Archives for February 2010

Green Walls

securedownload[2]I have seen plenty of walls in my career that have taken my breath away; surely there are countless and untold thousands of other beautiful walls I might not ever see.  I cut an article out about the stone wall at the Picasso Museum in Antibes many years ago-I am still crazy about it.  Janet has been there many times; her entire expression changed, just talking to me about it.  But no stone, concrete or brick wall could ever compare, in my mind, to a green wall.  This nursery row of espaliered katsuras is just about the most beautiful thing I have ever laid eyes on.  I could keep on looking at this, as long as I was able to keep on gardening.

July21 010Janet has some gorgeous walls of her own-green, and otherwise. This old carpinus so beautifully shaped and trimmed is a lot of things.  Green punctuation. Green sculpture. Some days it reads to my eye as a brief green wall.  Were you ever able to see the giant glass window behind this wall, from which a beautiful shade garden can be viewed, you would understand the part played by this carpinus.  It makes for enclosure, solitude, privacy.   DSC_0006The bricked south side of my house encloses my interior space, but it functions in my garden like a wall.  That wall radiates heat to my roses and Japanese anemones.  The corresponding green wall to the north-Thuja “Nigra”-a dense arborvitae with a uniformly vertical habit.  It corresponds in heft and height to the wall of my house.  It creates one of the four edges of the composition of this garden space.   Not incidentally, it shields me from a view of the two story house next door. My private garden-just what I want, when I get home.

July21 042Green walls do not only screen untoward views.  They provide living enclosure to  private garden spaces.  This classical bust, positioned to peer through a green wall is quietly and beautifully wreathed, framed,  in green.  

Aug 17a 016Not all green walls need be so formal and planar.  Irregularly and thickly placed evergreens can enclose a garden space in a more natural way than a flat wall. Though I am delighted to see or read about the great European gardens, designing in the round is a luxury.  I have a small space upon which to garden, as do most clients I have.  My clients with properties 8 acres or better-not so many.  Green walls are most definitely a part of my design vocabulary. I have no problem planting small plants in anticipation of a green wall;  plants grow.   

Ilitch0605 (2)Only once have I had the occasion to plant carpinus of this size.  Their planting and care consumed me for three years, until they established properly.  Behind them, another wall of spruce.  Behind and beyond those spruce, properties with no stewards.  That view, once it disappeared, never intruded again on my clients delight in their garden. My arborvitae were seven feet tall when I planted them-I waited, and was rewarded with a beautiful tall wall-faster than I thought.

securedownload[5]Espaliers trained from London Plane trees-this is a very big gesture. When the day comes that all those favoring big gestures in the landscape need to line up and congregate, I will get up and go.  This swooping green wall is defined by trees whose trunks have calipers suggesting considerable age-the green has yet to grow in. 

Patience by no means is one of my strong points.  Unless there is a garden at issue.  I have infinite patience for the growing of the green-as do most gardeners.  Green walls?  Should you have a place for one, or several-spring is coming.

Choosing Trees

100_2166[1]One of the better parts of my work is buying trees; I buy lots of them.  They may come from Oregon, or North Carolina, or Tennessee, or Macomb township just a few minutes from me.  I do not own a nursery; I buy trees for specific projects. I choose based on what a client space and environment demands.  The branch structure on these beech give me a great idea of their eventual shape.  Jim’s son in the picture-I have a good idea of the size of these trees.  As much as I would want to have one gorgeous specimen of every tree hardy in my zone, I have to make choices. These oval growing beech-perfect for a spot I am looking to plant. 

100_2191[1]Some trees can screen an untoward view.  Other trees provide shade from the summer sun. Trees have function; a well placed tree can cut the temperature inside a home by plenty on a hot July day.  Trees also delight the eye in a landscape, via their shape, stature, bark, blooms, leaves, berries.  They are the giants of the garden-proper placement is essential.  These cooly columnar European green beech would do a great service screening a neighboring play structure in a very narrow space-their architectural shape and bearing-a big plus. A straight European green beech-step aside, and provide lots and lots of room, and an equal amount of time.

DSC_5337[1]White pine is the state tree of Michigan.  In woods of age in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, their open growth and gorgeous towering shapes are all anyone would ever need in a tree. Should you have acreage, that is.  Sheared native white pine is just that-sheared.  Columnar white pine is very unlike our native species.  Elegantly tall and narrow, they can give a garden stature without bulk.  I have seen white pines in Michigan that could easily shade my entire property-they are not for me. This edited version I could much more easily find a home for.


NC 006I have a great fondness for Katsura trees.  Known formally as Cercidiphyllum Japonicum, their shape and quiet density make them one of my favorite trees.  They have no blooms of note, but they do have extraordinary heart shaped leaves that are blue green, with veins decidedly purple.  This coloration is unique to this species.  These trees have been pruned; the effect is dense, and topiary-like.

north carolina 084Liriodendron tulipfera, or tulip tree, is one of the largest growing trees in North America.  Their green and orange tulip shaped blooms are lost on most.  The trees do not begin blooming until they are old, and very tall. You need to stand off, with a spyglass, to appreciate this blooming part.  I have a client with screened porches high in the air-I should talk to her about these trees.  The columnar tulip tree you might be able to handle.  The same smooth grey bark, the same luscious palmate leaves-in a narrow version.

Hannah 057This untrimmed katsura presents very differently than those that are pruned.  Many trees are seed grown, producing great variation from tree to tree.  If you are looking for a tree, look in person.  Even a young tree will give you a hint as to what it will become. Make friends, then buy.

securedownload[2]These espaliered Bradford pears I am considering buying-with no project in mind.  I think I might just have to have them.  They are old enough to stand on their own-no structure needed.  This winter aspect makes my heart pound.  How they catch the snow-so beautiful.  It is a sign, when you don’t think you can live without something.  These trees have that feeling. 

Come spring, they will enchant a space.  Most of the trees I have pictured here would work in small gardens, or tight spaces.  No need to deny yourself trees.  Gardeners can be so funny.  First off, they want the plants they can’t have. Take the time to figure out exactly what it is you like.  Once you figure out what it is that moves you about a plant, or a tree, I am sure there is something out there that will be just perfect.

Sunday Opinion: How Gardening Feels

Just six days ago all that was on my mind was a hopelessly deteriorated knee that was scheduled for replacement the following morning at 7am.  Though my surgeon insisted that some terrible injury had paved the way for an arthritis that had only worsened over time, I am quite sure the many years of gardening had made my knees old before their time.  I did not make the decision to replace it with a titanium prosthesis lightly-I had tried everything else.  There did come a time when the backslide became a backward landslide.  Stairs, and construction sites weren’t difficult-they were impossible.   Buck installed railings on both sides of the basement stairs so I could pull myself up, and stop myself from falling, going down.  A bad situation had become intolerable.  I have three really good girlfriends who persuaded me to say yes.  Two are respected professionals at the hospital who would do the work-the third an optimistic and gutsy girl that had both of hers done at the same time-when she was 69.  They made the appointment with the surgeon, and scheduled the date for me when they decided I was stalling.  They loudly and enthusiastically coached.  How lucky am I to have them?

Taking a major surgery to the bank may seem like a contradiction in terms up front-but I was not really prepared to give up my garden, or my client’s gardens.   As Buck put so succinctly-“Keep foremost in your mind your faith in the beauty of science and scientists, and your complete respect for the scientist who will be in charge of designing, executing, and insuring your future as a gardener.”  Another very good friend advised me a week before to try to put my ability to focus to work on my own behalf.  Time does go by; you will be swept up and deposited on the other side in a week’s time-swim with it.  On  her recommendation, swim I did.

An amazing number of clients and contractors broached the topic with stories of  their own experiences; it had become obvious to them it was time for me. Lots of people have knee replacements. Gardening takes its toll on everyone who loves it. Like every other gardener,  I have been stung, stabbed, poked, and bested more times than I care to admit-but I always came back for more. I have fallen and wrenched both of my knees, and both of my ankles.  I have strained my back, sunburned my neck, and broken my leg- obliviously stepping into an 18 inch drop in grade accomodating a giant drain. Every finger I have has quarter inch deep splits in the spring from wet soil.  I have cut myself with my own pruners lots of times.  I always came back for more.  Whatever you come back for, is worth fighting for, yes?  Faced with the prospect of do, or give it up, I put myself in someone else’s hands.

Should you be a gardener whose history has worn your knees to that excruciatingly painful grinding point, I would tell you this.  The level of medicine available at your local hospital is formidably, unbelievably good.  My knee is criss-crossed with lines made from a marker; such a companion computer program exists to enable a surgeon to implant the new knee exactly in the proper cross hairs.  A knee that sits right underneath your body in the correct spot-not close to correct.  A knee made for your sex and size.  A knee that will work for a long time.  Wow.  Just four days post op, I would tell you that there is a good gardening life ahead of you should you be stopped in your tracks with a knee no longer working-you only need to risk it.  I attended no classes, nor did I read anything about this procedure on my computer.  For me, there is such a thing as too much information.  Knowledge of every detail doesn’t help me-it overwhelms me with doubt and worry.  The surgical details I did not need to fret over-they would only keep me in a state of poorly controlled panic for the month I had to wait.  I had a program clearly outlined by the doctor, all of which I did.  I avoided everything else except well wishes and encouragement.   

I will admit the half hour I spent alone in pre-op before my team got up and running almost did me in.  I could feel my resolve slipping.  I could feel tears welling up, and I thought to run for my life.  Finally, my anesthesiologist.  He has a smile that made it seem like the sun was shining in the room, and a clearly confident way of explaining how what he would do would make the process go smoothly and unobtrusively for me.  I noticed a giant head of hair stuffed up under his surgical cap; I asked him about that.  He took the time to get a picture out of his wallet-the most gorgeous black and silver dreadlocks in a pony tail I have ever seen. He took the time to focus me on something else other than my own dreadlock.  He managed to be handsome, sunny, but  completely and competently in charge of the pre-op shop, and he took the time to treat me as a person.  I went gently into that good night.

So I wake up in recovery, thinking nothing has happened yet.  I remember the elevator ride to my room, and the woman’s face who took me. I was alert.   Amazing; not one bit like a surgery thirty years ago.  The big revolution-a spinal anesthesia and a Stryker pain pump. Numbing medication was being dispensed to the nerve governing the outraged knee on a digitally controlled schedule. What did this mean to me? Spinal anesthesia is a lot easier on, and less difficult to come out of  for a human being than general anesthesia.  A pain pump erased the need for narcotics to control the pain.  I was myself, right off the bat.  I came out of the starting block with everything I had at my disposal-to recover.  This is my lay point of view-I am not a doctor.  I only say what I had to do went as if it were my choice all along.

Steve gave me Dominique Browning’s book “Paths of Desire”-to read during my recovery. I took it to the hospital on a lark, never believing I could read there.  But   I was able to read- and reflected on every word.  I did not forget what I had read, even when interrupted. She is a writer whose every phrase and sentence is worth taking time with. You would miss the point, speed reading. I was able to think about her idea that a garden is everything about how it makes you feel.  And how others feel, being there.  It is a story of how rebuilding her garden and her life were one in the same.  The story of why and how she loves her garden put so much into words for me.  She got me to think about how a garden absorbs history and change, and gives back-should you open your heart to it. I was introduced to, and able to concentrate on her writing.  What a fabulous book this is-have you had the time to  read it?  In the process of being introduced to the writing of Dominique Browning, I have a new knee.  The prospect of gardening again  feels really good.  I have a new tool that I know is going to work just fine.

At A Glance: Wisconsin Moss

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All of these photographs of Wisconsin native moss species are courtesy of Lauren Hanson.  Thanks, Lauren.