Saturday, May 31, 2014

Big Peonies and Tiny Radishes

I have two white peony bushes in the front yard. They were full of gorgeous, large, white blooms a few days ago...and then the rain came. Always seems to be the case.

They almost appear to be blushing with their tiny specks of magenta.

I have a magenta-colored peony in the flower garden in the back. My one neighbor admires it each year. It really is a beautiful color.

I was weeding the Kitchen Garden today (which really needed it), and I guess I got a little over-zealous. I saw the pink tops of some radishes sticking out of the ground, and couldn’t resist.

You can’t really tell from this picture, but the radishes were really only about as big as my index fingernail (and my fingers are really small). Despite being diminutive in size, they were robust in flavor. Next to harvest will be the arugula.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Succulent Wreath Class at Meadowbrook Farms

Back in April I attended a succulent wreath class at Meadowbrook Farms, which is owned by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. I had been investigating creating a succulent wreath and had found some different ideas on how to go about it, but when I saw this class listed I thought it would be a fun way to learn about it.

There was a writer from the Philadelphia Inquirer there, so if you subscribe you might have seen the article or can view it online. (I’m actually in the photo of the group at the round table – thankfully small and not too noticeable.)

We started with a pre-soaked sphagnum moss wreath that had wire and a hanger. Surprising, it looks like you can actually buy these on Amazon. We were given hardy sempervivum plugs (small plants). Basically you plan (or not plan) where you want your different semps to go, then use a knife, or just your fingers, to dig a hole into the moss wreath and put your plug in. Make sure it is deep enough so it will root in well and not fall out when hung. You can use toothpicks to angle or anchor plants in. The wreath should be kept flat for at least a month to help the plants root-in.

Here is the succulent wreath that I created in class, although I admit I added in a few other succulents (the spider-web looking ones). The wiry looking things are sedums that they gave us in class and I don’t think those work very well since they get very “leggy.”

My succulent wreath will need full sun when it is ready to hang, or else the semps will get straggly.  Any plants that die can be replaced. The wreath should be watered when it is dry and hard to the touch. It is best to lay it on the ground to water. We used hardy semps, so this wreath could be left outside in a covered area during the winter, however, I may bring mine into the greenhouse to overwinter.

This succulent wreath not only could be hung on a gate, wall, trellis, or fence, but it could also be used as a centerpiece on a patio table, with a candle in the middle, or to cover up an ugly tree stump.

It was a nice group of people and a lovely day to spend crafting a succulent wreath. A good source for succulent plugs is Simply Succulents. You also may be lucky enough to find some in Lowe’s Home Improvement store.

Vertical Gardening Class at Longwood Gardens

On May 10 I took an awesome class at Longwood Gardens called “Vertical Gardening,” presented by Longwood employee Lorrie Baird. Longwood has some really excellent classes and this rates as one of my favorites, along with a class I took on carnivorous plants a few years ago. Both classes taught me something new and sparked a new interest.

The class focused on different types of “green walls” or  “living walls” and the advantages and disadvantages of each type. Here is a sample of a living wall that is at Drexell University in Philadelphia – they call it the Biowall.

Here are the different types of living walls:

Type 1: 

Plant-in-Pot-Systems use plants in their growing containers that are then placed within a framework that is mounted to a wall.  GSky has some nice home-sized versions of this style.

Advantages: Usually cheaper and easier to care for since plants can easily be removed to change the display seasonally or to remove unhealthy plants.

Disadvantages: Plants may dry out faster and also may become too big for container.

Type 2:

Peat-Based-Systems us plants that are removed from their containers and planted into a vertical structure that contains a peat-based potting mix. BrightGreen has a neat animation to show how this system works. I think it must be in Flash, though, because I wasn’t able to see the animation on my iPad, but can see it on my computer.

Advantages: Plants can be replaced easily and the potting mix will hold onto nutrients and water.

Disadvantages: Potting mix can be messy and can also breakdown within a year or two and need replenishing.

This peat-based-system is the type of vertical garden panel that we created in class. This photo shows it as I was starting to plant it.

Type 3: 

Hydroponic or “Hybrid-ponic” systems are planted into a soiless media, except for what is contained in the plant plug, and require an irrigation system to provide water and nutrients. Sage Vertical Gardens has some that use this system.

Advantages: Can be more permanent since the media breaks down slower than soil or peat and the irrigation system can provide water and nutrients as the plants age.

Disadvantages: Usually costs more to install and requires larger amounts of water since the media doesn’t hold onto the moisture. PH and nutrient levels have to be monitored carefully – you pretty much have to fertilize every time you water.

This is the type of system that Longwood Gardens uses for their living green wall. Here is a close-up of their living wall that shows this type of system. If you look closely you can see they are trying about three different media here since they discovered the media they were using was breaking down too quickly. The irrigation system runs horizontally across the top of each panel.

The man who is credited with starting living walls is Patrick Blanc. His style is more naturalistic then the geometric styles that you will often see. And yes, he has green hair.

After we learned about the different types of living walls, we went to see Longwood’s wall and the plumbing/fertilizing system for it. It is actually the largest green wall in North America.

Many people aren’t even aware of Longwood’s living wall because it is in a hidden area where the bathrooms are. Is this not the most beautiful bathroom area you’ve ever seen?

We learned a lot about the planning, growing, and installation of Longwood’s living wall. It was a huge undertaking. It debuted in 2010.

Longwood’s living wall is composed of 47,000 green, low-light plants. There are a lot of different types of ferns here, as well as spike moss, spider plant, philodendron, ivy, and lipstick plant.

When they first installed the living wall, the employees were told to remove the red blooms of the lipstick plant because the red was distracting. Now they just leave them. I think it’s kind of fun to hunt for them in the mass of green.

One side of the wall gets more sun than the other and also the top of the wall tends to grow the fastest. The bulk of the work that is done on this wall is pruning and keeping the plants tidy.

They spray a white paint-like substance on the top windows to help provide some shade for the plants.

This lovely Maindenhair fern is one of the plants that are a part of Longwood’s living wall.

This living wall has to be monitored carefully for pests. They practice a form of natural pest control by identifying what the pests are that are causing the problems, then buying beneficial insects that will attack or eat those pests. Here are some beneficial insect packets.

We had a rare opportunity to go underground to view the plumbing and fertilizing system. All of the conservatory paths at Longwood have underground passageways. This is the underground passageway at the living wall. Spoooooooky.

Lots of pipes that do stuff down here.

This is the fertilizing system. Sorry for all of the blurry photos. These underground shots were taken with my iPad.

After viewing the living wall and the underground system, we went back to the classroom to make our own vertical panels, as show at the beginning of this post. Our vertical panels contain herbs – sage, rosemary, peppermint, oregano, thyme, sweet basil, parsley, cilantro, dill, and spicy globe basil. We were given a sheet of some great-sounding recipes that utilize these herbs. Can’t wait to try some of those. My vertical panel is currently laying horizontal to allow the plants time to root-in. Then I will find a nice, sunny spot for it.

This class really sparked a new interest and now I am planning a shady wall panel. I’m sure there will be pictures of that at some point here on my blog.

Here is a list of classes at Longwood Gardens. It pays to be a member if you plan on taking classes. Each year they also offer some lectures that are free to members. It sure is fun learning new things!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Garden Visit: Two Days in One Week at Longwood Gardens

Last week was my lucky week: I had both a concert and a class at Longwood Gardens. This gave me two opportunities to explore their gardens in peak spring bloom.

The concert was originally supposed to be last October. I had gotten tickets to see pianist AndrĂ© Watts for my mom’s birthday. He’s my mom’s favorite pianist so we try to get tickets to see him when he is in the area. We had only seen him play at the Kimmel Center with the Philadelphia Orchestra before, not on his own and in such a lovely setting, so we were looking forward to it. Unfortunately, the October concert was postponed due to an injury. It was rescheduled for January. Well, we all know what January was like – lots of snow, so it was postponed yet again until May. It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. This way we got to walk around and see the gardens and conservatory a bit before the concert. It was after official visiting hours, so it was a rare opportunity to see some of it without a bunch of other people around. (Some of these photos were taken with my iPad and not my fancy camera.)

The Flower Walk is always the highlight of their spring display. 

Half of the Flower Walk was in cool pinks and purples and the other half was in hot reds, yellows and oranges.

The Square Fountain area was full of brightly colored pansies and white foxglove.

The highlights of the Main Conservatory were these lavender hydrangeas with giant flowers and these pink Dr. Seuss-like Tower-of-Jewels (Echium wildpretii) from the Canary Islands.

The single-colored hanging hydrangea planters in the Acacia Passage were really pretty.  These used wire baskets and planted them all around the basket so that they end up looking like big, puffy flower balls.

We have been to indoor concerts at Longwood before, but they were in the Ballroom. This was a special treat because the concert was in the Exhibition Hall in the conservatory. I had been lucky enough to get second row seats. What a lovely setting for a piano concert.

On Saturday, I attended a Vertical Gardening class (much more about this awesome class in a post to come!). I made sure to get out to see the Idea Gardens because I heard they had masses of tulips there. Lots of tulips, indeed.

So many different varieties and colors and all in full bloom.

I couldn’t pick a favorite even if I tried (although the one above probably comes close).

The following four pictures, if pieced together, would form one big panoramic shot.

I really got lucky with the weather on both Thursday night and when I was there on Saturday morning. It was crowded on Saturday, though, due to it being Mother’s Day weekend. A fire alarm went off in the conservatory when I was there! Imagine having to evacuate tons of visitors Mother’s Day weekend! It was a very calm and organized evacuation and no fire to speak of, thankfully. It did make for an exciting day, though.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I used to not really like Longwood Gardens. It bothered me how manicured and perfect everything was all the time. Now I have learned to appreciate how much work goes into making it look that way every day and find it truly remarkable. Even though it’s about an hour and a half drive for me, I’m lucky to have such a large, gorgeous garden nearby. And one that offers such great classes, too – more about that later!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

It’s All in the Details

I love adding details to the garden that you might not notice at first glance. I started putting out my garden decorations, potted plants, and miniature worlds last weekend. Here is what I have going on so far.

This is a new idea I had this year: A little gnome garden. I used moss that I had in the secret garden area and growing on the cedar trashcan shed, added rocks, a small piece of driftwood, some small plants, and a cute little gnome and mushrooms. Isn’t it adorable?! This is on the wrought iron table that is in the secret garden area by the greenhouse. 

 This votive lantern is hanging from the wisteria that grows on the greenhouse.

Also new this year is a little Buddha garden I made using an old broken pot, little stones, more moss, a Buddha figurine that I had, and an incense burner that looks Indian-ish. I have this amongst the hostas that grow under the wisteria tree, hence the purple petals on the ground.

I have mentioned my fairy garden before. Still have it and my sister still thinks I’m a dork for having it.

And what’s a fairy garden without fairy sheep? Come on, humor me here. Everyone knows I love little lambies, so it makes sense to find some in my fairy garden.

Looks like some fairies were here, too.

How did a drunken gnome get in my garden? Oh, he is next to the shed where Brian does his homebrewing. I get it now. He must have found his way in there.

This gnome is much more civilized and guards these hostas quite well.

I built this impromptu miniature house out of stones and a shell in the Kitchen Garden as I was cleaning things up. Maybe a fairy or gnome will move in.

I tend to put shells here and there throughout the garden. Most of these came from a trip we took to Oregon a few years ago. There are few less shells than last year – the squirrels seem to like to steal them and bury them. I keep finding them here and there.

You may find things hanging from tree branches here and there, such as this windchime made of small, tin buckets and watering cans.

Mr. Wiggles has come out of hibernation in the greenhouse and now protects the entrance to the Kitchen Garden.

New this year are my hanging terra cotta pots with ferns. This corner fence is on the front and side of the yard and you enter through the gate to get to the garden. The top part of one panel of the fence fell apart a few years ago. I finally came up with an idea to dress up our dilapidated fence. I slipped the pots into plate hangers, then wrapped wire around the hooks and up over the beam. I had actually seen something similar on Pinterest, which is where I got the basic idea. Originally I wanted to build simple, wood frames to hang with each one to make the pots look like pictures, but I’m not sure I left enough room at the top to make that idea work.

Speaking of pots, I have two little pots in this little crate thing in the Kitchen Garden. Need to get a plant for the second pot.

All of these potted plants are ones from last year that overwintered in my greenhouse. Some are a few years old. The wire container with the faucet and bird is new.

This is a type of agave that I have on the screened-in back porch. I had a larger one last year that isn’t looking too healthy. Couldn’t resist another one. Dangerous looking, but oh so cool. Helpful tip: Definitely wear gloves when potting these babies.

Also on the screened-in back porch is this pretty little Maidenhair fern I planted in a Ball jar. I love the really dark stems and the shapes of the leaves.

Another fern on the back porch, along with my Nepenthes (monkey cups / hanging pitcher plant – no pitchers on it right now). The Pitcher is a carnivorous bog plant. I re-potted this recently, so I hope it likes its new home. It was overwintering in the greenhouse.

Why such a big clock, you might ask. So I can peak in through the door when outside gardening to see what time it is, of course.

I have ideas for other little projects, but of course little projects require little time, or sometimes more than a little time. Just never seems to be enough free time. Such is life.