Archives for May 2010


The History Channel is just about the sum total of my willing experience with television.  Their series “Modern Marvels” covers everything from the history and production of chocolate, to catching and processing fish in the waters off Alaska, to the design and production of lenses for cameras.  It is my channel of choice.   I would go so far as to say the series I am watching now-“The History of Us”-about the history of the formation of this country-is so incredibly well done I barely blink my eyes for fear of missing something.  Given that this time of year I can barely stay awake for my dinner at eight, this is saying a lot. I am glued to the edge of my seat; last night I learned more about the American revolution in one hour than all the days I spent in history class spanning many years.  Riveting.  Whomever wrote, filmed, and produced this series has a compassionate eye, a ruthless genius for editing, and an incomparable eye for matching words with images.  Paul Revere-they made much of the man, running up to his midnight ride. The dumping of 1,000,000,000 dollars worth of tea into Boston Harbor-this program conveyed the enormity of this rebellion. The big idea here-I learned so much.  I learned more about what has been part of my history and experience for going on 60 years.  Learning can come anytime, yes?  I have a new notion about the formation of our country-via the history channel.   In my opinion, should you be able to set aside the worries and frustrations of the day, this series will make it easy for you to understand why our country is indisputably unique. A population that is astonishingly volatile, bright, verbal, energetic, unpredictable,-forward thinking.  There are so many stories-would that I could hear each and every one of them. 

 There are those who would perennially focus on what goes awry-this is easy to do.  Hindsight is dead to right, is it not?  To act with vision and courage-not so ordinary.  Those for whom criticism pays the mortgage, or drives the blood pressure up to dangerous heights-better you than me. Though I spent lots of time sorting out what is not working well,  I like to focus on what goes right, what is thoughtful, the satisfaction I see people get from making things grow.  No doubt I have had more than my share of challenges this spring.  A  new knee not  up to speed.  A landscape project I thought would be finished last fall is still going on-the building contractor whose supervision of his building project is hit and miss has forced me into a spring position I regret.  All the spring construction on the roads-my crew is spending better than three hours a day travelling-in lieu of getting the work done. It has been ninety degrees every day for a week. I have a lot of work ahead of me. Frustrating, but not earth shattering.

Would I have been an American at the time of the American Revolution, would I have stepped up to the plate?  Could I have been a committed member of the American Revolution?  This History Channel program made me ask this question of myself. No matter how difficult and stressful my issues are, pay no mind.  I plant flowers this time of year-this is not about freedom, and representation. It’s about flowers, trees, beauty, design-nothing more.  The revolution that formed this country was enormous.  Driving that revolution, a  belief that everyone is entitled to access to knowledge. The program made much of this. 

I teach, and coach. It is my instinct to do this-I was raised to believe that the transmission of knowledge was the most important requirement for a life properly lived.  I would explain anything about the plants, my process, my take on design.  I have been speaking to groups for the better part of 20 years, mostly at no charge.  I am able to teach, so I should.  Reaching is taking the time to articulate why and how I dod what I do.  I have certain obligations to the community, beyond paying taxes. Everyone does.  That is what community means.   Even those requests that have nothing to do with my business-fine.  I usually say yes.  Give and take-simple.

I insist that everyone who works for me do the same. My entire staff is willing and able to coach.  This is how I would have it.  Should you need help with plants, or a scheme for a pot-Christine or Rob are more than able to help.  Seeking to outfit a terrace with pots and furniture-Catherine or Rob.  Ask for them. Rob’s patience and persistence getting something to work is something of a legend.   We are a business that believes that everyone is entitled to knowledge.  We have some knowledge;  it is yours for the asking.  Should we not have something, we can tell you where else to try. My crews get more teaching from me than they would ask for.  This notwithstanding, they listen to me, and they act upon what I say.  They respect me.  We have had a very long, and good relationship.  My work-the success of it depends on the passing along of knowledge from one generation to the next, one group to the next-from us-to you.  

I write this blog, from the firm conviction that every person in my gardening group is entitled to the body of my knowledge.  Where there is no firm knowledge, I have my opinion.  Why would I not make the effort to pass along what I have learned, or believe to be true?  The first Americans believed that everyone, equally, were entitled to access to the existing body of knowledge-a new country was in the process of becoming.  Many may reject my ideas about how to plant this, or where to place that.  I have no problem with this. Look at the body of knowledge, and draft a point of view all your own.  I would encourage any gardener sizing up the merits of organic food, the vintage vegetable seed mania, the new perennial offerings, this design versus that-whatever is new to you, I would advise you to accept what you want, and leave the rest.  In question?  There are so many places to get information-no one lacks access to knowledge.  

I would explain as best I can, every move I make designing a landscape or garden. Am I worried I am giving away something precious to me?  Nonsense.  What crosses my mind belongs to me, and no one else. What gets shared is a good thing. That said, I am more likely to coach than not.

At A Glance: Warming Up The Water

A Garden Room

It has been four years anyway since I made my first visit to this property-and I know I did in the past discuss some of the landscape issues involved that prompted my client to call.  She is a busy executive with little time to fuss when she gets home, but she loves everything about relaxing outdoors after a long day.  The terrace was small, and the landscape not so satisfying. The landscape company which keeps up with her commercial properties came in on occasion to spruce things up.  The biggest eyesore was a gravel and rock area that made a big visual discussion of a drainage area. 

We greatly enlarged the terrace, curving the front edge out into the yard. After the installation of the terrace, we regraded the ground around it in a graceful way. The poor drainage we dealt with-underground.  We got rid of the rock edging, and painted the garden furniture a dark bittersweet chocolate color.  She bought some containers for her terrace.  These are just a few sentences that describe a big chunk of work.

We added a fountain, and perennial gardens off the terrace-views to something from inside and out.  But one problem yet remained.  The terrace is in full sun all day long.  This sun is not so condusive to relaxing, reading, or entertaining.  We began to talk about a pergola.  A pergola not only encloses a space, and provides structure, it can provide some welcome shade. A pergola can transform an outdoor space into a garden room.  They can provide a framework upon which to grow plants.  Big vines, such as wisteria or grapes need very sturdy structures.  Friendly vines such as clematis, Dutchman’s Pipe, honeysuckle and the like are just greatful for the support.  Tall lax growing plants such as climbing roses are lazy and sprawling-a pergola can introduce some order.  But my client was interested in shelter-some shade for the space that would make it more comfortable.  

I designed a very large pergola, some 15 feet deep, and 20 feet long.  It covered the better part of the terrace.  The design is simple; the detail repeats the X detail of her upstairs balcony terrace. It took Buck quite some time to design how to build it such that it would be perfectly rigid and sturdy. It took even longer to build; the main 20 foot long truss was built as a single piece, for strength.  This volume of steel is incredibly heavy; he has a bridge crane that will lift 5 tons.  He straps the steel pieces to a giant hook; the crane moves the pieces into position so he is able to weld.     

Outside of the main truss, the rest of the pergola was built in sections, so it could be transported relatively easily, and assembled on site. GP Enterprises, with the help of a miniature loader, enabled the assembly to be done safely.  One machine to lift pieces aloft-lots of people to guide, steady and bolt.  I so regret not being there to watch the assembly-I am sure it was quite an operation. The entire installation took 5 hours start to finish. 

Her spring pots still look great, but I am sure we will plant them differently now that she has a garden room.  This pot could easily be a home for a morning glory, or hyacinth bean vine.  Malabar spinach would run wild over this roof.

We plan to plant perennial vines, but that will take some time.  I made the suggestion that a fabric roof panel might provide some instant shade while the planted roof is growing in. 

It will take some time for this very big object to be assimilated into the space.  Every gardener knows a garden is a work in progress, and that spaces evolve.  When I first met her, I do not believe she spent much time outdoors.  Some years later, I think she is very excited by the prospect of outdoor living.  From the first picture to the last-there have been a lot of changes made here-all of them for the better, I think.

Michelle Masters

I am not really sure how I ended up at Michelle Master’s website, but I am sure it had something to do with the fact that I love landscapes, gardens-and all of God’s creatures. That is, except for slugs, snails, Japanese beetles and woodchucks.  Michelle is a very talented watercolorist, who has put her talents to use designing notecards, linens and fabulous etceras featuring her art work. We plan to carry all of her work-as soon as this current project is in production. After many emails back and forth-I sent her photographs of my corgis.  What came after that-check it out.  Milo is thinking he needs an agent, and Howard is embarrassed by the whole affair.  This post-a welcome relief from all the heat.