Archives for September 2010

At A Glance: The Garden In September

100 Miles Of Bad Road

I admit, I have down days. Those days when I am beat down- all I want to do is know what the rules are, and play by the rules. A default position.  I know better than to want this, but sometimes I am not so much interested in the fact that I know better-I just want 100 miles of good road. If you are a gardener, you understand that there is no rule book, much less a play book.  No matter the length and breadth of your passion, circumstances beyond your control or experience occur regularly.  Too much or not enough rain-that’s standard issue trouble. But for the first time ever at home, I have black vine weevils eating everything in sight; the leaves of my rhododendron, hosta, lily of the valley-even impatiens flowers.  What the lavae do to the roots of plants is far worse than all of my chewed leaves.  Incredibly, they have invaded my house; I am sure they hitch a ride with the corgis. Some garden troubles just rear their ugly heads out of no where, and pitch you into the weeds. 

Three days ago a wind from hell played havoc with every garden within my reach.  Do we regularly have high winds mid September-no.  Was I prepared for what I did not imagine could happen-of course not.  My daturas were not staked for a worst case scenario-they were nominally staked.  Am I cleaning up as best I can-of course.  Though I am I thinking I am entitled to advance warning, I am not.  My tired late summer garden is broken, and broken out with a bad case of windburn.

I have clients calling about fall plantings.  Is it fall?  We have had high daytime temperatures, and low-low, up and down temperatures at night.  There are some small signs that the season is changing-as in 2 days of high winds. But it  is anything but clear that fall has arrived.  No fall dance card is available yet.  We have a summer season hanging on. Is it fall? I see few signs of it.  No matter how many clients have the idea to move on this very minute to the next season, between summer and fall is a space.  That space might be small and of short duration, or cavernous and long. There are space between the seasons .  

Grapes have very large and very thin leaves. The vines at the shop have their biggest crop ever starting to ripen. The pergola that holds those grape vines aloft-I did the right thing from the beginning. I built a pergola sturdy and strong enough.  An arbor at a tilt from the wind, or from too vigorous a plant is not only bad looking, it is hard to fix.  An important part of landscape design and installation has to do with the worst case. I would advise that you only take on a project of a size that you can do well-really well.  Though the leaves of my grapes are parched from the wind, the pergola is intact. 

    The datura centerpieces in my driveway pots- I staked in July.  The staking was quick and general-I did not stake for the worst case  My mistake; I lost them both in this freak September wind.  My regret that I did not do what was necessary to stave off 100 miles of bad road-considerable. 


My butterburrs were defeated by the wind.  On my mind, seeing everything laid low by the wind, is the idea that every project undertaken with great energy and committment needs to be thought out such that any worst case natural disaster causes little harm.  Sometimes it is only a matter of tending to the last 10 percent of the project with the same energy you had for the first 10 percent. The bigger idea-anything carefully and beautifully, and well done will save you a hundred miles of bad road.  Should you plan to plant a hedge of evergreens, or a line of hydrangeas, or a rose garden, or install a path through the garden-do it right.  Choose well grown evergreens with sufficiently large rootballs.  Buy well grown roses.  Set the stones on a gravel base. Buy great quality plants; it takes the same effort to plant a great plant as a maginal one. 

If I had to choose, I would rather be looking at a sturdily staked datura beginning to show fall color than no datura at all.

The Tree Lawn

You do not have to be a gardener to enjoy and appreciate a park.  A simple landscape with trees and grass is a place to meet, to read, to relax, to while away a few hours, to appreciate the natural world.  The ultimate tree lawn-a golf course.  Though I doubt any serious golfer would admit to loving the land forms, lawn and trees better than the sound of his club striking a ball true and square, there is no doubt that golf courses are beautifully maintained parks. This client is fortunate enough to own a large piece of property in a densely populated urban area.  I landscaped it as a park-lots of lawn, and trees.  The sweep of meadow-not so unlike a golf course rough. 

Our country is blessed with an embarrassment of riches in land. From sea to shining sea describes no other place on earth but ours.  Though I live in a gritty city, I have places to go where I can partake of big spaces.      

Mature trees-mature people treasure them, as well they should.  A giant maple on my property draws water away from what is planted underneath, and drops debris every day into my fountain.  Would I ever consider doing without it?-not a chance.  The shade in this client’s garden requires a buffer between the tree trunk and the lawn-Gold Standard and Gold drop hosta light up that trunk with a chartruese skirt.     

An open tree lawn asks for but one thing-the lawn right up to, and fringing the trunk of the tree.  So natural, and so beautiful. This arrangement of grass and trunk says “park”.  Many suburban landscapes feature round rings of bark around the trees.  Americans are a practical lot-the lawn crew armed and eminently dangerous with a string trimmer can quickly kill a tree.  That bark ring speaks and shrieks to “landscape”., and convenience. I will admit I have hosta around the trunks of the maples in my right of way at home; they came with the house, and I rather like the look.  But my urban garden is anything but a park.  

Though few gardeners have large properties, there are very good ideas that can inform the landscape design of a small patch of land.  A tree set in lawn up to its trunk speaks strongly to peace and reverie. A tree trunk in dense shade, plant as much ground cover as you can muster.  Be simple about it. Save your intricate or tricky moves for sunny spaces.  Sweep those bed lines, and breathe.    

 Look at your garden at all times of the day.  Early, and late.  Make much of the long views.  Should your long view be but 15 feet-so be it.  Mulch your beds to conserve moisture-do not mulch defensively.  Breathe.  Making a decision to leave something be can have as much impact as that which you touch.

I am a landscape designer first up, and through and through.  I am biased-no doubt. I look at every move I make with my hands- with my eyes.  The hands and the eyes need to speak in concert.  No matter how big or little your garden, no matter how little or how much you choose to do, your garden will speak back to you-should you be listening.  A great landscape has eveything to do with the length and breadth of one’s listening.

In Process

I am hoping you remember my post from not long ago about a young but very articulate client whose parents rank right up there on my list of “ten people I cannot do without”. I will amend that statement.  Cathy and Dick rank right up there with my most favorite clients, but kid Rich is getting my attention.  This rear yard, post a big house renovation, has been laying in wait.  Sue is so over the laying in wait phase-Rich is lucky to have her.  Thank you Sue, for getting Rich to get moving.  We got going with the landscape a little more than two weeks ago.  

Four Bowhall maples were planted first off.  Trees of this size require planting via a tree moving truck as big as a garbage truck.  The rootballs were 120″-10 feet-in diameter.  A house bereft of any plant of scale asks for a little something big.  Given the prized views to the golf course, columnar trees seemed like a good idea. 

A fountain figures prominently in the design.  A 10′ by 10′ fountain, 18″ above ground would feature a galvanized and acid washed steel surround, and a likewise contemporary steel vase skimming the surface of the water, and spouting.  This picture of Buck’s shop, and the fountain surround was shot from the mezzanine level at the Branch studio.    The surround in question was ready for a trip to the galvanizing plant.   

A complicated landscape installation involves the coordination of a lot of contractors from different disciplines. GP Enterprises would install the drainage first up, and then the big trees.  We would install the landscape.  Concurrent to our work, Gillette Pools would begin the installation of the fountain.  The irrigation work-a whole other issue we hope will get done today.   

Nothing gets done in the blink of an eye-just ask my client.  Each phase has its issues that need sorting out.  Careful and thoughtful sorting out.  Who needs a poorly planned installation to be evident at the finish?  No one.  The forms for the fountain seem like the work of a boy scout project, but they are anything but.

Wes Gillette has been installing fountains, spas, and pools for a good many years.  His work I can rely on.  I know this fountain will be reinforced with steel, level, and true.  Exactly what was drawn on the plan.  I can expect that he will coordinate with Buck on the installation of the steel surround, and fountain vase.

This fountain goes the extra 50 miles, thanks to Wes.  The water will be filtered and cleaned, just like a spa or swimming pool.  Though they were not interested in a swimming pool or spa, they greatly liked the idea of a fountain that would be people friendly.  The 8′ by 8′ water surface will have a fountain vase 4′ in diameter, and an overall depth of 23″.  I can see friends, kids, and family in the water.

Though the forms pictured may seem slight, the finished concrete work is solid.  This fountain will need its surround, its coping set at seat height, its pumps installed, its fountain vase levelled and fastened securely.  Every part of this fountain will need to be level.  My conversation over the Labor Day weekend with Buck-mostly about how to set and fasten that fountain vase level.