This is a gardening blog by a guy who dared to veer off the beaten path and discovered plants and gardening along the way. Join me as I write about my processes and inspirations from my “Midwest” point of view.

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    Fallscaping: Extending your Garden Season into Autumn
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Spring's Rollercoaster Ride

I’m back after a little break from posting to Hortus 5. Truth is, I’ve been savoring winter’s slow motion and luxuriating in its quite stillness. Now Spring is finally here and the last couple of days have been damp and chilly. Inbetween sunrise and sunset, one can still see their breath. I think most everyone in the Midwest is yearning for a warm and sunny Spring. No such luck, yet.

As winter loosens its grip, I am once again experiencing the multiple forces of the season which tend to make me more frustrated than anything. Exciting as it may be, I also find it a bit torturous. Spring’s hills and valleys are much like a rollercoaster’s, constantly changing, pulling you in all directions. Cold one day, wet another. And what to wear– base layer, rain coat, or both? My inertia climbs toward the sunny peak but Spring’s coaster car has other ideas. Down we go again. Let’s hope this ride doesn’t plunge through a frosty tunnel or two. Ready or not, Spring is here and as always, it’s gonna be a scenic and bumpy ride.

Above: Magnolia buds trying to break open.


Sneak Preview: Piet Oudolf Documentary

I’ve been following the work of Piet Oudolf for some time now. He has been called the master of site-specific design in the contemporary naturalistic planting style. Although I’ve only seen his work in photographs, the scale and scope is awesome, thoughtful, and to me, inspiring. I’m so excited to share this preview of a piece being done to feature and document his work and process.

There has been much dialogue and debate as to whether or not this style of naturalistic planting design will take root here in the US, and to what degree. Reserved for public spaces? Will it creep into mainstream residential design? Time will tell, but this I know for sure. Mr. Oudolf’s body of work is and will continue to be looked upon for generations to come as an artistic triumph of self-expression in planting design.


Oh my stars!

Corydalis temulifolia ‘Chocolate stars’

Gardens Illustrated magazine describes it this way: “Wonderful crinkle-edged, rust-coloured foliage in winter becomes almost orange in March. By April, lavender flowers deck the now bronze leaves. The whole plant gradually fades to olive green by June and sits unobtrusively in the garden until November when the first frost knocks back the green leaves and reveals the new rusty leaves emerging from below. It is a sight for sore eyes in February.”

I think that sounds just divine.

Image Source: John Grimshaw’s Garden Diary

Rehab for a Gardener?

“In January the most important thing a gardener can cultivate is themself.” So says Jojo Tulloh in the Gardens Illustrated articled titled Respect Yourself. I couldn’t agree more and liken it to nursing a nasty hangover after binging on gardening for months on end. I do my best to sleep it off and find that a little ibuprofen helps too. But what’s the use? It won’t be long before I fall off the wagon again. I always do.

Debauchery lies ahead, beneath the current pages of the calendar. Soon I’ll be drunk again with flowers and foliage. Is rehab in order? I don’t think so. I just need some time to rest, to plan, and even dream a little. Perhaps I’ll set a goal or challenge of learning a new skill over the coming party *ahem* growing season. The next drunken stupor is inevitable, but it’ll will have to wait at least until March.

No one says it better than the late Amy Winehouse (below). Happy New Year!


Too late to plant bulbs? We shall see.

I’ve been bad. I was given some bulbs this past autumn but for one reason or another, never got them in the ground. The ideal time to plant bulbs is about six weeks before the ground freezes in your area. This gives the bulbs time to root and establish themselves. We’ve already experienced one ground freeze about four weeks ago. Recently the snow melted and temps were in the 50s. I got busy and buried 75 tulip bulbs before the predicted rains began. But am I too late?

I’ve seen gardeners plant daffodils in the snow and they were beautiful the following spring. Below left: An images from a Master Gardener project I documented. The gardeners were planting daffodil bulbs in January snow. Below right: Great results despite the late planting.

This is my first time ever planting bulbs. It’s easy, but tedious if you have several bulbs to plant. It’s the digging that gets you. I don’t own one of those fancy bulb dibbles. I did all my digging with a trowel and fortunately have nice tillable soil to work with.

So, what is the best time to plant bulbs?

When the average nighttime temperature in your area is 40-to 50-degree range. For northern climates, plant in September or October, in warmer climates, you may need to plant in December or later.

If you plant too early, they might come up before the weather gets colds then die once frost comes. Planting too early can also lead to fungus or disease problems.

What if you miss the ideal time?

Let’s be honest. This happens, but don’t wait for spring or the next fall because bulbs do not survive above the ground indefinitely. If you find that you have bulbs that need to get in the ground, take your chances by planting them as soon as you can.

Here’s how I did it:

Step 1: I arranged the bulbs where I wanted them above ground. This helped me visualize the spacing and layout. Hard as you may try, it’s difficult to remember your layout once they’re underground. That’s why you start with everything layed out above ground.

Step 2: One by one, I dug a hole for each bulb. All bulbs should come with specific planting instructions. Generally speaking, tulip bulb holes should be 8 inches deep. Refer to the chart below for other bulb depth guidelines. Some bulbs will look nice planted in clumps rather than individually.


Step 3: With the hole prepared, I placed the bulb in the hole with the pointy-side up. I gently pressed the bulb into the bottom of the hole just to ensure that it did not roll or tip over. 

Step 4: Next, I gently sprinkled soil back in the hole being careful not let the bulb tip over as I filled in the soil. Once covered, I patted it down with my hands.

Step 5: You can lightly water the bulbs after planting to help begin the process of growing, but do not soak them or they may decay and die. I did not water as the soil was moist and rain was predicted for later that day.

So now I wait. The bulbs will lie dormant for the remainder of winter. I think it’s gonna work despite my procrastination. I did not add any bulb food or fertilizer as I figured these bulbs were already well fed and programmed for next spring. Hey, they’re lucky they even got in the ground!! Stay tuned for a progress report.


Wordless Wednesday


Hardscape Maintenance With Polymeric Sand

I know, I know. I should be posting about winter interest in the garden and feeling warm and fuzzy about the holidays, but I’m still in work mode. Warm and fuzzy will have to wait. Today, I’m writing about an important task that I recently completed which focused on the hardscape instead of the landscape. Years ago, I had a limestone sidewalk installed, and while the stone is in great shape (developing a lovely patina) the joints between the stones needed some upkeep. I added Polymeric Sand to the joints- a task I find myself doing at least every other season. And while it’s not difficult, this job has many steps.

What is Polymeric Sand? Before we get into the project details, I would like to take a moment to explain what Polymeric Sand is (sometimes referred to as Polymeric Joint Sand) and why it is beneficial to hardscapes comprised of concrete pavers, cast stone, pavements, slabs, and natural stone products.

Polymeric Sand is a fine sand with additives, such as silica and polymers which form a binding agent with the introduction of water. The binding agents lock the individual sand particles together, which in turn form a solid yet flexible bond between joints of pavers or slabs.

Benefits of Polymeric Sand. First, you get improved durability. The binding agent increases the strength of the walkway or patio. The binders allow less water into the gaps and that helps keep your foundation more sturdy.

Ordinary sand can quickly wash out or splash out with heavy rains. Loose sand also sticks to shoes and bare feet which can be tracked into your house. This is reduced tremendously with Polymeric Sand.

As gardeners, we know weeds can grow anywhere. They will grow prolifically in sand, but not so much in Polymeric Sand. We do enough weeding in our beds, we don’t need to be doing it in our hardscapes.

Ants have a difficult time making homes (or cities) within the Polymeric Sand joints. Another bonus in my opinion since ant colonies can loosen and shift regular sand with little effort.

Project Description: Readjust stones as needed and refresh joints with new Polymeric Sand.

This front walkway is made of Indiana Limestone. Over the past few years, the elements have shifted a few of the stones pieces and some the joints needed refilled. I decided to remove all the old stuff and add new. Some of the joints were ok while others were in desperate need refilling. Above: Over time, movement has occurred which is reflected in the uneven spacing between the joints. The gentle arc on the outside edge is now an eye sore due to the shifting. 

I carefully loosened and pushed out the older material with a screwdriver- being careful not to scratch the stone surface. To my surprise, much of the old Poly was still holding together well. You can see the binding agents still at work in the pieces I lifted out. Above: Notice the grass beginning to grow in the joint (upper right) where the old Poly Sand has eroded. Over time the joint has collect soil and debris making it possible for weeds and grass to germinate.

I ran a shop vac over all the joints to get as much loose sand and debris out of the joints.

Next I carefully lifted and repositioned a few of the stones which had moved out of alignment. This takes time and patience! Large stones require many subtle adjustments to keep them level with the other pieces.

With the stones repositioned and the joints empty, it’s time to add the new Poly Sand. Simply open the bag and spread the sand evenly over the surface. Use a push broom to sweep it in until it’s at the proper depth below the top surface. The depth will vary according the brand of sand you use. It will expand (rise up) when it comes in contact with the water.

Remove as much of the extra product from the surface once the joints are adequately filled. I used a broom and gently blew off excess with a hand held leaf blower.

Next, use a spray nozzle attached to a garden hose on the “shower” setting to begin adding water. Take care to not wash out any sand. Let the water gently soak into the joints. Follow the rate and rest period for water application as noted on the product’s instructions. This is not the time to grab a beer or chat with the neighbor. Stay on task so the product sets up properly.

Last, sweep and or blow any excess water and sand off the surface to avoid any adherence or discoloration to the stones or pavers.

And that’s that. Whether you have concrete pavers, retaining walls or natural stone they will all require some maintenance in order to keep them looking their best. Polymeric Sand installation to fill joints and restabalize your pavers is an easy DIY project. Always read and follow the instructions on the package of the product you use.

Final notes. Don’t rush any of the steps. If you’re adding Polymeric Sand to a new project, you’ll most likely need a heavy duty tamper to settle it into the joints. This is not as necessary for reapplying to an existing area. Polymeric Sand is available in different colors.

I used PolySweep by SEK and purchased it at an architectural and landscape stone center. There are many brands available, but like anything, you get what you pay for. For best results, try to get a professional grade product from a specialty outlet.


Wordless Wednesday


Falling Into Place

Foreground; Acer palmatum Tamukeyama

It’s been a rainy day– so much so that Halloween activities were rescheduled to Nov. 1 due to the predicted downpours and wind gusts. As I stepped outdoors on Halloween morning, it was already wet and windy, but autumn’s brilliance still shown through the dark skies. 

Two years in, the new tree additions in the back yard are beginning to make their presence known. No more is this true than in autumn. Shades of gold, red, purple, and orange are just what this otherwise barren landscape needed. Don’t get me wrong. I love all the green shades that spring and summer provide, but when autumn arrives, I crave fall color.

Some of the new additions are still staked, while others grow within low cages designed to keep out bark-nibbling critters. There’s plenty of room for more, but it’s hard to choose what should be planted next. So for now, I’ll just enjoy the burst of color and admire how it’s all falling into place.


Cutting Back Perennials for Winter

While I was preparing to write this post, an email popped into my inbox from Bluestone Perennials with autumn tips for cutting back perennials- the very subject I was going to tackle. Bluestone Perennials is a family owned and operated mail order/online store based in Northeast Ohio. They carry wonderful perennials, shrubs, grasses, and groundcovers. I rarely order plants online, but when I do, it’s from Bluestone. Check out their tips for cutting back your perennial beds. I couldn’t have written this information better myself. Thank you Bluestone!

Cutting Your Garden Back for Winter

Leaves beginning to fall signal that it’s time to get your garden ready for its winter nap. Most of your perennials will die back to the ground (herbaceous plants). They will overwinter at or below the soil line, so you’ll want to get rid of the old foliage to make way for the new growth come spring.

The number one nemesis to perennials is being smothered over the winter and rotting. You’ll want to get the old spent foliage out of the way, and remove any reason for autumn’s leaves to drift in and be trapped around the base of your plants. Here are a few things to consider:

• Look around and see if any flowers would add winter interest to your garden, like upright Sedum, Baptisia, Ornamental Grasses, Achillea and Astilbe. If you like their look, just wait and cut them back in the spring. It is also a good time to make wonderful dried bouquets for indoors – and they will last all winter!

• In most cases you’ll be cutting back the plants to 4-6” in height. In a windswept spot you can leave them taller to help trap insulating snow.

• You don’t want to cut back plants that regenerate on last year’s growth, like shrubs and evergreen plants. There are some woody perennials that fall into that category too, like Perovskia, Lavender, and Iberis.

• You’ll find gloves, hand pruners and hedge shears handy to have. As you cut down the spent foliage be careful not to crack or split into the crown of the plant. A lot of flower stems are very brittle and will snap right off, but if they are woody like an Echinacea, you’ll need to snip them back to prevent accidental damage. If in doubt, grab your shears and have at it.

• This is also a good time to pull out any dead annuals from the border so there is no question in the spring whether a dead looking clump is really dead or is actually a valuable perennial, not yet awake. Most perennials will show signs of life at the crown early in the spring, and with the annual tops gone the fall before, spring cleanup can be delayed quite a while. No plants need to be lost to an overzealous worker!

Once your garden is cut back, most leaves will blow in and back out of your borders. On one of the last days before winter tightens her grip do one final quick rake to remove any leaves that stuck around. Then put away your tools and start daydreaming of spring.

Happy Gardening!

William Boonstra, Second Generation Owner & Grower