The rain, however, wasn’t a dream. A haze of drops, blending into the pale gray clouds, still fell when the alarm rang. It was a special rain that conjured summer memories and inspired daydreaming.
Splish! splish! Rain drops in the night were surely a dream that would fade with the sunrise of another white-hot day.
Such rain comes without wind or sizzling lightening. I savored this delightful precipitation from the comfort of a rocking chair near a screened window. A porch swing would have been ideal, but even this perch afforded leisurely coffee sipping and unexpected peace.
When my sister and I were small, and such a rainy day came along, Mother had us change into our bathing suits to go “swimming” in the backyard. Raindrops and the wet, silky grass weren’t at all like the community swimming pool we went to most summer afternoons. Didn’t matter. We romped and screamed delightedly.
Turning faces skyward and mouths open wide, we tried to catch rain drops on our tongues. We did the same thing in winter for snowflakes. Usually we tired of such exuberant play long before the saturated clouds drifted further east. Then came a dry bath towel, a change back to play clothes and renewed efforts at Monopoly or other indoor games. At least Mother got a reprieve from complaints about the missed day at the swimming pool.
As a gardener, this particular morning was even more rewarding. Several chores were scratched off the do-do list the night before, never mind the fatigue. There were check marks beside everything, from tucking in some transplants to spreading weed preventer in the cracks of the brick paving. One more thing would have made this morning perfect — having the houseplants outside. But the rain wasn’t predicted, hadn’t been for days, and wasn’t foreseen for several more to come. A last look before bed showed nothing on radar. It was only my hunch (hope?) about rain.
Still, it would have been good to put the houseplants outside. There’s nothing like rain to bring freshness. Dust washes away, along with tap water salts in the soil (particularly in downpours). But this morning was too fine to spoil by a soggy chore, no matter how beneficial. Same with attempting more transplanting. No! The rain washed away plans for the morning walk, gardening and errands.
From the window, I watched the narrow leaves on phlox and other towering perennials bounce up and down, as if played by invisible fingers making music too faint to hear. On the west window, where a bit of breeze had spattered rain, some of the crystal drops slowly zigzagged their way down the glass.
By making me pause during the busy season, this rainy day refreshed the gardener as much as any houseplant fortunate enough to be outdoors. The next day’s weather was to be bright and hot again, with perhaps a few popup storms. What better reason to spend moments of cool peace and ease, while making a new memory of a rainy summer day?
Heartland Gardening recently talked with Eva Monheim, author of “Shrubs and Hedges” (Cool Springs Press, March 2020) about the under-appreciated hedgerow – its rich history, diversity and ecological value. Eva teaches at world renown Longwood Gardens as well as the Barnes Arboretum at St. Joseph’s University. She is co-founder of Verdant Earth Educators, a horticulture education and consulting firm, and was assistant professor at Temple University’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture for over 12 years.
What is a hedgerow?
If we look back into history, hedgerows were first developed after humankind transitioned from hunter gathers to the agrarian lifestyle. Woodlands were cut down to create fields to grow crops and strips of the ancient forest were left to protect the crops from wind and other elements. Small narrow lanes were created between the hedgerows, so wagons could pull crops to local villages to store. So, when we think of hedgerows, they were first used for farming. They were also used to protect the crops from animals. As man began herding animals, they also used hedgerows for keeping animals in a field, while trying to keep other undomesticated animals out. More complex hedgerows developed – especially in England where pleaching was developed. Trees were cut halfway through and snapped. These half-felled trees began sprouting and then the sprouts were braided into an intricate lattice structure. This design further curtailed unwanted animals from moving in or farm animals from wandering out.
What was their initial ecological appeal?
Early farmers knew hedgerow’s diversity provided pollinators for crops and habitat for birds. Hedgerows here in the U.S. are one of the most threatened habitats, especially by new constructions projects. The first thing to go is usually the hedgerow. Most people think they are junky, but they are anything but junky. They also are critical to prevent flooding downstream, protecting farmers from the elements, and providing additional food sources, like berries and other small fruits. Their structure contains large trees, layers of shrubs and ground covers, perennials, annual plants, and seed store.
How is it different from a hedge?
Hedges came about to define boundary lines other than fields. Hedgerows were a form of protection from the elements, keeping snow on the fields for deep watering before the crops were planted. Hedges came about as gentry began pushing farmers off the land and securing land for themselves. Usually one or two species were used to make a hedge of thick green walls impenetrable to passersby. Hedges are still used like this today as a delineation between me and you – owner and non-owner. In Europe, there is a crossover between hedges and hedgerows. Here, 600- and 700-year-old hedges are called “hedgerows” as they gain a mix of species over time.
What is the value of hedgerows today?
With the few hedgerow remnants remaining in the U.S., they are even more important today. If you are concerned about pollinators – hedgerows are critical for their preservation. Swarms of bees can live in hollowed out trees and old tree stumps. If there are no large woodlands around, these areas are even more valuable. The exposed sides of the hedgerow have valuable habitat for in-ground native bees and other pollinators like bats that roost in the trees. Old snags and logs become a haven for beetles that provide invaluable services for our gardens and crops. Birds also use these habitats for nesting and some birds can live their entire lives in the hedgerow which provides food and protection from the elements. I can go on and on about the value hedgerows – it’s the unseen that is the most valuable – the enormous opportunity for seed store that contributes to diversity. They should not look clean and tidy. They should be strips of diversity.
Where is a good place to add a hedgerow?
While a typical hedgerow can’t be built (it’s an evolutionary process), you can make a pseudo-hedgerow along a property line by creating a layered plant community or buffer. Start with trees. You can start all your plants out small and let them grow into place then slowly fill in with varied understory small trees and shrubs. It would be like building a woodland – but in a narrow strip 10’-25’ wide.
What shrubs do you recommend for a pseudo-hedgerow?
Depending on where you are building your buffer – along a stream or along a boundary, the species will vary depending on the site:
Hydrangea arborescens – smooth leafhydrangea and there are lots of cultivars too! (you can also use other hydrangea like Hydrangea macrophylla – bigleaf hydrangea and Hydrangea serrata – mountain hydrangea)
Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis or (syn. Sambucus canadensis) – American black elderberry
Aesculus parviflora – bottlebrush buckeye
Aesculus pavia – red buckeye
Rhus aromatica – Fragrant sumac
Rhus typhina – staghorn sumac
Maclura pomifera – Osage orange
Quercus imbricaria – shingle oak
Quercus stellata – post oak
Quercus phellos – willow oak
Quercus macrocarpa – burr oak
Sassafras albidum – sassafras
How do you go about installing a hedgerow?
I would typically start by planting trees — both deciduous trees and conifers. Remember you are building a remnant of a woodland. There is no need to move or remove any soil or remove any lawn. Plant your trees as if you were planting them in your lawn and plant your shrubs in between. (Make sure to plant long-lived species such as oaks as well as short-lived species such as cherries.) When you have planted all that you can, use newspaper and cardboard over the entire area making sure all the paper products overlap. (There is an art form in doing this. Start at one end and work to the other. Mulch the entire area with triple ground hardwood or woodchips or combinations of mulch. Pine straw is great, too!) Allow the area to settle in for a year to kill weeds and invasive plants and then you can go in and plant additional shrubs and trees and plant bulbs, native woodland flowers and ground covers. Lay a few logs in the mix too for beetle habitat.
How do you expand the hedgerow?
When planting a hedge make sure to leave a well cultivated area around the hedge. They can be planted like the hedgerow (described above) leaving the lawn intact. Make sure to be generous and methodical about using newspaper and cardboard in between, in front and behind the hedge, and cover with triple-ground hardwood (no dyed mulch – too many chemicals in them). A more refined mulch will create a good sound cover. The following year, you can plant perennials, bulbs, or annuals or a combination along the edge to provide a more diverse habitat.You can also use several different types of plants to make your hedge and instead of creating a straight line of plants stagger them – in and out. Plant them the same way as you did the above. The following year, you can plant bulbs, perennials and annuals in the alcoves that were created, maybe even some shorter shrubs that will add different seasonal interest to the hedge.
Most discussions about native plants start with a definition, but not this one. Instead here are my thoughts of where native plants belong in our gardens.
First and foremost, native plants are organisms that have developed affinities for the soil, climate, moisture, and light quality of their homeplace. Plants have co-evolved with animals, fungi, and bacteria in places we call habitats. This is the basis of the oft recommended meme: right plant, right place.
If you know where a plant originates, you know what it needs. Some plants must have the conditions of their homeplace, while others can adapt to a wider range of environments. Consider the Lakeside daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea).
Its homeplace is only one location in the world: growing in full sun in the cracks of exposed limestone bedrock on the Marblehead peninsula in northwest Ohio and on Kelley’s Island in Lake Erie. The only way that it can be grown at the Heritage Garden at the Ohio Governor’s Residence is in the crevices of a transplanted limestone slab and in limestone gravel. If you think you will be able to grow a Lakeside daisy in your clay soil, you will be deeply disappointed.
Contrast the narrow tolerance of Lakeside daisy with the exuberant dance of the celandine or wood poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum). I have not attempted to count the number of seeds that one plant can disperse, but my original plant has multiplied into hundreds. While celandine poppy prefers shady conditions and moist, humus-enriched soil, it has seeded into sunny, drier locations in my garden. The trade-off is that the plants in dry, sunnier areas are smaller and seem to make less seed.
So… if you have a newly built home, which of the two above plants has a better chance at success?
But even the celandine poppy will have issues with the typical soil that is left when a home is built. Be prepared to spend some time healing damaged soil with compost and recreating the habitat that was.
All plants have developed amazing mechanisms for being pollinated and then getting their seed dispersed.
Our native toadshade or sessile trillium (Trillium sessile) beckons to native beetles and flies who are attracted to what we would consider an off, rotten smell. The reward for the beetles and flies is pollen. The reward for the trillium is pollination.
The seed dispersal mechanism – for all trillium – also involves a food enticement. Each seed has a fleshy appendage – an elaisome – that is prime food for ants. The seeds are carried to the community, the elaisome is removed and stored, and the seed is discarded outside the anthill. This is important for two reasons: removing the elaisome also removes a dormancy requirement, and the discarded seed is in new territory, which will have less root competition from the mother plant and may contain more nutrients.
Many of our native plants have cousins who live in similar habitats but in different parts of the world. We may struggle with the idea of whether or not we should plant the native or the possibly more spectacular non-native plant.
Our diminutive Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) may seem to pale in contrast with the showy Japanese native bleeding heart (Lamprocampnos spectabilis), but each has its own charm and have more similarities than differences in their life stories. Both are spring ephemerals and disappear when dry, hot summer approaches. Both are pollinated by long-tongued bees and both offer ants tasty elaisomes in exchange for moving the seeds around.
But there is the question: does a native plant offer better food to native bees and other native pollinators? Research is being conducted to answer this question at Mt. Cuba, Cornell University, and other botanical gardens and universities. Can’t wait for the answers . . .
As we end Native Plant month, we all know that a commitment to the environment and nature is a year-round effort, but it has been a good exercise to focus on these wonderful plants for this time.
I leave you with the beautiful native blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna), a plant that I want in my garden, but she is picky about her homeplace. After years of developing an area for shyer native plants, I just might be close.
The mention of Arbor Day brings visions of shovels, holes and little sticks with balls of soil at their bases.
Trees are planted for many reasons. But they do more than provide lumber or counter climate change by reducing atmospheric carbon and the heat island effect. They also offer food and shelter to birds and a host of other animals. Sometimes trees become part of local history, childhood memories, voices in the wind or heirlooms. This is the story of five sugar maples.
Perhaps it was Arbor Day in 1912 when the spindly plants were dug from a woods less than a mile from the front lawn of a small Victorian farm house, which was a mere 22 years old. Four of them were transplanted along the country road, the fifth near the house.
The Titanic sank in 1912. It was two years before the start of the butchery of World War I, and a decade prior to the publishing of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, Tales of the Jazz Age that helped define the 1920s.
Frivolity and bathtub gin gave way to the Great Depression decade. In 1939 The Wizard of Oz was released to sing and dance its way into the fabric of American life. Then came the horrors of World War II.
By late1952 the first hydrogen bomb was tested, prosperity raged in America. Tiny-screen televisions mesmerized millions with their black-and-white images. The road in front the now dilapidated frame house was no longer rutted dirt, but shiny black asphalt. The maples, meanwhile, had grown and thrived.
Their tops were well above the story-and-a-half house, when two small children, a girl and boy, moved there in 1952. With their mother’s help, they quickly learned to climb a fat-branched apple tree. After a year or so, they were tall enough to scale the nearby sugar maple. It was the tallest and closest to the house. Their mother was ok with them climbing trees, but not playing near the road, which carried more cars every year.
Fast forward another half century. Space travel was ho-hum, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan underway and the little girl’s children were graduating from college. They had grown up far away and had few chances to climb trees, certainly none like the maples. The traffic on the road was almost constant. Semi trucks increasingly rumbled by, hundreds of motorcycles growled on balmy weekends of spring and autumn. The woods where the trees sprouted became a housing tract and only a few gnarly giants remained.
It was about this time the maples began receiving regular visits from an arborist, because they are not good street trees. Corrective pruning, cabling to help them weather storms, and regular fertilizing became standard care. Despite the remnant of a hurricane, ice storms, droughts and deluges, the trees continued to grow, but less vigorously. Yet their autumn show of golden leaves rivaled the effects of peacocks when it came to dropping jaws.
The trees continued filling their various roles, plus they shaded pedestrians and a swath of pavement. They were a source of free mulch when those glorious leaves fell.
About five years ago the tallest and most beloved maple was diagnosed with a rotten center. It was a threat to the nearby house and the front porch, where the children’s mother had come out to look up into the dense, green cloud and shout, “Kids, supper’s ready. Come on in.”
All those years disappeared in three hours. Only scattered sawdust and a smooth, flat shelf of wood at ground level remained. Last fall, the second of the “hospice” maples, as the arborist described them, was cut down. During its last three or four years, this tree displayed ominous signs: little if any new growth, early coloration and leaf loss in fall, and a shower of dead branches and twigs after every wind storm.
Because the maples are profligates when it comes to seeds, a few sprouted and quickly grew in the landscape beds. The next generation was well underway when the boy, following in the footsteps of his great uncles, transplanted a spindly maple to mark his college graduation in 1970. Every autumn it puts on a show and then carpets the ground with brilliant leaves.
No wonder some wise people created Arbor Day to celebrate and plant trees.
Discover Nativar Plants to Bring Beauty and Eco-Benefits to Your Backyard
By Teresa Woodard
Flopping grasses, no-show flowers and unruly plants. Many home gardeners say “no thanks” to such “wild” native plants for these reasons and others. But, thanks to the flourishing native plant movement, the market has responded with a new and improved plant palette of “nativars.” It’s an industry buzzword for selected, hybridized, or crossbred varieties of native plants that offer more compact sizes, cleaner foliage, better color, or tidier appearance especially for home landscapes.
Nativars like ‘Standing Ovation’ little bluestem or ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ coneflower offer many of the eco-benefits of their straight-species cousins but also behave and show better in the home landscape.
A bonus is these nativars are more widely available through garden centers and big box stores, unlike native plants that are often exclusively sold through specialty growers or occasional native plant sales.
Planting more nativars would seem to be a plus for pollinators, but some purists challenge nativars don’t equally benefit insects and birds like straight-species natives. Research shows not all nativars are equally beneficial when it comes to pollinator appeal. For example, a change in leaf color or flower shape may dissuade pollinators. Several trial gardens across the country are taking a closer look.
The bottom line for me is nativars are making a positive impact for their beauty, ease of care, accessibility and ecological integrity. And, the more variety of natives and nativars we can bring to our backyards, the better. So, when shopping for new plants this spring, give nativars a try. Plant a few (see 10 perennial favorites below), run your own experiments and watch to see if pollinators show up. Even consider sharing your results with the Chicago Botanic Garden’s BudBurst citizen science research project.
Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Standing Ovation’)
Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’, Cheyenne Spirit’ and ‘Ruby Star’)
Those of us at Heartland Gardening have long admired Hope Taft, Ohio’s visionary former first lady. Debra has worked with her for many years in the Heritage Garden at the Governor’s Residence in Columbus. Teresa met her while they were wading the Olentangy River observing concretions with a mutual friend. Michael interviewed her about the garden at its inception when he was working as garden reporter for The Columbus Dispatch. The venerable house is America’s only governor’s residence with a landscape showcasing the state’s native plants and vignettes of its five major natural areas.
As Hope has been instrumental in bringing Ohio Native Plant Month into reality, we thought it a good time to for a Q&A session. Her replies have been edited for space considerations.
Why do you garden?
Gardening to me is something that takes your full concentration and attention. When I am working in the yard, all consideration of worries or time go away. I find it very refreshing to come in tired from pulling invasive plants and weeding. Instead of the hour I had planned to spend, three have passed, and the area looks so much better! More important, the worries I had before venturing into the yard are so greatly reduced in size, or a solution to the situation has emerged. In our present home, I view what I do as gardening, but it’s more restoring its natural habitat. Wildlife has been nice enough to let us share their home, so I am trying to create a space where all can live in harmony. I recently heard the term “conservation gardener” and think that is what I am.
How do you find time to garden?
Even a few minutes outside, picking herbs for supper or looking for a gift of nature to bring inside for the table, can refresh me. But it’s hard to limit the time to a quickie, so the dinner doesn’t burn! On hot summer days, I find the best time is early in the morning. When I come home tired, if I can walk in the yard and pull a few weeds before I open the door, I am a much happier person.
When I was fortunate enough to be the first lady of Ohio (1999-2007), we gave many tours of the historic Governor’s Residence. Guests always wanted to know what was from their part of the state. We could do that with artifacts throughout the home. While traveling the state, I realized Ohio is made up of many different regions that favored different plant communities.
One day it dawned on me, we could highlight Ohio’s special topography and plant diversity in the yard and let people from all parts of the state find a spot they could relate to. And it would provide blooms from early spring to late fall!
(A master plan, featuring the five major regions and some of the plants that grow there, was drawn and planted. The small areas around the back lawn include a water garden representing a tiny cranberry bog, sand dunes from Lake Erie shores, and a boulder from Appalachian, which supports a host of plants.)
To further promote Ohio’s natural heritage, Hope helped develop the Geologic Walk Through Time at the Ohio Expo Center and State Fairgrounds in Columbus.
Why continue working in the Heritage Garden?
Gardens, yards, nature and environments are continually changing. It is that change that is exciting to me. We sometimes call the residence and grounds a “living museum” because its occupants, furniture, colors are always changing, just as the plants and landscape do outside. I feel blessed that first ladies who have come after me have allowed me to stay involved, so it can be maintained, nurtured and protected. Wonderful volunteers under the leadership of our native plant habitat curator help us maintain the garden, as well as learn the value of, and how to care for native plants. It has become a test area of what works well and what doesn’t, and why it doesn’t.
“I now believe that by saving or restoring our natural areas and the life that lives in them, we are saving ourselves,” Hope said. To that end she’s currently promotes Ohio Native Plant Month, protection of the Little Miami River, a state and national scenic river; the Ohio Scenic River Association; Tandana Foundation, a nonprofit started by the Tafts’ daughter, Anna; and works to win designation of the Hopewell ceremonial mounds found in three major clusters in Ohio as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
A passion for people
Long before becoming Ohio’s first lady, she was active for many years in the campaign to end drug abuse. People have always seen me as an organizer or networker. So when the mayor of Cincinnati (where the Tafts once lived) asked me to help with the emerging crack cocaine crisis in 1986, I said yes. As a young mother at the time, I could see the havoc alcohol, tobacco and other drug use was having on youth and families, so it was easy to work on preventing the problem.
While serving as Ohio’s first lady, she helped start Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free in 2000. After her husband’s term of governor ended, she became executive director to this nonprofit of first ladies and traveled the country, helping the U.S. Surgeon General release his report on Underage Alcohol Use. The organization disbanded in 2013.
At the request of Gov. Ted Strickland and Gov. John Kaisch, she served on the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professional Board. Now I am on the retired, senior list of several organizations still involved with this issue.
Time management tips
I learned from a wise woman many years ago to deal with a piece of paper or email when you first receive it. Now my policy is to read all my emails for the day before I go to bed. It makes for some late nights sometimes, but this helps me sleep. (She also recommends, rest, good diet, enthusiasm for the work, keeping your calendar up to date, and having good friends who have special knowledge in your areas of concern that you can depend on to help.)
“As one interest leads to another, it will be exciting to see how my passions evolve in the coming years,” she said. “What other ways can I work towards leaving the world a better place?”
“But,” she added, “I am realizing that others need to be encouraged to take up the efforts that matter to them, because none of us lives forever! I am realizing the importance of planting seeds and mentoring their growth in the next generations.”
Today we are helping launch April as Ohio Native Plant Month, with a post about how this became Ohio law. In a few days, we’ll share an interview with Hope Taft, former Ohio first lady, who not only helped make this happen, but has long been a champion of Ohio native plants and natural areas.
It takes more than trowels and watering cans to make a gardening statement. For April to become Ohio Native Plant Month, ideas, conversations, meetings, legislative hearings, political action, and the signature of Gov. Mike DeWine were part of the mix.
The purpose is to increase public awareness of Ohio’s native plants, and the many benefits they provide to pollinators, Ohio’s economy, and health of Ohio’s environment.
One of the behind-the-scenes champions is Hope Taft, wife of former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and “mother” of the Heritage Garden at the Governor’s Residence in Columbus. It’s the only one in the country featuring a landscape showcasing the state’s native plants and vignettes of its principal ecosystems.
The idea for native plant month sprouted around three years ago when she learned Texas planned a native plant week. She said, “This struck me as a great way to broaden the impact of the Heritage Garden and increase the use of native plants in residential settings.”
However, it stayed in her memory bank because “…. my background told me it would be a lot of work to get the legislature to go along and even more to have a group of like-minded organizations to do it without supporting legislation.”
Eventually she met Kathryn Cochran Wiggam, wife of state Rep. Scott Wiggam of the Ohio House of Reresentatives, and daughter of Ken Cochran, retired director of Secrest Arboretum. She is a member of the Garden Club of Akron, part of the Garden Club of America. Another memory deposited.
Eventually, several memories and meetings resulted in action. Nancy Linz, the Zone X horticulture chair of the Garden Club of America, Nathan Johnson, director of Public Lands for the Ohio Environmental Council, and Hope worked out a plan to get the facts and information needed to present it to the legislature. She said, “The stars were aligning!”
We surveyed every garden club, associated group and green industry member we could think offor the best month, she said. April was chosen because a wide variety of groups across Ohio could participate and nurseries could be stocked with native plants “when the public is most interested in their own yards.”
Rep. Scott Wiggam and Sen. Bob Hackett guided the plan through the legislature. Committee hearings were required. After making many trips to Columbus to testify in the House and Senate committees, getting school children, green industry representatives, and garden club association representatives to testify, and encourage many others to write letters, the bill was signed into law July 18, 2019,” she said.
The group isn’t finished. The trio is working to form a nonprofit organization, develop a website,www.ohionativeplantmonth.org, and encourage use of information there. “Nancy is the driving force behind Ohio Native Plant Month and hopes it will get national traction,” she said.
Recently the group received notice the Montgomery County Commissioners, which includes Dayton, issued a proclamation honoring Ohio Native Pant Month. This is important, Hope said. It puts the local government on records supporter of using native plants.
Another way to promote Ohio plants, she said, is for local beautification groups to add “use of natives” as a criteria in selecting outstanding gardens.
While the COVID-19 crisis forced cancellation of native plant events in April, the Ohio Native Plant Month website will list new events, provide updates, give information on invasive plants, and show tallies of Ohio tree plantings to reach the United Nations Trillion Tree Campaign, www.trilliontreecampagin.org, to plant a trillion trees by 2050.
They also will provide information on adding Ohio native plant pollinator gardens to home landscapes and using Ohio natives in existing landscape plantings.
What do my car, the accent walls in my house, the wallpaper in the dining area, and most of my clothes have in common? The tints, tones and shades of green.
Pre-mid-80s, my favorite color flipped between blue (main high school color) and red (OH-IO!). But as gardening became the way for me to find that calm place in a busy life filled with young children and my job, I found myself drawn to green. I didn’t notice it at first, but I remember the day I looked at my closet and realized that red and blue had given way to green accessorized with brown and purple.
Green is the color of life: renewal, growth, nature, and energy. For many, it symbolizes harmony, fertility and the environment. Traditionally, green is the color of money – in the US – and envy!
Wishing you harmony and growth.
Yellow for Michael:
Children’s drawings almost always show the sun as a yellow circle, usually with straight lines for rays shining in all directions. As a child this was my go-to symbol for sunshine, which somehow connoted happiness, too.
Maybe that’s because one of the earliest memories in the garden involves yellow crocus. Mother’s plump yellow crocus flowers were a symbol that the stifling house arrest of dreary, winter and the endless weeks of too-cold-to-play-outside were ending. The bees sought the crocus blossoms, too. They clambered inside the flowers until it looked as if they wore bulging bloomers of orange pollen.
No wonder Mother, my sister and I looked so intently for those first signs of the needle-like green tips of crocus. Only Ponce de Leon’s passion for the mythical fountain of youth excelled ours. Next came frequent checks for signs of buds. At last the flowers, always gone too quickly. Eventually daffodils, iris, sunflowers and mums were added to Mother’s flower beds. Sunshine bloomed almost everyday from spring into autumn.
Yellow holds the top spot on my color popularity chart, but just a fraction below is lavender and then pink. My garden color scheme is the three primary colors, but in pastels. (Even yellow is best as butter, not taxi cab.)
The solar connection to yellow is probably why I had the house painted “jonquil” a few years ago. No matter how gloomy the Midwest weather, there’s always sunshine and spring’s promise waiting outside.
Red for Teresa
Yes, red is my favorite color. I first embraced its boldness as a rebellious teenager trying to make a statement. I regularly sported crimson shoes and chose ‘Laser Red’ for my first car. I accumulated a closet of all things red, and slowly learned too much of this intense color can overwhelm. Could ‘less is more’ apply to my favorite color?
Later as I began gardening, I discovered the power of red in small doses – a pot of red begonias on the front porch, red tulips planted along a walkway with grape hyacinth, and ‘Lucifer’ crocosmia tucked in a perennial border. For winter interest, I added red-twig dogwoods and red-fruited hollies. For Mother’s Day, I was thoughtfully gifted with various red roses but never became a fan for their high maintenance and nasty thorns. Tucked away in my cutting garden, I finally realized I could defiantly break the ‘less is more’ rule and plant with abandon red zinnias, gladiolas and cockscomb.
What are your favorite colors in the garden? For more inspiration, check out these books on garden color.
My garden spends months waiting to exhale into green tips and tiny blossoms. This breath of life is held captive all winter beneath a crust of cold, wet soil, dull brown leaves and leaden clouds.
Despite the seeming dormancy, daffodils, crocus, snowdrops and other early bloomers have little patience with this situation. They make the best of it for weeks, by growing roots. But eventually the time comes to send up pinpoints of green. Timid at first, they grow bolder in the warmer, longer days.
More and more plants join them. With this breath of life called spring, the earth is transformed, almost as we watch, into green everywhere, swelling flower buds, blossoms opening. In just a few weeks, this part of the Midwest will be filled with a chartreuse haze, softer than a whisper, that seems to hover over every branch and twig. Hillsides become fluffy, pale green clouds, accented with tufts of redbud and dogwood flowers.
Even as those first tiny shoots begin sticking it to winter’s backside, cardinals sing again in early morning. They are probably only marking territory, but I prefer to think they’re heralding the coming spring.
Redwing blackbirds do the same thing, singing brightly. Spring is coming, along with those migrating birds. True, bitter winds, snow and ice can make an appearance anytime in March — usually after a couple of balmy days — but their return is short lived. No wonder birds sing with hope.
Adding to the effect, is a powerful artificial construct — daylight savings time returns not long after the redwings.
There are downsides to this. One, the inevitable poor man’s jet lag of getting the body adjusted to a new time zone — without leaving home to visit a different place. And for a few weeks, morning coffee will revert to waiting for signs of dawn, instead of marveling at the play of light on the white sycamore branches. Evening, however, suddenly grows longer, hinting at summertime.
This gift of evening light from the government could mean a bit of weeding after supper. Or I could gaze at the charming, ever-changing scene. The latter choice is wisest, for spring vanishes almost as quickly as the last note of a cardinal’s cheery trill.
Two years ago, Debra and I had the opportunity to revamp an outdated 85-foot border with a natural-style one at the entrance of Hidden Creek, a 600-acre conservation development west of Columbus. While the charming entry with its stone wall and brick-trimmed gatehouse originally had a border of zebra grasses, daylilies, shrub roses and taxus, the plants had become overgrown and dated. We were challenged to bring a fresh look more in keeping with the development’s conservation purpose. The border also needed to be aesthetically pleasing with four seasons of interest, require minimal maintenance, offer pollinator appeal, tolerate a heavy deer population and survive with no supplemental water beyond the first year.
Together, we designed a densely planted mix of 400 natives, native cultivars and pollinator-friendly plants. The tight planting scheme meant less mulch, while producing more color impact and structural support for the plants.
The best part of the project was the sense of community it created. Neighbors joined in helping with the installation and used the opportunity to learn more about the plants. One neighbor even volunteered to water the new plants as they became established during the first season.
Now starting its third year, the border shines each season and attracts a host of bees, birds and butterflies. In spring, alliums, nepata, amsonia, baptisia and salvia begin the show.
In summer, the border peaks with purple and white coneflowers, liatris, agastache, Joe Pye weed and globe thistle. In fall, coneflower seedheads, purple asters, little bluestem, prairie dropseed and amsonia’s gold foliage bring a season finale. Neighbors often stop to offer compliments and call to ask about for plant IDs. Others have added similar plantings in their own landscape. A few even had fun spray painting the border’s allium seed heads for the July 4th holidays.
Try planting some of these natives, native cultivars and pollinator-friendly plants in your own backyard. The list includes prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), little bluestem (Schizachyrium ‘Standing Ovation’), coneflower (echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ and ‘Ruby Star’), false indigo (Baptisia ‘Indigo Spires’), Joe Pye weed (‘Baby Joe’ Eupatorium), salvia (Salvia nemorosa ‘May Night’), gayfeather (Liatris spicata), globe thistle (Echinops ritro), catmint (Nepata ‘Walker’s Low’), Carex pensylvanica, Amsonia hubrichtii, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’), Aster ‘October Skies’ and Allium.
Hidden Creek is a 600-acre conservation residential community along the Little Darby River, a National Wild and Scenic River west of Columbus, Ohio.