Friday, June 30, 2017

Garden Tours and a Mulch Epiphany

Northview Gardens

I took some wonderful garden tours this month beginning with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Ambler Garden Tour near Philadelphia and ending with the Monroe County Garden Club Tour in Stroudsburg. The highlight of the Ambler tour, for me, was Northview Gardens, home of Jenny and Gus Carey. You may remember Jenny Rose Carey from previous blog postings: click here and here to learn more. Jenny Rose is the author of Glorious Shade and I was anxious to see the gardens for myself, having spent hours poring over the beautiful photographs of them in her book. Northview covers 4 1/2 acres with 31 distinct areas: from the Blast From the Past Garden, Italian Garden, Dry Garden, Herb Garden, and Victorian Stumpery, to the Fountain Garden to name a few. I cannot begin to do justice to these fabulous gardens in the space of my little blog and include just a few photographs here. The lead picture above shows some of Jenny Rose's June blooms -- of course they were way ahead of ours in the Poconos. Note the bottom left picture of the three -- that is a Blacklace elderberry Sambucus nigra with a rose entwined through its branches. This is typical of the beautiful plantings throughout the gardens. Don't you love the pink of that poppy and the deep blue of the bell flowers?

As I said, this posting shows just a small number of the garden spots (and plantings) I fell in love with:

The Forgotten Garden's Grasses, Shrubs, and Evergreens
Top: Redbud Allée. Bottom: Magnolia macrophilia.

Jenny Rose practices sustainable gardening, using no pesticides. She mulches with leaf mold, pine needles, and small rocks. She also uses ground covers such as the patchwork of sedums pictured below. Since the tour I purchased a tray of various types of sedums which I planted hoping they will form, eventually, a small patchwork quilt under my delphiniums. Well, that's one of the reasons for garden tours, isn't it -- to find ideas you can use in your own garden? I do like to use ground covers rather than mulch. And mulch was on my mind during this tour -- I'll explain this later.

Various sedums form a patchwork ground cover.

Of course, I fell in love with Jenny Rose's sheds. The top photograph shows Jabba the Hut, a summer house. The bottom one is Rose Cottage, the most beautiful 'potting' shed I have ever seen. (The actual potting takes place in the Potting Area behind Rose Cottage.) Here we met Hanna, Jenny Rose's head gardener. She showed us inside Rose Cottage which houses a seed repository and tidily arranged tools on beautiful tool racks. (I felt embarrassed thinking back to when Jenny Rose visited my gardens and I showed her the inside of my tiny, untidy potting place.)

'Jabba the Hut' and 'Rose Cottage'

The water gardens were crystal clear. (We are still working on ours. I'm hoping the new skimmer will do the trick.)

Top: The Waterfall Garden. Bottom: The Pond Garden.

Finally (yes, I know there was so much more), I loved the many whimsical elements at Northview, but my favorite was the copper teapot fountain. So appropriate for an English gardener.

Whimsical elements add charm at Northview

I hope you enjoyed this little taste of the loveliness that is Northview.

There were several other gardens on the Ambler tour and I will feature one more here. This beautiful garden, originally part of the estate of an adjacent manor house, has a Tuscan flair with its fountains, stone walls, circa 1880's wrought iron, and flagstone terrace.  As we climbed the hill to the property, I immediately saw it as the antithesis to Northview. With the straight lines of the flower beds and the neat, black dyed mulch, this garden has a very definite 'landscaped' look that is in stark contrast to the naturalistic feel of Jenny Rose's garden. The type of mulch a gardener chooses is based upon personal taste. Until this year, I used black dyed mulch on my beds; I like the way black mulch makes the flowers 'pop.' But lately I've had the desire for a more natural, organic appearance. Comparing these two gardens reinforced my feeling that I should give black mulch a rest.

Straight lines, black mulch. A beautifully landscaped property.

The question remains, if not black-dyed mulch then what? In the vegetable garden I use cedar mulch because it contains a chemical that limits bacterial and fungal growth. It is brown and has medium-sized flakes of wood in it. While it is great in the kitchen garden, I don't like the way it looks in my flower beds. As for other mulches: I don't have enough leaf mold, there are pine needles in the Woodland Walk only, I don't like rocks as mulch except in a dry garden. I must use mulch of some sort, however, to suppress those darn weeds and stop the rain from splashing soil/mud up the siding of the house. I puzzled about this for a few weeks.

The next garden tour we took was in our local area of the Poconos. Here are just a very few pictures from some of the gardens we visited:

Hostas and a bog garden in Barbara and Kerry Teats' garden.
Praying mantis and dragonfly sculptures in Ken Lang's garden
Flower-decked gate inviting you
 into Cecillia Yost's swimming pool garden

Robin and Brad Teets' entry garden and her glass garden art.

One of my favorite properties on this tour has a stunning entry garden with a curved, stone pathway up to the front door. Instead of the usual shrubs in the foundation plantings, there are colorful perennials and vines. The large garden at the back of the house features several bird baths and sculptures made of glass -- the repetition of glass material giving the garden cohesion.  Another idea to copy: the gardener buys large glass plates from flea markets and thrift stores and places them on plant stands for inexpensive and very attractive bird baths. BTW -- she uses a finely shredded brown colored mulch and it looks quite natural.

So where am I with MY mulch problem? I processed my experiences from visiting a multitude of gardens, did research online, and reread the section on mulches in Jenny Rose's book. Then it came to me! Natural cedar mulch that is shredded as fine as possible! I'll let you know how it works out.

Happy Fourth of July to all my American friends!

Pamela x

I love reading your comments. I hope you leave one so I’ll know you visited! 
I look forward to visiting your blog in return.


  1. Yes, I must agree: I prefer the shredded cedar mulch for all the reasons you mention. But in my veggie/flower cutting garden, I go with marsh hay. A local farm harvests the hay from its marsh and offers it for an extremely reasonable price. Marsh hay has no weed seeds and it stays tightly knit together and won't blow away once it's been watered. The gardens on your tour are beautiful, and your photos are great!

    1. For the more natural 'look' I need the finely shredded I believe. I haven't mulched yet because we are getting an enormous amount of rain, the beds are sodden, and the water won't evaporate when mulched. I wish I could get marsh hay, Beth, for my veggies.

  2. My plan this year was to break down and order a hefty load of the plain shredded wood mulch... I keep telling myself that I'll clear out one more section so I can mulch there as well, but now I'm discovering the weeds are just filling in again behind me faster than I can pull. I should have mulched first!
    Love the sheds. Garden tours are such a great source of inspiration!

    1. I can't keep up with the weeds this year -- too much rain. And I wish I'd mulched before it got so hot and humid. Plan on finishing the mulching this week though as I have a big event in my garden on the 11th.

  3. I lovely garden tour -- thanks for sharing it with us! As far as mulch, we use both wood chips around shrubs and trees, and fine leaf compost in perennial borders. The weeds are out of control in some of our areas though, and I'm considering using Preen on our wood chip mulched areas next spring (but not in borders). Have you ever tried it? best, -Beth

    1. No I never tried Preen which is corn gluten meal. It was discovered in Iowa (where you live) as a preemergent, so timing of application is crucial. I find it interesting that researchers at Oregon State University were not able to duplicate research results reported by Iowa State researchers. For them Preen did not control any weeds in any trials under any circumstances over a two-year period. I would be nervous of the high nitrogen in Preen that acts as a fertilizer (to weeds and plants.) If you try it please let me know how it works out.

  4. I do enjoy your garden tour posts, as you say, you can pick up lots of hints and tips from other people's gardens. I love the waterfall garden in Jenny Rose's garden, and of course the teapot.

    1. I enjoy your garden tour posts,too, Jo. Yours are so very special to me as they are in England.

  5. What beautiful gardens! And what amazing potting sheds! I have a thing for potting sheds, too. I use just plain pine bark mulch, but it is hard to find a mulch I like for the veggie garden and outer gardens, as they don't have cheap pine straw up here like they do down south. Salt marsh hay seems to be the equivalent, but it is hard to find and more expensive. I'm working on adding more groundcovers to the flower beds to smother out those weeds.

    1. Ground covers are a beautiful way to go, I think.

  6. I won't pretend that I've figured out the mulch / weed suppression issue (because I haven't!) but I do believe that groundcover plants are a better and more beautiful long-term alternative to mulch.

    Some of my favorites here in Tennessee are 'Blue Spruce' sedum, wild strawberry, Robin's plantain and golden groundsel! :)

  7. You are so right, that teapot fountain is just adorable!

  8. Hopefully this is not redundant because I thought I sent a comment before but I can't find it. Thank you for your kind comments about my garden. I really appreciate your visit. I use the free mulch from Stroud Township. I've been using it for 20 years with no issues. I like it because it has no dyes and is finely ground and at least partially composted. The bad news is that it is finely ground and composted so it breaks down quickly and has to be replaced yearly. However my clay soil has been greatly improved by it. I do not use chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides so this is very important.
    Anyway, thanks again
    Robin Teets

  9. Thank you for your kind comments about my garden. I very much appreciate your visit. I use the free mulch supplied by Stroud Township. I've been doing that for 20 years with no issues. I love it because it has no dyes and is finely ground and composted. It has improved my clay soil immensely. That is very important to me as I use no chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.
    Again, thank you
    Robin Teets