Archives for June 2011

The Natural Order Of Things


I had a client in the store a few days ago, needing some help with planting a pair of containers.  She told me she needed a thriller, some fillers, and some spillers for her pots.  ???  I was at sea.   This sounded like some popular container composition slang; I asked for an explanation.  The explanation was as follows.   A tall center of interest plant, with some slightly shorter supporting cast plants, and trailing plants to spill over the edges of the pots.  Voila-a perfectly designed and beautiful pot.  Formulas-I instinctively have an aversion to them.  The pot pictured above looks like a mess with no discernible design, but give it a few weeks.  The “spiller” plants are planted in the center.  The “filler” plants are planted on on the edge.  I abide by the natural order of things when I need to.  The seasons change-I get behind that.  The west sun is merciless, unlike the life giving east sun.  The natural order of things apply to natural phenomena.  All else-whatever idea you have, try it out.  Be confident enough to try things out of order.    

This may be my most favorite container planting of this season. A purple spike may bring the thriller status to mind-I had another idea.  What happens when I plant the thriller plant, in multiples,  in the spiller slot?  We’ll see how this planting matures-but I like the idea that I have dwarf and luminous white and green caladiums in the thriller spot.  The button ferns-they defy categorization.  They do not spill-they are drapy. I promise to take another picture in 6 weeks or so.    

Last year I planted white mandevillea vines in the front of the shop.  No stakes, no trellis.   I let them grow as they would-my thriller became a spiller.   They were beautiful. How they looked encouraged me to be free of an outline about the natural order of things.  Gardens that I see that are free-free from popular sentiment, free from formulas, free from preconcieved notions-are they not so beautiful?  I pin my climbing roses to the wall, and I stake my mandevillea.  I give my clematis a trellis on which to climb.   I follow the rules-mostly.  But there are those times when a preconceived order of things may not be the most interesting solution.

The Forecast Is For Rain


Our forecast has been, is, and will be for rain.  We have had lots and lots of it.  Three or four storms every day, and then all night long-these weepy skies are in a holding pattern right over the top of us.  Last night was the first time I have been able to get into the garden after work in four or five days.  Needless to say, I was anxious to get out there before the skies let loose again.  What a relief to be sitting on the wall, having a glass of wine.  My Japanese beech ferns have loved this weather; they are growing lustily.     

There was even a little pale and wan early evening light.  This is what passes for sun these days.   Not that I was fussing.  I have gone through 2 sets of clothes and 3 pairs of socks every day for at least a week.  Rain can be very wearing when you are trying to work outside.  Sopping wet pots weigh a lot, and soaked dirt is not all the fun to handle.  I am not crazy about handling plant material when it is wet.  I always have the vague suspicion that I am fostering water borne illness-don’t ask me where that comes from.  The wet dirt finds its way into my socks, and gets on my face. I was home, dry, and outside-it was lovely.  Just as Buck and I got settled down with the dogs-out of no where, a burst of rain.  Buck is not very keen about experiencing weather.  He likes the house warm in the winter, and cool in the summer.  Raindrops on his glasses irritate him.  He took off on me as if he had been struck by lightning.  Even Milo was shocked at how fast a getaway he managed to make.  I was sitting underneath a fairly heavy canopy of Princeton Gold maple tree leaves-would this not act as an umbrella?

Seconds later it was raining harder.  The drops bouncing off the surface of the fountain looked great.  I was beginning to enjoy watching the rain-at least I thought I was.  I just didn’t want to give in to it, and leave the garden.   

By now it was raining hard enough that Howard had ditched me, with Milo not far behind.  Be assured that if Milo runs off sans his ball, rather than taking it with him, he is feeling something coming on that he wants to get away from fast. Why wasn’t I smart enough to take a cue from him? 

Seconds later it was pouring.  My maple tree umbrella was suddenly breached; I had to make a run for it. 

By the time I got to the bottom of the deck stairs, I was drenched to the skin.The rain was bouncing up off the deck boards a foot or better into the air.  I don’t think I have ever been this wet.  I had to take a picture, which I did on the fly.   

Milo was waiting for me.  Clever dog-he must have remembered he had a ball inside.  He did not budge from this spot until the rain quit. 

These purple wave petunias plastered on the rim of a terra cotta pot perfectly describes how I looked when I finally got inside.  Buck couldn’t help but laugh.  I cannot remember the movie about the women’s baseball team when coach Tom Hanks looks at one of his players in tears and roars  “Crying?  There’s no crying in baseball.”  That is exactly what Buck said when he saw all the rain water rolling down my face – Come on Deborah-there’s no crying in gardening.

Dahlia Hypnotica Lavender

Plenty of fine garden plants have Dutch breeding in their history; the hypnotica series of dahlias is no exception.  I happen to be a fan of dahlias.  I haven’t the patience for the giant varieties, even though their flowers are breathtaking.  The big dahlias-the subject of another essay.    I like the smaller growing dahlia plants that bloom profusely.  I have made a point this annual planting season to try the University series.  Serrated dark foliage is topped with lots of purple or pink cactus form blooms some 4″ across.  They are blooming profusely right now-a month ahead of the big and tall girl dahlias.  When I saw a bench of hypnotica lavender dahlias-so short, and so profusely blooming, I could not take my eyes off that color.  How would you describe it?  Light red/violet?  Another new introduction, whispers petunia, has that same riveting and unforgettable color.  The hypnotica dahilas have become a part of my plant vocabulary. I had a project in need of an inspiration of some sort. The color of this dahlia looked so great, paired with whisper petunias. 

 A client for whom I usually plant a green and white summer garden shifted gears this year.  He was interested in some color; that color, my choice.  His exact words?  Color this year, please.  Riotous, or subtle-your choice.  The moment I got that email, I was wringing my hands.  What would I do? This went on for weeks-that uncertainty. The hypnotica lavender dahlias (my client is a fan and skilled grower of exhibition dahlias) rescued me.  The moment I laid eyes on them, I was off and running.  

These Dutch bred dahlias growing to 18-22 inches tall would organize an entire planting.  I paired that color with grey-do not ask me where that idea came from.  It just seemed like a good idea for a client who usually requests green and white.  Grey and pale red violet-does this not sound good?  The result-both subtle and striking.   

The window boxes feature cardoons as a centerpiece.  The silver grey accompaniment-French lavender, curry plant, and silver dichondra.  A dash of white via some white supertunias, -and a really pale red/violet and white bicolor Lanai trailing verbena known as lavender star-we have an idea taking shape here. 

The rear yard is small, but its impact is very big.  Beautiful stone pillars and a gorgeous stone wall-what a gift to have landscape features of this caliber to work with.  I had a mind to keep with green and white scheme, but introduce some purple to the mix. 

Black phormiums, a raspberry coleus topiary, and that dark red violet oxalis made an appearance in the terrace pots. Purple got introduced to the white and green mix.

A steel Hudson box beyond the fountain-I went way out there.  I filled the box with bark 2/3rds of the way up from the bottom.  I lined the top third of the container with a heavy duty black plastic garbage bag.  I filled the top third of the container with water, and stuffed it with white callas, a water canna, a few papyrus-and some floating water hyacinths to finish.  This container is looking really good. Stopping up the drainage in a container in a very low tech way-this was my first try at a container water garden without a lot of hoopla.    I love the idea, the look, and the result.    

The rear bluestone terrace is a cool and shady haven and a place to gather.  The Richard Schultz furniture is decidedly modern-the landscape and containers are a mix of thoughts and interests both modern and traditional.  There is a lot of color going on here, no matter the shade.  There are a lot of ideas going on here-I would call this garden lively-first and foremost.     

There are a lot of pots on the rear terrace.  Some have cone shaped boxwood.  One has a beautiful large leaf begonia.  One is stuffed with ferns.  Another is filled entirely with Kong green coleus.  Another features white caladiums.  Yet another-a dialogue about white, black, and green.  There are a lot of containers on this terrace-there is ever so much more lively conversation.

I worried myself half crazy about this particular summer planting.  Today, I am so pleased about what turned up and out.  Funny how one great plant can organize an entire summer garden.  Hypnotica dahlias- check them out.

A New House

I have a client with a new house under construction.  Now that the structure is out of the ground, I wanted to see the property.  We have had what is starting to feel like endless rain-the construction site of course was mud and more mud.  But that doesn’t faze me much-I am too busy looking at the spaces the house creates, and envisioning what could be there.  On the left of this picture, a three car garage.  On the right the large open space will be the front door.  I am unwilling to design a landscape from a drawing of a house-I need to see the mass of it.  I admire how an architect can visualize something which does not yet exist.  But since the landscape has to come last anyway, I would just as soon look at the house before I design.  The house is the major feature of a landscape;  seeing a building sitting on a pile of dirt makes that very clear.   

I will have to come back, once the soil from the excavated basement is hauled away. Right now I do not have the best sense of the lay of the land.  The back of the house faces a lake; preserving the views to the water will be an important aspect of the rear yard landscape.   

The lot had been empty for many years; this is the first house to be built on it.  This meant that there was very little in the way of existing plant material.  Luckily some mature and good looking plant material exists on one of the three lot lines.  A mulberry tree I will most likely take down.  I would guess it grew from a seed dropped by a bird.  I am fairly easy going about trees that drop twigs seeds and fruit, but the fruit of a mulberry is intolerably messy.  This picture was taken from a third story tower; the neighboring landscape is mature, and well looked after.  Unlike many lake communities that prohibit plant material over a certain height that might obstruct the view of the water, the landscapes in this community have been planted with privacy in mind.

The view straight out from the tower is spectacular.  There will be a good reason to walk up here and see what the weather over the lake looks like every day.  A natural feature as spectacular as this is well worth building around.

The neighbor on the opposite side has one of the most beautiful stands of mature carpinus I have ever seen.  I would never have thought they would tolerate living in a windy exposed spot, much less thrive.  My client will have a borrowed view in this direction that is quite beautiful.

It seems as though the rear yard slopes quite a bit before reaching the water. There is also quite a drop to the water from the seawall.  Dealing with the changes of grade – the sculpture of the ground- will be necessary ahead of any planting.  My instinct tells me how the ground plane is handled will be a very important factor in the landscape.    

Did I have a good sense of what the property would feel like before I saw it-no.  The experience of nature bears little resemblance to the experience of a technical drawing.  The things that make each property unique cannot so easily be represented in a drawing. I do make design suggestions for properties I have not seen, but I am uneasy doing that.  I have to see what the land feels like.