The terraces at Skylands are brimming with plant life and color once again.
I spent the Memorial Day weekend at my home in Maine to carry out my annual task of planting the large urns, pots, and planters that adorn the exterior of the house. It’s quite an undertaking, but I always enjoy the time, especially with the group that accompanies me from year to year. The greenhouse at Skylands isn’t large enough to accommodate the big plants during winter, so many of the tropical and exotic specimens are stored in a hoop house at my Bedford, New York farm, and then carefully loaded onto a trailer and delivered to Maine for the summer months. As soon as I get there, I design the layout of where things should go, and then we get right to work.
It’s always a wonderful time – enjoy these photos.
It’s a tedious job to get everything planted over one weekend, but it’s a trip I look forward to every spring. Here I am starting with this agave. Once it’s out of the pot, I trim off any spent or damaged leaves. Caring for agaves is easy when planted in the right location. Agaves need full sun – my large terrace here at Skylands is the perfect place.
Here are some of the bigger plants taken out of the trailer and placed on the driveway. I decide where each plant will go before they are moved – staying organized saves lots of time and energy.
I always bring the doggies with me whenever I go to Maine – they all love it up here. Here are my four dogs – Bete Noire, Creme Brulee, Empress Qin, and Emperor Han. “Which way do we go?”
Here are some of the smaller potted agaves on the West Terrace. Agaves are long-leafed succulents with shallow roots and showy, spiked leaves.
We had a varied selection of plant material for all of the urns. Some of these plants were grown in my greenhouses. Propagating this way saves a lot of cost.
Ryan carries this agave out to the large terrace. A little extra care should be taken whenever working with sharp plants.
The plants are lined up by type and then placed near their designated urns and pots. Everyone takes turns doing everything – from moving and preparing the plants to moistening the potting mix, to filling the pots, to planting.
Look at all the plants waiting – agaves, alocasias, palms, ferns, and so many more. This day was cool, but still very comfortable for gardening.
This container is filled with clay shards to use at the bottom of the pots for drainage. Before we start planting, we make sure all the supplies are ready – the urns, pots and planters, the tools, the potting mix, and of course the plants.
For planting, we use Pro-Mix BX Biofungicide + Mycorrhizae – a general-purpose growing medium that is great for a wide variety of plants and transplanting applications. A good potting mix will include a mix of sterile soil, very well rotted leaf mold, and compost.
It’s always a good idea to prepare a tarp for catching any soil and trimmed foliage. This will save a lot of time cleaning up in the end.
Here’s Wendy Norling, one of our gardeners at Skylands. She’s planting the stone trough I bought at Trade Secrets several years ago. It has worked perfectly here at Skylands, and looks beautiful planted up with succulents.
To protect the rather porous and fragile pots, I like to line them with garbage bags, so the pots don’t soak up too much water. The garbage bags have drain holes at the bottom and are neatly tucked inside the pot, so they are not visible. I also put in a layer of bubble wrap – this is a great way to reuse and repurpose all that bubble wrap that may have accumulated over the winter months from package deliveries. Filling the bottom of large planters with something other than soil also benefits plantings in several ways – it is more economical, easier to move, and better for drainage and root growth.
Here it is all finished in this Eric Ellis Soderholtz pot.
Here is my handsome Emperor Han watching over all the activity.
The Frenchies are on the lookout from the West Terrace for any small creatures running to and fro.
Here’s the finished planted trough. Echeveria species are popular as ornamental garden plants. They are drought-resistant, although they do better with regular deep watering and fertilizing. This will fill out so nicely over the summer.
This is one of two giant Soderholtz pots – Eric Ellis Soderholtz was a pioneer in American garden pottery at the turn of the last century, turning concrete into these gorgeous vessels. I planted it with Bird of Paradise. The Bird of Paradise is best known for its banana shaped leaves and bird shaped tropical flowers.
The Western Terrace is among my favorite summer meal spots. The pergola is covered with kiwi vines that are original to the home. The faux bois pots are planted with Bismark palm, Bismarckia nobilis, which grows from a solitary trunk, gray to tan in color, and slightly bulging at the base. The nearly rounded leaves are divided to a third its length into 20 or more stiff, once-folded segments. The entire area begins to take on more life with all the planted specimens.
Here is a potted blue agave with its beautiful gray-blue spiky fleshy leaves. Do you know… tequila is actually distilled from the sap of the blue agave? Tequila is produced by removing the heart of the plant in its seventh to 14th year, depending on its growth rate.
Here are more kiwi vines growing on my home. Kiwi vines can tolerate a lot of different light conditions, but more exposure to sun brings out better colors in the leaves, some of which can be variegated. On both sides of the planter are my glazed terra-cotta sphinxes watching over the terrace. These sphinxes were designed by Emile Muller.
On the back porch, we filled all these planters with ferns – and ferns also hang from above. Ferns can add dramatic beauty to any planter. A fern is a member of a group of roughly 12-thousand species of vascular plants. In general, ferns are low-maintenance, hardy plants. They require lots of shade and ambient sunlight.
It is always so much fun planting at Skylands. Here is the terrace after a hard day’s work. It is looking excellent – I can’t wait to see it all filled out – bold and lush later in the season. In my next blog, I’ll share photos from all the great foods we ate and places we visited during this trip to Maine.
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