A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Scented Garden

scent_roseBy day, the colors of the Cape Cod garden are in full swing right now. Hydrangeas, daylilies, grasses and wildflowers are bursting into bloom. But this is also the time of year when you will want to linger on your patio into the dark hours of night, and when darkness falls, the colors of the garden fade away. That’s when the hidden layers of the garden will really stand out: scent. Planting flowers and shrubs that smell good will add a texture to your garden that cannot be seen, but will still enhance those after dinner-hours when you cannot bear to go back inside. Roses, pictured above, are one of the signature scents of Cape Cod. Here are a few other lovely-smelling plants that are blooming on Cape Cod right now.

Clethra (Summersweet): A native shrub with white or pink flowers, clethra will thrive at the edge of a woodland or in a partially shaded spot in your yard. This shrub produces flowers that smell lovely in the heat of late July to Early August and is also known as sweet pepperbush.

scent_clethra

Nepeta (Catmint): Like its relatives (mint and catnip), catmint has minty fresh smelling leaves, and its flowers peak in July. Some varieties of catmint can be cut back for a second flush of bloom later in the summer. Pair it with Perovskia (Russian Sage) which begins to bloom just as catnip is fading. That way you will have a cloud of lovely smelling purple flowers all summer long.

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Lantana: This annual smells amazing when planted in your windowboxes or patio planters. Pair it with heliotrope or annual salvia for a rich bouquet of color and fragrance.

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Buddleia (Butterfly Bush): This profusely flowering shrub sends out waves of intoxicating perfume and attracts all kinds of pollinators. These days, the butterflies and bees need all the help they can get. It comes in a variety of sizes and colors from whites, pinks, purples, and even some bi-color cultivars.

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Abelia: This arching shrub is exceptionally long-blooming from mid-summer to fall, and has a scent comparable to Lilacs.

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Rose: Every rose’s scent is different, and they vary from no smell, to light lemon scent, to full-blown intoxicating perfume. Smell every rose in the garden center if you have to before choosing one, but don’t leave these out of your fragrant garden. White roses will especially show up well in a night garden. Try edging your rose beds with fragrant catmint, lavender, or germander.

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Where should you put your favorite scented plants? Along a path, near a patio, or below an open window are great choices that will ensure this hidden layer of your garden will not be missed. What is your favorite scent in a garden? We’d love to know!scent_pink rose

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Beyond Evergreens: Dynamic Winter Landscapes

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Evergreens are a staple in a seasonal landscape palette. They perk up even the darkest winter day, and every garden should have them. But if every plant in your garden is evergreen, your outside spaces will begin to look the same, all year round. How do you get a dynamic garden that changes with the seasons, but still looks interesting during the greyest months of the year? Here are a few tips to keep the winter landscape looking less mundane, while still utilizing your favorite deciduous and blooming plants. (Pictured above: Red Twig Dogwood, Feather Read Grass, & Clethra alnifolia)

1. Don’t prune back your ornamental grasses in the fall. Wait until early spring. That way, the waving stems and fluffy seed heads will add drama all winter long. Mounding grasses like pennisetum or prairie dropseed will create waves of texture in the snow or against otherwise bare ground. Upright grasses like bluestem, switchgrass, or miscanthus will persist above snow.

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2. Allow some of your summer blooming perennials and shrubs to maintain their stems, seed heads and dried flowers all winter, instead of cutting them back each fall. Consider using plants with persisting fruit or seed heads like cone flower, globe thistle, sea holly, hibiscus, milkweed. They will provide food for the birds and create interesting textures.  (Pictured here are Rose hips, Hydrangea petals, Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus) seed pods and Alder cones).

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3. Deciduous shrubs with woody stems and interesting bark will add structure to your beds, but still add that ephemeral quality to your landscape that the changing seasons bring. Red Twig Dogwood is a popular winter favorite for a reason. It really stands out against the snow, but even when there isn’t snow, it breaks up the monotony of a more traditional evergreen palette. Only newer stems are red, so be sure to thin the stems by 1/3 in each spring (remove the oldest stems) to ensure continued growth of bright red stems each year.

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4. For an element of surprise, add some winter blooming plants, like Winter Heath, Witch Hazel, or Hellebore. Pictured here, Hellebore and Winter Heath (Erica carnea). If your winter heath begins to look scraggly, you can prune it right after it flowers.

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More Plant Choices for a Winter Wonderland:
Interesting Bark or Stems: Persian Ironwood, Stewartia, River Birch, London Planetree, Ninebark, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Red-twig Dogwood, Corkscrew Hazelnut, Paperbark maple, Paperbark Birch, Sycamore, Amur chokecherry, yellow-twig dogwood
Winter Fruit: Winterberry, Snowberry, Roses, Holly, American Crannyberrybush (Viburnum), Chokeberry, Bayberry, Wintergreen
Winter Flowers: Winter Heath, Witch Hazel, Hellebore, Snowdrops, Flowering Quince, Winter Hazel
Plants with Persisting Seed Heads: Black Eyed Susan, Coneflower, Globe Thistle, Sea Holly, Hydrangea, Hibiscus & Rose of Sharon, Clethra, Milkweed, Sedum, Beebalm, Helenium
Ornamental Grasses (Pick whatever you like for summer and fall color or texture, just wait to cut them back until early spring to maximize their winter interest)

 

Plan your Landscape in Winter

Develop your landscape design now for a smoother transition into spring and summer installation. 

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Why wait until spring to begin thinking about landscape projects? When the leaves are turning and the garden is just beginning to hibernate, next summer seems so far away. Here are a few reasons you should develop your landscape plan now:
  • Spring and Early Summer is the busiest time of year for landscape contractors. Signing up with your contractor early is the best way to ensure your project is high on their list.
  • Working with a designer in the winter months means they will have more time to spend on your project. And you will have more time to make sure the design and budget is ideal for your needs.
  • Planning a swimming pool or implementing a project near a wetland will require special permitting, which takes some time! Get the paperwork out of the way so you are free to begin work when the weather is good.
  • Winter is a great time to visualize future landscape changes. The trees are bare, and many plants are below ground or in hibernation. It is often easier to see your property as a blank slate this time of year.
  • Looking at pictures of landscape and plants and dreaming of your new garden oasis is sure to brighten up the darker days of winter.

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Pretty as a Peony

If you’ve considered adding peonies to your garden, we have some tips for capitalizing  on them by incorporating varieties with different bloom times and using hosta as an aesthetically pleasing way to support them. The peony is edible, so it offers countless ways to dress up the table at your next party or gathering. Not only are they lovely to look at, but they’re good enough to eat!
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Paeonia officinalis

Many of us who love the boldness of peonies are deterred by their relatively short bloom time, but like daylillies and roses, each peony has a slightly different bloom time. Pick early, mid and late varieties to maximize bloom time. With the right combination of peonies you could have 7 full weeks of bloom. You can find peonies in shades of white, pink, red, and  yellow, in double and single form.

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A perennial with a maximum height of three feet, the peony comes in many varieties with different blooming times:
  • Early (Little Red Gem, Starlight & Roselette)
  • Mid (Moonrise & Miss America)
  • Late (Sarah Bernhardt & Marie Lemoine)

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The peony is named for the Greek god of healing, Paeon. Another legend states that the physician, Peon, used the roots to heel the wounds of Pluto. In addition to their healing properties, peony flowers are edible. The versatility of peonies is another draw. Their simple elegance adds the perfect accent to a wedding or other celebratory cake. Float a blossom in a punch bowl to dress up the beverage at your next party, or drop the petals in iced tea for an extra touch. You can even sprinkle them on salads as an eye-catching garnish!

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Be sure to invest in a structure/cage, or for a more interesting support system, try interplanting hosta in front and among the peonies to hold them up. This also helps avoid bare spots in the gardens when the peony foliage dies back.
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Honeysuckle Trouble

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Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii)

Do you have honeysuckle running rampant on your property? It’s hard not to be charmed by the lovely yellow and white sweet-smelling blossoms that are out in droves now. But its invasive nature has gotten it banned from nurseries in Massachusetts, and it is likely to take over your garden and naturalized areas if left to its own devices. There are some types of honeysuckle that are less invasive than others and still ok to plant on Cape Cod. But when in doubt, go native. What can you plant instead of honeysuckle for similar benefits of street level screening and lovely June blooms?

Viburnum plicatum

Viburnum plicatum – Doublefile Viburnum

Our native Viburnums bloom at the same time as honeysuckle, but in addition to a spectacular flower show, they produce yummy berries for the birds, and brilliant fall color. Our favorite is Doublefile Viburnum because the large flowers look like lace-cap hydrangeas or ballerinas in flight and their branches and leaves create a graceful horizontal pattern. But there are lots of other cultivars to choose from including Viburnum prunifolium which has edible raisin-like berries, and Cranberrybush Viburnum whose berries taste like cranberries. Just make sure to get the American Cranberrybush, not the European version whose berries are not so tasty. We wouldn’t recommend eating the berries from the Doublefile viburnum either, they are better left for the birds. Always confirm the cultivar of the plant first before consuming it! Viburnum does best in a little bit of shade. Use it as an understory shrub in a woodland area or along the edge of a street, underneath your street trees.

Viburnum plicatum

Viburnum plicatum – Doublefile Viburnum

Pesto Prize: Making the Most of Weeds

As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. In the same vein, when nature gives you weeds, make pesto.

Garlic Mustard, an invasive weed blooming in April and May, may be a nuisance, but it is also a key ingredient to this tasty, versatile sauce. The original source for this recipe is Monches Farm, although it has been altered slightly by substituting 1/2 of the olive oil with a ripe avocado and a splash of lemon juice.

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But first things first.

If you’re going to try this recipe, you need to properly identify the Garlic Mustard weed and be sure that is hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals. This National Park Service web page can help you identify the plant. If you are not sure you have identified this plant correctly, DO NOT EAT IT.

Garlic Mustard plants have one flowering stem full of white flowers with four separated petals. Leaves are alternate and triangular, with tooth-shaped edges, and they smell distinctly like garlic when crushed. To collect, pluck the plant up by the roots; you’ll find it comes up quite easily. Remove all the leaves and wash them thoroughly.

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An added bonus is the delicate flowers look pretty in a jar for a few days until the petals begin to fall.

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Once the leaves are clean and spun dry in a salad spinner, combine the following ingredients in a food processor:

 

3 cups of packed Garlic Mustard leaves 

2 cloves of garlic 

1 1/4 cups of shredded Parmesan, Romano, or Asagio cheese 

1 cup of walnuts

1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 ripe avocado

splash of lemon juice

salt & pepper to taste

reserved cooking water *

 

If you’re using the pesto for pasta, add a little reserved cooking water. Otherwise you can leave it out. For a nice, nutty texture, grind up the walnuts and garlic separately, then add them at the very end with the shredded cheese.

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This also makes a great homemade gift for friends and family when presented in a jar with a raffia bow on top.  For an added touch, be sure to include a handwritten recipe so they can share the love!

Magnolia Daze

While springtime in Japan is characterized by Sakura, here on Cape Cod, the familiar site of the star magnolia, another Japanese bloom, is beginning to dot the landscape.

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(Otherwise known as Magnolia stellata)

Blooming sooner than its magnolia counterparts, the star yields white flowers in April, with a delicate fragrance, reaching a mature height of 15-20 feet. Several cultivars also feature pink flowers. In addition to the buds, even the bark itself is pretty, with a rustic simplicity.

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The star magnolia works well in small spaces, and can be planted in sun or partial shade, in well-drained soil with a shelter from heavier winds. Therefore, it is ideal for a sheltered garden nook.

Although there is a downside – the propensity for magnolia scale – it is a common pest that is easily treatable with a horticultural oil, making it a wonderful addition to any Cape Cod garden.