Tried and True – Aquilegia canadensis (Wild Columbine)

Columbine touch up

We were working on a farm near Berryville this past spring.  Richard, our foreman, pointed to a rock outcropping and said “check this out!”.  What we were looking at were Wild Columbine growing out of the cracks on the north side of these boulders and they were in full bloom (see photo).  I’ve come across the native plants growing in other tough spots – cracks in walkway, stone walls – but on a surface of a boulder showed how truly rugged they are.  Once they find their happy place, they will self sow in the areas around it.  Their leaves resemble clover, so be careful not to inadvertently pull them out when they’re not blooming.

Suggested uses:  Wooded sites, native shade gardens, along woodland pathways and trails.

“What do you do in the winter?”


Yes, we are now into our ‘slow’ season.  Although we would love to vacation in warmer weather, we have the winter months to get a lot of work accomplished in preparation for our busier seasons.   We are often asked, “What do you do in the winter time”?  Our answer: There is a lot we can do over the winter months.    

1.      Design and planning for the spring.  Spring hits us earlier than you think.  By early March we are hitting the ground running on our planting projects.  We even start spring maintenance projects mid-February if weather allows.  December and January is a great time to contact us for your spring landscaping project. 

2.      Hardscaping.  We can do most dry laid patios and walkways during the winter, even during the cold snaps.  We have insulating blankets that we can cover over the work area to keep the ground and materials from freezing.

3.      Clearing wooded areas and removal of unwanted plants.  Winter is the best time to clear out the weedy, overgrown areas of your property.  It’s best to remove thorny branches and poison ivy when covered up in layers of clothes.  We are sure to flag the desirable native plants (i.e. Dogwood, Winterberry, and Viburnum) so they can be identified and saved.    

4.      Bed preparation.  If the ground isn’t frozen or covered by snow, we can rototill and amend new beds in preparation for spring installation.  This is a good way to phase in a planting design over time, but still have plants in the ground long before the heat of summer is upon us.   

5.      Tree and shrub planting.  Many deciduous trees and shrubs are available year round and can be installed in the winter – such as Oaks, Maples, Dogwoods, and Redbuds.

6.      Transplant dormant material.  We can relocate any type of plant during this time of year.  Perennials, shrubs and trees have a greater success rate in relocation while they are dormant.  Many plants go through a shock when moved in the warmer seasons and some don’t recover.  This is one reason why landscapers don’t warranty transplanted material.     

7.      Rest and reflect.  No better time than after New Year’s to pause to look back at the year to see what changes, if any, we should make for the year ahead.  It’s during this time of the year that we decide whether to upgrade equipment, expand our services, etc…

Oddly enough, the ‘slow season’ is the best time to get a jump on the New Year’s gardening. 

Pruning Basics, Part 2

When And What To Prune

Continuing from our earlier blog, the second issue is when to prune.  Generally you are safe to prune a plant soon after it blooms.  If a plant blooms in spring, the buds were set in Autumn;  prune it after it blooms in spring and you won’t diminish bud formation in fall.  If a plant blooms in summer or autumn, it blooms on current season’s growth.

The third issue is what to cut.  When pruning is necessary I suggest you prioritize the cuts:

  • Prune dead, damages and/or diseased wood
  • Prune for stucture
  • Prune for aesthetics

First, remove any dead or damaged wood, or wood showing the presence of disease.  The plant will be better off with a clean cut opening new space into which healthy wood can grow.  When pruning back perennials in the fall, wait until the foliage of the plant begins it’s dormancy phase by turning yellow/brown in color.  We usually leave 2″ – 3″ of foliage above the ground.

Second, prune for structure.  Remove crossing branches and suckers from the plant. Cross branches will be rubbing each other causing injury.  Sucker are adventitious shoots that extract an inordinate amount of energy;  it is best to remove these and allow reserves to be allocated to healthy tissue.

Third, stand back and assess the plant.  The plant may appear unbalanced due to the (necessary) first and second priority cuts.  Now prune the plant for balanced growth.  Take your time while making these cuts; continue to step away from the plant to gain perspective and visualize the end product you are working toward.  In time you’ll develop a confident eye.  We look at the third priority pruning as working with living sculpture.

The last two blogs cover the basics of pruning.  You can always contact us if you have any questions.  Enjoy!

Kevin pruning small branches on an ornamental tree

Kevin pruning small branches on an ornamental tree




Pruning Basics, Part 1

The Right Tool

The ‘must have’ tool of every landscaper:  Felco pruners.  These will last a lifetime.  The bypass pruner blades cross each other, make a cleaner cut, and cause less ‘crush injury’ than anvil-type pruners.  What we like about the Felco brand pruner is that it has replaceable parts which offset the initial cost ($45 and up).  The blades can be easily sharpened with simple sharpening tools.  There are over a dozen styles of Felco pruners, but we stick with the basic model, Felco 2.

Use this tool for basic gardening:  Cutting back perennials and grasses, pruning out dead/damaged branches, and cutting out suckering growth on trees and shrubs.  We also use them to cut thin plastics, roping, and packaging.  There’s even a notch on the very low part of the blade for cutting thin wire.

If you’re looking to buy this tool, you will likely find them at quality garden centers (watch out for knock offs).  Or check out these websites for online ordering:

Kevin pruning small branches on an ornamental tree

Kevin pruning small branches on an ornamental tree

Felco 2 pruners

Felco 2 pruners






Barns of Rose Hill Thanks Community

Barns of Rose Hill Thanks Community

Please Read Susi Bailey’s article for the Clarke Daily News…the entire community made this happen!

The Barns of Rose Hill

In September of 2011, we donated design time and labor to install plant beds at the brand new Barns of Rose Hill (a community arts and event center) in Berryville, VA.  This beautiful building used to be a deteriorating old dairy barn in the middle of town.  We were so happy to be a part of this incredible community effort!  Learn more about ‘The Barns’ at

What is on your wish list?

CHRISTMAS GIFT IDEA! Now and through the winter is a great time to plant deciduous trees – as long as the ground is not covered in snow! We have a variety of local growers that we hand select our trees from. You can be assured that we are installing a healthy, fresh dug tree specially chosen for your unique site. What is on your wish list? Dogwood, Maple, Cherry, Elm, Redbud, etc….