Archives for July 2011

Sunday Opinion: Little Luxuries

An older garden is bound to have problems.  The maples in my tree lawn all have girdling roots that are beyond surgical repair.  Probably maple trees that grow to this size never should have been planted here- sandwiched in between the sidewalk and the street.  I am guessing they were planted forty years ago; at that time, girdling roots were the last thing on anyone’s mind. My city-they have no interest or means to sustain the tree lawns.  The care of these aging and declining trees fall to me.  Poor choices in the landscape can take many years to come home to roost; old gardens with substantial problems squawk like crazy.  The future can show up a lot faster than anyone ever bargained for.  I try very hard to imagine age on my landscape designs.  Will those designs age gracefully and beautifully, or will careless choices prove to be a huge headache years later?  These old and declining maples-there is nothing I can do to help them.  They have been neglected too long.  

 My 16 year old Hicks yews are also in decline-5 have died.  The five that died are 7 feet tall.  This is a very short sentence about a topic that is making me wring my hands.  No one can figure out what is wrong.  They are not getting too much water.  There is no evidence of disease, or insect infestation.  I went so far as to consult a regionally well known arborist and plant disease diagnostician. He tells me he is rarely stumped, but in this case he is stumped. Once he went on to say that my yews were getting old, I raised my eyebrows as high as they would go.  I am sure if you have not seen ancient yews in person, you surely have seen pictures of them in books-hundreds of years old.  Noting the extent of my eyebrow elevation, he quickly abandoned this line of discussion.   It was a luxury to consult him-it was a bigger luxury to just move on beyond him.  Yews tolerate less than perfect conditions quite well.  Almost every house in my neighborhood has at least one, if not some.  The yew hedge across the street from me is in perfect condition.  I have never seen anyone do a thing to them. 

In general, my trees and shrubs are looked after by Westside Forestry; I have a lot of confidence in their ability, and their tenacity.  They cannot figure out what is wrong either.  Tim wanted to dig up a few of the yews-apparently he thinks something going on underground is to blame.  I hope to hear from him tomorrow.  What it takes to look after an aging landscape can be considerable. But I will do what needs doing. One week to the day from today-the garden cruise.  Out my kitchen window, a dirt space of alarming proportions. I have some plans to plant there this week.

The dead yews-I dream about them at night.  I have been fussing and fretting about an alternative to them.  Why would I plant new yews, even if I could afford big ones at enormous cost, in a place where yews decline and die?  What would I substitute for these stalwart evergreens?  I have lots of questions, and not so many answers.  Yes, the majority of the space will be planted with a perennial garden-tomorrow.  I have purchased way too many plants; how will I place them?  You may be laughing by now-as well you should. 

A garden enchants.  A garden is a beautiful place to be, a refuge, a source of satisfaction, a place to entertain friends and family.  Gardening is good for me.  Given more than 30 years of gardening, I am quite sure about this.  Every plant that I am able to grow successfully, greatly endows my life.   If you are able to garden successfully, I am quite sure you will go on to garden again.  Every plant that I have killed-and there are many-teaches me a litlle something.  The yew business will sort itself out.  I only need to be persistent, and ask the right questions.

 The little luxuries are as follows.  My old garden, besides its yew troubles,  needs not much more than a good washing down before this coming weekend’s garden tour.  Tonight, I am washing down every surface.  I have but one bed to plant, and have made peace with the fact that it will look new.  My older garden-I am happy to stand pat with what I have done over the past 16 years.  That said, I want every space to be clean and fresh; I am washing down all of the stone surfaces.   This little job is very satisfying.  I probably will do it again several times before next Sunday.  I will probably put fresh flowers on the table, wash down the driveway, and deadhead my pots.  These little finishing touches before company comes I greatly enjoy.   

My older garden is a headache, but it is, at the same time, it is a luxury I could not do without.  I cannot imagine not having some sort of garden.  My old garden needs not so much from me, really.  For all my angst, it makes me very happy.  Buck and I were in the fountain earlier, cleaning the stone, and cooling off.  Should you not have an older garden, create a new garden. In my opinion, you will be happier, having it now. You will be more than thrilled to have it years from now.  A garden is a luxury well worth the investment.

At A Glance: Dog Days

 Rob has put a great collection of vintage and contemporary concrete garden dogs together.   

This live wire is all mine.

Susie’s Pots


Making a move to renovate a landscape usually begins with some fairly compelling idea. Who would take on the mess and expense, unless there is some imagined outcome that will make for a decidedly better experience? As much as my daily routine has to do with tearing up people’s yards and putting them back together in some other way, I personally find change to be unsettling and difficult.  Maintaining the status quo has its attraction. I am likely to dig in my heels, and hang back until something throws me in another direction.  An appreciation and interest in the out of doors was a given for this client, but other issues were getting some play.

She had raised three girls, and was toying with the idea of moving to a smaller place, and making some time for travel.  Her decision about an outcome had to do with a few basic things.  She could not imagine a place she would like better than the one she already owned free and clear.  She had already spent a lot of time and trouble furnishing the inside of the house to suit herself.  In the end, she decided to stay where she was, and create a beautiful space outdoors that would make her feel like she was on vacation.  She is very happy with her own private vacation spot-I attribute that to her clear idea of what she wanted from her landscape. �
Everyone’s defining landscape decision is different.  Every committed gardener asks for something individual from their garden.  The important thing is to think through what it is you need and want before a shovel goes in the ground. Figuring out what you really want is not always so easy.  I might in casual conversation say I want vast perennial borders, but in truth I do not.  I work on perennial borders every day.  What I want when I go home is peace, quiet, and order. My landscape has lots of evergreens; they are very low maintenance and are beautiful all year long.  My container gardening is a foil for all of that-each one gets a new outfit every year.  They are my idea of fun.   

Susie’s pots are bold in color and form.  All of that resort style turquoise blue water asks for a strong color statement.  She enjoys taking care of her pots as much as she likes swimming in the pool.  The care of the pots is an everday pleasure, not a burden.  

Our late June and early July have been scorchingly hot.  The annual and tropical plants thrive in that heat much better than I do.  Susie is poolside every day, enjoying the weather as much as her plants do.  I can tell at a glance that they get daily care.  Anyone lacking the drive or time to look after containers every day can still be successful with them.  The installation of automatic watering and the planting of drought resistant plants can go a long way to help with the maintenance. A care plan is as important as the design. 

Three of her steel boxes have boxwood in them that live there all year round. The variegated licorice thrives on the boxwood watering schedule.  She does see this particular spot looking out the window in winter.  There is always something there for her to see.     

A pair of Belgian boxes were moved to the driveway.  She not only sees those boxes coming and going, she can see them from a window in her living room. My guess is that we will fill this box with something good looking for the winter months.

The dining table bakes in the sun all day long; the trailing verbena Lavender Star thrives in this environment.  The yellow glazed pot from Cliousclat in France, and that lavender provide a lot of color in a very small space. 

The apple espalier is now on its 4th year, living in a large steel box.  I had my doubts that it would live over the winter with its roots above ground, but she was willing to risk it. It is doing well enough that we need to install another wire up top, to keep the branches growing vertically.  An espalier grown in a heart shape-we both fell for it. 

This pool yard would be every bit as beautiful without the container gardens, but such a landscape would not suit my client.  She truly enjoys making plants grow.  The responsibility is great, but the rewards for her are greater.  

What makes people happy-it makes the gardening world go round.

Container Plantings For Shady Places

No shady spot need be a sleepy spot.  The combination of these old red spikes and variegated licorice entirely satisfy my eye.  The dark purple blooms on the tibouchina-astonishing.  White caladiums and a white fuchsia on standard-pale colors are great in the shade.  I take no credit for these containers-my client keeps them beautifully. 

A window box at the shop is in fairly deep shade.  A group of caladium cultivars are dramatically light in that shade.  Caladiums are as easy to grow as they are satisfying.  The frilly leaves have a dressy and insouciant look.  Who could tell it was 96 degrees when I took this picture?  

The begonia Madame Queen is new to me.  This plant has every visual hallmark of a difficult to grow plant; I do not know how to explain this.  After many years of gardening, I can tell the fussy plants from the easy going plants.  Madame Queen says it all.  I know the watering will have to be perfect.  I am game-given how much this plant could dress up the shade.

Who knew Kong coleus came in green?  The leaves are richly green, and velvety.  I am expecting this Kong to grow large.  The strap leaved yellow and green coleus will  provide a vivid and vocal supporting cast.  The Jayde pepperomia-frosting on the cake. 

This odd spot happens to be underneath a second level deck.  An old copper washtub filled with sanseveria, calathea, and creeping jenny makes something of the space.   

I love leaves.  I have never seen one I did not like.  Leaves can provide color every bit as good as the color from a flower.  If you garden in the shade, consider leaves.        

Tropical plants get a new lease on life, once they are moved outdoors.  They thrive in the shade outdoors.  I would guess they are a dracaena cultivar, and a grey pilea, but I am more interested in how they look in this container.  No gardener really needs to know the botanical names of plants.  What makes a gardener is experience. 

Rob has a love for weedy and fern like shady container plantings. As I like color in the shade as well as I do the sun, I am dubious from the start about his shade pots. His shade plantings are subtle and sensational.

The lime green dracaena Janet Craig is anything but subtle.  The curly liriope and lime licorice dance around those large stiff leaves, and loosen up the entire composition. 

 Shady spots can be strikingly good looking spots.