Blooming in spring and summer, the hydrangea is considered a shrub. But despite their ability to be rather large showstoppers in your yard, how to grow hydrangeas isn’t a question even the novice gardener will need to ask – these beauties all but grow themselves. Reaching up to 15 feet in height, the hydrangea grows quickly and often fills in a space in just one summer. You’ll find hydrangeas growing in hardiness Zones 3 to 7 as perennials. With flowers starting in spring and often last throughout summer into early fall, hydrangea flowers can be the foundation plant of your landscape.
Plant this Looking for a flowering shrub with zing? Try hydrangea ‘Kardinal Violet’. On acidic soil, its flowers are violet and purple; on neutral or alkaline soil, they are pink. Bred to flower all summer, at 1.5m x 1.5m it is compact enough for most gardens. It likes a moist spot in full sun or partial shade.
If you are considering hiring a professional landscape gardener, you may find some of these tips and questions helpful. Before reaching out, consider creating a list of your wants and needs. Decide on a budget, determine your priorities and If you’re trying to save money, consider which parts of the process you will need outside help with and which you are capable of handling yourself.
Establishing your goals on paper should make it easier to stay on track, within budget and help you to convey your job ideas to any prospective contractors.
Here are some of the best questions you may want to consider asking any potential landscape gardener:
What can you do with my space? What is your vision?
A designer should be able to visualise and verbalise a plan that works within the space you have. Ask them to show you drawings or computer graphics demonstrating the shape and form the project will take. This is a great time to request any changes with the design you may have.
Can I see examples of your past work? Do you have an online portfolio? Have you done any public areas that I could visit?
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, when hiring a contractor, it could be worth thousands of pounds. If you are not satisfied with the photos, you probably won’t be satisfied with the job. Ask if they have worked on any public gardens or done landscaping that can be seen without entering private property. This will give you the opportunity to see first-hand if this is the right person for your job.
We love to show off our work, check our social media (links on our website) for new photos!
How long will it take for the plants to start growing? What special care will they need and how much maintenance will be required?
Depending on the type, size and maturity of the plants being used in your design; some plants may “fill in” anywhere from a month to over a year. Make sure you understand this and are prepared to wait for certain plants to bloom, develop and flourish.
Your design should not only look good, but it should fit in your lifestyle and budget. Some plants may require little to no care once established while some others may require regular pruning, watering and feeding to maintain their very best. Don’t bit off more than you can chew, make sure you have the time to invest in the care of your design.
What are some ways we can incorporate the existing features and structures in this project?
Different locations offer a variety of different challenges and advantages limited only by budget and the skill and creativity employed in its design. A professional landscape gardener must take many things into account, including size and shape of location, type of terrain, sun and shade patterns, existing walkways, patios, trees, structures and plants; just to name a few. Make sure your designer is aware if you want to retain these within the new design.
Can we use repurposed, reclaimed or recycled materials in this project?
If you’d like to save money and go green at the same time, consider using cost effective, recycled materials. Everything from sleepers to recycled plastic decking. With a little bit of research, you may be able to find most of your needs can be met with sustainable materials, such as reclaimed flagstones, mulch, even aggregate.
Can you provide me with references that I can contact?
Every professional landscaper should have some happy client testimonials. If they have left their opinion in public forums or social media, don’t be afraid to contact them to ask their opinion. Something as simple as “Hi, I saw you used 123 Landscaping. I’m curious if you are still satisfied with their work and would recommend them?” can go a long way in setting yourself at ease, or warning you of potential problems.
How long will the job take? What hours will you normally be working?
Will the workers be there at 6am or 9am? How many hours a day will they be working? Will they be leaving equipment behind when not working? Will they be cleaning up at the end of each day? Do you have neighbours that might complain about unexpected noise or debris? It might go a long way in preventing stress if you let your neighbours know in advance what to expect and when it should be over. If they seem upset, you can always remind them that property values may go up the more beautiful the neighbourhood is.
What education and certifications do you have?
Certificates may not prove that a landscaper is the best choice for your project, however, If they’ve taken the time (and paid the fees) to acquire certification in certain fields, it certainly is one of the ways a professional can show their seriousness and pride in their job. Remember, not every gardener is a landscaper and not every landscaper is a tree surgery. Credentials are one way to differentiate the skill sets required for the job you need done.
What happens when costs exceed budget?
Find out what happens if materials or labour prices change. Also ask what other situations might cause additional charges. If the job is going to go over the original estimate how will the new cost be calculated, by the hour or by the job?
How much, if any, over the actual cost do you charge for the consumables and products used in the job?
You have every right to ask your contractor what happens to the left over materials after the job has completed.
What type of written warranty do you offer?
What happens after the job is complete? Will you be available to assist with questions or concerns? Do you warranty the materials you use as well as the work you do? How long does your warranty last?
Can you explain it to me?
Remember that this is your project. You are paying for it and you have to live with it. If there’s something you don’t fully understand, ask the contractor to take a moment and explain it to you in a way that you understand.
Obviously each job will be different and some of these questions may be unnecessary or they may be important questions not even mentioned here. Use these as inspiration and assistance when dealing with your contractor. Perhaps print this out and use it as a reference or to jot notes on.
Remember, along with the qualifications of your contractor you need to feel comfortable with them. Discuss your needs and make sure you both understand the job.
Here are a few more questions you may consider asking.
How many people will be involved in this project, how many people are in your crew?
How long have you been designing landscapes? How long has your company been in business?
Will the plants I’d like to use thrive in my area? Do they need to be placed in sunnier or shadier spots?
Can you think of any caveats or problems with my landscaping project?
Are there any ways to reduce cost?
Do you offer flexible payment options or low interest financing?
Do you have liability insurance? Does it cover all of your workers?
What happens if I’d like to make changes during the job? What happens if the contractor needs to make changes?
What would you do different if this was your project?
What will you need from me? Is there anything I need to provide?
How much maintenance will it take to keep the garden looking good?
Are there any important considerations or concerns that you know of or that might come up in the future with this project?
Do you take care of any permits, licensing or local compliance paperwork?
Are you skilled and familiar with this region and climate?
Do you have any questions for me?
We are Cowen Landscapes and we’d love to be your Garden Design, Maintenance and Construction Services specialists.
Give us a call, send us a text message or email us and we can discuss your individual needs and set up a free initial consultation, visit your location, come up with a plan and provide you with an official quote.
"If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now, it’s just a spring clean for the May queen"
You’ve probably seen the beautiful sculpted hedges and bushes displayed in many British gardens. It’s a staple of topiary and garden landscaping. Many times what you’re looking at is Buxus, a popular ornamental plant.
As a native species, Buxus reflects England’s biodiversity and natural beauty while attracting a variety of helpful insects including bees to pollinate its flowers in the Spring.
Buxus is popular in modern days, however it was also very popular in the Renaissance era, being used in gardens of the rich and powerful however it’s been in use for thousands of years and frequently appeared in Roman literature. In Britain, for example, Roman burials coffins sometimes containing sprays of Buxus.
As far back as 79 CE , varieties of Buxus were described by Pliny the Elder. Before his untimely yet heroic death when he went ashore to help evacuate victims of the eruption of Vesuvius at Pompeii, Pliny the Elder wrote 37 volumes of ‘Historia Naturalis’ including facts and an extensive review of Buxus.
He wrote “It grows thickest in Corsica, where it bears an objectionable blossom which causes the bitter taste in Corsican honey.”
Various Buxus varieties were used medically throughout history. Buxus leaves, bark and wood contain steroids, alkaloids, tannin, chlorophyll and lignin and have been used to treat such maladies as gout, urinary tract infections, intestinal worms, chronic skin problems, syphilis, haemorrhoids, epilepsy, headache, piles, leprosy, rheumatism, HIV, fever and malaria, just to name a few.
In Turkey, they make a tea with Buxus and to this day it is still consumed to treat anthelmintic, diaphoretic, and cholagogue.
Buxus isn’t just used for its beauty in the gardens, its wood is an excellent choice for detailed carving, due to its fine grain and resistance to splitting and chipping. Its commonly used to make wooden combs, chess pieces, decorative carvings, knife handles, prayer beads and decorative boxes.
Buxus wood has a high density, one of the few woods which is denser than water, making it suitable for wooden spoons. In fact, Buxus wood is so heavy that it does not float in water.
Due to the high density of Buxus wood it’s a great wood for making musical instruments; everything from high end violin parts to flutes. The wood of the Buxus been used to make many of the parts for stringed instruments since antiquity. Buxus was also the primary material used to make Great Highland bagpipes.
The British Memorial Garden Trust developed a beautiful garden in the heart of Lower Manhattan in New York city, USA called the Queen Elizabeth II September 11th Garden. It was given to the City in memory of the British and Commonwealth citizens who lost their lives during the attacks of September 11, 2001.
This stately garden displays the rich tradition of English topiary while celebrating the historic ties of friendship and unity between the United States of America, the Commonwealth countries and the United Kingdom. The luscious green spires of Graham Blandy boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens) add punctuation and depth to this truly beautiful garden.
What good plant doesn’t have a great folk story? This legend about Buxus is sure to satisfy! At one time, people believe witches knew every twig, stem and leaf of every plant they came across. However, due to the compact foliage and small leaves of the Buxus, the witch would become confused while trying to count the leaves. The witch, try as she might, could not avoid losing her place; causing her to become so distracted that she would forget about any of her nefarious plans which may have included anything from stealing vegetables from your garden to babies from your house!
Buxus has small leaves and scented foliage. Its ability to withstand temperature changes and is tolerant of close shearing, making it a great ornamental plant choice for parterres, topiary and hedges.
Buxus is monoecious, so both male and female flowers are found on the same plant. Clusters of green-yellow flowers grow in the leaf axils, each one comprising several male flowers and a terminal female flower.
Buxus is a slow growing plant which does not require much maintenance and can withstand drought once established. This plant is a long living species; some have been determined to be over a hundred years old.
Some helpful tips for working with Buxus are to prune in late spring and summer. After heavy pruning you should supply fertiliser aid in regeneration and growth. Root semi-ripe Buxus cuttings in the summer and then graft them in the winter.
Buxus can grow in most soil and although it tolerates full sun if it’s soil is kept moist, it does best in partly in shaded areas.
Some possible caveats to consider with Buxus are leaf spot, root rot, dieback, canker and powdery mildew. Some of the pests to look out for with Buxus are caterpillars, psyllids, leaf miner, scale, box sucker and glasshouse red spider mite.
If you’re looking for a traditional ornamental plant that’s hardy, easy to work with and attractive, (and protects your household from witches) look no further than the genus Buxus.
When it comes to topiary, Buxus fits in perfectly with every garden design, from formal to country style gardens and is one of our most requested types of hedging.
Buxus comes in many shapes and sizes and can be sculpted to fit any surrounding or ambiance. It can even be used as a border or wall while providing any garden area a beautiful atmosphere.
Buxus can be formed into many shapes, cubes, cones, globes and low-growing hedges are all common, attractive and easy to maintain.
Buxus isn’t just for the garden. These topiary delights can be grown in containers as well. Using Buxus on both sides of your entrance is sure to delight and impress your visitors while adding natural sophistication to your home. Because of its slow growing nature and ease of maintenance, Buxus remains an ideal entryway plant.
At Cowen Landscapes in Kent, we’re specialists in Buxus. Contact us and we can help you to get the garden of your dreams.
Here’s a great tip from the organic gardening channel MIGardener. He shows how to flick your tomato flowers to increase your harvest from about 25% to about 100%. What would be some other great plants to try this method with?
When digging a hole for your roses, size matters and is a key factor in giving them a great start.
Whether you’re planting container roses or bare-root roses, you will need to dig a hole that is both wide enough to accomodate the root structure. Having your hole deep enough is paramount to good drainage.
Give at least three feet of space between your rose bushes when planting to allow for room to grow as your plants mature.
Research has shown that spending time outside is good for our bodies and our minds. I’m sure you’ve experienced these benefits: After feeling stressed out or bored indoors, you step outside and your spirits lift.
One great way to spend time outdoors is to garden. My dad always had a garden when I was a kid, and now I understand more about what drew him to it. I’ve always enjoyed being outside and gardening, but it took on special significance for me when I was recovering from an extended illness. As I began to recover, I felt compelled to greatly expand my garden beds and the things I planted, even though I was still struggling physically and mentally.
The experience seemed to accelerate my own healing. It felt like even as I was building the garden, it was helping me come back to life. One day as I stood in the afternoon sunlight and looked with amazement at all that had grown, I felt my own strength that had returned over the same stretch of time.
This personal experience along with numerous studies about the positive effects of time outside made me curious to explore the many benefits of gardening.
Recently I discussed this topic on the Think Act Be podcast with professional gardener Joe Lamp’l, creator of joe gardener®.
Here are 10 benefits of gardening that emerged from our conversation:
1. Practicing Acceptance. Most of our suffering comes from trying to control things that we can’t. The more we can accept the limits of our control and the unpredictability of life, the more peace of mind we can find—and gardening is a great way to practice. “Every day is one more reminder from Mother Nature that I’m not in control,” Lamp’l said, which he finds helpful as a self-described “control freak.”
I learned to practice acceptance in my own garden as the first baby lettuces were ready to harvest in mid-April. I had looked forward to spending time in the garden with my family, but when my 4- and 8-year-old daughters asked if they could help me harvest the lettuce, I was less than enthusiastic. What if they “messed up” my carefully planted garden? What if they broke off the stem instead of a leaf?
Thankfully I managed to get over myself and welcome them into the garden even with the possibility that they could break something. I realized that a “perfect garden” could wind up being a pretty lonely place, which wasn’t my idea of perfection.
Acceptance in the garden or elsewhere doesn’t mean giving up, of course. We bring our best efforts to what we can control, and we let go of the rest. With gardening that means “preparing the best environment you can possibly make for your plants,” said Lamp’l, and allowing nature to take it from there. Your garden (like your life) is in bigger hands than yours.
2. Moving Beyond Perfectionism. If you’re prone to perfectionism, you’re probably well aware of the costs. Trying to make things perfect can lead to frustration, missed deadlines and opportunities, and strained relationships. It can also lead to not even trying to do something, with a mentality of “why bother if it can’t be perfect?”
Given the lack of control we have, gardening can be a good antidote for perfectionism. No matter how carefully you plan and execute your garden, there are countless factors you can’t predict—invasions by bugs, inclement weather, hungry rodents. Years ago one of our neighbors had a beautiful garden growing until a neighboring resident sprayed weed killer on a windy day, damaging many of my neighbor’s vegetable plants.
Gardening offers an endless supply of these kinds of “neutralizers for perfectionism,” as Lamp’l called them. He confessed to being a perfectionist himself and knows firsthand that “pursuit of perfection is a waste of time—especially in the garden. So don’t bother!”
3. Developing a Growth Mindset. The inability to garden perfectly is actually cause for celebration. Psychologist Carol Dweck developed the distinction between “fixed” and “growth” mindsets, and gardening is a great opportunity to develop the latter. With a growth mindset, we assume that we’re constantly learning. When something doesn’t work out the way we had hoped, we view it as a learning opportunity rather than as a “failure.”
We can even look forward to our mistakes. “I love making mistakes,” said Lamp’l, “because I look at them as a chance to learn something new. Through those mishaps, you can understand what happened and why, and you can be empowered to relate that learning to new things.” So more mistakes just mean more learning and more growing.
I certainly make my share of gardening mistakes and find a growth mindset to be so helpful. For example, this season I experimented with a seeding method that I didn’t do quite right and ended up with plants that were overcrowded and nearly impossible to disentangle when it came time to put the seedlings in the garden beds. My initial reaction was to feel stress about needing to “do it the right way,” and then I realized all I had to do was the best I could do, and I would learn something for my fall planting.
4. Connecting with Others. Few things boost our well-being like good relationships, and gardening offers ample opportunities to connect with others. Lamp’l noted that “gardening is one of the best ways to connect strangers” and quickly become friends “because we have that gardening thing in common.”
I’ve experienced that quick connection myself when meeting other gardeners, and there’s so much to talk about—not only the nuts and bolts of gardening but the emotional and spiritual connections we can experience with our gardens. “It’s a collective effort,” said Lamp’l, “and we’re all better together when we share our experiences.”
5. Connecting to Your World. Gardening provides a connection not just to other people but to our world. Many people feel that connection in a visceral way when they eat food they’ve just harvested. “We all have an innate connection to the earth,” said Lamp’l, “and that connection manifests itself when we consume what came from the ground—which is where we came from and where we all end up.”
Having a garden really means having a relationship with the plot of ground you’re tending. Since I’ve gotten more into gardening I’ve had to be much more aware of the elements: the first and last frosts of the season, how much rain we’ve had, the temperature, where sunlight falls throughout the day. Gardening also connects us intimately with the cycle of the seasons.
And as Lamp’l described, it’s easy to feel “like a parent” to one’s growing plants. “You nurture the seedlings and do everything you can for them,” he said, “and then it’s like you’re putting your babies in the soil”—much as we might nurture a young child who eventually heads out to meet the world. “They don’t call it a ‘nursery’ for nothing!” Lamp’l continued. “I put a lot of care and emotion into the garden.”
6. Bathing in Green. The Japanese expression “shinrin-yoku” can be translated “forest bathing,” which nicely captures the experience of being immersed in green. A growing body of research has found all kinds of benefits from being in natural landscapes.
These studies have found evidence that being in green, or even being able to look out on a green landscape, is linked with better recovery from surgery, less anxiety and depression, better stress management, and many other positive effects.
The nice thing about a garden is that it can be right out your back door. And while you could just as easily spend time sitting in your yard, you’re much more likely to be outside consistently when the work of a garden requires it.
7. Being Present. Mindful presence is tied to a long list of positive outcomes, like relationship satisfaction and less emotional reactivity. The garden can be a protected place where we practice being where we are and actually doing what we’re doing.
Lamp’l described finding his “Zen moment” in his garden, where he tunes in to his experience. For example, while he generally loves to listen to podcasts, he doesn’t when he’s in the garden. “That’s sacred time for me,” he said. “When I’m out there weeding, I want to hear the birds. I don’t want to hear anything else. It’s a quiet time, and I relish it.”
I often find that centering effect in my own garden. Just last night after heavy rain I sat in my garden in the dying light of the day and took in what was around me. It was striking how quickly I felt a sense of ease.
8. Physical Exercise. Moving your body regularly is an effective way to boost mood and lower anxiety, and gardening offers “no shortage of opportunities for physical activity,” said Lamp’l. Even when he’s not able to get to the gym consistently, he maintains muscle tone and feels good through daily work in his garden.
The movements are varied, too, which may mean fewer repetitive use injuries compared to more structured exercise. “When I do my weeding, I’m on my belly, on my butt, lying on my side—doing a lot of things you probably do in a yoga class,” he said. “I can give up my gym membership.”
9. Reducing Stress. Not surprisingly, time in your garden can be a great way to release stress. There’s something about feeling the life all around you, the warmth of the sun, the soil in your hands. As I sit in my own garden these days I see rainbow Swiss chard and lettuces shaking in the wind, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries ripening, and feel the breeze as clouds move across the blue sky.
Just don’t forget to spend time simply being in your garden. There’s always the next thing to do, as Lamp’l pointed out, so take time deliberately to step away from activity and experience what’s around you.
10. Eating Healthfully. Last but not least, a garden can yield the freshest and healthiest foods available—the types of food that can have a significant impact on our mental health. For example, two studies showed that dietary changes can be an effective treatment for depression.
Studies in this area tend to find benefits of the “Mediterranean” (and similar) diet, which emphasizes consuming minimally processed whole foods—exactly the types of food that your garden will yield. Plus there’s the added benefit of knowing you played a role in growing the food.
How to Get Started
Ready to start a garden of your own? Here are six quick tips that Lamp’l recommends for beginners.
Just start. Decide that you’re going to get started, even though you don’t know how it’s going to go or even exactly what you’re doing. “Try it, and so what if you fail?” asked Lamp’l. “The worst that will happen is you’ll learn something. And that’s worth the price of a plant, every time.”
Start slow. Lamp’l noted that it’s easy to get excited when starting out and plant too much, which ends up being hard to keep up with. As a result, you could end up feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. So get started, but don’t overdo it. You can always add to your garden over time. A simple first step is to grow something in a container that you can put close to your house, so it’s easy to take care of and enjoy seeing every day.
Focus on healthy soil. Successful gardening starts literally from the ground up, according to Lamp’l. “Soil is life. When you focus on that, good things happen.” He strongly advises gardeners to avoid synthetic chemicals and “start feeding the soil with organic material.” That can include compost, the “single best thing you can add to the soil because there’s so much in it,” and anything else that nature provides, like shredded leaves, shredded bark, or aged manure.
Grow what you like. Choose fruits and vegetables to grow based on “what you want to eat or what you like looking at,” advised Lamp’l. “Grow something that’s easy and that grows quickly, like a radish or lettuce.” The ease and quick reward will be motivation to stick with it.
Know your plants’ needs. “Learn something about the plant before you stick it in the ground,” said Lamp’l. “Read the plant tag so you know if it likes sun or shade and wet or dry, and do your best to give it the environment it wants to thrive in.” After all, plants can’t move themselves, so it’s up to us to “put the right plant in the right place.” Your plants will reward you for it.
Pay attention to your plants. Spend at least a little time in your garden every day observing what’s happening. That way you can “be proactive when problems arise and can circumvent potentially bigger problems,” said Lamp’l. Besides, there’s really no downside to spending time in your garden, given all the benefits discussed here.
Here’s a question about mulch asked by Dexter Roona.
Can compost be used as mulch? What is the purpose of compost?
Mulch reduces moisture evaporation, moderates the temperature of the soil, reduces compaction of the soil, suppresses weeds and should eventually break down and become part of the soil.
So, in answer to your question of can compost be used as mulch, it depends on the type of compost. If the compost you wish to use is has the traits described above, then yes, you can use compost as mulch. However it’s unlikely that it will perform as well as mulch. I would recommend you staying away from chipped or shredded mulch and try using composted mulch.