A Celebration

I am hard pressed to remember the last time it was my pleasure to live through such a benign August, but I have no plans to look this gift horse in the mouth.  Tomorrow is Buck’s birthday; this terrace will my contribution to the celebration.  They have to be the best they have ever been-although Buck says I tell him this every year.

aug-22-056I like the fireworks going-on feeling of my terrace pots this year.  Most of that has to do with how they have grown.  I picked the colors and plants yes, but nature has proved unusually cooperative.  We have had cool temperatures all summer, and now, regular rain. The usual bugs and disease must be at someone else’s house.

aug-22-0601The Mital terra cotta gargoyle pots on their pedestals have never looked so rowdy and profuse.  I grow nicotiana mutabilis every year for exactly the reason you see here. The showy oregano in this pot gave up and died, but I hardly notice.  Besides, this pair of pots started out mismatched-I like that they will end up mismatched.

Variegated licorice has thick felty leaves and stiff stems, but it will dance through a pot in a lively way. It is a welcome contrast to the mounds of begonias and purple oxalis.  Plant habit can be as important a part of design as color and shape.

aug-22-071These two licorice plants have made a flared skirt of themselves.  The shape is especially attractive with the garland pattern on the pot.  Did I plan this part-absolutely not.  Anyone who gardens gets to enjoy the unexpected.

aug-22-081The New Guinea impatiens this year are unbelievably gaudy-what fun.  Even my million bells, which usually sulk as I have very alkaline water, are cooperating.   My dahlias do not have mites or mildew.  The cool weather has slowed the flower production on the cannas, but the foliage alone is well worth having.


Thriving and saucy-this is how I would describe my pots.  As Buck  has to cook his own birthday dinner, I am glad these pots look how they do.  It is a whomping lot of work to look after all this every day, but every day I am glad to get home and see what’s doing.  I like being ready for a party, every day.


This Fourth of July feeling suits me just fine.


Sometimes level1I am dealt plenty, when I am asked to design for a client. Although the immediate concept of flat ground seems simple, the solutions can be time consuming and messy.  This property was extreme in its high grade- a fence included- on the lot lines.  This home-in a ditch.

level2Can you see-how this client’s land is high at its edges, draining to the house?  There was always soil and bark on the drive after a rain. And water standing next to the foundation, and in the garage.  Sometimes it seems to me that a house is set too low in the ground; this house was a good candidate for a landscape that would improve many conditions-as water is not good for a house.  Slopes are great for sledding or skiing, but not so great for living in.  Flat gound makes for sociable spaces.  I myself have no interest in juggling a glass of wine, and an appetizer on a hill. I like level.  Or As close to level as I can get, and still have drainage. Steeply sloping sites are tough to negotiate, and tough to plant.  If you have a space you wish only to view-plant that hill.  If you plan to live in that space, terrace it.  

level3This clients fence was set a good 40 inches above the grade of their house.  Water rushed down and covered a terrace that was too small for company anyway. I proposed that they tear the entire space to pieces, and put it back together in such a way that would make their outdoor living and entertaining a breeze.


level9We got to work building retaining walls some seven feet off the lot line, and flattening the land near the house.  Of course we had to install drainage to handle the water that deluged their property from the adjacent houses. A transformation of this scale is big messy work-they were fine with it. 

level5So many machines, so much stone for the retaining walls, so much mess.

level6Heavy rains interrupted our work.  No drains were in place yet. Looking at all this water, I did explain to my client how they could see all the water on their property, as a layer of grass no longer covered it up. We did a series of drains that took water to the street, and away from the back yard. Its about as much fun to spend money installing drainage as replacing a furnace-only more expensive.  But in this case, the threat of water damage to the house was considerable, and this expense necessary-even if they never went outdoors.

level7This upper level terrace-we planted with columnar carpinus, and Limelight hydrangeas.  This simple planting gave them privacy in a lively way.   A terrace double the size of the original made sure that any amount of entertaining they had a mind to do would be handled adequately by the landscape.  This project was a big fluid mess for better than 3 weeks.  The outcome-level. 


Other Places

otherplaces4Annual flowers on a terrace do a lot to warm up all the hard surfaces. I pay particular attention to the overall plant height and composition of those pots, as they are usually viewed up close, and while sitting.


I may want a particularly beautiful pot elevated on a stand or pedestal, so as to feature it.  I may plant tall pots in strategic areas to give intimacy to a dining area, or perhaps screen a poor view.  At this moment, I am able to see my neighbor’s discarded Christmas tree quite clearly from my deck. Urban living-it has its challenges.


Small terraces benefit from a cohesive plan. Pots may be organized around a dominant color, or texture, or style.otherplaces88

They may be organized around a collection of containers.


Pots of flowers with every conceivable color, every texture, and in every size are the hallmark of a person whose first and last love is plants, and more plants. Though I appreciate excitement like this, I try to edit.  After all, with annuals there are second chances, so I try not to throw myself at every annual like I have 10 minutes to live.

This terrace is planted in a color palette my clients like.  We keep the color constant, but plant different plants every year.  They do a beautiful job of taking care of it all, no kidding.   My second favorite day of the gardening year, after Mindy prunes my boxwood, is going back to those places I planted in May, in July, and know I handed off the baton to someone who values this as much as I do.  Thanks a million,  Hilary and Stewart.