Adding Landscape Edging

May 14, 2013 § 1 Comment

Jennifer and I moved into a newly constructed building last September. To be more accurate, it was still under construction when we moved in, with fine work still being done inside. At the time, the outside perimeter – the barely 3-ft. wide space between the sidewalk and the building – was still a rubble pile. Talk about unsightly. And being a gardener, I was itching to get at designing and installing a landscape that would match the mod look of this unique house.

After the soil and steel landscape edging went in last September.

The contractors eventually added some soil to that space. Correct that—it was fill and not anything near good garden soil. They also added in a strip of black steel landscape edging between the sidewalk and the soil. Thing is, though, the edging was flush with the sidewalk. Any sort of mulch that I would add to the garden space would wash onto the sidewalk. And with the $15 per bag mulch that I prefer, I didn’t want any of that washing away.

After the soil was added and a few plants were just hanging out.

After the soil was added and a few plants were just hanging out.

Since the building is based on German Passivhaus technology, I wanted the landscaping to reflect some German landscape aesthetic. In other words, ornamental perennial grasses (the Germans love ornamental grasses). Ornamental grasses are awesome because they are low water use plants, add visually to a landscape even in the winter with their stiff (i.e. dead) stalks, look kinda cool as their feathery flowers blow in the wind, grow into nice-sized clumps, and come in a range of colors, textures and heights to choose from.The plantings around the new Shapiro Building at Boston Medical Center served as my inspiration.

Landscaping around the Shapiro Building at Boston Medical Center served as inspiration.

Landscaping around the Shapiro Building at Boston Medical Center served as inspiration.

The grasses would act as the foundation of the landscape and I would add some color with bulbs, annuals or perhaps choose some smaller perennials later on. So, last fall I planted a dozen or so Pennisetum ‘Karly Rose’ grasses (those will become about 3 ft. high), added in several ‘Blue Pacific’ creeping junipers, and dug in 100 ‘Daydream’ tulips. And then we suffered through a very long and snowy winter.

In late March I trimmed back the dried stems of the grasses and eagerly awaited the tulips. And I admit, it was very, very exciting when they finally popped.

'Daydream' tulips in the new landscape.

‘Daydream’ tulips in the new landscape.

Something was missing—other than the grasses, which I knew would emerge slowly over the course of April and May. What was missing was my favorite mulch—buckwheat hull mulch. Its dark color would really make those tulips so stunning.  But in order to lay down the mulch, I needed something to hold the mulch inside the garden area without it washing away when it rained. After a little research, I decided on simple aluminum edging. I dug a shallow trench just behind the existing steel edging, inserted the aluminum edging about 1.5 inches down into the soil, secured it with some stakes every few feet, and backfilled with soil.

Landscape after the mulch and edging have been added.

Landscape after the mulch and edging have been added.

Makes quite a difference, huh? Turns out the aluminum accents portions of the building’s edges, so that’s a bonus. And the edging and mulch will go well with the grasses once they emerge (you can just barely see one right there square in the front).

The best thing, though, is what the addition of the edging, the mulch, the plants—of the entire garden  we are installing—is communicating to the neighbors. It says “We care about where we live and we really like it here.” In other words, curb your dog, put that wrapper in a trash can, throw that cigarette butt elsewhere, and it’ll continue to look nice for the whole neighborhood. While working on this over the course of several days many neighbors came up to me to comment on how nice it looks. “This was an overgrown trashy lot two years ago,” one young guy said to me. For a young man to even notice it enough to come up to a stranger and comment—well, I take it he was impressed with how that once empty lot has changed.

Because this garden space is so public, it’s not just for Jennifer and I to enjoy. It’s something the whole neighborhood can share in. That’s really what gardens are for. I’ll post more photos as the grasses grow and after I plant some annuals. Meanwhile I have a balcony herb garden in the works.

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Paperwhites: Fresh Color For the New Year

January 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

“I don’t do well with houseplants.”

Really? Is that really your excuse for not adding some living color – literally, living color – to your home? Come on, having houseplants isn’t like doing brain surgery. And, if you do mess up with a houseplant, you can always get another one. Another brain? Not so sure about that.

But specifically, let’s talk paperwhites, aka Narcissus tazetta (I had to google that, don’t be too impressed). Houseplants? Not really. They’re actually bulbs, and the bright, papery-white mini daffodil-shaped flowers will eventually die, the green leaves will fade. Rather than label them houseplants, let’s call them temporary residents, instead.

You see paperwhite bulbs for sale beginning any time after Thanksgiving and into January or so. Why? It’s just the right time of year to force these bulbs into bloom. Forced early in December, the bright white flowers go well with the Christmas holiday decor. Set against the red of a poinsettia, and the white makes the red look even more Christmassy. They make a good pair.

Paperwhites really do make the color of poinsettias pop.

Wait – I think I have to define a word here, “force,” just in case you don’t catch my meaning. You’re not actually using force (or anger or intimidation) to make these bulbs pop their buds. To “force” means to … encourage, yeah, that’s it … you’re encouraging these bulbs to produce leaves and flowers for you at a time when Mother Nature would dictate they sleep for the winter instead.

Okay, back to business.

Begin forcing paperwhites in mid December, and they’ll bring you a whole different experience. At least for me. As you’re dismantling your tree, taking down the decorations and removing all hints of the Christmas holiday round about New Year’s Day, the paperwhites are pushing out their petals. The house is not suddenly stale and cold. There’s life in full flower on the windowsill.

Plant up some paperwhites every weekend from mid December through mid January or whenever your bulb supply runs out, and the narcissus blooms should take you right up until Valentine’s Day, when a color of another sort may appear if you’re lucky.

Paperwhite How-Tos

You don’t have to plant your paperwhites as I do. This technique – potting up the bulbs in water – works for me. And is a lot easier to clean up than potting the bulbs in potting soil.

For one container of paperwhites:

  • three paperwhite bulbs – I found mine at Mahoney’s Garden Center in Brighton.
  • glass vase big enough to fit said bulbs
  • polished stones, glass or similar from a craft store

-I use any sort of clear-glass vessel I can find that has a) an opening big enough for me to squeeze my hand through and b) is at least 6 inches deep. An 11-in. tall vase – the standard kind you get with a nice bouquet delivery – is ideal and I’ll tell you why later. An 8-in. vase is a tad too short. Explanation to come below.

-Place stones/glass/whatever in the bottom of the vessel to create a layer at least 2 or 3 inches deep.

-Place each paperwhite bulb on top of the stones, nudging them in just a bit. Don’t bury the bulbs, just make sure they are securely on the stones. Bulbs can touch, don’t worry. Oh, and place the bulbs GREEN SIDE UP! Your bulbs should have a visible root side and emerging green stemmy-looking side. If you put the green side down, god help you son.

-Place on a windowsill or somewhere they can get some light – they are plants, after all.

-Add water to the vase to just about the bottom of the bulb. The bulbs can sit in a bit of water, but don’t flood them.

-Next, watch them grow.

 

Even the paperwhite roots are cool to see. Looks like I need to add some water to the vase!

Got a cat or dog? Adding water to their water bowl? Well, check if your pet paperwhites need water, too. It may take a week or so to see some activity. You’ll see it first in the water – brownish white roots will emerge from the bulb. That’s a good sign. Once that happens, the top will start elongating and long leaves will grow by leaps and bounds each day. And eventually a stalk will pop out of the bulb with a thin membrane-encased bunch of baby flowers. Ah, birth!

So, the explanation for why I prefer an 11-in. vase. Simple. These leaves and flowering stalks get pretty tall. The shorter the vase, the more easily the tall stuff slumps over. My paperwhites in the taller vase don’t even think of slumping. Looks much neater. However, if you like the paperwhites-gone-wild look, go for it.

A tall vase helps keep the stems and leaves stand straight.

What Can Go Wrong?

Good question.

-One BIG bummer I experienced last year was a batch of bad bulbs. Not sure what happened to them, but they didn’t emerge more than an inch or two, and they never did flower.

-You can add too much water and your bulbs will get icky. Icky as in moldy and soft.

-You can have too many bulbs in too shallow a container. And your top-heavy flowers will tip over. Is it apparent I’m speaking from experience?

-Not that this is too horrible of a problem but … check out this photo. The emerging leaves and stems couldn’t quite make it up and around the curve of the vase. They had nowhere to go but where they were. So, I ended up with flowers inside the vase. Actually, it looks pretty interesting to me.

These paperwhite flowers couldn't quite make it out of the vase.

Oh, one thing you may want to be aware of: Paperwhites have that same effect on people as cilantro – you know, where people either like the taste of cilantro or think it tastes like soap. The paperwhite fragrance is kinda/sorta the same way, except it’s not soap it will smell like. But don’t let this dissuade your trying paperwhites. It was my duty to tell you.

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