Plant Preview

Welcome to Plant Preview, a blog dedicated to helping gardeners learn about gardening techniques and preview new plant cultivars. Read about new plants here first and hear how your "comrades in compost" are making use of new plant introductions in their gardens and landscapes. Blog author Geri Laufer is a life-long dirt gardener, degreed horticulturist, author and former County Extension Agent. Plant Preview is copyrighted by Geri Laufer.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Tiny and Tough, Micron® Holly Really Measures Up

Have you heard the old mouse’s tale: “if prickly hollies are brought into the house, the husband is in command, but if smooth-leafed hollies are used to decorate, the wife rules the home”? I'll have to try it. Holly leaves and bark were used for various ailments by native Americans. Some wore sprigs of holly during child birth to ease pain and assure delivery of a healthy baby. Several southeastern tribes brewed a purgative, emetic drink from the leaves of native yaupon holly (memorialized by it species name, Ilex vomitoria) in the spring, which allegedly restored lost appetites, preserved good health and bestowed courage in battle.

Micron® Dwarf Yaupon Holly is super-adaptable to all types of growing conditions. A choice dwarf selection of native holly by Garden Debut®, Micron® is extremely durable and flourishes in a tremendously wide range of conditions, from sun to shade and from wet to dry soils! Much more compact than the typical evergreen dwarf yaupon, Micron® Holly has a characteristic mounding or pillowing habit that makes this shrub distinctive in the landscape. Slow growing so it never needs pruning, Micron® reaches a mature height of only 20 – 30 inches and a wider spread of three feet. Resilient plants are profusely branched and low mounds of rich green foliage add a distinctive rich color to the garden in winter (Zones 7 and warmer).

Micron® Holly is an exceptionally versatile garden performer because it is not particular to the type of soil provided, and while it is tolerant of wet soils it is also more drought resistant than other hollies. Wild yaupon grows along the Gulf and Atlantic coastal plains of the southeastern United States with a range extending from the northern coast of Virginia south to central Florida and west to southern Oklahoma and eastern Texas. This makes Micron® Holly an ideal landscape plant in warmer U. S. gardens for a multitude of uses, including small hedges, garden borders, edging, foundation plantings and massed on slopes to control erosion and to simply look good. Prized for its slow rate of growth and resulting dense wood, pruning or shearing is never necessary with Micron® Holly. Additionally, Micron® is deer resistant and yields a slight fragrance when the tiny flowers bloom in late spring. If you live in the Southeast, look for Micron® at independent garden centers near you.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Top 10 Reasons for Organic Mulch!

Wow! I love organic mulches. Here are the Top 10 Ways Mulch can Benefit Landscape Plants:

1. Moderates soil temperatures like an insulating blanket

2. Moderates soil moisture levels by limiting evaporation of moisture already in the ground

3. Unifies the landscape design by providing pleasing color and texture throughout

4. Reduces erosion and splash-back on residences by softening the impact of raindrops on bare earth

5. Suppresses weed growth by preventing weed seeds from sprouting

6. Enriches the soil by adding nutrients when decomposing, improves the physical properties of the soil and can worked into the beds at the end of the season

7. Encourages the proliferation of earthworms, which aerate the soil

8. Provides a zone of protection from string trimmers for tender trunks

9. Cushions the impact of foot traffic

10. Hides irrigation and power lines, valve boxes, outdoor lights and landscaping hardware

How to Mulch:

A blanket of mulch of about 2 – 4 inches and not much more is best. If the trunks of trees or shrubs come into contact with mulch, ideal conditions for the growth of fungus disease can be present. Reduce this possibility by leaving a 3 – 4 inch space between the mulch and the trunks, or an 8 inch space around mature trees.

I can only think of 2 Reasons Not to Mulch:

1. Ornamental poppy seeds, foxgloves, nigella, and other annuals, perennials and natives like purple cone flower need bare ground to sprout and won't sprout under mulch. So pull back the mulch in an area where you intend to scatter seeds.

2. Pine voles (nasty, stub-tailed, mice-like herbivores) tunnel on top of the soil but under too-thick mulch to gnaw on the crowns of my favorite and rarest plants, especially during the cold months. Still, I think the benefits outweigh any drawbacks.

Let me know your favorite kinds of organic mulch.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Parterre Garden: Embroidering with Plants

While working on my talk on ‘Herbs of Shakespeare’ presented last week, I got re-intrigued with the elaborate evergreen gardens they planted back in those days.

Formal, ornamental gardens of the French Baroque period and English Renaissance were typically laid out on level surfaces adjacent to the grand buildings or halls, par "on", terre "the ground". They were typically bilaterally symmetrical and often foursquare, divided by broad, level paths of gravel, sand, turf or swept earth. A stone or brick curb was often used to outline the design, and within, the planting beds were edged with tightly clipped evergreen hedges, often of boxwood, for four seasons of beauty.

Within the planting beds the woody ornamentals were tightly planted in clipped hedges inscribing decoratively geometric designs. The sensuous shapes of boxwood scrolls and arabesques placed within the very formal, straight lines of the garden’s basic design lent an elaborate gracefulness. The geometry could also be more angular and consist of straight lines and 90 degree angles. A Flower Parterre had a riot of colorful flowers changing with the seasons planted within the compartments of the hedges. Or the clipped parterres need not have any flowers at all. A Plain Parterre had nothing but the basic outline of the clipped evergreen hedges of the planting.

Broad pathways were part of the design, and allowed the garden to be admired by people strolling through it. However the true beauty of the parterre was best viewed from the upper windows of the mansion. This bird’s eye view displayed the design like a pattern of crewel embroidery.

Although today’s gardeners are not about to plant a formal parterre, low evergreen hedges are still useful to contain flowers or define an edge. Consider trying Green Borders Boxwood, new this year from Garden Debut®, for low, informal hedging and when dark green color is needed to provide structure and interest in the landscape.

This littleleaf boxwood displays a sturdy growth habit and dense, dark green foliage. Slow growing, Green Borders reaches a mature height of 2 – 3 feet tall and a slightly wider spread of 3 – 4 feet, making it excellent for informal garden edging and borders. Plants are profusely branched and the glossy, dark green foliage adds a distinctive rich color to the garden in winter.

Not just another green box, Green Borders Boxwood is exceptional because it is tolerant of moist soils. Other notable characteristics include deer resistance and a slight fragrance when the tiny flowers bloom in late spring. Green Borders Boxwood flourishes in conditions of sun to dappled shade. In full sun, shallow-rooted plants appreciate a little mulch to keep soils cool.

Boxwoods have been used for centuries by gardeners for small hedges, garden borders, edging, foundation plantings and as accent plants, prized for their slow rate of growth. Although pruning or shearing is never necessary with Green Borders Boxwood, littleleaf plants may be sheared into tight the geometric shapes or the formal topiary of yesteryear if desired.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Gardening Thoughts on Mother's Day

There is something to be said for celebrating Mother’s Day in the most beautiful month of the year, amidst all the spring flowers. Wikipedia has a remarkable chart listing the timing of Mother’s Day in many countries around the world, and I noticed the majority of them do fall in May. 
My darling Mother showered me with unconditional love and her many talents included watercolor, design, dressmaking and cooking, but I attribute my love of gardening to my Gardening Grandmother. Cozily seated on the sofa with the snow piled up outside Grandmother would let me choose dozens of vegetable and flower seeds from the glossy catalogs to order for the garden. When springtime rolled around, we would plant an organic garden, turning under cover crops and organic mulch, lining out seeds of leaf lettuce, hilling up the cukes, ladling out manure tea. 
Grandmother had a garden that puzzled me, with old fashioned flowers and new hybrid vegetables all thriving together under fruit trees. It was much later that I learned hers was a “cottage garden”. The branches of her plum trees were so weighted down with fruit that 2 x 4s were needed to prop them up and prevent them from breaking. I NEVER remember being asked to weed, but inhabited a privileged sphere and was allowed to pick tiny cucumbers at 3-inches, rub off their prickles and munch them up in the garden still warm from the sun, or to pop the sensitive seed pods of Balsam or Touch Me Nots at will. 
In June, we would go to the annual Community Rose Show just before closing on the last day, and Grandmother would gather up the discarded roses to take home. These were carefully rooted under quart Mason jars, and in later years people would stop their cars to get out and marvel at the display of roses planted the length of the driveway.  She had green fingers and I absorbed the best gardening practices unconsciously.  
I still have a great treasure: Grandmother’s favorite trowel and I use it only occasionally. I have her seed box and I still grow descendents of the balsam and feverfew that used to grow in her garden. I’m a mom and when my sons were small we gardened together too.  One has turned out to love gardening, but the jury’s still out on the other one. I have high hopes of hitting two for two.