Gardening Tips

Gardening Tips

Lacy foliage and misty flowers grace these carefree perennials.

OF THE MANY PERENNIALS in my garden, few are more versatile and graceful than the thalictrums, or meadow rues. (The common name comes from the resemblance of their ferny foliage to that of the common rue, Ruta graveolens, although in fact they belong to the buttercup family, or Ranunculaceae.) With over 130 species, the genus Thalictrum represents a remarkably diverse group. All, however, share certain traits that make them prized by gardeners: multitudes of small flowers, usually in soft pastel tints, that cluster in panicles, and lacy foliage that is an asset to the border both before and after flowering.

Of the 26 species and cultivars that at one time or another I have included in my garden in Kingston, Washington (USDA Zone 8), I have found that most are best used as secondary components in the border, rock garden, or woodland. In addition to their clouds of color, they contribute polish and continuity to any grouping of plants without overwhelming the intended effect. In most species, the color of the individual flowers is provided by a feathery bundle of dangling stamens. Unlike the stamens of the bold and nectar-rich flowers of other members of the buttercup family, these stamens depend on the wind rather than insects to deliver pollen to nearby plants. (more…)

Gardening Tips

Restoring a sunken garden

FIVE YEARS AGO, we pried open a broken gate and walked into the large backyard of a 1920s Tudor-style house in a suburb of Chicago. The yard was surrounded and softened by a substantial brick wall and occasional groupings of woody plants. A break in the expansive plane of turf immediately captured our attention. This turned out to be the remains of a sunken garden, which measured approximately 35 by 60 feet. The old brick retaining wall that had outlined the garden had settled with age, revealing wonderful wrinkles, bends, and weathered surfaces. Further investigation revealed a canal, running through the center of the garden, that had been filled in with soil.

The challenge here was twofold: the new owners wanted an English-style mixed border that would withstand the rigors of our midwestern weather and yet not require too high a level of maintenance, and they wanted to site the border within the derelict sunken garden.


Gardening Tips

Days of wine & roses

AS YOU DRIVE down Highway 29, the main route through California’s Napa Valley, it’s almost impossible to count the wineries that line both sides of the road: Acre upon acre of vineyards carpet the valley floor and creep up into the tree-clad hills. Off this well-beaten track, at the end of a long drive that winds up above the town of St. Helena, lies Newton Vineyard, the venture of Peter and Dr. SuHua Newton.

Over the past 15 years Newton, an expatriate Englishman, has transformed five acres of hilly terrain in the midst of the vineyard into a dazzling, eclectic series of private gardens. “We’ve got a square mile of land here,” he says, “but we don’t have anything that is remotely flat.” Bulldozers and determination solved the problem, though as you move from garden to garden a steady ascent offers the pleasure of new discoveries as a reward for the climb.

The garden closest to the front gate is an intricate clipped-box parterre (built, amazingly, on top of the winery’s Chardonnay cellar) framed by cypresses and spiral junipers. Each of the parterre’s diamonds holds a contrasting planting of some silvery ornamental, such as Artemisia ‘Silver Mound’, Teucrium chamaedrys, or catmint. Despite its formality, the parterre isn’t at all static. As Newton explains, “Whereas most parterres are rectilinear, I did this one on a 45-degree bias, so your eye gets helped along.” Roses also figure importantly: The white ‘Cinderella’, grown on 18-inch standards that seem to rise magically above the boxwood, clusters around the central fountain. Nearby the orange-vermilion miniature ‘Hula Girl’ adds a splash of bold color. (more…)