Placing Garden Art

garden stakes between the plantsI like to buy garden art and ornaments from local artists. The works are often different from those you see in stores, and it’s more meaningful when you know where a piece comes from and who created it. In the past, I’ve bought a metal trellis from Jennifer Wolcott and two local gentlemen designed and assembled the pergola in my backyard.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought two glass garden stakes from Geralyn Thelen, who shows her work at the Northfield Riverwalk Market Fair on Saturdays. I’ve long admired the bright colors and luminous texture of Gerie’s jewelry, home decor and furniture. So when she created these stakes for the garden, I had to have one — or two.

I picked two slightly different stakes in colors that work well together and with my plants and house. Being design-challenged, it took a bit of moving around to figure out how to place them well.

I thought they would be a bright spot and focal point in my front door garden. So I put a stake with bright oranges and maroons behind this Autumn Joy sedum and in front of a dark maroon coleus I’m growing on trial this summer. (Fantastic plant, by the way, but more on that in a later post.) I like the surprise of the art between the plants, but in some ways the piece seems lost.

garden stake with short plantsTo try a different approach, I put the second one in a back bed near some orange impatiens and lamium under an ash tree. Because the plants are short, this stake seems to stand out more. The plants behind it are mostly done blooming, so the artwork becomes a slightly taller focal point in the bed.

Placing artwork and other structural elements in a bed takes some trial and error. In the September/October issue of Northern Gardener (which will be on newsstands soon), columnist Don Engebretson offers insights into why and how to place fountains, benches, arbors, sculpture and other nonplant elements. One of his main points is to put the objects in a bed — rather than sitting them out in the lawn by themselves.

In writing this post, I noticed Gerie has a photo of the stakes in a group of three. Might be another reason for a trip to the market!

What are some of your favorite ways to display art in the garden?

Best Garden Advice of 2011: Shearing Perennials

Cut back in June, sedum is short, squat and blooming in October.

Back in September 2010, Don Engebretson suggested in Northern Gardener’s perennial column that gardeners shear back some tall, floppy perennials. He wasn’t recommending judicious pinching to encourage bloom and more side growth, but rather grabbing a big ole garden shears and lopping plants off about halfway from the top in late May or June.

His argument was that plants that have a tendency to flop – in my garden that would be Russian sage and tall sedum – will bloom at the time they usually bloom even if they are cut back. Nature programmed them to bloom then, Don said. And, cutting them back results in shorter, stouter stems, and therefore, less flopping. I was wary, but decided to give it a shot.

And, it worked! The Russian sage I cut back in mid-June is still standing tall in October. It bloomed beautifully in late summer and the stems show no signs of flopping over, even as the season winds to a close. The same is true of the sedum, which seemed to struggle after being cut back, but recovered and now are short, squat, and full of bloom.

Thanks for the great advice, Don!

What’s the best garden advice you picked up this year?



Installing a Front-Yard Garden

Last fall, I marked off the area for a front-yard garden, something I’ve been wanting to do for a couple of years. Our front yard faces east and south and while we have planted some big trees, the corner in question gets baked by sun, and consequently, required watering all the time, and still the grass looked brown. Minnesota doesn’t really have the right climate for growing turf grass, even under better conditions.

I used the smother method to kill the grass and was only semi-pleased with the results. As the photo shows, not all the grass was as dead as it should have been. Next time, I’ll used the method described at the Minnesota site,, which calls for a minimum of 10 sheets of newspaper and then a heavy load of mulch on top. To finish killing the grass, I did a judicious spritzing with Round-up, which kills pretty much any plant it touches, but disperses rapidly. I’s a good choice for this kind of job. During the week or so I had to wait for the Round-up to wear off, I took care of a couple of other pre-planting jobs.

First, call Gopher State One-Call (or use their web site, if you can figure it out) to have the utility lines marked. As I suspected, wires were under my bed. This meant hand-digging very carefully in those areas. Second job: Go buy your plants!! That’s the fun part. I had an idea of what I wanted because I’d had Kristin from Knecht’s visit last fall. I swamped out a couple of the choices Kristin suggested for similar plants that were more to my liking. (As great as they are, I refuse to plant even one more purple coneflower in my yard.)

Once I had all the plants selected, I started arranging them–in their pots–on the garden site. My daughters said it looked like aliens were staging an invasion of our yard. In placing them, I thought about the ultimate size of each plant, the various types of foliage, and the bloom time of each plant.

Placing plants is tricky, but as Don Engebretson says, “It’s not rocket science!” You want variety in foliage, plants with different textures and shapes. You also want to have something in bloom all season long. Finally, you want to plant in swaths or drifts. This has long been my downfall, since I tend to pick a plant and just put it in the ground. For more on how to create interesting perennial gardens, check out this article on Don’s web site or look at the pictures of Terry Yockey’s Red Wing garden on her web site.

Once I was satisfied with the foliage, the bloom times, and the drifts, I let it sit for a couple of days. Remember, it’s easy to move pots, not so easy plants that are in the ground. I made a few adjustments, then Monday afternoon started planting.