Japanese Themes to Transform Your Backyard

Japanese Themes to Transform Your Backyard

Flickr If you live in the West and you’re a little worried that your garden looks the same as your neighbor’s, then you might want to try a little Japanese inspiration.  Japan is a country, like many in the West, obsessed with its gardens. In Japan, the purpose of the garden is not to provide leisure or be a show of wealth, but to impart feelings of tranquility and peace. The cultural origins of gardens, therefore, are strikingly different from what many people are used to.  Because of this, gardens in Japan have a different style and theme. The focus is less on symmetry and formality, and more on creating the sort of places that allow the mind to wander from the troubles of the world. To put it bluntly, Japanese gardens are a kind of therapy.  So how do you create a Japanese garden? What are the principles behind such a project? Let’s take a look.  Include Lots Of Bamboo Flickr Bamboo is a type of grass, not a tree, even though it can grow as tall as trees and is solid to the touch. It’s not just food for pandas either; it’s a crucial ingredient in the average Japanese garden. Bamboo works exceptionally well as a form of natural fencing and is an excellent tool for enclosing small, narrow backyards, typical of so many Japanese suburbs.  Don’t Forget The Cherry Tree Japanese cherry blossom is famous all over the world, and for a good reason: it’s probably the most spectacular of all blossoming trees in the northern hemisphere. No Japanese garden would be complete without a cherry blossom bloom in the spring months.  Include Indigenous Plants Indigenous plants, like Weigela florida, give Japanese gardens an authentic appearance. Rhododendron plants also help to create the color palette that is emblematic of gardens from the region.  Include Water The Japanese believe that a garden is a place for meditation and reflection. Water has been a critical meditative aid for thousands of years, and so it should come as no surprise that it has made its way into the Japanese garden environment.  Both running water and still pools are acceptable since both help to create a profound sense of tranquility and serenity. Many Japanese gardens include small, decorative bridges over ponds to allow owners time and space for quiet contemplation of their existence.  Stone If you visit a large Japanese garden, you’re likely to find stone ornaments and symbols along the main walkways. These symbols are often purely for decorative purposes, although they may also be religious in nature.  If you don’t have any running water in your garden, you can use raked gravel to mimic the appearance of a flowing stream. You can use small bridges to traverse this ersatz feature, creating a more natural-looking environment.  Creating a Japanese-style garden is by no means easy. But once you understand the basics and put them all together, you can design something that stands...
Should I remove succulent flowers?

Should I remove succulent flowers?

This is a tough question. “Should I remove my succulent flowers?” has been asked at more than one presentation over the years. My preference is yes, but let’s look at the pros and cons of both options. An argument for keeping succulent flowers The aeonium flowers above are beautiful on their own. Their bright yellow color is a welcome site in winter. Succulent flowers come in a wide variety of shapes and colors, but most are not nearly as showy as these– and I hate to ruin the ending, but I still cut these off! However, if this is the first time you have seen your succulents flower and you want to experience it for yourself, go ahead and let that baby bloom. My guess is that you will be underwhelmed with the flowers but at least you can see for yourself what they look like. An argument for removing succulent flowers At first I thought that my aeonium was stretching for more light, but when the other stems remained nice and compact it was clear that this succulent was getting ready to flower. As gardeners we love and embrace flowers, so why would I recommend removing these succulent flowers? Most of us grow succulents for their unique shapes, colors and textures. We are not growing these to attract pollinators, to feed our families or to provide privacy in the backyard. And, as you can see below, the flower spike on this aeonium was turning my compact bowl of succulents into a floppy mess. How to remove succulent flowers The before and after photo below shows just how much tidier this plant became once I remove the large aeonium flower spike. You can simply snap it off by hand near the base or use a pair of snips to cut it down. The flower spike itself is quite top heavy and the brittle nature of these succulents made this very easy to...
What’s that purple flower vine?

What’s that purple flower vine?

On our recent trip to Florida I was literally stopped in my tracks by this purple flower vine in Winter Garden. I’ve been familiar with Petrea volubilis, or Queen’s Wreath Vine, but I’ve never seen it like this. Driving down Plant Street in Winter Garden, there is always something beautiful to see. This town does a great job of maintaining and growing their green space for residents and tourists to enjoy. But this. This was too much for me! The purple flowers were dripping off of the trellis. Petrea volubilis is sometimes called “Florida Wisteria” and it is easy to see why. Wow. I can’t tell you how many people I heard talking about this plant. How often do plants get this kind of attention? This “mystery” purple flower vine was stealing the show in mid March and deservedly so. Want to grow this in your garden? Patience is important! It takes 2-3 years to become well established and deliver the flower show you are looking for. Queen’s wreath vine is also available in a white variety but, let’s be honest here, it doesn’t stand up to this purple beauty! According to the University of Florida, “This vine is described as being “variably deciduous,” meaning leaf drop depends on the climate and weather in your specific area. Some plants may drop all leaves during the winter while others only drop some. While usually found growing as a woody vine, queen’s wreath can be maintained as a shrub or a small, single- or multiple-trunked tree. Left to its own devices, queen’s wreath can reach 40 feet tall, but you can keep it much smaller with occasional...
Grasses that stand up in winter

Grasses that stand up in winter

What can I say? Its been a long winter. We had a blizzard on Sunday– a real one. All of this snow is giving me a new appreciation for grasses that stand up in winter. The photo above shows the ‘Northwind’ switchgrass standing strong with about 8″ of snow at the base. The photos below show the same plants with about 15″ of snow at their base. I have other grasses in my garden, but none of them seem to hold up like these. What use is a floppy grass if you can’t appreciate it in the winter? Grasses that stand up in winter are something to be appreciated, quite honestly, all year long. Their vertical punctuation in an otherwise flat landscape is exactly what is needed. These plants are in just their second winter and I am already getting ready to order more. I purchased these from Bluestone Perennials and they’ve been strong from the start. The Bluestone site describes ‘Northwind’: 2014 Perennial Plant Association’s Plant of the Year. Tall, strongly erect ornamental grass. Pillars of olive blue-green blades provide strong vertical form – great as an accent or in a row for screening. Airy panicles of yellow seed heads crown the blades at bloom time. Turns a warm tan-yellow in the fall.Panicum Northwind supplies an ideal wildlife habitat providing shelter and food for songbirds. Tolerates both wet and dry conditions. Switch Grass gets its name from the calming swishing sound produced with a gentle breeze. This tough ornamental grass is deer resistant, will grow near black walnut trees and even tolerates salt spray near the ocean and road salt. What do you think, is it time to add some grasses that stand up in winter to your garden? Are there others that you love? I would be happy to try...

Farfugium as a houseplant

I’ve had a love affair with Farfugium for a long time. When we moved from Florida to Iowa I brought one along to try the lovely farfugium as a houseplant. The good news is that it is flourishing! The big, bold leaves of farfugium, also known as Leopard Plant, are the main attraction. It is a member of Daisy family, so while it does send up spikes of yellow flowers, to me these seem out of place with the large tropical leaves. I’ve even heard farfugium referred to as Tractor Seat Plant, and I can certainly see that in the broad leaf shape. I first referenced Farfugium on here back in 2015 in my New and Underused Plants post. Back then it was really hard to find. Lately though, it seems that farfugium is showing up all over. In the warmer parts of the country it is finding popularity as a landscape plant. Hardy in zones 7b and warmer, I’ve seen it growing in Norfolk, Virginia and Atlanta, Georgia in large masses. There are several varieties available on the market although my favorite is definitely Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’. It has the largest and glossiest leaves of an available. Tips for growing Farfugium as a houseplant: Allow soil to dry out between watering. Over-watering is the fastest way to kill any houseplant. I even allow my plant to wilt slightly (the heavy leaves will droop) to make sure I am not watering too much.Use a quality potting soil. Gradually increase pot size as needed. This goes back to overwatering, but basically you want the plant’s soil to dry out and in a huge pot it will just stay too...
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