Garden parade: Old, new, maintaining blue
What’s old is new again. That was a common thread through the 19th annual Garden Parade in the Plover-Stevens Point area earlier this month. It is sponsored by Portage County Master Gardener Volunteers.
Take Mary and Dennis Schultz’s yard at 1150 Eighth St., Plover. In addition to numerous garden beds were treasures from their past.
Gardens include bleeding hearts and other perennials Mary grew up with and brought from the Milwaukee area. A tribute to Dennis’ father includes plants from Iowa, including blue flax bush and buckthorn. When clearing out his grandfather’s farm, Dennis brought tools, washtubs and treasures that now decorate a back porch and their gardens. An old tricycle tucked among plants and his father’s work boots are among fun finds.
Old metal watering cans and washtubs were accents at Paula and Robin Spindler’s home, 5578 Jack’s Drive, as well. They blended with new and unusual plants, like a white smoke tree. They’ve successfully grown plants with marginal hardiness, including a Korean maple, which has weathered central Wisconsin three winters. Korean maples have appeal similar to Japanese maples but greater hardiness.
Spindler’s carpentry skills were on display in arches, trellises and a garden shed. The couple removed numerous pine trees from their property, so they had plenty of raw materials. They’ve created secluded sitting areas and colorful vignettes.
Red was a strong accent color in their yard. Blue was dominant in the Jan and Bruce Pierson yard, 2341 Shadowview Circle. Repeated use of a bold color in birdbaths, containers, chairs, fountains or garden art creates focal points and helps tie landscape elements together.
Other lessons at Piersons were the beauty and simplicity of foliage colors and textures, regardless of bloom. Clearly disciplined gardeners, they provided adequate spacing between perennials.
Another common theme this year was the use of impatiens for color. The Spindlers and Tim and Mary Gremmer, 2231 Shadowview Circle, used this shade-loving annual extensively. Specialty coleus, New Guinea impatiens and other high-end annuals were featured as well. But it was nice – and cost effective – to see an old favorite.
Another long-time favorite is verbena bonariensis, a tall purple annual that reseeds readily. Cleome does as well, and combined nicely with Joe Pye Weed at the Gremmers.
Unusual perennials, from striking specimen daylilies to a variety of native plants, were highlights at Kirby and Elizabeth Throckmorton’s yard, 3101 Jefferson St. They make the most of a city lot, with colorful conifers, sedum that varied from chocolate to chartreuse and a rainbow of flowers in bloom. Vegetables were interspersed with ornamentals: Fronds of asparagus gone to seed provided contrasting texture in a perennial bed; heads of dill seed echoed the chartreuse color of Tiger Eyes sumac.
Among unusual woody plants on the parade was threadleaf buckthorn. Sara and Tom Burch, 1810 Hamilton Court, used this columnar shrub extensively. It grows five to seven feet tall and two to three feet wide. The fernlike foliage turns yellow in fall. It is deer resistant and hardy to USDA Zone 2. Unlike glossy or common buckthorn, this cultivar is not invasive.
Also unusual in central Wisconsin’s alkaline soil is the ability to maintain the beautiful blue of ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangeas. Tim Gremmer has succeeded, thanks to multiple applications of soil acidifier through the growing season to adjust soil pH.
Soil chemistry determines bloom color. So even if you purchase a blue hydrangea in bloom, there’s no guarantee the plant will produce the same color in your garden. When grown in alkaline soil, bloom colors are pinker. When grown in acidic soil, blooms are bluer.
If you really want to experiment with a hydrangea’s color, try growing it in a large pot. Working with a smaller amount of soil will make it easier to attain and maintain the desired soil chemistry.
Start by testing the pH of your soil. This will help you know how much of change is needed. Blue hydrangea flowers need soil with a pH of 5.2-5.5. It is difficult to make a dramatic change in soil pH – especially without affecting overall plant health.
And, as most of us have learned, gardening is a series of experiments.