Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Coleus Revisited -- Should I Plant Coleus Instead of Impatiens?

Impatiens blight 2013, impatiens disease, a/k/a impatiens fungus has tipped up gardeners in spadesful. There've been several alternative annuals proposed, but coleus, in particular, deserves a second look. 

My husband is drawn to the rustic shades of coleus.  A single flat would typically end up framing the barbeque, far away from the perennial border beds.  He'd plant the whole garden in bronzy coleus if he could--and he may get his wish.

In early Spring 2013, coleus seemed a less viable option to replace impatiens.  When first established, the sprigs appeared gawky and awkward. 

Yet, the gangly adolescent
phase didn't last long.

Passing the same bed, a fortnight later, it was shocking how well the skinny transplants had performed. Granted these blooming beauties are not fully in shade and benefit from commercial irrigation, but they're full, colorful and mounding, like -- uh, impatiens!

Ornamental Coleus is faster growing than most annuals. 

Coleus' jewel tones emanate from a different part of the color spectrum, but the effect is equally powerful.  The flowers are not ornamental and best clipped back.  It's all about the leaves, which come in all shapes and sizes, from delicate lacy to hefty and scalloped

#Coleus King Kong is a fast growing large leafed variety with stunning leaves of deep burgundy, heavily ringed with chartreuse.  For standout color and impact, it's an easy and sure bet. Still, it's best
when bordering a more monotone backdrop. 

#Rustic Orange Coleus is softer, and the marmalade color, and medium sized leaves gently frames a busier backdrop.

#Wizard Sunset Coleus offers a more rustic tone of golden bronze. 

#Wizard Jade Coleus has the dual impact of white outlined by chartreus green notched leaves.

Regular clipping and shaping is needed or these prolific beauties will get somewhat unruly.  The de-flowered stems will sprout roots and can be planted in a few weeks particularly in containers. They're quite tender and will disappear once the temperature nears forty-five degrees
Fahrenheit.  Carried indoors, the plants will prosper in a sunny locale.

Lots of show for very little dough. 

Coleus is king!

Related articles:

What to Plant Instead of Imapatiens?

Impatiens Blight Disease -- Trouble in the Landscape

When to Plant Annuals in Michigan -- Go Blue

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Gardens of Downton Abbey -- How To Create an English Garden of Your Own

The Countess of Grantham's roses are the envy of the village.  Lady Mary and Mathew Crawley fell in love strolling in the garden.   Mr. Carson served tea on white linen under the trees.  The stately formal gardens of Downton Abbey play a starring role in the British drama that's captured global attention.

The obsession with Downton Abbey doesn't end at the drawing room. Those breathtaking gardens harken back to a time when elegance extended to the courtyard.  After all, the Dowager Countess' birth name is Violet isn't it?  Just don't expect her to toss on a pair of gardening gloves. 

After Lady Edith is jilted at the altar, the young woman has this exchange with her grandmother (best read with an accent)--

Violet:  There must be something you can put your mind to?

Edith:  Like what?   Gardening?

Violet:  Well no, you can't be as desperate as that?
How to duplicate a bit of the elegant English estate gardens in your own yard?  It's not as difficult as one might expect.  The Downton gardens are maintained by a team of groundskeepers.  Without a workforce in residence, here's a few tips to achieve the look and feel of those sophisticated courtyards:

1.   Simple, clean entryways:  Perhaps it's so nothing detracts from the servants lined up outside the
front entrance each time a nobleman comes to tea.  Notably the front of the grand home does not contain the traditional foundation plantings found across the pond. Instead the pebbled drive ends at the front steps.

2.  Crushed natural stone pathways:   Meandering trails are a must. Crushed gravel is less expensive than pavers and far more eco-friendly.  Drainage is superior as the rocks do not become spongy like wood chips, yet allows less run off than bricks or pavers.  Curved trails and pathways are a staple in the estate garden.  As practical as they are lovely, pathways allow easy access to deeper parts of the yard.

3.  Roses:  Lady Grantham's roses win the prize nearly every year.  Except the year she gratiously
deferred to Mr. Mosely, Sr. of course.  English estate roses are grown in isolation.  A rose bed contains no other intruders.  Roses are planted a respectable distance apart in full sun and atop a mound of well drained soil.  Despite the thorns, the beauty of a rose is unmatched. 

4.  Boxwood hedges:  Carefully clipped as there's no room for an unkept shrub in a formal garden.  Sharpen those clippers.  It's important to know how to property trim a hedge to avoid the look of a bad haircut. 

5.  Natural Edging-- No rubber borders.  Sharply cut botanical edges are a bit of work, but inexpensive and terribly crisp. 

6.  Statuary/benches:  Every proper British gardener requires an occasional cuppa tea.  Where better than the garden after a rigorous afternoon of planting?  A focal point is absolutely necessary., whether a birdbath, metal sculpture or stone statue.

The rolling hills and quirky Downton humor make my English husband long for home.  Perhaps our little garden plot will help. 


More Articles of Interest:

How to Trim Shrubs -- No More Bad Haircuts

Green Fences -- Boxwood Hedges to Hydrangea Hedgerows

White Flowers -- White Garden -- Purely Neutral

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Pitching In on Mother's Day ~~ How to Create Natural Edging

Once the ground dries up a bit, it's crunch time in the garden.  Spring garden preparation. A lotta work early in the season pays off with interest later in the year.  Cooler bugless weather and bright spring sunshine makes for optimal outdoor work conditions.  Every Mother's Day the family "pitches" in to get the garden in shape for the season.

Months of rain and heavy snows cause the top layer of soil to compact in the garden, making it difficult for moisture and organic matter to reach the roots of growing vegetation.  Gotta loosen it up so these lovelies have room to expand and grow. 

The best tool for the job is the pitchfork, but a pointed shovel will do.  Throughout the garden, and around the base of plants insert the pitchfork at an angle and "pop" the soil up a few inches, leaving cracks in the surface.  These openings are gateways for rainwater and decaying matter to find their way to the root of plants.  Otherwise moisture will run off the surface.  Increasing the absorption of fluids and compost improves soil and ultimately the health of a plant. 

It's also great exercise for the calf muscles, just be sure to switch legs once in awhile!

Once the garden is fully "popped,"  the next step is to edge.  It's far simpler to edge the yard early while the ground is soft rather than chipping away at hard dry soil in mid summer.  A crisp yet graceful edge frames the garden and draws the eye along each bed. 

Botanical edges are used primarily in England.  Rarely do the British use rubber edging.  Botanical "cuts" are cheaper, cleaner and faster.  Their only disadvantage is they need to be recut or sharpened each year. 

Use a  (dry) garden hose to define a new cut pattern.  Fidget around with it until the look is right.  Stand back and view from all angles, but concentrate most on the angle from which you will view that particular plot most often.

One plot behind my garage is outlined in a progressive wavy pattern that draws the eye to the rear of the yard.  I most often look at this garden upon pulling in the car or stepping out the back door.  I often pause to take in the gentle, progressive turns backlit by the setting sun.  Those pauses can be like taking a deep mental breath.

Good Karma. 

Using a sharp flat shovel and a wheel barrow, cut at a sharp angle downward right at the grassy edge and lift out a pie shape of soil, dumping it into the barrow.  Tossing it into the bed will only cause grass to proliferate. The angled trench must be at least eight inches deep and six inches wide to prevent grass from sending its invasive little roots into that healthy soil.  Think moat around a castle.

When the job is done, the bed looks fresh and ready to rock.

Happy Mother's Day!
More Articles of Interest:

Father's Day -- The Mighty Acorn

Frogs on the Windowsill

Graduation ~ Magnolia Blooms