Please Do Not Throw Away Excess Plants!!!

I know so many gardeners that have plants they don’t want. They love them but they have no space for them anymore.

PLEASE don’t throw away extra plants(unless they are aegopodium or other horrid invasives!!) Even if there are just a few extra plants–there are so many people who would LOVE to have your plants- both those who are able to purchase them and those who would be thrilled to have them for free (if you just want to be rid of them and not have to get into the details of selling.) Do consider putting an ad in your local craigslist website.(ex.: the one here for Boston/ Ma. is found with and is divided into areas around the state.) You can post free plant ads under “Free Stuff” or “Farm and Garden”. If you read through others’ craigslist ads, you will see examples of many different ways to handle this. If you don’t want to have any dealings with people, you can just say in your ad “the plants will be put out on my sidewalk at such and such address- on such and such date”. You can leave them in the shade in unwanted containers or plastic grocery bags. Or, if you DO want to meet people, you can have them email you to work out plant pickup (or have them come and dig them themselves, under your supervision.)I even know people who have made friends this way!

Another option is putting a notice in your local state forum of I did this in the New England Forum for a friend with a ton of extra plants she had no space for, and she really enjoyed meeting the people, who really enjoyed seeing her gardens, and were so grateful for the free plants.

There always seem to be: parents’ groups who need plants to landscape [ CTRL + Click to follow link] the schoolyard ; volunteer gardeners who need plants for a local nursing home, community display gardens, or traffic islands etc.

Here in Boston there is even an incorporated nonprofit group called “Boston Cares” that coordinates with corporations to provide willing workers (the employer pays their workers for 1/2 day to 1 day of volunteer labor) for needy urban projects. Some of the projects are landscaping; donated plants are used to improve public housing , street plantings, etc.!

There will always be people in need, and with just a little effort, the extra materials generated by your skills and love of plants- can be used to make the world a better place for so many others!


Persicaria Lance Corporal, Maidenhair Fern, Corydalis Lutea

Plants for Shady Areas

Shaded areas are always a challenge due to the lack of light, but it can be particularly daunting if your shady area is under maples, hemlocks or beech. We have two large areas under maples and hemlocks. Maples have extensive surface roots that suck up all available water and nutrients. In beginning to garden in these conditions, the first step is to bring in a great deal of compost, manure, and shredded leaves to work into the depleted soil.

After soil amendments, focus on groundcovers. There’s nothing like a green carpet to make you feel good about a new area and the prospect of the long haul required for it to become what you envisioned. We have found with great delight that lamiums are our quickest route to greenness. They are remarkably tolerant in the dry shade of maples. There are a number of variegated cultivars with flowers ranging from white to butter yellow to pink to mauve to dark mauve. They bloom for a few weeks in summer and then sporadically through November. All have established themselves quickly and formed dense mats. They are not bothered by slugs or other pests that attack nearby hostas(which also seem perfectly happy to be in dry shade.) Lamium is also a good foil for small bulbs like muscari and wood hyacinths that can grow up through the mat (which can also help distract from their foliage after they go by.) We have also had good luck with epimediums, japanese painted fern, and allegheny pachysandra . In one particularly dark area, we even found that a blue holly, ilex blue maid, thrived as a very low growing shrub with long slender leafless branches that hung to the ground and terminated in leaf clusters , giving the impression of an extensive glossy groundcover. The only shrubs we found that could tolerate the dark shade and grow 6′ high to screen the adjacent fence- were euonymus elatus. Their foliage grows densely but ,unfortunately, does not color their famous flaming autumn red ,due to lack of sunlight. Another attractive shrub that is tolerant of deep dry shade is rhodotypus. Though not dense, this kerria-related shrub has lovely large single white flowers in spring and graceful arching branches of serrated light green foliage through the fall. Hydrangeoides schizophragma Moonlight has also adapted well here. In addition to these maple- tolerant plants, Hemlock tolerant plants include oak leaf hydrangea, ampelopsis variegata, hellebore, geranium macrorhyzome, pulmonaria and a large variety of ferns.


Part-Shade Tolerant Taller Ornamental Grasses

Have you been gardening in shade and suffering from Zebra Grass envy?
Well, I have good news for you- envy can become pride. Because zebra grass will live happily in part shade. We have a 5 year old clump in open shade that is thriving. Meaning: it looks healthy, the banding is distinct, and it’s not flopping. This clump is considerably shorter than its sun- grown relatives ( 2.5-3’ H compared to 5-6’ H), and it plumes very late.

Chasmanthium latifolium- oat grass- has always thrived for us in part shade . The 2′ high graceful bamboo-like look and the waving wheat- like seed heads- are so lovely. It reseeds freely but it is not difficult to remove. Variegated Bamboo, which forms a 2′ high graceful waving bed for Duncan, will tolerate part shade but will be lime green rather than yellow, and must be carefully pot-planted and monitored to keep from conquering all the domain. (see Techniques page)


Plants for Steep Slopes

Here at the ‘retum we have an area called The Chasm. It is part of the corner of our property that is bordered by a main street and a side street. Our house is located away from this corner and for the first 15 years that we developed our gardens here, we did nothing with this ‘Corner Lot’ as we called it. Then we did do something. We brought in truckloads of loam and built the corner up- about 3’ above grade. Then we dug/sank a path through it, thus forming ‘The Chasm’. As you approach the Chasm from any other part of the gardens, you gradually descend 1-2 feet. The result of all this is that when you are in the Chasm, you are surrounded by gardens at, below, and above eye level and you cannot see the traffic that is quite nearby. The multi-tiered waterfall helps distract you from the sound of traffic and there is a path bench that looks across and up at the waterfall. Our greatest challenge with the Chasm has been erosion. We did not want to lose the planting space that would be necessary to build a high rock wall and we also didn’t want to be in a chasm with rock walls on either side of a narrow path.

So we planted the walls, and after enduring a few years of erosion and plant loss,plants sliding to the bottom of the chasm walls, and a lot of bare dirt, we now are surrounded by plants that are secure and spreading.( We do, however, still experience some winter erosion from heavy rains and snows and we re-define the path in Spring.) During the growing season, some of the valuable tenacious plants get too tall to allow comfortable passage. This happens primarily with variegated mint and cryptotaenia. My solution is to whack them back by half whenever they get too large. This hardly phases them and they rebound quickly, so I find myself whacking them 1-3 times per season.
Here’s what we have successfully planted on the steeply inclined Chasm walls:

The workhorses:
Veronica repens Georgia Blue
Variegated mint
Ajuga- assorted
Lonicera Japonica variegata
Cryptotaenia japonica
Geranium phaeum Samobor
Geranium Rozanne
Geranium A.T. Johnson
Artemesia Limerock
Carex Hobbs
Alchemilla mollis
Hakonechloa- assorted
Anemone canadensis
Pennisetum Moudry



You Can’t Keep a Good Tree Down

In general, I am not a fan of the awkwardly shaped Silver Maple genus but the 50’ H specimen at the rear of our property serves an important purpose. It shades a secluded sitting area next to 2 small ponds with waterfalls. It is also bisected by our neighbors’ tall wooden fence, as it straddles the 2 properties.It straddles them because it was used 50 years ago to draw the property line between the newly split properties.

Last year the new neighbors decided that it was too ugly and they wanted to remove it. We understood, but we still needed that shade- in that exact spot. So, after much deliberation, they removed the central trunk which was on their property, and we retained the secondary trunk on ours. But it didn’t end there. They also actually ground down their half of the huge 30” diameter stump,both horizontally and vertically, so that it was flush with the fence and no stump was visible. (This is the Murphy’s law that if one neighbor loves an arboretum garden with controlled chaos, the other neighbor will love formal French parterres.) So what was to happen? Would our tree survive the loss of half its ‘mother stump’?

I don’t know the long term answer. Perhaps it has begun it’s decline and will not survive. But after two years, it looks normal and stable and- lo and behold- it now has 6’ shoots from the remaining stump half on our side of the fence! As a provisional measure, we have planted nearby a very large Tri colored beech and a faster growing Acer palmatum Aconitifolium right next to the chair, to provide umbrella shade over the seat.


Survival by Default/ Serendipity/ Everything Changes

Twenty seven years ago, we purchased our first Japanese maple, ordered from the wonderful Gossler folks in Or. Kagiri Nishiki, with its lovely delicate variegated leaves,became one of the anchors of our ‘Circular Path’ area. We continued to add more Japanese maples (now numbering some 52, Acer Palmatum is our biggest tree genus here.) Well, about 17 years ago, Kagiri Nishiki caught some dreadful disease/ blight and began to die off. We pruned off the bottom dead branches, watched as it declined, and intended to remove the tree. But we never got around to it.

About ten years ago, we noticed that the tree was alive and well, though misshapen/growing to one side because of the shade of a large silver maple above it. We pruned the silver maple abit to let light in, but we had no desire to ever remove the silver maple, so we figured Kagiri Nishiki’s shape would stay awkward, but at least the tree was alive and seemingly recovered.

Now comes the Everything Changes part. The unthinkable/unchangable thing happened- the largest of the 2 trunks of the 40’ silver maple- was removed two years ago by the new neighbors whose fence it straddled. And now the previously bare side of Kagiri Nishiki has a substantial horizontal branch growing out from it,towards the newly available area of light, causing the tree to have a balanced shape. So there!

It certainly doesn’t usually work to ignore a plant’s health issue, but sometime serendipity rules the day. Hoorah!


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