Monday, March 18, 2013

Baptism Day

Simple. Elegant. Delicious.

My daughter made this for the twin's baptism day. Naturally, I had to take pictures of it. It was exceptionally delicious. The trick it to make sure the fondant is not too thick. This was just right. The berry filling was tart, which was a nice compliment to the sweet fondant.

Favorite Garden Flowers zone 5-6

Bleeding Heart (pink or white flowers)
Perhaps one of the things I enjoy most about my yard is that it is a constantly changing environment. We have planted a variety of perennials that will bloom at various times throughout the growing season in order to maintain a fresh appearance. For instance, we have tulip bulbs growing under the hydrangea. Long before any leaves pop out on the hydrangea bush, the tulips are in full regalia. By the time the tulip leaves are looking nasty, the hydrangea leaves are filling out. The bleeding heart (dicentra) is planted between tall phlox and rudbeckia. Both those plants will take a long time to spread out and fill the void that is created when the early blooming dicentra fades.

Lily of the Valley
Another springtime favorite is the fragrant lily of the valley. I love these prolific growers. I plant them under my lilacs and other shrubs. The leaves provide a nice ground cover when the flowers are gone. Yes, every few years I do have to dig up a clump or two that has started to head in a direction I don't want it to grow...but I always find someone who is happy to take them off my hands. These are great for woodland area's.
Lamium 'Orchid Frost'
Lamium 'Orchid Frost' is an amazing ground cover that is one of the first to bloom in early spring and one of the last blooms left in late fall. It likes to be ignored. I like a plant that doesn't beg for attention. It is simply happy sitting in the shade or part shade minding it's own business. It spreads nicely, but not voraciously. It fills in the voids left behind by spring blooming bulbs or the shady space under trees. In late summer it takes a breather from blooming and still looks great because of it's pale bluish green foliage. By the time cooler temps begin in early September it starts to bloom again till frost!

Impatiens, Begonia 'Escargot' and Lamium 'Orchid Frost' all grow nicely in shady spaces.

Tree frog on Daylily

When it comes to low maintance, Daylilies are tough to beat. They are incredibly durable and come in a vast array of colors. The only drawback is that once they are done blooming, they are not at all attractive. Therefore, I plant Coneflower and Rudbeckia between the daylilies to get continuous color all season long.

By the time the daylilies fade, long-blooming coneflower and Rudbeckia are just getting started!
Bee on Purple Coneflower

As you can see, I love taking pictures of our garden. Being able to see the beauty in every little aspect of nature is a gift I embrace with gratitude. Below, the image of the Chamomile reflected in the water droplets is  like looking at the flowers through a magnifying glass. Chamomile is another prolific, low maintance plant that is also long blooming AND you can make tea with it! It does like to spread from seed so each year I will have to dig up the little clumps that are taking root outside the garden bed. I put them in small pots and give them away to my gardening buddies at work. It's a gift that keeps on giving.

What can I say? It doesn't get any easier than Hosta. So many varieties to choose from! I throw in a few other leaf colors and styles (Japanese maple, astilbe, lilies) and WOW....all summer long. This part of the garden is a total no-brainer with the exception of putting crushed egg shells down in the crowns of the hosta in early spring. This is to keep the slugs at bay. Sad, but true....they crawl across the egg shells and it, well...let's just say those eggs shells are very sharp. If you didn't save your eggshells all winter, put it on the list for next year and buy some 'sluggeta' slug pellets to protect your hosta this summer. Slugs eat holes in hosta so if your hosta leaves look like they went through a hail storm, you've got slugs.

By the time summer comes to an end I am savoring every moment in the garden. Mentally preparing for the long, cold winter is easier when I recall how pretty the faded hydrangea looks against the stark winter background. But, before those days come along, I get to watch my favorite Hydrangea 'Limelight' change from lime green to white to lime green with a rosy glow. I will cut some of the super long stems and bring them in the house to dry. The rest will stay on the shrub to remind me all winter long of summer days and nights in the garden.

All photos were taken by The Skillful Bee in her backyard.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Favorite POND plants and features zone 5-6

 Most people think a pond is a lot of work. Not least not our pond! It is 30 x 70 and about 2-3 feet deep. It has a rubber liner. We have a waterfall pump but we do not have a filter. Here's how we keep our pond low maintance. In short, we let nature do all the work.
We stock it with a couple hundred 'feeder fish' goldfish (10 for a dollar). Those durable little goldfish make it through our harsh winters with no problems. However, the visiting cranes and herons do like to dine on them occasionally, which is why we have goldfish and not the more costly Koi. The fish will eat alot of stuff we don't want growing in the pond. We have about 10-15 aquatic plants (in flow-thru pots) that drink up a lot of nutrients that would otherwise be fuel for algae. We have a submerged pump that provides water circulation (important) and a lovely fountain spray. Finally, we have lots of 'floater' plants, (water hyacinth and water lettuce) that provide oxygen while absorbing nutrients. You can see the circles of floater plants encompassed in hoops (just like hoola hoops) in the picture below. These fast-growing floaters are NOT winter hardy, so they will not become a burden by crowding out the pond. Unlike the aquatic plants in pots, these floaters must be replaced every year.

Our favorite potted plants for the pond include yellow and purple IRIS. We have 3 large clumps that were originally in large pots (with flow-thru holes) but they have long since outgrown the pots and continue to proliferate at a depth of about 12-18 inches. We also like MARSH MARIGOLD, ZEBRA RUSH and mini CATTAILS.

'Floaters' are plants that float on the surface. Must-have floaters include WATER HYACINTH and WATER LETTUCE.

Favorite Garden Trees and Shrubs Zone 5-6

Our zone 5-6 backyard is loaded with a variety of trees, shrubs and perennials. Despite having only 3/4 acre, we have a diverse environment that lends itself well to experimenting with plants. We have a  wide narrow lot with a 30 x 70 pond and a narrow strip of existing woodline along the perimeter. We have sun and shade, and mostly sandy soil, except where we have amended with compost. Visitors are always captivated by the private, park-like setting we have created in the midst of a typical suburban subdivision. Our backyard is secluded because we have created detached 'layers' of landscape beds that provide screening around the entire perimeter of the yard instead of a typical, rigid wall of screening plants.

We consider our yard as much a 'research lab' as we do a place for relaxation and fun. Because we are in the business of horticulture, we have access to varieties that are new on the market as well as the tried and true varieties. We have planted and UN planted hundred of varieties to create our suburban oasis. Keep in mind, this is our idea of 'fun'. We realize most people don't have the time or inclination to play in the yard as we do, so I hope this list of 'Favorite Trees and Shrubs' for zone 5-6 will help you fast-forward to the yard of your dreams.

Finally, I want to add that not all of our trees and shrubs are planted intentionally. Our years of experience has also shown us that the indigenous plants can play a big role is providing low-maintanance options. 'Playing' in the garden can become 'working' in the garden if we have to apply chemicals, excessive fertilizers, or do too much physical maintance. We want to keep it simple. We definately do not like to use any chemicals of any kind, so varieties that have insect or disease problems will go on the 'UNplant list' rather than spraying or jumping through any hoops to keep the plant happy. We want plants that are happy on their own, without too much meddling on our part. Due to that philosophy it is only natural that we have kept many of the plants that were already here before we built the house.  Although they may not be the most attractive, the cherry, box elder and willow that have grabbed a foothold in our yard are essential features that we have come to appreciate with each passing year. 

The picture above shows the front 'layer' planting bed. Our street is about 30 feet in front of this bed. On the backside of this bed (picture below)we have a strip of lawn and then another 'layer' of plantings that shields the pond and provides plenty of privacy. The front layer was planted with WHITE PINE that grew rapidly and provide year-long screening. We also included some flowering deciduous shrubs to add color during the growing season.  The VIBURNUM have proven to be excellent choices for providing beauty and durability with fragrant white blooms in spring or summer and great fall color. There are many varieties of Viburnum. Choose the size and shape that fits your environment.

 In the picture below you can see a smallish, stand-alone tree. It is a PARROTTIA and it is fabulous. We have three of them in our yard. Since my pictures don't do the tree justice, search the internet to find images of this amazing tree. It has everything we want....durable, awesome leaf texture and color, popular 'average' size won't get too overpowering and great fall color. This may be my favorite landscape tree. 


 Favorite trees and shrubs pondside include the indigenous SUMAC because of it's fantastic fall color and the WILLOW TREES because of the ease of growing and tiny leaves that don't pile up in the fall. You can see on smallish willow that looks like a lollipop near the center of this picture. It had grown too tall so in February,we cut it down to about 8 foot. That spring it rapidly produced a new sprouting of branches at the cut line.

Another pond-side favorite is definately the KOUSA DOGWOOD. Beautiful white flowers stay on this tree for over a month. In the fall, the tree is covered with bright red 'berries' which eventually fall to the ground and disappear quickly as the wildlife gobble them up. 

TAXODIUM (bald cypress) is a must have. You can barely see it in the pic below (left of white flowering hydrangea), but it makes a powerful statement. It is large now, it will be a giant someday. Unique branching habit, soft evergreen-like foliage, although it is deciduous.
 HYDRANGEA 'LIMELIGHT' is my favorite hydrangea of all time. It's very low maintance, grows rapidly and produces a prolific abundance of giant conical flowers. They are lime green at first and change to white, then rosy, green as cool weather approaches in the fall. Great winter interest in an otherwise stark environment.

WEEPING CYPRESS. Love it. It's like a giant with arms open wide waiting to give you a big hug.
LILACS. An old fashioned favorite. If pruned each year after flowering it will keep a full shape. Don't ignore these shrubs as they can get 'bare bottoms' if allowed to get overgrown. If your's are already overgrown, prune them heavily.
Best choices for fall color...the old standby's continue to top our list of favorites. BURNING BUSH(Euonymous Alata) and MAPLE. Too many maples to mention. Choose a variety that is known for excellent color and you won't be dissatisfied come October.