Archives for June 2011

Sunday Opinion: Aging Beautifully

I had occasion to deliver a few pots to a client whom I did landscape work at least 20 years ago.  This picture of her Vincenza stone trough on a frog base that she bought from me 15 years ago I posted a week ago or so.  I like it enough to post it again.  The trough is classic Italian style-the three moss and ivy puppies sitting in a bed of lime selaginella is classic MM style.  I was so pleased to see that all these years later, that trough still looks tended to- great.

I recognized the beds of hostas and roses, some of the specimen trees, and the gravel car park. The landscape was long standing and established the first day I went there.  My client is has a point of view about design.  She loves her land and landscape, and handles all of it brilliantly.  I just lent a hand  on a few projects.  Every bit of her committment was still in evidence.  

She bought some of the most beautiful garden ornament that ever crossed my path.  These antique square French concrete pots were hand carved in a volcanic stone pattern-they are stunning.  An early 20th century French faux bois bench-gorgeous.  All of the trees behind have been there longer than I have known her; they still thrive.  No doubt she has a hand in this thriving going on. 

Next to that bench, a stoneware pot from my Branch studio.  We call thse hugging pots-they are pots deliberately out of round.  The pot was a gift from a group wanting to express their appreciation to my client over her community service to the arts.  They picked well.  A decidedly contemporary pot next to this 90 year old bench-my client’s idea of a good look.

A hand forged iron gate to the side garden is about buried in an arbor of old wisteria.  I do admire how she lets living things express themselves without interference.  She seems to know just when to stop letting something go, and she responds to that gently.  Everything in her garden is kept just shy of chaos-the effort and confidence that this takes I greatly admire about her.   

20 years ago I planted a columnar spruce next to the house-Picea Cupressina. In the intervening years, it has expanded to the limit of the space available, and no further.  The tree placement was fine, I am happy to say. Should a landscape look the best the day it goes in, there is a problem somewhere. This older landscape looks all grown up, in the best sense of the word.     

This antique concrete French urn looks perfectly happy planted with ferns on the granite countertop of the outdoor kitchen.  The one trunk of a trio of katsura trees planted at least 40 years ago is a great companion to this urn.  A very mature landscape that is thoughtfully looked after is such a pleasure. 

The terrace has lots of handmade Italian pots, and a rowdy mix of furniture and ornament.  The boxwood at the right in this picture- visible is just one section of an old snail shaped spiral. This brief visit delighted me.  It may not be front page news, but there are gardeners  shouldering the load of growing, weeding, maintaining, pruning, renovating and nurturing their small part of the natural world.   

I own my house, and everything in it.  I own my car, my businesses, and my watch.  But I am only a steward of the land on which my house sits.  Stewardship is vastly different than ownership.   I have a responsibility to care for the land, the trees, my environment-any natural phenomena within my reach.  I know other gardeners with the same attitude.  Anyone who understand that ownership is a largely irrelevant notion, given a serious interaction with nature, has the potential to be a great gardener.  My client MM-she is a great gardener.

A Favorite Place

I have my favorite places.  What makes for a favorite place?  A client with an eye for beauty and a committment to the garden.  A client who is always willing to try something new.  That said, an ancient and sparsely foliated scotch pine flanks the front door-Mr. will not now, and not ever,  let me touch it.  This too makes for a favorite place-strong feelings.  The Australian tree ferns I have wintered in a greenhouse for them for about 10 years.  We cut them back to the main trunk in the fall.  By spring they are leafing out vigorously.  This year I underplanted them thickly with maidenhair ferns.    

A pair of chimney pots got planted with an unknown begonia-I like the leaves.  The rusty colored hairs on the stems and backsides of the leaves look great with the rusty brown pots.  Lime licorice grows anywhere for me-sun or shade.  That pale chartreuse color will highlight those deep green leaves.

Planting day was a sunny day-so my pictures are not very good.  A lime, lavender, purple and yellow color scheme is enlivened with an occasion burgundy potunia-just for emphasis. Vinca maculatum will trail dowen long on the far side, as will the misty lilac wave petunias.

The small box got cactus flowered purple dahlias, purple angelonia (new this year) lanai blue trailing verbena, white petunias and lime licorice. 

A pot nearby has a yellow and peach bicolor dahlia, and a skirt of dark red violet trailing verbena.  I like the forms of the plants together as much as I like the color.  I like the contrast of the big dahlia leaves to the slight-sized verbena leaves.  Plants have visual relationships on a lot of levels.   

The centerpiece of this pot is a double (also known as hose in hose) datura.  I caution anyone who grows them-every part of a datura is poisonous.  The plants smell poisonous.  If you cultivate this beauty, wash your hands after you touch it.  Beyond the warning label lies a gorgeous big leaved plant with giant flowers.  A diminuitive white and lavender veined mini petunia against lime licorice is a cooly tart, and small textured mix.  The datura will be the star of the show.

The perennial garden at the pool is just coming to life.  The peonies are out, and the roses are not far behind.  The purple alliums show well from the second floor deck; this is a garden primarily viewed from above.  We add some nicotiana and verbena bonariensis between the tall perennials, and plant an annual border to soften the edge of the pool brick.  This year, showy oregano, appleblossom petunias and heliotrope will fill in and cover the soil.   

When my client asks for herb pots, she is really asking for basil pots.  I did a pair.  Leeks in the middle, and everbearing strawberries with pink flowers at the corners. Lots and lots of basil.  This I understand.  Its pungent smell and taste-irresistable.

This trio of pots feature an old variegated ivy topiary, and a single ball boxwood topiary.  The boxwood got an underplanting of variegated licorice; the third pot is stuffed with a dahlia.  The pots are from Francesca del Re in Italy.  The are very simple, handsome, and frostproof.  The clay is so loaded with minerals that the pots are very strong.  We make sure no water collects in them over the winter.  Freezing water expands as it becomes ice-this process can damage pots.  These terra cotta pots have been outside for a good many years.

This wildly natural rosemary has belonged to my client a long time. The only thing we prune is the rootball; this plant has a life of its own going on.  This year, we underplanted it with white polka dot plant-I think I am going to like this. 

My first project with this client many years ago involved digging up every plant she had, and rearranging. This took 2 days.  There were lots of projects after this-not the least of which was the most romantic garden wedding I have ever been involved with.  My client-she drove that bus.  The story of the driveway?  The drive needed to be enlarged; the original brick was no longer available.  We took up all of the old brick, and reused it with a new brick in an entirely different pattern.  All of the pale brick you see here is original.  The two colors of dark brick are new. It looks entirely believable; the mix of old and new reads as one thought.  The 12 year old waxleaf privet topiaries got planted back in their summer home-they are just about to bloom.  Most every bit of this garden-swell.

Lush Life


I know that Lush Life is a fabulous shop in Atlanta, Georgia-but it also describes my garden post the second rainiest spring on record since 1880.  Over 14 inches-that is an embarrassment of riches in rain. I can see the effect of that rain every place I look. The Princeton Gold maples have leaves the size of dessert plates; their chartreuse green spring color is all the more intense for all of the rain. 

The European ginger leaves are huge.  It has to be the most beautiful groundcover for shade ever. The glossy rounded leaves grow parallel to the ground plane.  Circle after circle of dark green shiny leaves growing densely just a few inches above the ground.  It is completely happy underneath my steel bench, even though the light must be very low.  I planted a pair of clematis at the rear right side of the bench early this spring.  The very pale lavender and white cultivar-I have forgotten the name.  But I will not soon forget the flower.  The dark purple “The President” will bloom later.  Should someone ask me what romance in the garden means, I would show them this picture.

The new growth on the boxwood is bent over with its lavish spring flush-it will be impossible to trim for at least 2 weeks.  My pollarded Palabin lilacs have roared back with lots of foliage, and a decent bloom.  They should be spectacular next year.  The snakeroots are already over 3 feet tall.  

My rhododendron are in their glory.  They came with the house 15 years ago-they have never looked this good.  The giant flowering trusses are spectacular.  I pruned them considerably last spring after they flowered.  I am pleased to report I have at least 2 breaks every place I pruned.  Night temperatures in the low 50’s, and daytime temps in the low seventies will extend the bloom time considerably. My magnolias and dogwoods flowers blew away with two days of 90 degree days and high winds.  I am hoping for a good many days with my rhodies. My yews are flushing so fast and so much they are chartreuse green to my eye.  This is a different look than the one to which I am accustomed.  That new growth phase on evergreens is so beautiful.  This spring greening is lush beyond all belief.

May I talk a little about my roses?  I do not have a big collection, just a concentrated collection.  Carefree Beauty, Carefree Wonder, Sally Holmes, Jeannie LeJoie, and Eden-these are my girls.  Two Carefree Griffith Buck shrub roses, one old English bred shrub rose/climber Sally Holmes, and two climbers.  The dwarf Jeannie LeJoie is a great foil for that heavy headed very girly climbing rose-Eden.  They are so loaded with buds right now I think I should be planning a party.

The foliage is lustrous and unmarked by fungus or bugs.  There is not an aphid in sight.  Every day after work Buck and I go up there to check on the progress.  The dwarf Jeannie LeJoie is always the first to show color.  I so highly recommend this rose, if you are partial to roses, but not necessarily a rosarian.  These climbers grow vigorously, and reward with thousands of little pink double flowers.

My Jeannies can be devastated by aphids and fungus, but never enough to challenge the life of the plants.  Truth be told, I never spray anything, except rabbit repellant.  The rabbits exasperate me-I am happy to shoo them off. Otherwise, I live with the holes in the leaves.  Fungus however can be debilitating to a collection of roses-I will intervene, should I think I need to.

But this moment all that is on my mind is the giant leg up all of the rain have bequeathed to my roses.  Every one of them is 5 feet tall or better.  Pam gave them a thorough and thoughtful pruning this spring.  Thousands of buds-this is what the rain provided. 

 This is the first flower from my climbing rose Eden.  They have so many petals their heads hang from the branches.  This bloom got set on the dinner table flating in a glass of water. I read the garden blog written by Paul Gervais regularly; his post on his roses, including the so fabulous Eden, is delightful.

Other plants have not so loved all of the rain.  The herniaria around the fountain looks pale green.  I have dead patches.  Too much rain.  At the shop, we moved all of the succulents into the greenhouse; I was fearful of rot. The alyssum has suffered much.  Many flats we simply threw away.   Too much rain ruined many of them; the high winds further burned them.  The high winds damaged a lot of plants.  The calla lilies have wind whipped leaves.  Some topiary plants were blown over multiple times; we were treating a good many broken arms a few days ago.   Cases of heliotrope were dessicated by the winds-those irreparably burned plants we threw in the trash.  The nicotiana are listing in a windward way in their pots.  I am not posting any pictures of that mess.

Every season has its lingering triumphs, and its shockingly stinging disappointments. Does this not sound similar your gardening life?  My professional gardening life is incredibly busy right now. I have barely posted this week; most all of my waking hours are about designing, getting plants delivered, and being out there, planting.  The saving grace of the rain?  When I go home, I see a garden growing vigorously-even though I am not there so much to help out.

A Couple Of Days Worth


My annual planting season is in full swing.  My cork board is filled with job cards-there is a lot of work to do.  I do the design work-but that part is a fairly small part of the process.  Finding and ordering plants is followed by an installation and cleanup.  We like to check back fairly soon after a planting to be sure everything is growing ok. 

 It is a well known fact that only one person at a time can drive a bus.  What goes into planning and planting a job is much like delivering a busload of people to a destination.  A lot of seats on the bus are occupied by growers of perennials, annuals, tropical plants, herbs, and vegetables.  I know them on a first name basis.  I only ask for special help when I really need it.  I try to order by the truckload. I have a lot of respect for people who grow plants for a living-it is not easy. 

Some seats on the bus are for the people who plant.  They get seats in first class.  The most outstanding design on the planet means nothing if the installation is not first class. They know to water plants before they load them on a hot day.  They will water again-any plant they bring back at the end of the day.  They plant expertly, and quickly.  They know which side of a plant should face forward.  They know how to plant a rootball crooked, so a plant stands up straight.  They know how to soak a planting through and through.

There are two seats on my bus for the people who supervise.  They see to it that everyone is focused on a common goal.  They make executive decisions on the spot when they are needed.  They organize and direct every move.  They all work together amazingly well-I can barely keep up, placing the plants.  There is one seat for a runner-he delivers forgotten plants and materials to to the job.  There is one seat on the bus for Monica.  Every project has a job sheet detailing the scope of the work, the plant material, the hardgoods, and the time spent.  She is really good at spotting what might be missing from a sheet.    

  There are several seats on the bus for me.  Three days a week I shop the markets-between 5:30 and 6 am.  I need to get in and out in a timely way,  I go when the traffic is sparse. I am likely to run into other people who garden professionally; a few minutes may be spent socially, or in a discussion of a particular client that we have in common.  Several other days a week I drive to this greenhouse or that one-to see what looks good.  Then there is a seat I call the order desk. Plant numbers must be calculated, plants ordered, and a delivery coordinated. I direct the crew pulling material for a job.  Sometimes I draw the planting scheme on a picture of a pot from a previous year.  Sometimes I place the plants personally.   

A truckload of plants provide a couple of days worth of material.  Some jobs take a day or better; other days we may do three projects.  In any event, I have a lot of projects swirling around in my head.  I know instinctively when I see a plant that would work for a project-or a plant around which a project can be organized.  Some plants I need I might have to pass on.  Maybe there are not enough available, or they are not the quality I had hoped for.  Selecting the plants is one job I cannot delegate. 

 Blue salvia has never particularly appealed to me; so much undistinguished foliage with not so many flowers.  The Cathedral series is an intriguing one- it comes in a dark purple, white, lavender, and blue sky.  The mix is really good looking, especially if you like subtle color.  I signed up for 24 cases. We’ll see what comes of that decision.  Tomorrow I will shop the market, and order another truckload that will get me through the weekend.  It’s the time to plant the annual flowers. 

75 degrees today, and sunny.  I’ll take it.