June 20, 2015


What to grow on a Tuteur
A stunning tower of old-work roses trained in a spiral around a tuteur adds drama and stature to the gardens at Wave Hill.

Last week's visit to Wave Hill Botanic Garden and Cultural Center just north of New York City in the Bronx inspired me so much, that I snapped rolls and rolls of film (well, more like a USB drive full). Now that I've had some time to digest and review all of the images in Adobe Bridge, I find myself getting inspired - ideas to steal (I mean 'inspiration')  seems to be everywhere in well designed gardens, so as a testament to the folks who are responsible for these beautiful plantings, here are a few of my favorite ideas to steal for my own garden. Maybe you'll find them equally as inspiring and 'Pinteresting'.

 1. It's back - the Tuteur (above image), but with a nice rose trained on it.

What really makes this tuteur perfect is the climbing old-world style rose which, if you notice, is carefully trained onto it as a spiral. Lovely. No idea what variety it is, perhaps a newer disease resistant hybrid such as a David Austin climbing rose? That's what I am going to get.

Teuteurs made a brief comeback in the 1990's thanks to Martha, but for whatever reason, they quickly fell out of fashion again. Maybe it was because we really didn't know what to do with them - treating them as garden sculpture and not as a practical device on which to train plants ( i.e. "tuteur", a guardian, to train or teach). Sure you can find them anywhere still, but we love to make them. Here is  ia great way to make a fine tuteur - click here:

When a tree such as a yellow-leaved Catalpa is cut-back annually to product large leaves and fast, water shoots, it's called coppicing. A lost art in North America, it might be worth revisiting.

2. Coppiced Catalpa in the Perennial Border

For some reason, we in the US rarely practice the art of coppiced trees, but in Europe the practice has, and still is used ( along with pollarding, which is often confused with coppicing.). the RHS website has a great tutorial here, but it really doesn't' take much work to get these results in your own garden. Why coppice? Well, it allows you to add a very interesting texture into mixed plantings of either shrubs or perennials. Traditionally, it's practiced with willow (salix) species, as a way to produce 'water shoots' or long, whips of twigs used for basket weaving, as well as for fences, garden stakes and other uses, but as an ornamental pruning method, coppicing can turn a tree into a statement - it works best with the traditional species, such as catalpa ( the fine yellow foliaged one above shows how magnificent it can be), as well as traditionally used on Smoke Bush (Cotinus), Limes (Tilia) and Foxglove Tree (Powlonia), which in our garden has produced enormous Jurassic Park - like leaves.

Essentially, you just cut the branches back to the back just above the ground every winter, and new shoots will emerge forming sort-of a bush, but with an effect which produces larger leaves, which some species produce when stimulated to produce juvenile foliage. I love the effect, and can see why it was used for centuries for both practical reasons ( weaving, nut trees, even to stimulate the growth of truffles) and as an ornamental treatment. Let's bring it back into style!

For 8 more ideas to steal, click below:

Growing annual dianthus in a container
Portable color - not a new idea, but one we've moved away from in a world of mixed containers. Why not plant a single annual in a single container, and then move it where it can be shown-off?

3. Individual Pots planted with Unusual Annuals - Mixed Containers are so 2014.

We have become so accustomed to creating mixed containers, (you know, a dark-leaved sweet potato vine here, a calibrachoa there, a couple of coleus and maybe a tumbling vine), but portable color makes so much sense - especially if you want something really unusual ( I'm growing rare and very different nasturtiums in some containers). Pop 'em into the border, remove them when they are tired. Group some together, and move them around the garden.

Fringed dianthus in the garden
A mixed selection of Dianthus superbus which only  has a short blooming period in late May and June, is a good example of an annual which can be sown in a container by itself. Feature it in the garden, or on the doorstep for a few weeks, and then move on. If planted in the garden, it might be more difficult to manage it's show.

The benefits are many, once you think about it, and to be honest, this is not a new idea - Thallasa Crusoe the gardening guru of the 1960's and 1970's promoted it, as did the late Christopher Lloyd who assembled curious groupings of tropicals, annuals, bulbs and shrubs at his Great Dixter garden. For as one pot fades, it can be replaced with either another pot with a different type of plant in it, or planting a single variety in one pot will allow you to raise some very interesting, if not rare selections which may only have a week or two of peak bloom. With the freedom to cluster pots in assemblages, in some way, you are creating a much larger collection but with the luxury to edit it through the summer.

Cerinthe major 'purpurescens' is a real charmer in a container - no wonder it is being featured on the steps to the greenhouse. You can find seeds for this Honeywort which we should all be growing  here.

How to train clematis vines
Clematis being trained onto a pole, in a perennial border

 4. Clematis on a Stick

I've mentioned this idea before, and I still have not added one to my garden, but planting a clematis on a stake, natural stick or pole ( even allowed to tumble across a shrub as they grow in the wild) is SO much nicer than having one tied to a lamp post. Best of all, it allows you to plant it in your perennial garden, and not out on the lawn, or near any weedwacker. As for drain pipes? I save Akebia vines for that!

Festuca grass underplanted with Allium azure
Blue Festuca grass interplanted with Allium azureum 

5. Festuca grass underplanted with blue Allium azureum

So nice, right? It's often so disappointing when allium foliage dies just before the plants boom, but this often undercooked treater ( easy enough to find in most fall Dutch bulb catalogs) has stayed out of my garden for no reason other than the fact that there are SO many good alliums to raise, who could possibly grow them all? Well, now this one has been added to my fall orders. Planted under a mat of blue Festuca grass, made it even better.

A lavender trial bed  at Wave Hill
An impressive border of Lavender being trailed along a hot, sunny path at Wave Hill - exactly what I need to try along our hot, dry 'death strip' in the front of our house.

6. A lavender Border to die for

OK, we have this death strip along our road, were nothing grows - even grass won't grow. This 200 foot by 6 foot wide stretch has a hot, stone wall on one side, and faces south. For some reason, a lone lavender plants does thrive right on the curb - am I stupid or just ignorant? Hello lavender border.

Now, of course, in New England, lavender is challenging to say the least, but with many of these dry-loving sun bakers, micro climates exist, you just need to look for them. SO I am ordering about ten varieties from Goodwin Creek Gardens, who carry nearly 30 or more varieties - many of which I saw in this hot and sunny border at Wave Hill. It will be a test, but with gravel as a mulch, I can see this working for me.

Annual poppies sown in the perennial garden
Shirley Poppies in the Wave Hill garden, coral never looked so nice.

7. Annuals, Poppies  sown and grown in a classic cottage garden style.

Perhaps it's the look that says that a 'real horticulturist' lives here, or it creates the feeling of a classic, fairy-tale cottage garden only seen on calendars and velvet paintings, or perhaps it's just the gorgeous salmon pink so rarely seen in other annuals, but sowing hard-to-transplant annuals such as Shirley Poppies along with more challenging biennials such as foxgloves and even harder to master perennials such as delphinium and penstemon along with clouds of cottage pinks - well, it just screams - 'cottage garden', in the perfect British accent.

Raising Foxglove 'Sugar Plum' in the garden
There are many new varieties of foxgloves available now ( check out the dark eyes on this one - my guess it that it is "Sugar Plum', seeds available here), but these biennials are sometimes difficult to get established. So them in flats outdoors in the shade, in July, and transplant out into your borders in September. They will bloom next summer, and most likely, will reseed ever year after that.

8. Bring back the Biennial - with newer varieties 

There are more and more varieties of Digitalis or Foxglove being introduced. Which reminds me about how valuable biennials are in the perennial border. If you are dreaming about drifts of coral poppies, which are annuals that self sow in the garden ( if you don't mulch or till), the finest biennials essential do the same thing, but their seeds are often so small, that they are difficult to establish in that first summer when you must so them amongst the stronger growing neighbors. Plants such as Foxgloves are better off if sown in trays in July, pricked out into individual pots by August and set out where they are to bloom by frost.  Once established this way, many will self-sow the following year, but this jump-start will ensure that you will enjoy these beautiful flowers year after year - like your great, great grandmother did. 

Dianthus barbatus, or Sweet William 'Heart Attack'
This dark, dark Sweet William 'Heart Attack' (Dianthus barbarous) is so dark red, that it could be lost in the garden if planted as an individual plant, but when set out in mass plantings, if forms a 10 square foot swath of gorgeous, merlot.

Lamb's Ears in a perennial border at Wave Hill.
A clump of Wooly Betony or Lamb's Ears ( Stachys byzantina) is actually about 6 plants planted together. Think - scale. Large patches in a garden, especially a large one adds more dimension and form than one plant here, one plant there.

9. Plant lots of perennials in groups - best for volume, texture and quantity.

I say it far too many time, but I admit that it's sometimes hard to do, as plants are expensive, especially perennials, and really - who wants to buy 8 Lamb's Ears on one visit to the garden center in spring? But if you think like a garden designer, or an estate gardener in England, than this is exactly what you must do. The next time you visit a botanic garden, and while you are photographing their gardens, take notice on how they planted everything - count the plants, and see for yourself how the experts do it. No need to hire a fancy landscape architect who has a plantspersom making planting lists for them - you can do it yourself.

Cacti and cussonia or Cabbage Tree growing in pots
Any of the Cabbage Trees, or Cussonia make fast growing interesting specimen plants for a heavy, large pot ( it's the tall tree in the back, with palmate foliage - I believe it might be C. paniculata, but all are fine). It adds a fine, horticultural 'look' to any grouping of plants, and it's not something that you are just going to  'pick-up' at the local nursery. Order one here. Look for C. spicata or C. paniculata. Bring it indoors for the winter - sunny, dry window.

10. Interesting Tender and Hardy Plants in Containers and tubs

There is something one sees in most every plant persons garden, and that is potted and tubbed specimen plants ( you know, like those you've seen around my Martin House so many times). Plant people seem to often have the same tastes, and many of these tastes have finally influenced the big box stores and hip nurseries to sell some of their ( our) favorites must-haves like odd salvias, giant Alocasia and Colocasia ( the Elephant Ears) you know, you are seeing them everywhere today, which is great, but there are still some plants which a few of us overlook. Here are a few I've been intending to add to my collection, which I might add this year.

Growing pitcher plants in containers.
Pitcher Plants in pots? Why not? These were so bright and colorful, that everyone had their eye phones out. They are not only surprisingly easy, they are surprisingly hardy - we leave some of ours out all winter.

Horsetails planted in a container
This dwarf Horsetail (Equisetum scirpoides) is native to New England, but it can be invasive of course. In a container? It's delightfully precious. I have to do this - newer selections are available from Monrovia, look for them at your local garden center, and then find a special stoneware pot that can freeze, like this one. I love the texture and form, let alone the curiosity factor.


  1. Not sure I would call coppicing a "lost art" but it isn't something you typically see in most everyday gardens. I saw some great examples of coppiced Catalpa (golden), Cotinus (both golden & dark forms), and Paulownia at Chanticleer Garden last weekend.

    1. Well, as you said - it's not something one sees in the average gardeners, garden. Unless they are first generation Italian or southern European, where one sees this practice applied often - Portuguese, French, etc - but aside from botanic garden and arboreta where there are some knowledgable plants people, I find the practice absent from most gardens.

  2. These all are good ideas! Number 2 and 4 are my favorites here. Thank you Matt!

    1. Thanks Tatyana - I love those two,too!

  3. I have a lavender border (plants ordered from the same nursery as you) in the hottest, driest, sunniest spot on our property just south of Boston. It has been thriving for some years, through torrential rains, ridiculous piles of snow, drought, you name it. I suspect yours will do fine. BTW, I have interspersed mine with an orange-blooming Agastache this year. It looks very nice. Waiting to see if they are winter-hardy....

    1. Hi Kate, Oh I am so thrilled to hear about your success with Lavender here in Massachusetts - I'm going to give it a try, since the few plants which are growing there already, have been thriving for years - I feel a little crazy for not noticing it before. We must have planted grass there 5 times already - always tilling around the lavender but never really thinking that therein lay the answer.

  4. Hey Matt your flowers picture are very pretty. May go on the trip to Wave Hill Botanic Garden and Cultural Center to experienced what you have, well designed gardens and beautiful plantings. Great ideas for my garden too.

  5. So I first "experimented" with coppicing while dealing short term with a badly place Albizia (Powder Puff Tree) and always was amazed with the technique in those forecourt Conservatory border with a Cotinus (Smoke Bush) that pushed out HUGE leaves on graceful wands at 10 feet...and even without a greenhouse, I may need to consider the well placed solo pot of annuals as there is always a selection of choice plants at Union Square Farmer's Market...!!

  6. john in cranston10:04 PM

    I love the Scotch thistle (biennial).
    My neighbors were horrified that I Was growing them (6? 7?) in the yard. I talked of how butterflies love them and birds eats the seeds (then a humming bird buzzed us as it tried to get into a bud that was not even open)
    And there they grow, in a botanical garden. I feel vindicated!

    Now as for growing clematis up bare branches? Terrific. Now how to stop the branches from rotting...


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