Thursday, 14 June 2012

A field trip to Avant Gardens

Today I took a long-postponed field trip to Avant Gardens in Dartmouth, MA.  The experience was a delight.  I guess I'm quickly becoming a bit of a plant nerd and being in a nursery created by another plant nerd was deeply satisfying.  Dartmouth is about an hour's drive from Boston, so I'd been putting off the trip, hoping I could find plenty of horticultural treats to keep me busy closer to home.  I was completely bored by my last couple of trip to my local garden center and the roof garden still has some very patchy areas so I decided to venture forth.

It was soothing to explore the nursery's cold frames and greenhouses.  The things that impressed me most were things that I've researched less because I don't need them for the RBB's roof garden.  Avant has an amazing selection of succulents (I might be tempted to get a few for indoors as winter approaches) and interesting annuals (unfortunately not white).  They also had some intriguing evergreens, but I'm not sure how I feel about evergreens right now.  I will probably wait to see just how boring and structure-less the garden is this winter before devoting precious real estate to what I think of as "rough-leaved green blobs that look the same all year 'round".  (I'm sure I'll repent heartily of this attitude December through February!)  As I looked around, I found a good sized white clematis "Paul Farges" that I couldn't resist and a geranium x cantabrigiense 'St. Ola' to introduce to 'Midnight Clouds' and 'Double Jewel'.  Here's the geranium:

Then I decided to turn myself over to recommendations.  There are so many plants, many not in flower, and I didn't want to miss the good stuff.  Fortunately I had the chance to speak to the owner, Catherine, who gave me lots of food for thought.  I ended up with a Fothergilla major 'Blue Shadows', a Viburnum plicatum 'Summer Snowflake', a Spirea thunbergii 'Ogon' and - this is certifiable insanity - a tiny Chinese fringetree 'Arnold's Pride'. 

Here's the fothergilla:

The viburnum:

The spirea:

And the fringetree:

I chose the fothergilla because it gets to be a decent size (in the scale of my garden): 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide, has nice-sized roundish steel blue leaves, and puts out white, unfortunately bottlebrush-shaped but fortunately honey-scented flowers in spring.  I chose the viburnum because I've been pondering getting a viburnum for a while and this one came highly recommended.  It has beautiful white flowers all summer long and grows to about 8 feet by 8 feet, though it can be pruned back.  The spirea was an easy choice for its foliage, which I think will look great with the rest of what I already have.  The leaves are a light yellowy green and sort of feathery in appearance.  Apparently they turn incredible shades of yellow and orange in the fall and stay that way through the end of November.  The spirea is also supposed to put out white flowers very early in the spring - never a bad thing.  The 5 foot cube size should also fill in some currently empty space nicely.

I'm sure the fringetree will keel over when it realizes it can't send its roots down more than a foot and a half, but in the meantime, I get to nurse a tiny flicker of hope that I might one day enjoy the scent and luxurious softness of fringetree flowers in my very own rooftop paradise.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

A rant about outdoor furniture in the U.S.

I am completely unimpressed by the look and quality of the outdoor furniture commonly available in the U.S.  This is an area of interior decoration that is about 20 years behind the times and that if someone wanted to latch onto this problem and turn it into a business opportunity, they could revolutionize the market.  Take a look, for instance, at these outdoor chairs from French furniture maker Massant. 

Impossible to believe that they're for the garden, right?

Then you look at the junky, either flimsy or chunky, always, always modern stuff you get most places in the U.S.   Why can't outdoor pieces be designed to look like antiques?  Why can't they have any delicacy or refinement whatsoever?  They're either completely insubstantial or they're made of great hulking timbers that weigh a ton and take three people to position.  And the materials are so dull!  Plastic, aluminum, occasionally hollow iron.  Always straight lines: tubes that are easy to extrude and cut.  I'd love to see someone hand carving moisture-resistant hardwood, casting furniture-size reinforced concrete and ceramics, using stone veneers or thinly cut slabs.  And hello copper and steel!

You know how everyone has been saying for years that outdoor rooms are the next big thing? While why shouldn't outdoor rooms have outdoor furniture that's as carefully thought out and well made as indoor furniture?  Imagine, for example, outdoor Windsor chairs.  The World of Interiors had an article in their June issue about an exhibition of Windsor chairs in the UK.  Many of them were designed hundreds of years ago for use in gardens.  This is not a new idea.

Friday, 8 June 2012

3 Prettiest Things: Early June Favorites

A few weeks ago I blogged about the three prettiest things that were then growing in the roof garden.  I'd like to try to make 3 Prettiest Things an ongoing series.  Without further ado, the three prettiest things in the red brick building's garden right now are:

1)  Anemone cylindrica (Thimbleweed, Candle Anemone):

I bought this because I stumbled across it at the local nursery and the tag said "anemone" and "white": all the inducement I need to buy.  I love florist's anemones but before I started this garden I never realized how many species of anemone there are.  This one started blooming nearly two weeks ago and I am entranced.  (It helps that it is right outside the window, front and center when I'm on the chaise lounge.)  It is so delicate and pretty.  I don't care in the slightest that the flowers are tiny, there are only 5 petals and they drop very quickly: this is my version of a "grass".  The fuzzy green "thimble" is straight out of a fairy tale.  I want to race back to the nursery and buy another dozen of these but will try to restrain myself and instead keep a sharp eye to see what anemone cylindrica does the rest of the year.  If all goes well, I will be planting a tiny field of these next spring.

2)  Hydrangea x "Wedding Gown":

I'm not the biggest fan of hydrangeas (a predictable, take-the-easy-way-out to fill in space and get mega blooms) but I have to admit my sole shrub hydrangea, an ultra-dwarf named "Wedding Gown" is looking really lovely.  Lovely enough to make me rethink my blanket ban on the entire hydrangea family. 

3)  Geranium "Midnight Clouds":

This was puny when it arrived and the nursery listing promised dark purple foliage, which as you can see hasn't really materialized.  It's still small, but the delicate flowers and lacy leaves show promise.  Fingers crossed it's a more prolific bloomer next year.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

A fig tree and camellias for the roof garden

We had a short break in the wind and rain this morning, so I was able to plant some new arrivals in the roof garden.  Last Friday I bought a Celeste fig tree at our local nursery.  She's nearly 5 feet tall, but doesn't have many leaves.  The ones she does have, though, are gorgeous.  Big and sharply divided: just what the left side of the roof was needing.  Here are a couple of pictures to give you a sense of what the leaves (and hopefully fruit!) are like:

I know it's risky growing something so tender up here, but I guess I'm up for some gambles in the hope of big wins. 

Speaking of gambles, I mail-ordered three reputedly cold-hardy camellias from Camellia Forest Nursery.  They are all very different sizes: I bought the largest size available for each variety.  I planted the camellia oleifera earlier in the week:

Also 'Winter's Cupid':

The former is supposed to bloom in early to mid-fall.  The latter is supposed to bloom in late fall-early winter.  I can only hope!  It would be incredible to have such a legendary and exotic flower blooming in the roof garden so late in the season!

This morning I planted what is by far the largest camellia plant.  I had to move a campanula (which has started to flower and for some reason is opening pale purple.  I can only hope it will fade to white: the label clearly says WHITE, dammit), and the bush clover in order to place it well.  I don't like hopscotching the plants: I worry it's going to throw their growth/blooming off.  The big camellia is called "April Snow" and is supposed to bloom during that month:

It has fairly large dark green leathery leaves, which is again helpful for the left side of the garden.

I also planted some very ordinary strawberries (acquired inexpensively at a neighborhood plant sale) beside the skylight and the blueberries.  My husband keeps noticing robins over there and immediately leaps up and runs outside to try to scare them off and protect his beloved fruit.  I must say I noticed that one of the ripe strawberries was partially eaten...

I also planted four lemon licorice plants (helichrysum petiolare). 

I have been oddly obsessed with licorice plants this year, even though they're only annuals.  Their leaves are so velvety!  And the chartreuse is exciting.  I am planning to dig the plants up and bring them inside when the cold weather comes.  I've been reading up about them online and apparently they tend to do pretty well indoors.  They're also reputedly quite easy to root from cuttings, so I'm going to try doing that with them later this year too.  I think they would be great as part of a Christmas foliage display, to break up all the dark greens.  Long live soft leaves!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Seating for the roof garden

Even though the weather has been cold and rainy here for days and the forecast doesn't look good either, I've been thinking about that wonderful time when the weather will be nice enough to sit out in the roof garden.  First, though, we need chairs.

I ordered a couple of Kingston Chaises from Restoration Hardware nearly two months ago.  The cushions I chose are white linen-textured Sunbrella.

All are back-ordered until late June.  Here's hoping that waiting for what feels like half the summer to go by will be worth it.  I'm going to put them under the pergola that's being made by our iron-worker.

More recently I've been looking at getting a pair Ballard Design's Ceylon Armchairs to go in the smaller garden "room":

They're similar without being identical to the chaises and I like the way that mixes things up a little, but without calling attention to either.  I don't want the furniture to be eye catching - that's the flowers' job - I'm after quiet elegance and subtle detail.

I'm still gunning for four outdoor barstools and a high top table for the patio.  Despite having seating set low within the garden (and inside the headhouse), I think at times we're going to want a high vantage point, to sit and still see over the balcony railing and down to what's happening at ground level.  I have a feeling I might end up commissioning something via CustomMade, especially the bar stools.  The dimensions and leg shapes of the two tables I like most aren't quite right for the space.  CB2's Element console is too low and the legs on the sides don't leave the necessary overhang so that people can sit at the short ends of the table:

Crate and Barrel's French Kitchen Island is a bit deep at 28"and again, stools can't tuck beneath:
I like the material of each piece though.  Black iron, white marble and concrete would all tie in nicely with materials that are already part of the roof garden.  I think the unfussy lines of the Element console would work better, blending in with the travertine of the patio and letting the iron railing recede, but it's pretty chunky.  Maybe I'll stay with teak for the barstools to tie all the seating together....  Time for some more idea gathering!