From wildflowers to roses and trees to trellises, there’s more than one way to make your garden beautiful.
No green thumb? Cory Francer explains how wildflowers can add splashes of color to your garden without a whole lot of work. For a bit more of a challenge, Jeff Mucciarone digs into rose garden dos and don’ts. If you’ve already got the blooms you want, Hippo gardening columnist Henry Homeyer moves beyond perennials to talk about what trees, shrubs and stonework can add to your landscape. And finally, once the basics are covered, Kelly Sennott talks to artists who jazz up their gardens with embellishments like sculptures and fairy houses, adding an element of surprise to their green spaces.
Whether you’re a lifelong gardener or a planting rookie, the Hippo has advice to help you make your garden gorgeous.
Flowers are fine, but trees, shrubs and stone are beautiful too
By Henry Homeyer
I love flowers, especially those perennial flowers that come back, year after year. Peonies, lilies of all kinds, daisies, coneflowers and primroses are wonderful, but they only bloom for a few weeks each year. And annuals? Gotta buy them every year. Nice, but an annual expense, too. Not only that, here in New Hampshire we have snow cover for three to six months, depending on the year. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate that good gardens use not only flowers, but trees, shrubs, stone, arbors for vines, walkways and whimsy.
Trees take time to reach full size, so when developing gardens it is important to begin by planting trees, if desired, early on. But do your homework first. Read up on your choice before buying it. Know not only the size of a mature maple or spruce, but also go to a friend’s house or a public garden and look at mature specimens so you get a good picture in your mind of what you will be growing. A little blue spruce may look cute at the garden center, but it will get to be taller than your house, and will block the windows if planted near the house. Even rhododendrons, in time, will rise up above your windows.
For urban or suburban gardens, shrubs are often a better choice than trees. Not only are they smaller than trees, many have beautiful flowers during the spring or summer. Lilacs are the state flower for good reason: they are lovely looking and sweet scented — and you can’t kill them. More than once I’ve skied past a cellar hole of a house that fell in decades ago, only to notice lilacs still surviving.
Other good shrubs? The “Knockout” series of roses is wonderful, even though most are not scented. They bloom from June to October and are generally disease-free. They really are “no fuss” roses.
Fothergilla is another great shrub, albeit lesser-known. It starts with early white bottlebrush flowers in early summer, and finishes with exceptional fall foliage — often showing red, yellow, orange and purple leaves on one bush. It is not fast-growing, so you don’t have to prune it often.
And consider planting blueberries: they have nice blossoms in June and great fall foliage. You might get some berries, too. But even if you don’t, the birds will thank you for the treats. The key to success is having very acidic soil, so add garden sulfur at planting time, or use an acidic organic fertilizer like Hollytone after flowering.
One last shrub to look at is a type of willow with multicolored leaves (and bright stems early in the spring). It’s a variety called ‘Hakuru Nashiki’ and is now commonly sold in nurseries and garden centers. All willows like moist soil, but this one will do fine except in the hottest, driest locations. The leaves in early summer show green, white and pink. It is very fast-growing. Some nurseries sell lollipop-shaped specimens that are already 3 to 4 feet tall on a single stem when you buy them. You will need to shear those each year to keep that lollipop look, which is becoming quite popular.
Arches and arbors are a great addition to any garden, big or little. They invite you and your visitors to walk toward the garden and pass through to see what lies ahead. You can make a bentwood arbor using saplings and wire, or you can buy an entry arch from a garden center.
The great thing about arches and trellises is that they allow you to grow flowering vines. I grow wisteria on mine (varieties that bloom well in New Hampshire are “Blue Moon” or “Amethyst Blue”). But I also grow some annual vines on mine, usually scarlet runner beans or purple hyacinth beans. Both are fast-growing and produce edible beans.
Stone is a fabulous addition to any garden. You don’t need to hire an expensive stone mason to add a touch of stone. You can lay down a stone walkway yourself without too much trouble. Use a knife or s small pruning saw to cut out the grass in your lawn in pieces just the size of the flat stones you want to install. Remove enough soil so that you can add a 3-inch layer of sand or fine gravel for drainage and still have the stones level with your lawn. That way you can mow right over it.
You can create a mini-Stonehenge if you want. Find (or buy) a piece of stone that is 4 to 5 feet long and relatively thin and narrow. Then install it standing up. It is important to bury at least a quarter of the bulk of the stone to keep it upright. I dig a bigger hole than my stone and pour dry concrete into the hole. You don’t even need to add water; just backfill the hole, and allow Mother Nature to do the rest. The concrete will adhere to the buried stone and keep it stable.
So this summer, think beyond flowers. Add elements to your garden that provide that key third dimension — for winter and summer both. You’ll be glad you did.
Henry Homeyer lives and gardens in Cornish Flat. His website is henryhomeyer.com.
Recipe for a rose garden
Yes, you can grow roses in New Hampshire
By Jeff Mucciarone
For some, a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day is perfect. But for a longer-lasting, more fulfilling relationship with the iconic bloom, New Hampshire gardeners can enjoy roses from spring to fall right in their own backyards.
To begin, choose wisely. Not all roses are created equal, and not all roses are easy to deal with. Many breeds won’t appreciate New Hampshire winters. Two very basic things to keep in mind: roses love the sun, and they love water.
“They can provide a tremendous flush of color,” said Joel Mascott, a rosarian with the New Hampshire Rose Society. “A well-informed garden center, they’ll have an idea of what’s around and what works.”
Mascott said he adds compost into his rose garden every year, but he said “probably the most important thing to think about” is water. Roses need lots of water. They also need to be in a nice, sunny spot, with six or seven hours of direct sunlight each day, he said.
A beautiful rose garden is possible, but Mascott views roses and rose gardens as at least a little bit of trial and error. There are so many factors that can affect a rose’s ability to thrive.
“There’s always some that do better than others,” Mascott said. “Usually, they’ll survive.”
Begin with a step-by-step approach.
“You don’t want to get in over your head,” said Charlie Cole, owner of Cole Gardens in Concord.
Roses come in all different shapes and sizes. Some grow to be six-foot-tall bushes, while others hug the ground. While the roses people give and receive on Valentine’s Day are typically long-stem roses, don’t expect a rose garden full of long-stems. Expect shorter stems but with lots of flowers. Mascott said varieties of “mini-roses” can be particularly successful in New Hampshire, and they’re less thorny.
“You can put a nice carpet of roses together,” Mascott said.
To begin the rose garden quest, start with a hardier variety, such as a Knock Out strain. They come in seven different colors. Cole said traditional Knock Outs are nice, but double Knock Outs really produce lots of petals per bloom. He said Knock Outs provide long-lasting color. Caring for roses can be overwhelming, but the Knock Out series is one of the easier options to take care of, Cole said. Treat Knock Outs more like a shrub.
“[Knock Out roses grow] fairly well up here,” said John Williams, a master gardener with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. “It’s the kind of rose you don’t have to do much to. And they’re fairly disease resistant. A lot of people are successful and they just stick them in the garden and forget about them.”
“It’s not much of a time commitment, but what you put in is what you get,” Cole said. “Roses love to get fed. They like to get dead-headed. Some roses will rebloom.”
If gardeners keep removing dead heads on Knock Out roses, they’ll be rewarded with blooms all summer long, Cole said. Adding compost around the roots when planting is important too, Cole said.
Gardeners will find that roses tend to do a little better along the seacoast and can grow well in southern New Hampshire in general, but it can be a little more challenging to grow a rose garden north of Concord, Cole said.
Once gardeners have mastered Knock Outs, they could experiment with other varieties. The Drift series is a low rose, but it’s also fairly easy to take care of, Cole said. Knock Outs typically grow three to four feet high and three to four feet wide, while drift roses grow two to three feet wide and about a food and a half tall, Cole said.
Mascott said he was hesitant to recommend varieties because of varying conditions on each person’s property, but he said the Canadian Explorer strain seems to work well in New Hampshire. It comes in a variety of colors.
When picking out roses, trust the plant’s tag. The tag should provide the basic information on the plant and the conditions it needs, along with what to expect. Some roses bloom once per year, while others are repeaters. They come in a variety of colors, though Mascott said different color roses — that is, roses other than red — seem to be a little more sensitive to the conditions.
Think about purchasing rose plants at about the same time you’re picking up a Mother’s Day present. Cole said garden centers typically have the best selection right around the holiday.
“Obviously, you need to be careful of a late frost,” Cole said.
In roses’ first winter, Mascott said, people might cover them with something as simple as a burlap bag. He said it’s wind more than temperature that can be problematic. After that first year, roses can generally take care of themselves during the winter, particularly the hardier breeds. People often put compost or leaves around the base of rose plants during the winter for insulation.
Gardeners typically prune roses in the spring. Get rid of dead or diseased branches, clean up any dead leaves from the winter and rake in some compost and plant fertilizer. Typically, once forsythia plants bloom, people can get to work on their roses, Mascott said.
“They just come back pretty much year after year and they get stronger and have more blooms,” Mascott said.
Williams said purchasing roses can be tricky; many roses sold in New Hampshire are grown elsewhere, in places like Arizona, so sometimes hardiness can be questionable. Even the right variety, if it’s grown in a warmer climate in a pot, might not survive in New Hampshire’s cooler climate, Williams said.
Williams wasn’t saying gardeners couldn’t be successful with roses in New Hampshire, just that buyers should be careful with which roses they purchase. His wife bought roses from a grower in Canada, assuming the roses were grown in Canada, and the plants died soon after she planted them. Turned out, the roses were initially grown in a much warmer climate, Williams said.
As for pests, Japanese beetles are particularly fond of roses. If you want to keep the beetles away, Cole suggested using a systemic with the active ingredient imidacloprid. Apply the product around the plant’s roots. Don’t use it in a vegetable garden, Cole said, but feel free to use it on lilies as well. Cole suggested using a product called Serenade to eliminate fungus on roses.
Sculptures, fairies and art add magic to your garden
By Kelly Sennott
Thinking of a beautiful garden may conjure images of roses, daffodils, lilies and pansies, and the flowers and plants are, first and foremost, what make a garden a garden. But sometimes, it’s that unexpected element of surprise — a tiny fairy house nestled under a sloping tree, a miniature, metal creature with a wrench body and screwdriver legs — that keeps people lingering in an otherwise run-of-the-mill garden space.
Garden art, then, does something that flowers alone can’t always do. It offers what Bedrock Gardens owner Jill Nooney calls the “there there.”
“Only art can move you forward. It’s very important in a landscape design concept,” she said. “It brands that spot in the garden as different, as having a personality. ... You can just see, it creates a sense of arrival.”
She and her husband, Bob Munger, constructed Bedrock Gardens in Lee in 1987. On their website, their conjoined project is described as a “20-acre garden on a 30-acre piece of land,” designed as a garden journey that takes approximately 1.5 to 2 hours to walk.
Nooney calls the art sculptures perched on trees and tucked under bushes the garden’s “jewelry.” When she and her husband created the garden years ago, she wanted something unique, something that wasn’t historically classical, to decorate their space. It was a no-brainer for Nooney, a trained artist, to simply create her own garden art. She couldn’t find anything she wanted in stores or catalogues, anyway.
“Even the supposedly ‘fine antiques’ didn’t appeal to me one single bit. Neither did the garden art available in catalogs, so I thought, why don’t I make some of my own?”
So she did. She began with the materials she already had: the rusty old equipment scattered in the grounds of the farm that dates back to 1740. This includes rakes, pitchforks, hammers, axes, and rusted pieces of metal. She loves being able to reuse the old equipment that otherwise would have been chucked or melted down. “I love agriculture, I like roads, I love all of that order,” Nooney said. On average, it takes approximately 15 to 20 hours to make one of her garden sculptures.
She has her own version of garden gnomes; they, too, were created from old, recycled material, and they look like tiny robots, with names like “The Transformer,” “The Suit,” “Cape Man” and the “Just Try Me Guy.” This year, she’s going to hide them throughout the garden.
She didn’t want the traditional bearded garden gnomes that became popular thanks to early America’s German immigrants, though her creatures create that same kind of fun.
“I’m not opposed at all to that kind of playfulness. It’s all about the element of surprise. You want people to linger,” she said. “Once you see three or four, you begin to look for them. It’s like looking for Easter eggs.”
There are other benefits to having art scattered in your garden, said Pam Tarbell, owner of Mill Brook Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Concord. Tarbell’s garden is comprised of large and small sculptures by various artists and is open for viewing all summer long.
“The art is something you can enjoy all year long if it’s not covered in snow,” Tarbell said. She usually looks for tall, interesting shapes when she’s looking for her outdoor garden gallery art. “It adds a focal point, a center of interest. The flowers will come and go, but the sculpture is always there. You always have a nice piece of interest in your garden, no matter what’s going on around it.”
Unlike indoor art, outdoor art appears different in the early morning and late afternoon hours.
“As the light changes, you get different shadows,” Tarbell said.
While there have certainly been contemporary approaches to garden art, it’s not a new idea, Tarbell said.
“There’s a long history of garden art. It goes way back to Egyptians, to the Romans and the Greeks.”
It did, however, become more manufactured in the United States in the 19th century after the Civil War was over.
“What formerly had been going into cannons then went into cast iron urns, in garden chairs and garden benches,” said John Forti, the curator of Historic Landscape at the Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth.
And then there are the fairies. It’s a trend that’s popped in and out of history, starting in the industrial age. The intention here, Forti said, was to get kids engaged in outdoor spaces, gathering items in nature to create small “fairy houses.”
Forti helps organize the Portsmouth Fairy House Tour every year in September with the Prescott Arts Festival.
“Today, the movement has taken off again,” Forti said.
Walk on the wild side
Spruce up your space with wildflowers
By Cory Francer
To get the full experience of New Hampshire’s natural beauty, John Cameron doesn’t need to scale a 4,000-foot mountain. Nor does the Gilford resident need to spend a day out on a canoe in his native Lakes Region. Instead, when Cameron wants to see the true beauty of the Granite State, all he has to do is look down.
Cameron runs New Hampshire Wildflowers, an online database of photos and information about the wildflowers that grow within the state’s borders. Though New Hampshire spends much of the year buried under snow, Cameron said there is no better place to be for a wildflower enthusiast when spring and summer roll around.
“It’s perfect. It’s delightful,” Cameron said. “If you’re really looking for stuff, stop anywhere and look down. You would be amazed, if you take the time to look, at what you’re going to find.”
While wildflowers coat the region all season long, those seeking to see some colorful blooms don’t need to venture into the woods or a secluded meadow. If the proper preparation and maintenance steps are followed, a home gardener can add a wildflower bed or field to his own property. In addition to adding some color, a wildflower bed can be convenient in a section that is difficult to maintain.
Guy Giunta, Jr., the chairman of the Governor’s Lilac and Wildflower Commission, which promotes lilacs and wildflowers throughout the state, said popular locations for a wildflower bed are usually places that can be a challenge to reach with a lawnmower.
“People will put them in a rough area because it can be tough to mow,” Giunta said. “If you have an embankment or an area with rough soil, you can consider putting wildflowers in.”
Once a gardener has established a target location for a wildflower bed, both Cameron and Giunta said, the first step in the process is one of the most important. Before putting down any wildflower seeds, all existing vegetation in the area must be removed. Giunta said any competition from grass or weeds can be devastating to fledgling wildflowers.
Cameron said he recommends tilling the target area twice. Even if the first tilling kills off any existing plant life, there is a chance that there may be seeds below the surface that could begin to grow and provide that unwanted competition.
“Because seeds might be dormant below the soil, when you till it over, they can come to life,” he said. “Till it under and then in a couple of weeks, till again.”
Once all prior vegetation is removed, Giunta said seeds can then be applied to the soil. The key component in this step is that once the seeds have been put down, they should be lightly raked or rolled so the soil is not too loose.
“You want the seed to get right up against the soil,” he said.
From there, Giunta said, it’s time to sit back and see if the newly planted wildflowers will prosper in their new home. While site selection, preparation and maintenance are essential in keeping up with a good-looking flower bed, Giunta said it is also important for gardeners to know precisely what they want to get out of their wildflowers.
One of the first important decisions is for a gardener to figure out when he or she wants to see blooms. Giunta said with annuals, the flowers will bloom in the first year they are planted, but they will not return the year after. Perennials on the other hand, will not bloom in the first year they are planted, but will return each following year.
Robert Demers, co-owner of Demers Garden Center in Manchester, said his store sells a variety of wildflower seed mixes that are designed to grow in the area’s climate. Demers said geographic regions are classified into zones by climate. Manchester and much of central and southern New Hampshire are in Zone 5.
Demers said that some of the species included in a Zone 5 mix are black-eyed Susans, Shasta daisies, dianthus and lupines. He said not each mix is the same, and each species has different growing tendencies.
“A lupine is biennial in that you will see great color every other year,” he said.
In addition to making a nice addition to a property, Cameron said, spring and summer are great times to get out and see wildflowers in their natural habitat — the wild. He said they will be all along the mountain hikes that make New Hampshire famous, in meadows and in the woods.
But to make the most of the seasonal color, he said people should keep their eyes toward to the ground.
“They’re all at your feet, so get out and enjoy them because they are so beautiful,” he said.