Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Colorful Plants For Fall & Winter

When fall and winter months arrive it can be difficult to find plants with blooms or leaf colors to brighten up the garden. I have found a few sturdy plants that always look good in the garden all year long. The temperatures the plants I have chosen have endured survived freezes of 25 degrees to 32 degrees here on the north coast. I have found most of these plants are also heat tolerant as well. Heaths and heathers are the perfect shrub for color combinations in the fall when you choose plants with either colorful leaves or winter blooms. There are many evergreen heaths and heathers available to keep green alive in your garden, they stay evergreen and all heaths and heather shrubs that I know of bloom in a variety of colors, including white, pink, lavender, purple, magenta and burgundy.

Heathers have a number of shrubs that have colorful leaves ideal for fall or winter months. The heathers I have in my coastal garden have yellow, orange, bronze and even purple tinges in the leaves, and the leaves are colorful all year long. Considering some of these shrubs can grow to one to two feet wide and as tall, you can have an impressive array of shrubs that always looks good year round planted in a border or lining pathways through your garden. Heaths and heathers require consistent watering the first year, then they are drought tolerant, although I always water mine weekly. Heaths and heathers need good draining soil for their delicate roots, they do not like to stand in water, contrary to them being thought of as bog plants. Heaths and heathers need at minimum six hours of sunlight for optimum growth. A trim of spent blooms once a year, carefully cutting above the hard wood of the plant will keep them looking shaped and healthy.

Rosemary is a fantastic herb that makes for a great shrub in the garden. Rosemary has done well even in my coastal garden, although ideally rosemary does its best in warm weather climates. Rosemary plants typically are upright shrubs and there are varieties that cascade over the edge of borders. In my experience rosemary always looks good, with glossy evergreen leaves, perfect for culinary uses in the kitchen, and keeps it shape well in the border. During winter months in Petaluma my rosemary bloomed profusely with small blue flowers. For fragrance, cooking, blooms and shaping the structure of a garden, you can't do wrong by using rosemary as part of your garden design.

Lavender is much like rosemary, even more fragrant with wonderful flowers in summer, trim up your lavenders and you will have sturdy shrubs as part of the bones of your garden. Lavender has a number of different color combinations when it comes to leaf color and flower color. My Grosso lavender has dark green leaves all year long, while my Goodwin Creek Grey lavender sports a soft grey, almost silver color on its leaves. My small Munstead lavenders have a greenish-grey tinge to the leaves somewhere between the other two lavender leaf colors. Lavenders need a trim after blooming, providing you with loads of lavender flowers good for sachets, to brew flowers in with tea (great combined with Russian Caravan tea), and as well shaped, always good looking shrubs to form your garden. I have never had any frost problems with lavenders, they are workhorses in the garden.

Finally I will mention cotoneaster as a good choice to add to your garden for fall and winter color. This is a wide spreading, arching shrub with white flowers in summer and orange colored berries against the small, glossy dark green leaves of the plant. I've never grown cotoneaster other than here on the north coast, but in the past two years so far the shrub looks great, needs no trimming and is full of berries all year long, adding more color as a groundcover at the base of other plants. Cotoneaster is an easy care shrub that will brighten up a dark corner in your garden all year long.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Curly Willow and Garden Weeding

We decided to tackle the base of the curly willow this past weekend. The tree is much bigger than the photo shown, the trunk has grown thicker and the tree taller and wider. The base of the tree was a good foot high, piled with dirt and rocks surrounding the circular shape around the tree on the front lawn. As I've mentioned the past homeowner put huge river rocks everywhere to use as a border, which is hard to mow around and allows grass to grow into the border quite easily. My husband pulled out the shovels and wheelbarrow, and we started pulling away the massive rocks surrounding the base of the curly willow. We were not sure if the base of the tree was flat with roots underground or if the roots were above the lawn. We were hoping the roots of the curly willow were underground but no such luck, about six to eight inches above the ground a thick root was found, we then put back the dirt and redwood bark that had covered that area. We weeded the grass growing up through the rocks atop the dirt and rock border, and used shovels to dig out all the large rocks from the base of the tree. I pulled out some pink hyacinth bulbs that I planted to replant them elsewhere. With a small area cleared next to the lawn it was much easier for my husband to mow around the base of the tree. The curly willow looks better at the base of the tree, next we would like to put a wood border around the tree to make the area look nicer and perhaps fill the border in order to grow some flowers at the top of the wood border.

While my husband carted away the huge river rocks to the back yard, I started weeding the smaller side border near the porch. The larger side border was weeded well recently and it was time to make the other border look better. I got into a sitting position to weed between the three orange and yellow heathers that decorate the small border. As I was weeding I noticed how much more these heathers were starting to bloom. This is the first year the six brightly colored heathers lining the walkway to the front door have bloomed, and the pink and lavender flower colors are fantastic against the yellows, greens, bronze and oranges of the shrubs. The small border had a few pieces of wood separating the border from the lawn, but these pieces of wood are rotting away. Bender board or bricks are two of the ideas we had to form a line around the border, frankly anything would be better than what is in place currently. I spent quite a bit of time pulling grass from around the three shrubs and once the area was weeded the shrubs were much more noticeable in their border because of their colors and blooms.

There is one more border that needs some serious weeding, it is an oddly shaped area next to the porch with the drooping cherry tree front and center in the border. The previous homeowner did nothing symmetrical in terms of design, everything has an odd shape when it comes to the shape of the flower beds. I'm not against the unusual shapes, but it is to an extreme and makes caring for the borders a bit more difficult. Now that we've begun digging out rocks the next step for the front yard is removing the other rocks lining borders here and there and replace them with some sort of uniform and functional border. With the amount of curves in the front yard borders bender board may be a better choice than bricks.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Plans For Next Gardening Season

As summer winds down here on the north coast I'm thinking of next season and what to do with the area under the climbing roses. As soon as October 1st hits, it is fall here, unlike Petaluma where some of the hottest weather occurred during that month. I'm a big fan of cooler weather right at the beginning of October. My fuchsias keep blooming in October, the purple geranium blooms all year long, and the heaths and heathers do well in all seasons.

The area underneath the climbing roses has had little planted under it until two years ago. I started plantings with the cotoneaster under the climbing roses in the corner of the front yard fence. I rooted a piece of purple geranium growing in the back yard and planted this new plant near the roses in the corner this spring, so far it is growing bigger but not flowering this season. I added six heaths and heathers in that same area, three two years ago and three new ones from last fall. Most of the heaths and heathers are growing well, some better than others because three of them were originally bigger plants to start with. The three munstead lavenders were tiny shrubs in two inch pots that have been in place for three years and are finally blooming. Unfortunately the lavenders are still only five or six inches tall and wide. Someday I hope they become full sized lavenders. I planted two Goodwin Creek Grey lavender cuttings I rooted from my shrubs in the back yard this spring, not much happening as of yet. The original Goodwin Creek Grey lavenders are twice as big now as the picture above, really an impressive lavender. I have three or four of naked lady bulbs I planted last fall at the base of the roses, the leaves came up this year but no flowers as of yet.

Even with this amount of plants the area under the rose looks bare, primarily from the lavenders not having grown full size. My plan is to move my purple hebe, which is being crowded out by the garnet pestemon and the rhododendron in another flower bed, to the center of the rose area against the fence where it will get more sun and have room to grow. I have a few pieces of pestemon I am trying to root, I want to add two of the dark pink pestemons against the fence on either side of the hebe. With these additional plants the climbing roses should have a good amount of color underneath them. I plan to plant one of the Shasta daisies I've potted up this summer over on the other side of the fence near the roses, there is plenty of room for it to grow there with the purple geranium planted in front of that area. Lastly, a sprinkling of nasturtium seeds are planted in the corner under the roses and should produce some vines to fill in under that area behind the cotoneaster. If there is room left, a few more heathers may find their way to the rose flowerbed after the annual October heath and heather sale.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Heaths & Heather Blooms & Leaf Colors

As I was watering this past weekend in the front yard I noticed quite a bit of blooming happening from the older heaths and heathers in my garden. I planted six small heathers a few years ago that are gold with green, bronze or red throughout the leaves. Up 'till now the heathers have never bloomed but this year the six heathers are all finally blooming. These late season heathers are good sized now after starting off as four inch pots and the colors on the leaves are really beautiful, good enough frankly to highlight the garden even if they never bloomed. This year they started blooming in August and are featuring vivid purple, lavender and red blooms. These particular heather were placed near the front steps of the house so they would brighten up the front yard during the darker days of winter. I have to say they are doing that and much more now, having grown to almost full size and are full of color!

The erica I planted near the climbing roses is a really interesting shrub, I believe it is called a bicolor heath. It is probably a good two feet wide and foot or more tall, and full of dark lavender pink bells. I've noticed that this erica is always full of blooms and took to its spot readily, growing rapidly and blooming right away. The other interesting factor of this particular heath is that the blooms never seem to fade. Most of my summer heathers bloom then the flowers brown and fade, which signals me to trim them up and cut off the brown faded blooms. I haven't seen one brown flower faded on this plant and honestly it appears to be blooming all year long. I have a few newer heaths similar to this one with big bells in the same color and they are all doing very well and growing rapidly. One of these ericas was planted last October in the back yard below the pink jasmine on the deck, even at its small size it has pink bells covering the shrub.

Three years ago when we first went to the heather farm for its annual sale I bought three low growing heathers to plant below the pink climbing roses in tiny two inch pots for a great price. Two of the three shrubs are doing well, one is so low growing not much is happening other than it is spreading out, not up. One of the shrubs is mounded and all light green, with the softest feathered looking leaves, this is an early picture of it, now it is probably four inches by four inches. The other heather variety is called Grizse and is a small upright heather that has grown to four inches wide by five inches tall with the same grey colored leaves as the Silver King heather I have planted in the back under the jasmine. This heather is producing deep pink flowers that look fantastic next to the silver grey foliage.

These three heathers all took forever to get bigger and looked poorly until this year. I'm glad they are finally thriving and growing. It is exciting to see so many of the heaths and heathers I have planted grow bigger, show their leaf colors and bloom. The heathers in the photo are a few of the yellow and bronze leaf varieties lining our front walkway, perfect for color during the winter months. Heaths and heathers are a perfect choice for a sunny location in your garden and well worth the investment of time watering the first year. These easy care shrubs will fill your garden with shape, leaf color and bloom for years to come once established.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Seeded Shasta Daisy Thriving In The Coastal Garden

I mentioned previously that a Shasta daisy from across the street seeded itself into a crack in the sidewalk in front of our house. The Shasta daisy was growing quite well where it was, so I dug out about six roots, some with flowers, and potted them up. Two of the roots with flowers were planted in the front yard in the flower bed behind the drooping cherry tree. So far the flowers are open and seem to be thriving in the potted plants and the two roots in the flower bed are also continuing to flower and thrive. Shasta daisies are a clump-forming perennial that blooms from June to September, a long time for such beautiful white daisy blooms. The neighbor's two bunches of Shasta daisies are a good three to four feet wide and almost as tall. I'm hoping my newly transplanted daisy roots will do well in the front yard flower bed. I may plant some near the roses too, just to balance out the daisies in the front yard. It is always fun to find plants seeded in your yard that you didn't plant yourself. In this case I had wanted to get a Shasta daisy because the neighbor's plants looked so good in summer, so I feel fortunate the daisy seeded in our yard. My only concern is how big the plant will get by the time it fully establishes itself in the front yard, hopefully it won't push out the heathers growing in the same flower bed.

I was reading my BBC Gardener's World magazine and came upon an article about privet. Our front yard hedges are made up of privet and boxwood. I much prefer the look of boxwood, being more delicate looking. The privet can be quite a handful to keep trimmed down to shape the hedge, especially in summer weather. The article about privet said you could simply take a woody piece of privet, stick it in the ground and it will root and grow rapidly. Now I've never tried this myself but its good to know if this is indeed the case if our privet hedge ends up with a bare spot dying off. Our privet hedge is certainly hardy if nothing else, not much will hurt it, even severe pruning. Those of you with privet keep in mind if you need more privet, take a cutting, stick it in the ground and give it a try, you never know it might just work.

Speaking of plants seeding that you didn't plant, in our back yard there is some sort of thistle that has taken root and grown a foot or so, with one of the thistle's flowers already open at the top of the stem. I don't know if this plant is a weed or something more but I decided to let it grow and see what comes of this rogue plant. The one flower that is showing on the thistle is purple and quite pretty. I'll give this plant a chance and see what happens once it gets bigger and the other flowers open.

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