School Garden Excitement!

A group of very wonderful people has joined together and organized a School Garden Workshop for Educators that I hope will inspire and facilitate outdoor learning experiences of all kinds for our youth here in Muskingum County. Though the event is taking place in southeastern Ohio, I think the information here is relevant and useful to all locations.13012856_10208236011365703_6204812652036672453_n

Note: The registration deadline has passed but, if you know of a teacher who would love to come to this we do have a few spaces left. Just have them call the contact number on the flyer above.

Before I describe the workshop and before you get bored and click off of this blog I want to make a strong argument as to why we need school gardens. Why should educators break out of their routines and take the time out of their very busy schedules to try to do something that at first may simply make theirs lives more complicated and difficult? Why should we as parents and community support them in doing this?

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Because in the words of one of my favorite supporters: “A garden is a place where you can taste, touch, see, and hear better than any other place. You can see nature and how it responds to you.”

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The picture below shows what a 5 year-old child will do if taken to a natural environment; given some scissors, glue and a board; and let loose:
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Our children go to school to learn about the world around them but rarely go out into the world to learn during the school day. That just seems counter-intuitive to me. I think most agree that experiential, hands-on learning and learning by doing are the best ways to learn and yet there is so little opportunity to do so in most modern day k-12 schools. I know that taking children outside to learn will excite them, and exciting them will inspire and stimulate a deeper level of curiosity.

The picture below is a perfect example of a project that requires basically no maintenance and yet has begun the process of getting students out into the fresh air where they can be stimulated by the sights and sounds of nature and feel more inspired to learn. This shelter was built using a Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Grant.

Duncan Falls Outdoor Learning Classroom:

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Our hope is to try to make the process of starting any type of school garden or outdoor learning project as straightforward as possible for our busy educators. It would be so much easier if teachers didn’t have to figure out all of the steps on their own each time one of them wanted to start something that isn’t a part of their normal curriculum. I find that there are many educators who would like to engage their students in some form of school gardening or outdoor learning but they don’t quite know what the project should be and how to best go about setting it up. Add in some spring and fall testing and the holidays and many teachers have to leave the thought of a school garden in the back recesses of their minds with the many other things they wish they could do for their students.

Our plan is to bring together the following: individuals with lots of knowledge about gardening and nature; teachers who have already begun successful school gardens; teachers who would like to start a school garden; as much information relevant to getting a school garden started and funded; community volunteers and mentors willing to help out; and put all of these into one room in the hopes of creating a sort of springboard of inspiration and action.

From the many conversations I have had while helping organize this event I have noticed a tendency to make some assumptions about school gardens. Often times people envision sad and struggling vegetable garden plots withering away during the peak of summer with no students or teachers present to tend them. One of the most important aspects to consider when designing a school garden is helping educators determine what will be the most manageable and successful type of project that suits their needs.

A school garden can be
as simple as teachers, parents, and students getting together to beautify the outside of their school by taking care of any landscaped beds and adding a little plant material to them each year. Maybe a teacher has some seeds sprouting in a windowsill garden or a bulb sprouting in a jar.
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Educators have so much on their plates these days, especially in the spring, that starting something like a school garden may seem daunting and overwhelming. We wanted to try to alleviate some of that stress and show our educators how much support there actually is in our community to help them get something started.

The first goal of the workshop is to get the educators to attend
during what we know is a super busy time of year! We knew we needed to show our teachers some love and kindness so we have tried to make the workshop as fun as possible. We will be providing a free dinner which has been so graciously provided by Panera Bread. Our local Panera’s has not yet opened but they are excited to be coming to our community and thought this would be a great way to introduce themselves and I agree! A Columbus Panera’s will be delivering dinner to our workshop. Also one of our organizers and offered to bring some yummy Italian cookies for desert.

As our teachers are signing in for the workshop they will receive a ticket which will enter them into a drawing for some great school garden related gifts to take back to their classrooms like the Hit the Habitat Trail game and the Zoomy hand-held digital microscope shown to the right.


These gifts have been provided by gardening groups like the Muskingum Valley Garden Society; local organizations like Muskingum Soil and Water Conservation District, and Muskingum Valley Park District;and local businesses like Florafino’s and Timber Run Gardens as a show of support for our teacher’s endeavors in starting a school garden project. These are just a few from the list of supporters. Of course if anyone reading this would like to provide a gift for a classroom we are still accepting donations.

We have a wide range of speakers
lined up to talk about how they got their school gardens started. Some of the projects being presented are small wonderful beginnings and some, like The Granville Sustainability Project , have been many years in the making with some large partners helping out along the way and have developed into something quite complex and exceptional.

Each educator who attends will receive what we are calling a Tool-Kit. The Tool-Kits will be filled with lots of great resources such sas upcoming grants that may be available, outlines of the steps taken to start the projects that are being presented at the workshop, and a contact list of mentors and supporters.

The contact list of mentors and supporters
is one of the most important parts of the Tool-Kit. One thing I heard over and over from teachers was the struggle to maintain a project once it got started, particularly during the summer. Gardens that look untended and not cared for tend to get mowed over by maintenance crews during summer break. We are hoping to use the contact list as a sort of hotline for teachers. A few of us will direct calls but, we are seeking as many names for each school or district as possible. People who put their names on the list are not locked into anything. Some people will be listed as heavy supporters who are willing to donate materials or help with construction. Others may want to help with the design and instructional phase of the project or simply be willing to show up to their children’s school, or their grandchildren’s school, and water a garden in a pinch.

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Flower Hunting in the Hollow

Spring is a special time in our hollow. Speaking of hollows, I never really knew what one truly was until I moved to the woods of Southeastern Ohio. Our glorified cabin sits directly above a hollow which I will describe as a deep ravine that runs about a quarter of a mile down through the woods to Saltcreek.
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The hollow is a very special place with a kind of mysterious aura. The sounds that emanate from the hollow in the wee hours of the morning are a constant source of wonder with the calls of owls, wild turkeys,an occasional bobcat, and some sounds that are simply unidentifiable.

What is most amazing about the hollow is how many precious little wildflowers grow and bloom there particularly in the spring. One must walk slowly and stop often to capture sight of even a fraction of what is growing and living there.

Here are some of the things my son and I found on this week’s flower hunt:

Merrybells, Uvularia grandilfolia:

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Uvularia before it has unfurled:

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Wild Blue Phlox, Phlox divaricata:
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Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum.
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Royal Catchfly, Silene regia,. I finally found two little sprigs of this little red beauty growing in my hollow. My sweet son picked one of them to give to me so… seed count down by 50 %! My mother-in-law is graced by hundreds of them in her hollow!
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Downy Rattlesnake Orchid, Goodyera pubescens. Not blooming but the most beautiful part of this plant is the foliage.
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Liverwort, Hepatica nobilis var. acuta: This plant has flowers that range in white, pink, and lavendar.
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Stonecrop, Sedum ternatum:
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Dutchman’s Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria.

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Large-flowered Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum:

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Dwarf Larkspur, Delphineum tricorne:

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Violets. There are nearly 30 species of violets indigenous to Ohio and I do not have them sorted at all so for now just Yellow, White, and Purple!
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Posted in Native Plants, Plants I Love, Spring Blooming, Uncategorized, What I Am Doing In The Garden This Week | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

End of Summer Favorite

I started this blog to write about growing my favorite plants and flowers, but I would be hard pressed to decide whether I enjoy them more for their beauty, or for the sheer joy and gratitude I get from harvesting and cooking with some of these plants. I just couldn’t resist sharing this end of summer favorite recipe with you.

Sadly, I was unable to get my own vegetable garden in this year even after starting all of the seeds for it, but that did not stop me from fully appreciating the wonderful produce offered at various farmer’s markets in my area. The end of summer and beginning of fall is I think my favorite time of year to visit markets. The flavors of the tomatoes seem to deepen and the fresh, crisp apples are starting to fill the stands.

This week I stopped at the Curly Girl Farm Stand and loaded up!

Fortunately we finally got a couple of rainy days here and while working on some garden plans I got to make my favorite late season dish, Ratatouille, with all the goodies I bought. This dish is perfect if you have other chores to do because you basically put everything in the oven and leave it.

My ratatouille comes out different every time I make it. I am a very imperfect cook and I rarely follow one recipe, but rather some combination of many I have read. So, you wont find any exacting instructions or specific measurements in most of my cooking. Typically the dish is made with varying amounts of tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions, garlic, herbs, and anything else that sounds good.
I prefer the easiest possible method of preparing this dish which is to coarsely chop the vegetables and roast them in the oven. I put them on an edged cookie sheet or in a dish with copious amounts of olive oil and some coarse salt and pepper.


I like to roast the onions and tomatoes together because they take about the same amount of time which is maybe around 2 hours at 375 degrees, or until they are getting browned and caramelized and the juices are starting to disappear.

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Next I combine all the roasted vegetables in a heavy oven proof pot, add about 2 cups of water, sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of coarse brown cane sugar, drizzle in about 2 tablespoons of Balsamic vinegar, add salt and pepper to taste and return it to a cooler oven of 325 degrees for about another 45-60.


I like the outcome to be like a chunky, rich, and concentrated preserve. In my dreams it would accompany a freshly caught, lightly breaded filet of Canadian Small Mouth bass fried in browned butter but, it can accompany any roasted or grilled meat.

The way I eat it most often however, is spread very thickly on a chunky, toasted piece of Country or Italian bread with some shaved Parmesan and chopped fresh basil on top and of course a nice glass of Pinot Noir!


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A Little Review of Our Blooms This Season at Mission Oaks Gardens

I am lucky enough to get to spend some of my time working and volunteering at Mission Oaks Gardens in my home town of Zanesville, Ohio. This 5 acre botanical garden is a local treasure and open to the public everyday. If you haven’t gotten a chance to come visit, here is just a little of what you are missing:
This gorgeous, rare cup and saucer Magnolia named ‘Joe McDaniels’ was gifted to the original owner of the gardens years ago by a friend of the breeder.

I think Magnolia ‘Big Dude’ below is my favorite. The immense size of the flowers, often exceeding 12 inches in diameter, remind of me of the prehistoric nature of the magnolia and its need to have large tough flower parts to survive pollination in a time when large beetles were the pollinators instead of some of the delicate species of insects that exist today.
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Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ never fails to cheer me up with the sheer mass of creamy yellow flowers that seem to fill the sky.
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It is fascinating how different light conditions effect flower color. I usually find that low light or a cloudy day is best for taking pictures of flowers, but that is definitely not the case with Magnolia ‘Coral Lake’.
Here is ‘Coral Lake’ in beautiful muted tones on a cloudy day.
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And here it is transformed on a bright, sunny, spring day!
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I love these little ‘Autumn Maple’ irises both because of the warm spring color they offer and because they bloom just as heavily a second time in October.
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Strolling through the gardens in spring is like walking through a real life fairy garden. There are over 100 different species of Rhododendron and Azaleas throughout the gardens with more being planted everyday!
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May is the month that the Perennial Garden begins to make itself known.
Who can resist the Itoh Peony ‘Bartzella’.
Evening light is making its way out of the garden lighting up the white flower masses of the Fringe Tree in the distance and Baptisias ‘Australis’ and ‘Screamin Yellow’ are making a last statement before dark.
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Baptisia ‘Screamin Yellow’ the next morning.
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Echinacea ‘Solar Flare’ has surprised me with its hardiness these past couple years and has come back stronger each season.Unfortunately one can not say that about many of the new varieties of echinacea these days.
Echinacea ‘Hot Papaya’ is best up close and personal.
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Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’ is my favorite beebalm. It does so well in shade and is just a gorgeous, eccentric looking flower.
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For you chartreuse lovers out there variegated Comfrey is a must have!
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I love all the different foliage and textures that came together in this corner of the garden. The purple heart shaped leaves of Katsura, the delicate leaflets of Wild Senna, the red shade dwelling Spygellia, a little Mukdenia, and the bright orange flowers of Milkweed tuberosa.
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The Oriental lilies over near our volunteer building have really outdone themselves this year.
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Hydrangea paniculata ‘Strawberry Sunday’ has finally earned my respect. I think it may have the prettiest and most delicate flower form of all the paniculatas.
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The lovely Dahlia ‘Elise’ is just beginning to bloom.
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The less showy but very sweet little Dahlia ‘Gala’ is blending nicely with some variegated coleus here.
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Last but not least for the mid-season highlights is my favorite angle of the perennial garden at the moment.
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The new Hydrangea paniculata ‘Passionate’ that frames the above picture on the left side has astounded me with the massive size of its flowers. They are well over a foot long!! Unfortunately the deer ate most of the blooms off of this tree so we can;’t get the full effect that his new variety has to offer but wow, just wow! I will be sure to cover this with netting next year so we get to see what it really has to offer. This lovely tree was planted by the Nashport, OH Girl Scouts troop when they came to the gardens to learn and obtain their Tree Badge. Thanks girls!!

Stay tuned for highlights from the second half of the season!

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Update to Easiest Little Salad Garden Ever

Back in mid-March I posted about the easiest little salad garden I have ever started in my kitchen in recycled spinach containers. Four days after planting the seeds the lettuce was already coming up and a few days later the tomatoes and basil followed suit. By March 30th it was time to transplant the lettuce into more spacious rows in another spinach container.Spring '15 062

The tomatoes and basil were getting cozy in their original container but could handle another two weeks or so staying put.

It is now April 15 and the lettuce is ready to go to an outside bed or container. I have not yet prepared the ground for my vegetable garden so in the mean time I am going to get a jump on things by planting this batch of lettuce in a wine barrel just outside my front door.Spring '15 006
One of the most difficult but necessary things to try to keep up with if you like having fresh salad greens is to make sure you start new seeds every 2-3 weeks.

The tomatoes and basil are ready to be bumped up into another spinach container and spaced out or, into their own small individual containers. They will not be ready to go outside here in Ohio until at least mid-May.
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Doug Beilstein of Hostaworks will be speaking at the Muskingum Valley Park District This Week

Mission Oaks Gardens and the Muskingum Valley Master Gardeners invite the public to come this Saturday March 28th to listen to horticulturalist and hosta grower and hybridizer Doug Beilstein from 2:00-3:00 at the Park District Volunteer Building in Zanesville on the corner of McConnell and Euclid. doug_prop Doug and his wife Mardy own and operate their greenhouse business, Hostaworks, in Mansfield Ohio where they currently grow 6-7,000 seedlings. He has been a hosta hybridizer for over twenty years and was recently president of the American Hosta Society. He has spoken at many local, regional, and national conventions on hybridizing. He loves to share his knowledge about this beautiful shade addition to the garden. Doug is familiar with this part of Ohio as he attended Muskingum College.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to learn about what to look for in selection, and on displaying and caring for this beautiful shade plant. He will also offer suggestions on the use of other companion plants for your garden beds.

Seating for this Garden Speaker Program is limited to 50 people. Please register with Darlene Turner by calling 740 450-8050 ext.0
Admission is free but donations are accepted.

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Easiest Little Salad Garden Starter Ever

Wait…was all that subzero weather with constant ice and snow just a dream? It went from below zero to fifty degrees over night here in Ohio. The seeds I picked out over the winter arrived a few weeks ago safely snuggled in their padded shipping envelopes. I get so much pleasure from opening these packages, spreading them all out, and viewing all of their beautiful covers. Seed companies are really outdoing themselves these days with the amount of artistic effort they put into these little packets of hope. Sadly, they have been sitting and collecting dust in my gardening basket waiting for the weather to break.
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Normally I begin starting some seeds like tomatoes, peppers, slow germinating flowers, and early crops of lettuce during the last week of February, but I wasn’t about to try to heat the leaky, 8’x 4’plexiglass structure that is my greenhouse in that kind of weather. This weekend my son and I got most of our early seeds into their respective flats and on to their cozy heating mats in the aforementioned leaky greenhouse.
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I was standing in the kitchen this afternoon regretting not having gotten an earlier start on at least my salad garden plants and thinking of my gardening friends who don’t have greenhouses when my eyes landed on an empty, plastic, baby spinach container that was sitting on top of my pile of recyclables. Duh, how easy is that? Why didn’t I think of this two weeks ago? The easiest, cheapest little salad garden starter ever. Even though I already had the salad crops started in the greenhouse I had a lot of extra seeds left over. I thought I would try this out for my friends who have asked me about getting some seeds started in their homes and also so that I can get a jump start on my season next year if we get socked with another arctic winter. Plus kids like little projects like this. Its a little easier for them to wrap their brains around than a whole greenhouse full of seedlings and easier for them to care for.

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I cut the lid off, poked a few holes in the bottom half of the container for drainage, set the bottom inside the detached lid to catch the run off and wallah! Add two inches of potting soil and you are ready to plant for a total of under $10 for seeds, soil, and a free seed starting set up.
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I let my 6 year old son plant all of the seeds since it was an easier task to finish and be satisfied with than the 500 seeds that got planted earlier in the greenhouse. We planted two half rows of different types of lettuces leaving the second half of these rows to seed for another crop in two weeks. Then we planted a row with one Sungold Cherry tomato( a few seeds are placed just below the surface and thinned after germination), two Carbon purple tomatoes, two Friariello Di Napoli peppers, and finally a full row of basil. You will want to keep the container in a sunny window and moist but not soggy until germination.

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I will continue to post my progress with this project throughout the next two months. They should be fine in this container for at least three to four weeks. Stay tuned!

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I Need Some Help Figuring Out What to Plant, Part 2

In my last post I began a multi-part discussion of low maintenance and hardy but not necessarily run-of-the-mill plants for friends and clients who need help with their landscapes. Most of my time as a garden professional has been devoted to making landscapes as beautiful and unusual as possible with less concern for how much maintenance was required. My goal in writing these posts is to provide suggestions to create attractive landscape solutions that have lower maintenance requirements. Most of these plants should not be very difficult to find in your local nurseries. Even some of the bigger chain home centers seem to have vastly expanded their selections and at hard to beat prices.

In my previous post I focused on dwarf conifers. In this post I will discuss some small evergreen shrubs that are not conifers and hardy flowering shrubs.

Boxwood…oh dear. Boxwood have provided gardeners with a beautiful and often low maintenance evergreen shrub that has been virtually indispensable. Their evergreen beauty and wonderful range of species available from the little dwarf ‘Wee Willie’ to upright and stalwart ‘Dee Runk’, make it suitable for many different design styles. Who doesn’t like it? But… then came Boxwood Blight.
Boxwood blight is a fungal infection that has been wiping out boxwood gardens in Europe since the early 1990’s. Unfortunately it has made its way to U.S. gardens primarily in the eastern states, for the time being. Here in Ohio Boxwood Blight was detected in the Lake District in March of 2012 but it is by no means rampant in the state.

My approach to planting boxwood is to continue to use it as an accent plant or for smaller foundation plantings. I suggest for the time being it is probably unwise to use boxwood to edge large formal bedding areas or in knot gardens where one could incur fairly high financial losses and frustration.

There are certain varieties that are considered more resistant to the blight than others.
Buxus ‘Vardar Valley’ is a very cold hardy and resistant variety that happens to be one of my favorites. It has a low and mounded growth habit and beautiful dark blue/green leaves. The picture below is of a very established plant that I would guess has been in the ground 20 years or more at the Missouri Botanical Gardens.
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Buxus ‘Dee Runk’ shown below is a good performing upright boxwood for use as an accent plant. It is much hardier than ‘Graham Blandy’, the variety that is sadly and usually offered as an upright form.
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‘Green Mountain’ can be trained and sheared as an upright shrub. Over time it takes on more of a Christmas Tree shape where as ‘Dee Runk’ is a thinner, taller, and truly upright form.

In this one year old garden I used Buxus ‘Green Velvet’ as a sheared, clean look to contrast with the more loose flowering perennials surrounding it.

There is a small little guy called ‘Wee Willie’ that showed up recently at my local nursery and I tried him out last fall. He came through the winter perfectly. This is a very small shrub with maximum growth of 18″ height and 18″ width and exhibiting vertical, tidy little branches. He has quite a nice formal look and perfect for evergreen effect along a border in a small garden.
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Inkberry or Ilex glabra
is an old favorite of mine. This is a wonderful native shrub that many people know as ‘that evergreen that gets bare underneath’. After 15 years of using this shrub and being satisfied, but a little frustrated with its performance over the long-term, I finally found the solution to its unattractive trait of dropping the lower leaves. Every few years, or as necessary, you hard prune this shrub down to about 18″ during the early spring before things start leafing out. It will be slow to show life but when it does you will not be disappointed.
Rejuvenated Inkberry
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Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lime’

I am a little obsessed with this shrub. It seems to perform well no matter where I put it except for total shade. It handles fairly wet and dry conditions. This past winter did not phase it. It can be selectively pruned back to control its size mid season and it will still look fantastic! When I say ‘selectively pruned’ I mean that some branches may shoot up taller than is desirable in a smaller garden. I just prune those branches back about halfway. The branches will leaf out again and all of the surrounding canes will just bloom and fill around the cut ones.

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Here is “Little Lime’ showing its fall colors
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Get the Drift! Drift Roses are great performers in low maintenance gardens! This is in response to some negative blogging given to the somewhat recently introduced Drift Roses. Now, if you are a rose aficionado then this is not the rose for you. They are not particularly special in form , color or their perfume. They do however blooms their little heads off for the entire season. They flush out nicely in early summer and then have a peak, lull, and then peak again pattern til hard frost. The colors that performed the best for me were ‘Pink’, ‘Sweet’, and ‘Popcorn’ with the other colors doing fairly well too. They are disease resistant but will not stand up to Rose Rosette Disease. They are hardy but they do require that the crown be somewhat protected with mulch in zone 5 or colder.

This is the Pink Drift with some ‘Concorde’ Barberry and ‘Little Lime’ Hydrangea. When you are actually standing and looking down on it it is over 3 feet in diameter and I couldn’t be happier with its performance since planting it less than a year ago.
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Below is the ‘Sweet’ Drift. As you can see it has a nice double flower and tends to be more upright than the others. The leaves and branches of ‘Sweet’ have a nice purple edging to them that is very pretty against the soft pink bloom.

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Here are some blooms on a ‘Popcorn’ Drift growing in front of my house. It was October 14 and they are fully loaded with new buds!
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Barberry is a shrub I used to despise but over the last couple of years I have developed an appreciation for a few of the less common but still easy to find varieties.

Berberis thunbergii ‘Concorde’ offers a particularly gorgeous, deep plum color. This variety maintains a much more attractive low mounding shape than the straight Berberis thunbergii that you typically see growing out of control in too many landscapes. In this picture ‘Concorde’ is the perfect accent to blend with the Pink Drift rose, ‘Little Lime’ hydrangea and other evergreens.
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Berberis thunbergii ‘Golden Pillar’ is an upright growing barberry with that ever sought after glowing lime-green color that can really set things off.spring '13 015

In this picture it has only just been planted and it still immediately reflects so much light you can not help but notice it.
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Barberry ‘Orange Rocket’ is another upright form with an eye-catching reddish orange color that will set off other hot colors in your garden.

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Hypericum or St. Johnswort
is one of my favorite filler shrubs. There are some wonderful new varieties on the market my favorite being the Ignite Series. These grow to about 3 feet wide and tall. They start blooming with little yellow flowers in June and begin making gorgeous berries in July. They do not stop blooming and making berries for the whole season. This is a really outstanding performance for a plant to pull off. Below is Hypericum Ignite Series ‘Scarlet’.
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I love how it unexpectedly blended so well with these ‘Flame’ Dahlias.
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Hypericum can be a little deceiving to over-winter. The Ignite Series is hardy to zone 4 but it will often die back to as low as 6 inches or even to the ground. In the spring it often appears to be barely alive but I usually find that if you just prune back the dead and have some patience it will be back in full force.

‘Lo and Behold’ Dwarf Butterfly Bush
is one of the hardiest, best performing, low maintenance, small shrubs I know that just doesn’t quit. It is loaded with lavender/blue flowers from mid-summer til late frost. I find that when I suggest this plant I spend a lot of time convincing clients that it does not get out of control like the more familiar and sprawling Buddleia davidii varieties that can grow to 8 feet wide and high no matter how hard you prune them. ‘Lo and Behold’ and some of the other dwarfs like ‘Purple Rain’ DO NOT get bigger that about 2 1/2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. These thrive in dry conditions full sun conditions. They can die back quite far in a zone 5 winter but just prune back to live wood and it should recover fine. Below is a picture of ‘Lo and Behold’ at the front edge of a mixed border at our Rogge Pavilion located at Ohio University Zanesville.Summer 2014 030

Spirea ‘Little Princess’ is an old stand-by. Almost everyone knows of it and really it is a bit boring. But I still love using it as a filler. It is just a nice, low-maintenance, hardy shrub that never dies and never gets out of control. You can find it at just about any nursery and it is usually very inexpensive. I love how it was used basically as a ground cover in this bed.
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I noticed this planting last winter at Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus while attending the orchid show. I love the simple but beautiful contrasts of color. River Birch with what I think is Pennistum alopecuroides, though the heads have long since blown off, and ‘Little Princess’ spirea.

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“I need some help figuring out what to plant at my house, but I don’t want to do any maintenance. Do you have any suggestions?”

This is the sort of question I get asked the most as a garden landscape professional. It is not my favorite question because it feels limiting in scope for me as a designer. The “I don’t want to do any maintenance” sentiment means that I will be fairly limited in the range of plants I can recommend, but I am always sympathetic to the need and desire of a home owner or renter to improve the appearance of a property. Many of us simply can not make time for yard work in our demanding lives. Some are perhaps dealing with rental or investment properties and low maintenance is key.

In response to the significant number of friends and clients who have come to me with this question recently I am devoting my next few posts to some of my favorite ‘low maintenance’ plants. I try to stay away from the run-of-the-mill plants and attempt to perhaps introduce some obtainable and yet somewhat unusual plants. This first post will focus on dwarf conifers since I view them as needing the least amount of maintenance and having the best staying power in the landscape. Future posts will focus on other low maintenance evergreens such as certain boxwoods, flowering shrubs, perennials, shade plats etc.

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I must first stress that there is no such thing as no maintenance. Plants are living breathing things. Many of their needs are similar to our own. They need nurturing in the beginning or they simply will never strive. They must have food, water, and air available to their roots or they can not live so some effort MUST be put into the soil. See my post: First Things First: Get Your Soil In Shape if you need some tips on how to do this. An acorn from a native oak tree may be able to take root in the Ohio clay shown below, but I guarantee a one gallon plant purchased from your local nursery or a place like LOWE’s will not!

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Plants have a preferred environment that they are adapted to live in. Some like wet conditions, some like dry conditions. Some like full sun, others prefer shade. Most plants are sold with a tag that will indicate it’s preferred growing conditions. If you do not find a detailed tag you need to do a little research to be sure you are placing them in the right location for them to thrive.

Almost all plants are going to need extra attention the first year while they get rooted into the soil. They will need regular watering until the roots have grown deep enough to stay somewhat damp in between rainfalls. Watering is a bit of an art form particularly during this rooting phase. You want to provide ample water but not too much. Most of the plants I will discuss, whether for sunny or shady locations, like to get somewhat dry in between waterings or rainfalls. You want them to dry out, but not to the point of wilting or of the leaves starting to turn pale and yellow which are both signs of stress. However, too much of a good thing can cause trouble. On occasion I have had a client call me and say: “I have been watering my new tree everyday and it is still wilting. What is wrong with it?”

If you place a plant that likes the soil to dry out a bit in an area that is persistently wet it will wilt just as if it were too dry. Here is a picture of a tree form Hydrangea paniculata ‘Fire and Ice’ that has been in soggy soil due to a leaking water feature nearby. Once a plant wilts like this from too much water it is almost impossible to save the plant. In comparison plants that wilt from becoming too dry may look terrible for a while but almost always you can nurse them back of they weren’t neglected for too long.
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Dwarf conifers
are becoming more and more a part of my designs and I highly recommend them to people wanting year-round interest in their gardens with very little care needed. Their slow growth habit, generally 1″-6″ inches a year, means they are easy to place in the landscape with little concern that they will out grow their location and no shearing is necessary.

All conifers prefer soil that has good drainage, some more than others. I don’t recommend planting them in solid clay. If you have an average soil it is a good idea to add some pine fines, which can be purchased by the bag, to the planting hole. Fertilize with Espoma Plantone which is a slow release, natural, blended fertilizer and you should be in good shape. I don’t recommend fertilizing slow growing shrubs with a hi-test fertilizer such as 10-10-10 even if you already have it sitting in your garage or gardening shed.

There are many great specimens to choose from with endless colors, shapes, and textures but I will keep the scope of this some what narrow. My goal is to suggest some things that the average person may be able to locate without too much trouble. One look at Iseli’s website, a wholesale nursery specializing in conifers and Japanese maples, will show you just how many selections are out there for the true plant hunter.

I purchased this load consisting mostly of slow growing conifers last November for an installation at a lovely little nursing home here in Zanesville, Ohio. November is not a month a lot of people think of for gardening but fall is my favorite time of year to install at least the core of a garden. Great deals can be found at this time of year. Since the plants are already in the ground as soon as the soil starts to warm in early spring they get a chance to grow their roots much deeper than if I bought and planted them during the peak gardening season and they won’t need to be constantly watered in the heat of the summer.

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Here are some of my favorite dwarf conifers

Chamaecyperis obtusa or Hinoki Cypress

This is one of my all time favorite evergreens. Chamaecyperis obtusa can grow up to 30 feet or more but there are many slower growing cultivars to choose from. They all prefer moist, fertile soil with good drainage. I have found a little shade is helpful especially with the golden selections mentioned below. These tend to scorch a bit if they are in blazing hot afternoon sun. Protection from winter wind is necessary, otherwise they are low maintenance once they are rooted in to an appropriate location.

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Chamaecyperis obtusa ‘Nana gracilis’
shown below is a very slow growing variety. Notice the very compact habit of the branches and needles. This shrub generally does not grow more that 4-6 feet. Be aware of some confusion you may encounter when shopping for this plant. If you see Chamaecyperis obtusa ‘Nana’ on the label, the word ‘Nana’ refers to the dwarf, rounded habit and you are buying a very dwarf shrub that only grows to 2-3 feet. If you see Chamaecyperis obtusa ‘Gracilis’ on the label, the word ‘Gracilis’ refers to a slender and graceful habit and you are buying a taller more narrow shrub that is more tree like and grows as tall as 15 feet. Purchasing a plant with a label that contains both ‘Gracilis’ and ‘Nana’ in the name will give you a plant that is the size and shape pictured below.

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Chamaecyperis obtusa ‘Lutea’
is a beautiful very slow growing selection with eye-catching yellow hi-lights. This is not an easy to find variety but I couldn’t resist listing it. This does best with afternoon shade.

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Chamaecyperis obtusa ‘Confucious’
is a golden selection with a more loose form and obtaining a more intermediate size of about 10 feet tall and 4-5 feet wide.
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Chamaecyperis obtusa ‘Kosteri’
has a more rounded shape than ‘Nana gracilis’

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Here is a cute little guy called Chamaecyperis obtusa ‘Butter Ball’

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Pines or Pinus

One of my favorite plants to add to a landscape lately has been the Japanese Black Pine ‘Thunderhead’ or Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’. I have to thank Tom Taylor at Old Stone House Nursery for introducing me to this shrub. It is not truly a dwarf but can be treated as one to some degree. The key to this plant is to buy one that has been encouraged to grow in a horizontal habit. These can grow to 15 feet tall or more if grown in an upright habit.

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Here is an established specimen. They do need space to wander but I love that they each take on their own form and kind of slowly creep along. Prune lightly in summer just after the candles, or new growth, have formed on the branches.

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Mugo Pine is often seen in commercial and urban landscapes due to it’s ability to live in fairly poor soils. I prefer the slower growing Pinus mugo ‘Slowmound’ or ‘Teenie’.. They are considerably smaller and grow in a nice neat mound.
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Pinus strobus ‘Nana’ is an attractive group of pines that come in various sizes and shapes. The name Pinus strobus ‘Nana’, though it sounds very specific, is in fact a loose term for Dwarf Eastern White Pine. If you buy a plant with a label that reads Pinus strobus ‘Nana’ most likely you are getting a very attractive pine that can get quite large, in the range of 5-8 feet tall and 6-10 feet wide. If you truly want to stay small go with a cultivar like Pinus strobus ‘Blue Shag’.
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Japanese White Pine or Pinus parviflora ‘Glauca’
is a medium sized tree that can actually fit into a somewhat small landscape rather easily. They do grow close to 30 feet tall and 10 feet wide but their branching is very loose and airy. They can be easily be pruned to keep them somewhat under control.
This is a picture of Pinus parviflora’Glauca Brevifolia’ I just planted in my garden last fall. It has been pruned by the growers to keep it somewhat tight and bushier than normal. Over time the branches will grow in a more horizontal and loose habit. This plant is graced with gorgeous bluish green needles and does get attractive cones.
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Close-up of Pinus parviflora
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Dwarf Blue Spruce or Picea pungens

I absolutely love the grey blue color of blue spruce and incorporate them into a landscape plan whenever I can however, one could devote an entire post to some of the issues we encounter as gardeners with certain expectations not being met with this genus. Many of the cultivars that claim to be upright do not successfully grow upright. Some of the cultivars sold as small, globe shaped plants do not stay small and globe shaped.

If you want to add the beauty of blue spruce but need to be sure it will stay relatively small the following two varieties do so fairly reliably:

Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’

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Picea pungens ‘Waldbrunn’

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Dwarf Firs
I must confess I have not used many of the dwarf firs, but I do like Dwarf Korean Compact Fir or Abies koreana. Below is Abies koreana “Cis’
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Creeping Juniper or Juniperus horizintalis
is a plant many are familiar, maybe too familiar. It has its very useful applications as a ground cover in full sun areas with poor soil. I manly want to mention a somewhat newer member to the family called Juniperus horizontalis ‘Motherlode’. This has a gorgeous lime/yellow color and looks it’s best if it is not in scorching afternoon sun but will grow in mostly sunny to full sun locations. It supposedly grows to cover an 8 foot spread.Spring-14 016
This picture shows pots of ‘Motherlode’ having taken on a lovely fall color of pumpkin orange that I was very pleased with.Winter '13-'14 131

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Hand Tool Deals

The grey and brown leaf matter that has been covering the surface of our gardens is finally beginning to lose in the battle of winter vs. spring and being pushed up and away by the bright green shoots of bulbs and early perennials.

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It is time to dig out the tools and get them dusted off and oiled up. Unfortunately tools have a way of disappearing kind of like socks. Where do all the Felcos go?! I have been busy ordering replacements for myself and also for the tool collection we keep on hand for the volunteers at Mission Oaks– our wonderful public botanical gardens in Zanesville OH.

I did a fairly extensive review in a post of all my favorite tools last spring called “Hand Tool Line-Up” which can be reviewed by clicking here.

Garden Tools (2)

I have happily used these same tools for years and I have no new additions this year. The only things that have changed are some of the prices. It can be overwhelming trying to sift through all of the various sites offering gardening tools and finding the best deals. I have spent a fair amount of time looking over the sites since it is a part of my job at Mission Oaks to find the best possible prices for quality tools.

In general, after searching A.M.Leonard, Gemplars, Pruners Warehouse and many others, I have found the best prices for most of my favorites offered by the various vendors selling on If you are going to be buying a number of tools Amazon is a good choice because of the wide selection of tools offered and if you spend a certain amount, usually $75-$100, you will get free shipping. In case you are not a regular shopper on Amazon when you are viewing a particular product for sale at their site they offer it directly but they also allow other vendors to list the items for sale often at lower prices. The other vendors have been rated by consumers so you can tell who has had reliable sales interactions.

Amazon allows me to provide links directly to their products from my site so I have put some of my favorites available for purchase in my “Gardening Supplies I Use” page which can be found at the top of each page or by clicking here and in the Garden Verve Store located in the side bar.

I did go directly to the Felco website and they offer free shipping on all orders over $10 ! If you just need a new pair of pruners that is probably the best bet for a pair that can last a lifetime. The Felco #5 is the best deal at $34.34. My favorite is the #2 at $52.88 (they are only $47.83 at Amazon but again, you must spend more to get the free shipping). All of the parts are replaceable so they are a great investment. Go ahead and order one replacement blade and one extra spring to have on hand and you will be all set for a very long time.

Posted in Gardening Supplies, Tools, Uncategorized, What I Am Doing In The Garden This Week | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment