Perennial Favorites -July 2013

Perennial gardening has been a lifelong passion for Chris and Bob Hestwood, and they have achieved what many in Tom Nevers have deemed nearly impossible.

by: Hilary Newell

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

Remarkable, lush perennial beds surround their home and bloom from spring through fall. This is extraordinary, particularly because of the high population of deer in the area. Battling for years with the deer that compete for flowers and foliage, Bob engineered an ingenious simple fencing solution to weave through the native and natural scrub that surrounds the house.

Hailing most recently from Somers, New York, they purchased their property in the 1980s and built a small home. They dug a kettle-type depression for the house and built the garage into the hillside they created, with the cottage at the natural ground level. This house now serves as the guest cottage for those lucky enough to visit and is surrounded by roses, santolinas and alchemillas. One of the roses is American Pillar, acquired from Olive Pope in the 1980s. This old rose is a reliable performer, gracing the cottage with hundreds of single rose-pink blooms. A classic rambler, American Pillar is stunning from a distance, and lovely to look at up close. Also planted around the cottage are Meidiland Coral shrub roses.

Early this spring, Chris and I took a stroll through their landscape and she often referred to her garden notebook that she started keeping before they even moved to Nantucket full time. Roses have mildew – spray earlier next year. Wild daisies blooming in the driveway. “They’re all gone now.” she noted. One entry makes her laugh. Three feverfew on the hill.

“There must be a million now,” she said.

When we walked around that day, the allium buds were beginning to reach for the sky. Single shoots graced every plant and reminded Chris that she and Bob had planted a lot of them as part of preparing the property for their daughter’s late-June wedding several years ago. The alliums were planted as insurance against weather forces that may have caused the garden to bloom early or late. Alliums have long staying power and if they bloomed early, they would still have great color for the wedding. Chris joked that if they were really early, she could spray-paint the seed heads for color. At my lament about the lone allium that fails each year in my own garden, Chris said, “You should plant Globemaster. It’s the best.”

Adenophora plays a respectable role in many of the garden beds. Every bed seemed to have a few large clumps in the middle, but those clumps need to be restrained each year as they expand and would take over large areas if left unchecked. Commonly known as lady-bells, Adenophora (in the campanula family) has tall, straight stems of blue bell-like flowers that reach 24-36 inches. Drought- and heat-tolerant, they are stars of the garden in July and August.

I spied some overturned pots with bamboo stakes sticking out of them at various places in the gardens. It turns out these are experiments on leaving dahlias in the ground year-round. The upturned pot acts as an insulator above the tubers and, according to some savvy local landscape gardeners, is a way to successfully keep from having to dig and store them over the winter. It was a cold winter, though, and as she pulled the pots from a few of them, we reached into the ground to find dahlia tubers that had turned to mush. So much for that experiment. Chris shares with me that she wants to plant dahlias in pots next year, and keep them warm to get more growth and blooms earlier. Then she would set the pots right in the gar- den for the remainder of the season. Though they can be tall, Chris likes to keep the planted dahlias out of the cen- ter of the beds, as they tend to get buried when they’re in the middle.

As we are exploring around the cottage, Bob walked up to join us and takes a deep whiff of Viburnum Carlesii. “One of the best smells of the garden,” he said. Chris reminded him that planting this plant in this particular place was a mistake. It’s planted right outside the bedroom window specifically so they could open the window and smell it in the spring. But it’s so cold here when it’s blooming, the window is never open. I remind them that on a warm day you can smell the viburnum all over the property. Bob went back to repairing a small dinghy in the driveway.

Lilies are poking up through the garden everywhere. They are stars in the summer garden, their heady fragrance wafting across the entire property. There are Casa Blancas (large pure white), Sorbonne (medium pink with speckles,) Crystal Blanca (an improvement over Casa Blanca), Millesimo (pure white with a thin pink edge), Paradero (pink with white edge), Glamour (deep red/pink flowers with slim white edge) and more. Hardy perennials, they get larger and larger each year, and Chris noted that one stem had upwards of 60 buds last year. Some of them are freakishly large and will grow to six feet tall. She only occasionally cuts them to bring them into the house as she enjoys them more outside. Occasionally a nepeta (flowering catmint) has grown over a lily bulb that is erupting out of the middle of the foliage. Her favorite nepeta varieties are Wildcat and Supercat.

I noted the complete lack of mulch in all of the beds. There are so many annuals that self-sow, Chris said she doesn’t want to cover them up and risk ger- mination failure. Consolida (larkspur) is an annual that likes to spread itself around, allowing its blue spikes to sprout up between many other plants. Verbena bonariensis, Papaver somniferum, verbascum, centaura (bachelor’s buttons) and rose campion are also promiscuous self-seeders, and Chris and Bob spend a fair amount of time weeding out extras each spring. There is an art to knowing how many seedlings to allow to stay, and which ones should be pulled out. Too many, and it looks messy and crowded. Too few, and there may be a blank spot. And there are no blank spots in the Hestwoods’ garden.

Several plants came from their Somers garden. “We kind of forgot how prolific some of them are, and they’ve found their way back into this garden,” Chris said as she bent down to pull out some generic-looking weeds. Myosotis (forget-me-not) spreads like crazy in Somers, and is in the garden here, but doesn’t do as well. “It’s kind of puny in this garden,” Chris said. Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew), Lysimachia clethroides (gooseneck loosestrife) and Eupatoriuim Cory (looks like ageratum and the butterflies love it) seed themselves everywhere. “We have an argument every year about when to add compost,” Chris said.

Too early and these seeds may not germinate. Too late and the weeds get out of control. So it rarely happens that new compost gets spread on the garden.

Other plants they brought from Somers are not as prolific and in fact are some of Chris’ favorites. Some that came from their 100-foot-long garden bed in New York are peonies and yarrow. Peonies are in nearly every bed, with tree peonies in the large crescent bed closest to the house. Achillea Coronation Gold (yarrow) attracts birds and butterflies with its bright yellow flowers all summer.

Most people have a junk drawer, or even a junk room. But Bob and Chris have a junk garden bed. There is a tree rose that had been tossed in the compost pile a couple years before, and when it began to sprout, they replanted it into the “junk garden.” They cut down the tree-standard portion of the plant and are waiting to see what kind of flowers the root stock will give them. This bed also holds the roses that she had Bob dig out from behind the house a previous year.

“We can’t get rid of anything around here. We just find another place to plant it,” Chris said.
If it doesn’t work where it is planted, it might go to the junk garden, which is only about eight feet by 10 feet, to see what it can eventually do, then it might get moved into one of the bigger beds. This bed serves as a nursery bed, where plants go to recover from some trauma.

The hillside garden is another catch-all garden, where leftovers and orphans get planted. Previous years’ window boxes held dwarf Alberta spruces with flowering plants. Not being able to throw away the dwarf spruce when the rest of the flowers in the window boxes were done for the year, the tiny evergreens got transplanted to the hillside garden. Now those dwarf spruce are not so small, with most of them between four and five feet. Chris humorously indicated that their visions differ for this particular garden. Bob wants trees and larger specimens, and Chris wants more mounded stuff like Nepeta Six Hills Giant, Al- chemilla (lady’s mantle), grasses (stipa in particular), buddleia (butterfly bush), large mounds of oregano, Coreopsis, Gaillardia and sedums like Autumn Joy or Brilliant. In the meantime, this bed holds an eclectic combination including the Alberta spruce and Berberis thunbergii, or Japanese barberry. These red-leaved plants were still covered with tiny red berries that glimmered in the sun. No longer available commercially due to invasive concerns, these barberry plants are nice rounded specimens that accent the hillside.

Chris noted that this garden pretty much started out as a junk pile, but her inspiration is Lauren Springer Ogden, author of “The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather-Resilient Beauty,” whose garden in Colorado is a big hill, solid with flowers. This hill-side garden is well on its way to becoming just that. Its southwestern exposure means that it gets a lot of hot sun and the soil is rather on the dry side, so careful consideration is warranted when choosing what to put there. There are a few alliums in the hillside garden, and while not a complete failure, Chris said they’re just not very successful because it’s so dry. On the other hand, sedums thrive in the drier-than-average soil. Many of the sedum babies from the other gardens will be transplanted here. Rounded out with wild daisies and Rudbeckia Goldsturm (probably one of the best-selling perennials worldwide) this garden will be a masterpiece before long.

When it comes to soil types and what kind of amendments to add, Chris insisted that you should just plant what works in the soil that you have. “Sand
is your friend,” she said. They have not amended this particular bed since the initial addition of manure, peat moss, compost and bone meal when they bought the property.

“It is what it is. If things do well, they do well. If they don’t, they don’t,” Chris said in her ever-practical opinion. She pointed to a short clump of green sword-like foliage and asked if I knew what the plant was. I’m stumped and very interested when she reveals that it is colchicum, also known as autumn crocus, a fall-blooming bulb. Foliage appears in the spring, and then the bulbs go dormant until the bright pink or purple flowers emerge, as if by magic. Unlike other fall-blooming bulbs, if you want to grow colchicum, you should plant them in the fall, not in the spring like other fall-bloomers. If you order them from a catalog, they will ship in September, so they can be planted at the proper time.

The main rectangular beds all feature full-sun plants. The house side of one of these features a row of Alchemilla (lady’s mantle.) They form the front edge of the border. Last year, they got so large that when they were cut back post-bloom, they left a strip of garden where no flowers bloomed. The Hestwoods have remedied that for this year, making each of them about half the size and adding new perennials between. The many rectangular beds feature several varieties of Rudbeckia, columbine, cranesbill (perennial geranium,) mallow, Asclepias (butterfly weed), flag and bearded irises, shasta daisies, Lythrum and Delphinium. Clay pots planted with colorful annuals are dotted around the deck near the seating area.

What are Chris’ favorites? Lythrum Morden’s Pink (the sterile variety) and phlox are at the top of the list. Lythrum provides 48-inch spikes of pink flowers in July and August. The bushy, erect growth habit is topped by six- to 12-inch spikes of clustered flowers in medium pink. Now that the deer are out of the picture, the Oriental lilies are right up there too.

“They used to eat them right to the ground,” Chris said. Now they grow to six feet tall. Chris also noted that the roses are the most difficult, but most worth it. She acknowledged that keeping mildew at bay and pruning are time-consuming, but roses are so beautiful when they’re blooming.

But this property isn’t just about the amazing perennial beds. Around the edge of the lawn, inside the border of native scrub that hides the deer fence, there is an assortment of beautiful flowering shrubs and small trees, climbing roses scale nearly every sunny wall, and window wells are carefully planted with various specimens. Window boxes overflow with geraniums, verbena, gaura and ipomoea, not quite hidden from view by the prolific roses in front of them. Hellebores and lavender, phlox and boxwood, violets and dianthus are tucked into openings and recesses around the main house. Viburnums, Japanese cryptomeria, Bradford pears, roses of Sharon, weigelas, oak leaf hydrangeas, witch hazels and lilacs are strategically placed around the edge of the verdant lawn that Bob tenaciously maintains. This is in addition to his roles as chief hole-digger, weeder, fence-maintainer and head-waterer. He builds all the trellises and is a detail-oriented handyman, repairing, mending and tending to whatever is broken.

As we walked around on that May morning, Chris kept making mental notes that it was time to dig up the grasses on the hillside, Bob needed to move those lilies that he planted too close to the edge, and they needed to get rid of that mulch they put on the hillside garden last summer. It’s too chunky and doesn’t look like mulch at all. The alliums on the hillside should be moved, and they needed to add more colchicum. While their visions may not be parallel in the hillside garden, it is clear that Bob and Chris both keep moving forward in all their gardens. The work is never finished and at the end of the season, they can stand back and agree that this year’s successful garden will be even better next year.

Hilary Newell is the director of marketing at Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm and a regular contributor to Nantucket Today.

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