Monthly Archives: July 2016

Gardenopolis Bulletin: Keeping Your Plants Up in a Drought

By Contributing Editor Ann McCulloh

Our current dry spell in Northeast Ohio is a rather unfamiliar challenge to gardeners, accustomed as we are to a generous annual average rainfall of 39.14 inches. The United States Drought Monitor recently updated our status to “Moderate Drought”, from “Abnormally Dry” a week ago. The National Weather Service is not predicting relief anytime soon. Add unusually hot days, one after another, and the situation is getting serious for gardens, and gardeners! (Although when I Google “Cleveland drought” I get endless hits about a basketball championship, and nothing at all about weather. Hmmm?)

When I dig down and find powder dry soil at a depth of 12”, I know that annuals, perennials, shrubs and even trees are in trouble and even in danger of dying. The ones that survive will show the results of stress with slowed growth, fewer flowers, shoot dieback and increased susceptibility to pests and diseases.

photo 1 crispy white pine_resized

(Crispy white pine, a recent casualty)

Bottom line: we need to water. Alot! Most people just are not watering enough right now. Since it’s hard to know if you’re doing it correctly, here are some tips that I find helpful:

  • Established plants need a minimum of 1” of rain per week for optimal growth. Newly planted ones, more like 2” per week.  If you are using a sprinkler, set an empty tuna can within the range of the spray. Check the amount of time needed to fill the can as the sprinkler runs. That’s how long the sprinkler should run each week to supply that critical 1”. 
  • Even established trees need supplemental water during a drought. A soaker hose or sprinkler run for about an hour will usually saturate the soil to the needed depth of 10”. Doing this even once or twice during a drought event will be beneficial.
  • Water deeply and infrequently (just 1-2 times a week for established plants, 5-7 times a week only for the smallest, newest seedlings.) This allows for development of deeper, more drought-resistant roots.
  • Large tomato plants, full grown hostas, small shrubs and so on need about 1-2 gallons of water per week. Count the seconds it takes to fill a watering can with the hose. That’s how long to hold the hose on each plant.
  • Water the soil at the base of the plant, soaking the soil, not the leaves! Plants absorb water through their roots, while wet leaves allow diseases to thrive. A long-handled watering wand attached to the hose with a shutoff valve is my favorite tool for this. 

Photo 2 watering wand_resized (1)

  • Watering in the evening conserves some water as it can soak into the ground rather than evaporating into the warmer daytime air.
  • Cover bare soil with a 2” layer of mulch at all times! Shredded bark, pine nuggets, pine straw, wood chips, dry leaves, or straw are all good options.

And be sure to keep the gardener well-hydrated too! I recommend plentiful iced tea and occasional dashes through the sprinkler.

Poems: Sunset Song and Song after Drought

 Sunset Song

by Elsa Johnson

I too                               have woken in the dead of night

to the flicker of light                                   and the muted

booms   of a nearing storm                 and thrown on my

shoes to flee into the blackness                                along

the muddy lane                              brushing the hot wires

twice                         to race the storm to the far pasture

where the shod horses graze                       in the unsafe

night                           to bring them back home to safety                         

They bolt at the first strikes     the horses     plunge      

and fly down the narrow track                      by wind and

noise whipped on        by the crackling         the crashing

above                  and the fierce hard lash of the fast rain                   

For who can outrun the storm?         now         or ever —       

The deluge comes                passes                comes again 

Song after Drought

This time the deluge came           and went            quickly

washing the day’s heat away                             after night

had fallen                     silent              to the hot pavement    

                         There is no more racing the night track in

blackness                         bringing the horses safely home

                    that lie allowing me              to bolt like my

beasts                                    fully alive to the lashing skies               

Today is three weeks out from solstice                 They’re

long dead              all the beautiful horses                   and

I’ve grown old         Last night’s rain tapered down from

ungentleness                  to less than a deluge          soft –

soaking the parched skins of earth               Underneath

the streetlamps    small wet leaves sparkle          almost

imperceptibly                       the long summer days wane 

Pollinator Pocket Progress

Catherine Feldman and Elsa Johnson

Gardenopolis Vision: Pollinator Pockets blooming in every yard throughout the Cleveland area. Butterflies, bees, wasps, birds and bats feasting  and flying from pocket to pocket. Pollinator populations proliferate. We are doing our part.

Our Plan: To provide a service by planting Pollinator Pockets in the Cleveland area .

Our Action: We have planted seven experimental Pollinator Pockets in Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights. As you may recall from our previous article on this venture last fall we prepared the gardens for planting using the lasagna mulch method, layers of newspaper, compost, manure, straw and wood chips. This spring we designed and planted individualized selections of native pollinator attracting plants.

bees on coneflower

In general, our criteria were as follows:

  • Grows well in Cleveland
  • Close to species—more likely to attract native pollinators and to bloom at the time that native pollinators require
  • Sequence of bloom for a long period of time from summer into fall
  • Native because more likely to survive
  • Drought resistant—native plants tend to be
  • Deer resistant: although deer may taste something they haven’t seen before they are not likely to eat the plants as chosen
  • Long bloom—individually (weeks vs. just days)
  • Beauty-good color combinationscone flower, thyme, agastache

In particular, each pocket we planted was different (size, sun or shade, location in relation to the house) so each bed was individually designed by Gardenopolis Cleveland editor, Elsa Johnson.

There are many lists out there of recommended pollinator plants. This list consists of the ones that met our criteria and that we were able to obtain in plug size (more economical):

  • Agastache: long bloom period-mid-summer into fall; bees LOVE it
  • Anenome: late season bloom-spreads nicely (but can be invasive)
  • Asclepias: two seasons of importance—in bloom for bees and butterflies and as food source for monarchs; will self-sow for monarchs
  • Echinacea: blooms over a long period of time-midsummer into fall; birds like seeds
  • Chelone: late bloomer
  • Aster: late season bloomer
  • Eupatorium: late season bloomer; easy to grow
  • Lobelia: late season bloom—attracts humming birds as well as insects
  • Geranium: Rozanne or Azure Rush—these varieties bloom all summer and into fall
  • Meehania: groundcover in the mint family; early bloomer
  • Rudbeckia: ‘Henry Eilers’ has a long bloom time from mid-summer into fall. We also like ‘Viettes Little Suzy’ (shorter)
  • Salvias: blooms early and into summer; reblooms and easy to grow if you cut back after blooming
  • Scutellaria: a native mint good for semi-shade; spreads
  • Solidago: long season of bloom from late summer into fall. An important late season pollinator

geranium Rozanne

Geranium Rozanne

aesclepias tuberosa

Aesclepias tuberosa

Next Steps: If you are inspired by this idea and want to plant your own Pocket, go for it! Here are some links for more information:

You may even wish to take a course:

Or, read a book:

Attracting Native Pollinators by Eric Mader, Mace Vaughn, and Matthew Shepherd of the Xerces Society is a classic.

Or, on the other hand, you may prefer to have us plant one for you. If so, please contact Catherine Feldman at

We end by loosely quoting Denise Ellsworth, “Fall victim to plant lust, but, before you fall, take a step back and watch how many pollinators it attracts.”


When you see our sign, look for one of our Pollinator Pockets nearby. We will be keeping you posted as to their progress.

The Peripatetic Gardener Visits Kingwood Center Garden

by Elsa Johnson

I’ve been visiting Kingwood most of my life – so far back, anyway, that I cannot remember the first time… but when I ask other Clevelanders, including gardeners, if they have been to Kingwood, most of them do not know Kingwood exists, even though it is a relatively easy one and a half hour drive down route 71.

Kingwood is a – sort of – example example of the English Landscape School, the garden style (or estate style) that did away with formalism in the late 18th century, and in its place offered idyllic pastoral landscapes that typically included gently rolling lawns interspersed with specimen trees, re-creations of formal classical architecture (‘follies’) punctuating the ends of long sweeps of lawn, lakes and views, and curving and meandering pathways, all offering and supporting views of idealized nature.  All this was very different from the formal geometrical gardens that had come before.     


Kingwood, at a slight 47 acres, is this in miniature. To visit Kingwood is to feel you have stepped back in time and place, as if to Jane Austen country.  This could be the estate of someone from the minor nobility or the well-off established gentry – not really quite grand enough to be the estate of landed high aristocrats, but a long, long, long way from the hoi polloi.

It is the brick mansion and other architectural works that establish this tone, set like a gems in their park-like setting, but it is the gardens that flesh out this fantasy. One without the other would not be nearly as wonderful.


The mansion sits set into a hillside off in the center of the property, but this center feels like the cornerstone, as the southwest quadrant of the estate is mostly woodland and remains outside of one’s awareness. One arrives at the mansion on the lowest level via a rather grand entry courtyard enclosed by high brick walls. To the north of the entry courtyard an opening in the wall steps down to a terrace that in turn looks out over a descending sweep of lawn, bordered by flowers and trees, that terminates some distance away in a fountain. During a recent May visit, this esplanade was decorated by young ladies in pretty prom dresses, looking flower-like themselves, and their somewhat bewildered escorts. 

South of the entry court one enters the house into a ground floor arrival hall; the visitor then proceeds up the stairs to the living levels. From this living level one looks through the rooms (unfortunately one cannot actually go into them) and sees that this level also opens out at ground level, but one level higher, to a serene sweep of lawn and majestic specimen trees, many of them venerable beeches and maples. This relative inaccessibility makes visiting the high side of the estate something of an afterthought for most people, one suspects, but it is the space that most clearly shouts: English Landscape School. One can follow a path around the house to arrive at this space (there are also meandering paths through a little woodland garden west of the house).


From here one can walk east toward what seems to be an impenetrable wall of high hedges, some ten feet to fifteen feet tall,  of hemlock, and ubiquitous yew. These hedges are well worth seeing in their own right.  How often does one see this scale of hedging executed and maintained so successfully?

These hedges enclose a series of formal, tiered, cascading terraces — ornamented at the very top by my favorite sculpture of the naked god Pan poised to play his pipe, with a playful goat wrapping itself around his knees, reminding us of Pan’s animal nature.


These terraces terminate some distance away, on down the slope,


with an alcove set into a tall hedge, holding a sculpture of a lovely maiden – surely a tryst inducing place.


East of this folly the lawn opens out again and a path meanders through it, anchored here and there by perennial beds. From there one can wander into a conservatory and a retail plant shop. Here Kingwood grows all the annuals it plants in its various formal beds. North of the conservatory lies what was the service entrance to the estate and all the working areas of the estate; here a large u-shaped building once sheltered horses on one side and chickens on the other – one can still see the little doors that were opened so the chickens could run outside.

reburbrished chicken coop

stables converted to meting spaceToday these buildings are used for events (Kingwood is a popular site for weddings) and garden shows.

East of these is the rose garden, which leads on to an herb garden enclosed by a white pine hedge, and then over to the east end of the small lake/pond, where the space between the pond and the stable is being turned into (via a master plan) a terrace and a rain garden, with the water coming off of the roofs of the old stable buildings. These spaces, more intimate in their scale, feel more ‘gardeny’ and less ‘estatey’… and are a nice place to stop and eat that picnic lunch you brought with you, while the peacocks holler in the distance (warning – we’re not kidding about the picnic lunch — Mansfield has little to offer in the way of restaurants).

I like to end my visit to Kingwood in the perennial garden, tucked in the space between the sloping lawn esplanade off the entry court and a drive down from it. There are several huge cypress trees here with interesting knees poking up out of the ground.

cypress knees

The perennials grow among them, swirling together in pleasing, loose, soft masses. Nothing formal about these.

We (co-editors Elsa Johnson and Catherine Feldman) would like to thank the Director of Kingwood Center Gardens, Charles Gleaves, who graciously escorted us on this most recent tour. From him we learned that the City of Mansfield provides Kingwood with leaves in the fall. These, shredded and composted, are then applied to the various beds, both permanent and annual – a practice we have written about in Gardenopolis Cleveland and encourage. After years of such application the result is a deep rich soil in which plants flourish, which is slow to dry out, even in our current drought.   



If you have planned your time well you might still have time and energy for a quick visit to Louis Bromfield’s Malabar Farm, now a state park. Although more remembered for his fiction and semi-celebrity status, Bromfield also wrote agricultural treatises, and he made Malabar a working farm experimenting in innovative, scientific, sustainable framing practices. Bromfield believed that resource conservation – especially soil and water – was America’s biggest challenge.

We would say it still is.