What Ages Well

As much as my age can be irritating and inconvenient to me,  the age of my landscape is suiting me  just fine.  I do think it is as good looking as it has ever been.  Even better, no one could possibly be enjoying it as much as I do.  We have had a cool summer; even my lawn looks like a lawn, and not field grass.  Buck obligingly hauled the ladder out into the middle of the road, so I could take this picture; I am sure my neighbors were amused.

aug-17-042For the better part of six years I did nothing to this yard except bark the existing perennial beds, and mow the grass.  It took all my energy to handle my work-or so it seemed.  I am embarrassed to say that somewhere along the line I got an anonymous postcard in the mail:  “It is hard to believe that a person whose career is landscape would have weeds six feet tall in her front yard”.   No matter the delivery, the person had a point.

aug-17-026But perhaps even more importantly, I was ignoring the fact that whatever I did at home would need time to come of age-and that perhaps I would want to still be around to see that.  Planning my own landscape was agonizingly slow. I had no problem designing for others; I was a wreck designing for myself.  Slow turned out to be fine; who can do everything at once anyway?  Getting started-that was the key.

aug-17-029The one hundred Hicks yews across the west and down the north side came first. Given the slope of my property from the south to the north, time would prove to be an essential element.  The hedge is 4 feet tall on the south side, and nine feet tall on the north side-but every one of them is level with the horizon.  This hedge took eight years to grow in.

aug-17-045The boxwood was even slower growing;  the 18″-24″ plants I put in the ground were already seven years old when I planted them.  The shaggy densiformis yews are the newest evergreen addition; they have only been in four years.  I like all this evergreen; I can successfully maintain it. I knew I could never devote the time needed to a big perennial garden-why come home and be frustrated about what isn’t done?  Two giant blocks of Limelight hydrangeas, and 6 pots of flowers give me perennial garden pleasure, in a manageable form.

aug-16a-023I planted this city-mini allee of Yellow Butterflies magnolias for Buck-he loves yellow.  The boxwood is a big evergreen groundcover.  The petals falling on this boxwood is one of my garden’s best spring moments. The mini-boxwood strips in the foreground-this year’s landscape project.  The slope of the ground here made it difficult to mow the grass.  The magnolias have grown considerably, and the shade they cast was not optimal for lawn.  Wall stone behind them retains the soil, and in a few years, will be invisible.

aug-17-050The magnolias were planted to frame the view to the side yard.  It is hard arrange a long view on a city lot, making visual use of the neighbor’s mature elm adds much to the illusion of distance.

aug-17-060The big Yew hedge divides my public landscape, from the house landscape.  The big pots are centered in front of big panels of windows; I have good views from inside.  The ground is carpeted with herniaria glabra-rupturewort.  This plant grows like thyme, but is much more water tolerant.


The herniaria has no need for as much water as the flowers in my pots; the granite gravel handles that problem for me. This garden is in progress.  I haven’t a clue about how to finish it, I do have the patience to wait until something suggests itself.

Fifteen years into this landscape project, I realize inertia is the most difficult problem I ever have with it.  Once I put a burst of energy to my doing nothing state, and get going, things happen.   Once  in motion, I tend to stay in motion. Though I once thought it would be forever to see what I had in my mind’s eye come alive, it  didn’t.  Best of all, it has been worth the wait.



This Friday past I wrote some about a landscape renovation project I did in 2002. I planted a slew of carpinus fastigiata grown in 25 gallon pots for the bosquet pictured above.  The need for so many trees suggested trees of a reasonable price;  my clients understood that small trees would take hold fast and grow. No plant decision is ever easy; big trees that are transplanted at worst fail, and at best, take years to feel at home, root, and move in.  New landscapes are not hard to spot, even if large plant material is installed.  Most newly planted  plants have that distinctive look common to nursery grown plants.  Growers have different goals than gardeners.  But three years after the installation, these trees are starting to do what I knew they would, given time.


Growers pay plenty in taxes for the land they own.  Their idea is to plant as many plants as they can,  per square foot.  A grower needs to plant closely, and harvest often.  So trees and shrubs are grown as closely together as good horticulture will allow.  These carpinus did have that skinny, grown in a row, look. Planting them too close together would have made for problems later, so there were some years my clients had to suffer the gaps in their screening.


Perennials, including roses, are more quickly adaptable. A two gallon perennial is a big plant which will take hold in one season, given a serious gardener.  What you see here has everything to do with a gardener in charge. Though relatively easy to establish, perennials are plenty of work-deadheading, dividing and the like.  They also have a short lifespan, relative to trees and shrubs-unless we are talking peonies and asparagus.


The small hornbeams took hold, rooted in,  and grew.  This photograph taken 5 years after the installation recorded a dramatic change; the view of the house next door is fading fast.  The bosquet is now a shady place to sit.


What once was dirt-what once was a spare diagram for a space, is growing vigorously.  The day the installation was finished, these clients took ownership of the maintenance. It is a very good thing when a client picks up and carries on.   It did take some time to work out the irrigation issues, and there is a big pruning job to be done every spring.


They have pruned the interior branches such that the trees provide a vaulted green ceiling.  A suite of iron furniture is complimented by a pair of antique English capitals.  The long view to a group of  agaves in stone pots, and a birdhouse, is a good one.  A garden needs time to establish a look like this.

The landscape is beginning to look in proper proportion to the existing mature trees and yews on the property .  Proper scale and proportion is tough to plan for, as it has to be imagined.  With time, any mistakes is spacing or choice of plant material will become apparent.  I see landscapes only 5 years old that are overplanted, and consequently overgrown.   This landscape is just beginning to hit its stride.


Even the topiary myrtles that go to the greenhouse for the winter have grown.  Their trunks have become substantial. Making something grow is no small accomplishment.  However, the patience to give a garden the time it needs is sometimes the best move you can make.

I Can Be Fancy


If I had to,  I could live on artichokes,  good bread and butter (with enough butter for the artichokes), and sandwiches from ham, asparagus, and hard boiled eggs.  Peanut butter would be good, too-and liverwurst.  In matters of living, I like the slightly mildewed taste of water from the hose, an occasional whopper and fries from a certain east side location that serves them fresh,  hot, and with a hello, and how are you, my garden,  and a clean house after a long dirty day-not too fancy.
But I can be very particular about the plants I love.  My hellebores are holding court right now-HOW I love them.  I am especially wild for the big species, helleborus argutifolius.  Then helleborus corsicus.  Then Helleborus lividus-you may get from this that I have a big love for green flowers. Then the white and green versions of Helleborus orientalis-I could go on.  Being a zone 5-6, some hellebores are dicey;  I make the time to baby them.  On my small city lot and one half,  I give space to the striking argutifolius, paired with beech ferns.  What a happy combination-under my Princeton Gold maples.  Every day, at the end of the day, I look at this combination over a cocktail, and celebrate my good life. My good life is my good garden-I am sure you know this about me by now.

befancy1Its important to figure out what you really love, and what you can do without.  This is expressing your voice. Its also the engine that powers your design.  Add hellebores to your dictionary if they enchant you-if they don’t, what would go in your dictionary?
Its the season for hellebores-give a look see.



Butterburs In Your Future

butterburr23The temperatures still hover at or below the freezing mark here-typical for the Midwest.  But there are signs of life.   The butterburr flowers are stirring. They are preceded by huge cracks in the earth. Ungainly and ill-proportioned, they look dead as they emerge from the ground, and grow downwards back to the earth-astonishing.  However unappetizing, these flowers are quickly replaced by giant, faintly prehistoric, leafy plants of  equally astonishing scale. They form large colonies overnight-the kind that would spread into your house via the bedroom window-if you are not the vigilant sort.butterburr4

Their immense leaves are stunning. There is no texture like this, unless you live in the tropics.


How dramatically they fall to the ground in a heap when dry will make you laugh out loud. They compliment bitty -textured plants beautifully. But like many things in this world, they are willing to a fault. Give them an inch, and they will take Ohio.  They spread uncontrollably, into the most unlikely places.  The cracks in the driveway, the center of ancient and bristly yews-some surprise you by breaking forth many yards from their home. Shade will slow them down, should you have some. The butterburr battle is a loosing battle that I do not tire of.  Once I spent days removing every scrap and shred of them from a large bed. In three weeks they were back with no sign that I had ever touched them. So I embrace them, and chase them.  Our relationship is my idea of garden drama.
The design lesson here: the things you cannot change- the driveway you were dealt, the weather, the boundaries of your land, the butterburrs-make them work for you.
Give thought to where you are, who you are, and what you want. Most of all, sort out what you think is beautiful.  Be prepared to revise these answers regularly.  Then design. There could be butterburrs in your future.