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Jennifer Benner gets back in the garden

by timber press on February 8, 2011

in Gardening

We’re hosting a weeklong Get Back in the Garden Giveaway. Our authors will share their processes for getting the garden ready for Spring, and we’ll give away a copy of their book. Join the fun, and share the ways that you prepare for the gardening season, too!

Our second guest blogger is Jennifer Benner, co-author of The Nonstop Garden.

Spring Can’t Get Here Soon Enough


I keep having to pinch the plants I’m overwintering on a light stand in my office. They keep outgrowing the space. Apparently they are just as eager as I am for spring to arrive. At the end of last summer we started phase two of our house construction (the garage), which meant I had to rescue any plants I wanted to keep from the excavator.  Most of my beds were in the direct line of fire or were in an area that needed to be regraded due to poor drainage. Now that all that digging is done, I’m itching to put my garden back together again — only better this time.

The last go around was a hodgepodge of giveaway plants from friends, breeders, and growers. Sure, I bought a few here and there, but not enough to make a significant impact. It was a designer’s nightmare. Although I want mixed plantings with four-season interest, my first plan of action is to focus on the woody plants. These magnificent characters give the garden structure and are much easier to plant when you are starting with a clean slate — not when you are trying to squeeze them in between existing herbaceous plants.

My plan is to limit my plant palette, plant in large sweeps, and to be sure to have height, color, and texture variation while using some repetition to tie everything together.  It may sound complicated, but once you choose your woody plants you can just build off of their attributes. I already have a beautiful witch hazel (Hamamelis xintermedia ‘Jelena,’ zones 5-8)* that stands about 15 feet tall and features gorgeous orange blooms in the winter (in bloom right now!) Here’s a list of other woody plants that are serious contenders:

IMG_9641-Ginsburg-JBennerPaperbark maple (Acer griseum, zones 4-8)

Serviceberry (Amelanchier xgrandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance,’ zones 4-9)

River birch (Betula nigra Heritage ‘Cully,’ zones 4-9)*

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Hearts of Gold,’ zones 4-9)

Fothergilla (Fothergilla xintermedia ‘Mount Airy,’ zones 5-8)

Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight,’ zones 3-9)

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’ and ‘Jim Dandy,’ zones 3-9)

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica Little Henry ‘Sprich,’ zones 5-9)* or Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet,’ zones 5-9)*

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Center Glow,’ zones 3-8)

Colorado spruce (Picea pungens ‘Montgomery,’ zones 3-7)*

Smooth witherod (Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur,’ zones 3-9)

*photos in The Nonstop Garden

1 Hostagal February 8, 2011 at 5:46 am

I had just a minute at a local bookstore on Saturday, and yours’ was the book I picked up to look at! I loved it! It didn’t take long for it to go on my ‘Wish List’ for my upcoming birthday. I’ve been itching to purchase one of the Hydrangea paniculata varities, just haven’t come up with the perfect spot yet. Maybe this will be the year!

2 Theresa N February 8, 2011 at 5:56 am

I need to get out in the yard and move a few plants myself.

3 Michelle February 8, 2011 at 6:04 am

Love the photos in this post! Our own yard had been overgrown for a few years and we finally had it cleaned up this past fall. Looking forward to a new beginning, and love that you included some nice choices that would work well in zone 4.

4 Annette T February 8, 2011 at 6:17 am

All my beds seem to be a hodgepodge of plants. I buy a few each year, trying to get things to fill in.

5 Jeremy P February 8, 2011 at 6:32 am

I use a cold frame to start plants. That way when spring really comes i’ll have vegetables ready to harvest. I was wondering If i could start annuals in the cold frame and maybe get tougher plants that way?

6 Carly Kendall February 8, 2011 at 6:33 am

I am so ready for springtime! This looks like the perfect book to daydream with during these last weeks of winter.

7 Donna February 8, 2011 at 6:34 am

Can’t wait for spring to come so I can get out and do some moving and planting…oh yeah and the rest of the clean up…should be fun…and I mean that… :)

8 Laura W February 8, 2011 at 6:36 am

This book sits on top of my list of new books to check out!

9 Antonio Barros February 8, 2011 at 6:52 am

I’ve been stuck on the idea of celebration lately…walking around and celebrating everything that I come in contact with. The sky, the soil, the moon, my wife, the animal kingdom, the plant and mineral kingdoms, my guitar, a paintbrush, a cup of coffee, my acupuncture practice, my dog…Today I choose to celebrate the slugs that motivate me to get down to the greenhouse at the crack of dawn and find a new place for them outside of the greenhouse. What are you celebrating today?

10 Jean February 8, 2011 at 7:00 am

I have almost an acre to turn into a woodland garden. What bliss in the planning! What aching muscles in the implementation! Isn’t winter great! Perhaps this is what I need to bring the two together.

11 Maia February 8, 2011 at 7:04 am

Started weeding my front yard (just a dirt patch right now) on Sunday in anticipation of planting my first garden. Spring can’t come soon enough, even if I am in Sunny California.

12 Eileen February 8, 2011 at 7:34 am

Hurry Spring!
Garden books in the wintertime are a necessity!

13 Tracy February 8, 2011 at 7:57 am

We keep getting teased that spring is here, then it frosts….poor plants, they are ready for spring,too. This looks like a great book to keep me patient for a few weeks longer!!!

14 Ryan Miller February 8, 2011 at 7:59 am

Limiting my plant choices, or at least buying more of what I already have is something I’m working on this year too. I also have a list of shrubs I’m looking at for rounding out the borders in my zone 8 garden. Witchhazel, Grevillea, Wintersweet, Arctostaphylos, Quince, Pittosporum and Ribes. I can get most of these locally at Cistus or from Xera via local retailers.

15 Tim Lee February 8, 2011 at 8:15 am

All of us in the Northeast are ready for spring and excited to put your book to good use, thanks!

16 Sue R. February 8, 2011 at 8:20 am

Looking forward to spring — is it really there under ALL this snow?

17 Deniese February 8, 2011 at 8:21 am

I’ve often thought of starting over with a clean slate in my garden! Like everyone else, I’m ready for spring and the “fresh start” it brings.

18 Christine February 8, 2011 at 8:23 am

This appears to be a practical book, and the woody plant selections are practical and appropriate.

19 Cindy February 8, 2011 at 8:25 am

What an exciting giveaway! I’d love to see how to integrate the large plants and trees that the author mentions into a cohesive garden. I have two Eastern redbud trees in my yard that are enormous and overpowering, and I’m not sure how to use them as a starting point.

20 Shelley February 8, 2011 at 8:25 am

with all of this snow lately a book like this would be great to cuddle up with!

21 Chad February 8, 2011 at 8:35 am

I love my witchhazel as well, Arnolds Promise. Bright Yellow blooms. Planted Henrys Garnet Itea and Fothergilla gardenii in the fall. Can’t wait to see how they bloom this spring.

22 Susan Spaulding February 8, 2011 at 8:39 am

When I designed professionally, I did a lot of “planting in large sweeps.” I have rethought that piece of my training and designing. I see much too much of that kind of design, commercially, in city plantings, and around homes. The way it tends to look is “professionalized” without a concession to ecological viability or visual interest.

23 Nina Hedrick February 8, 2011 at 8:41 am

I wish I were building a new garage so I could start over on my hodgepodge of beautiful plants, siting them better. Most common mistake I made was planting them too close to each other. The list Jennifer is considering is made up of wonderful plants, many of them native. Sounds fantastic.

24 Allen February 8, 2011 at 8:47 am

I used to wait for spring too, but then realized I was totally missing out on four months of garden enjoyment. So I searched out the unusual plants that seem to adore cold weather so much they actually bloom in winter. This along with the textrural differences of bark have led me to declare winter is my favorite season. Plus it is the best time to study the gardens bones and determine what needs to be changed in that aspect. In bloom now:hamamelis, wintersweet, winter fragrant honeysuckles, camellias, winter daffs, and early lenten roses. Plant these and you too will enjoy walking through the snow to enjoy your garden.

25 Sally February 8, 2011 at 8:54 am

It’s so true that it’s easier to start with a clean slate than “trying to squeeze them in between existing” plants. I pretend I’m a hired landscale designer looking at my own garden when I think of new designs – it works a lot better than squeezing something in a slightly empty patch of soil! You’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet!

26 Gardeing Jones February 8, 2011 at 9:06 am

I’m really just a beginner when it comes to the non-edible portion of my yard. Thanks for the info, Im going to look up the plants you listed the help me get started.

27 Eva February 8, 2011 at 9:26 am

Witch hazel and Serviceberry are on my list of “wants” for our yard. I really MUST order my Witch hazel soon!

28 Laura Bell February 8, 2011 at 9:43 am

“Smart plant choices & four season design ideas”

Lordy, how I need that ! Despite living in the Land of No Real Winter (near Sacramento, CA), my winter landscape is dull. Yellowish-green grass, pale leaf-spikes of half-alive irises, a climbing rose that is holding on for dear life to the last of its leaves, and weeds that seem to spring up after I turn my back. Doesn’t help much that most of the nursery plants I see offered as providing ‘winter interest’ are uninspiring at best. Will definitely have to search out your book, Jennifer !

29 Catherine Siddall February 8, 2011 at 9:51 am

Nice choice of “bones” for the garden including many of my favourites. Noticed that there were no large trees which are a good idea even in a small yard. They can create shade for the house and the garden and act as the conopy layer. I have a Katsura overaching my very small back garden. Most of the shrub choices here will do well in semi shade too. My yard really need a re-org too but as you state the “woodies” once planted really can’t be rearranged!

30 Beth Girshman February 8, 2011 at 10:02 am

I’m desperate to get back in the garden. Recently transplanted from Massachusetts to California – it’s a whole new world of gardening out here!

31 Susan February 8, 2011 at 10:08 am

This list of plants is very helpful. I need to redesign the front of our yard and need some eye-pleasing ideas.

32 lisa February 8, 2011 at 10:09 am

I went to a garden tour this weekend at the Witt Winter Garden in Seattle, where the tour guide recommended NOT planting Paper Bark Maple, because of their overplanting in the last several years. It is a regular go-to tree for me professionally, for many good reasons, but it caused me to pause, and consider other trees that might also work well, while not diminishing the stature of a Paper Bark Maple. Looking forward to reading your book–Lisa

33 Michelle's Green Thumb February 8, 2011 at 10:29 am

I tend to garden year-round here on the Pacific NorthWest Coast – it’s hard to keep things from growing year round too! I’m always looking for new combinations to put into my relatively new flowerbeds. I’ve got lots of friends asking for advice & this book looks like it will make the rounds to everyone’s coffee table – can’t wait to read it myself!

34 meemsnyc February 8, 2011 at 10:32 am

I’m starting wintersowing for the first time. I can’t wait.

35 Bonnietheplantlady February 8, 2011 at 10:33 am

That’s the story of my life too One Nonstop Garden! I have fourty eight flats of annual and perennials started under lifgts in my house so far and am about to prepare our green room, the garage was re-built two years ago super-insulated and we put six HID 1,000 w and just went out to sheet compost apply in the raspberry patch even though it is below zero and I am up to my waist in snow.

36 Bonnietheplantlady February 8, 2011 at 10:36 am

That’s the story of my life too One Nonstop Garden! I have fourty eight flats of annual and perennials started under lights in my house so far and am about to prepare our green room in the garage that was re-built two years ago super-insulated and we put six HID 1,000 w and just went out to sheet compost apply in the raspberry patch even though it is below zero and I am up to my waist in snow. Went past the forsythias and could not resist clipping an armload of branches to force into bloom indoors. Yes I am a gardneaholic!

37 Kitty Jungkind February 8, 2011 at 11:00 am

I definitely need to do some organizing and replacing after a 2 year garden hiatus!

38 Christine Powell February 8, 2011 at 11:15 am

In the south we can start in the garden now – so I will be out after the last (so they say) Arctic front tomorrow! I will need new inspiration though…

39 Sandy Potvin February 8, 2011 at 11:43 am

Up here in the frozen north, Alaska, we are itching for breakup and our spring to begin. This is a beautiful book and contains beautiful photos. I always look forward to the book offerings in the winter months to tide me over till summer. Thank you for a great giveaway.

40 Erin February 8, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Spring is many months away, but my husband always gets me a gardening magazine subscription or book for Valentine’s Day. It helps with the cold home stretch of winter.

41 Beth February 8, 2011 at 2:23 pm

The photos in this post and in your book are inspiring the garden in my mind! Hopefully it becomes a reality as soon are we find the soil under all this snow here in Ohio! Thanks for the inspiration!

42 Cameron February 8, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Unfortunately my garden has gone from organized to hodgepodge, mainly because I have been trying to squeeze too much into too little space and trying to defy the sunshine requirements of the plants as I must contend with huge maple trees shading my property. My goals are to create areas of interest of colour and texture whilst providing “food plants” for bees and butterflies.

43 Tina February 8, 2011 at 2:53 pm

I’m a beginner gardener. My husband and I are just getting started with vegetables. But I long for a garden with year round interest and color. Its nice to know that the woody plants are an ideal to start with.

44 Donna C February 8, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Totally agree with most of the choices for trees/shrubs, though I will have to look up a few that I am not familiar. My Jelena is flowering now too and it is gorgeous. Only thing is that the leaves don’t drop on it and I have to prune them off in order to show off the flowers.

45 Heidi February 8, 2011 at 4:25 pm

In a 4 season climate its all about the joy of looking out or walking about 365 days a year. There is always something new. Thanks for sharing ideas to make it even better.

46 Pam February 8, 2011 at 5:04 pm

As a transplanted New Englander, I’m always trying to learn how to take advantage of the different kin of growing season we have in the PNW!

47 Chani West-Foyle, Marketing Associate February 8, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Hello all,

Thank you so much for playing! One of our Facebook commenters, Nancy Ralston, won the prize for today. But check in for the rest of the week – we’ll be giving away one book per day through Friday.

Let me know if you have any questions.

48 Ruth February 10, 2011 at 6:03 pm

The cuttings under your lights look so healthy — I have some very anxious-looking fancy-leaf geraniums on my kitchen windowsill. I think they would love to get outside. So would I: we just had another 10 cm of snow last night. Before I can start my seeds I have to CLEAN UP THE BASEMENT; not an alluring prospect. But then I too will have some healthy-looking plants under my grow lights.

49 Jennifer Benner February 10, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Hello Nonstop Gardeners! Thank you all for all the wonderful comments. Jeremy P. you can definitely start your annuals in a cold frame for a hardy yield. Antonio, I celebrate gardening every day! I’m often jealous of all of you Zone 8 gardeners because of the plants you can grow, but I know I’d miss the winter months of the northeast. The piles of snow always melt–and they’re actually providing good insulation right now for all of those plants I dug up. Hang in their New Englanders! Susan Spaulding, I know what you mean about mass plantings being boring. Have no fear, I’m all about trying to create a BANG! Catherine Siddall, yes big trees are a must. I’m surrounded by a hemlock forest on all sides, so the big guys fell off my radar–sorry. Love Katsura, great tree. Bonnie The Plant Lady, you go girl! Cameron, yay for the the bees and butterflies! Ruth, the plants on my light stand in the past certainly weren’t that happy. It took me a few years to figure out which ones were agreeable overwintering plants. Keep up the great efforts everyone. The world would be a boring place without gardeners!

50 Catie February 11, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Beautiful book!

51 Cynthia Adams June 19, 2011 at 10:06 am

Excuse me, but that Winter Garden poem is actually MINE. First published in Birds and Blooms Magazine Dec/Jan 2003 edition. Please change that author name to Cynthia Adams. Thank you.

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