Marjorie's eLetter for Autumn 2011

Autumn 2011 E-Letter
By Marjorie Harris

After a scorching summer here, a cold one on the west coast, finally the relief of autumn. It has been the perfect time to plant. This year, I ripped apart my own front garden and it now more clearly reflects the kind of planting I'm interested in and the plants I'm currently crazy about.

Before shot:.

Front garden: I ripped things out last year and this is its first stage.  Much more planting to go on later in the season.




Just an inarticulate smoosh which I put
up with for far too
long. I don't understand how this could happen but that's the way
people are: you can
be plant blind in your
own garden.











Front garden: I ripped things out last year and this is its first stage.  Much more planting to go on later in the season.




I love the way the plants undulate in the actual garden.
I can't do it justice with photography so you'll just have to
walk by and have a look. Because the back gardens are so layered and filled with so many plants, it's almost a relief
to see this contrast.

Call me crazy but seeing soil between plants is a bonus.
I think we've been so blinded by the magnificence of Piet Oudolph's massed planting and the rivers of bulbs
designed by Jacqueline van der Kloet, that we're almost
afraid not to plant this way. What's wrecked the style these
two brilliant designers invented is the execution of same by second rate landscapers and designers. What was, a
short time ago, such a refreshing way of seeing plants
has been turned in a clichéd way of using plants. Most of
the copy cats don't understand the intricacies of such
dense and fascinating plantings or haven't had
experience of the plants. Worse, they haven't a clue about keeping up such complicated techniques. I've seen
more "colour block planting" badly done than any other
current style. Making a modern statement in the garden
is folly if you have nothing to say.











Helleborus 'Josef Lemper'

Hellebores are a must in every garden. If this plant has any problems I haven't found them in the 30 odd years I've been gardening. They are evergreen, bloom from early March until the end of August. They never seem to need dividing, don't mind being planted among other things such as arum, trilliums, ferns (a natural partner). It's a plant with many flower forms from singles pristine whites, to freckled beauties to deep purple-rose. The leaf forms go from jagged to silky smooth surfaces in colours ranging from glossy green to mottled silver. I cannot praise them enough.

Plant as you would a peony with the crown just below the surface. Too deep and they won't bloom. They need lots of water going into winter. Keep it up until you get hard frost warning. You can cut off the dead stuff in the spring or leave it to mulch down. These are deer proof plants if this is a problem.

Now if you are out of the hellebore's range (Z5) use them in containers. They will take full sun to fairly shady spots. I think too many people consider them ONLY as shade plants. Put them everywhere.


Here's are the bulbs that I've recommended to clients this year: to get a blue and white blanket:

  • Narcissus 'Thalia' sweet and white
  • Allium purpureum and Allium 'Purple Sensation'
  • Muscari armeniacum
  • Scilla sibirica

The small bulbs will naturalize over the years; and the allium will seed about but very slowly. I've now got a really wonderful display. And the narcissus is worth the mess the foliage leaves behind. Tuck the new ones in between perennials and be ready to cover them up with annuals next spring.

I've gone off trying use masses of bulbs partly because I get a pretty good display after all these years of adding a few every year. I'm tired of giving the squirrels a banquet. Now this year Activ-Sol (hen manure pellets) has seemed to work. But only just. What does work is creating beds that look like the soil hasn't been disturbed.


close up of plants with mulch.

I'm adding information about mulch because no matter how often I mention it, there will always be some confusion. Mulch whether you want to or not. It is one of the magic bullets of gardening (the other being composting). Make sure you use a mulch that looks good. See the pictures of my front garden. We mulched as soon as we moved plants around because the summer was so hot. It doesn't need anymore now. If you have trouble keeping water in the ground, mulch will help. It will also keep the temperatures in the soil even during the winter. You won't have plants heaving themselves out of the ground.
There is some confusion about where you put it. I've found it doesn't make a huge amount of difference if you pile it over or up against perennials. Where you should be careful is with woody plants. Leave some space around the base of trees and shrubs and other woody perennials.
Go at it this way:

  1. Make sure the soil is moist
  2. Mulch with ground up leaves, compost and composted pine or cedar bark. I use a combination of all three.
  3. Add it in as thick layers as possible (2 to 4 inches), and do it once the nights are full of frost and the ground becomes hard.
  4. Dare I say it again: never ever use a mulch that's been dyed. Pointless. Ugly.

I'm heading out to Italy this week with a group of like minded garden, wine, olive oil enthusiasts. We're already planning the trip for next year and it's going to be a doozey, but I'll let all of you know first. I'll attempt to blog but I might be having too much fun.



If you need my services:  email me.

Yours Marjorie

October, 2011



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