Archives for January 2012

A Tree Farm

Many farms lie fallow over the winter.  If I am shopping for trees, winter is prime time.  Evergreen trees are especially attractive in northern landscapes, as we have as much winter as we do any other season. Rows of them, lined out like crops, are beautiful to see.  It is easy to see the strength of the shape of a deciduous tree while it is leafless.  My first exposure to espaliered trees was courtesy of Al Goldner while I was working for him.  He was a landscape designer with a big love for plants-any kind of plant.  But he loved espaliers enough to grow them himself on his farm in Howell.       

I have written before on the history of espaliered fruit trees.  Trained by regular and judicious pruning to grow against a wall or fence meant lots of fruit could be grown in a very small space.  It is rare to find places where espaliers are grown-we know of just a few.  The trees on this farm are beautifully grown in the classic French style.  Row after row of trees are grown here on galvanized cattle fencing attached to oversized wood posts set in concrete.  The grid of the wire fencing makes it easy to see the precision and care with which these trees are grown.   

No tree is sold before its time.  This means the intended shape is completely realized, and the trunks and branches have grown to a size such that the tree is easy to maintain.  This takes years of growing and training.  There is the pruning of both the branches and the roots, and the training of the arms.  Trees must be shifted into larger pots as they grow.  Each pot is set into a pot sleeve set below grade, which helps to conserve moisture and keep the tree securely upright.  Billy is outdoors most every day, looking after them.  

This pair of espaliers is grown in a classic candelabra style, with one signature feature.  Each horizontal branch is turned and tied into an upright position, creating a U-shaped transition from horizontal to vertical.  I prefer this growing method over a horizontal branch that is topped, and a vertical branch created from a resulting break.  This makes for a graceful winter shape, as each candelabra arm is an entire and unbroken branch. Each L-shaped branch will always be a larger diameter where it meets the main trunk, and smaller at the vertical tip. Both of these candelabra espaliers are Kieffer pears; they will tolerate a less than sunny placement. The vertical branches can be topped, if the tree is placed on a wall.  These trees have been grafted onto dwarf rootstock. Alternately, the vertical branches can be allowed to grow as tall as 20 or 25 feet, providing the arms are anchored to the wall or chimney behind it.  

The encircled heart is likewise a signature form.  This shape is much more about romance, than architecture, or the efficient production of fruit.  Notice that the tree is planted in the rear third of the pot.  This makes getting the trunk close to a wall easy.  Years ago we bought bareroot espaliers, and potted them ourselves.  Fruit tree roots do not grow symmetrically around the trunk.  These espaliers are grown in a container the entire time they spend at the farm.  Yearly root pruning means they are shifted from 15 gallon pots to 25 gallon pots only once.   

This is one of my favorite purchases-a tunnel/arbor of Golden Galaxy crabapples grown in a two-tier candelabra style.  They take even longer to grow to a finished size, as they need to be 9 feet tall before they are trained overhead.  Though these trees have been grown to form a 6 foot wide tunnel, they can be placed as far apart as needed, and grown to size.   Having white flowers in the spring, and gold fruit in the fall, these trees would be a spectacular addition to any landscape.   

The fan shape is another classic espalier shape.  We spoke for a pair of them-one Gala apple, and one Seckel pear. They are very adaptable about growing to fit a very wide wall, that is not so tall. Or a tall wall that is not so wide.  Part of the fun of growing an espalier is custom training the growth in a pattern specific to its location.    

A series of trees grown such that their arms overlap to form diamond shapes is known as a Belgian fence.  This group of trees will stretch between 50 and 60 feet; the diamonds are 6′ by 6′.  I love the large scale of this fence; the diamonds will be easy to read even when the trees are in full leaf.  This fence, like the arbor, is grown from Golden Galaxy crabapples. 

This heart which we bought a few years ago had problems from the start which we were unable to correct.  We exchanged it for another heart.  I am not one bit surprised that Billy is growing it out of its trouble, into a new shape yet to come.  I would not be at all surprised to fall for it a second time around.   

We had two dry hours between storms- we took advantage of that.  26 strikingly beautiful trees will be on their way here, come early spring.


Travel is a well known noun that people recognize.  Travel take us to new places, new experiences.  Travel enables us to reconnect, visit friends and colleagues.  Travelling is a verb that suggests what it means to go away from home, and rethink.  When I want to move away from all that is familiar to me, I travel.  I never travel during the gardening season-only in the winter.  Winter travel can be dicey-witness this view from my hotel parking lot last week.  I never travel in search of leisure.  For that, I stay home.  I travel to meet new people, see new things, be exposed to new things. I travel to be challenged; the rain and fog we had all week was certainly happy to oblige in that department.  Like it or not, successful shopping demands travel.  An image of a bench is not the same as seeing that bench, and trying it out- in person.    

That I travel in winter is a big part of why I drive a Chevy Suburban.  It is a very heavy vehicle.  The seats are incredibly comfortable.  The tires are glued to the road.  I have first class windshield wipers.  Some of what I have a mind to buy fits in the back.   When I am driving in challenging and gloomy winter weather, my Suburban shines.       

My digs on the road are not so fancy.  But invariably they are sincere.  This Hampton Inn was set into an impossibly steep hillside-the fences were many.  Where do I travel? That is not the important part. I am sure that I could travel anywhere and find beautiful and interesting things.  Rob is a veteran traveller.  His trips abroad are very carefully researched and planned.  As a result, his collection of French garden ornament for our spring season will be as visually coherent as it is beautiful.  This winter shopping with him is a rigorous experience, tempered by his unfailing enthusiasm and energy.  Drive for hours, walk for hours, look for hours-and talk about it.  Did we shop?  For sure.

The Appalachian mountains run northeast to southwest-I zig zagged around their peaks, drinking in a big dose of Americana.  We are just as interested in American made as any other made.  But shopping the USA takes lots of time and committment.  Ours is a very large country. Sooner or later something good comes of the travel.      

This landscape of many different species of deciduous shrubs and evergreens was punctuated with vintage farm implements set in detailed pressure treated lumber frames. What do I make of it?  I am interested in all sorts of expression-one never knows what will strike a cord, or a train of thought.     

 Nothing to see here?  On the contrary, there is everything to see everywhere.  I spend lots of time designing.  Given that, I find something fabulous about real places. 


On The Road

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This garden was designed and planted by Mien Ruys-I do not know the year.  Her life-1904-1999.  She was a formidably talented landscape architect and garden designer in the Netherlands.  Her father ran a well known nursery  specializing in perennials.  Her extensive knowledge of horticulture is obvious in her work.   Though she is not well known outside of the Netherlands, her work greatly influenced the work of Piet Oudolf-a name perhaps better known in gardening circles.  This circle of grass which is part of a garden she made at home in her 20’s became very much a part of my design vocabulary.  Not literally-emotionally.  This photograph came from the website of Noel Kingsbury listed below-as well as this comment.  (she provided) “a gentle dose of Bauhaus-derived modernism”. What a great way to put it. To read more, go to

A circle is a very stable, and visually powerful shape.  There is a clearly defined space which is enclosed.  There is all the rest which is excluded. 


The bottom of this spherical topiary form is a circle.  That circle  focuses the view, in much the same way as a lens. I deliberately placed the circle off center to these massive lead pots.  That circle is where my eye goes first-never mind those big pots.   

 The garden at Sissinghurst is legendary, for many reasons.  The giant yew hedges enclose a circular lawn in one portion of the garden.  That circle is the center of attention in this photograph-a place for the eye to rest.  I would guess a visitor to this garden would find visual refuge here, after viewing the other parts of the garden.  I have not been there, but I imagine that the experience of standing in that circular garden is extraordinary.  

Even though I have never been, I feel certain of one thing.  I might pose and plant a landscape just like this in every detail, but I am sure it would never feel the same as being here.  To read more, and see more, go to

 Nature created this circular composition in the bottom of one of our vase shaped steel pots.  There is a certain melancholy to this natural work.  Dead leaves, holly berries, a broken rubber band that must have held some twigs, and some pussy willow buds that bloomed in our warm fall recall the end of the gardening season.  The circular bottom of the pot provides a form to this natural debris.  The circle contains the dialogue. 

This landscape design is based on circular shapes, portions of circular shapes, and spherical plants and sculpture.  The landscape is viewed at the ground level, thus the changes of grade. It is also viewed from hotel rooms which entirely encircle this interior courtyard garden.    

This assemblage of one kind of natural materials into the form of a flower makes the overall shape the dominant visual issue. 

pot of sedum on the gravel

sundial face 

lighted circle

full moon, January 9