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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Cool Wave Pansies for Cool Weather Color

April 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

My FedEx delivery person is a friendly woman, so chitchat usually ensues during the scrawling of my signature whenever she drops off a package. Last December when making a delivery, she commented on the beautiful pansies in my porch container. Mind you, it was pansies…in December. Not much blooms in December in New England, yet there these pansies were, looking as fresh as daisies in June. “What did you do to them to make them last so long?” she asked.

Cool Wave Blue

Cool Wave Blue

I did absolutely nothing to them. These were the new Cool Wave Pansies (obtained as free plant samples from the breeding company), and they can definitely stand the “cool” temperatures. At that time, the temperatures had definitely dipped down into the low 20s for several days and these plants were still looking great.

So, that’s the “Cool” part of the name. The “Wave” part of the name is inspired by the “wave” of vigorously blooming flowers on the plant, similar to what inspired the name of the Wave Petunia (from the same company). These Cool Wave pansies not only take cool temps, they spread themselves along the ground or trail from hanging baskets, creating a wave of color in the process.

My Cool Wave pansies finally succumbed to the cold weather—mostly. They hunkered down under at least a foot of snow on several occasions and, quite honestly, became an unsightly mess. However, in the beginning of March when the snow was finally gone, I noticed that some new growth emerging from the base of each plant and one lone flower that was about to bloom. It was a sad bloom that early on in the season, and it was eventually nipped by (yet another) snow storm. But during this first week of April each plant has about a half inch of new growth sprouting from its base. Resurrection time, indeed.

As luck would have it, I received another delivery of pansies to try out during early spring weather. Those are planted up right beside last season’s pansies. Both are still finding their feet as they settle into spring. In less than a month they should all look fabulous and really fill out the container.

Here are some further details:
Water: They like moist but not wet soil
Fertilizer: Every two weeks with an all-purpose liquid fertilizer
Spacing: Plant 12 inches apart, or for a lush-looking container, plant 3 plants in a 10- to 12-in. diameter container, basket or planter.
Height: They become 6-8 inches tall
Width: They trail to 2 feet in length or more!
Exposure: Full sun, at least 6 hours

Plants as Decor

March 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

There is something about plants that freak out people. I think because a plant is a living thing, people are worried about not caring for it. The plant’s death, they think, will haunt them like a ghost.

You know, it’s okay. Plants die. And you know something else? Plants live despite your worry. So go ahead and try to grow some plants, would you?

Try this: Think of plants as living decor. That’s exactly how I am treating my newest set of houseplants. And thanks to a nifty ceramic container sold by Chive.com, I can suspend my succulent garden on the wall, literally creating living art.

chive container

 

Some things to note:

  • Succulents don’t need a lot of water. There are no drainage holes in this suspended container, so having plants that don’t need lots of water is a good thing. I won’t need to water this much at all.
  • Because the container is horizontal, it was important to add some vertical elements to this “art.” One succulent has a long flowering stem and several others cascade over the container’s side.
  • Succulents are fairly small and so are appropriate for such a small container.
  • If the plants die, that’s ok. I can put other small plants in it. Or I could put non-plant things in the container, too. It’s decor, fashion, even. And I can change it up whenever I want.

Head on over to the Chive.com site and find a few plant and flower containers that fit your style. Then have some fun choosing otherworldly-looking succulents to pot up at your local farm market or garden center. It’s artwork as unique as any Rothko.

 

Hellebores for an Early Spring Garden

March 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

I made a spontaneous weekend trip to the Philadelphia Flower Show last weekend. What you usually see at early spring flower shows are flowers and shrubs and even trees that have been heated and pampered to produce blooms long before they’d do so with Mother Nature’s guidance alone. That’s what people come for—to be inspired by what the warmer weather promises.

Flower Show visitors don’t have to wait for long to see a few of the plants that were in full bloom indoors. The hellebore (Helleborus) is a good example of that.

Hellebores bloom in late winter and early spring—some varieties as early as January. There’s been a resurgence in interest in this perennial plant over the last decade or so, and plant breeders have introduced all sorts of cool flower colors and foliage colors. The hellebore’s leaves, by the way, are evergreen – they won’t die back in winter, which is another cool thing about this plant.

Helleborus 'HGC Mahogany Snow' planted en masse at the Philadelphia Flower Show

Helleborus ‘HGC Mahogany Snow’ planted en masse at the Philadelphia Flower Show

Take Helleborus ‘HGC Mahongany Snow’, for instance. This variety can begin blooming as early as January in some areas. And the blooms are beautiful—dusty rose buds open into creamy white flowers. The leaves are chocolatey in color and the flower stems reddish. The whole package—leaves, stems and blooms—gives the garden some low-key color at a low-key time of the year. And they’re astounding planted en masse like this.

There’s been a push in recent years to sell hellebores as potted plants in the late fall through winter. Give them as Thanksgiving and Christmas gifts, that sort of thing. Think of them as temporary blooming houseplants biding their time until you can plant them outdoors in spring. It’s a good idea. In fact, I have had a potted hellebore ‘Jacob’ in my office window since late December. It’s looking a little weak right now, but that’s ok—it’ll be heading outside in a few short weeks.

Why you might enjoy hellebores:

  • Blooms way early in the year, just when your garden needs it!
  • Come in some great colors—both flower and leaf color
  • Perennials, so you’ll have them year after year, and they’ll get bigger each year
  • Evergreen foliage for year-round color
  • A good choice for your partial shade garden, under bushes, and so forth
  • Deer resistant—bonus!
  • Nice as winter houseplants—another bonus!

 

Have you tried hellebores? How have they held up in your garden? Leave a comment and let me know.

Poinsettias: Perks of the Job

December 6, 2012 § 3 Comments

With the nature of what I do for a living, I get free stuff. I write about plants and gardening, and companies send me free plants and gardening equipment. It’s nice. Really nice. And if any of those folks are reading this, I could really use a new pair of Felco hand pruners.

The “free stuff” slacks off in the off-season. Except each December I receive a nice gift from the folks at Ecke Ranch. Paul Ecke Sr. and Jr. “invented” the poinsettia as a holiday plant by giving away hundreds of plants for the sets of talk shows back in the 50s or 60s. And, well, now poinsettias are everywhere.

Being “everywhere” can backfire. Being everywhere can give any product the image of it being commonplace and worthless. And what’s happened is that you can now find poinsettias in your local Walmart or other big box store for 99 cents. And they are in pretty bad shape, too.

This gift I received from Ecke Ranch contained 8 samples of the antithesis of the throw-away poinsettia. They’re well-grown and beautiful—even shipped clear across the country via two-day FedEx. There’s something comforting in this plant that represents such such a hallowed season. The big, bushy, well-grown poinsettia really is not to be missed—and it’s well-worth the money, too.

poinsettias

And don’t they look so holiday-cheery grouped together?

holiday cheer

holiday cheer

As you can see, not all poinsettias are red. This one is called Sparkling Punch. Pinks and off-whites—why not?

Poinsettia Sparkling PunchP

Poinsettia Sparkling Punch

And this one looks like it’s covered in tiny glittery dots. Kinda like Pointillism. Get it? Pointillism? Poinsettias? And it’s aptly named Monet. (This one plant has kinda slacky leaves—they aren’t all like this.)

This variety is called Monet.

This variety is called Monet.

I do like the large, bushy poinsettias, but something I like even more are the tiny tiny ones that are about 4 in. tall. Very cute, and you can set them around the house wherever you want. If you see one, grab one—or a half dozen—you’re gonna find them adorably fun to decorate with.

Oh, and about that “Watch out! They are poisonous to cats!” thing. It’s a myth. Well, it’s not a myth. They are poisonous. BUT, your cat or puppy or baby or you would have to eat several whole plants before anyone starts getting ill. And how likely is that going to happen? So, don’t fret about it.

boos and poinsettia

Update on Dainty: Where’d June Go?

June 26, 2012 § 2 Comments

Hey, hi. Remember me?

Nope, haven’t forgotten about Dainty Dot. Truly have not. It’s been a bit of a busy month. And I’ve had other things on my mind. Dainty took a backseat for a bit.

A backseat to what, you ask? I’ll review in photos …

Boo kitten

Boo – she’s growing too fast. My iPhone can barely hold all the photos I take of her.

peony

June has so many Instagram opportunities. I can’t keep up. Pretty, huh?

I’ve been perfecting my pizza-making skills. And man, do I have mad skills with the dough.

Provincetown vacationProvincetown. Vacation. Roof deck. Water views. That really about says it.

Cucumber Cape CodderThanks, Martha Stewart, for the most-appropriate Ptown vacation drink—the Cucumber Cape Codder. I’ll post that recipe soon. Really, so good.

yoga matI’m slightly obsessed with yoga. Just slightly, but in a good way. Maybe I’ll talk to you about it someday. But for now, know that this mat has become a good friend of mine. And it’s fashionably orange.

potato flowerSo, I’m a potato farmer’s daughter. And an avid gardener. And for the first time this spring, it dawned on me: Why not grow some potatoes? And it shall be so. Technically once the flowers bloom, there should be potatoes under the ground. But I want them bigger than peas, so I’ll await awhile.

Powahouse Unit X viewOh, yeah, and by the way … we’re buying a brand-spankin’-new unit in a brand-spankin’-new building. New as in, this was a vacant lot last July. And it’s highly energy efficient and will have solar panels and is built like a German tank – and that’s with good reason. Obviously, more on this later.

JenniferAnd have I mentioned lately that I love this person? I do, and I’ll do it all again in a split second. (Ain’t she a cutie, too?)

homemade pizzaMore pizza. I might be slightly obsessed with pizza, too. Always in a good way.

But just because I haven’t been writing here doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I’ve been taking a spin at fiction. More of a poetry-short fiction hybrid type of writing. And the cool thing is it’s fiction inspired by photos. The images are all iPhone Instagram pics taken by a friend who has a knack for knowing there’s a story behind a scene. Take this one, for instance. Who left the phone? Why? Who was on the other end? I took a stab at it—and a bunch of other photos, too—and am publishing them at The Skinny Fedora. The one above is “Hope Asked.”

So, give The Skinny Fedora a quick read and let me and the other skinny girl know what you think. Leave comments here or at www.theskinnyfedora.com.

De Kas Restaurant: A Hot Table in Amsterdam

May 24, 2011 § 3 Comments

More than a week after lunching at De Kas Restaurant in Amsterdam, I’m still dreaming of the meal. It’s one of the hottest tables in Amsterdam, and no wonder, given its fresh, bright flavors, dedication to locally grown foods and airy environment. And I mean airy environment: The restaurant is under glass in a state-of-the-art greenhouse.

Restaurant De Kas

De Kas is certainly in unique surroundings. The history of the property goes something like this: Back in the 1920s, the parcel of land was home to Amsterdam’s municipal nurseries. All of the plants and flowers used for Amsterdam’s municipal plantings were grown on these grounds and in greenhouses. Over the decades, the nurseries were shut down and the buildings and greenhouses became dilapidated—such a shame! About 10 years ago the greenhouses were scheduled for demolition, but a Michelin-rated chef, Gert Jan Hageman, came up with the idea of converting one of the greenhouses into a restaurant and growing area. The dining room was designed by renowned designer Piet Boon and is lovely. The kitchen is open, and there’s even a chef’s table, where guests can enjoy their meal just steps from the hot grill (honestly, not something on the top of my list to do). And the bar area, while open and visible, is tucked away and is just shady enough for any self-respecting bar fly.

The Piet Boon-designed dining room, with the just-shady-enough bar in the background.

As I mentioned, they believe in fresh, local food. And it can’t get more local than the greenhouse adjacent to the kitchen and the gardens that surround the restaurant. The team also has a farm that produced a great deal of their produce. What they don’t grow and raise themselves is sourced from nearby farms and the North Sea.

The veggie gardens outside De Kas.

The growing area inside De Kas's greenhouse, adjacent to the kitchen.

Enough about that, let’s move on to the food. The three-course menu is fixed; i.e. you are served what they are preparing that day (they do ask if the chef should take into account for any dietary restrictions). And they do offer a wine pairing, which I eagerly agreed to. Can’t recall the first wine, but the second was an unoaked chardonnay from Spain. Tasty!

The meal was fabulous, that’s a given. And beautiful – not something every restaurant gets right. Instead of attempting to describe the meal, I’ll just leave you to enjoy the photos.

First of two first-course salads: Roasted beets and steamed rhubarb over baby beet (?) greens with a pea puree and nasturium flowers.

Second of two first-course salads: White asparagus, turnip and a boiled quail's egg over young lettuce greens with a sauce of some kind (sorry, whatever it was, it was delicious) and sweetpea blossoms.

Second course: Lobster with a bechamel sauce topped with a light frisee salad.

Third course: Pollack over roasted eggplant and cauliflower with a North Sea-shrimp and caper brown butter sauce. (Oh man, was this good.)

First dessert: Pistachio meringue with salt-touched white chocolate ice cream and pansy petals.

Second dessert: Platter of three cheeses with fruit and nut brown bread and a dot of apple-pear stroop (syrup) to the right and a candied cherry (?). Translation of cheese on right is "cheese that sticks to your knife."

While  the municipal nurseries are long gone, the remainder of the property has retained its “municipalness”—it’s now a public park enjoyed by people and wildlife alike.

Children's play area below, and a stork nest with baby on top of the smoke stack.

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