Listed here are articles from previous newsletters on various aspects of design. If you would like to learn more about one of these topics, please click on its link shown below.

Fragrance in the Garden     Ground Covers Help Make Great Gardens
Plants and Emotional Well Being     Garden Seating
Garden Edging

Fragrance in the Garden

Fragrance in the garden is very special. It makes all the hard work and the waiting for the new season worthwhile. Just like water features, it gives an added dimension to the garden. Once you've experienced a special fragrance, when it is not there it is missed and you'll find yourself looking for other plants to fill the void.

Great ways to supply fragrance is to start in the spring and continue the fragrance parade throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Many of the spring bulbs are fragrant: narcissus or daffodils, grape hyacinth, and star flowers, to name a few. Syringa 'Miss Kim'For vines, most clematis are not fragrant, but the akebia vine is very fragrant and well worth the effort required to grow it. Akebia is very easy to grow and you might say aggressive in its growth. It needs to be controlled on a regular basis by pruning its new growth. It also needs a thick, sturdy support such as a fence rather than a trellis screen. Of course, the lilacs are very fragrant, including the smaller-growing Syringa patula 'Miss Kim'. When I first planted Miss Kim, I was disappointed as there was very little smell that first year. This year, its third, the fragrance was wonderful. I purchased a standard lilac, S. meyeri, from Wayside Gardens this spring and its fragrance was very evident even though the plant at this point is small, about one foot in diameter. This dwarf Korean lilac blooms after Miss Kim in early June and has pale pink-lavender flowers. It is mildew free and blooms in light shade as well as in the sun.

The pinks, especially Dianthus 'Bath's Pink' are especially fragrant and can fill a large part of the garden with fragrance. Some bearded iris have a strong fragrance that can cover a large area. My solid blue iris, Pacific Panorama, did just that this year and it was wonderful. I usually dig this iris up every other year so it doesn't spread so fast. This year, though, I'm not going to do that as I enjoyed its wonderful scent too much. A ground cover for dry shade, Galium odoratum or Sweet Woodruff is very fragrant when in flower, and during the summer its leaves give off a pleasant odor of new mown hay as well. If it likes its spot, this plant can be an aggressive ground cover. There is nothing wrong with aggressiveness in the right spot. Just don't plant too close to other lowing growing plants and they probably not survive.

For late summer fragrance, the buddlias can be wonderful if you have the room to grow them. They need a sunny location. Hosta plantaginea and its cultivars such as Royal Standard, have a wonderful fragrance well worth waiting for. Summersweet, Clethra, too is fragrant and blooms in late summer. There is a new Clethra called 'Hummingbird' with fragrant white flowers that grows to about four feet--just right for many gardens. Clethras are very adaptable plants growing in sun to part shade and adapting to dry soil as well as wet soil.

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Ground Covers Help Make Great Gardens

The right ground covers can help make your garden look great with less work than you might think. I have found that wherever I use ground covers I spend much less time weeding in the ground cover areas than in areas where there are none. People who visit my garden ask if I spend a lot of time weeding and taking care of it. I tell them no; most of my time is spent planting new plants. I try to grow enough ground covers throughout the garden to reduce the need for weeding. Where I weed the most is where there are no ground covers--between plants and at the bed edges.

I do believe the English have it right when they say to plant closely in order to reduce the need for mulching and weeding. The biggest problem with planting plants too close is that perennials must be divided frequently. One way around that problem is to use ground covers that smother weeds and fill in the spaces between other plants. These ground covers can be perennials as well as woody ones.

Good ground covers cover the ground so thickly that weeds can't grow. Iberis sempervirens or candytuft does this well. Some ground covers such as Pachysandra terminalis have such closely- spaced stems that hardly anything will grow through them. Other ground covers have these capabilities too and can be used to produce beauty on their own and also reduce the need for weeding.

One plant that comes to mind for shady sites is sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum). Its leaves have a wonderful clean-smelling fragrance when crushed; the fragrance is like the smell of new-mown hay. Sweet woodruff needs is also adaptable to my cultural situtations except it needs part shade to shade. It will grow in dry areas as well as wet areas. I've grown it for many years on a very dry shaded slope. When we have drought conditions, sweet woodruff may die down early--August, but it will come back the next year. Great companions would be large-growing shade-loving perennials such as hostas, other ground covers such as pachysandra and dwarf garden juniper, and small shrubs such as hydrangeas, azaleas, and Japanese andromeda, as well as small trees and large shrubs. Sweet woodruff is mingling with the white-leaved version of deadnettle Lamium maculatum 'White Nancy' and they make a lovely, cool-looking ground cover combination.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with using more than one ground cover in the same area. Actually, it's safer to do this than have a one-genus ground cover because an insect infestation, virus, or fungus could strike a plant. If something does, then the other ground covers can take over if one dies out. You're not then starting from scratch. A good combination for shade or part shade is pachysandra and Vinca minor.

When searching for ground covers, it's important to ascertain whether or not the ground cover is truly a weed-smothering one. When checking information or catalog listings on a ground cover, look for words like weed-smothering, weedfree, weedproof, or excellent ground cover.

One plant that often meets that challenge is the hardy geranium. The genus geranium is composed of many species from all over the world, including the United States. There are many species that will fill in small areas between taller plants. Among them are macrorrhizum, or bigroot geranium, x cantabrigiense, endressii, and sanguineum, bloody cranesbill.

Geranium macrorrhizum 'Ingwerson's Variety'I first became acquainted with the bigroot cranesbill at Ladew Topiary Gardens where this cranesbill welcomes guests into the Woodland Garden. It's evergreen, has nice, large leaves, and there are several cultivars with different colored flowers. I prefer G. m. 'Ingwerson's Variety' with its soft, pinky-lavender flowers in mid-May. I'm growing it in the shade of a pine tree. It is said to take drought situations well and grows in sunny and shady areas.

Geranium x cantabrigiense or Cambridge geranium, is another evergreen geranium. This one turns a nice red in the fall and stays that way until spring. A lovely cultivar is 'Biokovo' with pale pink "dancing ballerina" type flowers. Each plant grows 24 inches wide and more and grows in sun to part shade.

Geranium endressii has been sold for many years as the ground cover geranium. It has several different cultivars and I especially like 'Rosenlicht' with its bright pink flowers. This cultivar grows in sun to part shade too and flowers for a long time from spring into summer.

Geranium sanguineum is easily available, usually in a light pink with red veins called 'striatum' or 'lancastriense'. It also comes in bright hot pink and purple colors. I have many different sanguineums and I find they grow so thickly that weeds don't poke through them at all. Even though my references say that this particular geranium needs sun, I've been growing it in part shade as well. It does well in dry situations.

A great ground cover for sunny places is the daylily. Hemerocallis 'Hyperion' makes an excellent ground cover. Some of the species daylilies such as 'fulva' make excellent ground cover for large sunny areas.

Iberis sempervirens or candytuft is a another great ground cover for sunny spots. Candytuft needs well drained soil to survive so make sure the drainage is good or it will just wither away. They also take a part shady location. Candytuft is a low evergreen with brilliant white flowers in late April to early May. I have found it to be very drought tolerant. If the species is planted, it can grow to 3 feet wide without pruning. There are many smaller cultivars such as 'Purity' or 'Snowflake'.

It's important to remember that the outside edges around the ground cover area must be scrupulously kept clear of grass and weeds. Quackgrass was in one small part of our lawn and made its way into a creeping phlox area and now the quackgrass has taken over the phlox and the phlox must be killed in order to kill the quackgrass. Therefore, keep a clean, sharp edge around all beds to lessen the risk of weeds entering the bed. And keep a sharp eye too for encroaching weeds.

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Plants and Emotional Well Being

On November 15, 2000, American Nurseryman magazine reported the results of the Emotional Impact of Flowers study. After a 10 month investigation of 147 people, the study concluded that flowers help people feel less depressed, anxious and agitated. In addition, the presence of flowers led to increased contact between family members.

American Nurseryman magazine also reported a study conducted at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, patients recovering from surgery whose hospital room faced trees used fewer pain-relieving drugs than patients who faced a brick wall. A later study at the same hospital concluded that the presence of plants can help people tolerate short-term pain better than people who don't have plants in the hospital room.

These studies imply there is a real need to send or take flowers and plants to those who are sick, whether they're in the hospital or at home.

I think these studies also show that surrounding ourselves with plants inside our homes and outside the windows of our homes are important to our mental and physical well being. I've always thought that having lovely views to look at outside our windows is an important aspect in landscaping our properties because beautiful views and plants make us feel better.

Whenever I draw a landscape design for a client, I think about how the landscape will look from the windows of the home, especially from windows where one sits or stands and looks outside. Spring SceneIn the 'look at garden' I try to include a flowering tree, an evergreen or two, early spring- flowering bulbs such as crocus, and perennials that will bloom at various times throughout the year so there is always something of interest to look at. Or, another view that works well is a tree, either flowering or shade, in a bed of ground cover with a birdbath or bird feeder at the opposite side of the ground cover bed. In that bed fragrant narcissus or daffodil might be added as well. The ground cover usually hides the dying foliage of the narcissus.

So, the next time you're thinking of making new flower beds, take a look outside your windows and make a 'look at garden' that you can enjoy viewing any time of the year.

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Garden Seating

I've been wanting to write an article about garden seating for some time as I feel garden seating is a very important design element. My thoughts finally clarified upon looking through a book on seating I borrowed from the Harford County Library. The book "The Complete Book of Garden Seating" by Janice Eaton Kilby has great garden seating ideas, including "found" items that can be made into unusual garden seats.

No matter what size garden, there is always need for seating. Some garden seats may be in full view from the windows of the home. Others may be hidden from direct view by plantings. You may come across others when entering a small, private garden space which is sometimes called a "secret garden".

Garden seating may actually help to focus the design of a garden area. I often use an attractive bench as a focal point for a view of a garden from a window. A large bench or swing with appropriate plantings instantly catches the eye. It's important that such a view look attractive in all seasons including winter.

Smaller garden seats may be tucked into odd, but level, places. I like the idea of a simple metal lawn chair. I remember using such a chair when I was a child and enjoyed the rocking motion.

Wooden Bench on the Leight Park TrailOn our December walk around the Leight Park Trail we found many benches along the walk and most were similar to the one shown. This type of seating looks best in a less formal area and should not be the focal point of a garden area. It looks as though it would be a very simple project to make and can be made to any seat height or seat width.

A level tree stump around eighteen inches high would work well in a woodsy area, too, especially as a place to rest while working in your garden. Such a seat can be tucked in just about anywhere.

Many years ago we found three pieces of bluestone just the right sizes to make the small bench. Just like plants that are worked out of the soil by freezing and thawing during the winter, seating that is buried in the ground may also have to be tapped back to "level" in the spring. It's not a big problem though.

A swing is great fun and looks inviting to children of all ages. Just be sure that there is enough open space all around the swing so it doesn't bump into anything while in full swing, including plants.

Ms Kilby's book has forty do-it-yourself projects for making many different kinds of garden seats. One seat, in particular, caught my fancy. In fact, it's called a "Folk Art Fantasy Bench". It's made using iron rebars, chicken wire, cement, and paint.

No matter what type of garden seating you use, plant plants that will grow to seat height close to the seat. Shorter plants can then face down those plants. The 18 inch to 24 in height plants make the garden seat appear settled and a part of the scene, rather than look as though the seat was placed at the last minute. It's nice, too, to have fragrant plants close by. Plants that are fragrant at different times of the year will give the gardener good reasons for taking a walk and sitting a while. Fragrant daffodils can entice one to visit in spring. Fragrant summer flowering shrubs such as a miniature mock orange in sunny areas or summersweet in shadier areas, can make a nice place to dally on a quiet summer evening. Lilies with perennial skirts around them also help to make a bench a special place to visit.

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Garden Edging

Sharp, clean garden bed edges do so much for the look of the garden. They set off the bed from the grass areas making the edge very sharp and clean cut. This sharp edge gives the look of a well-maintained garden, even if there are a few weeds growing here and there in the bed.

An even more important reason for edging garden beds is to protect them from encroaching lawn weeds. From experience, I know that nothing can destroy a bed faster than lawn weeds that grow into the bed and spread underground by rhizomes that make the weeds very hard to remove from among prize garden plants. If left alone long enough, the only way to eradicate these weeds is to remove the garden plants, if possible, and then kill the weeds with a weed killer. It may take more than one spraying to kill them.

Garden beds should be given a sharp edge at least annually in early spring to keep weeds and grass from "jumping" into the beds and making maintenance a real headache. During the summer months, monthly or semi-monthly re-edging would be even better.

There are many ways to finish the edge of a garden bed:

  • Use a shovel or half-moon edger to make a straight cut at the bed edge. Two cuts are necessary. The first one at the bed edge is straight down. The second cut is in back of the first one and is done at an angle thereby removing a wedge of soil that can be lifted out. After lifting out the wedge, I usually shake out any loose soil letting it fall back into the channel. This soil is patted down in the bottom of the channel. Mulch is placed in the edge while leave an air space between grass and bed so that weeds cannot infiltrate the bed. This technique works best for informal looks.
  • Use bricks, granite setts, or other cut stone to outline the bed edge. When using bricks, bury the brick so the top of the brick is one-quarter inch above the soil level. The bricks are usually butted together at the 4 inch edge. They can also be butted together, soldier-fashion, to make an 8 inch wide edging. When using granite setts or other cut stone, keep the smoothest side on top and bury the stones so only one-quarter inch to one-half inch of the stone is above the soil level. Builders sand is often used to fill in any air spaces left between the bricks, setts, and stones. Use when a more formal edging is wanted.
  • Use medium to large rounded stones buried one-quarter to one-half of their height along the bed edge. These stones look good with an informal landscaping style. Ornamental grasses and perennials look great when juxtaposed against the large stones.
  • Use pressure treated wood buried halfway or more into the ground. Pressure treated wood usually lasts 15 to 20 years (or less) and then new wood needs to be installed. The bed edges tend to be angular. Best places to use are in vegetable and herb gardens.
  • Use high quality plastic, vinyl, or steel edging. Steel edging is the best for staying in the ground. Keep the top of the edging slightly above soil level. Sometimes the vinyl and plastic edgings pop out of the ground due to the freezing/thawing of the soil during the winter and have to be reset in the spring when the soil is still moist. Steel edging is often used along driveways when using gravel or macadam and around the edges of beds. Use the plastic and vinyl edgings around perennial beds and where there are no tree roots to interfere with laying the edging.

When ground covers are allowed to come up the bed edge, it is very important to:

  • edge the bed with a solid edging such as bricks or granite setts, or
  • re-edge the bed monthly to make sure no grass or weeds, such as strawberry weed or a grass weed moves into it.

Otherwise ground cover may be infiltrated by these noxious weeds. Once this happens it's a constant and possibly losing battle to control the weeds.

So, keep in mind that a beautifully landscaped bed is only as strong and beautiful as its edge.

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