Shrubs in mixed borders

The flower borders require constant attendance from early spring to late autumn. There are bulbs to be planted and replanted, or herbaceous perennials that require dividing every 2 to 5 years. Then there is fertilizing, mulching, watering, thinning, pruning, deadheading. Besides, many herbaceous flowering plants look good only for a certain period of time, while they are in bloom. After the flowers fade, they only sit there providing with greenery or go dormant until the next season.

Ornamental shrubs are much easier to look after – they are long lived, resistant to drought and cold, and retain their shape well after their reach their full maturity, remaining ornamental throughout the season. Compact shrubs are well suited to being planted in mixed borders – they require little maintenance, they do not encroach upon neighboring plants, while providing the flower bed with good structure, height and shape. Generally, a shrub 60-120cm wide would take as much space as 3 or 7 perennial herbaceous plants.

While choosing shrubs for the borders, their ultimate size, bloom time or foliage colour are not the only criteria to consider. The growth habit of a shrub is an equally important element of design. This is one of then main rules to keep in mind when designing a planting composition.

Rounded shrubs

Shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa) is a very popular plant. There are numerous cultivars offering blooms in a variety of colours. Their flowering extends from June to September and even later. They can attain height and width of 90cm, but more commonly they are kept smaller that this. The most beautiful varieties, although somewhat rare in trade, are ‘Red Robin’, ‘Orangeade’, ‘Mango Tango’ with scarlet, orange or bicolor flowers.

Japanese spireas (Spiraea japonica) are some of the most beautiful and maintenance-free small shrubs. They are compact, easy to prune and they retain their shape well. These spireas normally grow up to 60cm tall and 80cm wide, however, more often they are trimmed to a more compact shape. ‘Little Princess’, ‘Goldflame’, ‘Shirobana’, ‘Magic Carpet’, ‘Goldmound’ are all good choices for the flower borders. They all bloom abundantly, and cultivar ‘Shirobana’ is known for its bicolor flowers. ‘Goldflame’, ‘Magic Carpet’, ‘Little Princess’ and ‘Goldmound’ display colorful young shoots and leaves, which are especially prominent in spring.

The most recently introduced weigela (Weigela) cultivars ‘Minuet’ and ‘Midnight Wine’ grow no more than 1 m tall and wide. ‘Minuet’ leaves are edged in pink, and its flowers are pink. ‘Midnight Wine’ leaves are purple, while its blooms are dark pink. It flowers in June and reblooms again in August.

Boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens) prefer semi-shaded and sheltered growing spot.

Winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus) ‘Rudy Haag’ is a fairly new plant, and therefore still rather rare in trade. It grows into a beautiful, dense, cushion-shaped plant up to 90-150cm tall.

Kalm‘s St.Johnswort (Hypericum kalmianum) grows 60cm tall and 90cm wide. The foliage is glaucous blue and its yellow blooms appear in July or August.

February daphne (Daphne mezereum) ‘Ruby Glow’ grows to 80cm high and wide. Its dark pink flowers appear in early spring.

Weeping  shrubs

Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica) ‘Pleniflora’ grows 1,2-1,5 m tall and wide. Its fully double yellow blooms appear from June to August. ‘Variegata’ is a more compact cultivar, and it flowers less, but it is valued for the white-variegated leaves.

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergiii) is also suitable for planting in mixed borders. A number of cultivars – ‘Atropurpurea’ (1-1,2m tall), ‘Rose Glow’ (about 1m), ‘Green Carpet’ (up to 50cm), ‘Red Chief’ (1,5m) – have pendulous habit. All, apart from ‘Green Carpet’ display red or purple foliage.

Cutleaf stephanandra (Stephanandra incisa) growth habit is arching – its branches bend downwards under their weight. In autumn the shrub excibits magnificent orange red tints.

Grefsheim spirea (Spiraea x cinerea) ‘Grefsheim’ achieves 1-1,5m height with the same width. Its gracefully arching branches are weighted down with abundant white flowers in April and May.

Upright shrubs

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) ‘Helmond Pillar’ (1,5m) and ‘Red Pillar’ (1,2m) grow into handsome, shapely columns, slightly wider at the top. Their foliage is purple. ‘Sunjoy Gold’ is also an upright shrub, but its leaves are bright yellow. Cultivar “Erecta’ exibits foliage which is green or lime green.

Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) ‘Autumn Magic’ grows 1,5m tall and 1m wide. This is a wide upright-growing shrub, with white blooms in spring, which turn by autumn into black berries. The leaves are green and glossy during the season, turning brilliant red in autumn.

Mock orange (Philadelphus) ‘Miniatiure Snowflake’ grows no higher than 1,2m tall. It blooms in June with fully double white flowers.

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) ‘Black Lace’ is a shrub or a small tree, which grows wider that it is tall. It usually attains 0,5-2m heigh. Foliage is purple and ferny. [banner]

Red-stemmed dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) ‘Flaviramea’ or ‘Arctic Fire’ are well suited to being planted in mixed borders, where they grow about 1,5m tall and wide. They are especially spectacular in winter, after the leaves have fallen, since their bright yellow or scarlet stems shine from afar.

© Giedra Bartas, 2012

Colours and fragrances to attract insects

Insects fascinate us with their colors, variety and fragility. They are mostly beneficial to the garden, with only 2 percent out of 2000 species of butterflies, native to Lithuania, being harmful. The good news is that these useful insects can be attracted into the garden with some simple techniques. Most butterflies are pollinators, especially of night-flowering plants, while their caterpillars feed mostly on plants of little value. Dragonflies, praying mantises, several grasshoppers, shield bugs, carabus beetles, lacewings, predatory wasps and ichneumons feed on other insects, supplementing their diet with nectar. The larvae of ladybirds and hoverflies are ravenous predators of garden pests such as aphids, while bees make themselves useful by producing honey.

Plants and insects are the best of neighbors. Insects need plants for food and shelter, while plants would not be able to reproduce without the help of insects. Plants attract insects offering nectar and pollen, which is very nutritious in proteins, fats, carbohydrates, enzymes and vitamins. Poppies, anemones, St. John’s Wort and wild roses provide pollen in abundance. Insects fly from flower to flower, thus cross-pollinating plants.

However, nectar is the most important source of nutrition. Nectar is produced by nectaries, which are located at the base of petals and a pistil. Nectar is a sweet liquid, which consists of fructose, glucose, saccharose and maltose, and is accumulated in calyces and spurs of long and narrow flowers. The amount of nectar exuded by [banner] the flower depends on the plant species, the time of the day, the development stage of the flower, temperature, etc. A single flower holds very little nectar, so insects have to visit many flowers. With some plant species, such as lilies, nectar is rather difficult to access. Their nectaries are so deep within the flower, that only butterflies with their long spiral proboscises can reach them.

 To attract insects, a flower has to be of a particular color or fragrance. Bees and bumblebees home in on yellow, mauve or white flowers.

Colors are as important to day-flying butterflies: cabbage whites or scarce swallowtails search for food in red, yellow or purple flowers, while mourning cloaks, painted ladies, tortoiseshells, marbled fritillaries and ringlets prefer yellow and blue blooms. The purplish red flowers of pinks are frequented by hawk moths with long proboscises. White, yellowish or light mauve flowers are more noticeable to the night-flying butterflies. Flies, hoverflies and beetles love bright yellow, blue, purple and white flowers. Various blotches, streaks and patters are also important in attracting the insects. A yellow eye on a blue flower of a forget-me-not, veined petals of a cranesbill or a spotted lower lip on any plant of the mint family draw attention of insects. Some flowers change their colour over time. Flowers of lungworts start of pinkish purple, eventually turning blue, and the everlasting sweet pea changes its bloom color from red to greenish blue.

Fragrance is very important, as well. Flowers exude fragrant (sometimes malodorous) substances, which are mostly aromatic oils. The flowers of hawthorns, viburnums, rowans, dogwoods and barberries are frequented by flies and beetles due to their special fragrance. The calyces, stamens, staminoids and nectaries of flowers are the source of fragrant oils. Some plants have developed special glands, which produce aromatic oils of particular smell. For example, the purple glands on stamens of dittany (Dictamnus) produce a characteristic citrus fragrance.

Plants have evolved to avoid any waste of nectar or fragrance. The flowers, such as soapwort, catchfly, evening primrose and sweet rocket, which are normally pollinated by night-flying butterflies, open their flowers in the evening, wafting around a heady fragrance. Flowers pollinated by day-flying butterflies and bumblebees are at their best during the day.

In order to attract beneficial insects, include a diversity of plants in the garden. Some annual flowers, most attractive to insects are: white mignonette (Reseda odorata L.), sweet allysum (Lobuliaria maritima (L.) Desv. sin. Alyssum maritimum (L.) Lam.), garden snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus L.), flossflower (Ageratum houstonianum Mill.), flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata Link. et Otto), common wallflower (Cheiranthus cheiri L.), garden cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus Cav.), sweet scabious (Scabiosa atropurpurea L.), zinnia (Zinnia elegans Jacq.), clarkia (Clarkia unquiculata Lindl.), garden balsam (Impatiens balsamina L.), Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera Royle), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena L.) and annual candytuft (Iberis amara L.).

Popular perennial plants for beneficial insects include: bergenia (Bergenia), ice plant (Sedum), cranesbill (Geranium), winter savory (Satureja montana L., hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis L.), Eastern purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea (L.) Moench), yarrow (Achillea), English levander (Lavandula angustifolia Mill.), thyme (Thymus), peppermint (Mentha piperita L.), Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis L.), garden phlox (Phlox paniculata L.), globe thistle (Echinops sphaerocephalus L.), meadow clary (Salvia pratensis L.), wall rock cress (Arabis caucasica L.), oregano (Origanum vulgare L.), elecampane (Inula helenium L.) and common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.).

If you keep bees, or if you would like to attract more of them into your garden, consider sowing lacy phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia Benth.), viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare L.) and borage (Borago officinalis L.). In addition to their honey-producing properties, they also make an attractive addition to your border. Some attention should be given to caterpillars of butterflies. Plants in the pea family (clover, sweet clover), as well as the cruciferous plants (field penny-cress, shepherd’s purse, bitter cress, brassicas) are most appealing to caterpillars of beneficial insects. Most insects are especially attracted by flowers of plants in the carrot family, such as dill, caraway and anise. A sizeable clump of nettles is sufficient to feed the caterpillars of the tortoiseshell, peacock and red admiral butterflies. And if you grow plants of the carrot family and rue, you may even have a chance to see the most exquisite butterfly of Lithuania – the swallowtail butterfly.

© Giedra Bartas, 2012

Fragrant tots

During last few years the butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) has become very popular in Lithuania. Although they are not fully hardy here, and in cold and severe winters sometimes die, large fragrant inflorescences and profuse flowering compensate for all shortcomings. Butterfly bushes flower in waves, from July to late autumn, and their flower heads smell strongly of honey and are a true butterfly magnet. Unfortunately, in dry weather the flowering is over soon, so the spent, unsightly flowerheads should be removed promtly. The plant itself soon looses attractive shape, and therefore needs constant pruning and shaping. The best way to go about this is to remove all growth in autumn, leaving a small stump close to ground level and draw the soil around it. As a rule of thumb, all butterfly bushes left unpruned and unprotected for winter die down to snow level (or to soil level). A plant, coppiced to the ground level, will produce shoots and flowers a little later than usual, however, the leaves will be lusher, while the inflorescences will grow larger and more intense in color. It grows 1,5 to 2 m tall. Unpruned and unshaped butterfly bushes grow taller, more airy, and inflorescences are smaller. It is best not to use these plants in a mixed border, since for the majority of the year there will be an unsightly hole in the planting, and they also are not a good choice for flowerbeds due to their size.

However, the brand new cultivar ‚Blue Chip‘ is perfect for planting in mixed borders. It is a compact plant with a shapely crown, growing no more than 60 cm tall (40 cm in our climate). Younger plants flower for a few weeks, while mature specimen provide flower show from mid-July to frosts. Inflorescences are lavender colored and compact, just like the plant itself. The spent blooms are soon hidden by the new budleja_ruosiasi_zydet1ones, therefore there is no need for deadheading. It does not produce any seeds or a very few ones.

‚Blue Chip‘ needs to be grown in a sunny spot, fertile and free draining soil. It can be grown in rockeries, flower borders, is also suitable for planting as a part of urban landscape due to its resistance to drought. It is suitable for growing in pots, containers or baskets alongside other drought resistant plants, such as verbenas or coreopsis. Looks especially impressive when planted in groups of 10 or more plants, and hence is suitable for using in large plantings. Flowers are a true magnet for butterflies, bees and other insects. In autumn branches should be reduced leaving a compact framework. Alternatively, you can leave the growth over the winter, cutting them back in spring, as soon as plants show any signs of life.

© Giedra Bartas, 2016

Pineapple guava – the taste sensation


Pineapple guava (also known as feijoa) is a compact tree, reaching 2-4 m in height, with irregular crown. Its bark is light green, leaves are ovoid, dark green and glossy above, and silvery on reverse. It flowers on the current year’s growth. Flowers are very beautiful, with fleshy red and white petals and long red stamens. The tree yields green, rough-skinned fruits, weighing 30 to 120 g.

The species, most commonly grown indoors, is feijoa (Acca sellowiana), which is native to the forests of South America (Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentine). Feijoas are especially popular in India and Japan. In countries with subtropical climate they are grown outside as fruit trees, or used for hedges or topiary. Although feijoas withstand brief frosts down to -5-14C, it is not possible to grow them outside in our climate.

Feijoas are popular houseplants due to their spectacular flowers and tasty reddish green fruit (4-6 cm in diametre and 10 cm long). Although the fruits contain a lot of seeds, they do not distract from the taste sensation – soft whitish pulp of fruit suggests a combination of bananas, strawberries and pineapples. Unripe fruit are unpalatable.

Propagating  feijoas

Feijoas are easily propagated from seed. Ripe berries are cut in half and the soft jelly-like pulp is squeezed out. Seeds should be rinsed in week solution of potassium permanganate, dried and sown into a soil mix, made of leaf mold, peat and sand (2:2:1). Shop bought peat-based seed mixes are quite adequate, only the seedlings will have to be transplanted earlier.

[banner]Sow the seeds in trays or flats in January – February. Press the seeds into the soil 0.5cm deep and water well. Keep the seed trays on a windowsill, in 16-19C temperature. Feijoas germinate within a month, and it takes another 1 to 2 weeks for seedlings to develop their first true leaves. After the seedlings have grown 4 leaves, transplant them, using a planting mix, made of loam, leaf mold, compost and sand (6:4:1:1), or any ready-made universal potting mix for houseplants.

The feijoas are rarely propagated by cuttings, though cutting-raised plants retain all the qualities of the parent plant, which seed-grown plants do not. The cuttings are difficult to root, since they require high humidity and warmth, and strike best in mist propagator.

The feijoas can also be propagated by grafting and runners. However, their bark is very thin, so grafts are often unsuccessful, while runners weaken the parent plant, so this method is more commonly used in industrial horticulture. The feijoas can be propagated by air-layering – wound the current year’s branch, stuff some moss inside the wound and wrap it around with some plastic. The branch will root in 1.5-2 month time.

In the first 2-3 years feijoas should be transplanted every year. They grow and fruit best when grown in slightly acidic soil. In their native habitat feijoas are cultivated in poor growing conditions, so they do not need fertile soil. Larger specimen should be transplanted every 2-3 years, keeping the rootball undisturbed, and moving the plant into a larger pot every time. Roots which have extended through the pot drainage hole should be reduced, and branches which have grown too long, should be shortened.

After the seedling have reached 25-30 cm height, its branches should be shortened by two thirds in order to shape the tree. No pruning will be required later, except for removal of weak, dead or crossed branches. Seedlings start yielding fruit in 5-8 years. The feijoas are sun-loving plants, and grow best on southern or south-western windowsills. Come autumn or winter, they shed a lot of leaves, but this is to be expected. The plants will retain their leaves though, if given additional light. The feijoas dislike drought – they will drop their leaves, and their branches and roots will die back. Plants should be watered generously in summer, while watering should be reduced in winter. If air is very dry, the feijoas should be sprayed in winter. Optimum winter temperature is +12+14C.

Feeding and watering

The feijoas should be fed every 2-3 weeks with complete fertilizer compounded for citrus or exotic fruit trees. Prior to fertilizing, plants should be watered with clean water. In order for feijoas to fruit well, it is best to have two plants which would flower at the same time. This is not easily achieved, since most feijoas may flower spectacularly for a number of years, yielding only one or two seedless fruits. The self-pollinating feijoas are most suitable for indoors culture. Their seeds are available from seed shops abroad.

Special thanks to Irina Kanzyuba for her great picture.

© Giedra Bartas, 2011

Overwintering lewisias under pots

Lewisias (Lewisia) of various species interbreed easily. This accounts for the multitude of magnificent hybrids, which have become so popular in the gardens all over the world. Their flowers come in a range of rainbow colours, decorated with brushstrokes of different hues or brightly outlined veins. The most popular lewisias are those with blooms of white, cream, pink, peach, salmon, yellow, orange and scarlet. Flowers come singly or in inflorescences of several blooms on long stalks. Flowers of some lewisias are sessile, growing straight from the basal rosette.

Lewisias are most comfortable growing in alpine gardens, on slopes, retaining walls or hillsides, where water drains freely after the rain or during a winter thaw. They prefer being given eastern or western exposure, since they scorch easily in full sun. If you intend to grow lewisia on a heavy and waterlogged soil, dig a planting hole about 0.5 metre deep, spread a layer of well-draining material and top up with porous and fertile soil (e.g. a mixture of well-rotted compost, peat and sand at the ratio of 3:1:1). Mulch with gravel, since the leaf rosette is very prone to rotting, especially when water gets inside the rosette and stays there for a period of time (after a long rain, etc.). Mature lewisias dislike transplanting, so plant them in a position, where they are to flower. In winter lewisias tolerate cold, but not winter thaws. Use conifer branches or clean, dry leaves to insulate them, and cover up with a pot or some other kind of shelter.

[banner] Lewisias can be propagated by seeds, which are sown in trays, and later transplanted into pots, while seedlings are very small. Seedlings can be potted on into larger pots or into their final growing position. Stratified seeds germinate best. Seedlings are tiny, but low-maintenance. They are first planted into 7cm pots. They grow fast in favorable conditions, and they need to be transplanted into larger pots several times during the growing season. Use neutral peat-based potting mix, or any other porous and clean media. Seedlings start flowering in their 1-3 year.

Most species of lewisias, especially the Siskiyou lewisia (Lewisia cotyledon) hybridize easily and tend to mutate, therefore a seedlings of a pink flowered plants can easily burst into white or pink flowers. If you are after a ‘carbon copy’ of the parent plant, propagate lewisias by offsets, which are cut off and rooted. Sometimes all offset rosettes are in flower, and therefore unsuitable for propagating. In such case, remove all flowering stems as soon as possible, so that the rosette puts a spurt of growth, until it can be divided and rooted. Plants are best divided in late June, and within 4 to 6 weeks they will be rooted.

Lewisia brachycalyx cultivars do not produce any side shoots, but they grow several replacement leaf rosettes from the underground rhizome. These lewisias are easily propagated by rhizome divisions, provided each piece has at least one bud. Divisions should be dipped into rooting hormone and potted. Sometimes these particular lewisias are very slow to produce any replacement rosettes. In such event, the professional growers nip off the top of the main plant, and wound or pierce the thick root in several places. It might take a whole year for the new offsets to grow, but they are usually numerous.

Although lewisias prefer moist soil and warmth during the period of active growth and flowering, they will tolerate drought and heat. During an extended dry spell plants may go dormant, bursting into new growth only the following spring. Do not try to revive them by watering or transplanting – they will most likely rot. With the onset of cooler weather, lewisias might break dormancy and start growing again. If plants are container-grown, they can be simply moved into a shadier position.

Lewisias grow well in pots or miniature portable rockeries, since this way they can be moved under the roof and kept dry during winter. Pots have to have drainage holes. A planting mixture of fertile compost and sharp sand (4:1) is ideal. Container-grown lewisias should be transplanted every year, replacing potting soil each time, and given liquid feed a couple of times during the growing season.

Saw-toothed lewisia (Lewisia serrata) grows best in a permanently moist situation, but it dislikes winter thaws. Its seeds germinate easily, and seedlings are low-maintenance. Leaves are deeply serrated, and leaf rosettes are beautiful even when out of flower.

Lewisia brachycalyx leaf rosettes and flowers dislike wind and water, so they tend to rot when grown outside and hardly ever flower. Therefore they are best grown in pots, where they can be overwintered inside, somewhere cool and light. Leaf rosettes disintegrate (leaves roll up and turn jelly-like) after plants have finished flowering, and new growth appears only next year. They need some moisture in autumn and winter, when they produce underground buds. Once a month a pot should be submerged into water for half an hour, and left to drain afterwards.

© Giedra Bartas, 2011

Dinosaurs from China

For a long time, these fossil conifers were considered to be extinct.

Dawn redwood was first described in 1941 by the fossil records of its leaves and cones. In the same year, the Chinese scientist T.Kan  discovered a stand of unfamiliar trees with reddish bark, growing in one of the provinces of China. The botanist could not identify the genus and species, since the trees were leafless, it being winter. Local people called these trees ‘shuisa‘, or water firs. Although they were fascinatingly exotic and beautiful to the botanist, his attempts to identify the trees were fruitless. Three years later, another botanist T.Van brought back specimens of leaves, bark and cones of the tree, and initially it was ascribed to the genus Glyptostrobus. Because of its likeness to the latter genus, the Chinese or dawn redwood was later named Metasequoia glyptostroboides. The tree has many qualities, which make it similar both to deciduous and evergreen conifers.

The dawn redwoods, growing and bearing cones in China, created great excitement in the botanical world, since they were thought to have disappeared along with the dinosours. In ancient times, these conifers were common throughout moist forests and swamps of Asia, North America and Greenland.

By 1947, seeds and plants collected in China, have been distributed to botanical gardens all over the world. They germinated well, the seedlings matured fast and started flowering in the fifth year. Taken cuttings rooted easily, as well. The first 5 years old seedling produced viable seeds in Nikitsky Botanical Garden (Crimea) in 1956, and two years later the dawn redwood seedlings produced seeds in Great Britain. By 1976 these trees attained height of 20 metres, with the buttressed trunks 2 metres across.

An interesting detail is that seedlings first produce female flowers, while the pollen-bearing cones appear only a couple years later. Currently dawn redwoods are widely planted in France, Great Britain, Poland, Norway, Finland and even Alaska.

The native habitat of the dawn redwood – a small area no larger that 8 – is in the mountains of China. The largest grove of around 1000 trees grows on the plain of Hubei, which locals have aptly named ‚the plain of water fir‘. Most trees are over 600 years old, standing 30-35 metres tall, and their trunks exceed 2 metres in diametre. They prefer sheltered, damp and shadowy conditions, and mostly grow on river banks, and on the edges of gorges and mixed forests.

The needles of dawn redwood are long and relatively wide, arranged in opposite pairs on the twigs. They are light green in summer, turning copper brown in autumn. Needles are shed before the onset of winter, sometimes still attached to small twigs. Cones are small, 1-1.5 cm in diametre. In favourable conditions the dawn redwood grows fast, and can attain the height of 10 metres in 10 to 15 years.

Several cultivars of garden value:

`National` and `Sheridan Spire` – cultivars with narrow columnar habit.
`Gold Rush` and `Ogon` – needles are yellow, even golden on young plants. A stand of them, which I encountered in France, was truly spectacular.
`Emerald Feathers` –  needles are bright green and flatter than the species.
`White Spot` – needles are streaked in white.

Dawn redwood has proved to be an easy tree to grow in the gardens of climate zones 4 to 8. These plants have already endured a couple of winters in my garden with no setbacks. Recently they have become available in garden centres.

Young dawn redwoods are susceptible to winter damage. Before the winter sets in, mulch young trees thickly and wrap up in horticultural fleece. Mature dawn redwoods withstand severe winter cold, sometimes even down to -32oC. In a prolonged cold spell some twigs freeze and fall off, thus rendering tree less ornamental in subsequent year. If this occurs a few years in a row, the tree might die back. Late spring frosts can scorch young needles.

In North Europe, dawn redwoods are best planted in a sunny and sheltered location. They will tolerate some shade, but not the neighborhood of other trees. They are amenable to most fertile soils, whether sandy or clay, alkaline or acid (pH 4.5), as long as they are well-drained. Rainy, yet warm summers suit dawn redwoods just perfectly. Dawn redwoods are susceptible to heat and drought, therefore require ample watering in dry periods. When watered abundantly, they will grow fast. Fertilise plants in summer with conifer fertiliser, starting a year or two after planting. It is very important to soak the ground well in early winter, especially following a dry autumn.

Seeds of dawn redwood are mostly sterile. Besides, the majority of freshly collected seeds are dormant, and their germination rate is low. They remain viable for 15 years, if kept in an airtight container at 0+5C temperature. The seeds are sown outside in late autumn, 3 to 5cm deep. They should be mulched  with a 1-1.5cm layer of peat, and even thicker in a snowless winter. The next spring seedlings are transplanted into pots or trays, and should be well protected during the next winter. If sown in spring, seeds need to be stratified first in the temperature of 3-5oC. Then they need to be sown into trays and kept warm (18-20oC).

Planted near a water feature or in the Japanese garden, dawn redwood makes a truly magnificent accent plant.

© Giedra Bartas, 2011

Plants for the white garden

new_dawnA good choice for planting near the very fence is Cornus alba `Elegantissima` , weeping silver pear (Pyrus salicifolia pendula) or profilic spring bloomers such as Spiraea cana `Grefsheim` or Spiraea x vanhouttei,  while smaller Abelia grandiflora `Confetti`, Buddleja davidii `Harlequin` and cultivars of  `Zebrinus`, `Strictus` miscanthus would look great planted in the middle of the border.    Euonymus fortunei `Emerald Gaiety` and various variegated sedges, such as Carex ornithopoda `Variegata`, would soften the edges of the flower bed nicely, provided the growing conditions are suitable. You could also consider growing carpet sedum (Sedum lineare) and Geranium macrorhizum `Variegatum`.

A shady spot would be perfect for the variegated cultivars of Hosta, such as `Patriot`, `Fire and Ice`, `Fireworks`, Pulmonaria `Roy Davidson`, `British Sterling`, `Excalibur` and `Silver Streamers`, the sunny one – for variegated Polemonium `White Ghost` and `Carol Wallace` and also tiny  Euonymus fortunei `Silverstone`.

You could also consider including conifers as accent points for your white garden – Chamaecyparis pisifera `Snow`, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana `Snow White`, Tsuga canadensis `Moon Frost` or Cryptomeria japonica `Albospicata`.

lubinaiWhen planting the white garden, select plants with at least two different types of flowers that would flower at the same time. For example, some of white tulips, lilacs and bleeding-hearts (Dicentra) bloom in early to mid May, while columbines (Aquilegias) start flowering in mid to late May. June stars with Potentilla fruticosa ‘McKay’s White’,`Abbottswood`, `Farrers White`,`Mount Everest` and continue with the candles of Lupin `Noble Maiden` and `Polar Princess` (dwarf), `Fraulein`, `Gallery White`, peonies `Festiva Maxima`, `Auten`s Pride`, `Avalanche`, `Charlie`s White`, `Cutie`, `Elsa Sass`, `Laura Dessert`, `Florence Bond` and also irises (Iris).

Come July, Delphinium `Innocence`, `Double Innocence`, `Green Twist`, `Lightning`, `Centurion White`, `Green Twist`, `Pure White` and roses `Boule de Neige`,`Mme Hardy`,`Vierge de Clery`,`White Jacques Cartier`,`White [banner] New Dawn`,`Lykkefund`,`Snowdon`,`Iceberg` mingle with sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica), lilies `Casa Blanca` or white cosmos. A great many plants flower in summer so unsurprisingly this is the time when the white garden is brimming with blooms – butterflies hover around Buddleja `White Profusion`, while spires of tall perennials – hollyhocks, goat‘s beard (Aruncus) and veronicas – reach for the sky.

If you remove spent delphinium flowerheads, they will rebloom in autumn, alongside Anemone hybrida `Honorine Jobert`, `Whirlwind`, `Andrea Atkinson`, large flowered japanese windflowers and Echinacea purpurea `Jade`, `White Swan`, `White Double Delight`, `Pow Wow White`, `White Luster`, `Meringue`, `Lucky Star`.

Filler plants with grey or bluish foliage make perfect companions in the white garden. Silver artemisias (almost all of them), such as `Powis Castle`, `Valere Finnis`, `Silver Brocade` always look pristine, while blue lyme grass (Leymus arenarius) adds some cooling blue tints. Ornamental grasses, such as Panicum virgatum `Cloud Nine`, `Dallas Blues`, `Heavy Metal`, Stipa pulcherrima, Sesleria nitida, hostas `Blue Angel`, `Hadspen Blue`, `Halcyon`, `Krossa Regal`, also Eryngium giganteum are great fillers.

© Giedra Bartas, 2011

The white garden

Whether you are a real pro or just a beginner, there comes a time when every gardener embarks on a new project – something more exiting or more challenging. As experience, expertise and confidence grow, projects that seemed interesting a year ago no longer keep their hold. A novice gardener is usually busy getting to know the new plants, tracking them down, mixing and matching them. The plant world is inexhaustible in terms of shapes and colours, however, harmonious compositions do not come easy. The monochromatic gardens are most challenging to design – it requires some effort to amass a collection of plants, which would be consistent yet not boring, stimulating yet not patchy. And, what is most important, which would insure continuos show from spring till autumn.

One of the most elegant and challenging of the monochromatic gardens is the white garden. Shades of white, green, grey, blue and their combinations become important elements of the design, while variation in size, color, and leaf shape creates lots of textural interest. Clever balancing of textures is very important, if you want to avoid your white garden looking like a pale and flat blob.

Start building the white garden from a small fragment – a group of 3 or 5 plants. Move the plants around until you achieve a satisfying effect. Proceed to adding more plants only after you master the principle. A few years down the line, most probably you will still be moving plants around and raplacing them with new ones – but not for the lack of knowledge. Quite opposite, this is a sign of a true gardener, who is searching for harmony and is not afraid to admit a mistake.

hosta_patriotApart from the flower shape and colour, other significant criteria, when building blocks of plants is their bloom time, and height and width of the clump. Plant width is especially important when planting small divisions or seedlings, since these tiny things may eventually spread to an extent where they will start encroaching upon neighbouring plants. Bear in mind the ultimate height of the clump when grouping the plants – the tallest ones are normally planted towards the very back. This is especially true when planting at the foot of a fence, a housewall or other tall screen.

When planting an island bed, consider planting the tallest plants in the middle of the bed, so that the composition would be well visible from all sides. The bloom time is an important issue to keep in mind so as to have as little as possible of days or weeks when no flowers are present among the sea of greenery. Since all these objectives are not easy to combine, plant several variegated or long-blooming plants, such as Gaura lindheimeri `Whirling Butterflies` and Centrantus ruber `Albus`.

© Giedra Bartas, 2011

A miniature rock garden

A small garden is not easy to plant well. However, you could always decorate your patio, terrace or even a balcony with a miniature portable rock garden. A miniature Japanese garden, a rockery or even a water feature with water lilies would look superb, installed in a rectangular stone or clay container. Abroad, it is a common practise to plant miniature rock gardens in large troughs of tufa or hypertufa, which is a mixture of peat, cement and sand.

Tufa is a soft and porous stone, which absorbs water like a sponge. It takes no time to drill a hole in it and plant a houseleek or a saxifrage. Such a planting should be watered from above, in order to wet the whole rock, however, there is no need to do so often. If tufa stone is bedded into the soil by at least a few centimeters, then you can forget about watering, since the stone will absorb moisture from the ground when necessary.

Hypertufa is very similar to tufa stone in appearance, but it is neither warm, not soft. Large troughs made of hypertufa are very heavy and difficult to move. On a positive side, any home gardener can make a hypertufa container, they look quite ornamental and are inexpensive to produce. Hypertufa does not crack in response to cold. And if you want a weathered look for your hypertufa trough, all you have to do is to smear it with soured milk or yoghurt and leave it in a damp shade for the summer.

An interesting garden feature is a raised alpine bed. In fact, it is the best solution if you garden on a site, which tends to get waterlogged. First, make a timber frame to the height of 30 to 40 cm. Depending on the desired effect, arrange the pots within the bed. If you are happy with the way your rock garden looks, construct a stone wall around the frame, or alternatively remove the timber and build a low stone wall.

First, cover the bottom of the container with 3 to 5 cm of coarse drainage material: gravel, crushed stones or rubble, since most alpines hate growing in a waterlogged soil. If you are planting up a raised bed, increase this layer to 10 or 15 cm. The next job is to fill the container with fast-draining potting soil, made of 2 parts sand, 1 part peat and 1 part fertile loam. When using lime-loving plants, such as bell-flowers, it is best to plant them in small ‘pockets’ of appropriate soil or in pots, disguising them between the rocks or other plants. When preparing planting mix for these plants, use crushed eggshell or chalk instead of peat. Most perennials will need at least 20 to 30 cm layer of soil, while annuals will be happy with a mere 15 to 20 cm.

In a miniature rock garden, avoid mixing rock types. Choose just one kind, whether it is dolomite of greenish or yellowish shades, or basalt, or granite. Slate can be used to create an interesting effect. The rocks in your garden should look as natural as possible, so experiment with placing them until you achieve the look of a genuine landscape. The stones should be in scale with the size of the rockery, for example, 1 to 3 fist-sized stones would fit comfortably in a rockery measuring 50 x 60 cm.

Do not go to the extreme of planting alpines in pure sand on the assumption that most of the drought-tolerant plants cannot stand waterlogged soil and frequent watering. No plants will be able to survive such growing conditions, unless you enrich poor sandy soil with loam or compost.

Alpines refer to drought-tolerant and sun-loving compacts plants, many of which come from higher elevations.  The majority of these plants are low-growing in a variety of forms (mat-forming, trailing and climbing), with strong yet compact roots, which help the plants to adapt to various conditions including exposure to heat and harsh wind, low moisture and poor soil. You can also plant dwarf, slow growing conifers, or compact deciduous trees, provided there is enough space for their roots to develop between the rocks. They can make a very attractive feature in such a setting, especially when grouped together according to their shape (round, columnar, cushion or mat).

There is an enormous choice of superb plants suitable for growing in rock gardens: moss phlox, snow-in-summer, various low-growing stonecrops, thymes, houseleeks, several saxifrages, alpine rock cress, mountain alyssums, alpine drabas, armerias, alpine campions, lewisias, decorative plantains, alpine asters, silver speedwells, mound-forming campanulas and dianthus, lamb’s ears, coreopsis, creeping baby-breath, perennial sage, ornamental trailing forms of oregano, several cultivars of cranebills, blue creeping sedge, pussy-toes, marguerite daisies, androsaces, to mentions but a few.

Spectacular houseleeks, saxifrages and stonecrops can be planted in various combinations to create colorful patterns. Hundreds of exciting and rare alpine plants are available from many nurseries abroad. Some of the exotics would weather the Lithuanian winter perfectly well, while others would have to be moved for overwintering inside the house or into a cellar.

Tender and frost-sensitive plants (escheverias, etc.) are usually planted into the alpine troughs in their pots, and should be moved inside once the autumn sets in, while evergreens should be moved to a frost-free spot. Keep in mind, that plants in raised containers are more susceptible to freeze damage. So, rather than leaving the hardy plants in the containers over the winter, you should consider planting them out into the garden. You could also dig a hole in the ground, and sink the whole container in it, covering it with fir twigs and peat, when the earth starts freezing over. Or you could move the container into the cellar, which should have a window if your planting includes at least one evergreen plant.

© Giedra Bartas, 2011

Delphinium – the king of the midsummer

Delphiniums are among the most spectacular tall perennials. They are low-maintenance plants, and their flowers are well worth your efforts. Their Latin name Delphinium derives from the shape of their flowers, resembling those of grey dolphins, which live near the coast of Greece.

Their flowers come in a range of colours, but mostly in shades of blue, mauve, pink and white. Colour of the ‘bee’ (central eye) is often different from that of petals. White large ‘bee’ looks great on a dark blue or purple flower, while black ‘bee’ looks exquisite on white, mauve or pink flowers.

The majority of delphiniums do not have the primary root – their roots are fibrous, which branch in all directions. They grow throughout the season, and flower abundantly in early summer and autumn. It is not unusual for the clumps of old plants to die in the middle, while the side shoots continue growing as separate plants. The roots of delphiniums tend to ‘move’ – they either furrow into the ground to the depth of 5-7 cm, or spread just under the surface of the ground. The stems break new roots, when buried deeper into the soil, which strengthen the plant, and a flush of fresh growth follows.

The garden delphiniums (cultivated forms of various species delphiniums, hybrids, etc.) are well adapted to growing in temperate climate zone. They thrive in cool (up to 25oC) and moist summers. One could say that this spectacular perennial has been designed with the Lithuanian climate in mind. Although delphiniums dislike perpetual winter thaws, yet they have the constitution to withstand them. They are very cold-hardy, surviving temperatures down to -50oC, if protected by snow cover. They can be grown on the same spot without being divided for 7 or 8 years.

Depending on weather, delphiniums start flowering in mid or late June in our gardens, and carry on flowering well into July (sometime until mid-July). Very late-flowering cultivars start flowering in late July, with a single plant carrying on for 20-30days.

Delphiniums look well in various mixed borders, since they are charming enough to grace any planting. They associate well with lilies, dahlias and white, yellow or pink roses. They do not look out of place next to low-growing maples, barberries and mock oranges. Sky-blue delphiniums look well with dark conifers as a background, while white ones look pretty in front of deciduous trees. Blue delphiniums marry well with white or pink aquilegias, geraniums, chrysanthemums and Shasta daisies.

Delphiniums in various shades and colours, introduced from New Zealand, have recently become very popular all around the world, however, only a few growers grow them here. Delphiniums hybridize readily and self-seed, therefore valuable named cultivars are normally propagated by division or softwood cuttings. Plants from seed usually do not come true.

© Giedra Bartas, 2011