The end of November means a move toward indoor plants and plans.
Rake up the last of the fallen leaves and get ready for the starkness of winter. It is not too late to prune branches that block the views from windows or reach out and grab the sleeves of visitors.
The start of winter also is a time for scheming and dreaming. After leading a group to see historic gardens of America on the East Coast (New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.), here are some take-home ideas to think about incorporating into your own landscape.
Use ornamental grasses in large containers.
The street containers of NYC showcased the graceful weeping forms of Japanese forest grass as well as the rigid and upright forms of Miscanthus grass. Foliage plants with large leaves provided contrast. The lime green leaves of sweet potato vine; the colorful form of coleus; and the moody, dark tones from purple heucheras provided more color from foliage. All this color and form with no faded blooms to deadhead. New Yorkers are tough survivors and so are the plants in their containers.
Colorful ceramic pots always stand out in the crowd.
We visited big city gardens, country estate gardens, wild gardens and formal topiary gardens – and all of these gardens showcased colorful pottery.
There is more to pots than terra cotta orange. A wonderful illusion was created at Longwood Gardens outside of Philadelphia by arranging a collection of large pots so the taller pots and plants were at the back and the shorter ones were in the front like a stand of choir boys. The arrangement sang beautifully, but also was practical. When one plant was past its prime, it was easy to remove the entire pot and replace it with something of the same height, but in prime condition.
It is no surprise that the diva plants were placed in front, spotlighted in blue ceramic pots.
Create vistas and views, no matter how small your garden.
Just look outside your window and plan for a better view. Winter is the time of year when staring out windows can be the biggest spring inspiration. Move overgrown shrubs and trees so you can open up views into the borrowed landscape across the street.
Beware of badgers.
I met my very first badger on this trip. The first time we were in the historic Bartram garden near Philly, the pleasantly plump rodent moved rather slowly into a formal flower garden. Our guide suggested we give the fellow room. A few days later a second, more confident badger wandered about his business at the National Arboretum in Washington D.C.
Don’t badger the badger we were told – but maybe he was a wood chuck. Either way, they are not friendly and they like to dig for grubs in the lawn. I would rather deal with moles any day.
George Washington did tell a lie, well, he sort of lied. He fooled a lot of people when he built his lovely home of Monticello on the shores of the Potomac River. The house and extensive gardens are lovely and the on-site museum is one of the best, but it was a guide at the site that shared his secret – the house looked like it was made from stone blocks, when in reality sly Washington had sand thrown on top of wet paint so the gritty surface gave the illusion of stone. Washington built his house of wood – carefully disguised as lime stone.
So, this spring I’ll be spray painting a plastic urn with gray paint and then tossing sand onto the matte surface and see if I can get the look of sandstone the same way Washington did.
Gardeners and travelers never stop growing and learning.