Adam Wheeler - Horticulturalist at Broken Arrow Nursery


That was the title of Adam Wheeler’s presentation at the New York Botanical Gardens earlier this month. He shared with us some of his favorites from the selection of plants that Broken Arrow Nursery propagates and sells.

Here’s how Adam Wheeler is described on the Broken Arrow Nursery website:

Adam started playing with plants at Broken Arrow in 2004 after completing his BS degree in Urban Forestry and Landscape Horticulture at the University of Vermont. His favorite responsibilities at the nursery include plant propagation and the acquisition and development of new plants. He is a past recipient of the Young Nursery Professional Award from the New England Nursery Association and is the current Vice President of the North American Maple Society. He loves to share his passion for plants through photography and educational outreach. As a result, he lectures widely on a variety of subjects and is also an adjunct lecturer at Naugatuck Valley Community College and the Berkshire Botantical Garden. With his spare time he enjoys cultivating his eclectic collection of rare and unusual plants, rock climbing and competitive giant pumpkin growing!

Also important to know: they grow their own Nursery stock - this is somewhat unusual and it provides you with (1) a great source of information about the characteristics of the plant and (2) assurance that the plant will be “hardy” in our area. I also had a look at their website and there are LOTS and LOTS of other trees and shrubs to love that they sell. I stuck a few of the ones I would go for at the end.

Broken Arrow Nursery

Here are some of the trees and shrubs Adam Wheeler highlighted: (Pictures appear below descriptions)

Acer longipes ‘Gold Coin’ (‘Gold Coin’ Chinese Maple)

“A vibrant maple offering up high glamour leaves that emerge with soft burgundy tones before quickly moving to rich golden-orange colors. The palm-shaped leaves are about 4" in diameter and hold their color deep into summer. Plants develop a shrubby canopy reaching 12-15' tall when mature. Availability has been limited due to the difficulty of propagation. That said, plants should be prized as they're certainly among the best of the gold foliage maples available.”

Acer X ‘Purple Haze’ - A hybrid of paperbark maple X sycamore maple

Purple Haze Hybrid Maple

“A curious and unexpected hybrid maple that combines the immaculate pedigree of the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) with the vigor and landscape durability of sycamore maple (A. pseudoplatanus). The result is a strong growing, non-weedy small specimen tree boasting three-lobed green leaves backed with a burgundy infused reverse. In autumn, flawless scarlet autumn tones set the garden afire. Plants can be expected to reach 15’ in height after a decade of effort and will certainly be valued for accent, flair and overall plant geekyness (not to be confused with gawkiness or gooeyness).”

Catalpa cultivars - he showed us one with burgundy leaves that is pollarded each year, making it more like a shrub with leaves larger than normal. It can also be left as a regular tree.


Cornus cultivars - cultivars of Cornus florida, Cornus kousa and shrub forms of Cornus, including Cornus florida ‘Eternal’ pictured below :

Larix cultivars: Broken Arrow has quite a number of Larix cultivars, including several weeping variants. These variants can be trained into waterfalls, “Cousin Itts”, ground covers or combinations but apparently do need to be staked. One thing Mr. Wheeler told us that I for sure didn’t know (nor have seen) is that Larix is quite suitable as a hedge - got some pix from the internet …. - wouldn’t this be better than privet and maybe easier to manage than beech?

Magnolia cultivars - if you are a fan of magnolias, Broken Arrow has a whole lot of different varieties, including Magnolia x soulangiana 'Milliken' (Milliken Saucer Magnolia)

“A unique, compact selection found as a witches' broom by Greg Williams and Sue Milliken near Rhinebeck, NY. Plants are compact and dense with short internodes and a rounded outline. In spring they flower profusely with standard sized, whitish-pink flowers. A real gem likely found nowhere else!”

Nyssa sylvatica cultivars: (Really, should any landscape be without Black Tupelo in some form or another? I say NO)

Nyssa sylvatica 'Autumn Cascade' (Autumn Cascade Weeping Black Tupelo)

“An elegant, weeping selection that we introduced from Australia a few years back. Plants develop excellent red, orange and yellow fall color. If a tree form is preferred, some staking is required to develop and maintain a central leader.”

Nyssa sylvatica 'Sheri's Cloud’ (Sheri's Cloud Black Tupelo)

“Can you say amazing? That's what we said when we first saw this spectacular clone of black tupelo! Imagine, if you will, light green leaves edged with a bold, creamy-white margin! Add to that dazzling scarlet and hot pink, bi-colored fall color and you've successfully envisioned 'Sheri's Cloud'. A brilliant find from the wilds of Arkansas and a welcome addition to the growing selection of cultivars.”

Nyssa sylvatica 'Wildfire' (Wildfire Black Tupelo)

“A dazzling selection offering startling burgundy-red new growth that is present as long as new growth is being produced. Plants exhibit exceptional vigor and bright scarlet-red fall color.”

Nyssa sylvatica 'Zydeco Twist' (Contorted Black Tupelo)

“A distinct and downright cool black gum showcasing stems that twist and spin in all directions. They’re quite akin to Harry Lauder’s walking stick and are certainly not what most have come to expect from this fantastic species! Regardless, this is a striking plant for those looking for a fun addition to their gardens.”

Some shrubs of interest that Mr. Wheeler talked about are shown below, including a “fuzzy-leafed” hydrangea that deer may not eat (?? don’t know but I may be willing to give it a try since they don’t usually like fuzzy leaves)


Disanthus cercidifolius (Disanthus)

“An exceptionally choice and uncommon member of the witch hazel family. One of the most spectacular shrubs for fall color display. The blue-green, heart-shaped leaves transform to brilliant red, purple, and orange tones in late September and early October. After the foliage falls to the ground, intriguing, small, delicate reddish-purple flowers appear. Thrives in moist, acidic, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Makes a great addition to any woodland garden. 6-10'.”

Hydrangea aspera

Hydrangea aspera var. villosa (Rough Leaf Hydrangea)

“A hydrangea to die for that takes a step apart from the classic vision that most associate with this valuable genus. The long, oval leaves of the rough leaf hydrangea are greenish-blue and are covered with dense hairs that add a felted textural quality to the garden. In late summer, stylish lavender-mauve, lacecap flowers decorate the stems and create a thrilling display for an extended time. Like most hydrangeas, average to rich soil is preferred with consistent moisture though spring and summer. If happy, plants are vigorous growers forming a rounded framework to 10’ in height.”

Ilex verticillata ‘Sun Splash’ - a female Winterberry with gold coloring on the leaves and good fall color in the winter - would make winterberry less “boring” in the mixed border.

Salix species - many many willows are out there and are quite useful if you have the right place. Mr. Wheeler highlighted two willows: Silver Creeping Willow (he showed an area next to a parking lot that looked like it would be miserable lonely but was planted with a mass of creeping willow that looked beautiful and healthy and he said it was “care-free) and ‘Mt. Also’ Giant Pussy Willow - just look at the pictures of the catkins shown below and then imagine this mixed in with Black Pussy Willow - ooh la la!

Salix areneria (Salix repens ‘Arenaria’) (Silver Creeping Willow)

“A choice willow that develops a low mounding form of finely textured, felted, silver-gray leaves. Plants prefer moist locations in full sun and make ideal contrast elements at the front of a border or at the edge of a pond. 18”x 4’”

Salix gracilistyla ‘Mt. Aso’ (‘Mt. Asama’) (Mt. Aso Giant Pussy Willow)

“Magic to behold in spring when the glowing, rich-pink, felted catkins emerge from winter’s rest. The vigorous, 12-15’ male shrubs provide ample display in the garden and are equally impressive when used for cut branches. Attractive, blue-cast foliage adds color and presence to the landscape during the remainder of the growing season. This plant was previously thought to be a selection of Salix chaenomeloides but is more correctly listed as a selection of S. gracilistyla.”

Some other plants that I saw on the Broken Arrow website and that I covet based on pictures and descriptions:

Acer macrophyllum ‘Mocha Rose’ - a big leaf maple cultivar that seems to look ghostly and beautiful in the spring and reportedly has good fall color - but the main thing is I have never seen a tree that looks like this!

Acer pensylvanicum 'Erythrocladum' (Erythrocladum Striped Maple, Moosewood)

“A choice and unique selection of striped maple that is rarely offered due to its difficulty in propagation. Typical green and white-striped branches are present during warmer months. However, as cold weather commences the green portions of the branches turn spectacular shades of crimson-scarlet. The effect is amazing when set-off by fresh snowfall.”

Acer x conspicuum 'Phoenix' (Phoenix Maple)

“A show stopping maple forming a medium-sized shrub or small tree with glowing, white-striped, fire engine red winter twigs. One of the most striking plants in winter.”

“Conspicuum”: indeed!

Seems to give ‘Sango Kaku’ a run for its money!

Claudia West - a wondrous and enthusiastic horticulturalist with important ideas

Rainer and West.jpg

“ It’s very simple, I usually say: Plant more of the right kinds of plants. Replace the mulch with more ecological plants—meaning native and beneficial exotic species—that will dramatically help in creating better cities. Plant more plants!” – Quote from Claudia West

Thomas Rainer Planting Design

Thomas Rainer Planting Design

Claudia West is a particularly talented and effusive horticulturalist who is also a scientist and a great speaker. She spoke at the New York Botanical Garden two winters ago and gave the audience a lot of memorable “catchphrases” – most prominently “Plants Cover Ground” – say it with me, as she said, “Plants Cover Ground”. She explains her thinking in some of the book-tour-related interviews she’s given as well:

“Plants are really the best mulch on earth. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not against using mulch at all, but mulch should only be temporary in your garden, to fill gaps between plants until they are more established… [to] suppress maybe an early wave of sun-loving weed species. But then we really want plants to grow in as they can and cover that soil on their own. So really the best and most sustainable way of gardening is letting plants be the mulch that they’re designed to be. This is how nature works, this is how plants want to grow—that’s how they evolved to grow—and it definitely works way better.”

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing landscape designers today is the need to balance beauty with environmental concerns. Public institutions and private homeowners want plantings that please the eye and reconnect us to nature, but that also reduce chemical use, filter stormwater, sequester pollutants and carbon, cool urban temperatures, and provide habitat. The answer lies in a radical turn away from conventional horticultural practices, declare landscape architect Thomas Rainer and designer Claudia West, who advocate crafting communities of compatible species that will cover the ground in interlocking layers. – “Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes” is the subtitle of their book, Planting in a Post-Wild World published in 2015. It has been described by leading industry experts as a “game-changer” and “the universal how-to guide to sustainable landscaping.”

From the Washington Post

Why manicured lawns should become a thing of the past

By Adrian Higgins December 2, 2015

Many folks, not to mention homeowners associations, cling to that model of the American yard as one of clipped foundation shrubs, groomed lawns and trees with mulch circles. Naked soil must be blanketed spring and fall with shredded mulch. Fallen leaves are treated as trash.

The real gardening world left this fusty model years ago, embracing soft groupings of perennials, grasses and specimen trees and shrubs in a celebration of plants and a closer communion with nature.

…This premise is not entirely new: A generation ago, top designers were espousing “the New American Garden” with many of the same principles, of replacing lawns and shrubbery with perennials and ornamental grasses.

What has changed at the vanguard of garden design? Many more varieties of perennials are widely available now than in the 1990s and, moreover, the approach to planting design is changing fundamentally. Rainer, West and others are promoting a shift from clumping and grouping plant varieties to mixing them in a way that occurs in nature. Discrete clumps are replaced with interplanted varieties equipped by nature to live cheek by jowl.

“The key is to pay attention to how plants fit together,” Rainer said. “To pay attention to their shape and behavior.” This involves not only their growth patterns aboveground, but their root types, which permit plants that are surface-rooted, such as many ground covers, to coexist with deep-rooted meadow flowers and grasses.

They see the garden as no longer a collection of plants but rather a designed plant community. This is distilled into three layers. In a sunny, meadow-like garden, the uppermost layer takes the form of beefier structural perennials …(and ornamental grasses). The middle layer is the showiest and provides seasonal peaks with such things as daisies, daylilies, butterfly weeds or bee balms.

The most important layer, the ground cover, is the least showy. Forget tired spreads of English ivy or pachysandra; Rainer and West are thinking of sedges, small grasses, rushes. In shade gardens, the floor layer would consist of such woodland beauties as foamflower, trilliums, gingers and Allegheny spurge.

“The approach to ground cover is, for us, the single most important concept of creating a functioning plant community,” they write. “Think about seeing plants in the wild; there is almost never bare soil.”

The ground cover not only knits together the whole plant community physically and emotionally, but also performs an important horticultural function. Soil left bare will invite weeds, so we smother it in mulch, which has its value, but we keep piling it on for aesthetic rather than horticultural reasons. This is inherently unsustainable and expensive, and keeps lonely plantings in a perpetual state of establishment.

My theme for 2018 is to highlight different “groundcovers” – meaning plants that will spread to cover bare ground but will still co-exist happily with the rest of the plants in the community. As Roy Diblik says: “they share the space unselfishly”.


Pycnanthemum muticum (Short-toothed Mountain Mint)

is an aromatic perennial wildflower. This mint relative bears oval toothed leaves on strong square stems. Butterflies and other pollinators love mountain mint. It is excellent at providing soil stabilization as well. In summer, plants are topped by dense rounded clusters of tiny white to lavender tubular flowers. The leaves surrounding the flower clusters are highlighted with silver. (Note: some people don’t like this look). Pollinators flock to the blooms in sunny gardens with average well drained soils.

Plants tolerate clay, heat and drought.

The aromatic foliage is unpalatable to deer, rabbits and other herbivores.

This rhizomatous species will ramble and expand to form colonies. The rhizomes are shallow, though, so unwanted plants are easy to pull.

Plants are hardy from USDA Zones 4-8.

Blooming lasts for about 6 weeks

Plants grow 2-3’ tall with 2’ spread.

The mountain mints are listed on many “Top Ten Plants for Pollinators” list. The dense head-like flower cymes make this plant a pollinator paradise. Native bees, beneficial wasps, flies, beetles, skippers and small butterflies (especially hairstreaks) frequent the blossoms.

In the 2013 Penn State Extension Service Pollinator Trial “88 pollinator-rewarding herbaceous perennial plants were assessed and promoted to growers, landscapers, nursery operators, and homeowners...” Pycnanthemum muticum was rated #1 for longevity of flowers and #1 for diversity of pollinators. It also attracted the greatest number of insects of any plant. During a 2 minute time period, 78 insects visited Pycnanthemum muticum including 19 bees and syrphid flies.

Salvia verticiliata ‘Endless Love’ (Endless Love Lilac Sage)

is an outstanding selection of this Old World native sage grown for its big, fuzzy, deep-green leaves and summer-long display of large, lavender-purple flower spikes. This is a distinctive sage and very different from the nemerosa types. This superb cultivar was introduced by European plantsman Piet Oudolf.

24" tall x 30-36" wide.

Hardy in zones 5 to 9

Deer resistant, bee friendly, rabbit resistant

Full sun or Morning sun and part shade afternoon

Will rebloom if spent flowers are clipped

Stachys monieri 'Hummelo' (Betony; sometimes also Lamb’s Ear)

Excellent for flowers and foliage, S. 'Hummelo' hosts a lovely display of lavender-purple flowers atop tall, leafless stems while the stoloniferous nature creates small mounding clumps. Selected for strong flower production, plant health, habit quality and winter hardiness. A true garden delight! And a Piet Oudolf introduction and staple of many of his gardens.

Spread 18 inches

Height 18-20 inches

USDA Hardiness Zone 4-8

Deer-resistant, full sun or part shade, used as a groundcover

Unlike Stachys byzantina (Lamb's Ear), this species forms large, rounded clumps of green, long and narrow, textured leaves. It is lovely even when it's not in bloom. From early thru midsummer, sturdy spikes of lavender-rose flowers shoot up through the foliage, putting on quite a display.

Though this plant is relatively unknown to many gardeners, it makes a unique addition to any sunny border. Once you try it, you'll see that it goes with just about everything else in the garden. It is very easy to grow and deserves to be planted more widely in American landscapes.

Stachys m. 'Hummelo' received the highest rating out of 22 Stachys studied in the Plant Evaluation Trials at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The trial was run from 1998-2004 by Richard G. Hawke. Both 'Helene von Stein' (aka 'Big Ears') and 'Silver Carpet' (the fuzzy silver-foliaged “Lamb’s Ear” that we’re probably more familiar with) also received very high scores.

Building a BETTER Grass Garden

Ornamental grasses can be an important addition to your landscape, since they are deer-resistant (as well as groundhog, bunny etc resistant), not too hard to locate in the nursery trade and provide multi-season interest. You can find grass species that are tall, spiky, soft, clump-formers, spreaders, some with colored foliage, some with variegated foliage, and so on. They are fairly easy to take care of, as long as you have a good set of loppers to cut some of the larger ones back as they grow bigger.

Ornamental grass can function as an exclamation point in the design.

Hermannshof Planting Beds with autumn grasses

Ornamental grasses are the matrix in a matrix planting.

Roy Diblik planting design

Ornamental grasses can even add an almost formal element; a very modern look as seen in these views of Piet Oudolf’s design for the Scampston Hall Walled Garden

Ornamental grass for winter interest.

Ornamental grasses have deep roots, which promote healthy soil.

To be more successful, your grass garden should have a mixture of cool-season and warm-season ornamental grasses. Cool season grasses thrive when temperatures are between 60 - 75 degrees F. They start to grow in early spring and may remain semi-evergreen over the winter. They’re happy again in late fall, but in the heat of the summer they tend to go dormant and may even brown-out - something to consider as far as placement within the planted border. Warm-season grasses don’t even break dormancy until the ground temperature is above 65, and thrive when temperatures are between 80 - 95 degrees F. So warm season grasses are late starters - especially in some of the cool springs we’ve had recently. If the warm-season grasses are just sitting there doing nothing, your matrix planting may look empty and not make much sense until summer.

If you include both types of ornamental grasses, you’ll have fresh new grasses in the spring as well as mature grasses and grass flowers in the summer and fall.

WHO’s WHO of Ornamental Grasses:

Cool Season Grasses:

Briza media, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, Calamagrostis canadensis, Chasmanthium latifolium, Deschampsia caespitosa, Deschampsia flexuosa, Elymus spp., All Fescues, Helictotrichon sempervirens, Molinia, Nasella tenuissima, Sesleria spp., Stipa spp.

Warm Season Grasses:

Andropogon spp, Bouteloua spp, Calamagrostis brachytricha, Eragrostis spp, Hakonechloa spp, Miscanthus spp, Muhlenbergia spp, Panicum spp, Pennisetum spp. Sporobolus heterolepsis, Schizachyrium spp, Sorghastrum nutans

The Legacy of Pierre Bennerup The American Gardener Nov/Dec 2013

Sunny Border Nurseries

Sunny Border Nurseries

Pierre Benerup, CEO of Sunny Border Nurseries is the person who came up with the idea of selling perennials in containers!  Up till then perennials were sold mostly as bare root plants.   Like other perennial garden "greats" we know, like Piet Oudolf and Roy Diblik, Bennerup has a passion for plants and a wealth of hands-on learning.  He also had a solid background in sales and marketing, which is how he decided to plant in containers - it was sheer practicality.

In the early 1970s, perennial plants were primarily sold bareroot. Wholesale growers such as Walters Gardens in Zeeland, Michigan, and Springbrook Gardens in Mentor, Ohio, grew hundreds of acres of perennials in sandy soils and shipped nationwide to mail-order firms. In turn, the firms put their inventory into coolers until it was time to ship in spring and fall. Perennials such as moss phlox (Phlox subulata) and evergreen candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) were field-dug, thrown into two-quart wooden baskets, and placed on sale in retail nurseries, but few other perennials had the durability to withstand that kind of rough handling.

In the '50s and '60s, Sunny Border had converted a large part of its operation to field-grown production of yews (Taxus media) in order to meet the huge demand for foundation plantings created by the boom in home construction following World War II. The soil in that area of Connecticut is a clay loam, ideal for producing balled-and-burlapped yews, but not for perennials, which couldn't be dug after rains as quickly and easily as they could in the sandy soils of Bennerup's bigger competitors.

With the market for perennials expanding in the 1970s, Bennerup needed to come up with a solution. It was at this point that he decided to take the digging out of the equation and grow plants in pots.

As a wholesale nursery, Sunny Border sells to independent garden centers and directly to landscapers. Bennerup's guiding philosophy is that foliage-not flowers-is the key to successful gardens and landscapes. He elucidated this in the letter he wrote in his 2013 catalog, under the theme "Green is a color, too." Taking issue with what he terms "lipstick landscapes," Bennerup stated,

"I believe a good perennial garden is mostly foliage-various shades of green, bronze, silver, and gold. It's soothing. It's cooling." He adds, "Flower color in the garden should be savored in small portions like dessert. Too much color causes garden obesity." 
"Perennial gardening is about subtlety, form, fragrance, texture, calm, and sometimes even sound and motion; in fact, all the senses, not just sight," he says.
"I get so much enjoyment from gardening and plants," he says. "It's such a great gratification. We are connecting with the real world."


In addition to being a fan of perennials with interesting foliage, Pierre Bennerup says his favorite plant "tends to be whatever is blooming at the moment." He does admit to affinities to certain families or genera, such as the primrose family, the ranunculus family, the genus Epimedium, the genus Hakonechloa, the genus Saxifraga, and the genus Phlox. Here are some of his favorite individual perennials, including a few introductions by Sunny Border.

Coreopsis X 'Mercury Rising'

Coreopsis X 'Mercury Rising'

Pulmonaria 'Majeste' foliage

Pulmonaria 'Majeste' foliage

Pulmonaria 'Majeste' flowers

Pulmonaria 'Majeste' flowers

Tiarella X 'Timbuktu' foliage

Tiarella X 'Timbuktu' foliage

Tiarella fall and early winter foliage colors

Tiarella fall and early winter foliage colors

Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue'

Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue'

Sunny Border combination

Sunny Border combination

David Culp, Author of "The Layered Garden", is VP of Sunny Border Nurseries

David Culp, Author of "The Layered Garden", is VP of Sunny Border Nurseries




Insect Hotels

One of the things that everyone's been thinking about in the world of landscape design is how to protect the pollinators and encourage "good bugs" so that our gardens and landscapes will be healthier and more sustainable.  Some homeowners are in the habit of "cleaning up" the garden within an inch of its life, leaving no leaf litter or dormant perennial stalks, no fallen trees or piles of sticks - blowing it all away down to the bare dirt.  This may create a "tidy" look, and it may "take less time" to use a leaf blower than a rake, but there are SO MANY reasons not to do this!  Leaving aside the air and noise pollution created by leaf blowers, their health hazards to those who use them, and the soil compaction that results from having 180 mph hot air blown at it - what about the habitat that's being taken away?

Insects of all kinds need places to overwinter and to create their nests.  If there are no nooks and crannies, no hollow stems, no rotting logs, no decaying leaves available, those pollinators and beneficial bugs will leave your yard and find somewhere else to be.  Poof - no pollination for you!

The good news is that you can create habitats for beneficial insects by collecting natural or salvaged materials into one place, where multiple types of insects can overwinter and nest.  They're easy and fun to make yourself, and can become works of art if you want them to be.  Maybe more attractive and effective in a small yard than keeping a not-very-extensive "wild area" somewhere.  You may have to replace some of the elements every late-summer, but its a great way to "recycle" old bricks, leftover stone, tile shingles or old crates.  You can make pruned branches or old firewood into art just by arranging it in an orderly fashion.  Add some pinecones and some cut pieces of bamboo.  If you have leftover wood, drill holes into a block of wood to create habitat for bees who nest in hollows.

If you google "insect hotel" you'll come up with some pictures and some instructions - then let your imagination take over.  Pay attention, though, to where to place (or to build) your insect hotel once its finished - the insects will need afternoon sun to keep warm.

Here's a simple example about how stacking some old bricks in an unused part of your garden bed then inserting twigs, hollow stems and dried grasses in an orderly fashion creates both art and habitat.

These are some of the elements you can include:

  • A compartment with a red-colored slitted door filled with wheat straw will attract Green lacewings, ladybugs and earwigs and provide them with a place to hibernate from the middle of September until early April. Lacewings devour aphids and other pests such as scale insects, many types of caterpillar and mites.  Another way to make a good lacewing habitat is by rolling up a piece of corrugated cardboard and putting it in a waterproof cylinder, such as an old plastic bottle. 
  • Lots of different kinds of bees make their nests in hollow sticks, hollow plant stems or holes in wood made by wood-boring insects.  Mason bees (Osmia), masked bees (Hylaeus) and solitary wild bees all will use different diameters of holes.  There are many different species of solitary bee, all are excellent pollinators. The female bee lays an egg on top of a mass of pollen at the end of a hollow tube, she then seals the entrance with a plug of mud.  A long tube can hold several such cells.   
  • A compartment filled with pine cones provides lots of safe spaces for lots of differenet insects, including garden spiders.
  • Dead wood is an increasingly rare habitat as we tidy our gardens, parks and woodlands. It is essential for the larvae of wood-boring beetles, such as the stag beetle.  It also supports many fungi, which help break down the woody material.  Crevices under the bark hold centipedes and woodlice.  Place rotting logs at the base of your hotel so the logs stay nice and damp and mix with other decaying plant matter to attract centipedes (which devour slugs) and other woodland litter insects such as millipedes and woodlice (which will provide a welcome source of food for birds). This is also a great spot for garden spiders.
  • Frog hole.  Frogs eat many slugs and other garden pests.  Although they need a pond to breed in, they can spend most of the year out of water.  We use stone and tiles as these provide the cool damp conditions amphibians need.  Newts may also take advantage of these conditions.  Amphibians need a frost-free place to spend the winter; this could be in the center of the habitat you create, inside the base of a dry-stone wall, under a pile of rubble or deep underground. 
  • Straw and Hay provide many opportunities for invertebrates to burrow in and find safe hibernation sites. 
  • Twigs, sticks and stems: Bundled together, sticks and twigs of different sizes offer welcome lodgings for ground beetles. These beetles chomp away at many of the pests that attack our crops, including aphids and carrot root fly larvae.  You'll also be offering a vacancy to ladybugs, which eat aphids and mites.  The adults hibernate over winter; they need dry sticks or leaves to hide in. Hoverflies will also be attracted to this type of material.  Hoverflies are both pollinator and pest patroller – the larvae carry an insatiable appetite for aphids while the adults feed on nectar as they pollinate flowers.
  • Loose bark is a habitat for beetles, centipedes, spiders and woodlice, who all lurk underneath the decaying wood and bark. They help to break down woody plant material and recycle it back into compost.
  • Dry leaves mimic the litter on the forest floor and provide homes for a variety of invertebrates.
  • Crevices are important places for hibernation through the winter.  Make sure your insect hotel has plenty of different types of crannies and crevices.
  • Bumblebees. Every spring queen bumblebees search for a site to build a nest and found a new colony. An upturned flowerpot in a warm sheltered place might be used. 

Seen below in the picture is a FABULOUS idea - incorporate both a mini "green roof" and insect habitat to construct a decorative stacked-stone wall.  This one looks like it might be one of two that define an entry into the next garden room - which looks like it might be a meadow.

Which reminds us that we need larval foods and nectar-producing flowers as part of the habitat as well.  Make 2015 the year when you do something artistic and whimsical to protect the pollinators!

Incorporate your late fall clean-up “trimmings” with other natural materials for a one-of-a-kind seasonal wreath

The weather was very mild in late November and early December, after an early cold snap, so fall clean-up chores extended into the holiday-decorating-of-containers season this year.  I realized that some of the stuff I was “cleaning up” could be used to decorate the containers or added to wreaths.  My favorite garden pictures website is GAP Photos ( – it’s a British site and always features projects that can be done with natural materials.  Here are a few of the wreath ideas that were on their blog this winter:

'Hedgerow" wreath

This one they call the “hedgerow” wreath.  Since I am dedicated to the proposition of creating hedgerow-like plantings for any of my clients who are willing, this showed me how beautiful the fruits of a hedgerow can be (for people).  Of course, birds and animals love hedgerows too.  This wreath has






(rose hips) and


(blackberry) and some other types of dried seedheads.

Features of a Hedgerow

Most hedges in Britain were originally planted to keep grazing animals contained. They include one or several shrub species, often planted on a bank or with an adjacent ditch. Mixed hedgerows may include tree and shrub species such as hawthorn, hazel (

Coryllus avellana

), Field maple (

Acer campestre

), and oak.  An “American” version might include serviceberry (


), paperbark maple (

Acer griseum

) (for a beautiful winter bark), corneliancherry dogwood (

Cornus mas

) and shrubs like highbush blueberry (

Vaccinium corymbosum)

, red-twig dogwood (

Cornus sericea

), bloodtwig dogwood (

Cornus sanguinea

), smokebush (

Cotinus coggygria

) or ninebark (

Physocarpus opulifolius

).  You could plant

Corylus colurna

(Turkish hazel) instead of

Corylus avellana

(hazel as in hazel nuts).  I’ve also planted giant dogwood (

Cornus controversa

) and pagoda dogwood (

Cornus alternifolia

) in a “hedgerow” (I call it a mixed screening border).  For a little pizazz you could add a crapemyrtle (


).  Mix in a few evergreens like American holly (

Ilex opaca

), Oriental spruce (

Picea orientalis

) and slow-growing blue spruce (

Picea pungens

‘Fat Albert’).

Habitat for wildlife

Tall, wide and bushy hedges with several different plant species provide the richest wildlife habitats. The thick vegetation they offer gives shelter to nesting and hibernating animals while hedgerow flowers, fruits and nuts are a food source for invertebrates, birds and small mammals. Hedges act as corridors for small creatures to travel along under protective vegetation.

Some additional wildlife-friendly and/or sustainability-friendly wreath ideas:

Crabapples wired together in a circle

Maple leaves or other colored fall leaves wired into a circle.

You can cut a few stems of red-twig dogwood and winterberry holly to stuff into your containers.  If you prune your magnolias, you can use their branches in containers as well.  I’ve put dried-on-the-shrub hydrangeas that have nice colors into windowboxes and containers as well.

At my house I added a bittersweet-from-the-roadside wreath on the gate and red-twig and yellow-twig dogwood stems with winterberry holly stems in the containers.  I also have the beautiful winter silhouette of climbing hydrangea that “camouflages” part of the dreaded chain-link fence.  

Folly Forest: From Asphalt to Educational Landscape

From the ASLA Blog "The Dirt":

08/11/2014 by Jared Green

Browsing through the latest issue of Azure magazine, ( one can see socially conscious design is making its way even into the far reaches of Winnipeg, Canada.  Folly Forest (, a great, small project at the Stratchona School, which in a low-income neighborhood, was put together with just $80,000 by local design firm Straub Thurmayr Landscape Architects and Urban Designers.

50-year old asphalt was broken apart so 100 trees could be planted within bright red and yellow-lined star-shaped spaces. Azure tells us: “To add rich texture and provide ground cover for the new plantings, they arranged bricks, logs, and stones inside the bases.”

The project has deservedly taken home a ton of Canadian design awards. Azure‘s jury gave it a merit award, and the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (CSLA) awarded it a citation ( CSLA said the project “demonstrates the immense potential of landscape architecture as a spatial and social transformer. It showcases how a simple measure can take ecological and aesthetic effects and turn them into the formative element of design.”

The Prairie Design Awards ( also honored the project, writing that at just $20 per square foot, nature is allowed to “take root through an asymmetrically disposed composition of newly planted trees, benches, follies and earthen mounds. The program fosters playful engagement, through the eyes of a child, and provides any visitor, young or old, to engage with a truly delightful and special place.”

But beyond all the accolades from the design world, the teachers and kids at the school seem to get a lot of out their rugged new green space, too. Erin Hammond, a teacher at Stratchona School, told CBC News ( folly-forest-1.1352450), the new space has been a boon for the kids. “It’s just been an amazing enticement to get kids outside.”

Teachers are using the green space to start new conversations about ecology. “Kids are going, ‘How come that tree has more leaves than this one?’ Well, that one has more sun than this one,” said Hammond.

Here's what three things I'm obsessed with this fall

ONE:  Rain gardens, vegetated swales, dry stream bed gardens - by whatever name (one potential client referred to it as a "glorified ditch") these stormwater management facilities are challenging and fun to design and implement.  Especially in small spaces.  My goal is to include stormwater management facilities in every design.

TWO:  Water gardens - not as difficult as I thought they would be.  It's been awe-inspiring to watch a 'Black Magic' colocasia grow from three small leaves into giant, beautiful gorgeousness, with runners spreading all over the place!

THREE:  The challenge of improving the streetscape on Main Street - what are low-cost, creative ways to invest in making our Main Street business district more "beautiful" when there is no money available?  And how do you convince "the people" that it's important enough to pay attention to?  I installed two "mini-gardens' this fall in empty tree wells along Main Street to demonstrate that treating the tree well essentially like a container (perennials, a shrub or ornamental grass, some annuals and bulbs) can look (almost) as nice as a street tree (and certainly nicer than a mostly-dead tree or gravel!).