Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

Posts by Denny Schrock

You may not have millions to spend on your landscape as did George Vanderbilt, the first owner of Biltmore estate and mansion in Asheville, NC, but you can follow some of the same principles that noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted used in laying out the grounds of this popular tourist destination. I was able to visit Asheville and Biltmore last week and came away with these impressions about the gorgeous grounds:

Provide a grand entry. Olmsted and Vanderbilt wanted to wow guests on arrival with an impressive view of the mansion. Allees of trees line the exanse of lawn in front of the home. In your own landscape, frame your home and provide an open, unobstructed view of the entry to welcome visitors.

Borrow the view. You may not be able to afford an estate with thousands of acres, but you, too, can take advantage of "borrowed" vistas. This view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the back patio at Biltmore is spectactular.

Use masses of color. Whether your gardens are formal, such as these annual flower display beds at Biltmore, or informal, don't skimp on the number of plants. To have a big color impact, plant masses of solid colors.

Use native plants. A major feature of the gardens is the azalea and rhododendron walk. Here native flame azaleas, Cumberland azaleas, and Catawba rhododendrons provide splashes of spring color with few maintenance needs because they are native to the region.

Lead the eye through the landscape. A path past a weeping atlas cedar beckons strollers to see what's beyond the bend. You can do the same in smaller landscapes by creating winding paths that flow around shrub borders.

Frame the view. This glimpse of the south wing of the house from the shrub garden creates a permanent living picture frame to highlight the architecture of the home.

Harvest strawberries when they have fully colored to the tip of the fruit. Keep them refrigerated until use.

Have you made plans to celebrate all of the Big Three May holidays? Those, of course, would be Mother’s Day (May 13), Memorial Day (May 28), and Pick Strawberries Day (May 20). Yes, the third one in the list is an official holiday, and many of us get the day off since it happens to fall on a Sunday this year.

As a former pick-your-own strawberry patch owner from Minnesota, selecting May 20th to celebrate these delectable fruits seems to be jumping the gun. We typically picked our first berries in June. After all, the most common type of strawberries are called Junebearers! But for those of you in more southerly climes, May is indeed strawberry month. This year I would have had some berries by now in my Des Moines garden if I had taken precautions to protect the blossoms from a late April freeze. Instead, the potential early fruits succumbed to cold, so I’ll have to wait until next week to harvest the first fruits of the season. (They’re beginning to show a tinge of color.)

My favorite strawberry for flavor is ‘Earliglo’. It’s deep red, sweet and firm. I also grow ‘Tristar’, a day-neutral type that bears throughout the summer and fall. My Grandpa Schrock had a saying, “God could have made a better berry than strawberries, but He didn’t!” Which variety is your favorite?

Berry picking is an activity that the entire family can enjoy. Half the fun is sampling the sumptuous fruits right from the plant.


Better Homes and Gardens is teaming up with the American Public Gardens Association to offer free admission to dozens of public gardens this Friday, May, 11. Just go to the bhg.com website to get a voucher for free admission to one of dozens of participating public gardens around the country. And if you’re in the Des Moines area on Friday, be sure to stop by the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden from noon until 4 p.m. to see what’s in bloom and to get great landscaping ideas. If you can’t make it this week, regular summer visitation hours are from noon until 2:00 p.m. every Friday.

Here’s a preview of what you’ll be able to see in the Test Garden this week.

The rose garden is approaching peak bloom, several weeks ahead of schedule.

The Test Garden shed serves as tool storage and work center for the garden.

If you get tired of strolling through the garden, you can rest on a bench shaded by a pergola that supports a 'William Baffin' climbing rose.

Blooming baptisias dominate the prairie garden this week.

The shade walk features blue forget-me-nots, hostas, coralbells, boxwoods, and Itoh hybrid peonies.

I have a request of plant breeders: Please give us a reblooming peony! It would be guaranteed to sell. Just look at what’s happened in the past few years with Bloomerang reblooming lilac and hydrangeas that flower on new wood as well as old. Both of these traditional favorites with a new twist have taken off in popularity.

Reports of occasional late summer or fall blooms on yellow tree peonies such as ‘High Noon’ and ‘Kinto’ exist. But at best the return bloom is sparse and sporadic. I want truly reliable late-season flowers.

In the mean time, I’ll have to be satisfied with the glorious springtime display of colorful blooms that peonies provide. I manage to extend the season a bit by including early-blooming fernleaf peony, mid-season herbaceous peonies, and late-season Itoh hybrids in my yard. Which is your favorite variety of peony?

'Paula Fay' peony is blooming now in my garden. As the bud opens it changes in color from intense pink to salmon pink.


The yellow blossoms of 'Bartzella' Itoh hybrid develop on plants that are a cross between tree type and herbaceous peonies.

'Sarah Bernhardt' is a late-season herbaceous type with pink double blooms.

Fernleaf peony (Paeonia rubra 'Flore Pleno') is a slow grower that reaches just 18 inches or so tall. It unfurls its red double blooms early in the season at the tip of stems with fine, feathery foliage.

The last Friday in April is national Arbor Day. Celebrate by planting a tree! While some states designate a different day to mark the occasion locally, this is a good time for everyone to participate in greening the environment by planting a tree. If you have no room in your yard to plant a tree, consider growing one in a container garden or join a community tree planting project.

This year I’ll be planting several trees in my yard, among them black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii), and Carolina silverbell (Halesia tetraptera). I like to grow less common plants for several reasons. Not only do I find their unique qualities interesting, but I know that uncommon plants are less likely to be wiped out by epidemics. (Think about Dutch elm disease, chestnut wilt, and emerald ash borer.) So as you decide what kind of tree you’d like to plant, keep in mind which species are widely planted in your neighborhood, and try something different.

Black gum, also known as tupelo, has outstanding fall color that ranges from red to purple to fluorescent orange and yellow. It prefers acidic soil and tolerates swampy conditions. 30 to 50 feet tall and 20-30 feet wide. Zones 4-9.

Chinkapin oak is a drought-tolerant native tree that grows best in full sun. The acorns are a favorite of wildlife. 40 to 60 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-7.

Carolina silverbell is named for its pendulous white springtime blooms. It prefers part shade, but will grow in full sun. 30 to 35 feet tall and 20 to 25 feet wide. Zones 5-8.

Those who know me well know that I like to travel. And whenever I travel, I search out gardens to visit. BedandBreakfast.com has managed to fuel my wanderlust by announcing their Top Ten B&B Outdoor Spaces. Four of the ten winners are international; the other six are stateside (although one of those is in Hawaii.) I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting any of these inns yet, but I’ll certainly put them on my bucket list of places to visit during my upcoming travels. The winning outdoor spaces range from stunning borrowed views (such as mountains or waterfront vistas), to formal gardens and working farms.

I always manage to pick up a few ideas for my own garden when I visit outstanding gardens such as these, and bring back gorgeous photos and memories. Do you have favorite destinations that combine gardens and lodging?

Here is a sneak peak at the domestic winners (All photos courtesy of BedandBreakfast.com):

Wine Country Inn, St. Helena, CA, in the Napa Valley, features views of vinyards and olive groves as well as gorgeous flower beds and herb plantings.

The Swag Country Inn, Waynesville, NC, has stunning mountain views and hiking trails for visitors' enjoyment.

The Inn at Irwin Gardens, Columbus, IN, features a garden maze, fountains, and a reflecting pool in a sunken garden on the 2-acre property.

Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm, Albuquerque, NM, is a working farm with 25 acres of fruits, vegetables, fields of lavender, and formal gardens.

Lookout Point Lakeside Inn, Hot Springs, AR, features a meditation labyrinth, lakeside and mountain views, and garden trails.

Hale Maluhia Country Inn, Kailua-Kona, HI, has an acre of lush tropical vegetation featuring koi ponds, waterfalls, and a tree house.

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