When I was a teenager, my favorite fashion articles featured ‘on the street’ photos of women dressed either very well or very badly – with big bold headlines telling you ‘do’ this and ‘don’t’ do that’! I’ve always thought it would be great to see something equivalent for landscape design, pointing out common errors made by homeowners and landscapers alike. I’m a big believer in learning from mistakes, and seeing them in photographs is like taking a speed course in better design.
The proliferation of the deer population has changed the palette of what can be safely planted in any given area. Combining deer resistance with a need for a screening hedge or for plantings in a shaded spot can vastly limit choices. Deer will eat anything if starving, but it pays to avoid their favorite foods like arborvitae and yew. Don’t use these at all in deer populated areas, even though they have been the most classic standbys since forever. Substitute deer resistant varieties. A good list for our area is from Rutgers University. They rank plants in four groups from most to least resistant, and you can use the list based on your deer traffic.
The most common request from clients is for a screening hedge to block views to neighboring properties and roads. Sadly though, many property lines where the hedge needs to be placed, are shaded by existing established trees. The reality is that tall evergreen plants don’t grow under big trees. A newly planted hedgerow may last a year or more but will fail over time between lack of light and root competition from larger surrounding trees. If the goal is evergreen screening, larger trees may need to be removed to make light available for new plantings. A looser combination of shrubs planted in and around existing trees may be another solution. A tree or other object that distracts the eye can be a device to minimize an unwanted view. And sometimes a fence is your best option.
WHAT WAS I THINKING?
Plants, like people, come with all sorts of particular needs and preferences. There is wiggle room here and there, but respecting a plant’s particular cultural needs brings success. If you have a shady garden and love roses, don’t imagine they’re going to grow just because you love them so. This never pays off so it’s best to select plants that thrive in the conditions you have available: wet shade or sun, dry shade or sun being the most important factors.
Plants also generally come small (that’s why they call it a nursery), but they grow! Read the tags before you buy and understand what the ‘mature’ size is before placing it in your garden. It’s hard, and sometime impossible, to move large shrubs and trees once they’ve settled in. It’s much easier to measure twice, and plant once.
Gardens are fluid and take time to develop. Plants grow and change shape, albeit slowly. For the most part plants arrive as young specimens that need several seasons to mature to potential. In our ‘point and click’ culture, waiting doesn’t sell well. But the notion that more plantings will solve the problem makes for costly mistakes. Plants need ample space and air to allow for future growth. Planting closer together may take away unwanted gaps short term, but only creates headaches later when things are overcrowded and overgrown.
Once a landscape is installed mulch is required to finish off the beds, retain moisture, maintain temperatures and aid erosion. Mulch comes in many varieties with accordingly varied price tags. Sometimes I’ll get a request for black mulch because it looks rich or organic. But beware- black mulch is dyed to look that way, and therefore to be avoided. Similarly red mulch, my biggest ever landscape ‘no-no’, should never be used. It looks like bacon bits sprinkled into the landscape. Just plain ugly.
A LITTLE BIT OF THIS, A LITTLE BIT OF THAT
Big buffet spreads are great for lunch, but a ‘little bit of everything’ doesn’t translate well into the landscape. As with any other great art, it comes down to editing. Don’t buy ‘one of each’ or dot plants into the landscape to try to fill gaps. Plant with purpose, intention and meaning. Groups of 3, 5 or 7 are recommended with larger swaths and masses making the biggest impact. As we are information overwhelmed everywhere else in our lives, use the landscape to reduce visual noise levels. Keep the message clear and avoid dotting in a little of everything. It always fails to please.
Have you ever noticed trees that look like there is a small volcanic eruption at the base? This trend seems to be popular mostly in commercial applications, but I do see it around in residential settings. Trees can easily be set too low, or settle after planting and fail for this reason – suffocating the roots. ‘Plant them high so they never die’ is a good warning, but don’t go too far with that idea! And once planted at the proper depth, don’t drown them in mulch. It’s looks bad and it’s suffocating for tree root systems. And it’s double worse if you use dyed red mulch! Ouch on so many levels!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
WINTER 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.
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.
In 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.
As 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.
So 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
The 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.
Stop 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
As 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
Use 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
Aside 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.
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:
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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The 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.
Let’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!
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.
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!
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
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
Make 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
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 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:
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.
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
One 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
For 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
For 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
Shady 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.
For 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 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 many 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.
Let’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.
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.
So 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.
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.
A 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.
Beyond 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 and 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.”
Diseases 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.
As 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 examine 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!
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.
Every March or April, a day arrives in the design studio when the phone suddenly starts ringing again. It’s uncanny that, after months of winter hibernation, so many people awaken simultaneously to greet the start of a new gardening season. Stored wish lists find their voice reaching us by phone, email or internet searches for answers and services.
Spring comes with its own chore list but as with most home improvement projects, before you jump in (or hire others to jump in) it’s a good idea to know your priorities: what to do first and how best to do it. As with children, gardens are demanding and needy in youth, but the rewards of good stewardship are tremendous and enduring.
Outside water bibs have been closed all winter and it’s time to get them back on. Find your hoses and set them up in accessible locations. Hose carts, bowls and bibs can tidy up hose storage against a house foundation. I personally struggle lugging heavy hosing around the garden and get especially frustrated when it runs over my perennials or snags on a stone edge. I have recently converted to using lightweight expandable hoses. Their inner tubing expands and contracts with water flow and they have truly made watering a lightweight chore I no longer dread. Spend for the most heavy duty model available as less expensive styles have a tendency to break.
Check trees and shrubs for dead or winter damaged branches and prune as needed. This is also the moment, without leaves blocking your view, to prune out crossing branches or to reshape and re-size shrubs like roses, hydrangea, spirea, caryopteris, twig dogwoods and many other species. Refer to books or on-line guides about proper pruning techniques and timing for specific plants. Generally speaking pruning is the best way to rejuvenate your garden, keeping things in bounds and at peak performance.
CULTIVATE AND LIGHTLY FERTILIZE
Open up the soil surface in early spring by lightly cultivating around shrubs and perennials. Avoid disturbing roots by remaining outside the drip line of most plantings. An open porous surface allows water and fertilizers to penetrate the soil. This is also a moment, as new foliage starts pushing, to apply fertilizers if needed. I recommend an application of slow release Osmocote for perennial areas and a dry application of Holly-tone or Miracid for ericaceous (acid loving) plants such as rhododendron, azalea, andromeda, mountain laurel and holly – especially if they are planted along house foundations which tend to be home to alkaline soils. Use fertilizer sparingly and always read labels for rates of application.
STAKES AND GROW-THROUGHS
Many perennials need support as they grow and produce flowers. Heavy spring rains are known for trampling flowers – peonies in particular. I recommend setting up stakes and grow-throughs when foliage is up just a few inches. Waiting longer makes staking more difficult and time consuming, and waiting too long makes it impossible or highly unattractive. Try to position stakes in a natural way around and within the growth habit of the plant. Using branches and twigs tucked within a plant is a more time consuming method, but has the advantage of being almost invisible.
CHECK THE IRRIGATION SYSTEM
Contact your irrigation contractor to set up an appointment to run through and start up your automatic system, checking for any winter damage. Repair, add or subtract heads as needed based on last year’s history. Consider setting up a spring watering schedule and then adjusting for more frequency or run time later in the summer when things are hotter and days longer. Your system may be automatic but it still needs regular monitoring. The extreme weather variations of the last two years have created real challenges, and irrigation systems need continual tweaks and adjustments to reflect what is happening with heat and precipitation.
PLANTING GAPS AND HOLES
Take stock of areas where plants have failed or haven’t performed as you would hope. When the space is open in the spring it’s easier to see where you need to fill in. Make a list of locations that need attention taking note of light and soil conditions in that area plus colors that may be missing……then select accordingly.
Once clean up and pruning is completed, it’s time to add a layer of mulch if necessary. If your mulch is still visibly intact this chore can wait. Mulch maintains even soil temperatures and minimizes water evaporation – very important in summer months. I like to add a 2” to 3” layer of hardwood mulch into tree and shrub plantings, and only a light dusting around perennials. Another option in perennials areas is to mulch with compost from your own garden, or composted topsoil or manure which can be purchased by the bag. This is a lighter material that adds nutrients to the soil while it decomposes.
PINPOINT CURRENT BULB LOCATIONS
Have you ever gone to plant bulbs in the fall but can’t remember where you current bulbs are? You start digging and oops, you’re unearthing and slicing into existing bulbs? Spring is the moment to mark the spot where you already have tulips, hyacinth, daffodils or any of the other options for early spring color. Alternatively, mark out where there are no current bulbs so you know where to safely dig when the time comes. This simple chore will save you lots of heartache and make for a better result with the new bulb additions.
TIP: My all-time favorite gardening gloves are Foxgloves. Soft, supple and machine washable, these gloves fit like, well, a glove. The thin breathable stretchy cotton fabric absorbs perspiration and allows a full range of hand motion. Available in many fun colors, please stop by our studio on Walnut to try on a pair.
I lost my mother recently and had the honor of being with her as she passed. I was grateful to have been there, with my daughter, for her final moments. My thoughts turned to how she had been present for my first breath and I, her last. A wise friend remarked that although it was the end of this life, perhaps it was also the beginning of another.
As a devoted gardener, I fully embrace this idea. I have observed the cycles of birth, death and birth again for twenty plus years in the landscapes I design and steward from nursery plants to maturity, old age and sometimes death. It is a miracle we take for granted that every spring, after the harsh winter months, buds swell again with new life.
We tend to worship the peak moments in our gardens, but every phase has its beauty and place in the cycle of life. Conception, birth, growth, maturity, decline, death – each has an equal moment in time and space.
As we race into another spring planting season, let’s collectively push the pause button to honor the vast continuum of life. And to consider that death isn’t good or bad, it just is. Fortunately for those of us that love landscapes and gardening, we have in our own gardens an amazing visual and sensual illustration of how this all works. All you have to do is step out of doors, breathe and open your eyes.
Fortunately, blizzard Jonas didn’t snow over my vacation plans. After three hours on the phone, I managed to change my departure date and get out of Newark Airport a mere two hours before it shut down for several days. A six hour flight turned into a 22 hour adventure, complete with a layover in San Francisco. But, as soon as I crossed the lobby at our hotel along the Sea of Cortez at the end of the Baja Peninsula – I knew it was all worth it!!
Sun, sand and guacamole for one whole week! As a landscape designer, however, I’m always traveling with a creative eye – judging how everything looks and searching for elements that I can borrow and adapt in my work. It becomes a hunt for inspiration and makes the trip more interesting.
Due to an explosion of interest and availability for tropical annuals over the last several years, many commonly used selections are now readily available : bougainvillea, mandevilla, croton, trumpet vine and aloe. Of course, in their native habitat they grow far beyond what we can expect in our zone 6, but nonetheless we can enjoy them for the short show we get between May and October. I love the way Mexicans are not afraid to mix strong colors- in fact, the more the better.
Aside from lush tropical vines and flowering beauties, Mexico offers great inspiration for hardscape areas. Exciting textural combinations, mosaic accents and dramatic stucco colors look so appropriate in this sunny environment. I look forward to adapting some of these ideas into my suburban projects. *photo Carlos Martin
It’s fun to drive around during December and see what people have done to decorate the exteriors of their homes. Wreaths, garlands, bows, seasonal greens in showy containers – the displays can be beautiful, especially at night when colored strands of light illuminate tall evergreens or roof lines.
Classic holiday decorating is familiar and reassuring, part of a collective expectation that dates back well before the “Christmas tree” to ancient winter celebrations. But other elements have crept into the conversation: ‘tacky’ Christmas decorations, disco light shows and grossly oversized plastic blowups that are completely unrelated to the holiday. Can someone explain what carousels, penguins or giant dinosaurs with rotating heads have to do with Christmas? And why someone would buy these, let alone want to set them up on their front lawns?
They remind me of the ‘ugly’ Christmas sweater that suddenly is the fodder of news reports, holiday parties and social media. Once something people made fun of, ‘ugly’ Christmas sweaters are now seasonal sellers, which sadly means they’re here to stay.
I realize I’m on thin ice here in judging ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ taste, sort of The Grinch of holiday décor. But my heart really isn’t two sizes too small. I love the holidays and understand the need to not take styling, or anything we design, too seriously. Humor and entertainment should always be included, and kids should get their say with bolder colors, outsized figures and just plain more of everything.
But……. I would like to drawn a line out there in the snow (well maybe not this year since we don’t have any!). I’d love to know what drives the truly gaudy, over the top, hyperactive displays that feel they have to ‘scream’ Christmas.….and I’d love to know why we can’t stop looking at them.
Oh well, ’tis the season! Enjoy the show!
The Suburban Lot is our 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 maintenance services.
We don’t need Jon Snow (my Game of Thrones hero) to tell us what lies ahead, although based on the recent weather we might not believe him anyway. With leaves still on many trees and balmy November temperatures, this extended fall has many of us in a state of denial about the inevitable. The last two winters have been so hard on landscapes, however, so it is important to take steps now to prepare for the colder months ahead. Weather forecasts seem to be very ambivalent…..I have heard predictions of another extreme winter, to milder “El Nino” influenced scenarios. No one ever really knows, so it’s best to be prepared for the worst and pleasantly surprised if it’s mild.
Now is the time to cut back perennials and do leaf and debris cleanup. Apart from obvious aesthetic benefits, keeping the garden free of debris over the winter aids in limiting fungal diseases and molds from developing. Bag and remove leaves, or better yet, recycle them into your compost bin. Decomposed leaves are a key ingredient in humus rich compost and you will be happy next spring to use it as a soil amendment or topdressing for garden beds. Although we cut back most perennials close to the ground, some exceptions such as ornamental grasses, can look lovely through the winter as an architectural accent. This is not a right or wrong here however- it’s more of a personal preference.
If leaf clean-up is completed, it’s not too late to put down a layer of mulch. Mulch of any type provides a layer of insulation to the soil, regulates temperatures and preserves moisture which is a benefit all year round. In the winter, hydration is critical to plant performance and survival. Cold temperatures and winter winds are highly dehydrating (think of how your skin feels) so maintaining adequate moisture greatly affects winter survival of plants.
Broad leaved evergreens, with their exposed fleshly leaves, are the most susceptible to winter dehydration and damage. For this, we recommend spray applications of anti-desiccants (or anti-transpirants) such as ‘Wilt-Pruf’ – a non-toxic waxy coating that is sprayed to both sides of the leaf surface to give it a layer of protection. It’s not a foolproof solution, but it can make a difference in the amount of damage incurred, and a less stressed plant can often go on to recover more quickly come spring. Note, that anti-desiccants should be applied when temperatures are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Due to last winter’s extensive evergreen damage, burlap wrapping may be something to consider this year. In the past wrapping has been used to protect non-hardy plants, such as fig trees, from surviving winter outdoors. For those who have recently invested in new evergreens, or for a specimen that is precious, this extra step could be worth considering. Although not attractive, burlap will add yet another layer of protection and the payoff come spring is a completely undamaged versus the headache and expense of either waiting for recovery or replacement.
CLOSING WATER AND IRRIGATION LINES
Don’t forget to turn off all outside water lines and have your contractor professionally ‘blow out’ all lines for in- ground irrigation systems. This prevents water in outdoor pipes from freezing, expanding and exploding the pipes over the winter. There is never a good time for water damage, but winter water issues are all the more challenging when you add in the complications of freezing.
The Suburban Lot is our 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 maintenance services.
Dealing with deer in suburban gardens has become a significant issue over the last decade. I easily remember a time when Montclair and surrounding towns were virtually free of deer. When fellow designers in areas farther west would bemoan limited plant choices, I almost felt guilty that I could plant whatever I wanted without concern.
Things started to change significantly around 2003, and every year since then the impact of deer on our local gardens has been more problematic. This, in spite of yearly culling efforts, which in addition to managing the population explosion, aid the re-growth of forests, reduce deer related traffic accidents and the slow the incidence of their tick born diseases.
Sometimes between deer issues and climate change, planting choices become so restricted that creativity is limited. Toss in a tree shaded, dry site, and you have the trifecta of design challenges!
I can’t debate the controversial politics of hunting deer (my ‘ex’ believed if they lived under our kitchen sinks, we wouldn’t think they were so cute), but I can comment on the ways in which we work to deter their destructive patterns.
PLANT THINGS THEY LIKE LESS
Deer are less likely to eat plants that are aromatic, have spiky, thorny textured or hairy leaves. Any plant in the herbal or medicinal category: lavender, mint, yarrow or russian sage is of little interest. Boxwoods and peonies are other popular selections. Plants with thorns (holly or barberry), or hairy leaves (lambs ear) are also unpopular. Note, however, that starving deer will eat anything, particularly in late winter when food is scarce because the ground is snow covered. No rules are hard and fast in this game. Your best bet is to plant things they like less and hope they move on. Avoid yew, hosta, and daylily as these common plants are among deer favorites. A good list of deer resistant plants is from Rutgers University: www.njaes.rutgers.edu/deerresistance/
Deer fencing can be every effective, but it needs to be at least 7′ tall and 8′ is better. If deer can’t see where they are going to land they are less likely to jump fencing. Fencing plus adjacent planting can be very effective. In addition to regular mesh deer fencing www.bennersgardens.com, other barrier methods include ultrasonic devices www.electronicpestcontrolpro.com which emit a high frequency sound that deters deer, and wireless electric deer fencing that repels deer with a mild shock www.wirelessdeerfence.com. Fencing must always create a 360 degree enclosure otherwise you risk capturing deer in an enclosure that they can’t exit.
There are a myriad of biological deer deterrents. Many use bad odors or tastes (garlic, coyote or human urine, cat feces) to keep the deer moving along. As these odors are offensive to humans, I prefer to use commercially available spray mixtures that include various natural and chemical compounds: Deer Scram, Repels All and Deer Stopper are a few brands we have tried. The best practice is to use more than one and rotate, as the deer become accustomed to one smell and it can stop being effective.
Large dogs can successfully chase deer away, however, unless they are out all the time, including the night time, deer quickly find a way around them. It doesn’t hurt to have a dog though as anything that decreases their comfort level can be a good thing.
DEER MATING SEASON IS NOW!
Finally an important warning : Fall is deer breeding season! Half of deer related car accidents occur during the fall mating or ‘rutting’ season when deer frequently and unexpectedly dart onto roads. Be particularly attentive during morning and evening commuting times when visibility is poor and deer are most active. Peak season is late October through November! Drive carefully.
For help with any of your landscaping needs, please contact Mierop Design via the website www.mieropdesign.com
As September arrives with shorter, cooler days, the landscape regains vigor and color with a final flower show before winter sets in. In addition to predictable foliage changes, select perennials and shrubs come into their own, while annuals hit a peak before dying off for the year.
Some of my personal perennial favorites include asters, japanese anemone cultivars, turtlehead (chelone lyonni), and of course, many ornamental grasses. Retail nurseries tend to rely on perennials that flower from spring into high summer, often omitting selections for later months when homeowners spend less time outside. In designing a garden for year round interest, it is important to include fall flowering selections.
They brighten autumn days and round out the garden palette. They enhance views from indoor windows and greet family, guests and passersby that appreciate your house from the street perspective.
Several excellent shrubs shine during fall months: beautyberry (callicarpa bodinieri) with its amazing cascades of bright purple berries, coralberry (symphoricarpos orbiculatus), many viburnum cultivars, and winterberry hollies (ilex verticillata cultivars). These brighten the fall landscape and many work well for cutting arrangements to be enjoyed inside.
There are even bulbs for fall….peacock orchids (acidanthera murielae) and fall blooming cyclamen (cyclamen hederifolium) are more unusual selections for the plant connoisseur. Give some a try next year or encourage your designer to use them.
And don’t rush to remove summer annuals too quickly! Dahlias, salvias, verbena bonariensis and annual daisies are putting on strong show, so enjoy those last weeks of color. There is still time to get in cabbages, kales, winter pansies and ornamental grasses that will push the garden to those last moments before frost .
Please contact Mierop Design for more information about all of our services: consultation, design, installation, outdoor furnishings and property maintenance.
Following record breaking June rainfalls for New Jersey, the recent high temperatures coupled with weeks of no precipitation make this summer one of the hottest and driest on record. “Wilting, withering” and “mercury popping” is how one writer aptly describes growing conditions this year – and I couldn’t say it better.
Early leaf drop and discoloration are evident. Many plants and lawns, in spite of regular irrigation, look scorched and burned. With little rain and continuous high temperatures, plants are taking a beating, in some cases failing to reach full potential for size and flowering. Even many ‘full sun’ selections in my nursery look stressed, and have been relocated to the shade house to recover and prevent further damage.
Climate change, man-made or otherwise, is a reality that affects all life. Over the last twenty years I have observed dramatic shifts in what is considered ‘winter hardy’ in our zone 6. Now perhaps I have to reconsider what is ‘summer hardy’? Extremes on either end of the spectrum have made specifying and providing warranties for the landscape a challenging task.
The best bet for summer survival is to keep plants as hydrated as possible. Lawns and beds may need heavier and longer watering in long runs of high temperatures where no rainfall is predicted. Of course, check for any current watering restrictions. For lawns, ask your contractor to keep the blades set high to 3 or 3 ½”….a scalped lawn in dry heat is fast to burn. A 2” to 3” layer of mulch is also crucial to lock moisture in and to maintain lower soil temperatures.
Plants should also be carefully sited to make sure they are in the best location for their sun tolerance. Some items may need to be moved. Drought resistant varieties that prefer dry heat and little to no irrigation (lavender, catmint, coreopsis, artemisia) will likely increase in their landscape value as time goes on. I’ll be taking this into consideration as I plan this winter for next year’s installations.
For help with any of your landscaping needs, please contact Mierop Design via the website: mieropdesign.com.
One of the great pleasures of the summer garden are big displays of annual and tropical plants in containers. It’s an oxymoron: ‘big’ plus ‘contained’ – and that’s part of the power of these important components within the landscape.
Beautiful when they are first installed in mid-May, just past fear of frosty night destruction, tropicals (plants not winter hardy in our zone 6 climate) take a short while to fill out and come into their own. By July/August and beyond, container plantings peak in beauty. Voluptuous and showy, they are garden dessert – a sweet treat on top of an already full plate of peak summer perennials and shrubs. Their non-stop flowering potential makes them invaluable in summer landscapes which often hit a color lull as temperatures rise.
In addition to the vast tropical palette of exotic plants, containers themselves offer their own world of decorative delight. There are abundant choices in every style, taste: from traditional terracotta, wood, limestone and cast iron, to a brave new world of resins and reproductions that winter our weather extremes, are lightweight, easy to move around, and are often reasonably priced. Finishing techniques have become so sophisticated that it can take close examination and a ‘tap’ test, to separate real from mimic.
There are styles and sizes to suit every taste and space requirement. Streamlined bold geometrics are popular now and look newest in bold colors that play off plant palettes.
Container versatility also crosses from merely aesthetic to functional. A well-sited container can draw the eye along a deliberate axis, disguise an ugly utility, serve as a safety barrier or enclose a space. In winter months, they house evergreens and add visual play to otherwise bleak landscapes.
A big gift in a small package, containers offers both high returns and low risk on your time and dollar investment. So go crazy with colors. Mix bold centerpieces with fillers and spillers. Combine different sizes in a still life of shapes on your deck or patio. You can always change things up next time around!
For assistance with any of your container or annual installations please contact Mierop Design. Mieropdesign.com
Despite that wise old advice, there seems to be too little time as we rush through our work and personal lives to ‘stop and smell the roses’. Given my line of work, it’s especially ironic that I forget constantly. This summer, with plentiful rains following an early spring drought, flowers seemed to pop all at once – and many of them roses.
One of my favorite showcase jobs planted three years ago literally stopped me as I was driving. I pulled over to take photos of a full on explosion of color – mostly from a new series called Drift roses: Peach Drift, Coral Drift, Apricot Drift, Pink Drift, Sweet Drift etc. These repeat flowering low shrubs offer prolific non-stop color and a handsome compact habit that make them easy and fun to mix with other perennials. Though not fragrant, they make up for that with their big late spring into summer show.
Knockout roses have taken the market by storm for their ease of care and performance. Aptly named, they flower non-stop from June through the fall. Go into any garden center and you’ll find them in abundance. Reaching to 4’ x 4’ they come in a variety of colors, both in single and double shapes.
If you really want to SMELL roses, however, you have to go to David Austin, my favorite breeder. Austin has perfected the best of all rose possibilities by hybridizing old fashioned types with newer repeat-flowering varieties. His magnificent cultivars combine the perfection of form and fragrance of old roses, with the repeat flowering and disease resistance of newer varieties. Romantically named after English authors and literary references, they delight all the senses with names like ‘Jane Austen’ or ‘Jude the Obscure’. A look through his catalog (davidaustin.com), is like going through a candy store. You’re not sure which one will be more delicious.
Roses peak in June, but let’s not forget that other big summer show off – the hydrangea that takes us well into the later months. Last year the most common garden complaint was about non-flowering. The harsh winter of 2013 caused complete die back to root systems. Winter 2014, though harsh again, caused less damage, and this year there is excellent flower production on old and new wood. Look for standard mopheads like the popular ‘Endless Summer’ series, more subtle lacecaps (hydrangea macrophylla varieties), oak leaf types (hydrangea quercifolia varieties), plus the fantastic new upright panicles (hydrangea paniculata varieties) that have been hybridized to include many new cultivars. Ones that mix and change color from white to pink like ‘Fire & Ice’ or ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ are newest – their names allude to what’s going on with these exciting new cultivars.
Remember: Take the time now to appreciate summer flowers! The moment is fleeting – so stop to smell, admire and breathe in all that beauty we wait the rest of the year to enjoy.
Contact Mierop Design for any of your landscape design, construction or horticultural and garden maintenance needs.
This winter was one of the coldest in recorded weather history for our zone 6 region. With snow events continuing into late March, a full month later than the brutal winter prior, extreme low temperatures left heavy damage in many landscapes….and many homeowners (and contractors) distraught over the losses.
Broadleaf evergreens suffered most. Their fleshy leaves, exposed to the unusually late cold and ice, burned just like food left too long in the freezer. “Freezer burn” caused leaves to completely die, or to have brown sections of unsightly damage.
Every winter we expect some winter damage, but this spring, it’s the extent of the damage that is so hard to fathom. Plants like laurels (prunus laurocerasus) considered ‘marginally’ hardy for zone 6, suffered the most. However, many fully hardy geneses such as holly and rhododendron, suffered equally, if not more. Fully hardy in our zone 6, they form the backbone of many winter landscapes.
Flowering trees also took a hit. Many crape myrtles, a particular favorite that we have become accustomed to planting liberally, died completely. Although they can regenerate from their roots, it hardly seems worth the wait. Very established specimens as well as newbies didn’t make it, so age did not offer protection. Ones that survived may have had a slight positioning benefit that shielded them from the worst winds and exposure.
The good news is that a lot of this damage will regenerate on its own. Most laurels and hollies are slowly pushing new growth now. Your patience will be rewarded as many shrubs and trees return to fullness within the season. Most dead leaves drop on their own, but you can go ahead and cut them off if you don’t want to wait. Cut back to live wood to encourage new growth.
Plants, of course, can also be replaced. The question is: replace with the same, or go for something hardier? I am an eternal optimist. I also want to plant what I want to plant. I love laurels and I am willing to live with their imperfect winter performance, but maybe you’re not so it’s time to consider something new.
Steps can also be taken in the fall to protect broadleaf evergreens: anti-desiccant treatments and burlap wraps may be the difference between life and death in an extreme winter. Less hardy varieties can also be planted in locations with more screening from harsh winter winds, or protected areas near walls, fences or other larger planting screens.
No one can predict next year’s weather except to say that it will be unpredictable. Regardless of what side of the climate change argument you fall on, recent winters have been undeniably brutal. And by the way, in case you were wondering about that plant warranty, landscape designers and contractors are not in control of extreme winter weather!
After a long and difficult winter, the signs of renewal come as a welcome relief. The late snows kept things hiding, but hellebores and witch hazels, magnolias and cherries are all visible now…along with early bulbs like daffodils and grape muscari.
While it’s exciting to see new life pushing up through the earth, there are important tasks that also need your attention now.
TURN ON OUTSIDE WATER
Remember to turn on outside water lines. You’ll be needing them if you haven’t already, and if you have hired any professionals to do landscape work, that’s the first thing they will be looking for.
CHECK LEADERS AND GUTTERS
You did this in the fall, now it’s time to check leaders and gutters again. Keep them free from debris and leaf accumulation to avoid clogging that can drown plantings in too much water.
SPRING CLEAN UP
After removing dead plants, branches and leaves from your lawns and beds, prune away dead and damaged branches from woody trees and shrubs. Many shrubs that didn’t get hard pruned in the fall can be pruned at this time (hydrangea, butterfly bush, caryopteris). Prune back any perennials that were left in the fall such as grasses and others that remained for winter ornamental reasons.
CULTIVATE THE SOIL
Lightly turn the soil over with a cultivating tool. Soil can become compressed over time and opening it up lightly aerates root systems and permits water and fertilizers to penetrate more easily. It also looks really nice to see freshly cultivated dirt.
Add a layer of mulch to your beds if you didn’t last fall. Mulch adds protection, keeping soil temperatures even and preventing water evaporation. As it breaks down mulch also supplies nutrients and organic matter that replenish the soil. For perennial areas, I recommend something lighter such as a layer of compost or composted manure, lightly cultivated it into the soil base.
GROW THROUGHS AND STAKING
If you get to this chore early, you’ll save yourself heartache later when the foliage is too tall to manage. Set stakes or ‘grow-throughs’ around or over plants that get tall and split: peonies, daisies, salvias and veronica are common selections. Most plants look better with a little light support…but don’t make it too obvious….it’s an art to keep it subtle and not make plants look girdled, but it’s worth the time to keep perennials at their best. Staking can also be done naturalistically with twigs and small branches set carefully in-between plant foliage. This is more time consuming, but a very appealing way to invisibly make plants look perfect all season.
Please contact Mierop Design for assistance with any of these horticultural maintenance chores. Our Landscape Guild Master Gardening Crews are happy to help! www.mieropdesign.com 973.744.1758
It’s finally spring and the urge to spend time out of doors is powerful. The sights and smells of a fresh new season are exciting, especially after such a protracted winter indoors. The time is here to get that spring ‘to-do list’ going. A short series of classes offered at Van Vleck House & Gardens by me and my business partner, Frank Contey of Terra Graphics, can help jumpstart your season.
Entitled Landscape by the Yard, we will be teaching four sessions beginning Wednesday, April 1st. The first class, “Think Spring” will focus on key chores for the ‘do-it-yourself’ gardener, as well as highlighting design considerations that inform all outdoor room planning
Best known for its gigantic, dramatic swags of wisteria that flower in May, the Van Vleck property is extraordinary from both architectural and landscape history perspectives. Originally built as a private residence over 140 years ago, three generations of Van Vlecks lived on the 5.8 acre estate and developed the grounds. In 1993, the property was gifted to The Montclair Foundation by heirs of its last resident, Howard Van Vleck. A recent capital campaign has raised funds to update the facilities and attract more annual visitors to this extraordinary suburban jewel. Last year saw the debut of a new educational facility with programming for both children and adults in our community.
I was privileged to have been asked to assist the campaign kick off in 2008 by designing and building the formal “Tennis Garden” with my partner Terra Graphics. Last year, Frank and I were again fortunate to have been asked to host the educational launch with a series of classes for adults. More recently Terra Graphics completed an extraordinary mosaic “Butterfly Garden”, superbly designed for children by Molli Dowd of Afterglow Design. The Butterfly Garden will debut this spring and I am sure it will become a favorite local activity for parents and children.
Landscape by the Yard was given a nice nod from Garden Design Magazine! Classes begin Wednesday, April 1st and run from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Educational Center. Visit vanvleck.org for further details.
We hope to see some of you there!!
The adage “What you see is what you get” doesn’t apply to good
landscaping. It’s more like “What you get is far, far greater than what you see”. A well designed landscape adds beauty and value to any property. But as with many artful trades, the visual result represents a fraction of what the project includes. Before hardscapes can be built or flowers planted, proper grading, drainage, footings and utilities have to be engineered and installed. Of course, choices of plants and hard materials are important, but these considerations are icing on a bigger cake. Designing and planning for what “lies beneath” precedes everything – and can often determine the long term success, or failure, of a project.
Grading creates the shape of what’s to come by either “cutting” or “filling” the landform. Soil can be added or subtracted, sculpting the earth to suit its desired new end use. Proper drainage manages precipitation and storm water runoff so as to avoid both flooding and erosion which can wreak havoc on plants and homes alike – both yours and neighbors’.
Excavating 42” down below the frost line is critical for proper footings that stabilize all hardscapes: patios, decks, walls, steps and landings.
Skipping or cheating on this step results in shifting or failure of principal structures in the landscape. Add utilities: irrigation and water lines, electrical and gas conduits, cable, sound or lighting lines – all out of sight, but never out of the designer’s mind. They may not be pretty, or cheap add-ons, but the future of your project depends on these choices being well conceived and executed.
By far the most popular feature on my website is the “Before and After” section. Featuring an array of landscape problems – from crumbing steps to overgrown fields of weeds, one little click transforms the scene to a perfectly executed solution. It’s so easy and satisfying to see ugly become beautiful, dangerous become safe, dark become light-all in the span of a second.
Who can deny the appeal of an instant makeover? Reality TV renovations bring in crews of craftsmen to perform perfectly orchestrated miracles – overnight and on a budget no less! Computers have accustomed us to ‘pointing and clicking’ through life – instant gratification. Or perhaps it’s our childlike love of magic – things changing without our understanding or effort.
Whatever it is, I admit to loving these shots myself, so I’m sharing a few. Seeing them again allows me to skip over the huge effort and time required by the job: design, engineering, client consent, permits, obstacles to execution and of course, weather delays. If only life were as easy as “before” and “after” photos – but we all secretly know it isn’t.
Winter always seems to come too fast and take too long to go away. Last year’s devastating cold took its toll on our landscapes, so let’s be better prepared this year with steps to protect your investment. Attend to the following chores before ending your garden season this year.
WINTERIZE YOUR WATER
Outside hose lines and irrigation systems must be properly closed for the winter. If not, pipes can freeze and break, potentially causing enormous water damage inside and out. Make sure to close off all outside hose bibs and water lines running around the foundation or to accessory buildings like a garage or pool cabana. For your automatic irrigation, it’s not as simple as turning the manual shut off valve! The system needs to be “blown out” to remove any water that may be lingering in the irrigation lines so that they don’t freeze and break .This is a task for your irrigation contractor so don’t forget to get on his calendar in time.
CUT BACK PERENNIALS
In late fall perennials need a good haircut to keep the garden looking tidy, as well as to prevent mold and fungal born diseases from developing during months of winter precipitation. Cutting back also gives perennials a clean start from their base in the spring. Some perennials, however, especially grasses, maintain an interesting winter structures. They have architectural merit and can be left to decompose naturally over the winter and cut back in late winter/early spring.
LEAF CLEANUP AND COMPOST
Raking and removing leaves from the garden floor is a fall ritual for many. In addition to keeping beds free of mold and fungal born diseases, it leaves the garden looking tidy and cared for. Decomposing leaves however are a critical part of nature’s life cycle, so instead of bagging them for curbside pick up, find a discreet place on your property for composting. If you layer leaf matter with green garden and lawn clippings, turning them occasionally as they “cook”, the result will be a beautiful, dark humus in about a year. Use this to top dress beds or as a nutrient dense soil amendment when installing new plants. Compost is the ultimate recycling payoff that earns its name as “gardener’s gold” for its ability to build soil and nourish plants. There is nothing better for a gardener than having his or her own reservoir of compost on site.
It’s not too late to get down a 2″-3″ layer of hardwood mulch. Mulch is a magical material that performs many important duties: it keeps soil hydrated in all seasons and regulates soil temperatures (warm in winter/cool in summer). As it decomposes, mulch also adds organic matter to your soil which is critical “food” for plants and their root systems. Plan to mulch every two years to keep beds protected and healthy, in addition to looking beautiful.
Evergreens, particularly ones with broad leaves (laurels, rhododendrons, pieris, mountain laurel) suffer the most in winter from wind, dehydration and browning/burning of leaf surfaces. This results in unsightly damage to new and older plantings, as well as plant death. Spraying a coating of Wilt Pruf, an anti-desiccant can help in preventing winter damage on evergreens. It’s a waxy coating that is sprayed onto the plant leaves to provide a layer of protection. It’s not a guarantee but it’s an aid that is well worth the investment Note: Wilt Pruf needs to be applied when temperatures are above 40 degrees.
Please contact Mierop Design for assistance with any of the above services.
As the weather gets cooler and leaves start falling, thoughts of spring may seem far removed….however, it precisely the time to be planning for all the bright color you will long to see popping in your garden early next year. Fall bulb planting is a ritual that can provide big payoffs for small efforts.
Daffodils and tulips are the mainstays and every catalog and nursery abounds with selections. This year, consider trying something more unusual– something you haven’t seen or maybe even heard of. Bulbs are inexpensive and easy to install, so there is no downside to trying out new varieties.
Below are links to a few of my personal favorites:
Camassia lechtlinii, a mid-season bloomer on a graceful tall stalk with beautiful starry lavender or blue flowers. It’s airy and visually weightless bringing great color to spring garden beds.
Ornithogalum magnum, another tall stem
carrying starry white flowers that open from the bottom up. It’s an elegant partner to many lower early season perennials.
Allium gladiator is a head turner that commands full attention with its big purple flower domes floating over lower plantings. At once whimsical and elegant, there really is nothing like it. All the other smaller alliums are also worth your consideration and all have the added benefit of being deer resistant. The Drumstick or allium sphaerocephalum is especially worth consideration.
Ipheion uniflorum is a minor bulb that makes a lovely groundcover very early in the spring. Known as the Spring Starflower, it produces fragrant star shaped flowers that make a stunning low block of color when planted en masse. Deer and rodent resistant, colors range from white to deep periwinkle.
Hyancinthoides hispanica, also known as Spanish Bluebells or Wood Hyancinth is an excellent choice for lightly shaded beds. From a base of strappy leaves a 15” tall stem emerges with tall clusters of dangling bell shaped flowers. They look lovely planted in groups below deciduous trees and in addition to being unattractive to deer and rodents, have added benefits of becoming more prolific over time.
The fall garden needs more attention from gardeners and landscape designers alike. It’s a time of equivalent beauty to spring and summer but because attentions may be elsewhere at this time of year, plants with fall interest are often overlooked. Japanese anemones, asters in all shapes and sizes, verbena bonariensis (my personal favorite), obedient plant, gaura in pink or white are all putting on a big show – while other perennials and shrubs are repeating earlier performances. The fading colors of many hydrangeas have their own special appeal at this time and make excellent cut flowers as well. Because many nurseries stock up early on great spring and summer performers, the use of fall perennials and shrubs is less emphasized in planting designs and most contractor installations. Extending interest into the fall season keeps the garden interesting into this later part of the year…a great reason to consider adding in these plants to your garden!