Tag Archive: Russell Stafford

  1. 10 City Trees for Urban Landscapes and Street Sides

    Littleleaf lindens (Tilia cordata)  are common street trees for urban areas.

    It’s not easy being a tree.  This goes doubly for trees in urban landscapes.  Air pollution, compacted soil, and road salt are just a few of the extra challenges that come with an in-town lifestyle.  Worse still, much of that tainted soil and air is occupied by buildings, streets, sidewalks, power lines, and other structures that leave little space for branches and roots.

    Amazingly, quite a few tree species are tough and compact enough to cope with these special challenges.  Perhaps as remarkably, many of the best of these trees are still relatively rare in urban landscapes.  If you’re looking to grow a tree in Brooklyn (or any other city), the choices range far beyond the ubiquitous littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata) and Norway maple (Acer plantanoides).

    Outstanding Trees for Urban Landscapes

    Chinese fringe-tree (Chionanthus retusus)

    In place of Tilia cordata, you could try its smaller, more refined cousin, Kyushu linden (Tilia kiusiana).  Rather new to American horticulture, this slow-growing 20-footer boasts a dense, teardrop-shaped habit; dainty, heart-shape leaves; and handsome, flaking bark.  Kyushu linden prospers in sun to light shade in USDA Hardiness zones 5b to 8.

    Shantung maple (Acer truncatum) is a well-behaved relative of Norway maple with lobed leaves that become flushed purple in spring, mature to rich green in summer, and turn sunset tints in fall.  Its attractive gray bark provides winter interest.  Height and width is 25 feet; favored conditions are full to part sun in zones 5 to 9.

    American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)

    American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) has another common name – musclewood – which references its rippled blue-gray bark.  Under whatever name, it’s one of the most picturesque eastern North American trees, with its muscled trunk, sinuously branched crown (to 30 feet tall and wide), and finely serrated leaves that go yellow in fall.

    European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) is a long-time (and larger) urban stalwart, usually seen as the upright-growing ‘Fastigiata’.  It’s less hardy than American hornbeam’s USDA zones 3 to 9.  Full to part sun; salt intolerant.

    Chinese fringe-tree (Chionanthus retusus) is much underused.  How can something this beautiful be this tough?  Spectacular in late spring when covered with fleecy white flowers, Chinese fringe-tree carries its ornamental weight at other seasons with its shredding, cherry-like bark, bold oval leaves, and blue olive-shaped fall fruits. The yellow to rust-red fall color isn’t bad either.  20 to 30 feet tall.  Full sun to light shade; USDA zones 5 to 8.

    Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) fruit

    Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is actually a dogwood, despite its common name.  A must for the urban edible garden, this multi-stemmed small tree is also essential for winter display, thanks to its clusters of acid-yellow flowers that precede those of forsythia.  The cranberry-like fruits ripen in summer, and make for excellent preserves (they’re also good right off the tree).

    Look also for the closely related but rarely offered Japanese Cornel dogwood (Cornus officinalis), which tends to bloom slightly earlier and often has pleasingly mottled bark.  Both species are native to East Asia.  15 to 20 feet tall.  Full sun to light shade; USDA zones 5 to 8; somewhat salt-tolerant.

    American smoke tree, (Cotinus obovatus) has hazy, summer-borne seedheads that are not as showy as those of the much more common European smoke tree. But, the Southeast US native amply compensates with its smoldering fall color and scaly, silvery bark.  Typically multi-stemmed and round-headed, it’s sometimes sold as a single-trunked specimen.  The widely available cultivar ‘Grace’ – a hybrid with European smoke tree – offers equally spectacular fall color but a rather unruly habit.  25 feet tall.  Full sun to light shade; USDA zones 5 to 9.

    Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) fruits do not exist on new all-male varieties.

    Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) is literally as tough as nails (just try hammering a nail into its rock-hard, close-grained wood), but it has never found a place in cultivated landscapes because of its spiny branches and large, messy, knobbly fruits.   Thankfully, that’s all changing with the recent introduction of several lightly armed male cultivars (including ‘White Shield’ and ‘Wichita’).  Now you can have Osage orange’s gleaming dark-green foliage and ironclad constitution without subjecting passersby to concussive fruits and clothes-rending spines.  These cultivars grow quite rapidly to 30 feet or so.  Sun to light shade; USDA zones 5 to 9; relatively salt-tolerant.

    Peking lilac (Syringa pekinensis) is a close relative of the much more widely planted Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata). Peking lilac surpasses it in its exceptional cold hardiness and its bronze, silver-flecked, often shaggy bark.  Feathery clusters of white flowers deck its oval crown in late spring, and amber-yellow fall color occurs on some forms of this fine multi-stemmed or single-trunked tree lilac.  Sun; USDA zones 3 to 7; relatively salt-tolerant.

    Urban Tree Care

    City trees appreciate a bit of extra coddling.  Where soil is compacted or otherwise compromised, work several inches of topsoil (such as Fafard Premium Topsoil) into as much of the tree’s future root zone as possible.   Although it’s tempting to plant a large balled-and-burlapped specimen with a several-inch-caliper trunk, smaller container-grown plants will establish more readily, and likely attain similar (or greater) stature in 4 or 5 years.  Dig the planting hole to the same depth as the root ball (or shallower in heavy clay soil), and three (or more) times as wide.  Spread a layer of compost in a wide circle around the newly planted tree, top with 2 to 3 inches of bark mulch, and water well, repeating when necessary (one or two times a week).

    With good care, your new tree will repay your efforts by settling in quickly to its new urban home. Any one of these beautiful options will benefit your city landscape or street side, adding diversity and charm as well as welcome greening.

  2. 3 Steps to Growing Great Roses (With No Fuss)

    Strike it Rich® is a glorious Grandiflora with exceptional disease resistance. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Got rose problems? Over 20 common pests and diseases plague roses, threatening the beauty of many a rose-filled yard and garden. But, rose growers can take heart. You can have the beauty of roses without the burden of doing constant battle with pests and diseases.  It all comes down to choosing resistant varieties and giving them the right care. Here are the three key steps to growing great roses without the fuss.

    1) Pick a winner.

    This is the most important step! Old roses are often the most fragrant and beautiful, but they are more often maintenance nightmares. Classic Hybrid Tea and Grandiflora (and other) rose varieties were bred for their voluptuous, iconic flowers, with little consideration for the plants’ overall vigor and disease resistance.  Consequently, they’re susceptible to a slew of diseases including blackspot, powdery mildew, and stem cankers.  They’re also easy marks for rose chafers, Japanese beetles, rose slugs, and a host of other insects that prey on roses.

    ‘Carefree Beauty’ is a wonderful shrub rose that will resist many common rose diseases. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    In recent years, breeders have developed and introduced new hybrids that resist diseases and pests.   Most familiar of these are a number of “landscape” roses (such as the Knockout series) noted for their tough shrubby growth and abundant, relatively small, typically scentless flowers.  Rose fanciers who are looking for something with taller stems and larger, more fragrant blooms will also find plenty of low-maintenance roses to choose from, however – including several Hybrid Tea and Grandiflora cultivars that rival anything in their class.  Notable sources – and cultivars – include:

    The German firm Kordes:  Their Grandiflora rose ‘Eliza’ produces a succession of lightly fragrant, double pink blooms on tall stems.  The repeat-blooming climber ‘Moonlight’ carries nicely scented peachy-yellow flowers.  ‘Yankee Doodle’ is a tall, vigorously growing Hybrid Tea with intensely fragrant, double, apricot-pink roses.

    Rosa PINK KNOCK OUT® is a classic, disease-free Knock Out rose planted for its strong disease resistance. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    The Explorers Hybrids from Canada:  This collection of rock-hardy roses includes the Rosa rugosa hybrid ‘Jens Munk’, which bears 2.5-inch, double, medium-pink flowers on shrubby plants.  It also includes several outstanding, repeat-blooming climbers.  ‘William Baffin’ produces several flushes of dark pink flowers beginning in late June, and ‘John Cabot’ covers itself with double, fuchsia-red flowers from early summer to fall.  Both can grow to 10 feet or more.

    The Iowa breeder Griffith Buck:  Among his many outstanding introductions are the pink-flowered Hybrid Tea ‘Earth Song’, and the shrub rose ‘Carefree Beauty’, with large pink flowers.

    Weeks Roses: Many Weeks introductions are graced with fine fragrance, good looks, and remarkable disease resistance. The introduction Strike it Rich®, bred by Tom Carruth, is a testament to their rose-breeding prowess.

    Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’ is a tough rugosa rose that grows well in coastal gardens. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Anything of Rosa rugosa parentage: These rough and tough roses include the bright pink ‘Hansa’, dark red ‘Linda Campbell’, bright yellow ‘Topaz Jewel’, and the intensely fragrant, white-flowered ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’.

    The French rose breeder Meilland:   ‘Francis Meilland’ is a Hybrid Tea with double, silvery pink roses on tall stems.  The similarly hued double flowers of the Grandiflora ‘Mother of Pearl’ have a light, sprightly scent.  Dark red, heavy-scented, fully double flowers crown the 4- to 5-foot stems of the Hybrid Tea rose‘Traviata’.

    2) Choose the right soil and the site.

    Roses thrive in full sun and rich, healthy, humus-rich soil.  Before you plant your rose, amend the soil with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. It adds rich organic matter for increased water-holding capacity and porosity. Follow up by adding fertilizer formulated for roses. This will encourage strong growth and flowering.

    Ample air circulation helps too.  Plant your prize rose in a hole that’s at least twice as wide as its root ball, and amend the backfill and surrounding soil with compost and organic fertilizer.  Then apply a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch to keep the roots moist and cool (and keep the soil microorganisms happy!).  Plants should be well spaced to allow air flow.

    3) Maintain!

    If you see rose rosette “witches brooms” remove your roses. There is no cure for this contagious disease. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Prune out all diseased growth in spring and throughout the growing season (dip pruners in a 10% bleach solution to reduce the chance of accidentally spreading disease from rose to rose). Be on particular lookout for the red “witches brooms” that signal the presence of rose rosette disease, a destructive disease for which there is no cure. Roses that have contracted rose rosette disease should be quickly removed from the garden.

    Thin stems in spring and summer to encourage air circulation and discourage diseases.   Tolerate modest insect damage, but treat plants with the appropriate OMRI Listed® insecticide if insects reach high levels.  Rake and remove fallen vegetation, which may harbor disease-causing fungal spores.  Apply rose fertilizer and a layer of compost each spring.  Plant “companion” perennials (such as members of the parsley and daisy families) that harbor beneficial insects.  And remember to water during dry spells!

    The right rose in the right place (with the right maintenance) will provide years of beauty with a minimum of grief.  It will also astonish your acquaintances who think that beautiful roses require lots of care for great looks.

    Rosa ‘Red Cascade’ is a rare old-fashioned miniature climbing rose that is disease resistant and prolific! (Photo by Jessie Keith)

  3. “Cannatainers” or Cannas for Container Gardening

    Canna ‘Striata’ graces the center of an impressive patio pot. (Image by Mike Darcy)

    Cannas emerge from dormancy and hit the horticultural market in late winter and spring, so now is the time to get the show started. Numerous varieties are available from on line and local nurseries, either as potted plants or as bare-root rhizomes (the technical name for the thickened underground stems that give rise to all that splendiferous summer growth).

    Newly purchased plants should be grown indoors in a suitable potting mix until danger of frost has passed, such as Fafard Professional Potting Mix.  Ten- to twelve-inch plastic pots and a two-inch planting depth work well for this initial, indoor growth phase.  For their outdoor, summer home, cannas need containers of a grander and more massive order planted in a water-holding mix, such as Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix.  An 18-inch-plus clay or ceramic pot (or something in the way of a cast iron urn) is ideal.  Large wooden or terra cotta planters also work well.  Simply knock the plants out of their temporary, indoor containers and place them at the same depth in their outdoor quarters.  Then stand back and watch the fireworks happen (making sure to water liberally and fertilize regularly through summer).

    Although spectacular on their own, containerized cannas make an even more extravagant statement if combined with other heat-loving plants.  For example, the flowers and foliage of gold- and red-hued Coleus provide a striking foil for the sunset foliar tones of Canna ‘Phaison’ (right).  The possibilities are practically limitless, given cannas’ wide range of floral and foliage colors.

    When choosing cannas for container gardening, the sky’s the limit. For a lavish summer display on a less colossal scale, use a “dwarf” canna cultivar such as ‘Pink Sunset’, which offers dazzlingly variegated leaves and soft pink flowers on 3-foot (rather than the usual 5- to 10-foot) plants.  Or you can go the other direction and opt for something outrageously gargantuan such as the banana canna, ‘Musaefolia’, a Victorian-age behemoth that towers to 14 feet.  A bathtub of a container (and lots of water) is recommended.

    Cannas slow their pace in fall, requiring reduced water as they gradually die back to their rhizomes.  Dormant plants can be moved indoors, pot and all, for the winter, or the rhizomes can be lifted and stored in paper bags in a well-ventilated location.  Either way, cool temperatures (below 60 degrees F) are best for storage.

    In early spring, move containerized cannas to a warmer niche and water sparingly until growth resumes.  Split overwintered bare-root rhizomes into divisions of 3 or more “eyes” (the red, swollen growth points spaced along the rhizomes), and plant them in containers (as described above).   And start planning this year’s summer spectacular.

    An orange-flowered ‘Wyoming’ Canna looks in the back of a pot of tall red cannas and elephant ear. (Image by Pam Beck)

  4. Growing Cherry Trees

    Sour cherry trees laden with fruit.

    Nothing tastes better than firm, succulent cherries right off the tree – especially if they come from your own back yard!  Thanks to a new generation of hybrid and dwarf cherry trees, home-grown cherries are literally within the reach of more gardeners – in more climatic zones – than ever before.

    As with everything gardening, choosing the right varieties and giving them the right conditions and care are the keys to getting your backyard cherry orchard off to a good start.

    Consider planting your cherries on foot-tall mounds.

    What Cherries Want

    All cherries thrive in full sun and fertile, well-drained, slightly acid soil.  They also favor mild, relatively dry summers and chilly winters (most cherries won’t bear fruit unless they receive several hundred hours of sub-45-degree temperatures).  If you can offer these conditions, as well as a planting site that’s not overly prone to late, bud-damaging frosts, you’re likely to have good luck with all kinds of cherries.

    Start With the Soil

    Nutrient-rich loam is ideal.  If you garden in sand, apply 2 or 3 inches of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost, and till it in before planting.  If heavy clay soil predominates, consider planting your cherries on foot-tall mounds or berms of topsoil amended with compost.  Higher berms (at least 3 feet tall) will also help protect flower buds from spring frost damage.

    Avoid siting cherries in warm microsites (such as the south side of a building) that encourage premature, frost-susceptible bud development.  In areas where heat and humidity are a challenge, maximize air circulation through proper pruning (see below) and generous spacing.

    Pick the Right Cherry

    Sweet ‘Rainier’ cherries require very specific growing conditions.

    As fate would have it, the most popular cherries are also the most persnickety (of course!).  Sweet cherries (Prunus avium) such as the supermarket standbys ‘Bing’ and ‘Rainier’ are good bets only where temperatures stay mainly between 90 and minus 20 degrees  F (sorry, Southern gardeners!).  Because of their chilling requirements, they also do poorly in regions with mild year-round climates.  The few sweet cherry varieties (including ‘Minnie Royal’ and ‘Royal Lee’) with relatively low chilling needs are worth a try in marginal mild-winter areas.  Wherever they’re grown, most sweet cherry varieties require another compatible variety nearby to set fruit (only ‘Stella’ and a few others are self-fruitful).  For a list of varieties that “pollenize” each other, click here.

    ‘Montmorency’ is a classic sour cherry variety.

    Sour cherries (Prunus cerasus) tolerate somewhat more heat, humidity, and cold, making them a safer bet than sweet cherries for regions such as the southern Plains, lower Mid-Atlantic, and upper Midwest and Northeast.  Their self-fruitfulness and relatively compact size also make them a better fit for smaller gardens.  The tart fruits are excellent in pies and preserves, or for eating out of hand.  By far the most popular variety is ‘Montmorency’, but many others are available.

    Even icebox climates such as northern Maine and the upper Great Plains now offer the possibility of fresh-off-the-tree cherries.  Recently introduced hybrids between Prunus cerasus and its shrubby cousin Prunus fruticosa produce flavorful cherries on 6- to 10-foot plants that are hardy to minus 50 degrees F.  Cultivars include ‘Crimson Passion’, ‘Carmine Jewel’, ‘Romeo’, and ‘Juliet’.  All are self-fruitful.

    Choose the Right Sized Tree

    Stark® Gold™ sweet cherry can be purchased on various sized root stock.

    At 20 to 40 feet tall, full-sized sweet- and sour-cherry trees are too large for many home gardens.  They are considerably shorter, however, when grafted on dwarfing “Giselsa” rootstocks recently developed in Germany.  For example, sweet cherry cultivars grown on Gisela 6 understock mature at 60 to 90 percent of the height of full-size trees, and begin fruiting within 3 years of planting.   Gisela-grafted trees also show good hardiness and disease resistance.  Most mail-order suppliers of cherry trees offer a smorgasbord of cultivar/rootstock combinations.

    Caring For Your Cherries

    Whatever the best cherry trees for your place and purposes, they’ll need constant care to thrive.  Apply organic fertilizer and a layer of compost in spring, followed by 1 or 2 inches of bark mulch to keep the soil moist and cool and to inhibit weeds.  Prune out spindly twigs, unproductive branches, water sprouts, and other superfluous growth in midsummer (avoid pruning during rainy or humid spells).  Harvest ripe cherries and collect and discard dropped fruits several times a week, to keep spotted wing fruit flies and other pests at bay.  Rake and remove fallen cherry leaves, which may host disease-causing spores.  Make your yard a haven for beneficial insects by planting species that host them (such as members of the parsley and daisy families).  These and other measures can help keep your cherry trees happy, and your table brimming with fresh cherries.

     

  5. “Bad” (Invasive) Garden Perennials and Safe Substitutes

    Lythrum salicaria JaKMPM

    Purple lythrum looks pretty in the garden but beware this dangerous invasive flower. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Some perennials have major territorial issues.  Give them an inch, and they’ll take a yard – or at least a good chunk of it.  Allow them a toehold, and their rampant root systems or prolific seedlings will likely haunt your garden for years to come.

    Of course, such perennials don’t limit their thuggery to the garden; they also can spread (usually by seed) into nearby natural areas, out-muscling native vegetation.  For the scoop on the worst offenders in your region, check your state’s list of banned invasive species.  But keep in mind that many species with serious boundary issues don’t appear on most state banned lists.  Even if it’s not listed by your state (as is probably true of the species described below), the perennial that’s captured your heart might have designs on taking over your garden.

    Lysimachia punctata JaKMPM

    Yellow loosestrife is pretty but a garden thug. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Baptisia sphaerocarpa 'Screamin' Yellow'

    Yellow wild indigo has characteristics similar to yellow loosestrife, but it is tame. (Image by Russell Stafford)

    Just about any list (state or otherwise) of takeover perennials is likely to include a few that go by the common name “loosestrife.”  Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) – the perennial that ate the Northeast (as well as several other regions) – is the textbook example.  Close behind, however, are several species in the genus Lysimachia.  Many a gardener has regretted falling under the spell of the arching white spires of gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides).  Lovely in bouquets, this East-Asian native is a rambunctious bully in the garden, spreading rapidly via fleshy white underground shoots (known as rhizomes).  A far wiser (and better behaved) choice for perennial borders is milky loosestrife (Lysimachia ephemerum), which forms 3-foot-tall, gray-leaved clumps surmounted in summer by candles of frothy white flowers.

    Also too vigorous for most gardens are yellow loosestrife, Lysimachia punctata, and fringed loosestrife, Lysimachia ciliata (usually grown in its purple-leaved form, ‘Firecracker’).  Both make good candidates for damp, isolated niches where they have room to romp.  Yellow wild indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa) and its hybrids (including ‘Carolina Moonlight’) would be a better choice for situations where good manners and 3-foot-spires of bright yellow, early-summer flowers are desired.

    Rudbeckia laciniata JaKMPM

    Rudbeckia laciniata is pretty but aggressive. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Quite a few other yellow-flowered aggressors are commonly grown (and virtually ineradicable) in gardens.  Almost all perennial sunflowers (Helianthus), for example, are rapid colonizers with tenacious questing rhizomes.  If the mellow yellow blooms of Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ beguile you, you might want to opt instead for Silphium mohrii, which produces summer daisy-flowers of an even softer pastel-yellow, but on 4-foot-tall plants that stay in place.  Another popular splashy yellow summer-bloomer to avoid is the double-flowered Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Golden Globe’ (also known as ‘Hortensia’).  Take a pass on this common pass-along plant (there’s always plenty of it to share thanks to its romping rhizomes), and seek out its mannerly look-alike, ‘Goldquelle’.  Also often passed along are some of the more assertive yellow-flowered members of the evening primrose tribe (including Oenothera fruticosa and Oenothera tetragona).  These might best be passed by in favor of arguably the largest-flowered and loveliest hardy Oenothera, Missouri primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa).

    Missouri Evening Primrose is not fast spreading.In contrast, goldenrods (Solidago) often get tagged with the “invasive” label, even though many of them are model citizens with arresting late-summer flowers.  Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida) holds dense, flat heads of lemon-yellow flowers above handsome clumps of gray-green foliage, while the equally fetching showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) carries steeples of bright yellow blooms on burgundy-red stems.  As for the canard that goldenrods cause hay fever: they don’t.

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    Physostegia virginiana ‘Miss Manners’ is tidy and clump forming unlike the spreading species. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    The common name of Physostegia virginiana – obedient plant – also gives the appearance of a canard, given the relentless rhizomes of this Central U.S. native.  The moniker, however, refers to the mauve-purple, turtlehead-shaped flowers that line its 3-foot-tall spikes in late summer.  Push an individual flower into a new position, and it compliantly stays put.  The white-flowered cultivar ‘Miss Manners’ departs from other physostegias in possessing obedient flowers AND rhizomes.  Its flower color is also more compatible.

    The domed flower heads of garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) share the adaptable, milk-white coloration of ‘Miss Manners’.  This prolific ornamental onion isn’t so good at sharing space, however.  Neglect to deadhead its late-summer blooms, and it will populate much of your garden with seedlings.  The somewhat earlier blooming Allium ramosum also bears showy (and sweet-scented) heads of white flowers atop 18-inch stems, but without the resulting seedling swarm.

    Three more invasive perennials to steer clear of (and suggested substitutes) include:

    1. Plants sold under the botanical name Adenophora, which almost always are the fiendish, tuberous-rooted Campanula rapunculoides.  Use peach-leaf bellflower (Campanula persicifolia) or great bellflower (Campanula latifolia) instead.
    2. Yellow archangel, Lamium galeobdelon.  Rather than unleashing the garden-variety species on your yard, substitute its cultivar ‘Herman’s Pride’, which offers even handsomer silver-splashed foliage, sans the infinite spread.
    3. Butterbur (Petasites).  Yes, the romping colonies of immense, heart-shaped leaves are captivating, but the thick rhizomes will not stop until they’ve occupied every square millimeter of available soil.  A Ligularia or Rodgersia will give the same foliage effect without commandeering the whole neighborhood.
    Petasites hybridus

    Butterbur will take over a shade garden in no time. (Image by Russell Stafford)

    Whenever you plant a mannerly perennial in your yard, be sure you know its soil needs. Fortifying soil with needed amendments will result in better overall performance. We suggest Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost, for starters. Although these and quite a few other perennials are too rampant for most garden areas, they might work in an isolated niche (such as a driveway island) where nothing else will grow, or in an informal planting (such as a cottage garden) that features plants that can fend for themselves.  “Right plant, right place” is a garden maxim that never goes out of style.

  6. Permaculture Gardening

    asclepias tuberosa qg 62708

    The goal of permaculture is to create a landscape that sustains itself, its natural surroundings, and the people who steward it.

    The first and perhaps most important choice in creating a garden is this: will it work WITH its surroundings, or against them?  We can try to grow what we want to grow, heedless of the garden’s natural and domestic conditions, or we can choose plants and strategies that fit the situation on (and under and above) the ground.  We can pour on the labor and chemicals to try to force the garden to bow to our will, or we can go with its currents, letting its characteristics be our guide.  One choice leads to landscapes that are at odds with their setting, such as lawns in Phoenix.  The other leads, in some cases, to permaculture.

    Permaculture means different things to different people.  Perhaps its ideal goal, though, is to create a landscape that sustains itself, its natural surroundings, and the people who steward it.  Such a landscape rides with the rhythms of nature, with plants and microbes and soil and air working together as a cohesive, self-nurturing unit that requires minimal inputs of nutrients and labor.  Here are some ways to do this.

    Plant for the Site

    senna marilandica thbg 73108

    If you know the right plants for the right site, you are on the right track.

    Know your site. What are your soil and sun factors? What plants best fit your yard and wants? Then you can make smart choices for your yard and garden. (Much as you love raspberries, they’ll languish in too much shade.  How about elderberries instead?) The garden’s domestic setting is also a factor.  For instance, plantings should generally become less formal and more naturalistic with distance from buildings and paths.

    Manage Natural Processes

    Garden Manure BlendWork with natural cycles and processes. Start a compost pile for spent vegetation and uneaten produce, to return their nutrients and organic matter to the soil.  Mulch with beneficial amendments (such as Fafard Garden Manure Blend) and fertilize with organic materials that support beneficial soil microbes and boost organic matter. Disturb the soil as little as possible, to maintain its structure and to avoid bringing buried weed seeds to the surface to germinate.

    Sustain “good” insects by minimizing pesticide use and by utilizing plants that attract them (such as members of the parsley and aster families). Cut back native perennials in early spring rather than fall, to provide food for birds, protection from erosion, and refuge for beneficial insects.

    Choose Diversity

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    Plant using a wide diversity of beautiful plants suited for wildlife and the site. (image by Jessie Keith)

    Use a wide diversity of plants – including natives – that complement and balance each other horticulturally and ornamentally. Try for a harmonious patchwork of species with different forms, colors, pollinators, pests, associated beneficial insects, and other characteristics.  Include a variety of trees, shrubs, and perennials to provide structure, and interplant with numerous edibles and ornamental annuals to increase diversity and yield.  Intermingle heavy-feeding plants (such as tomatoes) with nitrogen-accumulating plants (such as legumes) to balance and replenish soil fertility.  Introduce some non-invasive, self-sowing ornamentals and edibles (such as celandine poppies and perilla and forget-me-nots), which make excellent subjects for a dynamic, self-sustaining landscape.

    Choose Multi-Function Plants

    diospyros virginiana meader qg

    American persimmons are perfect “dual-purpose” trees that are beautiful and produce edible fruit.

    Create plantings that have multiple uses and functions. Why not plant a couple pawpaw trees, whose handsome, rounded, bold-leaved crowns will produce fruit for the table and provide food for zebra swallowtail caterpillars?  Or a highbush cranberry, for its platters of white, late-spring flowers; its fall harvest of red berries that make excellent preserves; and its attractive maple-like foliage that turns burgundy tones in fall?  Or  the stately American persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana) with its edible fall fruits prized for baking? Or one of the many colorful leaf vegetables (such as ‘Rainbow’ chard and red orach) that are both ornamental and tasty?

    Make the Natural Connection

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    Milkweeds make a natural connection with the monarch butterflies they feed. (image by Jessie Keith)

    Connect the garden to surrounding natural areas by using plants that attract, shelter, and feed native insects and animals. A clump of columbine will draw local hummers to their nectar-rich flowers; a planting of winterberries (female and male) will feed yellow-rumped warblers and cedar waxwings and mockingbirds with their brilliant red berries; and a Dutchman’s pipe vine will host pipevine swallowtail larvae, which make excellent food for nestlings. Then there’s the ever-popular milkweeds, which are essential to monarch butterflies.

    Consider integrating “volunteer” seedlings of native plants into the garden, rather than indiscriminately weeding them out.  Conversely, avoid introducing plant species (such as winged euonymus and Japanese barberry) that are likely to invade and disrupt nearby natural areas.

    At its best and most satisfying, a garden that follows these principles develops into a dynamic little ecosystem of its own, where plants and wildlife and humans all have a place.  Permaculture does not aspire to “permanent” landscape features such as a perpetually green, weed-free lawn.   Rather, it’s a collaborative effort between plants and gardener to create a cultivated landscape that is shaped and steered by nature’s ever-changing forces.  A permaculture garden never stops evolving – just as a permaculture gardener never stops learning and marveling.

  7. Elegant, Evergreen Magnolias

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    Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is graced with outstanding evergreen foliage and glorious bowl-shaped spring flowers. (image by Pam Beck)

    Gardening in eastern North America has many challenges.  But it also has many glories. Among the latter are the two evergreen magnolia species that call the region home.  Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and evergreen forms of sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana var. australis) have it all: handsome gray bark; large, sweet-scented, creamy-white flowers in late spring (and sporadically until fall); and evergreen leaves that take center stage in winter.

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    Southern magnolias add evergreen beauty to dull winter landscapes. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    These native beauties are also more cold-tolerant than most gardeners know.  Although they hail from the Southeast United States, they succeed in cultivation into USDA Zone 5b.  Centerpieces of many a Mid-Atlantic and Southeast garden, they’re also capable of making a statement in parts of New England, New York,  and the Midwest.

    Southern magnolia is one of those big, bold, primordial plants that looks like it just dropped in from the Cretaceous.  Indeed, its ancestors dominated much of Earth’s vegetation some 70- to 90-million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the planet.  But this magnificent magnolia also works just fine as a visually dominant specimen tree for twenty-first century landscapes.

    In its boldest forms, Magnolia grandiflora takes the primordial look to awe-inspiring lengths (and breadths).  The aptly named ‘Goliath’ (and the somewhat similar ‘Gloriosa’) produces enormous cupped flowers of ivory that open to a foot or more across, displayed against large, polished, relatively broad leaves.  The flowers of ‘Samuel Sommer’ are even larger (to 14 inches across), and its leaves have striking rust-brown felting on their undersides.  Selected for its abundance of bloom, ‘Majestic Beauty’ also features immense deep green leaves and a symmetrical, broadly conical growth habit.  Cultivars ‘Angustifolia’ and ‘Lanceolata’ have narrower leaves, felted brown underneath.

    Magnolia grandiflora 'Edith Bogue'

    The more delicate ‘Edith Bogue’ is best espaliered against a sturdy, protective wall.

    Although typically forming a slow-growing, 40- to 60-foot tree, Southern magnolia sometimes assumes more compact forms, as in the narrowly conical, 30-foot-tall ‘Little Gem’.  Its 4-inch-wide flowers are relatively precocious (most Southern magnolias varieties take several years to a decade to come to bloom), and as with most varieties they recur sparingly after the main flush in late spring.

    Two other compact Magnolia grandiflora cultivars are of particular interest to Northern gardeners.  Both ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ and ‘Edith Bogue’ have a good chance of succeeding into USDA Zone 5b in sites protected from winter sun and harsh northwest winds.  For sheer hardiness and sturdiness, ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ can’t be beat, although even this toughest of Southern magnolias will go brownish-tan in cold, Zone-6 winters.  The slightly more delicate ‘Edith Bogue’ is notorious for losing limbs to heavy winter snow, and functions best in North gardens as an espalier, with her branches fixed to a stout frame (a shaded east-facing wall is ideal).

    Whatever the climatic zone, Southern magnolia does best in relatively fertile soil that’s not too sandy or heavy.  A good compost (such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost) can help bring marginal soils into line.

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    The highly fragrant blooms of sweetbay appear in spring and are almost primrose yellow. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Native from Texas to North-Coastal Massachusetts, Magnolia virginiana makes a natural choice for gardens from USDA Zones 5 to 9.  Evergreen forms of this elegant small tree – known botanically as variety australis – are confined to the Southeast, and tend to either expire or defoliate in Zone 5 and 6 winters.  Exceptions do occur, however, including the cultivars ‘Henry Hicks’ and ‘Moonglow’, both of which are hardy and often evergreen (or semi-evergreen) into Zone 5b.

    In all its forms, sweetbay magnolia is one of the finest small trees for American gardens.  Typically single-trunked in warmer climes and multi-stemmed in chillier regions, it bears oval, rich green leaves with silvery undersides that shimmer in the breeze.  The cupped, creamy (almost primrose yellow) flowers debut in late spring and continue sporadically throughout summer, casting a piquant, questing fragrance reminiscent of roses or lemons.  Attractive clusters of red-fleshed fruits follow the blooms.  Often found in wetlands in nature, Magnolia virginiana is well suited for moister areas of the landscape (and loathes dry, sandy soil).

    Natural and Organic

    Before planting evergreen magnolias, fortify your soil with Fafard Natural & Organic Compost Blend.

    Also well worth growing is the hybrid between sweetbay magnolia and umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala), which combines the fragrant, summer-long blooms of the former with the bold, primordial, deciduous foliage of the latter.  Its cultivar ‘Cairn Croft’ is sometimes available from specialty nurseries.  Crosses between sweetbay and Southern magnolia have been developed and introduced by hybridizers, but offer no notable advantages over the parents.  For year-round leafage and beauty, these two exceptional natives can’t be beat.

  8. Ornamental Seed Heads for Winter Garden Interest

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    The seedheads of Rudbeckia fulgida stay looking pretty into winter and will even hold the snow. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Winter is the garden’s quiet time, when its subtler charms hold sway.  It’s the season of the three B’s – eye-catching bark, colorful berries, and architectural branching – and of evergreen foliage.  And it’s also the time to appreciate the marvelous and often beautiful diversity of seed heads.

    Miscanthus sinensis ssp. condensatus 'Cabaret' JaKMPM

    Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus ‘Cabaret’ (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    No plants better exemplify this beauty than grasses.  Many produce large, elaborate flower heads that reach their full glory in fall and winter as the seeds ripen and scatter.  Doubtless the best known of the bunch (at least in eastern North American gardens) is Chinese maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis.  This variable East Asian native produces huge, plumy, silvery flower heads in late summer on 5- to 8-foot talks that erupt from fountain-like clumps of arching leaves.  The ripening blooms gleam in the slanting fall and winter light, glowing most brightly when backlit by the sun.  Among the many outstanding varieties of Chinese maiden grass are the longtime favorite ‘Gracillimus’ and its descendants, all of which feature narrow leaves with silvery midribs.  Broad, yellow, widely spaced bands mark the leaves of ‘Zebrinus’, which is floppier in habit than the similar ‘Strictus’.  The broad-bladed, variegated Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus ‘Cabaret’, has cream-striped leaves and reddish plumes that dry to silvery tan in fall.  Compact cultivars such as the 40-inch-tall ‘Adagio’ make a good choice for tighter spaces.  This (and other) grass species may self-sow, particularly in warmer parts of its USDA Zones 5 to 9 hardiness range.

    Other notable grasses of winter interest (and of similar hardiness range) include:

    The North American native Panicum virgatum (commonly known as switch grass), which produces hazy clouds of dainty pale flowers that darken as they ripen in fall.  Most varieties grow to 4 feet or more.

    Cortaderia selloana 'Silver Comet'

    Cortaderia selloana ‘Silver Comet’

    Fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), instantly recognizable by its large foxtail-like flower heads on 3-to 4-foot stems above finely textured mounds of narrow leaves.  Several dwarf cultivars (including ‘Little Bunny’) are available.

    The upright, tassel-flowered Calamagrostis acutiflorus (feather reed grass), with bronzy blooms that mature to beige tones as they mature in late summer and fall.

    Cortaderia selloana (pampas grass) is an imposing tender grass surviving in USDA hardiness zones 8-10. The tall plumes reach 8-12 feet and appear late in the season. It can seed freely, so be cautious where you plant it.

    Panicum virgatum 'Prairie Sky' JaKMPM

    Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Sky’ in winter (Image by Jessie Keith)

    These and most other ornamental grasses flourish in relatively fertile, not overly dry soil and full sun.  A good nitrogen-rich soil amendment (such as Fafard Garden Manure Blend) will help bring heavy or sandy soils up to snuff.

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    Purple coneflower seedheads eventually shatter as their seeds are eaten by birds, but they do offer pleasing winter interest. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Like grasses, many broadleaf perennials have attractive seed heads that make a pleasing sight in winter (particularly when displayed against a blanket of snow).  Among the best perennials for winter interest are species in the aster family that bear persistent conical heads of dark seeds.  The near-black central cones of perennial garden favorite Rudbeckia fulgida remain long after the last golden-yellow petals of its summer-to-fall ray-flowers have dropped.  Usually sold under the name ‘Goldsturm’, it’s one of a tribe of similar ‘black-eyed Susans” from the central and eastern United States.  All are easy-care sun-lovers, are hardy from zones 4 to 10, and have a penchant for self-sowing.  Rudbeckia nitida, by contrast, has greenish cones (with yellow petals) on stately, 4- to 6-foot stems, and is a less enthusiastic self-sower.

    Also hailing from prairies and meadows of central and eastern North America are several species of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea and others).  The large brown “cones” protrude pleasingly from the snow on 2- to 4-foot stems, and also look nice in summer when fringed with purple-pink ray-flowers.  Hybrids and selections of purple coneflower come in a host of flower colors, from white to red to yellow.

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    Tall sedums continue to look attractive in the garden well into winter. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    The North American prairies are home to several other perennials that make great winter garden ornaments.  The silver-white, spherical flower heads of rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) ripen into spiky globes that resemble some sort of miniature medieval weaponry.  They cluster atop 3-foot stems that arise from rosettes of fleshy, spiny, yucca-like leaves.  False indigo (Baptisia australis) and its kin are big bushy legumes that produce blue, white, or yellow pea-flowers in late spring and early summer, followed by peapods that become leathery and brown-black as the seeds mature in fall.  All make wonderful low-maintenance perennials with spring-to-winter interest.

    Attractive seedpods are also a feature of the many butterfly weeds (Asclepias spp.) that dot the prairies and fields of eastern and central North America.  The pods split in fall to release seeds that float away on tufts of white down.  Orange-flowered Asclepias tuberosa is one of the best, as is Asclepias purpurascens, which has rose to purple blooms. Tall Sedums (Sedum spp.) of all types also grace the winter with seedheads that can remain attractive through winter.

    Garden Manure BlendSweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) is one of numerous Clematis species (including many shrubby and vining perennials native to central and eastern North America) that bear seeds with plumy, silver-white appendages that continue to draw onlookers long after their flowers have fallen.   Heavy-blooming plants appear to be enveloped with a feathery froth as the seeds (and their plumes) mature.  As with all of the above (as well as the scores of other perennials, shrubs, vines, and trees with ornamental seeds), they’re essential elements of the winter garden, and splendid accents for fall and winter flower arrangements.

  9. “Knitting” Perennials for Textural Flower Gardens

    Geranium sanguineum ‘John Elsley’ “knitting” into a silvery lungwort. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Flopping is often frowned upon in the perennial garden (and quickly corrected with bamboo stakes, peasticks, or other mechanisms, if it occurs).  Some perennials, however, make a virtue out of laxity, their trailing growth providing the perfect foil to the upright stems of delphiniums, New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), and garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).  In flower gardens, as in containers, nothing complements a towering thriller better than a contrasting spiller.

    Natural and OrganicTrailing perennials are especially valuable for their ability to knit together other garden elements, upright or otherwise.  Mass them at the fringe of a perennial border, and they unify what lies behind them.  Position them near a path or patio, and their tumbling stems interrupt and soften the line between hardscape and softscape.  And they’re literally made for walls, producing cascades of texture and color that bring the landscape alive.

    Margins and walls are not the only places where trailing perennials do their knitting.  They excel at covering the voids left by large perennials that go dormant in early summer, such as oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) and bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis).  Many will thread their stems through upright neighboring perennials, intermingling their contrasting foliage and blooms.  Some ground-hugging sprawlers (including creeping thyme, Thymus serpyllum) can even be planted into lawns to form textured, flowering patchworks.

    Here’s a sampling of some of the best of these perennial “knitters”.

    Callirhoe-involucrata

    Winecups (Callirhoe involucrata)

    A native of dry prairies throughout the Central U.S., winecups (Callirhoe involucrata) has just about everything a North American gardener could want, including cold-hardiness (USDA Zones 4-9), drought-tolerance, and a long season of showy blooms. Its lax stems typically form low mats, but will also clamber up neighboring plants or cascade down banks or walls. The bowl-shaped, bright purplish-pink, white-eyed blooms continue for many weeks in summer along new portions of the continually lengthening growth. Several other species of Callirhoe – of various habit – are also well worth growing. All of them prosper in dry habitats.

    Moss phlox (Phlox subulata) is so common as to be dismissed by gardeners who should know better. But, just because a plant species is sold at hardware stores and supermarkets (as well as about every other establishment that deals in plants) doesn’t mean that it’s unfit for sophisticated gardens. Hailing from dry slopes and ledges in the East and Central U.S., this needle-leaved evergreen can’t be beat for draping down a wall, or covering a dry slope, or fronting a xeric perennial planting. Its filigreed foliage would be reason enough to grow it, even if it weren’t also a prolific early-spring bloomer. Gardeners who are put off by brassy-flowered forms of this species have any number of subtler cultivars from which to choose. It’s worth considering for any sunny garden within USDA Zones 3 to 9.

    Phlox subulata 'Fort Hill' (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Phlox subulata ‘Fort Hill’ (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Several trailing bellflowers (Campanula spp.) occur on ledges and embankments in European mountains and take well to similar habitats in gardens.  Among the most vigorous of the lot is Serbian bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana), which in late spring bears starry blue flowers on low, 3- to 4-foot-wide hummocks. The typically sprawling stems will also clamber or drape, given the opportunity. Plants tolerate a wide range of conditions and may become overly rambunctious in moist, fertile soil.  Other bellflowers for edging or walls include Campanula cochlearifolia, C. carpaticaC. garganica, and C. portenschlagiana.

    Also from Europe is another trailing perennial that excels on sunny dry slopes: bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum).  A variable plant, it typically matures into a sprawling, 6- to 10-inch-tall mound of deeply lobed foliage, decked in late spring and summer with magenta, pink, or white, dark-veined flowers.  This hardy (USDA Zones 5 to 9), durable perennial is perhaps at its best in naturalistic plantings, where it can be allowed to seed around into informal colonies.

    Clematis × durandii (Image by Leonora Enking )

    Clematis × durandii (Image by Leonora Enking)

    An excellent geranium for threading through perennials and shrubs is the Geranium ‘Rozanne’, prized for its early-summer-to-frost bounty of purplish-blue flowers.   This lanky, 2- to 3-footer will also sprawl obligingly across gaps left by early-dormant perennials.

    The legendary garden designer Gertrude Jekyll liked to cover such gaps with the lax, non-climbing growth of , a hybrid between the shrubby Clematis integrifolia and the vining Clematis lanuginosa.  Its toppling, 7-foot stems bear a summer-long succession of large starry violet-blue flowers that resemble those of its vining parent.  Other clematis for this purpose include Clematis recta, a 5-foot, splaying perennial that envelops itself in summer with small fragrant white flowers; and ‘Mrs. Robert Brydon’, another shrub/vine hybrid whose flopping 8-foot stems carry billowing clusters of pale-blue blooms in August and September.

    Hardy perennials for knitting can be planted in fall. Good soil preparation and light mulch will help them become established and protect them through the winter months. Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost should be worked into the soil at planting time and added as a light mulch around newly installed perennials.

  10. Elegant Spider Chrysanthemums

    Chrysanthemum x morifolium 'Kishinonishi'

    Spider chrysanthemums, such as ‘Kishinonishi’, produce long tubular ray florets which may coil or hook at the ends. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    There’s so much more to chrysanthemums than the ubiquitous “garden mum”.  Spider chrysanthemums are a wonderful and weirdly beautiful example.   Like common “garden mums”, they trace their origin to hybrids of Chrysanthemum indicum, first developed in China more than 2000 years ago.  Over the centuries, these so-called “florist’s chrysanthemums”, known botanically as Chrysanthemum morifolium, have diverged into a dizzying array of forms and colors, some of them bordering on the bizarre.

    Which, brings us back to spider mums.  As described by the National Chrysanthemum Society, this class of florist’s chrysanthemums produces blossoms with “long tubular ray florets which may coil or hook at the ends.”  The masses of spaghetti-thin, curling “petals” do indeed have a spidery, or medusa-like, or starburst effect – spectacular in some cases, and almost sinister in others.  Their distinctive form makes them favorites in wedding bouquets and other special-occasion floral arrangements.

    1760FF Pro Potting Mix 2cu RESILIENCE FrontAs with most of the 13 classes of Chrysanthemum morifolium, spider mums have been bred and selected mainly for cut-flowers rather than for garden use.  Consequently, few can tolerate frozen winters.  Their October bloom times also leave them vulnerable to fall frost, limiting their usefulness as annuals to regions where frost comes a bit later (USDA zones 6-7 and warmer).  Where suitable, they make choice additions to cut-flower borders and attention-grabbing (but relatively fussy) alternatives to common garden mums.

    In the garden, spider mums are best planted in spring after the danger of frost has passed. They thrive in full to partial sun and friable, fertile, humus-rich soil. Numerous cultivars are available by mail order from specialty growers, with a few sometimes finding their way to local nurseries and greenhouses.  Among the most notable are ‘Descanso’, which bears huge medusa blooms in shades of bronze and apricot, the white-flowered ‘Chesapeake’, and ‘Fleur de Lis’ with its fountains of lilac-pink “petals”. To find these and other spider mums, visit King’s Mums.

    Of course, in whatever climate, spider chrysanthemums can be grown the traditional way: in containers.  Young plants purchased in late winter or early spring will prosper indoors or out (after danger of frost) in a coarse, fertile, compost-based potting mix, such as Fafard Professional Potting Mix.  A deep 4-inch pot is good to start, but vigorously growing plants should be moved to larger containers every couple of months.  After plants flower, they can be cut back and kept relatively dry in a cool, frost-free location.

    For the full traditional effect, these mums should be disbudded.  This involves pruning out all but a few stems, and removing most or all of their side shoots.  Only one to several flower buds are left to develop at the tip of each stem, resulting in exceptionally large blooms – just the thing to wow greenhouse visitors or chrysanthemum show judges. If you don’t disbud, you will get more flowers, but they will be smaller.

    Chrysanthemum x morifolium 'Kokka Senkin'

    Chrysanthemums come in many other forms, such as this irregular incurve, ‘Kokka Senkin’. These and many others can be viewed at select Chrysanthemum shows across the country.

    Several U.S. public gardens – including Smith College Botanical Garden in Northampton, Massachusetts, and Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania – offer the ultimate in chrysanthemum “wow”, staging lavish displays of hundreds to thousands of florist’s chrysanthemums, grown (and disbudded) to perfection.  Spiders, Anemones, Quills, and all manner of other chrysanthemums take center stage at Lyman Conservatory at the Botanic Garden of Smith College from November 5 to 20, and at Longwood’s 4-acre conservatory from October 22 to November 20.  These chrysanthemum celebrations will convince even the most jaded observer that there’s far more to mums than the cushion mounds at the local garden center.