A review of “Container Gardening Complete” by Jessica Walliser

Here’s the deal people.

If you are looking for one gardening book to give as a gift this holiday season, look no more, I have the answer.

No, it isn’t authored by me. I’m way overrated and you know that.

It is, without a shadow of a doubt, this book:

“Container Gardening Complete” by renowned author, Jessica Walliser. Click on the following link to buy it on Amazon:

Container Gardening Complete

The book was just released today, but because I’m all sorts of important, I received an advanced copy and had a chance to review it ahead of time.

One word to describe it: Killer

This is not an exaggerated claim, it’s the best book I’ve ever read on container gardening and I’ve read a lot because I’m kind of bad at container gardening and need all the help I can get.

The book kicks off covering the three pillars of container gardening:

  1. Container type
  2. Potting mix
  3. Container location (ex. full sun)

The author covers these pillars in great detail and it sets the tone for the rest of the book. From the best means to create drainage in a container (tile bit vs. masonry bit) to which containers withstand the winter temps to the benefits of coir fiber as a potting medium, it is all here.

And I’ll be returning to this section over and over again come spring when I plan to up my container gardening game.

From there the book is divided into the following chapters:

Design

This is personally my favorite section of the book and the most informative IMHO. A few key highlights:

How to plant a container in “proportion” – ideally, the container height is at 1/3 with the plants taking up the remaining 2/3 of the height

How to plant a container in “balance” – with a window box, plant the tallest plants in the center or evenly throughout in a group of 3

5 container design styles – from 1)thriller, filler, spiller to 2)flat-backed to 3)featured specimen to 4)monoculture to 5) pot-hugging

Designing with edible plants – a serious weak spot for me so I took lots of notes here.

Designing with annuals, perennials, herbs, shrubs, trees, etc – littered with fantastic suggestions and lists

Caring for your containers

Watering -She points out how the volume of potting soil and the type of container ultimately determines how much water is appropriate. She also dives into the different types of self-watering mechanisms which are a must during the heat of summer. This includes some you can make on your own.

Fertilizing – how to do so organically and naturally

Deadheading – key for prolonged bloom

Staking/Trellising – how, when and why is thoroughly covered

Troubleshooting

This section dives into more detail than any other book I’ve seen on the topic. No one knows more about insects than Jessica, and it shows here. This runs from “beneficial” to those that are known destroyers of plants.

There are endless photos capturing all that can go wrong in a container garden and how those problems can be addressed.

Here’s one I am all too familiar with:

 Harvesting and Seasonal Considerations

This chapter educates on how to harvest and when to harvest, even down to the preferred time of day to pick those fruits and veggies.

It also discusses how to succession plant and the best ways to overwinter your containers, especially those prized possessions we don’t want to lose with the impending cold weather.

Container Concepts

This is where the ideas get stoked in my brain. This is where I copy the ideas and sell them as my own. This section is inundated with photographs and ideas and will warm the heart as we head into the long and cold winter months.

 

 

 

Projects

Throughout the almost 300-page book are 21 different “projects” that are DIY with the necessary steps easily laid out with photos to accompany each.

Even someone as DIY averse as me could pull some of these off.

 

As the book is marketed, this is a one-stop read for all things container gardening. I’ve read it once and I’m now on read number two. Not only is it educational, but it is even more inspirational. You’ll want to add a dozen more containers to your garden after reading this.

I couldn’t recommend it more.

Go get it now.

One for you and one for a fellow gardening friend.

You won’t regret it.

Pinky swear.

 

 

 

 

 

Book #2

A few weeks back (or maybe it’s a few months, I’ve lost all track of time) I mentioned that my next book was going to focus on ornamental grasses. As you may or may not know, they are the focal point of my garden, especially right now as we head into winter. They changed my entire outlook on what a garden can be once I discovered them and I’m forever indebted to the Miscanthus, the Calamagrostis, the Panicum, the Pennisetum, the Andropogon and many others I’m sure I’m forgetting to thank.

But that book isn’t ready to be written.

Not yet.

I have work to do out in the garden, at wholesalers, at public gardens and in the research lab before it can be attempted. I need further education both in my own garden and from others.

But there will still be a book #2.

Book #2 is going to be very different from book#1:

  • I’ve written 35,000 words to date with 31 chapters.
  • There will more than likely be no photos in book #2.
  • I’m attempting to find a publisher as we speak but I’m prepared to self-publish if necessary.
  • If I do self-publish I plan on creating it as a hardcover book, a paperback and an e-book.
  • If I do self-publish I will be working closely with editors and designers rather than tackling it all on my own.
  • You will laugh
  • You will cry
  • You will be inspired
  • I hope

Here’s a sample “rough draft chapter” from the book. I hope you dig the vibe.

I honestly want your feedback and please be as candid as possible. I need the critique and I need different eyes on it.

Too short?

Too long?

Too boring?

Too awesome?

 

Thank you.

 

Falling Leaves

Every child must have chores to do. It gives them dignity in work and the joy of labor.
Earl Hamner Jr.

Every gardener I talk to or read about has an origin story.

“I grew up watching Grandma tend to her garden and together we used to watch the bees jump from flower to flower in search of pollen.”

“I remember running through fields of wildflowers as a child and spending hours there, free as can be.”

“My dad put a trowel in my hands when I was 2 years old.”

“The sight of those plump tomatoes in summer never left me.”

Me? I got nothing.

I’ve searched the archival footage of my childhood and after hours of research I can confidently say there is nothing that stands out.

In fact, I’m disturbed by how singularly focused I was as a child. It was all sports, all the time. If I wasn’t watching it on TV, I was in the backyard throwing a baseball into the tree branches above, trying to make diving catches like Fred Lynn.

The obsession I had with organizing my baseball cards is therapy worthy as you’ll see in a future chapter.

I was studying the Vegas NFL point spreads and competing in football pools against my Dad’s fellow teachers before I understood fractions and decimals.

I distinctly remember convincing my 5th grade class to bet on Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA Basketball Championship game  against our teacher, Mr. Isola. We lost and had extra homework.

Not one sign of a future gardener.

But then I realized I was looking at it all wrong. It was a much more subtle route; a series of connected events that laid the groundwork for my love of the outdoors (and when I say outdoors, I mean the “yard” and not camping and the like).

And I feel confident in saying that it all started with my father’s obsession with getting rid of the fallen leaves in fall.

I grew up on Oak Ave, an appropriately named street as our 1950’s Cape Cod-styled home sat underneath many gigantic oak trees. Those trees produced quite the bounty of leaves in autumn; as did all of the neighbors’ trees. Our backyard was one big leaf orgy.

Every Saturday, starting in early October and running through November, was dedicated to eradicating said leaves.

In the early years it was all done via raking. Rake one section at a time onto a giant tarp and then drag that tarp to the front yard where the leaves were deposited over the front wall. The township would then pick them up on a weekly basis.

As technology advanced we invested in a leaf blower and our job was that much less labor intensive. The leaves could be blown on to the tarp and our forearms were spared. I’d still have to drag the tarp to the front wall, but the limited raking was a blessing.

Rinse and repeat with the tarp walk until almost all of the leaves were removed.

It all ended with a lawn cutting where the few remaining leaves would be cut up and destroyed. It looked perfect outside each Saturday evening as we settled in, nursed our wounds and watched “Chips” or “Solid Gold” or “The Price is Right”.

The next day, however, more leaves would fall or find their way from our neighbors yards after a strong wind.

Let’s do this again next Saturday morning.

As a kid there was nothing I wanted to do less than tackle those leaves each weekend. I would try to talk my way out of it, pray for rain or pray something else would come up. 99% of the time those efforts were futile and there we were again, Dad and I ankle deep in crispy brown leaves.

I remember one specific Saturday when I begged to be able to go to the high school football game with my friends but was told that my chores came first. None of my friends ever had to tend to chores. Why was I being punished? And while I’m at it, why aren’t my sisters part of this leaf removal enterprise?

At first I sulked and begrudgingly raked and raked. The sulking then dissipated and I got lost in the joy of hard labor. I took extreme pride in my work. I loved the ache in my arms and legs post shower on Saturday evening. And I never held a grudge after my initial complaints. This was better than watching the high school football team lose by 35 points.

The father/son bonding, while often bound in silence, was something I didn’t appreciate enough at the time. It wasn’t until my freshman year in college, when I was away at school during those leaf-raking months, that I realized how much I missed it and how bad I felt that I couldn’t be there to help my dad.

Autumn was crisp weather. Autumn was football season. Autumn was apples and pumpkins and Halloween. But autumn was also raking leaves with dad, consulting on NFL predictions with dad and eating salt bagels with melted butter with dad.

The leaf management program also foreshadowed my deep appreciation of a well-kept yard. I didn’t help in the yard as much as I too owned that yard.

That notion eventually extended to other “yard” tasks:

  • Cutting the lawn
  • Trimming the lawn
  • Using an edger-with-wheel contraption that created killer straight edges along our front sidewalk.

And one other task became a part of my weekly routine spring through summer:

I would use a small handheld rake that I dragged through our garden beds, breaking up the compacted soil. I would then follow that up with a “smoothing” of the broken up soil so it all was pleasurable to the eye.

I frickin loved it.

I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment. I didn’t care if it served any greater purpose or if it was good for all of the nearby shrubs (I only remember azaleas and rhododendrons in our “garden”), it looked neat and clean.

By the time I was in high school, I was our family landscaper. I couldn’t have told you the difference between an annual and a perennial. I couldn’t identify any shrubs by name.

But I could trim the hell out of hedges. I could cut lines in the lawn like a champ. Lawn edges were always immaculate.

I carried over that notion to my first home many years later.

Where I also came to appreciate a “clean” garden but with the leaves utilized as beneficial to the garden.

John’s tip:

Leaf mold (leaves decomposed over time) is one of the best organic soil amendments. So save some leaves in fall and allow them to transform into an almost black crumbly mold. Add to the soil and reap the benefits.

 

 

 

 

Garden tour – 11/29/17

At first glance, my garden looks like it has called it a year, as it slowly collapses on itself.

But upon a closer look, that may not be true.

Here’s what’s going on as we head into December:

 

Time for the evergreens to shine

As subtle as they may be, the white-tipped stems on Tsuga canadensis (White Canadian Hemlock) ‘Moon Frost’ allow this conifer to stand out, especially right now when everything else around it is brown and dying. The deer do nip it but I have been fighting them off with spray.

 

Here’s another conifer – Chamaecyparis pisifera (False Cypress) ‘Golden Pincushion’ – that remains hidden through most of the year but is now on full display. This plant may only grow a few inches per year, but I’m doing my best to remain patient and to enjoy the contrast with all of the surrounding perennials. The deer have yet to discover this one. Yes, I just jinxed it.

 

Another slow growing evergreen that is now standing out in the garden is the Korean boxwood, ‘Wedding Ring’. And yes, the deer ignore it.

 

I have had this Thuja occidentalis (Arborvitae)’Rheingold’ for 10+ years and I love how it transforms from light green/chartreuse in spring/summer to the more buff color it exhibits right now. The deer have never touched this, but honestly, I don’t know why other than the fact that it is close to the garage door.

 

I don’t know which evergreen shrub this is because I’ve misplaced the tag and I’ve yet to update my plant spreadsheet. Bad me. Here’s hoping this anchors this spot in the garden for years to come.

 

Yes, Dwarf Alberta Spruce bores me too, but it has persevered for more than a decade and I appreciate the green throughout the fall/winter.

 

Have I mentioned that I like grasses?

What more is there left to say?

These are mainly Panicum (Switch Grasses).

 

Panicum virgatum (Switch Grass) ‘Northwind’

 

Miscanthus sinensis (Maiden Grass) ‘Morning Light’

 

Miscanthus sinensis (Maiden Grass) ‘Variegatus’

 

Panicum virgatum (Switch Grass) ‘Heavy Metal’

 

Bouteloua gracilis (Blue Grama Grass) ‘Blonde Ambition’

 

Looking good, even while dying

Monarda (Bee Balm) for days. They look even better when covered in frost.

 

A Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed) bloom.

 

Maybe a bit of a stretch, but aren’t the spent flowers of Amsonia (Bluestar) still pretty cool looking?

 

Monarda (Bee Balm), Amsonia (Bluestar) and some grass.

 

Allium (ornamental onion) slowly yellowing.

 

 

Staying green

Packera aurea (Golden Ragwort) has been a phenomenal addition to the garden the past two years, even beyond the high flower count in spring. They remain evergreen for most of the winter and you guessed it, the deer haven’t chowed down too much on them.

The only concern is that they might grow out of control over time. I’ll deal with that when it comes.

 

Another subtle change, but one I am enjoying: Phlox stoloniferous (Creeping Phlox) turning yellow and remaining evergreen all winter. I like.

 

A closer look

A weed and a powerful one at that, but ain’t this Thistle kind of pretty?

 

 

Thanks

I’m thankful for my family’s health, even if my back tightens up whenever I sit for a period of time.

I’m thankful for the impact my father-in-law left in this world, even if he left us all way too soon.

I’m thankful for a large garden, even if 1/3 of it looks like shit.

I’m thankful I found a passion for writing, even if I struggle to find the time to enjoy it.

I’m thankful for my son’s intelligence and awareness of all that goes on in the world, even if he proves me wrong on a daily basis and seems to revel in it.

I’m thankful for my daughter’s whimsical and optimistic view on life, even if I can’t fathom how she still believes in the tooth fairy.

I’m thankful for my wife’s compassion, authenticity and natural beauty, even if she thinks I’m full of shit when I say it.

I’m thankful that my parents are still here and I can continue to interview them and pick their brains, even if I don’t tell them that enough.

I’m thankful for this blog and all that is had provided to me, even if I don’t write here as much as I want to.

I’m thankful for ornamental grasses, even if I still have a lot to learn before I can write my book on it.

I’m thankful for the 30,000 words I’ve written for my new book, even if it is a bit self-indulgent and deeply personal.

I’m thankful for you readers, even those who don’t announce themselves.

 

Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ and Ajuga ‘Black Scallop’

After the first hard frost hit earlier this week, “color” in the garden is at a premium.

The one spot that stands out right now is this combination of Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ and Ajuga ‘Black Scallop’.

 

This Amsonia is absolutely on fire right now in terms of fall color. And it looks even better with the almost black foliage of the Ajuga at its feet.

 

Shockingly, I didn’t plan this combo (sarcasm alert).

I originally planted the Ajuga as a means to control the weeds around the stepping stones that lead from my back deck. And of course I also dug the dark, chocolate-like foliage.

 

Soon after I purchased 6 ‘Blue Ice’ plants and needed to find them a home. Planted among the Ajuga seemed to fit the bill and so, I did just that.

After a few years of living with this combo, I can safely say that just as the Ajuga blooms start to fade, the Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ flowers emerge.

 

 

From there, the Amsonia is covered in blue star-like flowers for weeks on end.

 

 

 

Once the blooms disappear, both of these plants provide clean and contrasting foliage up until the fall color arrives, which typically starts in mid-September.

This spot in the garden is in full sun, frequented by deer and rabbits and the soil remains wet most of the year.

To date, these two plants have thrived in these conditions.

 

Before autumn leaves us

I’m desperate to not miss out on the beauty that is the fall garden. Cold temps are in the forecast in the very near future and before we know it, all of the delicious colors of fall will be gone.

I’m not ready for that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Scheepers bulbs

Being a garden blogger, who has been at it as long as I have, has its privileges.

A few weeks back I received an e-mail from someone who I had previously interviewed on one of my old podcasts (RIP my podcast) letting me know she was sending me a package.

I like.

This package would contain bulbs from John Scheepers, the renowned flower bulb company.

I like even more.

Here’s the best part: she had read through my blog and determined the bulbs that would be the best fit for me and my conditions.

She nailed it.

Those bulbs arrived a few days ago and I was thrilled to have another garden task left on my plate this late in the season. I dread the winter and nothing left on the to-do list.

So I happily endured the high winds and cooler temps and got to planting my haul.

I cherish the challenge of where to plant bulbs in my garden. Like so many of you, I have little empty space available, but of course, we manage to find a way. We will always be able to squeeze in more plants.

We never say “I’m good.”

With bulb planting it requires some imagination. We need to imagine what our garden will look like at the time the bulbs are scheduled to bloom. We need to anticipate the state of all of the plants surrounding these blooms.

The in-flower bulbs can’t be blocked by other plants.

The bulbs can conveniently reside in an area that is bare in spring, but will eventually be occupied by perennials. The added advantage here is that the emerging perennials can hide the declining foliage which needs to decline in order to restore energy to that bulb.

But you all know this already; I’m preaching to the choir.

After a 20-minute strategy session with myself, I had a plan of attack for getting all of these new bulbs in the ground.

Out came the shovel, the trowel and I got to work.

 

I did my best to work around existing plants, trying to not disturb their roots. I think I succeeded but only time will tell.

I considered taking detailed notes to ensure that I would remember what was planted where, but that would be too logical.

I opted for being surprised come spring.

Because these bulbs were gifted to me, it would be easy to simply say:

“Oh yeah, they were all in perfect condition.”

But the truth is, they really were.

Like pristine and healthier than any other bulb I’ve ever planted.

 

No lie.

I also managed to find large swaths of earth that had yet to be traversed, which allows me to plant these bulbs in bulk for maximum impact come bloom time.

As you can see in the photo to the left here, my soil is not what you would call “ideal”. Far from it.

But from all that I’ve researched, these bulbs were chosen for that exact reason. They’re tougher than the more tender options.

That there is quality customer service from John Scheepers.

Within an hour or so, I had all of the bulbs planted in the ground with the exception of one pack of 10 daffodils (narcissus).

This was part of the master plan as I love to plant some bulbs directly into a container and store it in my attached garage for the long cold winter.

Come spring, the foliage will appear and I’ll then move the container outside on to my back deck where the flowers can be enjoyed from inside the house.

The only winter maintenance is the occasional watering but not too much or else the bulbs become susceptible to rotting.

Beyond that it is simply sit back and wait.

Before I show you the exact bulbs I was given, along with photos of what they will look like when in flower (courtesy of the John Scheepers website), I have to share something else with you that is funny.

Well it’s funny in its seriousness.

I wrote a poem.

About bulbs.

And actually shared it with readers over at Medium.

 

 

If you have the intestinal fortitude and won’t be embarrassed by amateurish poetry, check it out by clicking here.

You’ve been warned.

Here are the 6 different varieties of bulbs I planted. I encourage you to read more about them on the John Scheepers website (click on the bulb name to read more).

I can’t wait to post the flowering photos in spring where we can then see just how phenomenal I am with garden design.

Or not.

But at least the flowers on their own will be pretty.

Enjoy.

Allium ‘Pinball Wizard’

 

Brodiaea laxa ‘Silver Queen’

 

Ornithogalum nutans ‘Silver Bells’

 

Hyacinthoides hispanica ‘Excelsior’

 

Narcissus ‘British Gamble’

 

Narcissus ‘Decoy’

 

Tour of the garden – 10/26/17

Ego boost of the week

After my daughter’s recent field hockey game, my parents returned to our house with us to watch the New York Giants football game. They live in Pennsylvania and don’t get the New York CBS feed. We fortunately get the CBS feed from both New York and Philadelphia.

Irrelevant info but I gave it to you any way.

As my mom got out of the car, it was approximately 4:21 PM EST. That is when the sun illuminates so many of my ornamental grasses.

Even she, non-grass aficionado, had to comment on the Indian Grass that greets you at the end of my driveway.

I won the day.

 

Panicum ‘Northwind’

Fun fact #1 – this native grass won Perennial Plant of the Year in 2014 by the Perennial Plant Association (PPA).

Fun fact #2 – the name “Northwind” is based on Northwind Perennial Farm, where its owner, Roy Diblik, discovered the grass after collecting its seed near a railroad track in Illinois in 1982.

Fun fact #3 – the fall color is friggin underrated.

 

 

 

 

More autumn grass love

 

 

 

 

This hydrangea sucks all year

‘Lady in Red’ hydrangea has been a disappointment ever since I added it to my garden back in 2007.

Virtually no blooms and the advertised darker foliage has yet to emerge.

This is it at what I’ll sarcastically call its “peak”.

 

The view

This is what I see when I immediately look right after walking out my front door.

Ninebark ‘Diablo’ basking in the autumn sun with a gold-soaked Panicum in the background.

I like it. A lot.

 

Amsonia, yet again

Another week, another Amsonia money shot. These were planted only two years ago and they’re already making an impact. This one is Amsonia hubrictii.

 

Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’, more of a groundcover, is just starting to strut its autumn hues.

 

Boring

But I like it.

 

I see dead flowers

I added Hypericum ‘Blue Velvet’ this spring because I love the blue foliage. The yellow flowers are OK but I look at it as a foliage plant.

Call me odd, but I really dig the dark brown seed heads that have recently emerged.

 

Speaking of dying plants

The slow death of the Mountain Mint is kind of … attractive in its own way. Very seasonally appropriate may be a more accurate description.

 

 

Grass reviews

This is Molinia ‘Cordoba’. The straw-colored panicles are way impressive even if the grass itself is kind of drab. I know I can improve upon its location in the garden and will be studying it all winter. Most likely I’ll look to hide the foliage behind taller plants so only the panicles are visible.

 

This is Pennisetum ‘Burgundy Bunny’. I’ve got 5 planted along a walkway and while the foliage color is fantastic, the blooms have been sporadic and they are taking some time to get established.

More wait and see for next year.

 

Don’t judge. I think this is Calamagrostis brachythricha which I know I ordered online a year or so ago but can’t account for its location. I have high hopes for this one based on its universal love from other grass enthusiasts.

If this is a different grass, this photo will be deleted and you shall never speak of it again.

 

 

Designing with perennials and ornamental grasses

Thank you all so much for your comments on my prior post. I truly covet all of your opinions when it comes to the topic for my next book. You all know better than I do.

Between those comments, feedback on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter and chats with my people, I realize that the next book must be all about ornamental grasses. A shock, I  know.

That is my sweet spot even if I still have loads to learn. But research and learning should be part of any under taking so I look forward to the challenge.

Now the debate comes down to what to include in this book on grasses. Is it one-stop shopping or should the focus be on design only? I’m still working that out and my door is still open looking for your feedback.

I have started to build an outline and will share that with you all in the very near future.

For today, I went back and found some of my favorite ornamental grass and perennial combos.

I know I’m already asking a lot of you, but I would love to hear which ones you like the most. If it wouldn’t be too much of a burden, would you rank your top 2 and let me know in the comments?

Also, I’d love to include photos of your grasses in the next book as well. If you have any you’d be willing to share, let me know and we can work something out. I’ve got no budget to pay, but I think I can get creative in terms of reward.

Thanks again and enjoy my OG’s.

 

Joe Pye Weed and Panicum ‘Northwind’

This may be my fave as it starts in August and carries all the way through October.

 

 

 

 

Joe Pye Weed and Pennisetum ‘Hameln’

Again, multi-seasonal interest extending summer through fall.

 

 

 

 

Bee Balm and Karl Foerster Grass

I could include just about any perennial in my garden with Karl Foerster but the bloom color of this Bee Balm really stands out here.

 

 

Bee Balm and Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’

This one really highlights the fact that grasses are the ultimate backdrop for blooming perennials.

 

 

Baptisia and Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’

This one is more understated, but for some reason I love the combo when the blooms have faded and the black seed heads emerge.

 

 

 

Baptisia and Sorghastrum nutans (Indian Grass)

This is from late summer when both are back lit by the afternoon sun. Some combos have a short duration but when it hits, it packs a punch.

 

 

Rudbeckia and Karl Foerster Grass

Like I said before, all perennials mix well with Karl and here is another example.

 

 

 

Bee Balm and Flame Grass (Miscanthus purpurascens)

The Flame Grass on its own is stunning. But the spent flowers of the Bee Balm add a magical dimension in early mornings during the fall.

 

 

Dwarf Sneezeweed and Flame Grass

The bloom color on the Sneezeweed is represented in the foliage of the Flame Grass.

 

 

 

Amsonia and Panicum (Switch Grass)

The contrast is subtle throughout the spring and early summer, but really picks up in late summer and peaks in the fall.

 

 

 

 

Boltonia and Miscanthus ‘Variegatus’

I like the backdrop of the lighter colored foliage.

 

 

Ninebark ‘Diablo’ and Karl Foerster Grass

Yes, I’m cheating as this is a shrub. But I couldn’t leave it out because I love the color contrast and the texture contrast.