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FRENCH LESSONS

I have traveled to France many times over the years, and even lived there for one year of high school and later, a college semester. Somehow though, I never visited Versailles. No particular reason. Just never got there. Until last week.

Being January, that rare time of the gardening year that permits a work absence, we decided to join friends and travel to Paris. I made up a list of not-to- be-missed stops including Versailles. As a landscape designer I thought it high time that I set foot in the place! Plus I had coincidentally just finished watching the French-Canadian TV series, Versailles, which piqued my interest even more. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Louis XIV’s obsession with turning his father’s hunting lodge into a grand residence for the French nobility while creating a monument to the grandeur of France. What I didn’t realize was that Louis’ drive to control both Nature and the unruly aristocrats of his day, was so voracious and unstoppable that in the process he nearly bankrupted his nation!

JANUARY IN VERSAILLES

Paris is bone cold this time of year, and the day we chose to go found even a dusting of snow on the ground. You could ask why visit at this time of year if gardens are the primary focus? As it turns out, the timing was ideal to understand the structure which underpins the greatest of classical French landscapes. The snow gently chalked water features and paths in white, etching out the footprints in wide open space.  The absence of leaves made the long allees of pruned hedges and topiaries, the parterres and water features easily visible. There were no containers in sight to distract the eye – those famed ‘Versailles tubs’ that line the garden walkways in season. It was a magical and reductionist view into history.

DEFINING TERMS

Allee, from the French verb ‘aller’ meaning ‘to go’, is a linear path or walkway, typically defining a long view or perspective into distant space.

 

Parterre, from the French words ‘par’ meaning ‘by’ and ‘terre’ meaning ‘earth’, are formally shaped beds, often mirroring one another, that are established using low plantings (often annuals) in symmetrical patterned arrangements.

 

Topiary, shrubs or trees clipped into ornamental shapes.

 

 

Versailles tub, a distinct, square planter with one hinged side used as a door, allowing the installation and removal of large containers. Massive wood paneled Versailles tubs were carted manually into place every season and then removed in colder months to the indoors. Tender plants, like palms, were housed in the ‘Orangerie’, a protective structure that kept ‘tropicals’, out of their native habitat, alive during the winter.

 

MONUMENTAL SCALE   

You often hear about the scale of Versailles, and I thought I was prepared for what I was about to see, having studied it in Art History and later Landscape Design classes.  Nothing, however, can convey the vastness of the space better than scaling your own body within the massive formal parterres and hedged allees that define these gardens. Photography completely fails to capture the monumentality of the space.

COMPLEX OR SIMPLE?  

My clients today often ask for more formal garden design. Look through any shelter magazine or on-line resource and you’ll see gardens featuring clean lines and highly edited plant selections with often monochromatic color schemes. Formal spaces are visually satisfying. They convey strength, unity, harmony and peace. Being timeless, they look completely modern and flow well with today’s preference for mid-century and modern styling.

 

AND NOW A WORD OF WARNING…

Formal gardens can appear to be deceptively ‘simple’. In the world of gardening, however, never confuse ‘simple’ with ‘easy’ or ‘low maintenance’. Perpetual pruning and maintenance are critical to the success of this garden style. In the case of Versailles, an army of full time garden staff are still employed to keep things looking clean, crisp and defined – not to mention the massive task of changing out all the annuals in the parterres and Versailles tubs seasonally. Although the look is simple and clean, remember Nature is not. Keeping up this type of garden involves a commitment in terms of time and money. Strict schedules of pruning, shearing, clipping and annual replacement are necessary.

Louis XIV realized an out-sized vision to control both Nature and the French aristocracy. Our goals are surely less lofty, although we still long to offset the busy complexity of our over-saturated, high-tech lives with the calm and peace that a more formal garden offers. Allez-y, or as we say ‘Go for it!’.

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 and property maintenance services.

HAVE A VERY BERRY CHRISTMAS

Even though I was tempted to do a Grinchy repeat of my last year’s observations on ugly holiday decor, I’m going high and talking about plants, my favorite topic.

Winter can be challenging for the garden. No flowers, dead leaves, naked branches and soooo cold. But, there are ways to make the winter garden interesting, and planting beautiful berried shrubs or trees is at the top of that list.

Massed or as single specimens, berried plants add needed color to the monochromes of winter. Aside from providing visual relief, berries feed the birds, create great winter views from interior spaces, as well as providing useful materials for holiday decorations. Many of these are Native Plants indigenous to our region, so are naturally adapted for winter survival. Finally berry ‘sets’ as they are called, typically last for months – far longer than flowering performances. Here are a few standouts to consider:

winterWINTERBERRY

Ilex verticillata or winterberries are technically hollies, but they bear little resemblance to their prickly cousins. They are good looking, tall shrubs that are beloved for their profusion of red berries in winter. They are probably the showiest of all winter berry shrubs, and are especially magical when contrasted against the dazzling whites of a big snowfall.

nandinaNANDINA

Nandina domestica, or heavenly bamboo, is one of my favorites. Not to be confused with real bamboo, they have an exotic, tropical feel that is lacy and delicate. They are heavily used in southern zones which is their normal habitat, but as our climate warms they have become more common here. Some varieties, like Firepower, have foliage that turns bright red but in this case, no berries! Can’t have both! Nandinas only downside is that they can defoliate in bad winters, but they do generally recover very well and are worth considering.

pyracanthaPYRACANTHA

Pyracantha varieties, firethorns, are not the most attractive of shrubs having a somewhat floppy awkward form with indistinct leaves.  However, when sited flat against a wall as climbing vine, they show their superpowers and are spectacular for a late show of red, orange or yellow berries. Especially if placed against a light colored wall or background, firethorns can brighten the fall/winter landscape with unexpected color. Beware – they do actually have thorns, but nothing your average gardener can’t handle.

coralberryCORALBERRY

The first time I saw a coralberry (symhporicarpos obiculatus) was at The New York Botanical Garden in fall. It had an imposing form and was spectacular for its masses of large, lavender berries.  Similar in color to beautyberry (callicarpa varieties), another great fall berried shrub, I was stunned by the profusion, size and color density of the berries. Coralberries come in several colors including red and white plus lavender. Other common names like snowberry, waxberry or ghostberry make this genus somewhat confusing, but any which way they are beautiful

crabappleCRAB APPLE

Moving over to trees, crab apples (malus varieties) are at the top of the list. Crabs, beloved for their compact form and good spring flower shows, don’t stop there. Fall brings fantastic berry sets in assorted colors. Nothing like true year round interest! My favorite variety, Sugar Thyme, is noted for its strong red berry set,

 

king2WINTER KING HAWTHORNE

The name says it all. A little used medium size tree, Winter King hawthorns (which like pyracanthas do have thorns) are standouts in the winter landscape. They offer a lovely spring show of delicate white flowers and have interesting silvery, exfoliating bark to boot. Years ago I planted an allee of them all along the road bordering an Essex Fells property, and it has stood the test of time. Four season interest keeps this tree variety at the top of my list for exceptional specimens.

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 and property maintenance services.

CLIMATE CONTROL?

Applied to the out of doors, climate control is an oxymoron. We expect to be able to manipulate temperature and humidity in our homes and cars, but have no control over what happens outside of these bubbles we inhabit. Controlling Mother Nature was never reality, however, as the years unfold, there is less pattern and predictability to weather, and more harsh events that leave damage and destruction in their wake.

thermometerIn our corner of the Northeast, we have been relatively fortunate (so far) not to have suffered the catastrophic flooding, wind, drought, fires and landslides seen in other parts of the US and globe.  Things, however, are not what they used to be, even compared to five years ago. Regardless of your position on climate change, each year new records are set for high temperatures, and despite the copious rain of late, this summer was defined by weeks of drought in addition to scorching temperatures.

earth-from-spaceAs an individual with global climate awareness, who also happens to be a gardener, I spend a lot of time witnessing (and worrying about) changes I observe in my work, and their effects on plant life and local landscapes. I was raised on the organic paradigm in which the complex and holistic interrelationships of all life forms are respected.  Plants such as rhododendrons that thrived twenty years ago now often struggle due to weather extremes.  Other plants such as crepe myrtle or southern magnolias, once avoided due to marginal hardiness in northern New Jersey, have become everyday selections.

As with many things in life where Nature is in charge we have far less control than we want. What is new is that the patterns that held the unpredictable within understood boundaries are literally melting. The ‘general rules’ have been thrown out and parameters that once defined New Jersey ‘normal’ are gone. There isn’t even a ‘new’ normal.

drought-resistant-plantsSo what to do?  Aside from supporting local and international climate organizations and their political efforts, we must plan for a future that is different than the past, while accepting that change is our only constant.

Gardening in and of itself can be a positive for the environment, assuming we’re not spilling chemicals into our lawns and water systems.  It can’t, on its own, change the climate, but it could, if practiced organically by large enough numbers, slow the process of negative changes we experience.  Regardless of the effort, our expectations have to adjust accordingly.  Following are a few suggestions for dealing with the new reality of overly hot, cold, wet, dry, windy or otherwise challenging weather circumstances:

 

PREPARE SOIL DEEPLY, THEN MULCH

prepare-soil-deeply-2The more effort spent to prepare soil deeply with plenty of organic amendments, the more you will find plants thriving by absorbing available moisture and nutrients. It’s a lot like battling the flu by being well nourished and rested.  The stronger the immune responses are, the better the resistance to infections and illness…the same goes for plants.  The stronger their environment below the soil line, the better they can survive extremes of temperatures or precipitation.  Mulching regularly ensures that the soil continues to be protected.  Mulch insulates soil from heat and cold by maintaining even soil temperatures.  It retains moisture within the soil reducing water requirements, especially important during droughts.  Finally mulch breaks down into organic components that continue to feed soil and plants.

 

GO ORGANIC

go-organicStop using chemicals unless absolutely necessary.  Lawns are the most needy in terms of their chemical needs and many lawn care companies are offering ‘organically based’ programs now that minimize the use of chemicals. (See blog post from May 2016)  In tree and shrub areas, organic fertilizers can be used to fertilize plantings.  Make your garden weed-less the ‘old fashioned way’- pull the weeds by hand!! It takes time, but it’s better for the planet to stop using chemical controls.

 

SELECT PLANTS FOR LOWER WATER NEEDS

lower-watering-needsAs temperatures climb and water becomes an ever more precious resource, consider plants that have lower watering needs. Especially in full sun where I am seeing plants crisp and burn under otherwise normal circumstances, try substituting plants that thrive in these conditions.  Mediterranean plants that are accustomed to unrelenting sunlight can work here, as can some desert species.  Some perennials that historically thrived in full sun may do better moving to part sun/part shade locations.  Situating plants properly will be important going forward as we adjust to their changing ability to perform.

 

REDUCE WATER CONSUMPTION

water-consumptionUse water sparingly. This trains plants to seek for water, not expect it.  Many automatic systems are set for run times that are too long and/or frequent.  A rain sensor is important to shut the system off after precipitation, but it does not take you ‘off duty’ in terms of monitoring things overall.  Experiment with your contractor to find the sweet spot between plants thriving and minimal runs/frequencies. For shady zones, run the system less often and for shorter times than in the sunny spots.  The deeper plants have to source for water, the stronger and longer their root systems become.  After heavy soaking rains, consider turning your system off completely for up to five days.  Just remember to turn it back on!!

 

PLANT A TREE, OR MANY

trees-handsAside from making shade that offers a cooling respite, planting trees (or any plants for that matter) increases the air’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen.  Globally, vast parts of existing forests and treed areas are being destroyed, forever altering the planet’s delicate eco-system. If you google ‘what can I do about climage change’….planting trees is one action step suggested.

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 and property maintenance services.

LATE BLOOMERS

Being in the autumn of my own life makes me partial to fall garden performers.  Late to the party, they are a sweet reminder that great things can occur at any moment in the continuum of time. In fact, one could argue that the waiting makes them sweeter.

As the gardening season rapidly draws to a close so does our expectation and anticipation of the new.  Late bloomers are all the more gratifying for their strong show as the rest of the garden is fading away.  Aided by lower temperatures and light levels, their vibrant colors pop against the backdrop of fall’s otherwise yellowing foliage.

Many perennials and shrubs are deserving of consideration in your fall garden. Here are a just a few of my favorites:

 

asterpurpledomeASTER
With daisy like flowers, fall asters come in a very wide range of heights and colors and are well known for their spectacular fall show. I prefer the shorter, stockier varieties that require no staking. Encourage an even more prolific flower show by pinching asters earlier in the season.

 

 

anemoneJAPANESE ANEMONE
Great for part sun and easy naturalizing, anemones come in single and double forms and make excellent cut flowers. They are at once elegant, graceful and a little bit wild.

 

 

pink-muhly-grass

GRASSES
Grasses are peaking by the fall. Slow to start in spring, they hold off until late summer to make their showy plumes which, if left uncut, make great winter catch-alls for snow. My all time favorite is Pink Muhly Grass with its pink cotton candy-like inflorescences, but there are so many from which to choose. Most grasses prefer full sun but you’ll find some great selections, like hakonechloa macro Aureola, for shadier areas.

nandina-firepowerNANDINA
Nandina (heavenly bamboo) ranks high on my list for its unique exotic foliage and showy fall into winter performance. Nandina domestica has brilliant red berries, and the cultivar Firepower has vibrant red fall foliage. Nandina performs best in full sun but is quite tolerant of part sun and part shade situations.

 

iteaITEA
Great fall foliage for this native shrub adds to its earlier season merits. A great naturalizer for part sun areas that also works well to control erosion. The name of cultivars Merlot tells you everything you need to know about its fall color show.

 

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 and property maintenance services.

 

WHAT’S WRONG WITH MY LAWN?

This past spring many of you were worried about hydrangeas looking dead. I wrote about ‘Hydrangea Hysteria’ back in May, explaining that late winter frosts had damaged most mop head varieties, killing them back to their roots. Since then, they have regenerated beautifully, albeit without producing flowers, but the good news is that they were far from dead.

The new garden angst right now concerns lawns. Many of you are reaching out for advice and wondering what went wrong this year, blaming your lawn contractor or those who apply treatments. (Quick hint: it’s most likely not their fault!) Here’s a quick explanation of what is going on.

First, know that you are not alone. Everyone is experiencing large and small areas of brown patches and die back throughout turf areas.  My small front lawn which grows in full sun and has proper irrigation, has never looked worse than it does right now, although it’s slightly better today due to recent rains and cooler weather.

rainonlawn

SPRING

Fungal diseases due to wet and/or humid conditions are the cause. There are many varieties of mold and fungus that affect spring/summer turf including, most commonly: brown patch, summer patch sand dollar spot. Tracking back to May and June you might recall considerable rainfall and high humidity during night time hours. This is the worst time possible as this frequency of water at night allowed fungi to explode over a 2 to 3 week stretch.

brown-spot

SUMMER

Then came July and August with extreme heat and drought. This compounded the problem for already stressed lawns. Fungal problems were noted particularly in irrigated lawns where watering frequency and run times were cranked up to address the heat and drought, in some cases doubling the fungus problem. Lawns that were cut too short (a common practice) were also particularly affected.  Lawn contractors often set blades low for a short cut that allows grass to maintain a neat look for a full week. This is not a recommended practice as short (or scalped) lawns are always more vulnerable to heat and drought stress. A lawn with longer grass blades has more natural protection for its root system from the stresses of heat and drought. Lawn should be cut high to a 3” minimum at all times, and even higher is better. Irrigation should always be timed to come on in morning hours, around 5 am or anytime up until mid-morning, to allow morning light to dry things out and prevent mold from compounding.

WHAT TO DO

Disease treatment is important although for those of you who want to go strictly organic, there is no good control available for fungus. If the fungus is caught early on, one treatment of a mixed fungicide can work. Otherwise two treatments may be necessary. The alternative is to let the fungus run its course and see what happens. If only the blades and not the crown have been affected, the grass could green up later on. If the crowns are affected, slit (or slice) seeding or topsoil plus over-seeding practices will produce new grass in thin or dead areas.

PICK RESISTANT SEED VARIETIES

tall-fescueThe key is to pick seed varieties that are more fungus resistant like tall fescues and bluegrass or mixtures of those two. Bent grasses and fine fescues are not a good choice as they are most vulnerable to fungal problems.

Be aware that once fungus is in the soil it will remain there and can become activated at any time by stress. The only way to rid fungus permanently is to apply fungicides. More organic approaches are to minimize stress with better mowing and irrigation practices and then re-seed or replace dead lawn areas as necessary.

CLIMATE CHANGE

thermomLet’s also be sadly reminded, that this year has been the hottest ever in recorded weather history. Climate change will most likely be the topic of many future blogs as I witness significant changes in plant tolerances to the harsher growing conditions with each passing year. Whatever you do, don’t feel the need to fire the person who mows the lawn or applies your fertilizers and other treatments. He or she most likely has nothing to do with why your lawns don’t look their best right now. This is one year where the grass has not been greener on the other side!

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 and property maintenance services.

OUTDOOR DECOR

Growing up in Manhattan, I began life with an odd relationship to the “outside”…. I remember Fran Lebowitz, the ultimate New Yorker, commenting that “Nature is by and large to be found out of doors, a location where there are never enough comfortable chairs.”  I thought this was hysterical as it perfectly summed up a typical New Yorker’s perception of ‘outside’…as if it were somehow too much work to be there. This may be where I started, but like many of you, I’ve come a long way and so, thankfully, has the outdoor furnishings business.

pat_006
Kingsley-Bate

Imagining your garden today you may think in terms of beautiful plantings that enhance curb appeal and create lovely seasonal vistas from the windows. The main goal in a good landscape, however, is to create inviting spaces that extend living from indoors to outdoors.  And once you have created those outdoor spaces, they need to be furnished in order to be fully used and enjoyed. Plantings are part of the décor but in order to fully admire and enjoy those plantings, it’s important to have a place to lounge, dine, sun bathe, cook or whatever!

2009 02 25_0532
Restoration Hardware

Outdoor decor has exploded in recent years bringing all the comforts of indoor rooms to the exterior: from comfy pillows, to sheer draperies, rugs and light fixtures. The simpler wood and aluminum options of the past have opened up to a wide array of new materials including resin wickers, lightweight tubular aluminum and stainless steel. The array of choices is as exciting and wonderful as it is confusing. A few guidelines can be helpful, so to that end, I created a list of ‘tips’ for upgrading outdoor spaces that was recently published by Princeton Magazine and Urban Agenda, two on-line publications.

 

Understand your space and style

Cloud_stainless
Gloster

Is the purpose of your outdoor room dining, cooking, entertaining or all the above? Putting it in ‘interior’ terms is the space a dining room, kitchen, living room or a combination of all? Is your style traditional, modern or somewhere in between? Once you have answered these key questions you can more easily identify what pieces you’ll need and what look you’re going for.

 

 

Plan out the space

MAGALDI.DPDMake a scale diagram on paper or use a simple online drafting tool to measure out the space. Be realistic about what can and can’t fit, leaving ample room for access in and out of doorways and around deep seating and dining chairs. If you don’t want to plan out the space on your own, choose a retailer or designer that will walk you through the process.  Ask to see a layout with various options if possible, and ask to see samples of materials and fabrics. It’s helpful to see the samples in the light of your actual outdoor space.

 

Be realistic about costs.

Outdoor furnishings are in investment, and like anything else, you get what you pay for. There are many great options, but generally the more quality you invest in the more likely that these furnishings will withstand the elements and give you many good years of use and performance.

 

Play with color, fabrics and accessories

IMG_2087
Elaine Smith

The outdoor fabric market is full of fade, rain and weather resistant introductions for many uses: cushion covers, colorful rugs, fantastic pillows and drapery accents in delicate sheers. Neutrals for cushions are the easiest choice especially where children and pets may be sharing the space. I recommend going neutral for the main fabric choice and then playing with color accents in pillows, rugs and accessories. This way you can change things up easily and often!

 

Lighting

T9650NG-GLG-Baltic-Lifestyle-2-HI_RES
Dual purpose fire table/coffee table

Lighting is often overlooked out of doors, but as dusk turns into night time relaxing and entertaining, don’t forget to add the ambiance and practicality that light brings. There are many options: candles and lanterns are classic, fire tables and fire pits create a great reason to gather well into the fall months, torcheres add an exotic island touch, while fanciful string lights can create a charming party atmosphere or dining elegance when carefully interlaced on tree branches. There are even table lamps with exterior specified wiring and an enclosed bulb housing to give real ‘indoor’ lighting ambiance to your patio side tables and consoles.

 

See the full article here:

urbanagenda

 

 

 

Mierop Design owns and operates Pavillion Outdoor Furnishings and is dedicated to guiding clients through the array of choices available in outdoor furnishings. Please feel free to contact us for customized outdoor furnishing layouts, as well as services to specify and handle all aspects of ordering, delivery and white glove set up.

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 and property maintenance services.

GREAT GARDEN PARTNERS

I recently married the man with whom I share my life and landscape business, so the idea of discussing great garden ‘couples’  felt like a natural. Frank and I share a love and appreciation of beautiful gardens and landscapes and we work well in tandem.  While what we do overlaps, much of it does not. We bring unique skills and perspective to each project, and produce a better product together than apart.  You could say the same about ideal plant companions.  They may share light and horticultural needs, but must be distinct enough in shape, texture and color so that their contrasts complement one another, creating a sum greater than the parts.

 

ROSES AND CATMINT

Lady of Shalott - David Austin English RoseOne of the most classic combinations is roses and catmint (nepeta varieties). Rose flowers are exquisite, but the plant form itself can often be leggy and unattractive. Some of the newer varieties have fuller shrub forms which work well alone, however it’s often the case that the stick-like legs of the rose are best disguised by a fluffy partner. Catmint fits the bill perfectly. Full, airy, soft and profusely generous in flower production, catmint varieties are perfect for roses, hiding their bare legs and offering a contrasting color and flower form. One of my favorite combinations is the yellow rose ‘Julia Child’ along with nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’. But don’t stop there. The blues of catmint combine well with peach, pink, red and even white roses. You really can’t go wrong. Both plants like well-drained soil and full sun. Roses need more fertilization than the catmint, but as roses often are fed separately I have never found this to be a problem.

 

BOXWOODS AND HYDRANGEA

boxwood hydrangea 3For sun, part sun and part shade areas, nothing is more classic and elegant than boxwood and hydrangea. The translation for certain boxwoods names (i.e., buxus microphylla) means ‘little leaf’. The translation for hydrangea macrophylla (the mophead types) is ‘big leaf’. The little evergreen leaves of boxwood provide a perfect foil for big hydrangea leaves, plus their forms nicely contrast stricter formal boxwood shapes with blousy and informal hydrangeas. As an evergreen, boxwood also pairs with hydrangea much the same as catmint/rose combinations – by hiding the legginess of the bare stalks in winter when the boxwood fronts the hydrangea.  I also like mixing larger boxwoods in the background with smaller hydrangeas: tall American boxwoods marry nicely with some of the smaller dwarf hydrangeas, while shorter Koreans and English boxwood hedges contrast well with taller mop heads, panicles and oak leaf varieties.

 

DAISIES AND RUSSIAN SAGE

russian sage and echinaceaFor perennial combinations and late summer color in full on sun, one of my favorites mixes is the wispy, see-through quality of Russian sage against the study color blocks of leucanthemum (daisy), rudbeckia (black eyed-susan) or echinaceas (cone flower)……all ‘daisy’ type flowers. These late season partners pack a lot of drama in color and textural contrasts. Preferring full hot sun, little fertilization and great drainage, these are unfussy couples that put on a long show. The delicate pastel lavender of the Russian sage also plays beautifully off all the saturated daisy colors : orange, peach, red and white.

 

SHADE GARDENS: ASTILBE AND HAKONE GRASS

IMG_2654Shady areas always bring more challenges as there are fewer plants to choose from. Yellow hakone grass (hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) is one of my preferred selections for its pop of yellow in the shade. It is also one of the few grasses that tolerates shade. Add to its already stellar selling points with a great astilbe and the overall effect gets punched up. Astilbe are available in many heights and colors.  I am very fond of astilbe ‘Visions’ for its short and plump purple flower stems. It’s a knockout combination with the yellow hakone grass.

 

2016-07-19 19.15.16For any of these pairings, remember to consider light, soil conditions and moisture needs first, and make sure the plants are in compatible garden areas. Many of my earlier gardening mistakes involved putting plants together that didn’t share the same horticultural needs. Secondly, consider texture – big versus small leaves, or an upright versus a weeping or mounded form draw the eye and make these pairings more interesting. Lastly, consider color using the color wheel. Opposites do attract, so cools like blues and purples are always a sure bet against warm yellows, peaches and oranges. Regarding texture and color, however, as with much written on gardening etiquette, beauty is in the eye of the beholder – so feel free to experiment and break rules when the fancy strikes.

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 and property maintenance services.

HYDRANGEA HYSTERIA

strawberry vanillaThe most requested flower in my landscape projects is the hydrangea. Whether it’s the standard blue mop heads, lush oak leafs and upright panicle forms, they are beloved by all for their showy, large and long lasting summer displays.

 

This spring, however, most everyone was bemoaning the fact that hydrangeas looked terrible, and blog_hydrangea_winter_damagemany took this quite personally. During my spring walking tours, I was amused by hearing the same quote over and over: “my hydrangeas look terrible” ……as if it were just hydrangeas on their property that were suffering.  Many, mistakenly, thought their hydrangeas were dead and needed to be replaced. And after two bad winters and two bad summers of hydrangea performance, many were counting on 2016 as payback time.

HydrangeaSnowQueenLet’s set the record straight. Hydrangeas are far from dead, in fact, the oak leaf varieties are right now putting on a banner show. They did, however, mostly look dead this spring. Winter as you may recall, was quite mild. On Christmas Day we almost considered eating outside. Plants were fooled by the warm temperatures into producing lush buds all set to leaf out and flower, when they were struck by a hard, late frost. Mop heads bloom on ‘old’ wood (meaning wood that was produced during the previous growing season). So the net effect was that all the tender buds and canes on the plants were lost to the unexpected frost. The plant effectively died down to the ground. The root system, however, was fine which is really what you need to care most about.

hydrangea pruning2

Since spring, hydrangeas have pushed up tremendous new growth from the base, effectively creating an entirely new shrub. Some of these new canes could flower this year, but most likely will create new wood that will flower next year. Varieties that flower on both ‘old’ and ‘new’ wood will see the most flower production this year.

 

parisSo although I don’t predict a banner summer for mop heads or lace caps, the good news is that oak leafs (Snow Queen, Ruby Slippers), smooth hydrangeas (Annabelle and the newer Incrediball) and upright panicle types (Pee Gee, Limelight, Little Lime, Strawberry Vanilla) are doing beautifully and we look forward to enjoying their performances as the summer unfolds.

Then, as most typical garden lovers, we will dream some more about the flowers we love the most, and what they will look like in full flower in our gardens NEXT year.

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 and property maintenance services.

GOING ‘GREEN’ – IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SOIL

For many of us, living in the suburbs goes hand in hand with maintaining  a weed-free lawn that is as close to a lush, green carpet as possible. Likewise, healthy trees, shrubs and perennials are part of the reason we enjoy our homes.  Historically maintained using chemical fertilizers and pest control, if you are like many eco-conscious homeowners, you now want to make your garden as environmentally friendly as possible…..while still having it look great.

2011 07 12_2448A typical suburban landscape, though it incorporates elements of nature, is not really natural environment at all. In a self-sustaining ecosystem, like a forest, many different types of plants grow and support one another, creating a cycle of growth and decomposition, which creates nutrient rich, organic soil, also known as  “living” soil . When there is just one type of plant (monoculture), as in the case of lawns, that natural cycle doesn’t exist. The soil is often lacking in nutrients, weakening plant health and making it susceptible to diseases, pests and weeds.  Applying chemicals further compromises soil health by killing microorganisms, resulting in dead soil with no nutrients.

girls and catBeyond soil health, anyone with children or pets, as well as anyone concerned about the health of the planet, is looking for alternatives to conventional, chemical based care. However, you may be wondering, “What exactly does organic involve?” and “Does it really work?”

Organic care  involves treating your landscape as a whole living system where the soil, plants, and animals within that system are interdependent and sustain each other. Focusing on soil health will result in healthy plants, leading to an attractive and non-toxic environment that supports balance and biodiversity.

Organic lawn care eliminates the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides, as well as nitrates andlawn phosphates, which run off into waterways, causing problems in aquatic ecosystems. Dial Environmental uses a ‘probiotic’ approach—by  focusing on improving the soil through the addition of beneficial microorganisms. These organisms help break down nutrients so the lawn can absorb them more readily, which in turn, improves the quality and health of the grass without the use of chemicals.

Dial Environmental explains, “ The benefits of organically based plant care start with the soil itself, ensuring plants can absorb all the nutrients to thrive. With the applications, grass and other ornamentals will be healthier and more disease resistant, defend against insects and invasive weeds. By comparison, synthetic fertilizers provide quick bursts of color and growth but do not hold up.  In most cases, improvements will be seen within one full growing season.”

biochar_teaser_imageDiseases and pests that target trees, shrubs and other plantings are most often related to poor top soil, too much or not enough watering, or improper use of fertilizers. Care of the soil and proper irrigation are the basis of organic care. Organic fertilizers and soil amendments  are excellent ways to improve the soil naturally and make landscape plantings more disease and insect resistant.  Biochar, a carbon-enriched charcoal product made from wood, leaves and/or manure, increases microbial activity and improves water retention in soil. In addition, biochar production may remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, actually having the potential to positively impact global warming.

Any use of pesticides should be the last resort after correctly identifying the problem, correcting any underlying problem (s), and monitoring according to the Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

When diseases or insect infestations do require pesticides,  organic alternatives like horticultural oil, insecticidal soap, and botanical products like neem oil and chrysanthemum-based pyrethrum are environmentally responsible and effective choices.  The introduction of beneficial predators including ladybugs, lacewings and predatory mites is another natural method used to eliminate harmful pests. It may take several seasons to establish the predator/prey ecosystem in your yard, but it’s well worth the wait.

 

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 and property maintenance services.

THE EXTRAORDINARY PHOTOGRAPHY OF ROBERT LLEWELLYN

flower 4As spring rushes in with a burst of fresh colors and textures, I find myself examining plant life again in an up close and personal way.  We all know the favorite adage about ‘taking time to smell the roses” however taking time to “see” the flowers is the first step in that process.

 

The seductive beauty of plants is what invites our desire to own gardens, and there is no more perfect way to purple flowerexamine that beauty than through the work of photographer Robert Llewellyn.  In an age of high-definition everything, his breathtaking macro-photography reveals the details and intricacies of plant life which our naked eye alone is not capable of seeing. The results are simply spectacular, pushing our ability to “see” into a new dimension.

 

The varied images in his three published works, “Seeing Trees”, “Seeing Flowers” and “Seeing Seeds” are awe-inspiring in their richness and complexity. The hushed beauty of the images re-awakens appreciation of the magnificence of creation. Enjoy a quick sampling of his work here, and then, my best advice is to “take the time” to find the books. They make for some great ‘seeing’ as well as great gifts for anyone, any time….especially gardeners!

llewellen collage

 

Photographs from Robert Llewellyn are also available for purchase through our studio/showroom on Walnut Street. Any of the images can be custom ordered in various sizes, allowing you to enjoy Llewellyn’s  trees, flowers and seed pods in your home any time of the day, month or year. See his website: robertllewellyn.com and feel free to contact Mierop Design for further information.

llewellyn 2

 

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 and property maintenance services.