The Spirit of Stone by Jan Johnsen
Stone came into my garden last year. And I have to say it lifted my spirits considerably. There is nothing like a stone wall that you didn’t have to build yourself.
In her new book The Spirit of Stone (St. Lynn’s Press $21.95)Jan Johnsen shows us the many ways that many types of stone can be used in the garden, from practical porous driveway paving to rustic or elegant stone walls, walkway paving, dry gardens, as sculpture and much more. The subtitle is 101 Practical & Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden, and she delivers a full measure.
Johnsen’s aesthetic early experiences with stone began during her college years in Kyoto, Japan. She became aware of the significance the Japanese placed on stone in the garden. Later, she studied landscape architecture in Hawaii where she saw stone being made as fiery lava from volcanoes cooled.
She had personal experience with stone when she became a rock climber in New York State. She also spent time living near Barre, Vermont, where there are famous granite quarries. Over the years she has use rough fieldstones, flat stones, smooth river stones and large sculptural stones, all bringing a beauty and stability to the gardens she designs. She has clearly taken her experiences with varied types of stone and turned them into ideas for utilitarian, decorative and accent elements in the garden with instructions for making dry stream beds, stone steps, walkways and rock gardens.
Dry Stream Bed with various sized stone
Most of us probably don’t think about all the types of stone that can be used in the garden or the various forms it comes in from gravels to large flat stones for patios, but the beautiful illustrations in Johnsen’s book show a full range of stones and their uses.
One of the concerns even non-gardeners have had recently is the implications of recent droughts. This has brought about acceptance of the idea that it is very important to create pervious surfaces on our grounds, and to avoid using impervious paving when possible. I know in Cambridge, where my son lives, there are city regulations about how much of a property can be covered with paving.
Johnsen describes a new system for porous gravel driveways that I saw on display at a conference in Boston last fall. There are now polypropylene grids with small cells that can be attached to each other to create the size needed. These grids are then topped with gravel. The advantage over using gravel alone is that it is easier for people with strollers, bicycles or wheelchairs. It also “prevents weed growth and provides structural support without sacrificing drainage.”
Silent Spring at Bridge of Flowers, stone fountain, bench and paving, designed by Paul Forth and John Sendelbach
Some stone may have purely decorative characteristics created by the pressure of ancient glaciers, or the large odd looking ‘scholar stones’ that are so essential to Chinese gardens.
During our years in Beijing I came to a great appreciation for stone in the garden in ways that had never occurred to me before. In The Spirit of Stone Jan Johnsen may open up new worlds for you.
Johnsen has taught at ColumbiaUniversity and currently is an instructor at the New YorkBotanical Garden. She is the author of Heaven is a Garden and renowned for her landscape design. She has a blog titled Serenity in the Garden.
Stone steps at Vera’s Garden in Minneapolis
Icy snow is still deep on the ground but spring is in the air. Next Saturday, March 4, the Spring Flower Show opens at Talcott Greenhouse at Mt.HolyokeCollege. This year’s theme is Spring Pools and I have been told that the approach is much more naturalistic than in the past. Visitors will walk into a woodland tableau with a pool surrounded by those early spring flowers. Hours are 10 am to 4 pm every day from March 4 to Sunday, March 29.
SmithCollege will also open its Spring Bulb Show at Lyman Conservatory on March 4 and will be open from 10 am to 4 pm until Sunday March 29. Fields of Flowers is the theme, inspired by the work by the Irish artist Mima Nixon who travelled to the Netherlands to paint the flowers in 1909. The bulbs in the show are from the very fields that she painted 100 years ago. Suggested donation is $5.
Finally, I want to remind area school teachers that there is still a week before the Greenfield Garden Club School Grant deadline. In the past grants have been given to classes or school for tools, raised bed materials, and many kinds of projects like pollinator gardens that will help children understand scientific processes and feel a kinship with the natural world. Full information about the grants is on the Greenfield Garden Club website http://www.thegreenfieldgardenclub.org/grants.html. ###
Between the Rows February 25, 2017
Section of the view from my dining room, hydrangeas, roses and lilac
Do you have a favorite chair? Is it near a window? Does your dining table sit near a window? Do you enjoy the view from your window?
Oddly, our new house in Greenfield does not have many windows that look out at the garden. Only one upstairs window (in my office) gives a view of the back yard. The kitchen window is too high to see much of anything except the most westerly area of the garden. Fortunately there is the dining room window which looks out onto a section of the South Border, which will ultimately be the most floriferous view.
Last week my husband and I were having dinner and admiring the view of newly blooming roses, I was so happy to have this joyful view. Then I realized that the view from a window is not usually a part of garden planning or design. Yet a view that will please, whether flowery or serene green, can give us hours of pleasure.
I am looking forward to enjoying a better view of my garden. We are about to embark on a kitchen renovation which will not only give me a kitchen where I can cook and bake more easily and efficiently, it will also give me new windows that will allow a fuller view of the garden. The windows will also help define and frame an area I might want to concentrate on as I plan new plantings. They will give me another chance to create a beautiful view from inside the house.
When planning a vignette, a limited view of a small space, you have the advantage that accrues to a small space. You can plant something special that might be quite expensive, but can also be the star of this relatively small space. I’m already thinking about an intersectional peony like Bartzella. Intersectional or Itoh peonies are hybrids of herbaceous and tree peonies. An Itoh peony would be ideal because it would have strong stems that keep the flower heads high and don’t get beaten down in the rain like herbaceous peonies. In addition, because of because its primary and secondary buds, it has a long bloom season.
If flowers are what you long for, but no longer feel up to a whole garden full of demanding flowers, it is still possible to create a flowery view. You might consider an annual bed. Just a few flats of starts will give you a riot of color. I can imagine tall annuals with gentle colors like sweet peas, cleome or cosmos or the brilliant colors of zinnias. These can be fronted with low growing annuals in companionable colors like blue Felicia daisies, pale marguerite daisies, osteospurmums (another daisy-like plant) in shades of pink, purple, blue or white, and salvias.
An annual bed might also be an experimental bed, an opportunity to try out different flowers, colors and flower forms. Starting this kind of bed will not be costly, and will not chain you to a choice, because all the frost-bitten plants will end up in the compost pile at season’s end. Just remember this is an experiment so be sure to keep a few notes so you can repeat the flowers you like next year.
A different way to have flowers in your view is to plan a perennial selection that will give you one or two flowers for each season. For example you could begin with daffodils, then have astilbe, achillea and daylilies. Dahlias have a long season of bloom, especially if you keep cutting them for bouquets. The more you cut, the longer the season and the greater the bloom. Some smaller dahlias will begin blooming in midsummer but you can have dahlias with all their shades of color and form until the first heavy frost. One autumnal choice that surprised me was the Japanese anemone that blooms into the fall. And of course, there are asters and mums, which also have many colors and flower forms.
You could plant for the birds. Perhaps you could have a small tree like a dwarf crabapple near the window along with a bird feeder and a birdbath. An expert birdwatcher once told me that the sound of water is the best way of attracting birds. The tree branches and foliage would give the birds protection and shelter if they became alarmed. My eyesight is such that I really need to be able to get pretty close to birds if I am going to learn to identify them.
In my new garden I am concentrating on having more green than color. Green is not a single color and a green view could include bright shades like golden threadleaf chamaesyparis contrasting with dark green mugo pine. Perennials like hostas are available in dozens of shades of green from brilliant chartreuse to dark green, to blue-green. Variegated hostas will also provide a symphony of greens brightened with shades of white.
Garden art on Hawley Tour
Another view could be a piece of art set against shrubs and flowers. I’ve never managed this, but I did get to the point in Heath where I demanded neatness of the view of the backyard. Wheelbarrows, lawn mowers, buckets of weeds, all were forbidden to mar the view of pink, white and green kiwi foliage rambling high on the shed wall above the roses. Serenity was what I wanted with my first cup of coffee in the morning.
So, what view do you have that pleases you? Flowers? Greenery? Statuary?
What view would you like to have? When will you get it? If not now, when?
Between the Rows June 25, 2016
Planting in a Post-Wild World
Everything changes. Change on all fronts is inescapable, unstoppable and inevitable. No one knows this more than a gardener who watches her garden change over the years.
In 2016 I will be gardening in a new garden, a smaller garden, a garden that will not require as much maintenance as the Heath garden. It is also a garden with very different features. The soil is heavy clay. The soil is very wet and drains slowly. There is a lot of shade.
With the help of noted landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy’s Home Outside Palette app my husband and I began to layout and plant garden beds, concentrating on water loving, or water tolerant native shrubs. My desire was to have a kind of woodland garden instead of perennial beds .
Over the years I have become more and more interested in native plants, and more and more aware of their value in maintaining the health of our ecosystems. Certain books have led me along this path including Bringing Nature Home by entomologist Douglas Tallamy. Tallamy also collaborated with Rick Darke on The Living Landscape: Designing for beauty and biodiversity in the home garden. Darke is a landscape lecturer and photographer who proves that a biodiverse garden can be beautiful.
Most recently Timber Press sent me a copy of Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West.
One of their goals is to help gardeners create beautiful gardens that more closely replicate the ways plants grow in the wild even in urban and suburban situations. “The good news is that it is entirely possible to design plantings that look and function more like they do in the wild: more robust, more diverse, and more visually harmonious with less maintenance. The solution lies in understanding plantings as communities of compatible species that cover the ground in interlocking layers.”
While Rainer and West value native species, they call their philosophy “a middle way” in which layered plantings mean more room for compatible non-natives (never invasives) and a greater diversity of beneficial plants. They want to focus on naturally occurring plant communities which means paying less attention to purely native plantings and concentrating on performance and adaptability. Their idea is to make our relationship to nature a collaborative one.
I should mention here that the book is lavishly illustrated with beautiful photographs that give an explicit view of what they are talking about. Photographs show the differences in landscapes from the humble hellstrip along a sidewalk to flowery meadows, droughty hillsides and woodlands.
Rainer and West lay out five basic principles. The first is to concentrate on related populations, not isolated indivduals. This means not planting the Echinacea next to the sedum next to the hellebore. It means letting plants self-seed and intermingle, as they do in nature. My own Heath lawn, or flowery mead as I called it, is a case in point.
Principle two: Stress can be an asset. This is often how we get to naturally occurring plant communities.
Principle three: Cover the ground densely by vertically layering plants. This is a reminder that bare soil does not exist in nature and we can find plants to fill every niche of space and soil type and let nature do some of that filling in.
Principle four: Make it attractive and legible. This principle will calm those who wonder if all Rainer and West desire is messy, weedy woodland. They are realists they say, and “designed plant communities can be patterned and stylized in a way that makes them understandable, ordered and attractive. They need not replicate nature in order to capture its spirit.” They suggest ‘frames’ which can be pathways or other hardscape elements like fences or walls.
Principle five: Management, not maintenance. Gardeners know you cannot plant a garden and then sit back and admire it indefinitely. But with good management you can eliminate many chores, weeding, watering, spraying, etc. This is possibly my favorite principle.
The penultimate chapter gives specific instruction on planting and maintaining a plant community.
Planting in a Post-Wild World is a dense, but readable book. Not all the ideas are brand new but they are presented in new ways, broadening their applicability, and showing how we can adapt them to our own situation. Rainer and West believe the time is right for a horticultural renaissance where plantings will be ecologically diverse, functional and sound, but will also be beautiful, understandable and appealing to the gardener and her friends.
I made a start on a new and different garden this past summer, but there is a lot of work to do in 2016 to make it functional in the ways I first imagined, and in new ways as well. I am now dreaming of a hugelkulture project. Stay tuned. I am also thinking of how I can expand on the plans I made for covering the ground in my new, and soon to be enlarged beds. I think I can be bolder about letting plants intermingle. I want to work towards the plateau of management.
How will you and your garden change in 2016?
Between the Rows January 2, 2016
The day after we planted all our water tolerant shrubs Greenfield was inundated by torrential rains. I was told over three inches of rain fell the afternoon and evening of July 7. We knew that our Greenfield house had a wet backyard and after planting nine shrubs we were fully aware of the heavy clay soil. However we did not expect several inches of standing water in the back half of the yard.
Fortunately, our excellent plumber, Scott Zilinski, helped us out by helping to design and dig a drainage trench near the old sheds. The yard looks flat, but in fact there are subtle dips and hollows which were identifiable by looking at the worst areas of wet. The drainage trench may be extended in the corner next to our neighbor’s driveway.
It was also clear to see that the area next to the northern fence was equally under water. We are now considering the possibility of a rain garden in that area to catch heavy rainfall, and rain runoff. We now realize that our lot is slightly lower than the two lots next to us, and that those two pieces of property have a lot of paving causing some runoff onto our lot.
It was while attending events and programs at the Conway School of Design that I first learned about the importance of permeable surfaces that would allow rain to be absorbed and kept on site. It was also about that time that our son in Cambridge, Massachusetts told us that the city had regulations about how much of a lot could be covered, and how much had to be given to permeable surfaces. Cambridge’s concern was the capacity of their storm sewers. I now have a whole new appreciation of that concern and the importance of permeable surfaces.
Carrying out our Home Outside design plan has come to a brief halt while we consider various options to improving our drainage.
One new drainage idea surfaced when I joined a Greenfield Garden Club tour of Jono Neiger’s forest garden. Neiger is one of the founders of the Regenerative Design Group in Greenfield. Their mission is not only to create sustainable landscapes, but to make them better, to regenerate them. One of the topics that came up as we walked through the different sections of Neiger’s garden was hugelkulture (hoo-gel culture) which makes use of logs and woodland debris to improve the soil. There are many aspects of hugelkuture but one in particular caught my attention.
When I explained our situation to Neiger he said one could dig a trench, two feet wide and three feet deep and then fill it with logs and other compostable debris, sod and leaves and such like and top it with a layer of soil. The wood will slowly compost, adding nutrients and soaking up water, improving the soil. Not a quick fix, but fascinating nonetheless. Our soil could use improvement.
While we think about next steps I have been reading Beardless Irises: A Plant for Every Garden Situation by Keven C. Vaughn and published by Schiffer. My own experience with beardless irises is with Siberian irises which are one of the most beautiful and easy care flowers in the world, and Japanese irises which often have a flatter flower and are truly spectacular. I never knew that beardless irises ranged from the sweet and petite, to the tall and stunning spurias.
I never knew anything about Pacific coast native irises which we cannot really grow in our area because of the winters, but amazingly Louisiana irises, and spuria irises are definite possibilities. I will never take the iris family for granted again.
We have purple and white Siberian irises in Heath and I always planned to bring some of them down to Greenfield. They are not only beautiful they don’t mind being wet. In fact, one gorgeous clump of deep purple/blue Siberians somehow jumped into a swale in our field where they have lived very happily for several years.
A few years ago I bought a beautiful white Japanese iris from Andrew Wheeler at Foxbrook Iris Farm in Colrain. He told me that Japanese iris didn’t need to be growing in a wet site, but they did need to be planted where they could be watered regularly. I planted it in front of the house where there is excellent drainage, and where I do keep it watered, but I am hoping that it will be even happier when it is moved to Greenfield.
Spurias love water so much that Vaughn suggests taking a plastic kiddie pool, with holes cut in the bottom, and sinking it into the ground, then filling it with good soil for a planting site. Then that area can be watered heavily without causing a problem for surrounding plants which might not need quite so much water. Spurias are tall ranging from three to five feet although we are warned that in our colder climate they may be slightly shorter. In any event they promise to be a dramatic planting, the clump growing larger every year, but not demanding to be divided.
Vaughn is a scholar, hybridizer and has a PhD in plant genetics. He gives us common gardeners the information about whether a particular type of iris will thrive in our climate, as well as the usual cultural info about soil, fertilizer and sun requirements, but the book is also rich in the stories of hybridizers and their work. If you like to know how a stunning plant came to be, or even how to create your own hybrids, this is the book for you. The many beautiful color photographs showing the full range of color have inspired me. Expect more beardless irises in my garden.
Between the Rows July 25, 2015
If you want to play around with your own garden designs on the free Home Outside Palette app for smart phones and tablets click here.
Ruah Donnelly’s house overlooks a wooded ravine, a tapestry of shades of green and shifting light. There is not a flower in sight. Donnelly says that over her years as a gardener she has experienced a growing struggle between wanting art in the garden and wanting to conserve the landscape. While she thinks conservation is winning the battle, any visitor to this garden and landscape will see no struggle, only beauty.
Donnelly’s garden is only one of the unique private gardens, and farms, on the Franklin Land Trust Garden Tour that is open to visitors on Saturday, June 27 from 10 am – 4 pm.
For the past 15 years Donnelly has been gardening on what is considered the site of the oldest farm in Conway. She loves the New England landscape where she has spent most of her life, and has dedicated great energy to its beauty by serving on the boards of TowerHillBotanical Garden, the New England Wildflower Society and the Franklin Land Trust. When she began planning the Conway landscape she said, “I wanted to figure this out. I didn’t want it to look like New Jersey. I wanted to let nature have something to say, without too much pruning, or too many flowers.” She also said that at this time of her life she needed to make it sustainable. She cannot be out in the garden doing everything all the time.
Donnelly’s garden is essentially a woodland garden. There is the Grove, a stand of trees that has grown up around the cellar hole of the original house. It has been ‘edited’ so that you can see the form of the trees and stroll through the grove which is underplanted thousands of daffodils that have naturalized and bloom in the spring, as well as native groundcovers like epimediums, and ferns. One of the striking shrubs growing beneath the trees is a large Calycanthus floridus which has graceful lax limbs and fragrant, wine red fragrant flowers that are responsible for its common name sweetshrub.
There is art in the grove as well a very large black and yellow container holding shining yellow begonias. “Yellow is an accent in the grove, and points up the beauty of all the green.”’
Ornamental yellow begonias in The Grove
Even so, beyond the desire for some ornamental plantings, “What makes me happy is the deeper question, of finding ways to make the landscape more beautiful in ways that are good for the land. I want to bring out the best in the woodland; that is something beyond my own pleasure,” she said.
Donnelly took me on a long walk across a lawn that edges an unmowed field that hides the road, through the Grove on paths that allow you to see the plants, across more lawn to an old barn surrounded by lilacs and peonies and other old fashioned plants, past ancient apple trees, to a planting of new apple trees. We walked towards another woodland at the edge of the ravine. Some of the trees had been pruned recently and the branches and limbs were chipped to make a mulch. That wood chip mulch will eventually rot and provide nourishment for the soil. This sounds a lot like “let the carbon stay where it falls”, which I have mentioned before.
We sat beneath the trees on one of the well placed benches, and watched the large swath of hay scented ferns, bowing in the breeze like waves on the sea. But still more sections of the garden were urging us onward. We wandered back towards the house, under the silverbell tree where we were surrounded by fragrance, admired the espaliered star magnolia behind an herb garden, and on toward more magnolias.
I did not realize that so many magnolias were hardy in our area but Donnelly explained that many native species are hardier than the more ornamental hybrids that have been developed.
Donnelly has written two books, The Adventurous Gardener: Where to find the best plants in New England and The Adventurous Gardener: Where to find the best plants in New York and New Jersey, about interesting nurseries that sell natives and other interesting, less common plants. The books are somewhat outdated, as nurseries have gone out of business, but you can find the books online and many nurseries, like Andrews Greenhouse in Amherst are still going strong. One nursery she recommended is the Broken Arrow nursery in Hamden, Connecticut which specializes in mountain laurels, and other unusual plants like the sweetshrub. Also she reminded me that Nasami Farm in Whately, the propagating wing of the New England Wildflower Society, is now open every weekend, all season long, and offers many native flowers, shrubs and trees
There are other treats in Donnelly’s garden: a vegetable, herb, and flower potager surrounded by a wattle fence, and a hedge made of living basket willows woven together. There is also a Witches’ Walk, a woodland allee of witch hazels, something you will not see anywhere else. I love the way gardeners find a way to share their sense of humor as well as their gardens.
This year the Franklin County Land Trust Garden Tour is featuring gardens and farms in Ashfield and Conway. Tickets, $15 for members, and $20 for non-members, may be purchased any weekday at the FLT office at 5 Mechanic Street, ShelburneFalls or on the morning of the event at the Ashfield Farmer’s Market, Ashfield Town Common. Lunch tickets for an additional $15 are available with a reservation. The FLT website, www.franklinlandtrust.org has more information about the Land Trust mission, and about the tour. For still more information e-mail or call Mary with questions: email@example.com or 413.625.9151
Between the Rows June 13, 2015
Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer
It’s a truism that every garden is different. Gardeners don’t begin by asking “how can I make my garden unique” they begin by looking for ways to bring their passions and preferences into the garden. This search will include choosing plants and planning pathways, but it will also include finding chairs and a table for conviviality, a birdbath for attracting the birds, possibly even a protecting summerhouse. In her new book, Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired ideas and practical advice to unleash your garden personality ($35. Timber Press), Rochelle Greayer provides inspiring ideas and information about different garden designs and accessories.
Nearly encyclopedic this is not a book that requires beginning at page one and marching on to page 304. The bright illustrations inspired me to browse through the book first, trying to find myself within a category or two. Is my garden Cottage Au Courant with its controlled chaos? Possibly. But what about Sacred Meadow? I am surrounded by meadows. Definitely not Wabi Sabi Industrial, but still, I do long to be able to recycle odd and rusty junk into useful and beautiful garden details.
Greayer herself does not worry about purity of style. Though she lives in eastern Massachusetts now, she was born in Colorado, and describes her garden as “Handsome Prairie, with healthy dashes of Sacred Meadow, ForestTemple, and Homegrown Rock’n’Roll thrown in.” Clearly unique gardens are not created by locking yourself into a theme, even if it is your own.
Cultivating Garden Style – Wabi Sabi Industrial
The various themes are beautifully photographed and provide that initial inspiration, but the sections on Learning, Doing, Growing give you practical information about how to achieve the garden in your mind. These sections cross over the various themes. You will need advice about deck essentials, buying plants, choosing a tree, understanding and using microclimates, making paths, or creating visual illusions no matter what kind of garden you are creating. She also provides directions for a number of DIY projects like making planter sconces, oilcloth placemats, a fountain, and lighting fixtures.
Pith & Vigor garden newspaper
Greayer’s prose style is chatty and informative. She loves talking to gardeners, learning from them and teaching them. For years she has written a garden blog, www.studiogblog.com which is currently taking a new form but remains a pleasure to read. She is also the editor of a new quarterly garden newspaper, Pith&Vigor, of which I am a charter subscriber. The first issue includes an interview with Ken Marten and his directions for making an exquisite terrarium, how to make a mushroom garden, a bouquet gathered on the Massachusetts coast in mid-September, an autumnal container arrangement and an article on how to grow giant pumpkins – and compete! Lots more in this issue and to come. Subscribe for $32 a year, for a paper and online subscription by ordering at www.pithandvigor.com. A subscription to Pith&Vigor would make a great gift for gardeners on your list.
There are other subscriptions that will feed a gardener’s interests in more specific ways. Recently I was given a subscription to the quarterly Heirloom Gardener, published by Rare Seeds Publishing, an arm of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. The lushly illustrated current issue contains articles about poisonous plants, indoor gardening with herbs and bulb forcing, crops and seeds of the Incas, and rare fruits. And more. $15 for one year (four issues). Call 417-924-8917 or order online at heirloomgardener.com.
For many years I have been a member of the American Horticultural Society. One of the perks of membership is the bi-monthly magazine The American Gardener with regular articles about plants from ornamentals to poison ivy. Did I know there was anything good to say about poison ivy? No. But it seems it seems that it has the “potential for use in a variety of commercial applications, including an environmentally smart replacement for the petrochemicals used to make paints and industrial coatings.” There are also interviews with fascinating gardeners, book reviews, news about AHS programs – and more. You can join online. The basic membership at $35 will get you The American Gardener, free or discounted entry into many gardens and arboreta and plant shows around the country as well as the member seed exchange.
I am also a member of the New England Wildflower Society where a year’s membership at the $55 level gives me free access to the famous Garden in the Woods in Framingham, and a discount at Nasami Farm in Whately where the NEWFS propagates many thousands of native plants. I am a regular shopper at Nasami Farm. There are many workshops available at a discount. Membership will also give you a subscription to their newly overhauled magazine, reciprocal admission to 270 public gardens, and borrowing privileges at their 4500 volume library. You can join online at www.newenglandwild.org You don’t even need to be a member of NEWFS to read their blog about native plants, or use their great Go Botany database to help you identify plants. All this is yours for free.
Gardeners are always learning; and a gift of books or memberships in a horticultural society are good ways to keep feeding their hunger for new information, and new pleasure. Happy shopping.
Between the Rows December 6, 2013
Timber Press and Rochelle Greayer are helping me celebrate 7 years of blogging here at the commonweeder.com. You still have another day to leave a comment here by midnight Saturday, December 13, and have a chance to win a copy of Cultivating Garden Style AND a copy of my own book The Roses at the End of the Road. I will announce the winner on Sunday, December 14.
Thomas Affleck Rose
As I‘ve worked to put my gardens to bed this fall I’ve also been thinking about gardens and how they came to take this form, and how any garden takes form.
Some people plan a garden in one fell swoop. Or have someone do it for them. But I think for most of us we begin slowly and one step follows another. Which is a good thing because we learn about our site, and about ourselves as we move through the seasons.
Still there are some basic things to think about when we plan, or plan again.
First we have to consider the site. Do we have a lot of room or a confined space? Where is the sun on the site? Where is the shade? How does the shade move over the course of the season as the sun’s course across the sky changes? Is the soil sandy, or clay? Is it very dry or damp? Does the site slope and is it exposed to wind? The answer to each of these questions will help determine how to proceed. The answers will guide us as we search for the right plant for the right spot.
The second consideration is how each gardener will use the garden. We each have different desires and needs. I’ve needed a vegetable garden, but I’ve also wanted flower gardens. I want to be comfortable in my solitude, but I also enjoy eating outside, and entertaining friends in the garden. I like to stroll through the garden, but some like to admire the garden landscape from a deck or from inside the house.
Beyond the practical ways we use the garden, I think we have to examine how we want to feel in the garden. Do we want to feel sheltered? Do we want to feel we are in a private woodland? Or do we want to feel like a Jane Austen character strolling through the estate shrubberies with a dear friend? What is your fantasy?
One element of your fantasy might be a season of constantly blooming flowers. This will mean gaining knowledge of the many beautiful annuals that can bloom from spring well into the fall. On the other hand, you might have a fantasy of a serene green garden where it is the shades of green and foliage textures that please.
For myself, my mostly-achieved fantasy is that of a mixed border. It did not happen all at once. Inspired by my mentor Elsa Bakalar I once tended a 90 foot long perennial border. Many perennials were gifts from Elsa, and many were bought with careless enthusiasm when I saw them at the garden center. I could not maintain such a garden for long.
It was only about 16 years ago that we planned The Lawn Beds. These are mixed borders, which is to say in each bed I have evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Because the shrubs take up more room than flowers, these generous beds are much less labor intensive than that 90 foot long border. I still have perennials which will bloom for three or four weeks in their season, but there is room for annuals that will give me bloom all summer long.
Ghislaine de Feligonde whose orange-apricot buds open to cream
Of course, I have The Rose Walk. This began as my fantasy of growing lush fragrant old roses. Thirty two years ago I planted the first two roses in the middle of the lawn. I don’t know why I chose that spot. Those two roses ultimately forced the creation of the Rose Walk. I have mourned (briefly) the roses that did not survive, and enjoyed adding new roses every year. I loved my early summer morning walks along the Rose Walk thinking of the centuries that roses have bloomed on this earth, and the ladies that have cared for and enjoyed them in their modest farm gardens or on great estates. The Annual Rose Viewing., our annual garden party was a further natural outgrowth. The Rose Walk is proof that a complete plan is not necessary to begin.
A garden will inevitably attract wildlife. Some wildlife like deer are not welcome, and it behooves us to be aware that some plants are very inviting to deer and rabbits, and others less so. Lists of these are available. I never plant hostas because of deer, but thought my herb garden was safe because they would not dare to come so close to the house. I was wrong. They tramped across the Daylily Bank (totally unnecessary) to eat the parsley in the herb bed.
Other wildlife, birds, bees and other pollinators like butterflies are very welcome. Birdwatchers have told me that the sound of moving water is the most dependable draw for birds. The burble of a fountain, especially if it is near some sheltering plants is especially inviting.
Pollinators are attracted by the many plants that are native to our area. Bee balm, asters, rudbeckia, and even our fields of goldenrod attract the pollinators that will keep our vegetables and fruit trees productive.
Finally, when planting we have to remember those basic considerations like allowing for growth. A small shrub in a small pot bought at the garden center will not stay small. When planting allow for that growth, how wide and how tall will it be in three years? Or five years?
Soil needs annual attention with applications of compost, and mulch. Where will the compost pile go?
One very important question is how much time can the gardener realistically expect to devote to garden chores?
Are you thinking about your garden this fall? How might it change? How does it need to change? We gardeners must always be thinking. ###
Daylily Bank in August
The Daylily Bank is beautiful in August. It is also the best idea we ever had for this steep bank right in front of the house. I started planting it from the top down and it took about three years to cover the whole bank. And there is still room for these clumps to continue to increase. For the most part I have chosen gentle colors of pale yellow, peach and pink, but some red crept in I don’t seem to be able to stop myself.
. In November the Daylily Bank doesn’t look anything like this.
Daylily Bank in November
The fall weather has alternated between cold and very warm so I have been out today continuing to put the Daylily Bank to bed. I work both from the bottom up, and from top down. I cut back the dead stems and foliage and then do some rough weeding with my Korean hand hoe. There are a few plants in the middle that I have not yet reached.
The Daylily Bank is about as low maintenance as you can get. They grow so vigorously that it is hard for weeds to take hold – but not impossible. I think fall weeding is easier than spring weeding. Somehow weeds don’t have the same tenacity that they do in the spring. A couple of more nice days are predicted. I might get this job finished this year.
Many of us are very reluctant to put together a flower arrangement. We see photos of complicated bouquets accompanied by complicated descriptions of color and texture and know we could never aspire to making such a thing. In her book Windowsill Art: Creating one-of-a-kind natural arrangements to celebrate the seasons (St. Lynn’s Press $18.95) Nancy Ross Hugo, shows us a way to make arrangements that are beautiful in their simplicity.
I am a person who is known for looking at the big picture. For me the delight of Windowsill Art is the way it encourages me to look at the details, of a flower or twig or leaf.
Hugo knows about plants, big and small. She is the education manager for the LewisGinterBotanical Garden in Virginia and has written four other books including the magnificent Seeing Trees with photographer Robert Llewellyn. In Windowsill Art she explains that she has great fun making windowsill arrangements because there is no anxiety. She also considers making these regular arrangements a kind of spiritual practice that prompts her to notice the changes that every day brings to the natural world.
This little book with its glowing photographs is divided into four sections beginning with Getting Started that will push aside all worries about finding plants or containers or even windowsills. In the next section she goes on to Explore the Process, and then on to Experimenting with Styles and Technique. The final section is a photographic record of windowsill arrangements through the seasons of the year.
Sometimes an arrangement goes solo, a single vase filled with the plants of the season. Sometimes she shows the power of massing when she puts an assortment of related flowers in un-matched containers.
Throughout all this it is clear that there is no plant or part of a plant that Hugo does not find stunning. Vegetables, herbs, weeds, and shrubs find their way into her arrangements in addition to familiar flowers. She even finds drama in the arching branch of dead leaves.
I think this is the value of all her teaching. She knows how to entice us into new ways of looking at the common things around us. And if we learn to see the elegance of a cabbage leaf while we wash dishes, it will not take long before we see the beauty of many other everyday details.
Hugo says, “ . . . although I had been meaning to create something ‘pretty’ every day, it is seldom the beauty or design success of an arrangement that moves me . . . it’s the way they capture the seasons.”
This beautiful little book is the kind of book that would even please a non-gardener. Any walk outside might result in a bit of grass or leaf or flower, all you need to make Art.
Gardens in Detail
Gardens in Detail: 100 Contemporary Designs by Emma Reuss (Monacelli Press $45.) is also about details, but it is the big details of landscape design: repetition, pattern, geometry, symmetry and proportion. Those are big details and Reuss takes us to 100 contemporary gardens around the world to show how they can play out to very different effect.
My garden is not contemporary in the sense that a landscape designer would use that term, and yet any successful elements I have achieved can also be credited to repetition – of my gingko trees in the Lawn Beds – and rhythm – of the curving Rose Walk.
Water features abound in this book. Many years ago I was reading one of Beverley Nichols charming books about his garden where he insisted that ornamental water was essential in any garden. Since I could not imagine how I could get water into my garden I dismissed his dictate. However, more and more gardeners have found ways to put water in their gardens, reflecting pools, fountains, and ponds. Water in the garden is not a contemporary idea
This is the point I want to make. Although you might think that this book would be of limited use on our suburban plots, there is something to learn and adapt from almost every detail described in this book. For example, many kinds of path grace these gardens. In one formal garden the path is closely clipped and edged grass; one path through a meadow is a boardwalk; one is cement pavers arranged in an idiosyncratic pattern; a brick path ends and segues into ‘ sympathetically colored gravel of the dining area.’
One of the techniques I liked, in opposition to severely clipped hedges, is the ‘staggered hedge’ which is made up of several different shrubs. This is a softer, and less work intensive, way to create a boundary. The shrubs would be different depending on your climate.
For each garden the defining details are listed, photographed and an explanation is given for how it works within the design of the whole garden. The instruction is brief but dense as elements reappear throughout the book in a number of different ways. Five hundred photographs make the principles very clear.
Reuss is British, a member of the Royal Horticultural Society and lives in London, but the ideas in this book range from the formal to the more ecologically concerned, as well as from the Arizona desert to Tokyo, Japan.
Reuss stresses that the “key to successful garden design is to be true to the character of both the site and the house – the genius loci . . . and environmental conditions.” That is where we all must start.
Between the Rows September 27, 2014
Chasing the Rose
Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside (Knopf 26.95) is Andrea di Robilant’s quest for the name of a rose that grew on his family’s former estate near Venice. His journey took him from the wild overgrown park on the estate that had left his family decades before, to Eleanora Garlant and her rose garden, the largest in Italy with 1500 roses, as well as tales of his great-great-great-great grandmother Lucia with her love and knowledge of roses, the Empress Josephine and the histories of many individual roses.
For centuries people have considered the Rose a romantic flower, inspiring poets, artists and rose hunters who dared the treacherous and distant mountains of faraway China. Di Robilant’s researches are a romantic quest in themselves, and while his explorations and discoveries are fascinating to a rose gardener and lover, there is an enchantment in his travels, captured by Nina Fuga’s simple and graceful watercolor illustrations.
When I planted my first old fashioned roses I chose Madame Hardy, Comtesse de Murinais, Konegin von Danemark and Madame Plantier and other lady roses who were famous enough or loved enough to have a rose named in their honor. When I walked past these roses early in the dewy morning I imagined us all primping and preparing for the day together. My reaction to the roses is very similar to di Robilant’s in Signora Galant’s garden. “When I saw the ‘Empress Josephine’ spread out against Eleanora’s corner pergola, I inevitably conjured up the real Josephine. And so it was with the other roses arrayed around it. I was no longer simply walking along a path looking at the roses on display, I had stepped into a crowded, lively room filled with roses that were looking at me.”
Although di Robilant sometimes writes of the gardens of the wealthy, it is the stamina and resilience of these old roses that fascinate him, and me. I was moved by the amazing story of Pierina, a teacher who married a civil engineer and followed her husband to Irkutsk in Siberia where he was overseeing the building of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. There she continued to teach school, and wrote about conditions for labor organizations. She survived the Russian Revolution and many other trials until at age 74 she walked to Vladivostok, and from there made her way home – and continued to teach! Stamina and resilience. Signora Galant named one of her new hybrids Pierina.
Heaven is a Garden
While Chasing the Rose is the tale of a quest, Jan Johnsen’s book Heaven is a Garden: Designing Serene Outdoor Spaces for Inspiration and Reflection (St. Lynn’s Press 17.95) shows us how to make our garden a place to return to time and again, a refuge of cool tranquility.
Johnsen is a noted landscape designer who has worked around the world, teaches at ColumbiaUniversity and the New YorkBotanical Garden. She brings us her varied experiences with the cultures of the world and ancient principles of design to illustrate ways we can organize our garden and landscape space to be comfortable, beautiful and meaningful.
Although we don’t often think in mathematical terms when we are in our gardens Johnsen reminds us of the importance of proportion and the Golden Mean. Even a rectangle can lack harmony and therefore be unsettling or uncomfortable. The golden ratio, “a universal constant,” used by artists and architects requires that the long-side of the rectangle be approximately two-thirds longer than the shorter side.
Other geometry in the garden includes graceful circles and ovals. She reminds us “that designers should enhance our fondness for circular gatherings by creating protected, circular spaces for conversation . . . that are not cut by paths or movement.”
One chapter is given over to the magic of water. Every year I come to an ever greater appreciation of the power of water in the garden. Johnsen shows us cascades, musical streams, and fountains including a mist fountain. But even a bowl of still water has power. I remember an exhibit at what was then the Arts Council on Franklin Street. One element was a peaceful corner that contained nothing but a large pottery bowl of water on a slightly raised platform and a bench. When classes of teenagers came with their teachers I was amazed to see how many of them sat quietly in meditation before that bowl for as long as they were permitted.
Fortunate are those who have large stone outcroppings. Many years ago an acquaintance asked me what to do with the stone ledge that rose out of his lawn. I suggested some plants that I thought would thrive in its crevices or at its borders. My ideas were dismissed, and he went looking for large delivery of soil. I saw this as a missed opportunity and Johnsen illustrates what loveliness could have been created.
Heaven is a Garden contains beautiful photographs illustrating the elements of water and stone, of trees and flowers, of soothing green and brightly colored garden corners.
Most of us will not be able to install grass steps or arrange for standing stones, but Johnsen shows us how we can all create an unhurried garden where we can lose track of time.
On the hot summer days that await us, we can find adventure as we read Chasing the Rose in the shade, or we can re-evaluate our plantings on leisurely strolls and consider ways to discover that Heaven is a Garden in our own garden. ###
Between the Rows June 28, 2014
Don’t forget, you have until July 6 at midnight to leave a comment here and a chance to win Hellstrip Gardening by Evelyn J. Hadden