Tag Archive | "garden"

The Big Lie

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hydrangeas

by Paige Patterson

For all of us who work in the garden trade, the 4th of July is the day we all take a deep breath and collapse. Most of our clients have everything installed and are now focused on things like discovering the most affordable lobster salad and improving their various swings – tennis, golf, or hammock. Not for them another trip to the local garden center, they’re done. Luckily, for the rest of us, it’s the time when some of the best plants are just starting to show up, as are some great deals.

My garden has suffered some significant losses. Bee balm decimated by deer. Agastache weeded out by an over zealous helper. Roses that didn’t survive the winter. Wherever I look I see a space that could be filled in, or improved or addressed. Now I don’t transplant at this time of year, but I certainly start putting a lot of plants into the ground.

Clients are always surprised when I tell them I’m doing massive planting at home, they tell me I’m not supposed to be planting things in the heat of the summer – that it’s too hot to plant. They tell me fall is a better time to plant than July. I just laugh. It’s not too hot for the plants I explain; maybe it’s just too hot for the people doing the planting. Every plant out there would prefer to be put in the ground right now as opposed to staying above, the soil will hold more water than the pots they’re presently living in and it’s cooler too. Plus, I have an irrigation system, so they’re all going to get plenty of water. Piffle on this no planting in the summer silliness.

July is also when it pays to be a little knowledgeable about plants since select spring bloomers go on sale now. Roses are on sale lots of places, and if you know how to pick a healthy plant, you can get great deals on David Austins that are going to keep blooming all the way until the first hard frost. There’s a bunch of Claire Austin roses at Marders that no one else has. His first white climber (actually a clotted cream color that’s to die for) and they’re large plants. I’m going to claim at least three. Another garden friend came home with a bunch of mildewed phlox. Sure it’s not great looking now, but everyone’s phlox looks disgusting after all the rain and the no-sun spring we had this year. Next year they’re going to have an amazing flower show for just a fraction of the price.

This is also a great time to get a magnolia or other past bloom trees for less. Plus there’s a whole bunch of stuff that the nurseries are just getting in. Unusual echinaceas, a slew of agastaches (I think Pink Haze is awfully pretty) and the crape myrtles haven’t even started to bloom yet.

Plus, thanks to our wonky spring, the hydrangeas are really just starting. As you might have gathered if you’ve been following along over the weeks, I have a hydrangea problem. I’m an addict. And I’ve never been able to pass up a new hydrangea. The newest ones to follow me home this year are from the Forever and Ever series. Like Endless Summer, they bloom on both old and new wood, so the bloom season is totally extended, plus if someone inadvertently prunes them (something you really shouldn’t do) they’re still going to bloom the following year. I got one bred in Japan called Together that is compact with double florets that’s amazing. And another Dutch one that has the most incredibly large mops (12” wide – unusual in a reblooming hydrangea) called Blue Heaven that is totally on the money with its name.

There’s also a new paniculata cultivar (those are the ones that have big fluffy white flowers that look like soft ice cream cones) called Vanilla Strawberry that White Flower Farm is totally sold out of but which just arrived at some of our local nurseries. Not for the all white garden, these flowers turn from white to pink and then to deep raspberry very quickly so the whole bush really looks like bowl of strawberries and vanilla ice cream at all times. Yum.

I actually think the whole myth of it being bad to plant in the summer was started as an evil plot by people in the trade to make sure we got a break and could get all the really good stuff for ourselves.

So go ahead and wait for the fall if you want to, but by then, I’ll have already gone and found the best stuff and thrown it in the trunk of my car. Sorry!

Paige Patterson will confess seeing someone’s roses grown with a whole bunch of chemicals made her a little envious – those roses were off the hook.

Making Something From Nothing

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compost

Recycling Scraps For Schools Garden’s Compost
By Claire Walla

When she came to Sag Harbor Elementary School 12 years ago, science teacher Kryn Olson saw quickly where her efforts were needed.

“Paper is our number one garbage here,” she said. At the time, the school didn’t make efforts to separate waste products.

So, on her own volition, she and a slew of student volunteers collected the school’s paper scraps each week and lugged each 80-pound load into her car and Olson herself would transport the materials to the local recycling center. She did this for about five years, she said, until all the physical labor took its toll.

Recycling efforts took a dip at the school for a few years, though Olson has recently revitalized efforts to recycle and keep the campus green—and then some.

Beginning in January, she will instill a composting program at the elementary school. Instead of disposing students’ food scraps along with other waste materials, this compost effort will churn all edible waste into nutrients the school will be able to use in its gardens.

Sag Harbor Elementary School has picked up a lot of momentum in recent months in the wake of its Eco-Walk project and, most recently, since environmental sustainability advocate Jonny Dubowsky visited to educate students on healthy habits. As part of his presentation, he introduced a composting method that creates a fertilizer called bokashi. Using no more than a couple of plastic buckets and natural grainy mixture, students can essentially pickle their food scraps, ultimately eliminating excess waste.

“It’s new and exciting!” Olson beamed. “After time, the natural organisms will develop and turn into something like apple cider,” she added, which is nutritious for plants and will be used to go on top of the nine new raised flower beds adjacent to the Eco-Walk. “It’s the best plant food you can find, and it’s not chemically produced,” she added.

The bokashi mixture is a combination of household products like wheat bran, sea salt, ceramic powder, hot water and molasses. These ingredients are mixed together to create a relatively dry substance with only 30 percent moisture. A layer of this bokashi is placed in a serrated spackle bucket, which sits inside a regular spackle bucket without the holes. Students can then place all food scraps—including meats, dairy and processed foods—on top of the mixture, and this layer of food is covered with more bokashi.
Because the mixture has to be kept in an anaerobic state (which essentially means it has to stay covered), the process produces very little odor, which is why Olson will be able to keep the compost inside her classroom.

Typical composting efforts are much more complicated and labor intensive. Using only biodegradable ingredients like fruits and veggies, in addition to yard waste and manure, most compost piles need proper aeration and temperature regulation in order to make plant-friendly and nutrient-rich soils. The school district’s supervisor of buildings and grounds, Montgomery Granger, said he has looked into introducing a composting program at Pierson Middle/High School, but with a cafeteria to contend with, the situation is different than it is at the elementary school.

“It takes a lot of TLC to create quality compost,” he added. “And we are currently understaffed.”

The industry standard for the ratio of custodians to square-foot of property is 1 to 20,000 square feet. Currently, the high school has 5.5 custodial workers for 140,000 square feet, which puts it 1.5 custodians below the recommended average, he said.

And because the school is short-staffed, Granger said there are currently no efforts to separate recyclables at the high school, although he is quick to point out that the school’s waste does get sorted when it’s taken to the town transfer station.

Though Pierson has no plans to implement a composting program any time soon, Granger said he has the budget to begin buying quality compost to feed the grasses and plants at the school.

As for Olson, her compost project will start small, with only one bokashi mixture based in Olson’s science classroom. Because the elementary school does not have a cafeteria, students eat their lunches in the classroom, which will make it easy for Olson to monitor bokashi activity. The project will operate on somewhat of a trial basis for the first month, then Olson will assess the project and—if all goes well—take efforts to expand the program school-wide.

Making a Little Mystery in the Garden

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web hydrangeas

By Paige Patterson

Where’s the secret in your garden?

In mine, the land rises so that until you walk to the middle of the yard where the garage lives, you don’t realize that the garden continues for at least another acre and a half. The front is more stuffed with plants, but invariably when you get to the back of the garage and you see how the second half of my land rolls down and away, the thing most people say is, “Wow.”

Isn’t that kind of what we’re all looking for when we create gardens? Not just a space filled with flowers or manicured with various shades of green, but the creation of an outside arena that each time we experience it, or share it with others, there’s that little moment of surprise, the thrill of the reveal. Sometimes the surprise is a simple as a hedge not actually being a border, but a way to delay the truth.

To increase the feeling of discovery at my house I transplanted a hodgepodge of hydrangeas from all around my property to create a mixed bed on one side of my garage. It gives the eye a place to rest and fools you into thinking the property might stop there. I didn’t want to create a wall; just wanted your eye to hit lacy white flowers and get distracted. It blocks some of the view out my back windows, but it also forces me to get out of my chair and to go visit the rest of my own garden and so get a little of that “Wow” myself.

Most of us, when we look out our back windows, see the entire back of our property all at once. And for most of us, it’s a rectangle of green surrounded by a hedge or screen of brown and green. Pretty basic, right? Which is not to say it’s not beautiful, most gardens are out here, but what you’re missing is the ability to create mystery that a garden with a secret can provide.

One of the basic tenets of landscape design is that you don’t want to see everything at once. To take in the whole space in one sweeping glance means there is no impetus to go explore, to see what’s around the corner, or through that gate or off to the left.  Now granted you can’t see the front yard from the back, but I’m challenging you to broaden your way of thinking about gardens and create intrigue in your yard by hiding a part of it.

Perhaps instead of one long rectangle of back yard you can create a series of rooms that connect and open out on each other, with openings that link one to another in a chain. Or maybe in the middle of the screening at the back of your property you could mount an outdoor mirror on a slight angle (a la Bob Dash) so that as you approached it you don’t see your own reflection but that of the garden creating the illusion of an entire undiscovered area of green that extends way beyond your actual boundaries.

Even the simple act of setting a sculpture, birdbath or garden ornament in such a way that you can only discover it by moving through your garden will add a frisson of excitement to your world. Hide it with a shrub or behind the trunk of a tree so that it can be discovered and you will have changed the entire tone of your yard.

There’s a garden in North Haven that is created as a series of paths that meander and weave under a stand of trees that came with the house. The couple could have simply fed their need for color by removing most of the trees, limbing up the rest and creating deep perennial borders on all three sides of the property. Instead they sacrificed some of their lawn and created a deeper walk through a woodland they built from scratch. The garden is still lush and beautiful in a 270 degree view from the back of their house, but to really see it you have to enter it and let it lead you through. Then you get the reward of discovering the scattered fountains, statuary, specimen plantings and visual pauses that are only accessible to those who are willing to explore.

I promise that you can add mystery and excitement to any of the areas around your house by just changing the way you look at it. I once worked with a couple from East Hampton who wanted to screen their back yard and plant out their deer fence. Based on their light requirements, the existing trees and their need for height in some areas, we started with a mixed tapestry of evergreens on the extremely close neighbors’ side. This turned the corner and morphed into a white pine grove that blocked another neighbor. The pines segued into bamboo that provided the height needed to block a garage and the airiness required to not cast a pool into deep shade. Bamboo transitioned into pines again and then became a mix of viburnums and other flowering shrubs that turned the corner and continued onto the third side of their property. On that side all they needed to hide was overgrown scrub and thicket that led into woods on preserved land. The screening worked great on paper and they were happy when all the plants were placed before planting, but I asked them to indulge me for a moment. Walking over to the corner of viburnums I grabbed a plant, threw a ball cart under it, and dragged it out of line. After the third plant was pulled out of place the couple started asking me why I was making their property smaller and cutting off a chunk of their land. I didn’t answer until I had the plants curved perfectly, then I walked over and stood quietly next to them until they stopped muttering.

“Watch,” I said, and walking back to the viburnums I grabbed one and tugged it out of the curve and back into the corner of their property. Moving that one plant opened a “door” and invited the woodland behind back into their landscape. Suddenly a path to the beyond appeared so now instead of being walled in, it appeared that if they just strolled through the viburnums they’d find a meandering walk that would lead to the large woods that rolled out behind their house for acres. One couldn’t actually get to those trees, the deer fence was only about five feet away, but the whole yard changed when I pulled that one plant back and opened their minds.

We planted it that way. It was too provocative not to, and through the art of selective pruning, it’s still working for them. Unfortunately, the sweep of hydrangeas I talked about earlier isn’t pulling your eye around the corner as well as it initially did. In the last seven or eight years it’s gotten too tall, the flowers too high, so soon it’s going to be time to move them. But it’s okay, gardening is like that – everything keeps growing, everything keeps changing, and who knows, the next time I move them I might even surprise myself.


Paige Patterson avoids weeding her own garden by visiting those belonging to others.