}

June 5, 2012

Color Palette Combinations in the Garden

Entirely from the garden, this bouquet is not only a stylish palette, it is intensely fragrant - rich with the scent of Heliotrope, Sweet Peas and Stock. It's color palette may seem simple, but nature designed flowers to be more complex than we think. The color wheel here is broad and deep, and luminosity, transparency and saturation happens not in Photoshop, but with the sun.



As a graphic and visual designer professionally, it's not surprising that the most common question I get from friends and colleagues, when they find out that I have this gardening blog, is about color palettes. We all have favorite colors, and color taste is a very, personal thing, but there are some foundational rules to consider, rules that are hard, if not impossible to work around. The most important rule about color in the garden, is to accept your environment first, most likely, it exists in multitudes of green. Choosing a color palette combination for a garden is completely different than choosing color for paint or interior design. The physics are different outside, in nature, and in many ways, it's closer to choosing colors for a web site or a digital experience, because light suddenly comes into play more than ever. After all, plants flower for one purpose only - sex. They are designed to attract insects, so the built in features are closer to a video game or a pixel than you might imagine.



Like it or not, always remember that your canvas outdoors is primarily green and grey,  depending on the season and the light angle. Foliage and dark shadows dominate the garden, and color, is precious, often appearing only as specs and dots in the landscape.  Like pixels on a screen, nature uses color to attract, often with added features such as luminosity, refraction and layering of transparent tints to achieve a special effect.



Still, if you are just planning the perfect June wedding and are looking for a more thoughtful or stylish color palette, don't limit yourself to the printed catalog or magazine - try going outside and studying the woodland or the garden for a moment. The above image demonstrates that sometimes, there is something just "right" about certain combinations. There is a reason why hip flower sites show blush, champagne and plum flowers - all Photoshopped with filters and  de-shadows to look perfectly pale, but do you ever see this in real life? nope. Wedding blogs and hip stylish florist school sites know design quite well, but they also can manipulate images to appear, well, prettier than they actually are. Gorgeously yummy, but not very realistic when viewed in real life. 

Florists aside, in your garden, or, in your cutting garden, which is really should be two different subjects, the logic is different - the lighting is real ( either the sun, or in your home), and the plant material is not flown in from all over the world, it's seasonal. So forget Gerbera, lilac, Peony's, Billy Buttons and Hydrangeas all in the same arrangement - it's just not gonna happen. I know many of you want amazingly coral, pink, peach and buff - when in reality, this rarely is achievable outside of photoshop and creative lighting. Few of us live in a magazine photoshoot or a wedding blog with a handy color shift feature. But there are ways to add new and more interesting color palettes to you garden containers, new color ideas for your wedding, or new color palette combinations for the garden. 

If you want more posts on my color theory and plants, let me know - I think a little too much about it sometimes! But I do know my color theory, I work on a Wacom screen all day picking palettes for design projects, ranging from apps to print and product, and I am a pretty handy horticulturist, so maybe I can offer some sensible help here. It's a subject that I can frequently post about if it doesn't bore too many readers.

A few basic things to remember when buying plants based on color - if may have already discovered that seed catalogs and nursery catalogs are terribly misleading.  They show closeups of flowers like coral zinnia's or blush poppies, but the reality often is that 95 percent of the plant will be green, and 5 percent will have a flower with the color that you want. Of course they assume that you already know that the two plants will bloom at different times of the day, and year, and that the seasons will be off. There is just SO much to know.



1. Heliotrope - Heliotropium arborescens ( seed sown February 20th - Swallowtail Gardens.
2. Iris versicolor - "Cat Mousam' (Joe-Pye-Weed's Garden)
3. Parsnip Flowers - Pastinaca sativa, I always leave some in the garden to bloom (Johnny's)
4. Stock 'Quartet' - Mathiola incana (seed started March 12th, Johnny's Seeds)
5. Society Garlic - Tulbaghia violacea
6. Cardonna Sage - Salvia x sylvestris 'Cardonna' (Plant Delights Nursery)
7. Blue Flax - Linum lewisii (from Annie's Annuals)
8. Lathyrus Winter-Blooming Sweet Peas - (From Owl's Acre Sweet Peas)
9. Knautia macedonica - (Annie's Annuals)
10.Geranium 'Ann Folkard' (Plant Delights Nursery)
11.Iris siberica
12.Lathyrus- Winter Blooming Sweet Pea ( Owls Acres Sweet Peas)


Some of my best color combinations outdoors have been arranged in just this way - observing and noting what plants, and what color flowers and foliage, appear each day. For example, next year, I am replanting a border in front of the greenhouse which sits against a dark boxwood hedge. I noticed this spring, how nice the new yellow foliage bleeding heart looks against the dark hedge in early spring, and tulips in various shades of violet, plum and purple will mix nicely emerging from the border of chartreuse. If you are planning a June wedding, or looking for purple flowers and green flowers, spring is the best time to work with such a palette.

It's been raining for four days, and feeling a little British-like here in New England. So in honor of the Queen's Jubilee, (yeah, it's just an excuse to pick some flowers from the garden), I picked some purple flowers from the garden today. I could smell the Mathiola ( Stock) from a distance, it is very fragrant in the evening, and with stems nearly two feet tall, it is at its prime. I hate to say that I pulled out most of the seedlings that I started in March, because I made a mistake and first pinched them back, but they never branched ( I thought I had read that they should have been pinched to form strong two-foot tall bushy plants, but I confused this directive with one for snapdragons). Hey, it happens, even to me! The few that I left un-pinched, are now blooming, so I might as well pick them and enjoy them on this rainy, cold day.

The first of the Lathyrus ( Sweet Peas) are blooming also, but these are the winter blooming Sweet Peas which if you remember, I sowed back in November. Our field mice ate most of them as them emerged as seedlings, but a few re-sprouted in their pots in the greenhouse,  so I waited to see what they would do later on in the season. These are specially bred for winter cut flowers, (or to be more accurate, early spring sweet pea crops), since these are sweet peas which require less than the twelve hours of daylight, which is what summer-blooming varieties need to grow strong and bloom properly. These are just reaching peak bloom while the summer sweet peas are just starting to bud. One cannot compare the two forms. My summer blooming plants are three times as large, after only a few weeks outdoors.

June 3, 2012

Ducklings!

THREE DAY OLD INDIAN RUNNER DUCKLINGS

Our shipment of baby ducklings arrived today, a dozen mallard-colored Indian Runners all fluffy and full of peeps and cuteness. We even let them swim in the warm bath tub since it was unseasonably cold and rainy, not that they really mind the cool weather,, but seeing that they are only  a couple of days old, we wanted to give them a break. They are so cute at this stage.

INDIAN RUNNER DUCKLINGS, SPENDING THE DAY IN AN OPEN PEN WHILE JOE PREPARES THE NEW COOP.

IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN, THE HEIRLOOM GARLIC IS BEGINNING TO SHOW FLOWER SCAPES, WHICH ARE ALWAYS BEAUTIFUL, AS THEY TWIST INTO GRACEFUL LOOPS LIKE SWAN NECKS. NEXT WEEK WE WILL PICKLE SO FOR WINTER USE.

MOUNTAIN LAUREL IS SYNONYMOUS WITH JUNE IN NEW ENGLAND
Across the north eastern US, the woodland is in full bloom with Mountain Laurel, or Kalmia. Our native Kalmia typically blooms in late June, around Fathers day, but in the past few years, it has been blooming earlier, but never as early as newer hybrids, such as this one, which is strawberry pink when in bud, but white when open.

NOW THAT THE WARM WEATHER HAS ARRIVED, SPECIES  BEGONIAS ARE RELOCATED TO THE PORCH, WHERE THE EASTERN EXPOSURE AND BREEZES SEEM TO PROVIDE A MICRO CLIMATE WHICH THEY SEEM TO LIKE VERY MUCH DURING OUR HOT SUMMERS. THESE TWO SPECIES ABOVE ARE SIMILAR, PRODUCING A SPIDER-WEB LIKE LEAF, ABOVE RIGHT, BEGONIA MOYESII, AND LEFT, B. PAULENSIS.

THE SPIDER-WEB PATTERNED LEAF OF BEGONIA PAULENSIS. BY AUGUST, THESE PLANTS WILL BE MASSIVE WITH LARGE LEAVES.

IN THE GREENHOUSE, THE CACTUS COLLECTIONS CONTINUES TO BLOOM, AS LONG AS THE SUN CONTINUES TO SHINE. WITH A FULL WEEK OF RAIN AHEAD, THIS MAY BE THE MOST I CAN EXPECT THIS YEAR FROM THESE PLANTS.

June 2, 2012

Sweet Pea Project Update and Fertilizing Notes

Spencer varieties of Sweet Peas, being trained in the cordon method - bamboo poles with a single stem tied to each, are progressing nicely, with some plants growing 14 inches a week. As flower buds begin to form, maintenance over the  next few weeks will be intense, with daily chores.

My experiment in growing the 'perfect cut flower English sweet peas' is progressing nicely. The weather, which is always the primary factor in success or failure,  has been unusually cooperative providing plenty of cool rain, bright sunny days and cool nights, and the long day length has my crop growing fast and furious. Here is an update on where I am with the project. 

WITH HEAVY RAIN LAST NIGHT AND TODAY, EVEN A SINGLE DAY MISSED IN STAKING THE SWEET PEAS, HAS RESULTED IN SOME BROKEN STEMS.

Sweet peas are not easy to grow, for they require a lot of maintenance and attention, if you want long stems and large flowers. If you remember, in February I started seeds in root trainers, planting out in March under cloches, after pinching out the growing points. Cut flower Sweet peas love cold weather, which is why they are grown so well in England, but rarely seen in America. Here, they require a very early sowing in order to mature before the hot weather does them in. One can sow seeds directly in the cold ground, but sweet peas really reward you well if grown properly. Surprisingly, the same well rooted seedlings that I planted out in other beds and trained onto wire cages, are much smaller than these plants which are being trained with just a single stem onto bamboo poles, called cordons, an old method which has been used for growing exhibition sweet peas for at least 150 years. My garden plants not trained onto cordons will still produce a multitude of flowers, but the quality will be vastly different.

PLASTIC RIBBON TIES ARE USED TO TIE EACH SINGLE STEM TO A BAMBOO STAKE, SINCE IT WILL NOT CUT THE TENDER SWEET PEA STEM, AND BEING SOMEWHAT ELASTIC, IT HOLDS THE THE STEM SECURELY WITHOUT DAMAGE.

I imagine that over the next month, there will be plenty of posts featuring these sweet peas, so bear with me. If the weather remains cool and damp, the season might be extraordinary, but even if it turns hot and humid ( as it will) I am confidant that these plants are now well rooted and strong enough to provide cut flowers until the end of July. I've planned a Sweet Pea dinner party to celebrate a friend's new job at the end of June, featuring local grown produce and a sit-down, outdoor farm table dinner. Last Sunday, while staking plants,  I was a bit worried that June 25th might be too early for sweet peas, but now that flower buds are showing, and that the plants are growing nearly a foot a week, I am no longer concerned. I should have more than enough sweet peas than any human could handle.
THE PLANTS THAT HAVE BEEN TRAINED TO JUST A SINGLE STEM, HAVE MASSIVE STEMS, ALMOST AS THICK AS MY FINGER, AND THE FOLIAGE IS AS LARGE AS MY HAND. THE SAME PLANTS NOT TRAINED TO A SINGLE STEM IN THE GARDEN, HAVE LEAVES THAT ARE THE SIZE OF BOTTLE CAPS.
 Cut flower or exhibition quality sweet peas require proper nutrition, in order to produce first, the strong roots that they need, and then foliage and later, strong flower stems. As seedlings, the plants received 5.5.10 fertilizer, so that strong roots could be formed. Later, at planting out, year old manure was turned into the soil along with lime, to achieve the proper pH of  a neutral soil which is 7 to 7.5. Our soil here in central Massachusetts is high in acid, and has a default pH of 6.0 but it changes throughout my raised beds, so I test each one noting what plants or vegetables will be planted in each.

 I know that many of you will say that sweet peas don't really care about soil pH, but I find that the more neutral the soil, the larger the plants are, in fact, the plants may grow everywhere ( I have them growing right now in many places around the garden) but the plants in my two beds where the soil has be altered to 7.5, have plants that are three times the size and volume than those untended. They all will flower, but the difference is more than just notable, it's extraordinary.
GROWTH OCCURS AT LIGHTNING SPEED IN EARLY JUNE, THESE PLANTS HAVE GROWN 14 INCHES LAST LAST SUNDAY, SO DAILY TIES CHECKS ARE NEEDED. 
Last week, I started using a fertilizer high in phosphorus, to encourage strong flower stems and flowing in general. A 5-10-5 is perfect for this, and I will only apply this twice over the growing period. Weak plants that are malnourished will suffer ( the same goes for edible peas). I did use a legume inoculate, and I am not concerned about nitrogen, as the rain and soil will supply enough of that, but a fertilizer with the proper analysis is essential for sweet peas ( as well as most any other plant) if you are serious about harvesting something worth your efforts. 

You new to gardening, especially vegetable gardening may feel that fertilizers are dangerous and yes, it's true that large scale agriculture mis-uses fertilizer, but in the home garden, it is essential, and no single fertilizer is good for everything. If you want to be all organic, remember that all fertilizer is rooted in chemistry, so act wisely. Fish Emulsion may seem like a good choice, but if you are growing root crops like carrots, you are doing more damage than good. Blood meal and bone meal may seem like safe choices, but they are very slow acting, and often take a year to break down. 

I use more everything, phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, micro nutrients and minerals, but only based on the particular species need, and my soil testing. I equate it to my own personal blood analysis - high sugar or cholesterol, too much salt or a b6 deficiency? Your responsible, as a gardener, to be a doctor - just be informed and use the proper medication or nutrient to counteract or treat and deficiency. Simple. Otherwise, you will end up with stumpy, twisted tough woody carrots, spotty, yellow tomatoes and twisty beans. Be serious about growing your food. Plants need to be strong, and well grown to be able to withstand diseases - that is an essential part of organic gardening.

 Fresh manure is still best, but it is highest in nitrogen, and can burn an entire crop, that is, if you can even find it. Composted manure from your hardware store is often just composted wood mulch with a little manure added. I prefer granular elements that I mix myself, based on the nutritional needs of each plant, and then I fertilize only as needed, at half the strength. There are times when water soluble fertilizer is best, as it is quick acting, and with many plants, that is preferred, especially vegetables which need both foliar feeding as well as root nutrients.

SUCKERS ARE CUT OFF, WHICH PAINS ME, BUT IT ENSURES STRONG STEMS AND LONG FLOWER STEMS. ON SOME PLANTS, I HAVE ALLOWED 2 OR 3 STEMS, BUT ON STRONGER PLANTS, ONLY ONE. THIS TIME OF YEAR, SUCKERS ARE PRODUCED QUICKLY, SO WEEKLY CHECKS MUST BE MADE.

THE FIRST FLOWER BUDS ARE EMERGING. WHEN I CHECKED THE PLANTS FOR FLOWER BUDS LAST WEEKEND, I COULD NOT FIND A SINGLE ONE. TODAY, MOST EVERY PLANT HAS BUDS FORMING.

ONE OF THE MOST TEDIOUS TASKS IS SNIPPING OFF ALL TENDRILS, WHICH ARE NOT NEEDED ANYWAY, SINCE THESE PLANTS ARE BEING TIED TO POLES. I ACTUALLY LIKE THIS PART OF THE PROJECT, THERE IS SOME PLEASURE IN SNIPPING OFF EACH ONE.

THE TENDRILS ON THE CORDON GROWN PLANTS ARE DANGEROUS, BECAUSE THEY ARE LARGE AND GRAB ONTO NEIGHBORING PLANTS, TWISTING AROUND NEW STEMS, FOLIAGE AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, EMERGING FLOWER STEMS. THESE GIAN PLANTS HAVE TENDRIL HEAD NEARLY A FOOT ACROSS.

TENDRILS CAN TURN A HEALTHY PLANT WITH NEW FLOWER BUDS INTO A TANGLED MESS IN JUST A SINGLE NIGHT.

CUT FLOWER SWEET PEAS ASIDE, I DO GROW SNAP PEAS AND ENGLISH PEAS FOR EATING TOO.
THESE SUGAR SNAPS ARE NOT ONLY BLOOMING ALREADY, THEY ARE PROVIDING OUR FIRST PEAS FOR DINNER.

SUGAR SNAP PEAS READY TO PICK, NEIGHBORING THE BEDS WITH THE FANCY SWEET PEAS FOR CUT FLOWERS, THESE ARE VALUED JUST AS MUCH EVEN THOUGH THEIR FLOWERS MAY NOT BE AS PRETTY. BY NEXT WEEK, WE WILL BE SWIMMING IN PEAS OF ALL SORTS.