The Potting Shed, Hilt Street Garden, Brevard, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

A Pinterest Worthy Garden

Let’s start with hiding the trashcans. I’m sorry this picture is so Pinterest worthy.

My neighbors, who live one block from me, and were kind enough to invite me to see their garden, chose to hide their trashcans in this clever way. It just makes you smile, doesn’t it?

Pinterest Worthy Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

A clever way to disguise trash cans, with old logs and Purple Homestead verbena.

I have a list of top 10 questions from garden clients. Ranking #2 on the list is how to hide anything from trash cans to HVAC units, and the solution, to my client’s way of thinking, is never cheap. Elaborate fences, major plantings, stone walls, you name it. So, this inexpensive (even the pots aren’t pricey), and completely charming idea, artfully done by my neighbors Pat and Joe Webb, impressed me enough to pull out the IPAD and show clients, it can be easy.

Turns out my neighbors, who were antique dealers (Barclay-Scott Antiques) and furniture re-finishers (Ancient City Refinishing) in St. Augustine, Florida before moving to Brevard, already knew something most landscapers and new-to-gardening folks don’t. It doesn’t have to be new.

And, a garden doesn’t have to be matchy-match (a real design term). From the labyrinth in their front yard to the potting shed in the back yard, the Webb’s garden is so much dang fun.

Wait till you see the labyrinth container. Worthy of any fairy-garden Pinterest pin, for sure.

Pinterest Worthy Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

The Webb’s are cat people, so Aggie stays at home when I visit their garden.

Pinterest Worthy Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner, Pinterst worthy labyrinth fairy garden

A sedum-planted labyrinth container. Another Pinterest-worthy idea done by Pat’s sister. She works at New Leaf Garden Market in Pisgah Forest. Owner, Hope Janowitz, was the designer who installed the bones of the Webb garden early on.

Pinterest Worthy Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

At the very back of the garden is the potting shed. The Webbs call it their whim.

Pinterst Worthy Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooling, Cinthia Milner

Seedlings getting their start in the potting shed

Pat and Joe said the potting shed, which is constructed of local locust wood, tin roofing and windows from an eastern North Carolina farm, was a whim. They were looking for their next project. This was it, a functional (they use it to store garden tools and start seeds), and yes, looks-like-it-is-straight-out-of-the-Appalachian-mountains, shed. It is their newest, and yet another Pinterest-worthy part of their garden.

Pinterest Worthy Garden, antiques and herbs, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Antiques and herbs, reminiscent of St. Augustine, the Webb garden reflects what Pat calls the organic nature of life.

Pat has a teacher’s degree and Joe a finance, but that didn’t stop them from following other dreams, as well. Pat was in retail management, and Joe did Restoration Studies at Sotheby’s in New York. Pat describes each move in their lives as knowing when one chapter is finished. Walking through their garden is like reading those chapters. The old chapters are there and the new ones are forming.

Pinterest Worthy Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

A simple urn with volunteer violas.

Pinterest Worthy Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

The perfect spot for an herb garden, a breezeway from the kitchen to the garden. The Webbs widened the banisters to accommodate pots of herbs.

Pinterest Worthy Garden, Herb garden ideas, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Willie Nelson, the cat, likes the wider banisters for sunning.

Pinterest Worthy Garden, Broken pot in garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Even a broken pot has a use in the garden, just add rock so the soil doesn’t slide out.

Pinterest Worthy Garden, Raised bed veggie gardens, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Raised bed vegetable gardens behind the garage and near the potting shed.

Pinterest Worthy Garden, Moss Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner,

The moss garden. A reminder of the mountains surrounding their garden.

Pinterest Worthy Garden, Bowl of pansies on old log, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

A bowl of pansies on an old log makes for a perfect vignette.

Pinterest Worthy Garden, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Anything can be a plant stand… or a chair.

Gardens tell stories and the Webb’s garden tells their story, one of acknowledgement of the old while embracing the new. It makes for a lovely garden combination, and a good Pinterest board.

Mulch on, Mullch off, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Millner

Mulch On, Mulch Off?

Oh for pete’s sake, mulch off.

Okay, so mulch is good for moisture retention and weed control, for sure. It is also bio-degrades, and as it degrades it helps improve soil content, which in turn helps with gas exchange, drainage, root growth and so forth. So yes, please mulch, compost, fertilize, pile your shredded (or not) leaves on in the fall, and generally improve your soil. That really is your purpose in the garden: Leave the soil in better condition than when you arrived. And, just FYI: Landscape fabric does not help that cause (improving the soil), so get rid of that stuff.

But, as always, too much of a good thing is too much. Case in point.

Mulch on, Mulch off, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Suburban trees all in row, their roots suffocating under so much mulch.

What’s with the candle in the cupcake look?

We’ve taken the concept of mulch and because it is a good thing, we do what we do best (or maybe what I do best), overdo a good thing. If a little is good, a lot must be great.  We live in an extreme world. The middle road has been forsaken. From fundamentalists to liberals, there’s an extreme. It is showing up in the mulch in our yards. Okay, bit of an exaggeration there, but I just did a quick glance at FaceBook, which is the new political/religious opinion forum, and I got carried away.

Back to the mulch. Mulch off, please.

Remember when you were a kid tromping through the woods and playing in the root flair of those tall forested trees? Trees with no mulch? Yep, that’s what we need to see around a tree, the root flair. Doesn’t mean you can’t mulch, just means you’ll save some money, and not need the mulch truck to drive up every year and dump yet another load, even though the last three loads are still perfectly fine.

Here’s a good rule of thumb for mulching your trees and shrubs, provided by the Bartlett Tree Research Team. (Yes, the Bartlett pear, you need not like the tree to appreciate their research.)

I have a client whose mulch is 10″ thick (I measured it). Her gardener was planting in the mulch, not the actual soil. Understandable with 10″ of mulch. Every spring and fall, the yard guys drive up and dump another load of mulch. She likes the dark color. I said, “Me too, turn it over each fall and it will be dark.” Or have them turn it over if you don’t feel like it. (And really, who feels like it?)  She had called me over because all her plants were dying. “What is wrong?” Plants don’t grow in mulch. Plants grow in soil.

Another client, and I watch as the yard guys drive up, rake 6″ of mulch off, put it in their truck, dump 6″ of new on, and then drive off with last year’s mulch. I suspected they were going to dump the 6″ they collected on someone else’s trees. My client was happy. Her yard looked “clean and groomed.” I love the way fresh mulch looks, too. For that first week after mulching, I’ll admit to loving the cleaned-up look of my yard, like a deep clean of my house. I feel as though the world is in order.

But clean and groomed isn’t the sole purpose of mulch, and adding more when more isn’t needed for grooming sake’s ends up potentially harming the plants.

You should always see 25% of the root ball when planting a tree or shrub. If all you see is mulch there’s a good chance bugs and disease will harbor in that mulched volcano base, or worse, the roots of the tree will grow up into the mulch (believing it is planted deeper) and girdle the tree, potentially killing it.

Bottom line: Mulch on for about 2-4″. More than that? Mulch off.

A.D.D., Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

ADD and What Needs My Attention Now?

My boss describes himself as A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder).

We were talking about his neighbor who accidentally burned down his 5M house. My boss said (about his neighbor), “He’s ADD like me. ADD people burn down the house.”

I’m not ADD, at least I have no proper diagnosis of it, and, though sorely uneducated on the subject, if I had to guess, I’d say I’m the complete opposite of ADD. I have a laser-like focus that keeps me on task to the point where I am hard to interrupt. (There is a caveat to this: If I am bored, or uninterested, then I appear to be the ditz of the universe, who, like Dory, sees all sorts of shiny things.)

A recent example: The house behind me, 2 doors down, 2 weeks ago, caught on fire. In my small town that’s an evening of excitement, so the entire neighborhood was standing in my yard watching the goings on. (All so engrossed with the dramatic event they missed my pretty my roses. Seems I’m not the only one with laser focus.) There were also several firetrucks with lights flashing parked in my yard.

I missed the house burning down.

I was lying in bed reading a newsletter from Blooms of Bressingham on the subject of their new perennials. I never heard the firetrucks, never saw the lights, or smelled smoke. I did hear voices outside, but that was not enough to interrupt my thoughts on the Moonshine yarrow that was introduced in 1950 by the Blooms, and is still the best yarrow on the market today, and to my thinking on that fated night, would make a great companion plant with my Walker’s Low catmint. It was only when I got up for a drink, that I saw the lights, and realized there’d been a fire. I missed the entire thing. People were heading home and firetrucks were backing out of my driveway.

Attention Deficit Disorder and What Needs My Attention Now, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Walker’s Low Catmint

Here’s what I said to my boss. “ADDs may burn the house down, but people like me? We don’t even know the house is on fire.”

Oh the analogies.

Why do folks with ADD get so much attention? And, someone please tell me. What is it we’re all supposed to be paying attention too, anyway?

I have a new granddaughter (she’ll be a month old tomorrow). I haven’t met her because I am working 24/7.  No, that is not an exaggeration. I work 7 days a week.

My best friend is going through the toughest ordeal of her life. Chemo and radiation are a daily routine for her, hoping to shrink the tumors in her brain. She’s an hour away and I work, worried if this next paycheck will be enough to pay the bills.

If I am not mistaken, every niece and nephew I have is graduating between the end of May and the middle of June. I will miss all of them.

My garden is divine right now. The roses are climbing over the white picket fence, iris are blooming, gaura is staring to bloom up their wispy stalks, and I know this because I see it as I drive by it on my way to work.

I’m burning down the house, and I’m not ADD.

When I was in the 5th grade my teacher scolded me, and called my parents for a parent/teacher conference because I looked bored. Oh man, did I get in trouble. Cinthia, are you not paying attention class? Why do you look bored? Because I was, and no of course, I wasn’t paying attention. But, to appease those who could ground me, I practiced the art of looking interested in the bathroom mirror. The moral of this story?

We may look like we’re paying attention, but are we?

I am unaware if my boss ever burned down a house. I do know that he has built a very successful garden center that rivals the garden centers of England. And, while I may have missed a few barn burnings, I am getting the idea, you don’t have to be ADD to burn down the house. Clueless works too.

 

cinthia milner transplanted and still blooming lady gardener david austin rose

Growing David Austin English Roses

‘Constance Spry’ was my first David Austin English Rose. I ordered it from the Antique Rose Emporium and it came bare root. I remember thumbing through their catalog, and reading that it was an old fashioned, spring-blooming, either climber or shrub, fragrant rose with the cabbage head instead of tea-shape.

I’ll be honest. I had no idea what any of that meant, but the picture was so beautiful I couldn’t resist. This is ‘Constance Spry’ adorning a garden wall, and making that bench seem very inviting.

cinthia milner, transplanted and still blooming david austin english roses constance spry

‘Constance Spry’ climbing up a garden wall.

My ‘Constance Spry’ grew over the barbed wire fence of the vegetable garden. It was huge, very thorny, and divine. Easily 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide, soft pink, and fragrant. (Really, why grow a rose that is not?) I was never more proud of a rose, or myself. My first rose and it grew beautifully. That started my relationship with David Austin English roses.

You can read more about their history, breeding program, and the man, David Austin himself, here.

Growing David Austin English Roses, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

‘Claire Austin’ is on my possibilities list for the garden this summer. I think I need a white in the garden and she’s it. Plus, one of the most fragrant ones, smells like vanilla to me. Can be climber (8′ canes) or shrub (4 1/2 x 4). Haven’t decided which yet. .

In January, I was privileged to interview the senior rosarian for David Austin English roses, Michael Marriott. My favorite quote was, “You Americans, you make it all so hard. Growing roses is like growing any other plant.”

He was referring to the inevitable black spot, rust, powdery mildew, and so forth that roses can sometimes get, and that cause most people (“We Americans”) to avoid roses. Or, going to the opposite extreme of turning roses into divas that can’t be grown unless pruned just so, or fertilized on a strict schedule, or having a spraying regime that requires a hazmat suit to keep leaves whistle-clean. In other words:

We look for perfection and miss the rose.

Growing David Austin English Roses, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

‘Teasing Georgia’ is a contender for my garden this year, too. It has 110 petals. It can climb or act as a shrub. With that many petals, it will nod, which means if I use it as a climber over my fence, then the children walking by with their moms will be the ones with the best view. Which makes me really want it. Grows 4 x 3 1/2 as shrub, has 8′ canes as climber. Fragrant. But seriously…. that color.

Mr. Marriott has grown roses organically for over 20 years in his garden, so his statement that we “make it all so hard” comes from his experience of treating roses like plants instead of divas. I grow organically too. Well, some may call it laziness, but really, semantics, my dear. My roses are planted (for the benefit of my neighbors and myself) on the west side of my house. That means they get the least attention because they’re further-est from anything (my chair). I do little to help them along–some fertilizer once a month, water if no rain is in sight for the 10 day forecast (I have a soaker hose, which yes, took time to set up but turned out to be a huge time saver overall), and deadheading in the evening while strolling with a Corona. (You’re thinking wine and roses, not beer and roses, sorry).

Growing David Austin English Roses, Munstead Wood, Transplanted and still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Third contender, ‘Munstead Wood’ as a shrub, not a climber. I feel I would need to drink wine and not my Cornoas if I grow this rose in my garden. It is so elegant. 3 1/2 x 4 and smells like blackberries.

While discussing the cultural care of the English roses, I repeated my favorite phrase for any gardening situation to Mr. Marriott, “Common sense prevails.” To which he replied, “Yes, but not everyone has common sense, do they?” Touché. Hence the instructions for care here. And FAQ’s here. Pruning (I know, I know, we’re all terrified of it, it’s easy, read on) here. And, lots more on the DAR site to help educate you in your rose adventure.

Growing David Austin English Roses, Wollerton Old Hall, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

‘Wollerton Old Hall’ is one of the most fragrant of all English Roses. Smells citrus-y, so I’m going for it, right outside my bedroom window, where a hideous cherry tree lives now, but its days are numbered. Plus, love that apricot center and stems are nearly thorn less. Grows to 5 ft tall x 3 ft wide or 8 ft as a climber.

Oh, and bonus! Mr. Marriott will design a rose garden for you. He’s done them all over the world for gardens that include 3000+ roses, but he promised he’d do one for the smallest of spaces, including my 50 stretch of white picket-fence. Check it out here, if you’re interested. I didn’t ask if I had to give him credit, or if I could just let my neighbors think I’m that good. But, bragging that David Austin’s Senior Rosarian designed my picket-fence rose garden sounds pretty impressive, too. Either way, it is looking good for the roses this summer.

Growing David Austin Roses, Graham Thomas, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

‘Graham Thomas’ climbing. This one is hugely popular at the store where I work. It stays pretty healthy and can be climber or shrub. 10-12′ canes for climbing. Evidently works well in heat and humidity. Canes can get 10-12′ tall, is also a shrub.

Plants Gonna Die, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Plants Gonna Die

On this morning of a frost-filled night, there is but one thing to say, “Plants gonna die.”

Most of my clients will credit themselves with killing half the plants in Western North Carolina. And, if you consider the number of plants they have purchased and planted, they may not be too far off in their accounting. But, there is this odd notion held by almost all garden center-goers: They do not think plants die (unless at their hands). They have this tricky thought that if not for them and their lack of ability in the garden, plants would live forever. They most especially believe this regarding trees. To most novices, trees just don’t die.

Case in point. My favorite, hand’s-down-question-so-far-this-year:

What can I do for my dead tree?

A very kind gentleman, about 40-ish with a small child, grabbed me in the parking lot, wondering if we had anything to help his dead tree. A chainsaw? We don’t sell those.

He was serious.

They also think they are at fault for plants refusing to bloom (here they are generally right), or they go in the opposite direction and do not understand why plants don’t live in their standing water? Can’t I just put gravel in the hole? Or why don’t we have vines that grow in full shade, bloom all summer and are evergreen? See (they show me a picture on their phone)? I have a trellis right there.

Geez. If I had the plant that was evergreen and bloomed all summer and grew beautifully in dense shade, I’d be counting money instead of days between paychecks.

Listen up: Plants are living things and like some of the people we know, they will disappoint us. They will refuse to meet our expectations. As I will discover shortly when I venture outdoors, some of the more tender things I already planted (I know, I know, last frost date is Mother’s Day weekend), will have met their maker. In other words, some plants gonna die, or I should say, all plants gonna die sooner or later. It is a part of the circle of life. (Lion King, anyone?)

I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from garden-center goers.

I have 4 crape myrtles and none of them bloom. I’m here to buy another one. 

So you want 5 non-blooming crape myrtles? Okay. Let’s go pick out a pretty one.

I need a plant that stays 4’10” tall, is yellow and evergreen.

Amazingly, we generally find these “specific-plant-or-no-plant-folks” something that will work.

Do you make perennials that don’t lose their leaves and will bloom in winter?

I’ve yet to make a plant, which is why I’m counting days instead of money, but I can show you the silk department.

What do I do with the dead leaves from my perennial plants? Do I need to leave them there so the new leaves will come up?

Might as well. I haven’t cleaned up my garden in years. Sort of the case of the cobbler with no shoes, but hey, aside from the diseases and pests, everything is doing great.

If I buy 1 rose, will it split into 2?

That explains the roses that are popping up all over my yard. The darn things are splitting themselves in half when I’m not looking, and propagating everywhere.

Lastly, What is wrong with these plants. They keep dying. 

What can I say? Plants gonna die.

Plants Gonna Die, Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

The mangled roots (poorly planted, roots should not look like that coming out of the ground, but that’s another blog), of a Japanese Magnolia, removed by Erica, our amazing grounds-keeper/designer. All I’ll say is, someone who knows better planted that. So sometimes, even the experts kill trees (or shrubs).

 

 

 

What's a Japonica? Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Do You Sell Japonica?

How many times in one day can you answer the same question? As many times as you’re asked it.

I work in a garden retail store, and tis the season to buy plants (hallelujah). There’s a sudden panic that hits when warm weather comes. Customers know that stores get in fresh material weekly, and if they want the best, and not the picked-over stuff, they better get in there and start buying. Fair enough, although, we keep fresh material coming all year–just FYI.

With this sudden panic comes loads of questions. Here are a few of the staff’s favorites.

1. Do you carry Japonica?

Yes, we do! Lots of them. Katsura japonica is my favorite tree. There’s Kerria japonica and it’s great because it blooms nicely in shade. Chaenomeles japonica is blooming now. The red blooms of the ‘Texas Scarlett’ are stunning.  Oh? You want an evergreen? Cryptomeria japonica is great. There’s ‘Black Dragon,’ ‘Yoshino,’ and ‘Elegans Nana’ is cute, and about a billion more in the cryptos. Are any of these the Japonica you’re looking for?

Of course the list goes on because how many botanical names have Japonica in them? Almost every plant that has its origins in Japan.

My boss and Kenny, my co-worker (both of whom have worked there forever), translated this question: Do you sell Pieris japonica? Ah, yes we do. A broad leaf evergreen of the Ericaceae family. You know, like rhododendrons, and azaleas. Pretty panicles of bloom and more upright than wide. Moving on.

2. When are your roses coming in?

Mid-April. (This is actually the top question, but it wasn’t my favorite so it gets second billing.)

3. What can I plant on my bank?

Okay, so, I hate this question. People flock to Western North Carolina because they envision themselves living on a mountaintop with a view. Ever tried to build a house on a mountaintop? Not many flat places up there. But builders will be builders, and they’re going to make their money, so they slice hillsides (in some cases literal mountains) in 1/2 and then use that dirt to form a flat place. It’s called cut and fill, or changing the topography, something that in my book you should not do on that level. Then the builders leave, and guess what the homeowners have besides a view? Erosion. Thus, banks of ivy (invasive), or cotoneaster (looks hideous), or a small forest of juniper. Or my favorite, if it’s so steep you can’t walk up it, African Love Grass. These poor homeowners come in daily asking what can I do?

A few more favorites from staff:

  • Why won’t my (fill in the blank) bloom? (Top two: hydrangeas and crape myrtles)
  • What should I spray on this? (Holding in their palm a black, shriveled up leaf that resembles nothing green and growing.)
  • When are your tomatoes coming in? (Again, tomatoes won’t grow if its 50° or below.)
  • Can I plant (fill in the blank) this now? (Ten day forecast is 26° low at nights.)
  • What was that pretty plant I got from you last year? (So tempted to answer that is was an 800 dollar Japanese maple, and would they like another one?)
  • Why are your plants so expensive? (Ever heard the phrase you get what you pay for?)
  • Do you have that plant that is green, and has flowers that are (name the color) on it? (We can answer this one. It’s whatever is blooming at the time.)
  • Do you have anything evergreen that blooms all summer? (I am in the process of discussing this one with God. I will get back to you on it.)

Hey, keep those questions coming. It feeds our egos, and makes us feel smart for a day because we can answer them. And, none of us fall into the super-smart category. Well, Kenny does. And my boss was almost a Morehead scholar, so I guess he does. Ellen knows more about plants than I’ll ever know, so yeah, she’s got the smarts. Sarah came out of the womb smart. Alex inherited his smarts. Chris is street smart, common sense smart, and amazingly plant smart. So, that leaves me. The ditsy blonde with the blank look. Okay, so ask me. I need to feel smart sometimes, too.

Do You Sell Japonica? Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner, quince blooms

Chaenomeles japonica or Flowering Quince

 

 

 

conifer garden, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

Cool Conifer Garden Pictures (You have to see these!)

Here are some great conifer pictures taken and shared by Jon Merrill, General Manager at the store. Feast your eyes on color, texture and year-round enjoyment in the garden.

conifer gardens, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

Notice the Japanese maple? They are great companion plants for a conifer garden.

 

conifer gardens, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

Look at that blue, and the weeping maple. The layered look (a garden), and the containers. If you don’t have room for large trees or shrubs, containers are always fun.

 

conifer gardens, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

It’s called a poodle tree and any conifer will do. I’ve seen poodle pines, poodle chamcaecyparis. Poodle it and even big, burly men will buy it. Although, one guy said he would never call his tree “poodle anything,” he was going to call it his staggered tree. Whatever, it’s a poodle tree,

conifer garden, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

See? You don’t need a big space. Just a front yard. Cute, small house. Amazing conifer garden. Love it.

conifer garden, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

Color, color, color. And, some of these evergreens turn beautiful, burnished colors in fall/winter. So, no more boring deciduous winters. I do feel my winters are a bit deciduous. I think I’ll write a book about it: The Winter of My Deciduous Discontent. No?

conifer gardens, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

How many times am I asked a day, “What can I use to screen my neighbors?” (Seems we all have neighbor issues.) These conifers will screen out the whole dang development. Add in The Wave (look at the cutie at the front) and well, you’re waving good-bye to all those nosy neighbors.

conifer garden, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

Garden path, anyone? Who says you can’t have conifers and perennials at the same time?

conifer garden, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner, jon merrill

Here’s Jon. He’s 6’4″. Can you guess how tall that tree is?

For the how-to of planning and growing a conifer garden, click here.

 

 

 

jappalachian gardens, transplanted and still blooming, conifer gardens, cinthia milner, jon merrill

Jappalachian Gardens

(What’s a Conifer Garden with Jon Merrill)

The picture at the top of this page makes your heart hurt, right? Who knew conifers could be so beautiful and varied, and, for pete’s sake, combine to make a such a statement of a garden? My boss, that’s who. He’s the general manager for the store where I am employed, the buyer for our conifers, a past Duke University football captain, a husband, a father, a worship leader, and yes, a serious conifer lover. So, I’ll let him tell you about conifers and why you want a conifer garden, because you do, you really, really do, want a conifer garden. (One and done, anyone?)

Let’s start with the basics. What is a conifer? 

Simple definition is a plant that bears cones.  Like every definition, there are some exceptions to the rule, such as junipers and yews the produce berries or fruit.

So, what’s a conifer garden? 

Conifer gardens are put together to show of the various colors, textures and growth patterns that these wonderful plants exhibit.  Unlike other gardens, that use masses or multiples of plants, conifer gardens typically use one of each plant.  Each plant is almost its own specimen when viewing, but the best way show off each plant’s individual characteristics is by having plants around it that have a different look, either in growth habit, color, or texture – sometimes all three. 

Do you need tons of space for a conifer garden? And tons of money? 

Conifer gardens don’t have to be very expensive. Many of the true dwarf and miniature conifers can have a relatively big price tag, but the garden does not have to be filled with them.  Conifers don’t require lots of attention like a perennial garden.  So, even if the initial cost of installation is a little more expensive, the yearly maintenance and time is much less.  Conifer gardening can be in any size or space you choose.  

Will I tend to my conifer garden differently?

Tending your conifer garden, once established, is pretty easy. Keep the weeds out (like any garden), some fertilization is always helpful, then grab a glass of wine and admire.  Conifers don’t need annual pruning or cutting back.  No dividing necessary.  Once they get their roots out, as a general rule they are very drought tolerant.

What are the cultural requirements of a conifer garden?

Conifers need well drained, acidic soil, (5.2-5.8 ph), and the majority want lots of sun. 5-6 hours of direct sunlight. To me, they usually look best when planned and implemented on slopes or contoured garden beds.

What is your staple for a conifer garden? 

This may sound funny, but every conifer garden needs a Japanese Maple or other dwarf deciduous tree. The ever changing colors on many of the dwarf forms of maples adds some needed structure and foliage contrast.

What if I live in a really hot or cold climate?

Conifers can be used in all climates. The palette of plants and placement of the garden may need to change though.  For example, in very hot climates you would not use Blue Spruce or Firs but you can use Auracaria, Cypress, and even podocarpus.   In some very hot areas, you may also need to have a little less afternoon sun, especially on some of the variegated, true dwarf and miniature plants.  They could potentially burn in very hot locations.

Got a favorite conifer?

If I have to pick one Genus of conifer, it is Chamaecyparis. Within the different species, you can get every color, size, shape, growth habit and texture available.  From giant 50-60’ trees to miniatures that might get 1 foot in 15 years.  Blues, yellows, and greens, columnar and weeping, round or spreading, Chamaecyparis have it all.  

We aren’t just talking foundation plants are we? I live on the corner of a four-way stop, doesn’t seem like a conifer garden space to me.

Your foundation plants don’t have to be little boxwood meatballs lining the brick. With the different heights, textures, and colors, it could be a conifer garden.  A corner bed in the yard at the four way stop can be your conifer garden (it will make the neighbors jealous!).  Around the back patio or deck, do you need some evergreen bones?  A conifer garden!  Need some new containers on front porch, yep, you guessed it, conifers! Conifers aren’t pretentious, or needy.  They work in simple designs and elegant botanical gardens.  From containers to large screens everyone needs to be gardening with conifers.

What about color in my conifer garden? 

Chamaecyparis ‘Gimborn Beauty’ ,Thuja ‘Fire Chief’, Chamaecyparis ‘Crippsii’, Juniper ‘Grey Owl’ and ‘Blue Star’, Picea ‘Niemetz’, Picea ‘Montgomery’ , Cryptomeria ‘Golden Promise’, Picea ‘Rubra Spicata’ and ‘Acrocona’ – just look up some pictures of these plants and you will see amazing color, and not a flower in sight.

What’s their growth rate?

Check out the American Conifer Society website that gives the classifications of conifers. ACS has established four size categories- Miniature, Dwarf, Intermediate and Large – to aid in landscape design. Once established, these plants’ growth may vary some due to cultural, climatic and geographical conditions but registered cultivars have, through trials and succeeding generations, maintained their described size. The individual plant records in the ACS Conifer Database contain this information.

Landscape designers have only recently discovered dwarf conifers as housing prices climbed and lot sizes shrank. Virtually every major conifer species has a number of cultivars that defy their species by growing only a few inches a year – or less – thereby giving a small garden a palette of evergreen colors, textures and shapes that will hold together for many years, decades even.

 Can any grow in shade?

As far as shade goes, many of the Taxus and Cephalotaxus, as well as, microbiota need some shade.   Some true miniature and dwarf Chamaecyparis and Pines with variegation or yellow foliage need some afternoon shade or the foliage can burn.  Depending on the look that you need in a certain shady location, you can use some of the Chamaecyparis or Arborvitae as long as you consider that the plant, over time, will loosen up in growth habit and not be as dense as it would in more sun.

What about the bloom?

You can grow anything you want in your conifer garden. Ornamental grasses are an excellent contrast to conifers.  Flowering groundcovers are amazing to mix in.  The series of plants called Toe Ticklers, a wonderful mixture of evergreen and deciduous groundcovers are a perfect combination.  Many of the oriental themed gardens that you see always have mixtures of conifers and flowering shrubs.

Best Time to Plant?

In our area, conifers can be planted year round, as long as the ground in not frozen. I usually suggest spring planting with any very specialty plants, just so they have a chance to get somewhat established before winter.  Fertilization – in general, conifers need less nutrient levels than broadleaf plants but I recommend using a good well balanced, organic fertilizer that contains all the micronutrient that plants need as well.  It’s not just N-P-K.  I have fertilizers that I would recommend but I will avoid any brand names.

Any issues we need to know about?

It varies depending on the type of plants. There are some needle and twig blights that can cause dieback on some spruce, juniper and Leyland cypress.  The main insects to scout for are spider mites and bagworms.

Do you design conifer gardens?

I am not a master at conifer garden design, but I do work with customers daily when they are looking for the “Jappalachian” garden. I love the term because we can mix in many of our native with conifers for  a wonderful garden.

Thank you Jon! (For a great how-to on container gardening from our store’s guru of containers, click here. )

jon merrill transplanted and still blooming cinthia milner jappalachain gardens
geranium in clay pot, stunning, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner

Garden Coach Tip: Permission to Skip Stunning

You can skip the stunning factor in your yard. Here’s why: We’re losing the ability to be charmed. And, we’re spending all our time worrying how we look to others.

I live in a brick rancher that sits at a four-way stop. It’s a modest 1300-square-foot house that has been beautifully taken care of by previous owners. Along the west side of the house is a white picket fence that separates the house from the neighborhood sidewalk. That’s where my garden is. I have roses and salvia and veronica on the house side of the fence. Sedums, donkey tail, Shasta daises, Siberian iris, echinacea, and dahlias are on the sidewalk side. Oh, and salvia ‘Hot Lips’ which is a fun, silly plant. I have one slightly stunning factor at the end of the fence line, a hibiscus, ‘Cranberry Crush,’ though, I am officially declaring it dead, disappointingly so. Not even a hint of green has made an appearance. Hugely upsetting for my small garden and our neighborhood. We’re in a dither about it. Hellebores and primroses make up the rest of the garden in the back under the cherry trees because they’ll grow there, and I like them.

My clients say, “Your garden must be stunning.” (They feel their garden should be stunning or it just won’t do. They’re worried it won’t be.) “No, my garden is not stunning,” I say. “I don’t have the time, energy, or money for stunning.”

My garden is charming, which I prefer. I believe the world needs more charm. I consider stunning over-rated.

Here’s the garden coach question for the day: Is the big stun factor for you? If so, go ahead. Is it for the neighbors? If so, skip it. If the neighbors need to be stunned, then let their dime do the stunning. Setting boundaries not only applies to your personal self, but also your garden.

Here’s my garden coach tip for the day: Plant what you like.

My  mother-in-law always had pots of geraniums. I used to tease her that only ladies over 60 could grow them (I’ve killed every geranium I ever tried to grow). She kept them in clay pots, in clay dirt, in her basement, all winter, with complete neglect. Then, come warm weather, she gathered them up, and lined them along the side porch, where the rain watered them, not her. They were stunning. She loved them. When I visited, she’d point them out and say, “Aren’t they stunning?”

Yes, they were. And, not a neighbor for miles could see them. They were stunning just for her.

spring daffodil, transplanted and still blooming, cinthia milner

5 Things To Do Now That It is Spring

It is spring.

Well, officially at 6:45 p.m. today, but feel free to go ahead and celebrate. It’s been one doozy of a winter.

My co-worker, plant affascinato-partner-in-crime, dance partner (yes, we silly dance), and all round goof-ball of a friend, Carol, made the comment yesterday that you sure were sick a lot this winter. Oh my. Truth in spades.

The flu and grey skies. Who’s excited for spring? Me too.

But, I insist we hit the pause button before spring-fever begets spring-fervor.

Here’s why:

I’m going to call it spring-panic. Each spring my clients go into full-on spring-panic mode. One sweet woman texted yesterday to tell me that here it is 70 degrees and I have not pruned one rose bush, not even one. She only has two. I refrained from asking her if she had power-washed the deck yet.

Spring brings with it a load of chores, some necessary, most not. So, before you start making your list and checking it twice, here’s my spring to-dos for my clients. See what you think.

1. Acknowledge. Don’t dive into those spring projects without stopping to acknowledge the season. Don’t miss it. Pick daffodils, get your vitamin D by being outside, listen to the birds chirping, notice the mint-green leaves budding out on trees. No one is promised tomorrow. Today is the blessing. Be blessed by sunshine and spring rains and spring bulbs. Stroll. Spring is simply made for strolling. So, stroll and be blessed by the sweetness of the season.

Because maybe, your winter was a doozy, too.

2. Delete. Double check that chore list. Do you really need to do all that? This may not be the year you start a vegetable garden, or a new landscape plan, or decide 100 baby chickens is a good idea. So, get your pen out, and cross something(s) off that to-do list.

Listen to me: You don’t have to do it all.

3. Delegate. Even if it means getting your check-book out. My newly-divorced friend is hiring the mow-blow-and-go guys to do her yard this summer because, well, she’s not superwoman. And, neither are you. Help the local economy out, hire someone to do some of those chores, and free up some time for fun. For what? FUN.

The whole DIY thing is so over-rated.

4. Add. Like I said, FUN. Add it to your list. And, just so you know, fun can be porch-sitting with a glass of tea, reading a book, or taking a nap. Fun doesn’t have to be glamorous. Plan a weekend trip to nowhere, or a day trip to a pretty garden. And, while you’re at that pretty garden, do not say, not even once, I wish my garden looked like this, just enjoy the garden and go home.

Definition of fun: restorative, not exhausting or expensive.

5. Breathe. Open a window, sit on a porch, sit in your car with the windows down, or take a walk, but remember to breathe in the fresh spring air. How sweet is that smell? Relax your shoulders, un-crunch that neck, and breathe. A friend of mine used to say that while we shouldn’t smoke, we should do what smokers do; take breaks and breathe.

Bag the chore list (chores aren’t going anywhere) and breathe in spring.

Now, let the spring-panic subside, and oh yeah, feel free to stop by the store to silly dance with Carol and I. What else have you got to do?