Gardening TipsAugust 2011 - Gardening Tips August 2011 - Gardening Tips

Archive for August, 2011


Mohonk Mountain House 76th Annual Garden Holiday Week

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Tuesday, August 23rd


Is there anyplace on earth so peaceful, so stunning, so steeped in history as Mohonk Mountain House? This National Historic Landmark Resort allows visitors to step back in history in the Shawangunk Mountains of Ulster County, New York.  Just 90 miles north of New York City,  the Mountain House is  huge, rambling, chock full of antiques, and stories of yesteryear; yet it’s full of today’s amenities.  The gracious staff is attendant to a guest’s every wish, and it’s the best place I know of to be pampered in the midst of Mother Nature’s splendor.

But I fell in love with the gardens first. As one approaches the House, the riot of color and form charms all comers.  Specimen trees dot the landscape, summerhouses are everywhere; and themes of English, Italian, Victorian gardening (and more) are evident.  The plants are nicely marked, and at the greenhouse shop many are available for sale.  As a gardener, I’d long wanted to see the famed Mohonk gardens, and they didn’t disappoint.  This year, on September 1st, I’m honored to be speaking as part of Mohonk Mountain House’s 76th Annual Garden Holiday Week, which runs from August 28th to September 2nd.  My topic is “The Bins and Outs of Composting”, but there’ll be many other lectures, presentations, demonstrations, garden walks, etc. over the course of the week, by many other professional gardeners.


The main house, a seven-story castle which can accommodate up to 500 guests,  is set like a jewel in the midst of thousands of acres of surrounding forest, and is perched adjacent to a clear glacial lake, fine for swimming, fishing,  and paddleboating.  There’s also golfing, rock climbing, hiking, stables, and oh so many other forms of recreation.  Don’t miss the award-winning Spa, the  fitness center, and the Barn Museum which chronicles the 142-year history of the Mountain House, as well as life in the area since 1869.

Come join me in a magical place, to be immersed not only in history and comfort and nature, but also in gardening.




Clethra, Queen of the Summer Shrubs

Friday, August 19th, 2011

August 19th, 2011


She’s a graceful, perfumed lady, and like any grande dame, makes her entrance to the party late, for all to see and admire. Who is she? The August-blooming deciduous shrub, clethra, also known as Summersweet or Sweet Pepperbush.

Hardy in zones 3-9, clethra alnifolia is a low-maintenance Native American plant whose common range is within 100 miles of the Atlantic coast, from Nova Scotia to northern Florida and along the Gulf west to Texas. The wild form is an upright oval with a slow-growing, multi-stemmed  habit. It matures at about 6 by 5 feet, eventually forming tight, yet easy to control colonies.  Adaptable to most situations, what clethra prefers is moist dappled shade, where she’ll bloom for weeks in the dog days of August with her signature, fragrant, 3-6 inch, bottle-brush like inflorescences.  Despite her penchant for damp shade, however, I grow the clethra cultivar ‘Ruby Spice’ in a corner of my hot, dry, sunny driveway, where she beams at all comers. So let’s call Lady Clethra versatile as well as charming and well-dressed.

A member of the alder family, this shrub flowers on new wood, so pruning for shape is best done in spring. Leaves are a toothed, glossy, medium green, and autumn color is clear yellow which persists several weeks.

Clethra’s flowers, arriving as they do in midsummer, are an important nectar source for bees, butterflies and other pollinators, at a time when there’s not a wealth of nectars to choose from. After flowering, her fruit capsules persist thru winter, though except for the birds, not everyone thinks they’re lovely.

Deer aren’t fond of this shrub. In fact, clethra has few predators, which ranks her among the easiest of garden delights.  In the 15 years I’ve grown mine, I’ve had not one problem. However, the literature suggests that spider mites can be an issue in arid sites.

Though the species bears white flowers, most suburban gardeners grow cultivars, which bloom in pink or white.  ‘Rosea’ is among the oldest in cultivation; her pink flowers fade to white. She is being rapidly replaced by ‘Ruby Spice’ an award-winning version with dark pink flowers, selected by Broken Arrow Nursery in Hamden, CT. ‘Hummingbird’ is a dwarf, topping out at some 3 feet.  ‘September Beauty’, a new cultivar, flowers at the end of the season, adding grace, color and fragrance to the late-late garden show.

Clethra can be grown as a specimen, in a group planting, in the foundation, border, (try small cultivars such as ‘Sixteen Candles’ and ‘Hummingbird’) or naturalized. Her vase-shaped, slender upright structure is ideal for tight spaces. Try her as a short hedge, or for that low, boggy area, since she’s tolerant of permanently moist sites. She’s also perfect streamside or adjacent to the fish pond. She needs little or no fertilizer, and though she prefers acid soil, she’s adaptive to a wide range conditions, including seashore. And, adding to her appeal, once established, an extensive root system renders her surprisingly drought tolerant.

Companion plants are spicebush, rhododendron, kalmia, andromeda and dogwood. As clethra is late to leaf out, consider underplanting with spring bulbs.  Propagate by sucker divisions or by rooting summer cuttings.

Grow this lady to perfume and beautify your August garden, as well as to help out our fellow creatures.  It’s an easy way to do your part for Mother Nature.


Does Golden Creeping Jenny Creep?

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

August 4th, 2011 


Creeping Jenny

Such an ugly name for such a pretty girl!  Golden creeping Jenny (lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) is a lush, low-growing and low-maintenance chartreuse ground cover which relishes dappled sunlight. At two inches tall, but spreading as wide as space allows, she’s a sunny sight in the semi-shaded garden as she enthusiastically wends her way between hosta and hydrangea, hellebore and heuchera. She’ll willingly drape from a container, or dangle languorously over the rocks bordering your fish pond.  Quite a versatile gal; Jenny needs little care or fertilizer. In addition, she’s not palatable to deer or any particular demon insects or disease. She awakens early in the spring to garnish your tulip bed, and goes to bed late in the fall, the better to show off your chrysanthemums. She’s an excellent selection for the front of semi-shady beds and borders in all seasons, unbeatable as a companion plant with her color and low growth habit, good in the dappled shade under roses, a filler for bare spots, and she adds stunning contrast in mixed borders.

Grow her in moist soil, if possible, as she is shallow rooted and can’t delve far for water.  Jenny isn’t grown for her nondescript yellow flowers, but rather for her round, penny-sized leaves. In fact, her Latin moniker, “nummularia” means like a coin, and in days of yore she was known as moneywort.  Nowadays she’s like money in the bank for the perennial gardener, as she’s reliable, colorful, hardy, and gives a long season of color.

Try her next to a bed of annuals such as blue or pink petunias, or salvia ‘Victoria’, for a spark of color. Or establish her between pavers in a moist part of your yard; she’s fast growing and can even take some foot traffic. She’ll fill in between the stones and cascade over the path, softening the way. Plants root where they touch, so infilling is not needed.

True, Jenny is kin to some voracious weeds, (watch out for her evil cousin, all-green Creeping Charlie!) but this cultivar behaves herself in the garden bed. If she should decide to encroach on territory where she’s not wanted, just pull her out. You’ll see tiny white roots at stem junctions, so it’s easy to pot up the leftovers as gifts for gardening friends. That’s how I got my first start, from a neighbor, a decade or more ago.  Jenny is a quintessential pass along plant, so also pot her up in the spring when doing garden clean-up, or look for her at local Garden Club Plant sales.

So, yes, creeping Jenny, in the nicest sense of the word, creeps. But no, she’s not a creep. Let this appealing plant into your garden, where she’ll light things up like a pretty country gal at a barn dance.    But, as with all beauties, it’s wise to keep an eye on her.


Top of page