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Holiday Foliage from Your Own Yard

Fresher, More Colorful, and Free!

free holiday foliageWhy pay for special holiday foliage to simulate the real thing, when the real thing is in your own back yard? Look around to see if there is potential greenery in your landscape plants. Some species work better than others, but anything you cut needs to be conditioned for a day or two, outdoors, in water, before bringing it inside for decorating. A good way to do this is to fill large lawn bags with water and store cuttings outside overnight. This cleans the foliage and allows the stems to last longer on the mantel or tablescape.

Here are some home-grown favorites that work reliably well:

An Evergreen Perennial Star

Berggarten Sage

favorite perennials, evergreen perennialsThis semi-herbaceous/semi-woody herb is an extraordinary performer. And, yes, there are two “G’s” in the name. Typically, I wouldn’t recommend an herb for commercial landscape projects, but this one doubles as a fine evergreen ground cover as well as a culinary flavoring. It forms thick mats of bright green, thick foliage that morphs to grey in the winter. Wait until early spring to prune back old, woody growth, just as you should for all herb plants. Pruning in the fall can open stems to moisture and decay.

If you have colorful conifers nearby, Berggarten sage is a perfect counterpoint. The contrast of pale, purplish-blue-grey looks striking next to lime golds, pinks, and oranges. The leaves are much wider than regular garden sage, too. Regular garden sage burns out and goes spindly at the end of fall, but Berggarten sage revives and thrives with the change of seasons.

You will love this plant so much, you’ll want more of it. That’s simple. Just root the long, thin, old growth when you prune in the spring. 

Saving Money on Wedding Flowers

Set Goals to Establish Design Direction

save on wedding flowers, cost-conscious weddings

Weddings drain wallets in a thousand different ways, and spending wisely is a good way to start a good marriage. You can save a lot of money on wedding flowers by first determining their purpose in the celebration. The joining of two people in holy matrimony is not a spending contest. If your family does not have mountains of cash to spend on a wedding, then there are ways to decorate with style and good money sense. Obscenely expensive wedding decorations are in poor taste, and good floral design doesn’t have to be costly. Over-the-top floral designs can detract from the celebration, rather than elevate it. Of course, if the function of the flowers for your wedding is to pretend you and your family have money to burn, then don’t bother reading the rest of this article! Spending wisely on wedding flowers starts with establishing the goals and design direction for the event.

Young brides are pressured into pretending to be financial princesses through popular media. Industry professionals can profit from the young bride’s naiveté, but floral companies that want to build long-term business relationships provide wise guidance rather than price gauging. Wedding florals are there to provide proof of the couple’s love, not the size of their pocketbook. Their purpose is to create a special, unique look for a single moment in time—just a few hours. The whole beauty of flowers is their ephemeral nature. The design can be done in a cost-effective manner, without waste and with the understanding that the event is temporary in nature. Photographs can preserve the beauty of the ceremony for the future. Part of being a good wedding floral consultant is managing the excitement of the bride’s family and pointing them to designs that are in good taste and appropriate for their budget.

About Flowers

professional flower design, wedding basket of flowersI am a plant nerd. My fascination started at summer camps and state parks, touring woodland wildflower trails with experts on edible natives and shady stream ephemerals. In college I was motivated to study landscape architecture after being inspired by Mary Wharton, my professor and author of A Guide to the Wildflowers & Ferns of Kentucky and Trees & Shrubs of Kentucky, books I still refer to today. During my landscape architecture internship, Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses was the essential reference in the landscape industry, and I read it cover to cover. It was such a privilege to hear so many great plant experts speak, and even better to visit their home gardens.

My background is in landscape architecture with a strong emphasis on horticulture. I did a lot of industrial campus plans and municipal work before being hired to review landscape design plans for a state department of transportation, and I worked, early in my career, on large-scale planting and irrigation plans. I did lots of residential work, too. I got to know the green industry and gained practical experience in how to keep plants alive and maintain them. You get to know plant species after specifying several hundred of them on a single site! My work with the department included helping with the wildflower program. I even designed one of the state’s wildflower tags.

purple coneflower tag, wildflowers

I love flowers and garden-clubbing! Several years ago I went through the Nations Council of State Garden Clubs, Inc. flower show judging school to learn how to arrange flowers. I was lucky enough to create two exhibits for the Southeaster Flower Show, back in its glory days, for work. Much of my experience, though, is in using flowers in professional landscape designs, rather than greenhouse-grown florals.

What do I want to tell you about flowers?

• Seasonal changes transform a landscape, and this is most noticeable and dramatic when herbaceous floral plants are used.

• Flower blooms are transient in nature. That’s part of their beauty. I’ll write an article about artificial flowers one of these days.

• It’s easy to grow flowers all year round as long as you pick the tried-and-true species and provide the right setting.

The devil is in the details, though!

I want to share as much as I can with you about what I’ve learned over the years, but you can find detailed information in my Advanced Guide to Flowers eBook, coming soon. Until then, keep reading articles on the website, and join our email list for updates. I would love to hear your comments and about your roadside enhancement stories and experiences, too.

Advanced Guide to Flowers







You might also enjoy the Advanced Guide to Landscape Grants eBook, full of practical tips for applying for funding and making your beautification project a success.








Flower Beds Need Special Soil Preparation

Getting Things Ready for a Beautiful Flower Border

soil preparation, grit for plant bedsProfessional landscapers start every flower bed by building superb soil structure—at least the ones who make money do! A flower bed without the right components is like a cake without flour. The preparation starts with a soil test. The result is a handy list of essential ingredients for your best-blooms-ever recipe. Take a paper bag full of the typical existing soil down to your local extension office for analysis. The cost is usually just a few dollars.

Now I’m going to say something you may not like—I know you aren’t going to get a soil test. Almost no one does, even if they are required to do it in the contract specifications! I can give you no logical reason for this, except an unnatural phobia for agriculture extension agents. Anyway, I will repeat it. Professional landscapers who are successful in their business have their soil tested before digging in. You can’t change the weather or control which pests and diseases that visit your site, but you can modify the soil. The sites with the pretty flowers make the time to test.

Sometimes All You Need is the Perfect Little Vase

So Many Fun Choices

perfect little vase, floral vasesFlowers are beautiful, all in their own special way. You don’t have to be an expert floral artist to enjoy them. Sometimes all you need is the perfect little vase. This one works well because it is heavy pottery, so the vessel won’t tip over with flowers. It is an antique stoneware-cream color, which goes with everything and makes a nice contrast with the dark, maroon flowers. It also helps with the transition from that color to the soft pink blooms.

It’s easy to start a collection of favorite vases. Visit trash to treasure shops. They carry glazed pottery of all colors made by manufacturers along the clay banks of the Ohio River and other streams in the Midwest from the early nineteen hundreds through the seventies. Prices generally run from 50 cents to 20 dollars, so you won’t cry too many tears if one breaks. They made millions of them and sold them in floral shops and dime stores. They were used to hold floral arrangements or as planters (lined with gravel) to grow house plants. Larger pieces were sold as umbrella stands. Now we get cheap plastic or plain glass vases that cannot be trusted to reliably hold steady under the weight of a bunch of tall flower stems.

Big Blue Salvia

An Irresistible Lure to Butterflies and Hummingbirds

big blue salviaThere are many reasons to love this perennial. First, the color is a deep sky blue—quite unusual for flowering plants. Before the blooms open, the color is so deep it appears almost black, and then the flower spike opens from the top down. When it does, the winged creatures come on an hourly basis to sip nectar.

Second, it is reliably hardy to zone 8 and marginally hardy in zone 7b, so southeasterners get to enjoy this three to five-foot gem every year. Farther north, treat it as an annual or provide some protection from lower temperatures.

Third, there are a lot of cool cultivars, if you like different shades of blue. ‘Argentine Skies’ and ‘Black and Blue’ give you an idea of the variations from the species, Salvia guaranitica.

Fourth, it has a wonderful garden fragrance. Maybe that’s the strongest attractant for the pretty birds and bees and butterflies. Whatever it is, they are crazy about this plant!

Fifth, it is heat and drought-tolerant, once well established. It can take a surprising amount of heavy clay. Even so, it prefers moist, well-drained soils, just like every other plant in the universe. The thing is, most gardens aren’t perfect, and it is nice to know this plant is adaptable.

Joe Pye Weed

The Quiet Giant—Eutrichium purpureum

black swallowtail, tall perennials, native perennials, butterfly plants

Joe Pye Weed is sometimes called the queen of the meadow, and yet it gets about as much respect as a roadside weed. Place Joy Pye Weed at the back of the flower border where it will have plenty of room or along a fence where it will have some support. It grows taller than a person, and will sometimes grow over other plants. It can be messy, growing nine or ten feet! Fall blooms are your reward for growing Joy Pye Weed. The flowers are intoxicating to butterflies, bees, and any other small creature that flies. It is cold hardy to Canada, which is incredible for a perennial flower. Great garden designers will tell you Joe Pye Weed is an under-used gem. Travel across the Atlantic, and you will hear loud praises for its colossal impact as a background plant in European perennial borders.

In America, Joe Pye Weed hangs out in right-of-way thickets and along natural stream buffer woodlands, with a reputation of a weedy plant. Some people think perennials should grow to only three feet or so, to fit into a refined flower border. There is a dwarf cultivar called ‘Little Joe’ that stays under three feet. I love it, but it will not flower quite as large or profusely as the original. The parent plant is associated with the old Eupatorium family (bonesets and thoroughworts), a group of wayside volunteers of mixed refinement.

Joe Pye Weed is a strong, tall, midsummer floral background plant that butterflies love, which takes heat and drought, and is native to the eastern two-thirds of the United States. It is the ultimate cottage garden plant, and grows on incredibly strong stems. That means no staking required for a nine-foot flower! It smells like vanilla, and the blooms pop out at nose height. The flower color is a mauve-pink-lavender mix. If you want a most sophisticated floral arrangement on a grand scale, this is a dramatic choice. The blooms last for several weeks in the garden. It is easy to grow and a tough survivor during challenging weather—cold, moist, hot, and dry. Celebrate it on a grand scale by using it is a grand garden design.

A Butterfly Garden

Flying Flowers

swallowtail butterfly on zinniaDo you want to be covered with butterflies? It’s easy! They want nectar and a place to lay eggs. Provide that, and they will come.

The life cycle of a butterfly is, of course, amazing! For a successful garden, avoid squishing any old caterpillar you see. You might be eliminating a Painted Lady or Red Admiral. Using herbicides can also threaten your plans for a natural habitat.

Some favorite plants of butterflies are Parsley, Dill, Fennel, Sassafras trees, and Milkweed. Adding flowers to the favorites mix will bring them fluttering to your site. Butterflies also like rotting organic matter, but that isn’t nearly as attractive! Adding rotten bananas and plastic sponges soaking in sugar water detracts from the setting. You won’t need to push things by creating an obviously unnatural vignette, if you plant the right attractors.

Here’s a list of top butterfly plants, if butterflies were doing the voting: