cooperated with full autumn displays which did not disappoint. Traveling in high garden season (May/June) is not possible due to work schedules here, but London never disappoints, especially if you’re into gardening.

 


The Brits have an overall cultural obsession with horticulture, which, of course, I share. Love of plants cuts across all social lines: economic, age and race. Flowers are everywhere: prolific displays at every corner pub are standard fare, and this visit also found them on bicycles, shop carts, soaps and buildings. If seeing flowers is what makes you happy, then London is an excellent place to go. And that’s not including the countryside which touches on a whole other level of brilliance.


Visits to Wisley, Chelsea Physic Garden and Kew Garden were blessed by cooperative weather and showy displays of seasonal plantings. Asters, daisies, grasses, salvias and tropicals were peaking, plus it’s always a treat to see plants that we long to grow here but cannot: passion flower and Italian cypress!

 


A favorite stop, The Chelsea Gardener, is a retail shop off of Kings Road that stocks an extensive mix of plants, furnishings and garden ornaments. You can wander around displays both inside and outside to admire gorgeous tables of beautifully merchandised potted plants and accessories. I would love to see something similar in New York area but I dream…..

 


Our favorite day was a trip was to Hackney, a working class section of London where we attended the Sunday flower market. In a claustrophobic, narrow street of buyers and sellers, we delighted in seeing packed displays of flowers, accompanied by lively Cockney vendors barking special offers on their wares. Unforgettable.

 


On a less positive note, depending on your point of view, the amount of new construction happening in London is discouraging. New tall buildings are rising everywhere on the horizon. It was not uncommon to see 4, 5 or 6 cranes working on different structures in one small area. Old London is fast disappearing, so, as with Venice, you’d best arrange to see it sooner rather than later. (These words, sadly written prior to the recent flooding.)

 


PS When in England I love noting the business names that combine two words like ‘Bull & Bear’ or something very typically Colonial sounding. The same trend seems to be arriving here with many recent restaurant names, but it’s almost a game in the UK between which is the cleverest! Some notables from this trip: Stoned & Plastered (sculpture), Black & Blue (stationery and pens), Love & Scandal (lingerie), Clarinet & Flute, Pearl & Feather…and my all-time absolute favorite: Slug & Lettuce – for a restaurant. Now that’s a sense of humor! And the British have plenty of that to go around.

 

 

The Suburban Lot is a monthly blog that highlights topics and issues unique to the suburban landscape.  For assistance with any of the above information please contact Mierop Design, a complete resource for landscape design, installation, outdoor furnishings and property maintenance services.

 

NOTES FROM THE FIELD… PLUS SOME NICE PRESS!

Spring came to 2019 bringing with it one of the best ornamental tree shows I have seen in a long time. Magnolia, cherry, crabapple, dogwood and redbud performances were show stoppers that did not disappoint in any category: abundance, duration and color saturation of flowers.  The season has also brought a seemingly non-stop flow of rain, great for lawns and plants, but very hard for those of us trying to earn a living working out of doors. Saturated soil, mud and slippery slopes – it seems we can’t catch a break from wet weather.

 

2018 saw a record 65” of rainfall in New Jersey, the highest since weather records began being kept in the late 20th century, and around 20” above normal for our area.  2019 is lining up for second, or maybe, another first place. Ouch. This is not a good thing! I have seen many normally hardy shrubs and perennials just ‘drown’ between last summer and the recent winter thaw.  Plants that prefer sharp drainage in particular, like rhododendron, or perennials yarrow, catmint and lavender – simply dead from too much water. This is a first in my experience, and I am hoping it’s not our new ‘normal’. I fear this may be wishful thinking however as we head for our 10th consecutive Friday of rain. I have started researching plants that like to be really wet all the time!

 

On a cheerier note, Mierop Design has been fortunate to be highlighted in several recent articles, both on-line and in print. Houzz published a short interview with me about how I find new business, and Montclair Magazine’s May issue did a wonderful feature story on a large project from a few years back: The Anchorage on Park and Wildwood Streets in Upper Montclair. The homeowners of this landmark wanted a complete facelift for their property, and with it there were many challenges: big house/small property, little privacy with close proximity to busy car and pedestrian traffic and heavily overgrown shrubs. I worked with my partner, Frank Contey of Terra Graphics, to transform this beloved property into a showcase that matches its perfect Georgian architectural style. The property was fully enclosed with fencing for privacy and safety, large screening evergreens were installed in key locations, shrub borders were fully replanted and the driveway was relocated to open up available real estate. A large set of steps and a patio with an outdoor kitchen were created for elegant outdoor living. A remotely operated driveway gate and gas lanterns all around were the finishing touches. Thank you Rachel Grochowski of RHG A&D and Montclair Magazine for including our work on this great project.

Recently we did a fun outdoor furnishings installation partnering with Janus et Cie., one of my favorite luxury brands.  Our design liaison at Janus, Paul Sarrubbo, published these photos of our work just as we opened the patio for spring 2019. It will only get better as plants come into full leaf and flowers start to pop with color. You can follow Paul on Instagram @paulsarrrubbo_jec.

 

Finally, Frank and I were invited by Van Vleck House & Gardens to be Key Note speakers for their 20th annual Roses To Rock Gardens tour of private local gardens. We will be addressing the group on Saturday, June 8th at the Van Vleck property. As it is a big anniversary for the tour, the topic will be a short history of the house and gardens themselves…and all the recent renovations that have enhanced the grand estate, one of the best loved treasures in Montclair. We hope to see you there!  

Let’s cross fingers for less rain this year and Happy Gardening!

 

 

 

The Suburban Lot is a monthly blog that highlights topics and issues unique to the suburban landscape.  For assistance with any of the above information please contact Mierop Design, a complete resource for landscape design, installation, outdoor furnishings and property maintenance services.

BOXWOOD BLIGHT – AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

Advance apologies for starting the New Year on a down note, however the topic of boxwood blight has been on my mind since fall. I am still somewhat in denial, hoping the problem will go away if I don’t talk or write about it. Sadly though, my magical thinking isn’t working. Like other uncomfortable reality checks, especially those connected to the roller-coaster of climate disturbance, boxwood blight is here for the foreseeable future.

WHAT IS BLIGHT?

Boxwood blight is a fungal disease spread by spores carried via air and wind. High temperatures, humidity, overhead watering and rain create ideal vectors for the spread of blight. This year’s unprecedented rainfall and high humidity created the perfect combination for rapid spread of the disease.

Once a plant is infected, the disease spreads very quickly, easily defoliating entire hedges within days. The damage can be sudden and dramatic, and once diagnosed, there is no treatment or cure. Affected plants have to be carefully removed along with all associated leaf debris. The debris cannot be composted and must be kept separate from other plant material. Tools used to remove affected plants must be disinfected in order not to further spread the disease. Even shoes, clothing, birds and other small animals can carry blight from one garden to the next!  Making matters worse, soil hosts the fungal spores for up to 6 years, making replanting of new boxwood in the same location ill-advised. Even with removal of soil, introducing boxwoods again to the same plant bed is highly risky, although some cultivars are considered more resistant than others.

Blight was first identified in England in the mid 90’s but didn’t reach the US until 2011 when cases were reported in Connecticut and North Carolina. It moved on to Delaware, Virginia, Pennsylvania and a handful of other states, with the earliest cases confirmed in New Jersey in 2013.

Although aware of box blight traveling ever closer, I still hoped our gardens would be spared. This summer, however, over a dozen cases were confirmed in the Montclair/Glen Ridge area and reality set in.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Boxwood blight appears first as light brown spots on the leaves. Spots enlarge, often with concentric circles, until entire leaves are affected and then drop completely off the plant. The fungus also infects the wood resulting in dark brown to black “diamond-shaped” lesions and stem dieback.  The disease spreads very rapidly with plants fully defoliating in a short period of time. It’s important to have professional diagnosis and confirmation. Boxwoods are affected by other diseases which may cause similar looking damage.



WHAT TO DO?

Beyond the damage and loss to properties of old and new boxwoods, two main questions arise: how to manage or prevent the spread of blight and what to substitute if boxwoods have to go away?

Prevention seems to be the best and only method for management right now with fungicide treatments sprayed throughout the growing season. Just as boosting the immune system staves off illness, the same is true for the plants. Spray treatments have to be applied to the full plant (all leaves and stems) and rainy weather will increase the frequency of treatments required. I recommend having your current landscape inspected by a trained specialist and following his or her recommended protocol for plant protection. Further, monitor overhead irrigation keeping it to a minimum especially during periods of high humidity or after heavy rainfalls. Consider planting boxwoods farther apart to promote air circulation and to slow disease spread.

PLANT SUBSTITUTES

It’s not an overstatement to say that boxwoods are the backbone of the landscape industry and that there is no real substitute. As a broad-leafed evergreen they create architectural structure, are winter hardy, deer resistant and even tolerate a good amount of shade. They are indisputably beautiful for hedging and take well to shaping and pruning. If boxwoods are now ‘high risk’ investments, what can be substituted?

Selections to consider are:

 

No other shrub possesses as full a range of benefits as the boxwood, so here’s hoping that the industry quickly will be able to both treat diseased plants and develop truly disease resistant cultivars. I still plan to use them, but more sparingly and with client consent that risk is involved. I can’t go cold turkey on one of my favorites, and remain eternally optimistic that the industry will eventually find us a way out of this dilemma.

The Suburban Lot is a monthly blog that highlights topics and issues unique to the suburban landscape.  For assistance with any of the above information please contact Mierop Design, a complete resource for landscape design, installation, outdoor furnishings and property maintenance services.