At long last, our roses have begun to rise from their winter slumber! After a nice feeding of liquid organic nutrients, they are off to a voracious beginning. This is merely the first of countless thousands of blooms to come. Presently, in the garden, there are a number of beds that appear empty. However, this is merely a clever ruse played on us by mother nature. Numerous plants are waiting just below the surface for their chance to shine in the spring and summer. We are planting seeds like it’s going out of style! Have a walk through the garden now so you have a baseline to compare with as the season progresses!
Spring has begun to show it’s luxurious face here at The Gardens at Heather Farm. What does that mean for us, you might ask? Apart from the gargantuan task of weed pulling, this is an optimal time to plant! Over the winter, we stripped the waterfall garden in order to revive it with a planting of Japanese-style plants with drought tolerance in mind. Though many of the plants are still dormant, as spring hits we will be able to watch them grow and fill in as the season progresses. The planting includes some unusual ornamental grass
es, conifers, clumping bamboo, large scale bonsai, itoh peonies (a hybrid between your typical garden peony and a tree peony), Iris (which are decidedly not drought tolerant, but have their water needs met by being in such close proximity to the pond and stream), and more creeping thyme than can even be comprehended. As you walk by, the beds may appear a touch barren for the moment, but when you take off your sunglasses and look a bit closer, you will see that there are, in fact, over 1,000 new plants in the ground just waiting for warmer weather to greet us and grow at a quick pace!
At the top of this post is a photo of the empty beds will only a single bonsai Japanese black pine. You’ll have to swing into the garden to see the plantings. Come back another time to watch as we put the finishing touches on.
During these times of exceptionally low precipitation, as a gardener, one must strongly consider a plant palette that is conducive to such an environment. When we consider what a drought tolerant plant might look like, we often times are drawn to plants such as cacti and succulents. Though these sorts of species are clearly drought tolerant, they will commonly front load a gardener’s work schedule. By this, we mean that a gardener will need, in many cases, to thoroughly amend the soil in a planting bed to provide adequate drainage, especially when planting into our native adobe clay soils. (For the record, I prefer pumice as an amendment in this case.) But is there something else we could use that provides beauty without so much work?
Grasses are extremely drought tolerant, low maintenance, and truly provide garden interest through all four seasons. Here at The Gardens at Heather Farm, we recently planted a large ornamental grass display. It’s small at the moment because we grew out approximately 1,000 plugs of 5 different species and planted them out from small plugs. However, these grasses should achieve a nice, large, respectable size by fall, when the plants are at their high point for the season.
In looking around, one will commonly run into deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) and also purple pennisetum (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’). These are fine species, however, they are so commonplace in gardens around this area, that perhaps it is wise to explore some other more unusual species. To that end, let’s have a look at pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) and giant sacaton (Sporobolis wrightii).
Pink muhly grass is certainly one of the most stunning grasses available at the moment. I see this one available at many nurseries but not planted out as much as it ought to be. During the fall, its iridescent pink inflorescences will have all of your gardening friends begging you for the name of that plant! It tolerates nearly any soil condition and is incredibly drought tolerant once established. At maturity, one can expect pink muhly to achieve a size of 3’x3’. This means it can fit into a number of spaces in the garden without taking up more real estate than you’d like to contribute. I have personally grown this plant from the Midwest all the way out to the West Coast, and in every situation it has thrived. The only care it will need is a quick cut back in the winter time (which can be quickly and easily accomplished with one swift cut with you hedge shears). I recommend purchasing these in a 4” size and planting them during the winter (i.e. right now) for best results. Gallon sizes are usually a waste on ornamental grasses if you have even the smallest modicum of patience. We will have a few hundred of these in the garden on display for your viewing pleasure in the fall. They will thoroughly complement our standard mum beds as well.
Giant sacaton (Sporobolis wrightii) is an excellent candidate when one needs some taller plants in a bed to create a multileveled viewing experience. I’ve seen pampas grass used for this effect in many situations, however its invasive nature tends to scare me away from planting it. That’s where giant sacaton comes in; it doesn’t suffer from the same tendecies. One can expect this grass to reach heights of 5-7’. That’s a good sized plant, indeed! The puffy inflorescences will remain attractive all through the winter months. The look is nothing short of stately. Many gardeners have achieved dramatic looks in beds with a bit of solar powered up lighting on these specimens as well. Paired with some shorter grasses like pink muhly, you can achieve a gorgeous and unique install that requires an absolute mimumum of care. All that’s required is one day per season of cutting back these grasses. They divide easily, as well, which can be done immediately after cutting them back.
We hope to have both of these species available at our upcoming plant sale later this spring. Stop by The Gardens and pick our brains about these and other ornamental grasses we’ll be featuring!
Finally, our roses here at The Gardens at Heather Farm have reached a dormant, or at least semi-dormant state. That means our extensive rose collection is due for its yearly pruning. Our collection is comprised of roughly 1000 floribunda, hybrid tea, rugosa, David Austen, and many other species and varieties. As you might imagine, with numbers like these, we have our work cut out for us! Fortunately, we have an excellent team of experienced volunteers to make light work of this otherwise daunting task.
For many (if not most) rose gardeners, however, a team of skilled rose pruners is not going to show up to assist! It is after this realization that many gardener’s begin to panic. DO NOT PANIC. Rose pruning is not difficult at all. The principles are basic and the results of proper pruning will be apparent through the entire growing season.
Before you begin your yearly pruning, it is imperative to have the proper equipment on hand. I recommend the following items:
-Bypass pruning shears
-Hand pruning saw
-Thick, long-sleeved clothing
With this simple list, you will be able to make quick work of your rose garden while avoiding gratuitous damage to your skin! It is then time to begin the pruning itself. January is the best time to prune your roses, but if you end up waiting a bit (til perhaps February), you will still be fine.
Now, how is it done? The answer to this question is lengthy and is perhaps best answered by watching this short instructional video.
If you’d like to practice on someone elses roses, you should feel free to join us in the garden on Wednesday mornings at 9am for the next couple of weeks to try out your new found skills on our roses and get some tips from our veteran rosarians. Rose pruning is simple and rewarding. Here’s to a growing season filled with fantastic blooms for you to enjoy!
The rains have returned! This is a joyous occasion for the flora in your garden. For many, however, this is not an ideal time of the year to work outside. It’s not yet time to prune roses, and most of your trees and shrubs can certainly wait for winter time pruning for a little while. I like to take advantage of this time period to maintain my tools.
Often times, we neglect our tools during the growing season. This is natural! We consistently use them during the warm months, and they begin to show the tell tale signs of dullness. Dull tools can lead to injury and they don’t slice cleanly and can cause one to slip during a pruning cut, thus pruning the hand instead of the shrub!
Now, you are likely thinking that I am strictly talking about your hedging and pruning shears, here. This is not the case! The number one tool that I see sharpened at irregular intervals at best is the shovel. SHARPEN YOUR SHOVEL BLADE. If you have never done this, please take a moment to do it and save your back a tremendous amount of strain next season. Sharpened shovels slice into the ground like a hot knife through butter!
After your blades are all sharp, do not forget to lubricate any hinged tools. Many choose to use a liquid spray lubricant such as WD-40 for this job. I do not recommend it! Over the course of time, this can lead to gummier blades that, in turn, create a safety hazard. You should use a waterproof grease for this purpose. Also, make sure that your blades snap together the way you’d see a set of typical hand scissors work. Often times, folks keep the bolt too tight in the axle, creating more work for the user and poorer pruning cuts.
In closing, here is a video that shows how to properly sharpen a blade. BE SAFE!
In effort to prove that beauty can be created with minimal water usage, we replanted the old herb garden at the southern most portion of the garden in two zones. The southern zone was planted with everblooming hydrangeas, sword ferns, bear’s breech, and bugleweed. The area receives artificial shade during the summer months from some umbrellas which have star jasmine growing up them. The concept is that once the start jasmine takes over, we will be able to remove the canvas portion of the umbrellas to create a unique arbor. The northern zone includes, New Zealand flax, hebes, society garlic, lily-of-the-Nile, ‘Dark Star’ ceanothus, a tree form ‘Ray Hartmann’ ceanothus, and cape plumbago. These species retain many of the aesthetic attributes of the hydrangea area without the intensive water requirements. The water usage here will be exceptionally minimal while still providing a great deal of beauty. The plants are obviously small at the moment, but please come back and visit often to watch them grow and fill out!
As promised, we have replanted the rockery with succulents and cacti donated by the Ruth Bancroft Garden and a few of our own. They are a bit small at the present, but in a few years time this area will be amazing. Expect the agave to reach sizes of 5×5 or greater! Our volunteers were willing to sweat and most likely bleed to make this a success, and we can’t thank them enough! Next week, we will be installing the fresh plants in the butterfly garden and working our way up the southern most portions of the gardens with fresh plants.
At long last, we have enough plants to finish out the Rockery! By next week, we will have everything removed except for the existing conifers. We will then be able to plant it out with succulents and cacti generously donated by the Ruth Bancroft Garden. This renovation has been quite a process, and we are nearing the point of tasting the fruits of out labor! Here is a shot of some of the plants we are about to install:
I will provide another update once planting is complete! Drop by and see the progress.
At long last, our Chrysanthemum garden has begun to show its true colors! As you pass by in the coming weeks, more and more blooms are going to be developing culminating in an amazing extravaganza of show stopping color. It is definitely possible for one to enjoy such color right there at home. Join Steve Dawkins this Thursday from 6-8 pm to learn just how that is done.
Fall is approaching, and we all know that’s the best time of the year to plant some new and fun things in your garden. We happen to have around 200 species and cultivars available for purchase at our annual fall plant sale September 13th at our greenhouse facilities. Stop in to meet like minded people and get expert advice on plant selection and care from our dedicated staff and volunteers!