This week we're in Charlotte, North Carolina visiting the Duke Mansion. This grand home is now a beautiful bed and breakfast with stunning grounds. We'll visit with their horticulturist, John Neville, and learn how to have seasons of color.
James Duke was an important person in making Charlotte a new South center. Duke had grown up a poor farm boy in the Durham area. His company, American Tobacco, figured out how to mass produce cigarettes and he became fabulously wealthy. With his wealth he became involved in hydroelectricity, damming up rivers and selling power. He began stringing lines from dams in the countryside to textile mills. By about 1920 Charlotte overcame New England as the textile manufacturing center of the United States. It remains a banking center to this day.
Duke may have been homesick for the South, since he, at that point, lived in New Jersey, and decided he needed a residence in the South, close to his new power company. An employee, Z. V. Taylor had built a little house in Meyers Park, Duke bought the house and expanded it (it has 42 rooms and 12 bathrooms). Meyers Park is a thousand acre garden suburb and Duke became involved in its' development. When trees were planted Duke didn't want little trees he suggested they bring in mature trees, many from New Jersey. His love of landscape is still evident in Meyers Park today.
John Neville is the horticulturist at Duke Mansion today. He likes to create color outside this wonderful home. There are a lot of meetings at the Mansion, John wants to entice people to get up from their seats, look through the window and go outside into the gardens. Once outside they usually will want to view the entire estate. Bold colors and different plants create interest and motivate visitors to go outside and into the gardens. He wants the gardens to look good all year round, not just in the spring and summer but 52 weeks a year.
John first determines the type of plant needed to produce color. He studies plants and determines their peak season and if they have a low point in the season. Is a particular plant one that its' blooms can be prolonged for several months or does it have a short bloom period.
Next he determines the area to place colorful plants. How much sun or shade is needed. Don't put a shade tolerant plant in a full sun situation because the plant won't survive and of course a full sun plant won't succeed in shady conditions.
Next he determines where to place the color. In the winter we don't travel outside as much so the color needs to be concentrated around the house. It is good to try new plants and new ideas but a plan is important.
John wanted to make a bold statement in the front of the house, he wants to attract people to the front door. By the entrance John has huge planters, they set the tone. If small containers had been used they would be lost. Not only has he used large pots but also large plants. Pennisetum Rubrum, Purple Fountain Grass is bold and its' color is striking against the white of the house. It's upright, allowing him to plant underneath. The plumes begin in late spring and last through summer. Also in these containers are Million Bell Petunias, they are prolific bloomers and bloom from late spring through the first frost. Mixed in is Tri-Color Potato Vine, it creeps and crawls through the planter and cascades down the side, providing a nice contrast. Also included are two types of Verbena, Babylon Blue and Babylon Red. They are heat tolerant, since they are near the pavement there is a lot of heat generated and they do well in this environment. The strong contrast of form and texture makes a dramatic container. But the color scheme is relatively simple. Don't get too elaborate with color schemes, it takes away from the house which is the main focal point.
To the right side of the entrance is another beautiful garden. John wants guest to look around and again he does this with seasonal color. He uses bold, high intensity color that grabs ones attention. Here he's used New Guinea Impatiens next to White Caladiums. These provide a great contrast enticing people into the yard. By massing the reds together they could be seen from one hundred yards away.
John has done some nice things with complimentary colors, he tries to mix colors that blend well together. By knowing color schemes a nice picture can be created. This garden has Brazilian Verbena, a beautiful purple and underneath is Golden Coreopsis, a lovely yellow. Both are Perennials. The yellow of the Coreopsis is echoed by the Canna in the back of the bed. The large leaves against the fine textured ones work well. At the front is Hoogandorn Holly. John wanted a border between the garde ns and the sidewalk, it sets the garden apart. Even in winter, after a frost, the Hollies still give the garden a sense of formality, a little bit of cleanliness when nothing behind them is looking good.
A plant needs between 16 and 20 essential nutrients. Each plant doesn't need the same amount of each of these nutrients. Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium are macro nutrients and are needed in large amounts. Plants also need micro nutrients, things like copper and zinc. If looking for great blooms, look for Phosphorus, it's the middle number. A good analysis might be 10-52-10. But don't forget about the micro nutrients they're also helpful for good blooms.
John, in containers, has combined a tree form Rose called Sun Sprinkles and Million Bell Petunias. The intense yellow Rose is beautiful with the intense purple of the Petunias. They go well together and they immediately draw the eye. When John first bought the Rose it was still in a starter container and seem ed as if it had just been potted. So when he moved it to the new container he kept the Rose in its original container, added them both to the new container and braced it so it wouldn't sway in the wind. When it becomes root bound, he will take it out of the original pot, replant it and it won't loose a lot of soil. This is a good way to change out containers, a pot in a pot. This requires the larger pot to be about three times as large as the smaller container. This allows for removal of the smaller pot in colder weather, if necessary or an entirely new plant can be inserted at a later date. Even in winter the Rose, although not in bloom, will provide a structure for viewing and interest.
Cardoon is at the center of another garden. It grows to about 4-5 feet tall, has striking foliage and is very gnarly looking. The flower looks like an Artichoke and the bloom resembles a Thistle. It is a member of the Artichoke family and has a blue tint. John treats Cardoon as an annual, plants it in the winter time, lets it grow to height, go to seed, bloom, then removes it from the garden. Planted next to the Cardoon are Profusion Zinnias, a very good annual. They are self cleaning, meaning they don't need to be dead headed. They are a good choice in humid areas, they have very little powdery mildew. Profusion Zinnias are a hybrid between Zinnia Lineras, the very narrow leaf Zinnia and regular garden variety Zinnias. It is a nice intermediate, full textured plant. Sedum is always a favorite. This variety is called Autumn Joy and is drought resistant. Think about when you want it to bloom. If not pruned in early summer it will bloom within a month or so. If you want it to bloom in the fall, prune it in early summer and take it down to 4-5 inches above the ground. This allows the plant to regenerate growth, causing it to bloom in late August or September. They like full sun and well drained soil. They're very durable once establishe d and drought resistant.
John will also use Natives for color, in this case Monarda Didyma, Bee Balm. This variety is Jacob Klein and is vibrant red, mildew resistant and grows to about 4-5 feet tall at the most. It is ideal for alternating pruning. Instead of pruning it all at one time, prune half the stems, half way down and it will regenerate another series of blooms throughout the summer. The flowers are different, their long red tubular flowers on the top attract Hummingbirds. Their bracts which are modified leaves at the base have some color as well.
Daphne Odora is difficult to keep alive. This variety is Marginata, commonly called Winter Daphne. In February it stands out in the garden. Its' blooms are pinkish white with a strong perfume that covers the entire property. It is a dense, handsome, well behaved shrub. It is difficult to get established in the ground. If too much water is in the soil or if the bed isn't properly prepared it will get root rot. Drainage is critical, this plant is in a raised bed. It needs a little shade but will tolerate filtered sun. This plant is underneath a big Boxwood which shades it from the sun and protects it from harsh winter conditions. It has a little yellow on the edges of the leaves providing some seasonal color this time of year but is particularly pretty the first part of the year.
Water features are always fascinating in any garden, they become a focal point. Mr. Duke had water for this fountain piped 10 miles. Make sure fountains can be seen from inside the house as well as outside, ensuring interest 365 days a year.
John likes for people when leaving the Duke Mansion to say "I too can do that in my garden." Since this looks like a home, it may not be as intimidating as a formal garden. John will openly talk about his failures as well as his successes with plants. He wants others to try new ideas.
John also uses art in this garden. The obelisks make a great addition, they provide a solid structure for plants like climbing vines to attach themselves to. They're painted white, which stands out behind the green leafy plants, showing off the plant. Since they're the same color as the house they add a little formality to this part of the garden. Several are used throughout the garden providing a sense of balance and unity.
A statue of a ballerina which is 99% silver is another focal point in this garden. John wouldn't want too many of these because they would take away from the plants, but by planting underneath the statue the plants compliment the statue. It is reflective, thereby providing interest year round. Whether the surrounding leaves are green, red or orange they're reflected in the statue.
John has espaliered an Apple Tree against a wall and it does well in this form. He determined which way he wanted the branches to run, then embedded concrete screws into the mortar and ran a thin wire in a serpentine manner all the way down the wall. When the branches are young and flexible he loosely attaches them to the string allowing for the root, bark or stem to grow. He then prunes it to fit the design and it looks very picturesque even in winter when it has no leaves. It softens the brick wall and adds a great touch to this area.
Bark can add winter interest. Crepe Myrtle, Natchex, is a white blooming tree. The exfoliating bark gives a nice molted look. Select 4 or 5 stems, keep all suckers pruned below and let the stems turn into trunks, turning massive and thick. John has backed it up with Claiara and Ivies providing a nice evergreen look, particularly in winter since the tree can look stark without leaves. By placing the tree close to areas where people can sit or walk, it allows them to better appreciate the beauty of the tree and its' bark.
Buford Holly has a lot of interest year round but especially in the winter. It is a shrub, John has turned it into a tree. He has done this by removing the lower branches. This is a relatively easy process, first limb up the branches from the ground up. A good rule of thumb, for a good proportion is 1/3 and 2/3, remove about 1/3 of the branches leaving 2/3. Of course this depends on the height of the tree or shrub and what you're looking for in a canopy.
Hollies provide a profusion of red berries. They will drop their berries 3 or 4 months of the year, thus not ideal for around a water feature. They are a great choice for winter interest, providing great clippings for Christmas as well as an evergreen plant that looks good year round.
The Duke Mansion
Notes from Skippa's Garden