Saturday, July 22, 2017  



Keeping It Cool as the Weather Warms

Story and select photos by Judy Ripley

Be careful what you wish for on those frosty days when you are curled up before a fire perusing seed catalogs and dreaming of warm sunny days. Somehow during the bustle of spring with the clean up, planting and restoration of gardens, we are unaware of the sun creeping closer and closer to the earth. Days stretch out and the timing for our dinners becomes “whenever I am finished in the garden”. The daily, almost hourly, change of plant displays unfolds, intrigues and engulfs us.

One of the first indications of the summer changes is evident with the swarms of insects and the need to protect ourselves from their onslaught. Plants go from delightful seedlings with eternal hope to receiving insults from the insect and critter world. Deer, squirrels and rabbits nibble the tops while voles eat the bottoms. Caterpillars create new age art forms out of leaves. We find ourselves in the maintenance and defense mode. Now the gardener is armed with a water bottle, sunscreen, insecticide and a hat.

Adjusting to the proximity of the summer sun becomes increasingly important. Enjoying our garden bounty and beauty in the late spring and early summer is a matter of simply changing your focus.

Color Focus

With the increase of temperatures the garden takes on a changing look. Green leaves change from a bright, light color to a deeper shade as if to make way for the show. The soft yellows, whites and blues of the early bulbs make way for a whole collection of bright oranges, reds, yellows, blues and lavenders. Textures, always an important aspect in the depth of a garden, increase interest.

This is the time to let your color combinations take hold. Look at what plant combinations work well together. Take a new plant and “match” it or “pair” it with other plants to help place it in the garden. Think of the different shapes of plants. Some stick straight up. Others have rounded shapes and still others hang down. Combining plants of varying shapes increases interest in a garden.

Combine cool colors with bright ones using the color wheel. Opposite colors (blue and yellow) can be used for contrast and the closer colors (pink and red) for more harmonious results. Monochromatic gardens are accomplished with the use of the same color in slightly different shades which causes a calming effect. During the warming months gardens in shades of blue and green are wonderfully cooling. White accents can act as a finishing touch.

Visually dark colored flowers or plants blend into the background while light and bright ones jump to the foreground. If you have a wonderful plant that you want seen and it is dark in color, back it up with a variegated plant or with a structure that provides a lighter background for greater visibility.

Gardening with a view in mind is another skill. If you wish to keep that view viable and important, you may need to plant low. Not just in structure but in impact. Use calming colors and shapes that do not interfere with the eye as it sees the view. Remember with a view you can best augment it by framing it instead of clearing it. Use nice native plants and carefully clear off just enough to create a window of a view. Skillful pruning can assist in this process. Remember when pruning you stimulate growth.

So as you go about framing your view you will need to walk around the plant and prune carefully and gradually in order to obtain the optimal shape or view you desire. Please remember to prune crape myrtles correctly!Crape myrtles should correctly be pruned by thinning out the twig growth and crossing branches which provides a view through its attractive bark and branches with the showy blooms at the top not whacked down allowing the shape to resemble a fuller brush product which is referred to as Crape Murder!

The look and sound of water is especially wonderful if you have a view of a river or pond. Look at the availability of fountains and their shapes, sizes and colors. When you are using ornamentation in the garden, scale is important. Remember to purchase sizes that will not disappear when placed in the vastness of the garden, beside a house or other large structure or on the other hand overwhelm its surroundings. A good rule of thumb is to buy the next biggest because when it is placed outdoors it visually shrinks, conversely to Christmas trees.

Water conservation is of dire importance. Grouping plants with similar needs has always been a sound objective. Xeriscaping is the technique which groups low water usage plants together. This allows for conservation of water and the gardener who is doing the watering. This technique is well initiated for use in areas of your yard where watering is either not a viable option or difficult to practice on a regular basis.

Shade Gardens

The intensity of the summer sun can wreck havoc with the health of our gardens. So why not allow your garden plans to include some shade gardens.

Gardening in the shade allows for us to learn a new skill. The plants light needs must match with the amount and intensity of the shade where it is placed. That along with building on the color information listed above provides a sound basis for plant placement. View the potential planting area at different times of the day to determine the amount of light to reach it. Take photos and compare using the changing light of varying seasons. Always look at spaces from the many angles of your yard, the porch, through the window from the interior and the areas most frequently used for foot traffic or the driveway entrance areas. Don’t forget the view as you approach your land from the waterfront if you are so situated. Plants carefully placed can be more fully enjoyed when this process is carefully done. Shade plantings are a wonderful use of variegated leaves, lighter colored flowers and the color silver. Remember when you find the right area of exposure to group or mass the suited plant. Mass plantings impact any garden space. Existing plantings in straight lines can be “tweaked”. Simply interplant masses of other plants along the line and in a slightly zig zag pattern to help break up the line.

Plants are not the only things in a garden!

There is a trick. You can “plant” your garden with many items that do not need watering, feeding or tending. Use the same strategy of contrast and color but consider structure. To place a dark blue arbor in the back of a shade garden is an act of futility. But placed in a sunny spot against a white wall surrounded by sunflowers with blue and white low growing flowers at its base, magical! Again!

So look twice at that piece of ornamental iron you found at a yard sale. Paint up an unusable broken chair or wheelbarrow or garden cart. Now take a seat in the shade and sip that sweet tea and enjoy!