Molly Bush

Fifteen or sixteen years ago I bought a dark purple Heuchera, that despite all of the new introductions since, is still my favorite.  It is misunderstood–often people say ‘Oh, that’s just like Palace Purple.’  Well it’s not.  With more than 100 cultivars of Heuchera sp. on the market and a great variety of dark leafed and purple coral bells, what makes ‘Molly Bush’ special?

H. 'Molly Bush' in my garden
H. 'Molly Bush' in my garden

The large dark and highly textured leaves hold their color and it doesn’t poop out in heat and humidity of our New Jersey summers like so many others.  Better yet, the deer ignore it–I know I’ve offered up next to their favorite hosta!  It’s hardy in Zones 4-8, its pale greenish/white blooms are held on 30″ stems in mid-summer. Heuchera villosa var. purpurea ‘Molly Bush’ was hybridized and introduced by Allen Bush and named after his daughter.   I bought mine from his mail order catalog when he still operated  Holbrook Farm & Nursery.   My ‘Molly’ has been moved, ignored, divided and still it performs.

In a six year long study conducted by the Chicago Botanical Garden, Molly Bush won out over the competition:

The top-rated coral bells in the Garden’s trial were ‘Bressingham Bronze’, ‘Cappuccino’, ‘Molly Bush’, ‘Montrose Ruby’, ‘Palace Purple’ and Heuchera sanguinea ‘White Cloud’. Each of these coral bells received the highest marks based on good habit, healthy foliage, high flower production and winter hardiness. Heuchera ‘Molly Bush’ was the highest rated, with dark purple foliage and greenish white flowers from mid-July though early October and 80 percent flower coverage.

The biggest problem I have with this workhorse of a perennial is that I sometimes have difficulty finding it commercially for installation in my landscape design projects.

In the garden with DigIt!

I spent Friday afternoon visiting two gardens I designed with Mary Jasch, publisher and editor of DigIt!.  Mary and I first met in 2004 when she included a piece about my first display garden in her great on-line magazine.  We had a wonderful time talking and taking pictures.

Here’s some photos (of mine-click to enlarge them) of one of the two gardens.  I’m sure Mary’s photos will be much better.

Silent Partners

A great landscape designer always has a long list of contacts and resources that inspire them and help them to get the job done.  In the design business, anyone who doesn’t know what’s out there and where to get it  won’t be able have their vision fully realized.  Limited knowledge of available resources limit possibilities.  Without being able to draw on a wide range of  materials and products a designer’s projects will ultimately become static and repetitive.  I try to push my own boundaries so I spend time seeking out and developing relationships with new and existing resources.  If a client wants a antique wrought iron fence, as I recently wrote about, I have to have the resource knowledge to be able provide that for them and incorporate it into their project.  When I needed the perfect  bird sculpture for this year’s show house garden, I knew exactly where to find it.   My resources are my silent design partners.

Garden of Artifacts at Michaelian & Kohlberg, Summit NJ
Garden of Artifacts at Michaelian & Kohlberg

Last Sunday morning, I was walking down a section of a street in nearby Summit that  isn’t on one of my usual routes.  I saw an overhead sign I hadn’t  paid attention to before with an arrow pointing down an alley. Of course I had to follow the mysterious directions.  I was amazed to discover this valuable resource at the end of that alley.  I went back  the next day to introduce myself, leave my card and find out pricing.  I also took some photos.

For me, a  new local resource is a particularly great find.  One  that has beautifully hand carved Asian stone garden objects is rare here.  I know now that Michaelian & Kohlberg is probably familiar to many landscape and interior designers, but they’re new to me.

Stone Jali in the garden display area
Stone Jali in the garden display area
Stone basins, bowls and troughs
Stone basins, bowls and troughs
Chinese and Indian Buddhas new & antique
Chinese and Indian Buddhas new & antique

Imagine my surprise when I opened the mail on Thursday to find a personal letter and beautiful showbook of products made in India from the very same resource.  Great customer service and interesting products…I’m going to have to find the right client with the right project for these.

Daydream Believer

I was a dreamy kid.  I had a special if somewhat hard place up the hill behind our house that I dubbed ‘Thinking Rock.’  I’d sit on this flat boulder with my back against a tree trunk, hidden by the woods in the cool shade and daydream away sultry summer afternoons.  I’m still a dreamer and although the memory of this verdant hideaway is clear in my mind, I have no desire to sit on a rock.  I definitely want to be more comfortable when I while away a summer afternoon.

Dining Pavilion created for NJ Flower & Garden Show

On a recent rainy day, inspired by a small photograph of  a sun drenched cabana in the current issue of Garden Design magazine, I thought I’d look around and see what I might like to replace ‘Thinking Rock’ in my garden.  Several years ago I designed a dining pavilion similar to what I’m thinking about now.  I could build something custom myself, but I’m a member of the ‘if it’s already out there then let’s not reinvent the wheel‘ school of thought.   What I discovered I by poking around at what is available already is that I want something plush and comfortable–preferably wood combined with textiles preferably in white or neutral hues.  Now if my wallet would only cooperate…a girl can dream, can’t she?

Daydream Daybed from Janus et cie
Daydream Daybed from Janus et cie
Balinese Four Poster Bed
cabana_laguna_lg copy
Laguna Cabana from Tucci
Sweetwater Cabana
Sweetwater Cabana
Cocoon Hammock designed by Henry Hall
Cocoon Hammock designed by Henry Hall

Photo credits/links top to bottom: Daydream daybed, Balinese daybed, Laguna Cabana, Sweetwater Cabana, Cocoon Hammock

Pagan Rituals

It’s the first day of summer, the solstice began a few hours ago. We, in the mid-Atlantic states, are sun challenged.  It’s rained for 17 out of the last 21 days.  Plants are yellowing, pots are saturated and lawns are very, very green.

Even though I avoid sun exposure, I want to be a sun worshiper.  I don’t need to align myself with any particular group, I just want to bask in its golden warmth.  I want to be sun kissed.  Since it’s not happening naturally, here’s my offering in the hope that the weather gods will grant my humble request to change the soundtrack to the Beatles’  ‘Here Comes the Sun’.

The Sun King's symbol at Versailles
The Sun King's Sun
Sunny All Stars
All Star's Sun
The Aztec Sun stone
Aztec's Sun
Sunflower Sun
60s Sunburst
60s Sun
The Rajput Sun
Rajput Sun
The Rays of Aten
Akhenaten & Nefertiti's Sun
Chihuly's Sun
Chihuly's Sun
Tony Duquette Sun
Tony Duquette Sun

Photo Links-Top to Bottom: The Sun King’s Sun, All Star’s Sun, Aztec’s Sun, Sunflower Sun, 60s Sun, Rajput Sun, Akhenaten & Nefertit’s Sun, Chihuly’s Sun, Tony Duquette Sun

Inspiration and Influence: Hayao Miyazaki

For some it was reading Cradle to Cradle, for others it was seeing Al Gore’s charts and hearing the eloquence of his environmental message in an Inconvenient Truth.  Others still, can trace their actions to reading Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring or participating in the first Earth Day in the 1970s.

I never imagined that the art and messages in Japanese animated films could have as a  profound environmental influence on my work as those mentioned above.  Princess Mononoke was the first Hayao Miyazaki film I saw.  Having been introduced to anime via my then, preteen son, I was not expecting much.

The Primeval Forest

From the opening sequence I was spellbound at the beauty of the Miyazaki’s complex natural imagery and intrigued by the underlying messages about the consequences of  human alteration of the natural world.  Ten years later, I find images from this film popping up in my visual memory long after the viewing has been over.

The Forest Spirits

I have seen other work by Miyazaki  and environmentalism is a reoccurring theme.   It is impossible to convey the urgency of his message and the incredible beauty of the art in still images, you have to see the films.


All of the images here are from the official Princess Mononoke Miramax webpage .

The New Miss R.

Welcome to Miss R’s new home.  A big shout out to Ian Loew and his staff at LForm for collaborating with me to make all of my on-line presence visually in sync with each other.  It can’t be easy working with another designer…

Let me know what you think of my new digs…leave a comment.

Plant Torture? Not Necessarily.

A couple of years ago a client told me she wanted to drive into her driveway to a beautiful garden and asked me to design one for her. Easy enough request. She also wanted to screen off the back yard with some trelliage but didn’t want climbers on it. Easy enough request. She wanted a deer resistant cottage style garden in her favorite color combination–blue and yellow. Again, easy enough request.

When the trellis work was installed, there was only one logical place for it so that’s where it went. What was left for this garden of easy enough requests was a 30″ wide bed between the fence and the blacktop in the blazing sun where the plow would push the snow in the winter months. Not so easy any more. These types of garden problems are what landscape designers excel at and when it really makes sense to consult with a professional.

Heat loving, deer resistant driveway garden

Now three years later, the garden is thriving without irrigation or much care and it looks great. What’s the secret? Plant choice. All of the plants chosen for this garden are drought tolerant, heat and sun loving, and tough as nails.

Here’s the list:

Agastache x ‘Black Adder’
Achillea ‘Moonshine’
Baptisia austrailis
Iris germanica
Stachys byzantina
Sorghastrum nutans ‘Sioux Blue’

Bloom Day–June 09

This is my first bloom day. With a cool June and two weeks of mostly gray and rain…here’s what was blooming this morning.

In order top to bottom: Thermopsis caroliniana, Clematis sp. (a rescue, not sure of cultivar), Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, and one of many Lychnis coronaria.

The Garden of Lost Plants

My professional need to know plants is how I ended up with The Garden of Lost Plants. My personal gardens looked more designed when I was an amateur.

The sunny ‘Deer Eat This…Sucker!’ garden with a Buxus topiary awaiting installation elsewhere

I am not a plantaholic, although to look at my home garden, you would think I was. My planting design knowledge of plant needs, form, structure and maintenance comes from personal experience. As a landscape designer, I learned early on that specifying plants for a specific site without having firsthand knowledge of them can lead to garden disaster in a season or two. I just can’t design a great garden from pictures and descriptions in a book or a catalog…I have to know the plant. Obviously I can’t grow everything so that’s where garden visits come in.

A woodland native I’m trying this year–Silene virginica
photo via Northcreek Nursery

I have one of many plants–with few multiples–I watch each grow, observe how big it really gets, what texture the foliage creates, if the bloom color and time is what I expect, and if the way I neglect them allows them to survive. I am always experimenting and have found winners and losers through this hodgepodge, totally unscientific process. My garden is not fenced or sprayed–I barely have time to pull the weeds. It is in a sub-urban environment with deer, rabbits, chipmunks, moles and a dog who has no respect for my efforts. Add kids and this is a similar environment to many of the landscape design projects I work on.

Another new one for ’09 although I can’t believe I haven’t grown it before–Asarum canadensis
photo via Rush Creek Growers

I try to make The Garden of Lost Plants look as if they’ve seen a designer’s hand, but it’s a challenge with one of each. I group plants together using basic design principles–contrast of foliage texture and color, diagonal repetition of color, shape and structure that helps to create a visual pull through the space. I make sure plants are peaking out from around corners to beg further inspection. Those that I suspect will be showstoppers get the ‘look at me I’m a star’ placement.

I rotate plants in and out of empty spaces that are still in containers until they go to a new home and I’ve been known to dig something up and take it to a client–leaving a hole until a new orphan or test case takes its place. Some plants are so successful that I have too many–bearded Iris for one, Leucanthemum superbum ‘Becky’ is another. A couple of years ago I added some woodies for trial and structure. That has helped with design cohesion a bit.

Plants move in and out of my garden constantly. It is pretty and somewhat over the top and yes, there are things that stay for years. Sometimes they even survive the lawn guy’s string trimmer.

The Old Man

The old man disappeared a few months back. His ancient Lincoln Continental, with its glossy finish gone flat and peeling from years in the sun, was always parked in the driveway. Every day, as I passed by on my early morning walk, I picked up his newspaper and put it on the trunk of the car so he wouldn’t have to bend down so far.

The old man’s yard was unique to him. Two beautiful cherry trees heralded each spring’s return, their lowest branches adorned with hanging baskets full of faded plastic blossoms. A garden of pinwheels stood at the foot of one. He had a sense of whimsy.

The old man disappeared a few months back. The Lincoln is gone–a neighbor parks his car in the empty driveway now. The garden is overgrown, but the pinwheels, hidden in the knee high grass, remind me that the old man had once been there and I smile.

The Romantic Ideal

Those who know me, know that I am not very…well not a girlie girl. They also know that my ultra-romantic and feminine side comes out in other ways. One of those is my love for bold, evocative statements in the garden. As a landscape designer whether I’m working on a contemporary or traditional design, the object is the same…extravagant gestures, layers of texture and dreamy places to slow down and enjoy it.

I think this is the most romantic image in a garden ever. Over exposed? Yes. But Fragonard’s ‘The Swing’, pictured below, is the essence of romantic ideal. The young woman is joyful at being in love and in the garden…she is participating in her environment rather than just giving it a look or a walk through.

Jean-Honore Fragonard ‘The Swing’

Has our concept of what is romantic in a garden changed since the 18th century? I don’t think so. We still want the same human experience as the girl on the swing. What has changed is the availability of skilled labor to maintain the estate sized model it is based on and the philosophy that all natural resources are inexhaustible.

The romantic ideal might seem old fashioned, but it’s a point of departure only limited by lack of imagination. There is the possibility of creating lush and jubilant outdoor spaces without being bound to a planting scheme or a single style. Romantic gardens beg human interaction–the discovery of a secret, a place for intimate conversation, or a solitary escape from the stresses of daily life. They are the sum of their parts…not just the framework for a floral display.

Business as Unusual

These are scary times for landscape designers whose practices overlap both the creative service and construction industries. Anyone in my business who tells you they are thriving is not being entirely truthful. The sad state of the global economy that is a financial disaster for so many is not what I’m writing about here. The media has scared consumers who do have the means and the need for our services into hunkering down, not spending any money and worst of all believing that they ‘shouldn’t’.

I consider myself to be fairly typical of landscape designers who are out there now. I have work, just not the amount or size of work I’ve had in the past. I am lucky to have loyal clients who come back again and again as well as some new ones who are willing to spend on new projects.

Creativity is needed in our business so that it isn’t business as usual, it is time for business to be unusual. We need to educate our clients about the intrinsic worth of what we provide and make it invaluable to them. We need to enhance their lives in every way possible–drawing them outside into the larger world so that our services become what they are willing to spend money on.

This summer is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock and I am reminded of the lyrics that very wise Joni Mitchell wrote all those years ago:

We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil’s baragin
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

A rose by any other name…

I’ve started to wonder about my blog name. Few, mostly those with kids, know the wonderful book by Barbara Cooney, Miss Rumphius, and the story behind it. Read it if you can.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

About ten years ago I got all paranoid about using my real name as an identifier on the Landscape Design forum at GardenWeb. Miss Rumphius had been my favorite book to read to my son when he was small and I identified with her as a character–hence the screen name. Most people referred to me as Miss R. I stopped posting at Garden Web shortly after it was taken over by iVillage, but that’s another story.

I decided to carry the Miss R moniker over to my blog for no real reason other than people already knew me by that name. Now I wonder if it might not be the best name for what I write about. Miss R’s third third rule ‘Do something to make the world more beautiful’ still is, but the name…maybe not so much.

I have no idea what I’d call my blog other than Miss R, but I’d be interested in what everyone who reads here thinks. Leave a comment and let me know.

Mired In Tradition

Last Sunday, in Bucks County, PA, I went on my second Open Days garden crawl of the season. These visits recharge my creative juices and offer me a first hand opportunity to see what other landscape designers and talented amateurs have created. I look carefully, take photographs and experience the gardens in three dimensions. Being in a garden is so much different than looking at pictures of one especially for a designer as interested in creating spatial relationships as I am.

What I already knew, and what three of the gardens I visited confirmed, is that on the east coast, those with the means to build a landscape of substance opt to emulate traditional English gardens. The old stone houses and barns that give Buck’s County its lure form the backdrop for the gardens. Although one garden had a beautifully enhanced woodland, there was not one meadow in the acres and acres of mixed borders and mowed turfgrass that I saw. Planting styles differed within these gardens but the traditional garden design paradigm did not.

A rustic twig bridge in the woodland at Hortulus Farm Garden & Nursery

There were some beautiful vignettes and ideas within these classic schemes. One, at Willow Farm, had a grey/blue and burgundy palette juxtaposed with honey hued native stone that I particularly liked.

Blue/grey and burgundy plants with native honey colored stone

Another, at Hortulus, had a bold yellow planting scheme punctuated by a large terra cotta urn that was dramatic and interesting.

Yellow and terra cotta in combination at Hortulus

A third really great idea was again, at Hortulus. The formal fountain at the far end of a double mixed border was actually a swimming pool. It read as a fountain until you noticed the steps. This idea could be adapted for many different situations both grand and intimate.

The swimming pool fountain

This contrast between classic and contemporary design was magnified by the last stop of the day, an interior designer’s shop in Lambertville, NJ, Reinboth & Company. I try to check this small shop out each time I’m in the area since it is really well edited. The garden accessories in their courtyard were clean, crisp and modern. It seemed restful and welcome after a day of observing such traditional points of view.

Contemporary garden accessories at Reinboth & Co.

My Garden State–Basking Ridge

Yesterday I stopped for a bit in the village of Basking Ridge. I went specifically to take pictures of the White Oak that has lived there for more than 600 years. Known as ‘The Old Oak’, this ancient tree has been growing and shading the sacred ground that is the Presbyterian Church graveyard for almost 300 years before the first person was buried there in 1733.

I have a fondness for old graveyards, and the Old Oak made my visit incredibly special. At lunchtime, I was the only living person there and the noise of traffic and the bustle of noontime activity in the village seemed distant, event though the church and cemetery are at a busy crossroad.

Standing next to it, this American native tree’s trunk is more than 6′ in diameter–its branches are supported by crutches and cables.

The raw power of the oak’s presence combined with the remnants of 18th and 19th century lives lovingly carved into the headstones is hard to describe. For me, it was an emotionally charged experience full of reverence for nature and respect for those who had been.