Spring Containers

We literally just finished most of our container jobs about a week ago.  And due to our very mild, moist spring, things are doing very well.  A little heat wouldn’t hurt (especially if we even have a prayer of ripening our tomatoes) but right now, as things are getting established and settled in they are looking pretty good.  We planted over 200 containers this season!  Some were residential, some commercial.  We loved them all.  Each container is individually designed keeping in mind so many things….exposure, color preference, texture, shape, size of container, scale, plant preferences by the client, maintenance, style and of course, budget.  We planted on top of buildings, at water’s edge, in large plazas, at a mountain resort and in small intimate backyards.  And each time we tried to design the best combination of plant material we could, given all of those factors.  Complicated?  Yes.  Worth it?  You bet.  We were told this spring that the sale of a house was contingent on whether the buyer would be able to keep the containers planted by us.  That was the only contingency!  Worth it?  Yep.  And every year we learn more.  We learned more tricks to keep things better hydrated.  We figured out a way to improve our designs while improving our efficiency.  But the real test is later in the season, when the plants mature and start to weave together to form their special magic.  As the tall ones stretch up and the trailers start to spill over will this be the magic we were looking for?  Will this stop you in your tracks or make you sigh with contentment when you see it?  That’s our goal.  We make detailed notes at every job.  Each container is noted – is the soil dry?  Are the existing plants in good shape?  What stays?  What goes?  What will need to be replaced next season?  What really worked well and what didn’t perform the way we expected?  Next season all of that goes into the decisions with the idea that every season will be better.  More successful.  More breathtaking.  It’s a tough job…but somebody’s got to do it.  Lucky us.

When you've done your job right this is what happens....magic!

Color and texture play an important role in plant choices

What’s your next move?

Five days after Snowmageddon the temps are in the high 40s and there are still big patches of snow everywhere.  But as I look out my window my plants have sprung back up (mostly) and those poppies coming up are still looking just fine.  Two hummingbirds just chased each other through the garden and I can still see the strong, broad outline of a very large banana tree in my greenhouse.  Nothing actually looks too worse for wear.  So, what does that mean?  It means it’s time to continue your plans for your garden.  If you did have fatalities (which you probably don’t know for sure yet) now is the time TO PLAN.  Yes, plan.  Make a plan.  Work your plan.  Plan to plan.  (Of course, GreenStone Designs is always here to help you with that, but if you are interested in taking on that challenge – go for it!  Word of the Day – FOLIAGE.  Look at the foliage in your garden.  Do you have repetition AND variation in the foliage?  Do you have year round interest in the foliage?  Year round interest means you have a variety of plant types that give you structure and foliage interest.  Some broadleaf evergreens, some conifers, some deciduous, some perennials, some annuals.  Always somethin’ happenin’.  If you want your garden to require less work (and gardens require work, there are no maintenance free gardens – unless you count a field) then you should focus the design on foliage and less on flower.  Gardens focused on foliage can be calm and serene if you are using primarily greens.  But just because your garden may not focus on flowers does NOT mean that it can’t have movement or color or whimsy or charm.  So….go walk your garden when you get a break in the weather.  Pull out your phone and take a few photos of areas that you want to address.  Then go back in, grab your tablet and start a stream of thoughts about the space.  Do it quickly, while it’s still in your mind.  You can go back and edit, analyze and finalize later.  Get in down on paper.  What’s working?  What’s not working?  Where do you have holes?  Sun?  Shade?  What’s around that hole?  Annuals and perennials?  (That means the whole is even bigger in the winter.)  Why is a hole there?  Did it die?  Was it shaded out by the other plants?  There are a lot of questions and you need answers!  Gardening is such a wonderful activity because it engages us in so many ways.  You need to be an observer, a problem solver.  You can use your creative juices and your attention to detail.  Organization skills help and so does persistence.  It engages the body and the mind and the soul.  What else do you know that does that?  Lucky you, to be a gardener!  Cheers!


So, maybe we should have talked a little about what to do in your garden during a snow event.  Well, not to fear…winter isn’t over yet!  So, here’s my advice about snow on plant material:

1)  If it’s very cold and the snow is dry and light, I advise leaving the snow on.  It serves to insulate tissues from freeze damage.   Dry and light snow will not weigh down the branches to the degree that heavy wet snow will.

2)  If the snow is wet and heavy (i.e. temperatures are not that cold), you should remove as much as possible, especially if the branches are straining under the load.  The insulation isn’t necessary, and the weight load can permanently damage trees and shrubs.

Need a little diddy to help you remember?  If it’s light – leave it – if it’s heavy – heave it.

(Thanks to Linda Chalker-Scott from The Garden Professors for that!)

The interesting thing about this “snow event” in Seattle – it was accompanied by a lot of ice which changes things quite a bit.  Ice on top of snow is very heavy.  But then add rain and/or snow on top of the ice and you have a recipe for trouble.  Branches can bend out and snap or just bend out and stay out.  Either way you have greatly compromised the shape of the plant – not to mention that open wounds (breaks) stress a plant and could hasten it’s demise.  So, if possible, it’s better to address the snow and ice on your plants rather than hunker down on the couch with a blanket and a book.  A broom works very well to brush off the snow.  The branches will pop right back.  In the case of ice, crack the shell (with your handy broom again) and break it up as much as possible so when it does start to rain (or snow again) it helps to keep the shell from getting thicker and heavier.   Bending is bad, but breaking is worse.  A few pre-emptive strikes may mean the difference between your garden popping back from a snow event or forever wearing signs of damage from it.

Day three: Snowmageddon

Day one – snow – about 5 inches.  Not so bad, everything in pretty good shape.  Day Two – supposed to be going away.   Ooopppss….a little freezing rain first.  A little more….supposed to be done by noon.  Not so much.  Whoops – freezing rain turned over to snow and just kept snowing.  So a ¼” of ice on everything followed up by another inch or so of snow.  Fun.  This time I need to go out to the greenhouse and whack the ice on top with a broom to get it to crack.  Once it cracked it slid off.  But I was whacking pretty hard.  After that we had to whack at 50 or 60 feet of hedge and break up the ice dome forming on that for fear that the weight would take it down.  Day Three – melting finally on it’s way with fairly heavy rain.  Sloshy, mushy mess everywhere.  Next up, wind.  The fun never stops.  However, all of this enforced office time means lots of organizing time and design time.  Hope to start a new border design next week.  Nothing like the promise of spring and planting to divert your attention from worrying about all the containers we plant and maintain and all of our plants in our own gardens.  I do fully believe that if you lose a plant or plants it truly is an opportunity.  An opportunity to reassess, re-design, re-think.  Did you lose the plant because it was in the wrong place?  Lack of proper care?  Weather? (Which puts it in the OOYC category…Out Of Your Control).  Whatever the reason, you’ve got another chance to make it right, make it better.  As I said in the first entry (here) “life is a constant state of renewal.  Our gardens are constantly changing and we have to look forward to what they can become, not lament over what they weren’t.”  Or what went wrong.  We learn and we adapt.  And we buy cool new plants.  It’s a “shoppertunity”.  (Word mashing – taking two words and mashing them into one.  SNOWMAGEDDON.  SHOPPERTUNITY.  It’s kind of fun – try it!)

Day one: Snowmageddon

Someone came to their senses and cancelled the symposium.  Yippee, I’m free to stay at home in my home office and watch the wonderful world of snow outside my window.  Our new greenhouse is holding up pretty well.  We have a small heater and two light bulbs in there for heat.  We are trying to winter over several 8’ bananas, cannas, brugmansias, sedums, echeverias and other tropical delights.  The greenhouse is made by Shelter Logic and it’s 10’ x 20’.  It took three people (three smart, McGyver kind of people) over 6 hours to put it together!  Then we lined the edges with leftover stack stone to make sure that it would laugh at any wind.  My worry with the snow was that it might build up on top and bend the support poles and collapse the whole thing.  However, the heater is keeping the inside just warm enough that once about an inch piles up on the top it starts to melt and slides right off.  The interesting part is the heat is mainly located in the back third of the greenhouse.  That’s where the snow is sliding off.  So I suspect that the front third is colder…or substantially colder.  But, we put more winter hardy things in that section.  We moved extra pansies, some heucheras, some nandinas and other assorted landscape material in there – mostly because we had the room.  Our temps today are high 20s to low 30s.  Not too bad.  Unless you are a banana or a brugmansia!  I’ll post a few pics to show you how successful (or not) we were.

Have snow, won’t travel…

Well, what’s the saying?  If you don’t like the weather in the Pacific Northwest just wait a few minutes.  We have been on a roller coaster this week with snow, ice, rain, wind and now we are counting down to what the forecasters promise will be another “snowmageddon”.  As I look out my office window what started out as a serious hail storm has now transitioned to tiny snowflakes like powdered sugar being sifted from the sky.  Soft, incredible white sifting all over the garden.  Covering the flagstone path, covering the grass, covering the poppies that wanted to pop up early.  Just a week ago we were all smug and braggy about our mild winter and warm temps and lack of persistent gray and showers, which we are known for around here.  Ahh, we thought about maybe planting a few things a little early…heck, it’s going to be a mild winter.  It’s already January and nothin’s happened yet, right?  We’rrreeeee gooood.  HA!  Momma Nature just smacked us up side the head.  Tomorrow’s prediction?  Seven or eight inches of snow in the greater Seattle area.  Whhaaattt????

Of course, tomorrow is the local chapter of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) BIG symposium.  Nine nationally known speakers…. all day talking about plants and design and sustainability…heaven….and I don’t know if I can risk it.  It’s 15 miles away.  In a city where people abandon their cars on the freeway and just walk away.  Where city buses slide off hills and never show up on their route and leave people stranded for hours.  Where nut jobs decide to sled down the city street WHILE cars are trying to negotiate their way up.  Where the local weatherpersons rub their hands together in glee and intentionally stir up drama and paranoia….cuz otherwise their job is pretty routine.  (“Rain today with rain tomorrow and a slight to likely chance of rain for the next…..month.”)  I have a big old Suburban with studded tires and 4-wheel drive.  I’m probably good.  What I don’t have is a megaphone to tell all the other dimwits driving little sports cars and bald tires that they have no business trying to negotiate that hill.  I don’t care if you live on that hill!  Get outta my way!  (Harsh…..might need to tone that down prior to posting this.)  Too late.  So, I might have to miss the symposium.  Which will make me really cranky.  I’ll keep you posted.

A new year.

Wow!  A new year is all about new beginnings.  I prefer not to make resolutions or promises – I like to believe that I am looking forward with new insight, not looking back with regret or criticism.  After all, life is a constant state of renewal.  Our gardens are constantly changing and we have to look forward to what they can become, not lament over what they weren’t.  Every day gives us that opportunity – how lucky we are!  So….I’m hoping that each entry will give you something to look forward to.  We will show some photos of our work, and others we admire.  We’ll give you some idea of what is happening in a Pacific Northwest garden that month and maybe some information about indoor plants too.  A potpourri if you will.

There is an old omen that says a mild January will bring a chilly May.  In the Pacific Northwest every May is chilly, so this may be hard to quantify, but we’ll keep an eye on it and see if there is any correlation.

In the meantime, here’s what’s happening in gardens in the Pacific Northwest this January…