Most people try to avoid bringing their work home with them, but for Carrie Brandow, some of the plants she grows for a wholesale nursery business happily come home with her to fill her summer planters and enhance her garden's flowerbeds.
"I love making combinations and seeing how plants work together," Carrie says.
Even so, there is a big difference between her day job and playing with plant combinations at home. "Gardening is different from working in the mass growing and selling. It's peaceful and it is mine without caring what anyone else wants," she continues.
Growing plants for a living was not always a future Carrie saw for herself.
"My parents started a wholesale greenhouse in 1967. I grew up in that greenhouse," she says. "I went to university for environmental science, but after graduating, came back to the nursery. Working in the family greenhouse allowed me to bring my children to work - the greenhouse hired a nanny during the peak growing times. I had my daughter in a sling on my hip from 3 months old for her first year. Now my son would not have any of that and he had a playpen attached to a moving flower rack."
While a small business offers some flexibility, it's also a lot of hard work. The days are long. Usually Carrie is out the door a little after six in the morning and she often does return home until six in the evening.
The work is rewarding though. Watching tiny seedlings grow and mature into something beautiful is a task Carrie enjoys. "Most rewarding is having combinations I design work out just as I imagined - they don't always. If I'm being honest, I did not know what many plants looked like at maturity and how they performed in the garden until I started gardening. The goal in the greenhouse is to get them big enough to sell and then ship them out."
Having a ready supply of annuals gives Carrie's garden a distinctive style and a definite flamboyance. Great drifts of annuals are not something you often see in a private garden.
Their growing lives are short, so annuals give a single gardening season everything they've got. With the right care, they provide ongoing color in a way that slow and steady perennials never can.
The red flower is Nemisa 'Nesia Burgundy' and low growing annual by the mushrooms is Oxalis Burgundy.
1. Maiden grass, Miscanthus 2. Bearded Iris 3. Baby's Breath, Gypsophila 4. Red Hot Poker, Kniphofia 5. Delphinium 6. Oriental Poppy, Papaver orientale 7. Lilies 8. Hollyhocks, Alcea rosea 9. Sedum
A rose and a dwarf form of Campanula.
This rose was a clearance item."It was from the discount area at Zehrs–I think I paid a dollar for it 😋 ", Carrie says.
Flowerpots punctuate the garden and are generously packed with plants. The oversized containers lift the plants up and bring the flowers closer to eye level. Mixed in among the big pots are little gems; small containers with textural arrangements of dusty-green and grey succulents.
For Carrie, creating a container that will look great well into the fall season begins with the soil. "Potting soil (not garden soil) is what I use and it is the only soil I would use," she says.
As to any additional nutrients, Carrie tells me,"Liquid fertilizer is just too much work, so I use a soil that has slow release fertilizer in it. I also topdress with a 14-14-14 granular slow release fertilizer."
Carrie cautions that it's important to remember that different annuals can have varying requirements:
"Petunias are very heavy feeders and can not really be over fertilized, while if you fertilize nasturtiums, you will get lots of foliage and no bloom. How much to fertilize is a balancing act depending on the contents of a planter. I also stop fertilizing fall planters after mid August - kale will not colour (white kale will go back to green) and mums will send up new growth instead of becoming an even round ball of bloom."
The containers she makes for clients sometimes have design or color restrictions, but in her own garden, Carrie can be as creative as she likes. The design process begins with a series of questions:
"When I plant my own containers, I always start the same way. What colours will work in the area? If there are reds and oranges around, I am not doing pink. Is it full sun, full shade or in between? What container am I am using? The general principals of flower design is container 1/3 height to the flower height 2/3–which I try for, but do not always achieve."
"The other thing I look at is where the container is located compared to the water source. I have over 40 container planters throughout my garden - if the container is less than 14 inches in diameter, it needs to be close to water or must be able to live without water on a regular basis."
"That being said, in my main 'showcase' planters I usually start with a plant I want to try out or a colour scheme and run from there."
The pergola was teamwork. Husband David did the construction while Carrie served as design consultant and painter.
David is a blacksmith and made many of the pieces of artwork you see in the garden. The chair to the right of the container planting is one of his creations.
At the back of this container planting is the"thriller"Giant Reed, Arundo Donax 'Variegata'.
Giant Reed, Arundo Donax 'Variegata' is a warm-season grass that has grey-green foliage streaked with bands of cream. It likes moist soil and will even grow in standing water. In frost-free areas, it will remain evergreen (USDA zones 9-11), but in more northern zones, it will die back to the ground in winter (zones 6-7). Height: 12-15 ft (3.6-4.7 m), Spread: 8-10 ft (2.4-3 m). USDA zones: 6-10.
A closer look at the container shown in the previous picture: Lantana 'Evita Red', Petunia 'Littletunia Purple Blue', yellow Mercardonia and Coleus 'Redhead'
From the flowerbed right beside the container planting shown above:
Dwarf Bee Balm, Monarda 'Pardon my Purple' has magenta-purple flowers on a low, compact plant. Monarda is best grown in rich, medium to wet, moisture-retentive soil. Deadheading the flowers will extend the bloom time. Spreads by rhizomes and self-seeds to form colonies. Mildew resistant. Full sun or light shade. Height: 25-30 cm(10-12 inches), Spread:(10-12 inches). USDA zones: 4-8.
A raised bed at the back of the house.
1. Nasturtium 'Jewel Mix' 2. Coleus 'Redhead' 3. Golden Pineapple Sage, Salvia 'Golden delicious' 4. Fountain Grass, Pennisetum purpureum 'Princess Caroline'
A few of the containers filled with succulents.
A pretty table centrepiece from the patio area. Place a glass vase in the centre of a bowl and fill the
bowl with fruit and vegetables.
1. Angelonia 2. Verbena 'Aztec Violet Blue' 3. Lantana 'Evita Red' 4. Petunia 'Littletunia Purple Blue' 5. Mercardonia 'Gold dust'
Summer snapdragon, Angelonia (perennial that can be used as an annual in northern garden zones) comes in colors of white, pink, lavender and purple. They like sun and tolerate heat and humidity well. Height: 8-12 inches.
A section of garden adjacent to the pergola. A pathway leads to the garage
at the back of the property.
1. Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia 2. Tickseed, Coreopsis 3. Japanese Forest Grass, Hakonechloa macra 4. Euonymus 5. Daylily 6. Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris 7. Giant Fleece Flower, Persicaria Polymorpha
1. Lantana 'Evita Red' 2. Coleus 'Marble Red' 3. Floss Flower, Ageratum 'High Tide Blue' 4. Nemesia Nesia 'Sunshine'
Floss Flower, Ageratum houstonianum (annual) has clusters of soft flowers in shades of blue, lavender and pink. There are both tall and shorter varieties. Full sun (with afternoon shade in warmer garden zones). Height: 10-18 inches.
When it comes to containers, most gardeners (myself included) focus on the flowers, but Carrie advises differently:
"My one word of advice would be do not forget the contrast in foliage colour. If you want to keep your planters looking good all season, keep the different foliage colours in mind. Blooms can be in and out. The foliage will always be there. Some combinations work, some do not - if you don't like the results - don't do it again next year."
Lots of great advice to put into practice!
Part 2 will focus on some of the other flowerbeds and will take further look at some of the more than 40 container plantings!