Hoorah for the Blue Danube

Posted June 26, 2015 by Melissa
Categories: landscape, Landscape design solutions, photography

Tags: , , , ,

Last year most of my hydrangeas were no-shows (or no-blooms, to put it more accurately). The culprit was a late spring frost which did in any hope of flowers from my mopheads (the H. paniculata ‘Limelights’ were fine).

This year I am overwhelmed with hydrangea blooms. And although I do love my ‘All Summer Beauty’ hydrangeas,

Hydrangea macrophylla 'All Summer Beauty' , Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘All Summer Beauty’ flowers next to variegated Hakone grass foliage in my front yard.

my favorite mophead is Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Blue Danube.’

'Blue Danube 'in bloom in 2008 in my back yard, before I lost the wooden arbor at left.

‘Blue Danube ‘in bloom in 2008 in my back yard, before I lost the wooden arbor at left.

I probably bought this variety of hydrangea over ten years ago, by order two gallon-sized shrubs from an online source, Wilkerson Gardens, which apparently no longer offers them. Several years later, in a fit of horticultural ingenuity, I read an article on how to grow hydrangeas from rooted cuttings, and voila – I had two more ‘Blues.’ The photo below shows one of them growing next to an ‘Endless Summer’ – if you look carefully you can see the difference in leaf texture as well as in the appearance of the blooms. Although the web descriptions of this shrub describe it as ‘compact’ and good for containers, my experience is that it becomes fairly large (although not as large as ‘Nikko Blue’ or ‘All Summers Beauty.’)

'Blue Danube' is on the left, with 'All Summer Beauty' on the right. The latter's flowerheads have smaller flowers and in my experience are less likely to color pink in my soil.

‘Blue Danube’ is on the left (flower buds not fully colored), with ‘All Summer Beauty’ on the right. The latter’s flowerheads have smaller flowers and in my experience are less likely to color pink in my soil.

I think I love this variety so because of the strong purple-blue and purple-pink hues that the flowers have (at least in my garden). ‘All Summer Beauty’ and H. macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’ have softer blue blooms.

'Nikko Blue' in my side yard

‘Nikko Blue’ in my side yard

‘Blue Danube’ has colors that can’t be ignored.

That may also explain why it’s my favorite hydrangea for cutting – and for photographing when cut.
Blue Danube Hydrangeas1_20130708002

If all this has whet your appetite for a ‘Blue Danube’ or two of your own, I’m happy to report that Hydrangeas Plus offers them for sale online.

The Guests That Won’t Leave the Garden

Posted June 12, 2015 by Melissa
Categories: landscape, Landscape design solutions, photography

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Now that I can work in the garden again, I am overwhelmed. Spring’s abundant rains here have encouraged lush new growth not only of hydrangea buds (which were sadly absent last year)

Hydrangea 'All Summer Beauty,'

Hydrangea ‘All Summer Beauty’ began to bud last week.

but also of what I call “garden rogues” – plants I planted in small numbers (or not at all) which have become travelers all over my garden. There used to be a modest bed in my side yard between my arbor and a thriving Styrax tree, originally planted with selected shrubs and hostas, Carex, a few Heuchera, and a couple of toad lilies purchased from a local nursery. The other day I photographed it stuffed full of those plants and a million ‘volunteers.’

Mayhem in the borderl

Mayhem in the border

The toad lilies have gaily seeded themselves everywhere, as have a species Geranium (G. maculatum). Both have the good grace to be easy to remove (once the temps drop below 92, I’ll think about it . . .). What bugs me most is the constant proliferation of spiderwort (Tradescantia), which spreads by runners all over the damned place. It’s the blue-flowered perennial below. You can’t get rid of it without digging out the roots, which is an almost impossible task. I’ve settled for cutting it back at the base, knowing it will come back.

Tradescantia (spiderwort) and Indian pink have spread in this border without any encouragement from me.

Tradescantia (spiderwort) and Indian pink have spread in this border without any encouragement from me.

I’m happier about the spread of the Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica), shown above with the red blooms. I ordered three plants of it many years ago from an online nursery. Today I find it throughout the garden. It likes shade – what a surprise to see such a strong red color in a shade garden!

Felix-femina 'Lady in Red'

‘Lady in Red’ fern has red stems.

Another perennial with a little red in it that has spread unexpectedly in my garden is the fern ‘Lady in Red’ (Athyrium felix-femina ‘Lady in Red’). It was a new introduction when I splurged on it (having lots of deer who wander through the garden has increased my interest in and respect for ferns, which they avoid). But now I’ve found it a hundred feet away from where I first planted it. No problem for me.

Other plants I’ve been happy to see self-seed in my garden include dwarf goats-beard (Aruncus aesthusifolius), another stalwart for the shade, and – to my great delight – the lacecap hydrangea H. macrophylla ‘Blue Billows,’ which has appeared in two locations other than the two where I originally planted it. Now there’s a real bargain.

 

Hydrangea serrata 'Blue Billows'

‘Blue Billows’ in my back yard, with ferns and a variegated boxwood in the background.

 

Back Behind the Lens

Posted May 29, 2015 by Melissa
Categories: architecture, photography, Travel, urban photography

Tags: , ,

First of all, many thanks to my readers for putting up with such a long hiatus on Garden Shoots. In February, I broke a bone in my left hand and dislocated a tendon in one of the fingers. Typing was laborious and one-handed for quite a while. I’m happy to report that I am – finally – back to normal.

While I was taking this break, I did get to do some traveling, not to see gardens but to take some photography workshops. It’s amazing what you can do with only one fully flexible hand, and I also need to thank my friend and photographer buddy Sarah for helping to schlep my bags on the first trip. It was a workshop in Santa Fe (through Santa Fe Photographic Workshops) with the incomparable Sam Abell. Called “The Next Step,” it was focused on the process and intent of photographing. He encouraged us to be reflective about our work and – where  possible – “compose and wait,” paying attention, at the same time, to what would be included in our images.

At the end of the workshop, he spent time with each of us one-on-one, and suggested that over time, his own guiding principle has become “less is more.” Mine, too, as those you who know my work through this blog can attest.

Although I didn’t end up with a photograph-of-a-lifetime, it was a magical week. Here are some examples of what we did, on our two field trips, as well as on a side trip Sarah and I took to Taos.

Green Screens for Small Spaces

Posted March 7, 2015 by Melissa
Categories: landscape, Landscape design solutions, photography

Tags: , , ,

Garden Shoots is on a hiatus while I let my left hand heal. . .  Until I can type again with both hands, I hope you will enjoy one of the blog’s 
most popular posts from the past. Hope to be back in action sometime in April!

*

One of the requests I hear most frequently as a designer who lives in a suburban area is for screening plants. Maybe your neighbor’s house is a McMansion, or perhaps you just don’t want to look out your porch or the dining room window and see the street or – whatever. If you’re lucky, you have a large enough yard and enough sun that you can accommodate a mixed grouping of trees – some conifers (no Leyland cypresses, please!), a holly or two, and some deciduous but ornamental trees mixed in.

In some cases, however, the space available is more limited. Here is where I make a pitch for a tree that may not be as well known as the American holly or even the Japanese cryptomeria. Ladies and gentlemen, I present Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata,’ or the fastigiate hornbeam.

Before looking at the slimmed-down version, the straight species deserves its own moment of glory. I first encountered Carpinus betulus on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate outside of Asheville, North Carolina many years ago on a glorious early autumn day. Although the fall color is only hinted at in this photo, it’s a glorious golden hue and a real plus.

Carpinus betulus, European hornbeam

A mature Carpinus betulus starting to show fall color on the grounds of the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, North Carolina

At the time, I didn’t know what kind of tree it was, but I made it my business to find out later. Since then, while I haven’t had clients with the kind of space needed in their gardens to plant one of these “regular” Carpinus, I’ve discovered the merits of its smaller cousin.

Carpinus betulus 'Fastigiata'

Young Carpinus betulus

Fastigiate hornbeams (‘Fastigiata’ or a supposedly even narrower version, ‘Franz Fontaine,’) have a branching structure that is so tight it stops the eye, even when the tree isn’t in leaf. I’ve seen them planted as close together as 4′ on center, although I prefer to space them out six to seven feet apart (measured from trunk to trunk). This photo shows three ‘Fastigiata,’ planted along a six-foot fence in a back yard in the District of Columbia about seven years ago. Today they are fully grown together, about twenty feet high, and the garden owner loves them, especially since she can no longer see the car parked in her neighbor’s back yard.

I have seen them planted more formally (and seemingly “topped”), as a backdrop for a parking area at Muddy Rugs in Connecticut last August on a Garden Conservancy Tour.

Carpinus betulus, fastigiate

Fastigiate hornbeams, looking like lollipops, screening a parking area at a Connecticut house.

They can be kept relatively short and used as a hedge in smaller suburban spaces between houses, although I’m not sure how attractive I find them when treated that way if the height is seriously curtailed.

Carpinus betulus, hedge

These fastigiate hornbeams have been clipped into a kind of hedge between two new houses in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

(Of course, the Ellipse at Dumbarton Oaks is the most famous use of a clipped hornbeam hedge that I know of, but there the height at which the trees are kept is probably closer to 30-40 feet.)

Dumbarton Oaks, Ellipse, Patrick Dougherty

The hornbeam hedge at Dumbarton Oaks (shown here with Patrick Dougherty’s  ‘Easy Rider’ installation).

So you probably get the picture. The added bonus is that hornbeams can “take a little shade,” as designers like to say. That allows them to be used in less than ideally sunny sites, either mixed with other kinds of screening trees or on their own. And the fastigiate varieties can be utilized where space is very tight (a narrow space between two houses, for example); over time you can limb up the lower branches so that they can clear a low fence, or prune them to keep them tight.

But truthfully? I prefer situations where you can give them some breathing room, even when using them for screening. Here’s a perfect example, where local landscape architect Guy Williams has used matching pairs to great effect on one side of a somewhat formally designed back yard, both to screen the house next door but also to set off the space with grace.

Carpinus betulus

Four European hornbeam trees act as a screen but also as a focal point in this garden.

So the next time you’re contemplating how to screen a view – or just add some beauty to your garden – give some thought to a hornbeam. You won’t regret it.

Garden Shoots will take a brief holiday break over the Christmas weekend. See you in the New Year!

Awestruck at the Library of Congress

Posted February 21, 2015 by Melissa
Categories: architecture, photography, Travel

Tags: , , , , , ,

The first time I visited the Library of Congress was in late 2005 (ten years ago, yipes!), when my camera club was able to arrange a field trip for us, complete with tripod permission. I didn’t know what to expect. When I walked in, I was speechless. So when I returned last month for another field trip, I understood completely when a young Australian  woman who had just entered said simply, “Oh my God” on looking up.

Jefferson Building, Library of Congress

One of two bronze statues on the ground floor of the Jefferson Building, Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress opened in 1897 and serves as the research arm of Congress. The Main Reading Room is open to members of the public only two days a year; the rest of the time, you need a Reader Identification Card which is valid for two years and obtainable on application. Photography is allowed (without tripods) on the floor on the two Visitors Days each year, and from a gallery above during other times.

There is an abundance of information online about the Jefferson Building’s artistic glories so I will not try to reproduce all of it here. Suffice it to say that the building is a marvel in both substance and aesthetics. Do not miss it if you are headed to our nation’s capital.

Beautiful Bonsai at the National Arboretum

Posted February 6, 2015 by Melissa
Categories: landscape, photography

Tags: , , , , , ,

In early January of this new year, I was feeling a little stir-crazy at home. So I decided to visit the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, at the National Arboretum. I had drifted through the collections before, on other visits, but this time I went specifically to see these miniature treasures.

As many of you probably already know, bonsai is the Japanese art form of growing minature trees in containers (bonsai literally means “planting in tray,” according to Wikipedia). It is over one thousand years old. A similar practice grew up in ancient China, where it is called “penjing” and includes creating miniature landscapes as well as trees.

 

National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, National Bonsai Foundation,  US National Arboretum

Part of the collection at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum.

Because it was winter, some of the bonsai specimens were leafless – but not all of them. A conifer is a conifer, after all, regardless of size. So the Chinese and California junipers, as well as the camellias, still sported their leaves – and one camellia was even in bloom. It was a quiet afternoon, well-suited to enjoying the charms of these beautiful specimens. Here are some of my favorites. If you’re ever fortunate enough to visit the Arboretum, don’t overlook this hidden gem. The museum’s hours are more limited, however, so plan your visit between 10 am and 4 pm most days.

 

“Seeing Deeper” at the National Cathedral

Posted January 23, 2015 by Melissa
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , ,

Living in the DC suburbs, one of my favorite places to photograph both gardens and architecture has long been the Washington National Cathedral. Earlier this month, the Cathedral cleared its nave of chairs for a four-day period. It publicized this event, offering (paid) access to photographers on two mornings before it opened to the public.  The Cathedral called it a “week of exploration and experience” and christened it “Seeing Deeper.”

Although the price tag was a bit steep  ($25 per person; the Cathedral has recently instituted an admission fee of $10 on normal days for sightseeing except when worship services are going on) and there was no guarantee of good sunlight to illuminate the stained glass windows, I signed up right away. As luck would have it, the day I signed up for turned out to be cloudy, so I got no striking photographs of sunbeams on the walls. But I found much to admire and photograph on the main floor (which is the only part we were allowed to visit), and put my tripod to good use. I hope you enjoy the results.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 247 other followers

%d bloggers like this: