All About Gardening and Gardening Q & A by Pernell Gerver

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"Small Plants for Small Gardens"

Gardening in small spaces presents a challenge that requires careful planning and thoughtful plant selection. When space is at a premium, it's important to take advantage of any area that can become a garden. A garden can be created in the smallest of spaces, even when there is little or no real ground to work with.

There are many plants that grow well in small gardens. All stay small and compact, making it possible to have a full garden in just a fraction of the space. Click on a plant name to order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

Christmas rose can be in bloom as early as Christmas, especially in winters when there is little snow cover. In my garden, it blooms reliably by Valentine's Day every year. It bears up to a dozen single, white, four-inch-wide, rounded flowers that stand about a foot high. It has handsome, evergreen foliage that forms a mound just a foot high and wide.




"Small Plants for Small Gardens" Workshop and Plant and Gardening Products Sale


Thursday, May 10, 7 p.m., Kiley Middle School auditorium, 180 Cooley Street, Springfield

Saturday, May 12, 10 a.m., Westfield Athenaeum (Library) auditorium, 6 Elm Street, Westfield

Saturday, May 12, 3 p.m., Historic Northampton Museum Shepherd Barn, behind 66 Bridge Street, Northampton


Free and open to the public

For more info.:

Click here to read Pernell Gerver's Gardening Workshop Series schedule and to get directions from your location to any of the locations listed above.

Fringed bleeding heart 'King of Hearts'Fringed bleeding heart is another spring-blooming perennial that begins blooming very early in the season. I've seen it in bloom in my garden as early as late March. The new cultivar 'King of Hearts' has medium-green, finely-divided foliage that forms a handsome, compact clump. Large, bleeding-heart-shaped flowers are held in clusters on stems that stand above the foliage. Unlike the common bleeding heart that goes dormant after blooming leaving a hole in the garden, fringed bleeding heart 'King of Hearts' blooms from early spring to frost, making it one of the longest-blooming perennials in the garden.

Epimedium rubrum is in full bloom in the garden right now. It grows about a foot tall and has interesting, spider-like flowers. The red flowers are held in clusters that rise through its foliage. As its leaves appear in spring, they have a red blush in the veins, giving them a netted appearance. As the leaves mature, they turn bright green. Epimedium rubrum spreads to form an attractive groundcover and it thrives in dry shade.

English Daisy 'Rob Roy'English daisy 'Rob Roy' is another spring-blooming perennial. It has deep green foliage and bears lovely deep-crimson flowers in spring. Each flower is fully double and resembles a pincushion. The flowers are held on short flower stems that stand above its foliage.

Late spring is the blooming time for lewisia, a rosette-forming plant with succulent-like foliage. Single or semi-double blooms in white, yellow, pink, orange-red, and blue-red appear from May to late June or early July and surround the foliage. It's a low-growing plant standing just six inches high.

Goldenrod 'Golden Fleece' is a low-growing variety of goldenrod that is a size breakthrough in the native wildflower. It forms a small mound of rounded leaves less than a foot high that is topped with sprays of golden-yellow flowers. It begins blooming in late summer and continues into mid autumn for a long season of bloom.

Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' is a dwarf ornamental grass for shade. It forms a dense mass of arching stems variegated with bright gold and white. It grows just a foot and a half high and as wide, making it a good choice for small gardens. It's a beautiful, much-sought-after grass for shady spots.

Shrubs for a small garden need to stay small and winterberry 'Red Sprite' is the perfect choice. It forms a rounded shrub just two to four feet high and wide. It's a deciduous holly who's stems are loaded with bright red berries up to 1/2" in diameter. The bright red berries on bare stems really stand out in winter against snow-covered ground. It's a must for winter gardens and a wonderful shrub for a small garden.

At my free gardening workshop this week I’ll have a large display of these and many more small plants for small gardens for sale. See the "If You Go" box for more information.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Rejuvenate Overgrown Rhododendron with Selective Pruning"

Q. Enjoy your column. I have several rhododendrons. They have long, woody branches with greenery at the end, making an ugly-looking bush. The limbs are mostly on the ground. Is there any way that I can prune these bushes to help them fill out?

A. Rhododendron is a broadleaf, evergreen shrub that is putting on its show of colorful, springtime flowers right now in the landscape. It's a shrub that tends to grow large and often outgrows its spot. There are ways to rejuvenate an already-overgrown rhododendron and ways to keep a small rhododendron compact.

It's possible to make an overgrown rhododendron attain its former shape through pruning. This process is accomplished through several years of selectively removing older branches. In late winter or very early spring, prune away one third of the oldest stems. Do this for two or three more years each winter. Tall stems can also be cut back at this time. Cut tall shoots back to just above a lower side branch. Removing the older stems and reducing the height of the remaining branches encourages new shoots to develop. If the plant is very healthy and growing vigorously, it is possible to cut back all its branches to just above the ground and allow new branches to grow out. It will take a few years for the rhododendron to attain an attractive shape after this drastic pruning and it's possible it won't grow at all if it's not a healthy plant to begin with.

To maintain the shape of a smaller rhododendron and to encourage more flowers, pinch out the tips of the new growth. This should be done immediately after the rhododendron finishes flowering this spring. Remove about an inch of the new growth once it reaches several inches long. Pinching the ends of the stems will force buds along the sides of the branches to grow. Pinching the growing end also increases the number of flower clusters for next year since several new shoots will grow from the pinched end. Don't wait too long to pinch the new growth, however. Rhododendrons form next year's flower buds in midsummer, so any pinching should be done before then. If it's done too late, you'll be removing next year's flowers.


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