Friday, July 30, 2010

Lichens: Nature's Jewlery

Ever notice those greenish-gray-yellow spots on your tree branch, fence post or park bench? To some, it may look like a simple moss or mold and not worthy of a second glance. But if you did look closer, you'd realize it was something quite different and uniquely beautiful. Sort of like a big brooch or gaudy piece of jewelry, adorning that tree. You would see a lichen:

So what are lichens anyway? Lichens are composite organisms formed from a fungus and an alga. Together, the fungus and alga create a symbiotic relationship, living together as one organism, both inhabiting the same body. 

According to The Backyard Nature Website, the fungus benefits from the algae because fungi, having no chlorophyll, can't photosynthesize their own food. A lichen's fungal part is thus "fed" by its photosynthesizing algal part. The algae benefit from the association because the fungus is better able to find, soak up, and retain water and nutrients than the algae. Also, the fungus gives the resulting lichen shape, and provides the reproductive structures.

Pretty amazing stuff for something that most people may not even notice, huh?

Personally, I love finding these. I think they look like pressed flowers against the wood or rock. Looking closely, you can see the intricate shapes, the bumps and ridges that almost resemble flower petals or fine lacework.  Look for them next time you are out for a walk. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Knockout Roses

My dad always enjoyed gardening and had beautiful gardens throughout his property. But the one thing he always complained about were his roses. No matter what he did, he always got black spot on his Tea Roses and it really bothered him. So, a few years ago, I gave my dad a small, 12" Knockout Rose for his birthday. At the time, I was taking a class on Woody Plants at Farmingdale and my teacher was Vinnie Simeone, director of Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, New York. He spoke to us not only about the beauty of these shrub roses, but also the ease in which they can be cared for. Knockout Roses are disease resistant, drought tolerant and self cleaning, so there is no need to deadhead. At Planting Fields, he was slowly replacing the Tea Roses with shrub roses. This was a plant I knew my dad had to have. 

Take a look at it today:

Clearly it is doing well! And as promised, it has been disease free and maintenance free. He prunes it every spring, but otherwise, he just lets it do its thing. 

The rich cherry red/hot pink flowers begin blooming in the spring and will continue until the first hard frost. The foliage is a dark purpleish green and turns burgundy in the fall. It enjoys full sun. They are a wonderful plant for every garden and landscape.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Licorice, Zinnia and Verbena

I came across this plant and flower combination at the base of a tree along the sidewalk of a shopping mall. I love the contrasting colors and textures:

The trailing silver/green foliage of the Licorice Plant (Helichrysum petiolare) at the base makes a great groundcover. The middle layer is filled with Zinnia augustifolia in a brilliant reddish-orange flower color. The innermost layer is filled with the tall and wispy Purpletop verbena (Verbena bonariensis). All three of these have very different foliages, flowers and habits, yet they all seem to compliment each other as well. In addition, these three thrive in ordinary soil and full sun, which is why they look so great in this parking lot!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tranquility of Ponds

Whether you have a basic pond with a few fish swimming around or an elaborate pond with a big waterfall and caverns for the Koi to hide, you can't deny that a pond adds a certain tranquility to a garden setting. As I've mentioned before, I like garden structures and statues when they are tastefully integrated into the garden. I like them even more when they are added as compliments to a pond to emulate the natural environment.

Below is a photo of a pond I visited a few weeks ago:

I love the statue of the birds overlooking the pond and the waterfall to the right. The blue lacecap Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla normalis) is a soothing compliment to the red rosebush below the statue. And the contrasting foliage of the Caladiums add a nice touch to this garden. I can easily imagine spending a lazy day of summer here, under the shade of the pine tree and listening to the water trickle into the pond.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pink Flamingo Lawn Ornaments

I had the opportunity to visit Narragansett, Rhode Island a few weeks ago. It is a lovely seaside town and each home looks peaceful and well manicured. Driving around the neighborhood, I saw many beautiful shrubs in bloom like Hydrangea, Crape Myrtle and Rose of Sharon. When all of a sudden, my 4 year old son calls out "Look, a Flamingo!" I stopped the car immediately, knowing full well that Flamingos were not indigenous to the Northeast. So imagine my surprise when I saw roughly 20 pink Flamingos on the front lawn of house across the street. 

Have a look:

As you can see, these Flamingos are not real. To me, when I think about pink Flamingos as lawn ornaments, it screams tackiness. But to be honest, there was something intriguingly appealing about these. Maybe it was the sheer number of birds, their haphazard placement across the lawn or the fact that each was standing in a different pose. Maybe the owner loves Flamingos. Maybe these birds were placed on the lawn as a prank by a friend (or foe?). Maybe they were left over decoration for a party.  Whatever the reason, they certainly caught my attention and the attention of the children in my car. I had to drive past this house 6 times before they allowed me to drive way!

What do you think? Tacky? Cute? Let me know!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Purple with a Side of Purple

Driving along the suburbs of Boston last week, I came across a purple house. Not only did I find this house striking and unique, but I was amazed to see the exact color match in the front flower garden. The purple Balloon Flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) were in full bloom and were a wonderful compliment to the house. 

Then, when I got out of the car to take the photo, I noticed two yellow Adirondack chairs off to the right of the house. The yellow of these chairs matched the yellow Daylillies (Hemerocallis) in the foreground!

I don't know if the owner did this on purpose, and I know that I was there at the right time of the summer to see these flowers in bloom and match the color of the house. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I hate to admit it, but I have an insect problem. Well, not me, specifically, but my Morning Glory vines. They are infested with Whiteflies. But like all gardeners, you have to take the good with the bad and dealing with insect pests is just part of the job. 

Whiteflies are tiny, sap-sucking insects that can be found on the undersides of the leaves of many vegetable and ornamental plants. They excrete sticky honeydew and cause yellowing or death of leaves. When a heavily infested plant is disturbed, white clouds of the insects fly into the air. Whiteflies are most active during the daytime when the temperature is warm.

Here is a photo of some on my plants: 

The Morning Glory plants became infested through the introduction of another infested plant (Lantana) that I purchased from a greenhouse. Lantana has a known issue with Whiteflies in the greenhouse and although I kept the plant in isolation for a few days and treated it for insects before planting it among the other plants, I guess I didn't get them all. I will know better next year. 

Whiteflies are difficult to control because they multiply so quickly. I have tried insecticidal soap and it seems to work - but only for about a day. I have also tried manual control by squishing them with my hands or wiping them with a damp cloth. I don't get them all, but enough to feel like I'm doing something. I read somewhere that Ladybugs are a natural predator to Whiteflies and so I might try some of them next. Have any of you tried these? Or have you tried something else that works? I'd love to hear your suggestions.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Natural Beauty in the Hamptons

Well designed and cared for gardens are certainly beautiful, however there is something equally as beautiful and intriguing as a garden that has been planted and tended to by nature. Flowers growing in places they have no business growing, simply because a bird or the wind dropped the seed there months before.

I found this lonely Black-Eyed Susan (Rubeckia) growing in front of a tree while visiting friends in East Hampton this summer. Something about it grabbed my attention. Maybe it was the bright colors of the flowers set against the grayness of the tree's bark. Or maybe it just seemed to have a personality of its own. Whatever it was, it caught my attention and made me smile.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Trains, Gardens and Hostas

Last month I visited an open house for the Long Island Garden Railway Society in Huntington, NY. My mom's cousin, together with her husband, have created a beautiful oasis in their small yard with running water, a pond, over 50 varieties of Hostas and other beautiful landscape plants. But the main centerpiece is the working railroad track throughout the back yard.

My son and nephew (age 4 and 3, respectively) were fascinated with the trains and especially loved watching them go in and out of the tunnels!

Though the yard was small, I was impressed with the variety of plants and the combinations of color and texture. Their front yard is enclosed by a white fence and instead of planting the garden along the house, they planted it along the fence. In doing this, they made this front yard seem like a small room, inviting to the visitor to wander or admire the garden from either the yard or the house. 

Along the side of the house, they made great use of the natural slope of the lawn by putting in a water feature. Part babbling brook and part waterfall, it flowed down into a small fish pond at the base of the slope.

I think garden statues and structures can be attractive if done correctly. I love it when they are almost hidden among a plant or a shrub. As if they were put there by the garden gnomes and fairies themselves. Can you spot the little fairy sitting on the curb in the photo below?

And did I mention the 50 varieties of Hostas?? This one had leaves that were bigger than my daughter's whole body! This big one looks like Hosta 'Sum and Substance'.


To find out more information about the Long Island Garden Railway Society, check out their website at:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Street Plantings in NYC

New York City is nicknamed the "Concrete Jungle" and with good reason! It's a fascinating place bustling with activity. People, buses, cars, buildings, street vendors, sidewalk dining, eclectic shops. All part of what makes NYC great. 

In June, I happened to be in the city for the day and wandered past this beautiful planting "box" along the sidewalk at the base of the tree. I was so impressed by the variety of plants in such a small space that made it unique. So often, you see street plantings will the basic Imatiens, Begonias or Liriope. And while these are great and serve its purpose, its always a welcome surprise to find something different. 

This "box" had a wrought iron cage around it to act as protection and was filled with various types of Coleus, Strobilanthes dyerianus (Persian Sheild), Imperata Cylindrica (Blood Grass), Nicotiana, Lantana, Pentas lanceolata (Star Cluster). Whoever put this together, I say "Nice Job!"

Monday, July 5, 2010

Colorful & Whimsical on Fire Island

The minute you step off the ferry boat onto Fire Island you truly feel like you are in a different world. The sidewalks are filled with people walking in flip flops, kids riding in wagons or couples riding bikes with baskets full of groceries.

On a recent weekend in Ocean Beach, I came across these two beauties:

I love how the owner nestled the fish among varying shades of blue stones to make it look like the little fishing statue-boy is really sitting along a shimmering pond.  The larger stones intermixed with the contrasting green foliage is really beautiful.

These mushrooms are actually solar lights but look so pretty settled among the yellow and pink Snapdragons in this front garden. The "Imagine" stone in the back adds to the personality of the garden. 

Deer walk the paths on Fire Island as frequently as the people do, so it is not uncommon to see some beautiful gardens kept safe behind tall fences to keep the nibbling creatures out. To have a garden outside a fence, you certainly have to use deer resistant plants or just be really creative with something unique!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hydrangeas in Port Washington

This is what a Hydrangea bush looks like to a 4 year old. My son took this photo and I think he did a great job!

We were walking past this lovely corner garden filled with blooming Hydrangeas. Upon closer inspection, I realized the color shift in the blooms. Have a look:

The flowers on the far side of the photo are deep blue and the ones closer to me are more lavender color (the true purple flowers are a separate plant and cultivar altogether). To get blue Hydrangeas to turn pink, one can amend the soil with lime to make it more alkaline. So it would seem that the soil pH changes right under these bushes!

This photo shows that even the flower head itself is two different colors:

Friday, July 2, 2010

Updated Flower Box Photos

Here are some updated photos of my flower boxes. These photos were taken mid-June - one month after planting. Everything is in full bloom except the vines and the Digitalis has already bloomed. 

And here are the updated containers in the backyard containing Coleus, Caladium and Impatiens:

My Garden

I live in Port Washington, NY. It's on the north shore of Long Island with the Long Island Sound to its north (and Connecticut further across the Sound), New York City 17 miles to its west and Montauk Point about 100 miles to its East. Long Island in general is in hardiness Zone 7 (according to the USDA), but according to the National Gardening Association, I live in hardiness zone 6B. There are a lot of microclimates on Long Island and Port Washington seems to be one of them.

The USDA planting zones are regions defined by a 10 degree Fahrenheit difference in the average annual minimum temperature. To put the definition in layman's terms, the higher the numbers, the warmer the temperatures for gardening in those planting zones. To find out what zone you live in, check the map here:

Anyway, I live in this great house. But its a rental, so I am hesitant to invest too much time and money into a permanent garden. Instead, I have a bunch of containers and flower boxes that are overflowing to the brim. The house faces east, so I get a lot of morning and midday sun in the front. To the west and south sides of the house, there is a lot of shade from high canopy trees.

Last year I tried planting vegetables and kept them mostly on the back patio. However, they didn't do too well and I think it was because they didn't get enough sun. So this year, I moved most of the containers and boxes to the front of the house and planted annuals (and some perennials) that require part sun.

Here is how they looked the day I planted them around May 15 this year:

The 3 boxes were positioned next to each other in effort to look like a raised bed. These are the plants I used (all boxes are left to right in the front of the house):
Box 1: Digitalis purpurea "Camelot Rose" (Foxglove), Ipomoea batas "Bright Ideas Lime" (Sweet Potato Vine), Dahlia (annual), Dianthus "Super Parfait Raspberry" (Carnation), Nicotiana "Saratoga White", Antirrhinum "Rocket Bronze" (Snapdragon), Verbena "Tuscany Lavender Picotee", Lantana and in the back, 2 Morning Glory (pink/purple mix) and 1 Moonflower (Giant White) vines.
Box 2: Salvia guaranitica (Black & Blue Salvia), Lobelia "Superstar", Nicotiana "Saratoga White", Dahlia, Verbena "Tuscany Lavender Picotee", Antirrhinum "Rocket Bronze" (Snapdragon), Rubeckia "Tiger Eye Gold" (annual Black Eyed Susan), Lantana, Campanula rotundifolia "Thumbell Blue" (Bluebells of Scotland), 2 Morning Glory Vines (pink/purple mix) and 1 Moonflower vine (Giant White) [Added Lychnis coronaria in early June]
Box 3: Salvia guaranitica , Nicotiana "Saratoga Red", Euphorbia "Diamond Frost", Dianthus "Super Parfait Raspberry" (Carnation), Ipomoea batas "Bright Ideas Black" (Sweet Potato Vine), Argyranthemum "Butterfly Yellow", Coleus, Heliotrope "Fragrant Delight", 2 Morning Glory (pink/purple mix) and 1 Moonflower (Giant White) vines

My 4 year old son helped me plant the morning glory and moon flower vines indoors in late March. It was fun to watch them grow inside on stakes and it will be even more fun to watch them grow up the trellis and the railings.

In the back of the house, where there is part-full shade, I like to plant containers of coleus. I love the different variety of foliage colors and think they look great when planted together. They are so easy to grow and if they get too big or if a stem breaks, I simply put it in water for a few days, let the roots grow and then plant them with the others again.

Here is how the coleus containers looked in May:

One final spot is right at the base of a maple tree. There is not much soil there and lots of shade. So I placed 3 pots - two pots have pink and white caladiums with pink impatiens and the other has a big leafed Coleus with chartreuse colored Lismachia.
That's my garden, in a nutshell. I'll post some updated photos of what they look like in July, as they have really taken off. It may not be a sprawling perennial border, but it makes me smile and that what I think gardens and gardening is all about.

If you have a favorite garden you'd like to share or want me to comment on, let me know!