Archives for October 2009

Halloween Week, Day 2

Penske 1005 (5)Though I was surprised to hear from this client that Halloween was one of her family’s most important holidays, she had good reasons.  A sister living in Brazil came to visit every Halloween.  The family spent Christmas week skiing, away from home.  Last but not least, she has a slew of kids.  She had boxes of Halloween props-we used them all. A large antique English stone urn took the insult rather well, I thought.  Bamboo dyed black, and a  stick stack of decidedly unnatural color provided perches for three ravens.  Green millet and orange integrifolia clashed noisily.  The giant spiders -they were creepy to look at in broad daylight.

Penske 1005 (4)We would put up the Halloween decorations the beginning of October.  For this reason, the use of wood props and plastic carved pumpkins seemed like a good idea.  Though I am not a big fan of mums, these bushel basket grown plants add big splashes of color.  The skull lights along the walk are a favorite of the kids.

Penske 1005 (13)Though the scarecrow witch seemed sweet and benign, those spiders create an unmistakeable mood.  We managed to find a spot for every bat, skull and skeleton in my client’s collection.  At Halloween, more is always better.

Penske 1005 (9)The side porch columns get dressed up in broomcorn, sticks and whatever else is available at market, all of which is held in place with zip ties covered in giant raffia bows. The corn gets zipped  on in three layers, from top to bottom.  Each new layer covers the construction materials of the preceding layer.  I have also dressed tree trunks in similar outfits.

Penske 1005 (17)The side porch door gets the most family traffic in and out, so we give it the full treatment. All of the carved pumpkins are lit from the inside.  Good and spooky night lighting is a key element.

Another year we went for more gloom.  Black millet, maroon lettuce and dead grass make a good nest for the spider. New skull lights illuminate the walk.  Don Taylor grew the impossibly long gourds; he trained the vines up and over a pergola, so the fruits would grow upright and down. One gourd was closing in on eight feet long.

I bought boxes and boxes of little spiders.  These we attached to every available surface with a hot glue gun.  This was tedious work, but the effect was suitably revolting. At the time this picture was taken, we still had at least 500 spiders yet to stick up.

The side porch got giant webby garlands of hemp fiber and grapevine. And more spiders.  Amazingly, the big spiders were entirely wired, permitting us to place them in the most threatening positions we could dream up.

Penske Halloween (5)
This sweet little vintage farm girl peeking out of her pumpkin home seems oblivious to the coming invasion of the spiders. Poor thing; pity that!

Halloween Week

payne halloween 2006 (5)
 Roll your eyes if you must, but I do celebrate Halloween week.  Better than any other holiday, it celebrates the process of the garden going down-the harvest ripening, the changing of the seasons, the shortening of the days, stormy weather, and the biggest horror of all-the land of plenty is transformed into the land of the dead.  This sounds like plenty of fun to me. Decorating for the Halloween holiday has become very popular in my area in the past five years.

2008 Payne, Lisa 10-24-08 (1)
My Mom, who spent the last of her professional career teaching high school, once told me that a smart mouthed kid once told her that if she thought the music was too loud, she was too old.  Unbeknownst to that nameless and undoubtedly unfocused 17 year old, he made a big impression on her; naturally she passed this on to me. When I think the music is too loud, I try to get into the spirit of it. 

payne halloween 2006 (3)Though I plant plenty for the fall season, the kids for whom the music is not too loud have the right idea. Trolling for treats in costume on a dark, windy and ghostly night –  peopled by the spirits of the dead and doomed; terror-ific.  This client called to say her kids were making fun of her-could she not loosen up, and get a little ghastly? We gave it a whirl. I did tell her the kids needed to supply me with their gruesome best in the way of props.

2007 Payne Fall (9)The fruits of the late season are beautiful; their thick skins coloring up speak to the finish of a summer’s worth of serious growing.  The broomcorn, the bare branches on the trees, the hubbard squash-all of this speaks to a season coming to a close.  The rust red sedum is one of the latest blooming perennials. If you want to represent the season, do lots; we piled the pumpkins up everywhere.   

2007 Payne Fall (13)A porch pillar is encircled with broomcorn, and corseted with dried peeled willow sticks.  I picked gourds with astonishing shapes, and the Hubbard squash too big for anyone else to haul home.  Is it not astonishing how heavy the squashes are?  Every pumpkin and gourd is chosen for its spook factor. Spider webs of hemp fibers complement the lacy shapes of the kale. One of the best things about pumpkins from the market is the stems that are left intact.

2007 Payne Fall (10)
The hanging witches, ghosts and skeletons set a menacing tone on the porch; all we’ll need are some carved and candle-lit pumpkins, a dark and blustery night-and the kids.  Last year Buck and I must have had 300 visitors.   

2007 Payne Fall (15)
OK-so the ghosts look much too friendly, but they were the kid’s choice.  My landscape superintendent involves his kids in a number of Halloween events-parties, pumpkin carving, costume competitions-and a visit to the local spookhouse. They decorate the front garden with ghouls they make themselves. Once the Halloween props are put away for next season, the porch will do well celebrating the Thanksgiving season.  A holiday is a good reason to decorate; the fact that many people do is all the better.  Whole neighborhoods look festive, decorated and lit for Halloween.

Sunday Opinion: Plenty Going On

No doubt I spend much too much time mourning the passing of the summer season. I am too slow to fish out my boots and jacket; I obssess about the last rose of summer to Buck ad nauseum. The cold irritates me to no end.  In much the same vein, a client remarked the other day that nothing was going on in her garden anymore-it was over.  We spent some time commiserating about all the things that were wrong with the weather. Too cold, too rainy, too windy, too dark-neither of us were liking one thing about it.  Towards the end of this exchange, the humor of it finally came to our rescue-we got to laughing. In spite of our whining and sulking, nothing has come to an end-it is changing.

 Though  the last time I had a big zest for change was probably 45 years ago, I thrive on big fluid situations. The most succinct definition of the state of being in business I have ever read came from Vera Wang;  “being in business is like keeping 300 marbles on a table all at once”.  I might add that while in the process of keeping all those marbles from dropping off, one needs to regularly add new marbles to the existing mix. Getting over one’s grief about the marble that has in fact dropped off is equally as important; taking your eye off the rest of the balls for too long comes to no good end.  I don’t see that the process of living a life, working a job, or growing a garden asks for any different. I have been watching the starch go out of the massive leaves of my Sum and Substance hostas for 10 days now.  The chartreuse leaves loose chlorophyll and turn yellow; the softened stems finally give in to gravity, and bend.  Those stiff puckered leaves droop to the ground as if they were melting. They are melting. In short order, should I not remove them, they will completely collapse in a gooey heap and decompose.   I must be moving on into the new season; this morning the drama of all that drooping made me laugh.

The prime mover in all of these changes is of course the weather.  The day length is shortening. The day and night temperatures drop. Wind, rain and fog deliver the message that the season is in transition.  There comes a day in every gardener’s life when the the light finally comes on-that day when you understand to the bone that the garden is outside. As in, outside of your control. It may take a powerful storm, or a sudden frost, or a thaw in January that forces water back up under your shingles and into the kitchen for that thought to take hold.  In my case, a visit to the vast conservatory at Longwood Gardens marked the day when I really understood that most of what goes on in the landscape is not at my direction. The giant vaulted glass roof of the vast exhibition hall excludes all the weather except for the light or lack thereof of the sun.  In the working sections of the conservatory, plants being grown for seasonal display are grown under lights; natural light would interfere too much with the production schedule.  The fall chrysanthemums and holiday pointsettias have a staging date already set. There is an enormous amount of time and effort expended to control every aspect of plant culture; in return, this space is as close to perfectly green as can be, all year round.  I was struck as if by lightening; this is not a garden.  It is a grand effort which has produced a reasonable facsimile of a garden.

This is exactly why I feel that good landscape design deliberately celebrates the daily action that we call weather. There is no such thing as a day off from weather; by my calculation, I have lived with daily weather some 21,535 days.  This in and of itself is not so remarkable. That every day the weather is in some way changing, and certainly different than the day before – extraordinary. As a result, every place in my garden there is something new to look at. At this moment, the asparagus going gold yellow, the fallen leaves randomly dotting my lawn, the alyssum volunteers blooming in the gravel walk, the fresh foliage thrown by the grape hyacinths, the hellebores setting buds and the dogwoods fruiting-there is plenty going on. I have my branches back; the structure of which is different from tree to tree, and shrub to shrub.  The bare branches are every bit as interesting and beautiful as branches in leaf. The slanting October light on the branches-gorgeous. A days rain waters my freshly planted tulip bulbs in; I so look forward to the ritual of the putting away of the hoses. A storm coat, a pair of muck boots, and my mud gloves are all that it takes to get me out there. I am able to put away the spade and the trowel in favor of the experiential tools I have on me all the time. I can smell the coming of the cold.  I can see the geese migrating. I can hear the rain on the roof and the wind blowing just fine from inside; I can walk outside should I wish to turn up the volume. I can keep my hands in my pockets.  But no matter what I should decide to do or not do in my garden, there is always plenty going on.

At A Glance: Let’s Play Ball


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