Monday, February 17, 2014

Structure Ideas from a Potager Garden in Paris

Simultaneous with thinking about what seeds to order, are the dreams of what to build this year for things to grow on. These structures have to have an overall plan for good affect, and so planning with pencil and paper is a good place to start. Here are a few ideas I have been thinking about from a visit to Parc de Bercy in Paris.


 This garden was created in the 90's and so I felt it was something that might be possible to recreate. Often in countries with long histories, the gardens are so old that I realize there is small hope that my garden will ever look like theirs. This garden is different. First, as always the French start with boxwoods. Boxwood borders and boxwood on pots.


This can be more difficult than you think. Not to grow boxwoods, because they are easy to grow, but to restrain oneself at the garden center from buying all sorts of interesting annuals for the pots. The French know, put your effort in the garden, not the pots. Simple is better!


Here is a great example of thinking large. This trellis made of found wood spans the walkway and creates an arbor mid -garden. Even if the plants didn't grow up it, the structure carries it off on its own. Notice the use of different colors and textures too in this bed. Red chard, escarole and morning glories all getting along harmoniously!


And in September, even the seed heads are ornamental! Can you guess what beautiful poofs those are in the foreground? Artichokes gone to seed! They are only an edible thistle after all! To do this in Maine, you would have to time it extremely right. Artichokes are a biennial that aren't hardy..but...I have grown seedlings from Snell Family Farm that have been tricked into thinking that it is their second year by giving them a dose of cold exposure mid-winter. They have fruited...and I would like to dream that they could go to seed if uneaten. But really, in Maine, if you can grow an artichoke in your garden, you will eat it!


Here is another picture of a simple pyramid that anyone can do with 4-6 long bamboo stakes. This is a nice way to show off your trailing nasturtiums without them growing everywhere. Again this shows how alternating the color and texture of plants helps so much in the overall visual plan. Ok, food for thought! Next post will have to be about seeds.



Sunday, February 9, 2014

10 (+1) Herbs Not to be Without (not culinary!)


I have always loved herbs and herb gardens.  An herb garden is beautiful but when combined with plant lore and the history of gardening it becomes multidimensional and truly fascinating.  Herbs, defined by Webster's as a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities, had many daily uses that we have forgotten today. 
 
Medieval Herb Garden

Only a hundred years ago, most households with a bit of earth, grew things to ease pain, make your house smell better (those were smelly times) and make food taste more interesting (when you ate many of the same foods every day.) People made their own tinctures (medicines made from extracting the chemical compound of plants by soaking them in alcohol), laid plants in the house to keep bugs away, and sought out local and exotic plants to enhance their food. Today, the added advantage of growing herbs is that that most of these plants are not appealing to deer and other garden ravishers because of their strong smell and taste. Here is a list of a few plants that are beautiful, easy to grow, and have been very useful in human history. 



 

Monarda citrodora, Lemon Mint

This plant gets 5 stars for good looks. In the mint family (like all other monardas or bee-balms) this annual is easy to grow from seed and gets lots of comments in a northern garden, since most people don't bother doing it from seed. Flowers can be eaten in salads and leaves can be used to make a lemon mint tea. If you never have tried growing this I suggest giving it a try. Seeds can be found at Native American Seed.







Allium tuberosum, Garlic Chives

In Asia this plant is used often in cooking. Known for its garlic flavor, the stalks and immature flower buds are great additions on soups or salads. A very vigorous grower, the flowers last a very long time both on the plant and cut in water. It adds late summer white to the garden when many flowers are orange and yellow. It creates a nice border of structure and seed heads are attractive late into fall.








Nepeta x Faassini, Catmint

I know many of us already grow this reliable plant in our gardens. It blooms late May almost through to the end of the season (if cut back once) and is part of the structure that gives a garden form. That's why you may want to grow a few of the new great hybrids they have made in recent years to keep up with demand for this garden classic. Try Walker's Low or Dropmore Hybrid from Canada. Honeybees and butterflies love this member of the mint family.
Try alternating catmnit, lambs ears, and lady's mantle in repetition down your border edge. Silver, blue and lime...a great color combination. 


Angelica gigas, Korean purple angelica

Another unusual plant for the northern garden, Angelica is a biennial that will be leafy the first season, but will reward you with  impressive purple stalks the next. Flowers last much of the season, and seed heads are gorgeous. Plants don't mind a moist spot. It has culinary value as candied stalks or flavoring gin, and people from Lapland and the Aleutians used it for wounds and other ailments. I suggest it for late summer drama in your border.
                                                                                                             

Humulus Lupulus, Hops

You don't have make beer to enjoy the beauty of a hop vine. Many grow to 15 feet or over and can climb up any wire or stake. Try finding a long good looking stick (birch maybe) and have the vine grow up the pole. I have even made a ball out of copper wire for the top so the pole looks like a large topiary. The luxuriant strobiles give an abundant look to any garden trellis or rock wall. Grown since ancient times for its flavoring qualities, this plant is under used in today's gardens.


 


Digitalis purpurea, Foxglove

Foxglove is a plant I never can be without, even if it doesn't necessarily like where I put it. A biennial that blooms and reseeds in the same season makes it seem like a perennial. If it likes it where it is, it can bloom and reseed year after year. Deer know to stay away from this plant which has strong compounds used in cardiac medicine. Digitalis comes in many forms, including the sweet pale yellow Digitalis lutea and the Digitalis ferruginea that has won the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Merit.







Mentha suavelolens varegata, Pineapple Mint

Though this variegated form of apple mint blooms, it is the foliage that makes this plant a staple. The white edges can be seem at great distance at dusk and can add drama to a patch of flowers that have only green leaves. Smells great in bouquets and doesn't have the same invasive qualities as much as other mints. Just take off the runners if they start to walk out of the spot you want it.



Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea

A native to the Americas, this plant was used by Native Americans for many ailments including measles and as an antiseptic. Early settlers learned to use the plant as well for many sicknesses. Today this popular garden plant has many varieties that produce interesting textures such as Hot Summer (orange) or the white
Fragrant Angel.







Foeniculum vulgare 'nigra', Bronze Fennel

This is an under used plant that I love for many reasons. A controlled self-seeder, it grows tall and bronze and the yellow umbels in late summer are covered with every kind of bee and wasp in your area. Since I often study wasps and bees for painting, I am amazed at how many varieties there are on one plant. I have it staked under a large picture window so that I can enjoy looking at the busy wasps from the behind glass! Flowers and foliage are great in bouquets, smell like anise and can be used in salads and pickling. Plants grow tall and may need to be staked.





Papaver somniferum, Opium poppy

This common annual used to be grown by most households 100 years ago as a pain reliever, but is no longer legal to grow as such in the US. Thomas Jefferson's garden at Monticello had many varieties as did all the large estates. The laws are vague, but it seems if you grow them as flowers, and not medicine, it is OK. The problem is that it is hard to find seed. Seed can still be bought through European seedsmen such as Thompson & Morgan. My favorite garden blog by Margaret Roach, A Way to Garden, has great information about it all here.





Agastache, Anise Hyssop

The last must-have garden staple is Agastache. Another plant that is loved by all pollinators, this sturdy and fragrant beauty is great in arrangements and can make a great tea. It blooms for many months and reseeds well. I used to edge the whole vegetable garden with it as the deer do not like things in the mint family. Try varieties like 'Blue Fortune' or a red like 'Desert Sunrise'. Read about many varieties in this Fine Gardening article.