Mediterranean Style Plants Further North


Aristotle made no bones about it. Regions north of the Mediterranean Coast were not suitable for civilized life. His southern world was a warm, mild one that stretched across most of Spain and Portugal, southern France, all of Italy except the Alps, Greece and North Africa. There the moderate climate spawned a native flora of oil rich aromatic plants capable of withstanding a very long dry season in the summer.
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Beautiful Garden Plants For Soggy Soil

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Call it hardpan or caliche or adobe, but all these soils add up to is dense ground.  And water doesn’t penetrate any better than it seeps through a red clay flower pot wall. Such is the fate of so many homeowners in regions were soils, or subsoil layers are impervious to water.  Or sometimes it’s just part of a homesite that’s problematic.  Cut building pads on hillsides may offer nothing but these dense, exposed sub-soils.  Even if you till them up and add organic matter, the soils may cement themselves back together again once you add water.  Many plants refuse to grow under these circumstances, but the good news is that some will literally thrive in heavy ground.  A good many of these come from habitats around the world that are often flooded, swampy or perennially wet.  Some will grow equally well on dry land too, because they are adapted to the ebb and flow of seasonal waterways.  Knowing which species enjoy these conditions will save you money, dead plants and a lot of frustration. Cardinal flower is Lobelia cardinalis, a perennial named for the vivid red flower spikes that bloom from July to September.  They’re also known as hummingbird flowers due to their lure of these tiny American birds to copious nectar.  It ranges from Canada to over most of the eastern U.S. in wetlands, swamps and streambanks.  Plants reach two to four feet and are quite cold hardy.  Recently breeders have crossed this plant with other lobelia species to create the Lobelia speciosa hybrids with varying flower color, but expect these to be a bit less cold hardy.     Water iris can be found across the globe with many species native to the American south.  These were brought into cultivation and crossed over and over to produce what are today known as the Louisiana iris hybrids.  Big, bold and resilient, with a resistance to mucky soils of the deep South, these beauties are the stellar performers of wet ground gardens.   Explore the rainbow of truly astounding hybrids and more details on cultivation and purchase of these all-American iris at Zydeco Louisiana Iris Garden in New Orleans or online at Hailing from warmer climates come two outstanding wetland performers.  The canna, beloved in Victorian gardens can be a water garden plant or grow on dry ground. Its double nature is a requirement of the Amazon region of its homeland.  Dwarfs or full sized varieties offer a huge range of flower and leaf colors.  The black and striped leaves are exceptional to look at even when out of bloom. The thick, fleshy roots may be left in ground all winter provided they don’t freeze, or they can be lifted and stored after the last frost. Gorgeous white calla lilies, Zantedeschia aethiopica used in swanky flower arrangements and old time funerary bouquets are natives of Africa.  Like the canna they live on riverbanks, thriving in periodic floods but during the long dry season they survive on dry land.  The large
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Fool The Eye With Garden Mirrors


Slight of hand is what makes magic acts so confounding.  Your eye is betrayed by tricks that seem to defy all we know about physics.  Yet they are so effective we have no choice but to suspend our disbelief.  There is magic of a similar kind wrought by the skills of garden designers.  It’s the technique of creating visual space where none exists.  This ability to trick you into believing there is more there than meets the eye is called trompe loiel, the French term for “fool the eye”.   The traditional and most common example of French trompe l’oiel is the art of  trellage.  This arrangement produces trellis systems which use artist’s forced perspective to make it appear as though there is greater depth.  This works exactly the way an artist does with a painting.  While this geometric system of lines on a contrasting background can be effective, it doesn’t work well outside formalized landscapes.  There is a simpler way to achieve this sense artificial space that’s cheaper and adapts to virtually all garden styles equally.  It solves a dozen problems unique to small space outdoor living or urban postage stamp gardens bounded by oppressive walls. Imagine if you could borrow some real estate to create a whole new garden room to look into?  As you sit in a tiny claustrophobic patio, a window on another world could change the entire sense of place.  The technique to create such magic: exploit reflection with mirrors.  A mirror reflects everything in front of it to virtually double the sense of space.  We use them often indoors to make rooms seem larger.  It works just as well in the garden.    The size and position of a mirror can provide you a tantalizing, albeit artificial view.  If you’re using a mirror on walls beneath eaves or solid roofing, any type is suitable.  But without cover, rain can damage the silvering on the back of a standard mirror made for interior use.  For this situation order all-weather outdoor mirror for seasonal or year around applications.  To make the effect work perfectly you must fix the mirror solidly to the background.  If it is hung by a wire it will tilt, giving you too much floor or sky.  That just won’t fool the eye.  When considering the size of an outdoor a mirror, match the scale of gateways and windows to give it a more realistic look.  Decide if its to function best when sitting or standing.  Be certain of what is reflected in the mirror from those important viewpoints to get the illusion just right.  A full length mirror created to hang on the back of a door provides a natural looking portal in the garden where it’s placed.  It should be flush with the ground in order to completely pull off such a hoax.  If it is set into planting, be aware that splash when it rains may spot the mirror.  Ditto when it comes to nearby water features.  In those cases raise it
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Twisted Tulips for Garden and Landscape

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The world of tulips is immense, but amidst the most beautiful flowers in the world are some really twisted varieties.  They won’t appeal to everyone, but for certain design styles, these bulbs can turn a good spring garden into a forld class affair. Sometimes perfect upright tulips are too rigid for modern design.  The ability to juxtapose twisted flowers and stems against the sharp lines of sleek surfaces creates a dynamic contrast.  Parrot tulips produce these very unusual petals with bold stripes and broken colors along with frilled edges. For lovers of rich reds and the luxurious interiors with their silks and satins, dark antique furniture and heavy drapes, Rococo is an ideal choice.  Intense color combined with striations produces a true Old World look.  As flowers open their form disintegrates to create even more exotic shapes.  This is a real man’s tulip. She is named China Town, and this beautiful flushed beauty is most feminine.  Tulip centers in a rich sap green are edged in magenta then lighten to pale pink.  Planted into beds of perennials and shrubs, their large flowers, casual form and vivid colors are perfect for that coveted cottage garden look. 

A Germanic Vine Solution for Walls

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Seeing a garden unusually early in the year may cheat you out of its full peak season glory, but there are benefits.  This residence in northern Germany demonstrated a most useful means of training vines to masonry buildings without sacrificing the structure.  On structures that are painted, this system allows the cables to be detached with the main vine runners to repaint or repair.  It’s fully visible early before the vines have fully leafed out. This clematis has been perfectly trained up a dual set of cables attached to the face of the masonry wall.  The verticals end at the top plate then a new set juts off at an angle to follow the roof line.  A close up of the assembly at the base of the wall illustrates heavy lag eye-bolts anchored in the mud sill, in this case it is wood due to the half-timber construction.  It must be very strong to hold the wire tension.  Barrel turnbuckles at the base allow the homeowner to occasionally tighten the tension as cables stretch with vine maturity. Wisteria begun years ago on the same system illustrates how vine trunks cope with the tight cable over time.  Turnbuckles may be loosened as well to accommodate the growing diameter of woody trunks that spiral around the cables.  This proves it is a viable solution over the long term.

Distinctly Cool Dutch Decor

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One of the great things about being in media is access.  This year it was a private tour of the best Dutch gardens featuring virtually every bulb known to man in full bloom.  But we didn’t just see Keukenof the greatest bulb extravaganza in the world, our visits were to small lesser known sites, many of them residential.  I found a plethora of new ideas which I’ll share with you over the coming weeks. A table made of a slab of salvaged steel plating on sawhorses displays urns of snowdrops and terra cotta filled with gorgeous purple crocus. One garden was actually a very deep backyard created by a woman who ran a small garden shop and nursery in her home.  This is unusual to find such an operation in a residential district but thankfully the locals let her do it.  Like most of Holland the site was immaculate with not a leaf out of place nor a weed in sight.    The garden owner is enchanted by cool colors of blue and purple, so she created a most unique combination of pots and plants.  This table featured metal containers planted with succulents and other unusual foliage along with a few spectacular accents. I think what probably caught my attention about this long display of foliage and flowers is the cool color palette.  But we’ve all been trained that all cool is just too dull and needs an occasional red or yellow to bring it up in temperature.  Somehow despite the lack of such contrasting spots of bright hue this works by creating incredible diversity in an amazingly small space without being overwhelming.

Zulu Bow String Plant for Modern Gardens

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Sanseveria is native to the South African bush with its long dry season when many months pass without a drop of rain.  When not a blade of grass is left standing you can see their little green leaves poking out of the dust.  As succulent plants capable of storing large amounts of water in their tissues, these are often the only green thing for miles.   Inside the leaves are tough fibers once extracted by the Zulu tribal warriors to twist into bow strings. Many varieties of Sanseveria can be found in your home improvement store or garden center house plant section.  They’ll thrive out in the garden all summer long in shaded locations.  Chameleons of the plant world, they can be adapted to modern, tropical and Spanish style gardens depending on where and how they are planted. Its history in the bush is why this age old houseplant remains so cast iron, because it literally thrives on neglect.  Also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, it’s been rediscovered as a patio plant that can be brought indoors to enjoy througout the winter.  Sanseveria was a signature plant for midcentury modern homes due to their uniformity and architectural forms. The growth habit of Sanseverias is much like that of bearded iris or cattails, which spread via thick, fleshy underground rhizomes.  Once established they quickly fill in a pot or planter creating a tightly packed colony of succulent, upright, sword shaped leaves.  To propagate your root bound plants, simply break apart the rhizomes at their naturally weakest points, then allow the pieces to sit in the open air for a few days while the wound ends dry out before replanting.  This seals them against moisture that could rot the rhizome before it becomes established in its new location. The plants caught on in tropical Mexico where they are still planted in red clay pots.  Rows of identical pots and plants set against hot colored walls distinguish many hacienda landscapes.