when Ed met Bill…

September 1, 2011

bill and staff

A visit from Rocky Dale founder, Bill Pollard

It wasn’t exactly a surprise visit.  We heard Bill Pollard was coming to VT and we were hoping he’d want to visit Rocky Dale Gardens- his creation along with Holly Weir.

What was a surprise was how great it was to meet Bill and have the opportunity to hang out and walk the grounds.  I can only imagine what it was like for Bill after 10 years.

The closest way to describe the experience for me was to compare it to an adopted child meeting their birth parent for the first time. All the gaps in history were filled in and the mysteries solved.

Take It Down

take it down- billWe’ve been working on a lot of renovations lately and have taken a number of trees and shrubs out, but there were some lingering questions and choices to make. In a way it was perfect timing for Bill to visit. He generously walked the gardens with me while Oliver followed us with a chain saw.  In a way, perhaps I needed permission to take some things down, but the second opinion was definitely highly regarded!

Passing the Torch

stoneThough I’ve owned Rocky Dale Gardens since 2004, last week felt like the passing of the torch.  Bill bought this property with Holly because of the beautiful stone outcrop on the very west end of the property.  I did too and ironically we’re in the process of exposing that beautiful wall.  This is the stone we each bought that happened to come with a house.

The Central Garden

hazelsFor those of you who we haven’t seen recently, here is a glimpse of what we’ve been up to.  After years of observing and pondering, I decided to open up the gardens and create a central lawn.  The hazelnuts came out and the beds were pushed back.  We’ve been focused on this center the last two years and will move into the outer horseshoe ring that will take visitors through the conifer dell, the arbor and then along the ledges and the pond.  It’s a life’s work and you get to watch!

Friends with a garden in common

bill and ed Bill got over the his initial shock of the changes at Rocky Dale and we had a nice chance to get to know one another.  We share a passion for this place and when he left, I felt excited about what I’m doing, and Bill said he was really glad that they sold the place to me.  He knows it’s a labor of love- and hopefully it gets a lot of love for a long time.

It’s been a gorgeous week in Vermont- a FULL WEEK without rain and plenty of sun.  It has brought out so much growth and made us all very happy!  One of our customers works for Ben and Jerry’s; she brought us some ice cream and we had a nice break in the afternoon on Thursday.

Ice cream break!

Here are some photos of the garden taken today, along with some close-ups of what’s blooming now.

Narcissus and Mertensia with Rhododendron mucronulatum ‘Cama’
Tulip ‘Ballerina’
Honeylocust View
Tulip ‘American Dream’ w/ Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford’
View towards greenhouse
Merrill Magnolia and Narcissus
Rhododendron ‘April Mist’
Rhododendron ‘Aglo’

Magnolia ‘Daybreak’ bud on Main Street in Bristol.
Magnolia ‘Daybreak’ flower on Main St in Bristol.

The last Narcissus



Pieris japonica
Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’
Magnolia ‘Butterflies’
Epimedium rubrum

I like to design spaces that rely on basic principles of balance and unity.  I am not a big fan of fancy, voluptuous, flowery and cluttered.  But I see signs of “modern” and “contemporary” design being co-opted, mass marketed and now becoming trite and boring.  Often the result of a “modern” or “contemporary” application is not contextual.

I don’t think it’s enough to use simple materials and it’s not enough to use a limited palette.  It’s not about a retro shape or figure.  Most simple projects are also highly complex.  I find that juxtaposing a complex arrangement of elements within a simple framework and setting up complex frameworks with monochromatic elements can bring a landscape to life.  And I like mixing the two up.

Having a great love for plants helps me with this style.  At my design firm in Minneapolis, Phillips Garden, we’ve  been lucky enough to work on a full lot design/install over the past several years where we have experimented with our design philosophy.  A new home was built on this site- it’s a contemporary design, (think Dwell Magazine), with strong horizontal lines. (I’ve blogged about this project before).

We were able to develop some very interesting beds with a great diversity of plant material in several parts of the yard.  What connects and also separates these beds are long planes of rectilinear surfaces that serve as lawns, walkways, patios, a pool and so forth.  The result is dynamic and inviting.  It’s a landscape you want to explore and it reveals itself as one traverses through it.  Many “modern” landscapes don’t offer such intrigue.

It’s a style that suits my love of plants, my love of Japanese Gardens and my love of simple, elegant lines.  I’d like to work on more projects like this one!

autumn’s colors

October 14, 2009

We’ve had our first hard frost here in Bristol- this past Monday night.  On Tuesday morning, the lawn was white, and the large leaves of the Paulownia were drooping.  Whatever sensitive plants we didn’t get under cover are history now.  Just up the hill, there was snow.  Still, the colors of fall are stunning, and many flowers continue to bloom including Aconitum, Anemone, Aster, Rosa, Phlox, Solidago and Gentian, (to name a few).  The Heptacodium’s white flowers have faded and now we’re enjoying the pink capsules and sepals- it’s beautiful!  Michael Dirr referred to this plant as the “Northern Crape Myrtle”- I like that!


I made a decision to remove all but one of the Hazelnuts from the garden.  Right now they’re cut back and the effect is both shocking and gratifying.  It’s nice to take in a larger wide angle view of the garden.  When I bought Rocky Dale in 2004, we had 8 large clumps of Hazelnuts that had been growing on this property for over 30 years.  I removed two clusters right away to minimize the “green wall” that was eliminating views into the garden.  Each group easily occupied a minimum of 225 square feet and in most cases considerably more. They have a beautiful vase shape and grow 12-15 feet high.  Their fall color is a tapestry of red, orange and yellow.  They produce heavy clusters of Hazelnuts that Blue Jays seem especially attracted to.  One down side is that they produce a lot of dead wood and they need to maintained in a formal setting.  Their flowers are insignificant.


The Hazelnut AlleeThe Hazelnuts Before

IMG_9678The Hazelnuts After

IMG_9670The Hazelnuts After



So- you can see why it was hard to make the decision.  However, we are running out of room to showcase new varieties of plants as the garden has matured and trees have taken up significantly more space.  I thought one group of Hazelnuts was a good representation for a plant very few people have shown interest in.  I now look forward to having space to plant new varieties and bring back some old favorites including:  A variegated River Birch, a variegated Cornus mas, Nyssa ‘Autumn Cascade’, Acer rubrum ‘Candy Ice’, Stewartia ‘Gold Spring’ and Scarlet Sentinel’, Cercis ‘Covey’, Cledastris,  Sorbus magnifica, and a few more.  the list is long and there isn’t enough room for all of them!  We’ll start getting them in the ground next spring.

Here are some photos of the garden taken yesterday.  Enjoy the season- fall is a great time to work in the garden!

fall color

September 28, 2009

Here are some images taken from the garden and the nursery.  We have many things continuing to bloom:  Phlox, Aster, Gentian, Heptacodium, Hydrangea, Rudbeckia, Hibiscus x ‘Kopper King’, various Echinacea, Platycoden, Tricyrtis, Chrysanthemum, Cimicifuga, Chelone, Ligularia ‘Desdemona’, Persicaria ‘Fire Tails’, Boltonia, Sedum, and Ornamental Grasses.

In addition to blooming, fall color is setting up.  I love the garden this time of year.  Many perennials have beautiful fall color, and berries start appearing on the deciduous hollies- Ilex verticillata.

In the blog entry right below this one- we’ve listed some of the garden chores you can do this fall.  If you have time on your hands this fall, it will save you time next spring!

We find fall a great time to catch up with work in the garden that we haven’t gotten to all summer long.  The weather is cool and the gardens start looking so worn that it’s almost a relief to cut things back.  Unfortunately, the weeds we didn’t get through the summer will have deposited their seed into the great ‘seed bank’ that lies in the soil- an endless supply of everything you don’t want to crop up in your garden!

Another reason we try to perform some of these chores in the fall, is because there is always too much to do in the spring- if we can cut that workload, even a little bit- the better off we’ll be.  How great is it if you don’t have to trample your spring bulbs when raking out your garden in April?  Still, the best laid plans don’t always come to fruition and there is always spring-clean up.

Fall Chores

Edging– If your garden beds have a cut edge, you may want to re-edge them now.  The edge should last well through next spring.  We like to have a cut edge so that we can enlarge the bed as needed.

Cutting Back– You want to wait until the perennials look a bit dry.  Many perennials have beautiful fall color and it’s a shame to miss it.  Once we think that color has faded and we’ve had our fill of the ‘fall garden’, we will go ahead and cut things back.  For us in Vermont, winter interest from perennials- even ornamental grasses, is a short-lived aesthetic- heavy snow usually blankets the ground.  We do like to keep the grasses standing for a long period of time, but they look silly as lone sentinels in a garden that’s been cut back- they’re better off as a group or part of a vignette that can last through fall together- that’s why we like to use them in combination with conifers.

Top-dressing– If there’s time- this is a great chore to get done in the fall.  Top-dressing with composted manure after you cut back your perennial garden will give you the best head start in the spring.  The compost will be there as soon as the ground thaws and aiding soil nutrition right away.  Emerging perennials and bulbs won’t have their crowns covered with “hot” compost in the spring and your initial weed barrier will be in place!

Milky spore application for Japanese Beetle– We try and remember to apply Milky Spore for the control of Japanese Beetle, at least 4 times a year.  Fall is the last period before spring.  Milky Spore builds up a bacteria in the soil that discriminately works to attack the grubs of Japanese Beetle.  (Milky Spore is not harmful to beneficial insects, birds, bees, pets or man. The product is approved and registered with EPA, Milky Spore will not affect wells, ponds or streams).

Lawn aeration– Aeration is a great thing you can do to your lawn, (especially well trafficked lawns), to revitalize and green it up.  We rent an aerator and make a couple of passes.  We then put down Pro-Gro 5-3-4 general Organic Fertilizer as a late fall feed.  Fall is a great time to throw down some grass seed too.  If it doesn’t germinate now- it’ll be there in the spring and germinate as soon as temperatures are right.

Application of ‘Wilt-Pruf’– Wilt-Pruf is an anti-desiccant, (anti-transpirant) that is a natural pine oil emulsion.  It works well to protect conifers, and broad-leaf evergreens such as Rhododendrons, Holly, and Boxwood by creating a clear and flexible coating to protect plants against drying cold winds.  We find it worthwhile to spray plants that are in exposed sites that receive winter sun and winds and also newly planted conifers and broadleaf evergreens.

A-frames and burlap covers– We don’t need to do this, but you might have to.  If you have shrubs that are planted at the base of your house where snow falls off the roof- you must protect your plants with an “A-frame” to prevent the plant from being crushed.  We recommend planting herbaceous or  non-woody plants at those locations.  A good plant for a site like this is Annabelle Hydrangea.  It grows quickly from the ground each year and has the look of a woody shrub.  However, it can be cut to the ground each spring, so winter snow load isn’t a problem.

If you have sensitive conifers, like Dwarf Alberta Spruce, that are in direct sun from the south and /or west, you’ll want to protect them by wrapping them in burlap.  An anti-desiccant spray like Wilt-pruf, won’t be enough to keep them from getting winter burn.

Watering– Many gardeners put there hoses away too early.  Sometimes fall can be dry- if it’s been dry, we need to water-especially evergreens.  New plantings need water until the ground freezes, somewhere around Thanksgiving.  Fall is considered a good time for planting because it’s cooler, the plants aren’t stressed by heat and it usually is wet and because it’s cooler, the soil doesn’t dry out as quickly.  While the air is cooling off, the soil cools off at a slower rate- thus root growth continues long after the leaves have fallen.


Pruning is best left until late fall-mid October or later.  Pruning can be done right through winter up through March when dormancy is broken.  If you don’t want to miss any flowering on your shrubs next spring, it’s important to know which plants produced flower buds this summer for next year’s bloom, and which plants will produce flowers on next year’s new growth. Lilac, Rhododendron, Withhazel,  Philadelphus, Viburnum, and Forsythia are a few well-known plants that form their flower buds the previous season.  These plants are generally pruned after they bloom, however- if it looks ratty and needs an overhaul- we’ll forego the flowers and prune it when we have time.  Spiraea, Potentilla, Hydrangea, Weigela, and Rosa are some examples of plant the bloom on new wood.  In most cases, these plants can be cut back quite hard in the late winter or early spring and still grow vigorously and produce flowers in the same season.  There are many books on pruning, and the internet is loaded with information on when to prune, how to prune and which plants bloom on “new wood” or “old wood”.

Fall Planting and Dividing

The general rule of thumb is that plants with fine fibrous root systems are better divided in the spring and that plants with thicker, fleshy root systems, (ie. Paeonia, Iris, Hemerocallis, Echinops, Echinacea, and Geranium) are best divided in the fall.  Of course anything with a bulb or corm, (tulips, daffodils, etc.) are also best divided in the fall.  And there are perennials like Monarda and Hosta that will thrive no matter when you divide them.  We’ve left clumps of Hosta sitting above ground with no soil around their roots, and they have lived to tell the tale, (over and over again).  We don’t recommend it, but sometimes you just don’t have enough energy to plant one more Hosta!  Dividing plants can create vigorous new growth and better bloom.  Many plants will tell you when they need dividing- their growth forms a circle around a dead and hollow center- the donut effect- very common in plants like sibirian iris.

Fall is a great time for planting, (see above “Watering”).  Plant fall bulbs for spring color- be the envy, not envious!  Plant conifers and perennials.

Wintering Over Annuals:

One has to wonder how many of your outdoor plants can come indoors for the winter…and is this a feeble attempt to prolong the summer and deny where we live?  We’re all guilty and usually by the time February gets here- the white flies, fruit flies, and aphids have you sacrificing your plants to 20 degrees below zero…with glee!

If you put your regular houseplants outside for the summer and are bringing them in this fall- here’s a tip- spray them with superior type dormant horticultural oil and allow them to dry before you bring them into your home or greenhouse.  Not every plants likes to be sprayed, so read the label first.  When we’ve done this task- it has greatly reduced the occurrence of white flies, aphids and scale to a point where it wasn’t a problem- highly recommended!  Also be sure you weed your potted plants before bringing them in and check for any ant infestations in your pots- (really not fun until you kill the ants with the plant when you throw it outside in the middle of winter- but by then you’ve got a science project in your home!).  Repot your plants if necessary but don’t put them in much larger pots.  They are entering a period of slow growth and possibly dormancy- they won’t be needing as much water and you don’t want to encourage root rot by having too much soggy soil around the roots.  Once we get into February, if plants are in a sunny position, (and you are too), you can repot them and start feeding them a mild dose of fertilizer.  Prune off dead branches and cut back for tighter growth.

We’ve woken up to some chilly weather recently.  Though not near freezing, temps in the 40’s lets you know the seasons are changing!  Is it too soon to make a fire in the wood stove?  My partner, Ethan has taken up the clarinet- and this mornings’ practice has produced quite a few more squeaks that I attribute to the cold, so I may just have to warm the place up, for his clarinet practice of course!

The light is beautiful this time of year, (though driving when the sun is low creates problems), walking through the garden is a joy.  Plants are illuminated in a way that shows them to their best advantage.  The inflorescence of ornamental grasses catch the light particularly well.  Changing colors in leaves are also backlit by this magnificent light.  The color in conifers seems to deepen, and they begin to show their winter coloration.  Hydrangeas are incredible this year- and have begun to turn that incredible deep pink with white.

Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia'

Hydrangea paniculata 'Tardiva'

Asimina triloba - Paw Paw Tree

Miscanthus sinensis 'Silberfeder'


Gentiana makinoi 'Royal Blue'

Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus', Helictotrichon sempirvirens, Sedum spectabile 'Brilliant' and Euphorbia myrsinites

Hibiscus 'Kopper King'

Annual Celosia 'Cramer's Amazon'

Helictotrichon sempirvirens with Rhododendron 'Ramapo'

Miscanthus sinesis 'Variagatus'

Cimicifuga romosa 'Atropurpurea'

Conifers, Japanese Maples and Grasses

Calamogrostis brachytricha

It’s also a time of year when we start looking ahead to next year.  We’re able to forgive certain plants their poor performance and give them another chance next spring having great hopes that they will outperform our wildest expectations and that the weather will be glorious.  With that, we’re delighted to cut back their speckled, mottled, moldy, and generally ugly foliage- “next year, babe!”  It’s a relief.

My mind turns to organization in the fall.  I’ve been looking at the four groupings of hazelnuts I have that form a one-sided allee down the central corridor of the garden.  The story is that the family that lived at this house, before it was Rocky Dale Gardens,  had planted them.  They are one of the last vestiges of what was here before Rocky Dale Gardens was created.  In Rocky Dale’s history, a giant mulberry was taken down to make way for the greenhouse, and several fruit trees were removed to make way for nursery and parking.  Of course many other plants were displaced and removed for the creation of the display gardens.
The Hazelnut Allee

Back to my dilemma: the hazelnuts.  I removed several clumps a few years back so that what remained did create a nice formal line or allee, and I was pleased with that.  It opened up space in a garden that has become very crowded and had developed what I call “the green wall”, (when you can’t tell one plant from the other and the overall effect is a mass of foliage without definition or texture).  Now I think I want to remove all the hazelnuts and create a long border that may be even more formal, but will give us the opportunity to show off a greater variety of  plants.  Of course, that involves a retaining wall and leveling the ground, and on and on- big project.  So I thought of starting with the first lobe of hazelnuts- taking them out and putting a dent in the “green wall”.  We’ll see if I have the heart to do this as the bluejays really go for the hazelnuts this time of year.

Part of my problem is I go from one project to the other without really getting them done.  My “garden in the ledges” is still waiting for attention, but I fenced it off this year because I knew I wouldn’t have time for it.  I could go back to that, and give the hazelnuts a reprieve, but that wouldn’t be half as much fun because I’ve already envisioned it and it’s just work now.

That’s what fall is about- envisioning and generating ideas for the future- because you can start seeing the bones of your garden and the experience of what worked and what didn’t is fresh in your mind.  I’ll take off my designer hat and start pulling weeks and attending to fall chores.  Maybe this winter I can get out the chain saw!

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