A Garden is a Lovesome thing…

The poem in the title (and below) , by Thomas Edward Brown, is carved in stone at the entrance to the private pleasure garden Ellen Biddle Shipman designed for Gertrude Seiberling at Stan Hywet Hall.

Sculpture at the end of the garden

There is an innate femininity to Shipman’s gardens.  As a divorced, single parent with a career at the beginning of the 20th century I can’t even imagine the prejudice she faced.  When I visit her surviving gardens I am always aware of their rigid formalism tempered with softer plantings and color.  Gardens are always an expressive art and bare the imprint of their makers.

The reflecting pool at the garden's center

During her long career, Shipman made many gardens.  Some are wild, but most have an underlying formality typical of the times.  The design features are always softened by other elements–much like Shipman must have been in real life.

Geometry softened by plantings

That the garden is called the ‘English Garden’ does it a disservice.  It is uniquely American both in its design and its designer.  The garden is of its time and place and has been faithfully restored to Shipman’s plans.

Garden Cottage

I loved that her plan, which is shown at the garden’s entrance is very adamant about not substituting plants or features.  She must have had a steel backbone to stand up and make sure her vision was realized exactly as she saw it in her mind’s eye. Plantings included boxwood, hydrangeas, espaliered apples, climbing roses, peonies, standards, iris and most suprisingly the day I was there, the native–and a personal favorite of mine–Thermopsis caroliniana.

Thermopsis caroliniana

Whenever I visit a Shipman garden or their remnants, I’m always in awe and don’t necessarily take the best photos…I’m too busy trying to get inside this woman’s head…to feel what she wanted me to feel and to learn from her all these years later.

A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Ferned grot–
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not–
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.


Garden Designers Roundtable: Seeking Shade

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer.  But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.

~Henry David Thoreau

Dancing trees

I am a loafer. I spent the summer afternoons of my youth in two places…with my nose in a book and in the woods–sometimes I did both.


For me, our wood’s magic wasn’t rooted in botany or its perfect lifecycle of renewal.  It was the cool darkness with dancing light and magic that drew me in.

Magical patterns of light

As an adult their influence is still a major factor in my design practices as well as in life.  I prefer shade.

Woodland Garden

Shade by itself  creates an emotive response that never fails.  In our gardens we naturally seek shade on porches…under umbrellas and pergolas…on in a woodland garden.  For me, shade is an opportunity to design with magic.

Shade combo in my home garden

For other thoughts on shade, please visit our guest blogger this month–Margaret Roach from A Way To Garden and the rest of the GDRT blogging designers below.

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Garden Design Details: Cleveland Underfoot

I was visiting gardens in the greater Cleveland area last week and what struck me most was the details.  There were wonderful, thoughtful ideas in almost every garden of the more than 30 we visited.

Here are some of the wide variety of uses for natural stone paving and steps seen in the gardens.  Some of these were found on modest properties, others on grand estates.  All are interesting and can be easily reinterpreted…all except the hand carved steps that is.

At landscape designer, Ann Cicarella’s home garden…

Carved rosette and bluestone set in pea gravel
Masterful intersection of four types of stone

At a private garden…the house was mid-century…

Double sets of limestone treads used as risers

At designers Sabrina Schweyer, APLD and Samuel Salsbury FAPLD’s home garden in Akron…

Natural stone steps and wall with 'mushroom' light
Slab bridge over small stream

At Stan Hywet Hall, now a public garden, once a grand country manor in Akron…

Hand carved limestone risers
Ellen Biddle Shipman--classic bluestone/brick walkway

And at two different private gardens.  Unusual sandstone paver driveways. The second is at a private home.  The second is part of a grand manor designed by LD Taylor from 1929-32.

Stone paver patterns
Sandstone car park in a classical pattern

Many of the rest of my photos will be used to illustrate ideas throughout the coming months…hope you stick around and enjoy!


Tuesday’s Find…a cast stone bench

This is an interesting garden bench design…part faux bois, part Gothic carving and part a stone mason’s textural basket pattern.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a anything quite like it…it shouldn’t work, but it does.

It’s available from R.T. Facts in Kent, Connecticut.

Miss R on the road…visiting gardens

It’s that time of year again when I travel to visit gardens. To truly understand a garden, you have to stand in the middle of it. I can only learn so much from images–and we all know that I’m an image junkie.


APLD President, Bobbie Schwartz

So off I go to Cleveland–yes, it rocks. APLD is holding its annual landscape design conference there this year and I’m speaking and participating in the conference. I will try to blog from the road, but that doesn’t always work. If you want to follow along, I’ll post images and thoughts from my Twitter feed and on my Facebook page. That I can do on the fly!

Tuesday’s Find…a fan

Sometimes being out in the garden is just hot and unpleasant.  Imagine this floor fan retrofitted as an outdoor sculpture and fan!  Industrial artifacts are on the horizon in garden trends…not farm artifacts, but things from our factory past that are reimagined for use and decoration in green spaces.  A bit of design paradox and irony.

Sculpture and function all in one? Could be.

This one is from Early Electrics in Cortland Manor, NY.  There are some other ideas for the Industrial Garden here.


A Garden Unexpected…field of dreams

Driving back from a client’s project the other night I was stuck in traffic.  I was thinking about a post I wanted to write about my ambivalence about local solar farms and their impact on open space and the beauty of the landscape.  Cars were stopped and kids playing soccer caught my peripheral vision…and then this just beyond.  It was so magical I had to pull over and explore!

There in the middle of suburbia at the edge of the woods–a field of dreams…acres and acres of naturalized foxgloves dancing in the setting sun.  More amazing was that no one else was there…

Foxgloves as far as the eye can see
Standing in the middle of thousands of flowers
Bending with the breezes

It was a Miss Rumphius moment.

Garden Design Details: Classic Box Planters

Sometimes it’s hard to improve on a classic.  Since a visit long ago to Versailles, I have had a secret love affair with the classic box planter.

An army of trees boxed for a king...

Also known as an Orangerie Planter or tree box planter, these containers can add drama to a garden or a patio.  The simple cubed geometric form adds structure and a tree, well I welcome the opportunity to add trees just about anywhere.  They can work in traditional and contemporary settings.

The tree greens the space

There are, in my mind a few features that make these planters different from any other square planter.  First, they have feet which improves air circulation under the planter and helps to keep it cool and second, they have corner finials.  Below are some of the many variations on a the classic.

The most classic are from Les Jardins du Roi Soleil. These planters are built to last centuries, open on one side and have the pedigree.

The real deal...

Updated with reclaimed wood and rusty iron details…from Clayton Gray Home.

Reclaimed wood and contemporary lines

A concrete and cast iron antique version found at Decorati


Great age and wonderful patina

From Restoration Hardware…the Versailles planter.  Well, not really but they did reinterpret it.

The re-interpreted classic

Gothic and Victorian variations from Horchow.

Gothic Variation
Victorian variation

So even though my garden doesn’t have the style or scale of Fountainbleu…

Fontainbleu. The Orangerie of the Queen. ca. 1670 - 90. Etching.

I have a box planter next to the garage that this year is home to a large tropical fern. It does a wonderful job of hiding my plant hospital.  It’s powder coated steel with a removable box for planting.

You can never go wrong with classic black...

For more box planters…traditional and contemporary here is my Box Planter board on Pinterest.