October-garden.jpgThe pumpkins on the stairs flanked by my summer containers -visually jarring.  Different seasons with different plant vocabularies are duking it out. The past 3 weeks has been the best weather we have had all summer.  I haven’t taken these two pots apart, as I can’t get by the foolish hope that they will finally get better and be what they were meant to be.  In another the season, the nicotiana , tibouchina, angelonia and the  boston daisies would be blooming profusely.  The petunias would have kept up with the licorice. Instead, I have robustly green blobs of potted plants that continue to prosper-courtesy of the warm fall weather.

October-garden.jpg They don’t make enough visual sense to permit a decent photograph.  Can you hear me sighing? I can talk this way about them, as they are my pots.  If they were your pots, I would just be sympathetic.  Rotten bit of luck, this cold and rainy summer.   The saving grace of these pots?  The cup and saucer vine has finally decided to bloom.

Oct 12, 2013 (51)Cobaea scandens is a large growing vine that holds itself up by means of spiralling tendrils.  I grow it as an annual, though it is hardy in zone 9 and 10.  The vine is slow to get going, and really wants a warm and sunny situation.  They don’t ordinarily begin to bloom until later in the summer, but they do bloom on into the fall.  The flower buds are a pale lime green, the flowers a pale lavender.  The lavender deepens to purple as the flower ages.  The shape and size of the flowers make them well worth growing.

variegated-boxwood.jpgIt has taken the grass, scaevola and petunias a long time to grow to a size proportionate to the variegated boxwood.  I rather like the look of this pot right now.  I suspect that this is the best it is ever going to look, given that November is but 2 weeks away.

coleus-wasabi.jpgThe Wasabi coleus grew strongly, in spite of the cool rainy summer.  Mercifully, it has overtaken other plants that did not fare as well.  These boxes have that topsy turvy look that is a sure sign that the garden season is waning.

Persian-Shield.jpgThe Persian Shield has grown steadily all summer, and now dwarfs the pot in a way that suits me.  This looks lush.  It is also a reminder that annual plants do not make giant root balls.  They spend most of their growing energy above ground, as they only have one season to grow. At this late date in the season, I have to watch the water carefully.  This pot is full of roots, all of which need regular water.  Even though the daytime temperatures are cooler, the available water is being absorbed at a surprisingly fast rate.

summer-containers.jpgI did like how the thumbergia vines eventually draped over my olive jar, but they too need warm weather to thrive.  Most of the blooming went on between the plant and the wall-on the back side.  The brick absorbed heat during the day, and gave off heat at night.  My cannas are in their first round of blooms since they were planted in May.

angelonia.jpgAngelonia that is thriving and blooming well is a sure sign that the fall has been warm.  They like heat. The graceful habit is as much a pleasure as the flowers.  Many annual plants have a very stiff habit.  Angelonia can soften the mix in much the same was as a grassy plant. This new ageratum, “Artist”, has been a stellar performer.  I would plant this again.

fall-color-on-hydrangeas.jpgThe Limelight hydrangeas are at the height of their fall color.  This flourescent pink coloration I call the super nova stage.  Like a star that glows dramatically just before it dies, this color is a sure sign that the garden is waning.  Only rarely do we not have a hard frost before the end of October.  The forecast seems fairly benign fore the next week.  But as anyone who lives in Michigan knows, the weather can turn sharply at any time now.  The perennial plants, shrubs and trees have been preparing for this a long time already.  The growth of trees and shrubs slows dramatically the end of August.  Having a long season to prepare for dormancy helps them survive over the winter.  I have not cut the roses since the beginning of September.  They are seeding-forming hips.  I like the look of the hips on the roses.  I better like that there are no pruned stems which would invite disease or insects.

fountain.jpgBuck has been so busy at Branch that he hasn’t had time to clean the fountain.  I rather like that lime moss growing inside.  It not only looks great with my Scotch moss, it is a sign of the time of year.

The Garden Designer’s Roundtable: Romance



What makes for a romance?  An attraction that cannot be denied.  An attraction that evolves from the excitement generated by the hope that a relationship might lead to a steadfast commitment.  The romance suggested and generated by the possibility of love-who hasn’t experienced it?  Gardeners romance their gardens-meaning they seek to establish a  relationship with their environment, their love of plants,  and their property to a mutually satisfying end.  I never met a gardener that was not committed to the long term.  However, mutually satisfying outcomes are rare.  Things go wrong.  Plants die.  Taste’s change.  More than rare, garden outcomes that stir the heart are short lived.  Ephemeral.  This makes the possibility of true romance all the more desirable.


Nature-the object of every gardener’s sincere affection.  On occasion, that love is returned.  Sometimes I am face to face with it in such a way that takes my breath away.  But more often than not, nature has another idea in mind.  I have had my hopes dashed more often than I care to recall.  The weather here last spring was anything but.  All of the efforts made to protect the spring flower buds-spurned.  There are less dramatic challenges to one’s love for the garden.  A lack of rain-or too much.  The neighbor’s kid or the neighborhood rabbit who snaps all the lily buds off.  The specimen evergreen that is not so happy where you have planted it.  The effort it takes to improve the organic content of the soil.  I suppose the spring will eventually come when I think I’ve had enough-but it hasn’t happened yet. 


Anyone who gardens long enough realizes that a romance has its ups and downs.  There are on occasion those perfect moments. An hour or a day or a season that enchants and utterly satisfies.  They could be very simple, and not so readily apparent to a casual observer.  The sun emerging after a spring rain.  A quiet hour spent weeding.  Watching a hummingbird feed.  How the roses look just before they bloom.   


That June day several years when the roses were blooming like I had never seen them before-heart stoppingly romantic.  That summer day when all is good enough in the garden such there is time to take time to enjoy it.  There are those perfect moments that come when you least expect them, and are over before you know it.  That fairly accurately describes my relationship with nature.  Never easy, and often times irritating and disappointing.  Despite all that does not work,  a life without a serious relationship with nature has no appeal to me. 


This cold windy and snowy February moment that Milo and I shared in the garden-satisfying indeed.  I am sure the other members of the Garden Designer’s Roundtable have an equally personal romance with nature-be sure to read on.


Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Let It Snow

Snow-just what is it?  Water, high in the atmosphere freezes, forming very small ice crystals.  These ice crystals, in the form of individual snowflakes, fall to earth, blanketing your garden and mine with a white granular substance we call snow.  Frozen rain, if you will.  Ordinarily, I am not a big fan of the snow.  It is cold.  It is difficult to walk and drive through.  Worst of all, it is a sure sign that the growing season has come to a close.  Once the garden goes to sleep, the snow usually comes, and covers all until the weather turns.

Snow can be just the thing-for people who sled or ski.  My appreciation is a little less visceral.  I love the white of it.  Snow makes such a stark and crisp contrast to our relentlessly gray winter skies.  Even the softest light will make it sparkle.  Fresh heavy snow is visually dramatic in form, texture, and mass.

 Snow falling on a windless day emphasizes the shape and configuration of everything it touches.  Flat surfaces build up snow collars.  A chain link fence catches the snow in a way that beautifully describes its texture.  A perennial garden cut back to the ground gets a softly undulating and sleepy shape.  The snow will detail every vertical blade of ornamental grass left standing.

 In my zone, a winter blanket of snow protects many plants from dessicating winds.  Though it is hard to believe that ice crystals could offer any protection, a blanket of snow insulates.  The frozen ground will stay frozen.  Ground that freezes and thaws can heave plants out of the ground.  Insulation is a preventative against all kinds of loss.  Heat loss from the roof or the hot water pipes.  My down jacket-insulation against the cold.  The snow keeps everything uniformly cold. 

 A winter with no snow cover worries me.  I like all of my plants buried in snow.  Comforted and protected-this they need.  The winter temperatures and winds can kill.  As much as I treasure what nature provides, winter can be a formidable enemy to living things without protection.

As for the snow falling today-I welcome it.  Our summer was very hot, and very dry.  In the back of my mind, a worry about the lack of water.  Snow is water in an alternative form.  As every living plant depends on water to survive, I welcome this version.  Once the ground thaws, a bit of that water delivered via snow will be absorbed into the ground.

Last winter was an anomaly.  Warm temperatures throughout-no snow.  This weather deprived me of plenty.  No flowers on the magnolia trees.  Poor bloom on the roses.  Garden disappointment-I hope to not have this next spring.  Today’s heavy snow comforts me.  It is so beautiful.  It is so expected. 

My good friend MK writes me today that the snow is uplifting his spirits.  Discussion not needed- I understand his feeling.  The snow feels right.   Basic to the psyche of any gardener is instinct to protect.  The snow blanket is an essential part of the natural order of things.

Bring on the snow!  I am enchanted as much by its beauty as I am by its utility.  Though I will never enjoy it to the extent that Milo does, I appreciate this particular season for what it is. Quiet, and beautiful.

The Garden Designer’s Roundtable: Plants and Memory



A memory can be triggered by many things.  The smell of lilacs in the spring.  The fragrance of a rose.  A mass of daisies, blooming.  Plants that bring memories flooding back to me mostly have to do with my mother’s garden.  Roses-oh yes, so many roses.  A gingko tree, grown from seed to a spectacular size.  Tomatoes, lettuce, and herbs in pots.  Orchids, hanging from the trees. And the zinnias she grew from seed.  I never see a zinnia without thinking of her. 

But my memories of her aside, the big old evergreen trees that it has been my pleasure to meet make me feel zero at the bone.  Zero at the bone?  A feeling which is primeval.  Elemental.  For me, giant old trees evoke memories that are not tied to specific events.  They may provoke memories of which I am only dimly aware. 

I am sure this sense of belonging to the primeval forest is why it is so difficult to take down a big tree.  Even a damaged or sick old tree.  This client was very attached to a pair of old and weary Norway spruce planted just a few feet from the foundation of the house.  Taking them down was not an option.  Planting more of them at the road, a fitting tribute.  I always admired her reluctance to interfere with with a chain saw.  The landscape had an aura that would not have been possible without those old trees.     


These trees may be many years away from  evoking a memory of the primeval forest, but the impulse was there to plant them. 

Giant old trees whose life spans many gererations of people are as rare in urban areas as they are revered.  Old large properties that have never been clear cut to make way for neighborhoods provide homes for old trees.  The steward-gardener who takes great pains to look after them is a person for whom those trees evoke a memory.  In my area, there are old cemeteries whose old trees are spectacular.  Many cities have parks, and for good reason.  Exposure to an old, natural or archetypal landscape is comforting, and thought provoking.

The Estivant Pines nature sanctuary on the Kewenaw Peninsula in the upper peninsula is a protected home to many old pines.  Pictured in the Michigan Nature Association blog, this is the trunk of one of the largest and oldest of those pines. The preservation of these old trees is the result of the work, patience and determination of many-all of whom have a memory that is important to nurture. 

This post is but one of many featured at the Garden Designer’s Roundtable today on the subject of memory and plants.  My special congratulations to Andrew Keys, whose book   Why Grow That When You Can Grow This   has just been published on this very topic.  If the book is as exuberant and sassy as he is, it should be a great read!    

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA

Thomas Rainer : Grounded Design : Washington, D.C.

Rochelle Greayer : Studio ‘g’ : Boston, MA