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Succulents Centerpiece

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Early April in the jewel box garden at Brandywine Cottage. All photos by Rob Cardillo.

David Culp achieves year-round visual interest in the gardens at Brandywine Cottage, his home in Pennsylvania. The jewel box garden, tucked in near the house, is a good example. Here, David shares his approach to creating a layered garden in this spot.

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All parts of the passionflower, Passiflora caerulea, are assigned symbolic meaning relating to Jesus’s final days: the five anthers signify the five wounds, the sepals and petals suggest the apostles, the center rays represent the crown of thorns, and so on. [Click for a closer look.]

All my life, I have been looking at, prodding, poking, sniffing, and plucking at plants. These are habits born of long hours outdoors. I remember, as a very small girl in suburban southern California, squinting at and then tugging on a passionflower vine coming over our fence from the neighbor’s yard. It was so mysterious, so complicated, and yet so symmetrical! I got pollen all over my fingers as I dismembered flower after flower, marveling. And I vividly recall the heady scent of orange blossoms in the nearby orchards. To this day, that fragrance is a Proustian trigger that returns me to my childhood, where I am tucked under the dappled shade of orange trees, spying on the bees browsing the sweet white-petaled flowers while the other kids in our game of hide-and-seek shouted in the distance. They should have known to look for me among flowers

Later, transplanted to the East Coast, I knelt in cool woodlands to admire the small and pretty spring wildflowers, rue anemones, clintonias, and mayapples. In a small bed off the porch I planted and fussed over perennials: black-eyed Susans, lavender, campanulas, and various irises. When I installed my first vegetable garden, I kept vigilant watch as tomato flowers turned to red fruits and as plump white blossoms on twining vines segued to delicious sugar snap peas. I noticed how spicy-scented beach roses became spangled with stout orange hips in autumn. I kept an orchid on my windowsill at work and cheered when it actually bloomed. Through all these travels and observations, I accumulated knowledge about the ways of plants and their flowers.

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Plants can help define a signature style and be ecologically appropriate, such as Sporobolus  heterolepis among the flowering Salvia cultivars in Chicago's Lurie Garden. Photo: Piet Oudolf

Plants can help define a signature style and be ecologically appropriate, such as Sporobolus
heterolepis among the flowering Salvia cultivars in Chicago’s Lurie Garden. Photo: Piet Oudolf

The idea of signature is a strong one in the art world, the distinctive stamp of an artist or maker. Good garden designers have all developed a very strong signature, so that the knowledgeable could probably recognize one of their gardens if they were parachuted into one they had not seen before. Gardens too can develop a signature in the minds of those who visit them, because of some distinctive feature, or the use of a strong theme plant which is scattered throughout the garden.

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01-WEBJanit Calvo, author of Gardening in Miniature, was kind enough to share a post from her own blog with the hope that it will help many a miniature-garden-gardener decorate for the holidays. How difficult could it be to decorate a miniature garden? Read on. You may be surprised.

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One of the many enjoyable aspects of this super-creative hobby is decorating your miniature garden throughout the seasons. And, of course, one of the most fun, is for the Winter-Christmas-Holiday-Hanukkah-Kwanza-Solstice-Season. (Did I miss anyone?)

You might be skeptical, thinking that, “Come on, Janit, how hard is it to decorate a miniature Christmas tree?” Well, that could be the difference between a tree decorated by Martha Stewart compared to one by Charlie Brown. But, with a couple of hints and some insight, derived after experimenting each holiday season for the last 11 years, you can easily give your miniature garden the designer’s touch with the right ingredients.

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Water features bring an enticing dimension to miniature gardens.

Water features bring an enticing dimension to miniature gardens.

It’s easy to love full-sized ponds and water features—but not the time and  money they require. This simple, affordable miniature offers a captivating  alternative.

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These echeverias illustrate the tendency of succulents to stretch toward light (etiolate), a phenomenon especially noticeable when the plants form bloom spikes. If your potted succulents receive sun on one side only, rotate them once a week to ensure even exposure and balanced growth.

Echeverias stretching toward the light.

An in-ground garden in USDA plant hardiness zones 8 to 11 (based on the average annual minimum winter temperature) comprised primarily of succulents needs maintaining on average four times a year. The plants may need to be thinned, deadheaded, and have old leaves or branches removed; any that aren’t thriving, replaced; weeds and pests dealt with; and trimmings not suitable for planting, hauled away. If you’re unable to do this yourself, check with landscape professionals who design and install succulent gardens to see if they offer seasonal maintenance.

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Regionally native plants bring nature and a hint of the wilderness to the High Line in early  autumn. Rhus typhina is already changing color, as the flower-heads of Eupatorium hyssopifolium  repeat down the line. Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ is just visible – an example of  an increasing trend in naming cultivars of native plants.

Regionally native plants bring nature and a hint of the wilderness to the High Line in early autumn. Rhus typhina is already changing color, as the flower-heads of Eupatorium hyssopifolium repeat down the line. Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ is just visible – an example of an increasing trend in naming cultivars of native plants.

The long-standing debate over the role of native and exotic (introduced) species continues, with an unfortunate tendency toward adopting entrenched positions in some countries (such as the USA) or arousing little interest in others (Japan). The key issue is the role of plants in gardens and designed landscapes to contribute to biodiversity by supporting food webs of insects, birds and other wild animals. It is worth noting the positions adopted by leading practitioners working in planting design. There does seem to be a consensus that using only native species is entirely appropriate in certain environments—chiefly rural ones or where the conservation of local and indigenous biodiversity is a priority. In many other situations, planting in the past would have used mostly or entirely non-native species, but now involves a larger proportion of natives.

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Camassia leichtlinii subsp. Suksdorfii, Cardiocrinum giganteum, and Tulipa sylvestris all play a part in David Culp’s layered garden. All photos by Rob Cardillo.

One of the easiest ways to add layers of interest to any garden is with hardy bulbs. They have beautiful (and sometimes unusual) flowers, come in a rainbow of colors, and bloom in all four seasons of the year. They range in size from 6-inch snowdrops to lilies that can tower 6 feet or more.

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Knowledge of stylistic history is an excellent starting point because it enables us, as designers, to achieve greater design consistency and deepen our understanding of detail and proportion.—Vanessa Nagel | Photo:

Understanding style, writes Vanessa Nagel, helps designers “achieve greater design consistency and deepen our understanding of detail and proportion.” Photo: David Rodal & Kiftsgate Court Gardens

“When it comes to selecting garden furnishings, you can never ignore style,” writes Vanessa Nagel in The Professional Designer’s Guide to Garden Furnishings. Whether a designer uses only one style or a mix of several, the primary considerations should always be proportion and detail. “Consistency and harmony are essential. After all, if the line, form, and materials of a furnishing do not fit the theme of the garden, the furnishing will feel dissonant and out of place.”

Common, or preconceived, styles are formed using many sources. “Their main inspiration may come from plants or planting styles, geographical or cultural associations, modern fashion, or other origins.” They are helpful in maintaining consistency but are not meant to be taken literally. Nagel advises adapting them to fit the particular site as well as the wishes of the client. In other words, “Don’t design on autopilot!”

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