Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Container Gardening Part 2-Contrast

When designing a container, it is important to consider the distance from which it will be viewed. For example, if you are creating a container for the center of an outdoor seating area, it can be subtle. People are appreciating it from only a few feet away. If you are designing for a front entry, however, a bold statement is required. The most important element for such a composition is contrast.

Contrast is most often evident by its absence. Without contrast, combinations look messy, muddy, and unedited. Its a bunch of grassy foliage jumbled together or scads of tiny blooms competing for the spotlight. It's what makes us go, "This needs something."

Using contrast to benefit your containers is as easy as thinking in opposites. Let us start with the container itself. You've got a simple terracotta pot. How can we describe it? It's earthy, warm, old-fashioned, and unpretentious. Contrast suggests that the first plant we choose should reflect the opposite. We want foliage that is sleek, cool-toned, or modern.

Consider these options for our first plant: Variegated Water Iris, Lamb's Ear, Corkscrew Grass

Let's say we go with the Water Iris. It's upright, smooth, and variegated. We need a second plant that is sprawling, textured, and rich in color.

Second plant options: Mustard Greens, Purple Setcreasea or Heuchera

I like the dimpled texture of the Mustard. It's broad greenish purple leaves compliment the Water Iris nicely.

Finally, the splash of color is up to you. Snap Dragons and Pansies are always popular, but I suggest breaking from the pack with Nemesia! This cool season annual comes in white, lavender, and yellow. The white offers a sweet scent that will have you pining for Spring. For a slightly bigger bloom try Superbells Calibrachoa.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Do-It-Yourself Success In Wilmington Park

Dave and Susan Sherman, of Wilmington Park, came to H & Z a few weeks back with ink jet photos of their yard in hand. They were like a lot of homeowners. They had a landscape that was completely outdated, and they needed some help reworking it.

The Shermans picked the perfect time of year to update their front bed, because the cool weather of Fall allows plants to get established with ease. There is also a wide variety of shrubs available now, so it's not hard to put together really attractive combinations.

First things first, however. The Sherman's front bed needed some changes before one plant was purchased. A glance at the photo above reveals a narrow bed that would situate plants right beneath the roof's drip line. Suicide for any shrub. Dave was not to be discouraged though, and he sure wasn't going to be lazy about his project.

David and Susan returned with ink jet proof that they had followed my advice and expanded their bed to a suitable depth. They earned another star from me by amending their soil with organic matter like Mushroom Compost and Cow Manure! Oh...and check out the nice edging! Notice how the color brings out the brick in their house! A++

With the bed prepared, it was then time to choose plants. The Shermans wanted a low maintenance bed that had interest. They wanted to get away from the Loaf of Shrubs Chic behind which so many houses of that neighborhood still hide. The bed also receives a good deal of sun, so we chose plants that were ready for it!

Drought-tolerant selections like Dwarf New Zealand Flax, Autumn Joy Stonecrop, and Yucca
were used with the rich-colored Lorapetalum "pom-pom" topiary, Firepower Nandina, Purple Fountain Grass, and Ice Blue Yews (seen below).

There is still plenty of room for things to grow. By showing a little restraint now, the Shermans will eliminate the need for constant pruning later. The significant air circulation will also help prevent fungus from attacking their new plants. Finally, the attractive cypress mulch that they've added will help conserve water. Well done, guys!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fearless Container Gardening

A Visit With The Wilmington Island Garden Club

Yesterday I spoke to the Wilmington Island Garden Club about shaking things up in their containers this Fall. As promised, I'm offering further examples and information for those looking to move beyond the ordinaire. I'm going to explore one area at a time, so you can really see it put to good use.

It's what makes us remember a favorite sweater, a choice salad, and a jaw-dropping container. A container can put it to good use with mulch, foliage choice, container choice and what I like to call glue gun extras!

Run your fingers through the grasses on this Proven Winners page for some feathery options. Many would also make cool hair-doos for your Halloween pumpkin people!

Your container shouldn't be bland. One of my favorite artists, Judy Sell, knows how to make a container sing with her mosaics. Also check out this H&Z customer's yard for inspiring use of texture! Jane Rowan has been fearless in her yard's transformation. Take a slice of her creative use of rock, frans, and spines for your containers.

Her striking yard didn't happen over night, but it can in a nice container out on the deck!

Mulches like sea glass are elegant, but why not get funky for your next poker night with a container mulched with casino chips? Get your husband or boyfriend's attention when you say, "I'm going to mulch my container with your nuts."

You could use broken crayons, dominoes, dice, erasers, toy cars, Barbie shoes, plastic army guys, tooth picks, beads, and more to make your container unique. It doesn't have to last forever! It only takes an evening to make your neighbors totally jealous. The effects of your moment of greatness will last a life time.

Glue Gun Extras
The magic and wonder of a glue gun rivals anything that George Lucas has to offer. It enables one to craft with speed that would shock the Slowskies. Better yet is its ability to evoke childlike creativity. Glue moss, plastic forks, pencils, and other stuff to pots. You'll be surprised at what you can do!

Splitting Pesticide Hairs For The Informed Customer

If you're like me, thinking too much about chemistry makes your head hurt. I mean who gives a flying fig what Mole equals (1 mole of atoms or molecules contains 6.022 x 1023 atoms or molecules). We don't want to think about it. We just want it to work!

Unfortunately, in our advanced society, a lot of things work. Chemicals are lined up to kill what we want them to kill. They are eager to do our bidding. So, how do we decide between them?

Well, like a gal deciding between suitors, we must get a little more clever with our criteria. It's no longer good enough that a chemical does what we ask of it. We need to see what it's doing behind our backs. How does this joker deal with the birds and the bees? How will this prize fighter affect my friends like water and soil? Finally, does this dude know when to take a hike? I mean we had one date. That does not a life-long commitment make!

For those of you not lost in my exaggerated imagery, what I'm trying to say is that chemicals have a lot of characteristics that we must investigate. For the purpose of this discussion I'm taking two commonly sold active ingredients. Imidacloprid is one that we see in Bayer's Tree and Shrub drench, Bug Blaster lawn insecticide granules, and many others. The other is Acephate which we see in Orthene, Lancer, Pinpoint, etc.

As of late, I have measured pesticides by their effects on beneficial insects. "Protect the bees," I've said again and again. Imidacloprid is bad for them, and so is Acephate, if sprayed on plants where they forage. (This is why we recommend horticultural oils and soaps so often.)There is so much more to discover though.

For help with the technical stuff I consulted The National Pesticide Information Center. My concern was Imidacloprid's effect on bees if used as a systemic drench. I wondered if the toxic chemical would reach the flowers and affect bees through the pollen. The answer is no. It will not.

"What about Acephate?" I asked. This is where our comparison moved beyond bees to the overall effect of the two choices on the environment. Pesticides are better if they do their job and then get the heck out Dodge. We don't want them lingering in soil and water. Scientists measure the break down of chemicals in half-lives. A half-life is the time required for half of the compound to degrade or go away.

Acephate has a half-life of four days.
If you apply it to sandy soil like ours, it will be 97% degraded in five half-lives which equals twenty days. For twenty days, it is hanging around in the dirt. According to the NPIC, however, it has a low chance of moving into the water table.

Imidocloprid has a half-life greater than one year.
If you apply it to sandy soil like ours, it will be 97% degraded in five half-lives which equals five years. For five years, it will be in our soil. According to the NPIC fact sheet, this pesticide is more mobile in the ground, and may have affects on ground water.

So, there is reason to expand our knowlege of these products beyond dilution rates. There is more to learn, and people willing to teach us. It's not hard. It's chemistry, not rocket science.