Episode 50 – Better relationships with your neighbors through plants

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

In response to a funny story Rick posted on social media, a landscaper friend commented: “I have often wondered if the newer homes with smaller front porches or none at all has caused neighbors not to have interaction with each other. If you know your neighbors better, maybe you can work differences out with more maturity. We have a bench in our front landscape next to the sidewalk. My husband and I have met more neighbors because of that.” Does anyone else agree that socializing with neighbors is a lost art? 

It got me thinking about front yard neighborly landscapes. When we talked to Andrew Bunting from PHS last week, he talked about gardening  creating “deep social connections.” How often have I had someone stop or ring my doorbell to ask what that “cool plant” is in my landscape. What I do with the gomphrena or Totem Pole grasses or cannas or ‘Miss Molly’ buddleia in my front yard is similar to how some people use their dog to meet new people. Most dogs love to meet new people. 

Gardening connects us as people and neighbors. If you don’t grow vegetables, it pays to compliment the ones in your neighbors yard.

The convenience of texting, emails, and the popularity of social networks like Facebook and Twitter have limited the need for face-to-face visits. I remember when I was a kid or when my kids were young the “front yard” was where everyone went to socialize. Has the camera replaced front yard beauty to keep from having packages stolen from your front porch? 

Fewer than half of American adults know most or all of their neighbors. When survey respondents were asked if they knew the names of the neighbors who live close to them, 19% of adults said they knew all of their neighbors. Another 24% said they knew most of their neighbors. This left the majority of American adults knowing only some (29%) or none (28%) of their neighbors by name.

Today there seems to be more interest in the back patio than the front porch. And while both are forms of socializing, the difference is the back patio is friends you already know, whereas the front porch is an opportunity to meet the people that start as strangers who live around you and turn them into friends that you know. 

It’s not about impressing with “curb appeal” but rather to create a beautiful garden you both can enjoy. We all have the neighbor(s) who refuse to plant anything. Instead of curb appeal to impress others how about inspire and approachable? What do you do with social media? You post profile pics and headers that project you in the best possible light.

It’s a delicate balance to maintain your boundaries, but position neighborly plants, fruit and vegetable gardens. This keeps the functional parts of your landscapes convenient yet in an appropriate space for both of you.

Sharing canna rhizomes, gardening advice, hosta and daylily divisions and giving away vegetables creates a sense of reciprocity  in the neighborhood. 

Neighborhood aesthetics, social involvement, and community garden participation were significantly associated with fruit and vegetable intake according to the National Library of Medicine.

When creating a front-yard garden, it’s important to consider how much upkeep will be required. It’s alright to allow a backyard garden to grow wild and woolly at times, but since the front garden is always on display, you want to keep it looking as good as possible.

Avoid high-maintenance plants that need frequent watering, are susceptible to pests and diseases, or require daily deadheading. 

Structures should complement, not compete with, the architecture of your house. Use similar materials, like a brick mailbox post and paths if you have a Colonial home, a white picket fence if you live in a cozy cottage or Cape Cod home. Like any good cottage garden, it can boast a profusion of plants. 

Plants that border and make the path inviting like lavender will make an impact. Furniture and container plantings on the front porch make it inviting, too.

Focal points include a bench from which we can enjoy the garden and the Sunday paper, lemon trees in large pots, and a birdbath, which is placed at the intersection of two paths. A rose-covered arbor over the front gate greets guests upon their arrival, and an herb garden borders the walk to the front door.

What plants would you use in your front yard to make it inviting? 

Another way to get conversation started in your yard is signs indicating your yard is a certified wildlife habitat, a monarch waystation, or one of these decorative signs that explain why your lawn might not look like that perfect suburban lawn so many people idealize. If you are passionate about these things, share it – you might just find some like-minded neighbors, or maybe even a few converts.

Why: Now here’s a plant that’s perfect for neighbors! Well, in my case, anyway. I planted a ‘Sweet Summer Love’ clematis about seven years ago to scramble through my Instant Karma variegated elderberry. It does that, and looks fabulous while doing it, but it also has taken to scrambling around and through my neighbor’s wood shadowbox fence and making a beautiful display on their side, too. It’s win-win! Of course, I told them if they don’t like that (or any of my plants that peek over and through their fence), to just let me know and I’ll take care of it, but I’m fortunate that they are like-minded plant lovers who appreciate the color and fragrance of Sweet Summer Love clematis. 

Vines like ‘Sweet Summer Love’ are ideal for beautifying fences, as well as for weaving into evergreens and other plants. You can think of ‘Sweet Summer Love’ clematis like a colorful, non-invasive version of sweet autumn clematis. It is just as easy to grow, has the same luscious cherry-vanilla fragrance, but it’s not going to take over your yard with overly-vigorous vines or seedlings, and instead of white, its flowers start out a vivid cranberry-red color and age to royal purple. It’s a super-colorful, super amazing display, and a great remedy for those that have not been successful growing clematis in the past. 

Who: ‘Sweet Summer Love’ clematis came to us from Dr. Szczepan Marczyński of Poland. He’s the breeder and genius behind most of the Proven Winners clematis and other varieties that are beloved around the world. His website is a wealth of information and inspiration for clematis lovers. 

How to Grow: The number one thing you need to know about growing Sweet Summer Love clematis is that it’s one of those plants that’s going to need a few years in the ground before it starts doing its thing. As we’ve mentioned before on the show, clematis roots are very thick, fleshy, and ropy, and it takes a lot of time and energy for them to develop. Until they are developed, however, the plant will grow and bloom only a little. It will take at least three seasons and up to five, depending on growing conditions, for it to begin to approach its eventual height and spread of 10′, and its thousands of blooms every summer. Your patience is required, but it will be rewarded!

The second thing to know about growing clematis is feet in the shade, head in the sun. The roots must be kept cool and shaded with mulch or nearby plants (or a combination of both), while the vines want to bask in at least six hours of bright sun. Once established, it will need only occasional supplemental water, and little to no fertilizer. Pruning, so often a point of confusion for gardeners, couldn’t be simpler: just cut the whole plant back to 18-24″ above the ground when the new growth begins to emerge in spring. You may well wonder, if I cut it back that hard every year, how in the world will it reach 10′ tall and wide? The answer is in that root system – that essentially functions like an engine for growth, and the larger it becomes, the more growth it will fuel. So even though you will be cutting your clematis back to just a few buds, they will put out so much growth that they will quickly be able to attain their full size. Pruning helps the clematis create a full, lush planting that blooms from top to bottom instead of just at the tippy-top. 

If you’d like to add ‘Sweet Summer Love’ clematis – or any of the 320+ Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs – to your garden or landscape, you’ll find a list of local retailers here

Gardening Mail Bag - Stacey

No – don’t cut it to the ground now. Despite the powdery mildew, the plant is still creating and storing a lot of energy right now, and cutting that short by removing most of the plant will not give it the benefit of the full season. However, next late winter/early spring, go for it! You can cut it back quite hard (honeysuckle is nearly indestructible once established), or wait until you start to see the new growth beginning to emerge and then cut out anything dead and just cut the live parts back. 

The trick about treating powdery mildew is that most commercially available treatments are preventative, not curative. In other words, once the disease is established, they won’t get rid of it. Powdery mildew infections actually take place in spring – it’s that in summer, the fungal spores have developed enough to become visible in the form of that powdery substance on the leaves. So treating powdery means starting in spring, when the foliage begins to emerge. At that point, it hasn’t yet developed a protective, waxy cuticle so is very susceptible to infection. To reduce the chances of powdery mildew recurring, there are a few steps you can take. One, when the leaves drop, remove all the fallen foliage. The spores overwinter on those leaves and can readily re-infect the plant in spring when conditions are ideal. Additional measures you can take are to make sure the plant gets the appropriate amount of sun and good air circulation (this helps foliage dry more quickly), and to avoid wetting the leaves when you water. If you have a sprinkler system, consider adjust the head so it does not spray the plant itself with water. 

The main advice these days is to use Lysol or another household disinfectant at full strength. While sanitizing your pruners is always good practice, it’s not strictly necessary all the time. It is recommended if you are pruning something that you know has a viral or bacterial disease, or if you are pruning a plant that is susceptible to such, like lilacs. Here’s an excellent article on the topic!

This is a classic case of the old adage, sleep, creep, leap. The first year, a plant sleeps – you see little growth, though it is growing roots underground. The second year, it creeps – you see some growth, but it’s limited, and you may see a bit of flowering. On its third season in the ground, it leaps – it has had enough time to establish a good root system so it is able to devote energy into flowering and growing, and that includes reblooming. Your plant just needs a little more time to get a root system in place so that it can start flowering well. That said, once established, the key to rebloom on reblooming shrubs like Sonic Bloom weigela is that the plant must put on as much new growth as possible after its spring bloom. The more new growth it puts on, the better its rebloom will be, so it’s a good idea to keep the plant watered, especially if the weather is hot and dry, and to fertilize at least once more after its spring bloom to give it a little boost. 

Do you have a question for us? We’re happy to help! E-mail us or use the contact tab above. Due to high volume, we may not get to your question, so if you need an answer quickly, please reach out via the Proven Winners website.

Branching News - Rick

  • A fast-growing invasive vine called mile-a-minute weed has been discovered in Maine for what experts believe is the first time. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry released a statement on Tuesday urging Mainers to be on the lookout for the barbed weed with triangular leaves in their gardens and other areas where infestation is common. While homeowners and gardeners might find mile-a-minute weed unsightly, the real threat it poses stretches far beyond its appearance. The plant’s formidable growth rate of up to 6 inches a day – or 25 feet in six to eight weeks – makes it constantly hungry for more room. This means the weed can destroy ecosystems by dominating them without giving native plants room to grow or providing ecosystem services to native animals and insects. It can also disrupt commercial agriculture by shading out crops. It is estimated that mile a minute weed is established in 20% of its total potential range – yikes. Since the weed’s accidental introduction to the United States in the 1930s, several other states have been forced to aggressively confront it. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, researchers in West Virginia have started controlling outbreaks by using drones to drop biocontrol weevils over hard-to-reach patches.
  • This survey shows that 61% of respondents have actively sought out foods with fewer preservatives or processed ingredients within the last year. They’ve also been reading the ingredient labels on food products more closely (60%), buying more “natural” foods (42%) and prioritizing locally-made or grown foods (24%) . Of course, a vegetable garden is a great solution to all of these things! 
  • Fight fire with…goats? Yes! There’s very little goats won’t eat with their four-compartment stomach. Even things that seem impossible. “I don’t know how their digestive systems deal with it, but they do,” says Fire Grazers Inc., a service that uses its herds of goats to clear brush from hillsides, flatlands and other hard-to-climb terrain. They eat about 1 acre a day, even prickly, noxious weeds like thistle. While the practice of targeted grazing goes back centuries, it has been pushed aside by machines and chemical herbicides in the modern era. But following the unrelenting barrage of blazes in California in recent years, which have ravaged an average of nearly 400,000 acres of land each year, it’s become a bigger part of California’s strategy to reduce wildfire risk. An annual “Bleat and Greet” event, where the community is invited to get to know the fire-fighting heroes. In contrast, all the goats need is water, mineral and salt blocks, and a large shepherd dog to ward off coyotes. They can also climb up steep mountainsides, eat the poison oak and work under the blazing sun without suffering from heat stress or heat exhaustion.
  • Who invited the bear? Cailyn McRossie-Martinez and Brandon Martinez shared photos from their Boulder County wedding, which took an unplanned turn when monsoon rains began to fall right before they exchanged vows. “So by the time it started pouring rain on us in the middle of the ceremony, us and all of our guests were soaking wet. The next surprise came during the reception, when a bear showed up and started eating all of the desserts. “It’s not too often you go in to your dessert table and see a bear crashing it and eating all of it,” Martinez said. NOT TO BE THE BEARER OF BAD NEWS! SOME WOULD FIND THIS UNBEARABLE BUT IT DIDN’T BRUIN THEIR ATTITUDE. McRossie-Martinez said it ended up being the “perfect Colorado wedding.”