Magnolia brooklynensis 'Black Beauty'

Magnolia Lust

As part of my job as a landscape designer, I regularly walk the growers and nurseries to see what is new and what looks good.  I learn about plants new to me that I may want to trial and try. Like many other designers, I get on a plant jag and have a love affair with a group of plants for a while and then move on to flirt with something else that catches my rather short plant attention span.  Today I have plant lust.  I was at the fabulous NJ wholesale grower, Pleasant Run Nursery yesterday and fell for Magnolia x brooklynensis ‘Black Beauty’ that is just now in bud.

Magnolia brooklynensis  'Black Beauty'I didn’t buy it because I didn’t know it.  I came back to the studio after laying out some plants on a project, poured a glass of wine, and had a ‘first date’ to find out more.

Blooming later than the masses of M. soulangiana that are in my neighborhood, it reliably blooms after the late freeze that sometimes causes magnolias to loose their buds and hence their bloom. It’s dramatic and different. It is hardy to Zone 4 and is a small tree reaching 15-20 ft (most say smaller)–a perfect size for small gardens and suburban lots. There is nothing not to like!

I think I will have a long term relationship with this tree and it will be the first plant added to my home garden.


Trials and Neglect in my Home Garden

I’m not a landscape designer who has a wonderfully designed garden that is a terrific advertisement for my craft at my home. I should, I live on a corner, but as I’ve shared here before it’s mostly a neglected mess with good bones and a rotating cast of plants. My home garden is quirky and in a constant state of flux. Since my landscape design practice is design only, I don’t have a crew I can ‘borrow’ for the big tasks, so they wait and are ignored for as long as possible. I’m mostly not very motivated to work in my own garden after spending my days designing beautiful ones for others.

This spring I wanted to do a major switch out of some elements in the garden to enable me to try some new plants and design ideas.  I grow plants to observe and trial that I want to try in my design work and I have limited space. That means every few years some have to go to make room for others.

cleaned out garden at hedges

Beyond my own neglectful gardening style, my garden is under siege. Deer, rabbits, feral cats, squirrels, chipmunks and voles and dogs who are allowed to pee on my plants are the culprits.  The yard is unfenced and I don’t water regularly or provide much in the way of added nutrients beyond compost and good soil to start with. Usually the plants that I take out are victims of their own success.  Over a period of  time they have proven themselves to me as worthy.  All have been in my garden a minimum of three full growing years  which is my loose time frame to trial a plant.

Here are my anecdotal notes on some of the plants which survived and thrived  and were removed yesterday to make room for others.  There is also a plant that I was sorry to see gone…I wasn’t ready to wave goodbye to it just yet.

Amsonia hubrichtii– I grew this from a 4″ pot and it became a monster–the one remaining plant was almost 4′ across and 3′ high.  It was never bothered by deer but it was also not a a plant I loved beyond the lovely light blue bloom in mid-spring.  Mine never had the brilliant fall color–just a dull gold.  The pests never bothered it.

Cornus alba ‘Elegantisima’–Grown from a big box cast off 1 gallon pot.  I loved the variagated foliage and the red twigs in winter, but it was too big even when coppiced regularly.  It is a vigorous grower and has a loose informal shape when left to its own devices. The pests left it alone completely. The image below was taken just after a freezing rain.

Cornus alba 'Elegantisima'

Vernonia noveboracensis–I like really tall perennials and I love this plant in the wild.  I’d rather have plants that don’t self seed everywhere in my garden since I don’t have time to edit them.  The exception to that is Verbena bonariensis.  As for the Veronia,  I don’t have enough room for this garden giant that thrives on neglect!  Over 6′ tall with violet blooms in late summer. I just got tired of it. No pest problems whatsoever.


Vernonia noveboracensis

Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’ and  Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetale’–These are paired together because I bought them as a pair.  The thought was to have the pink Persecaria grow up through the yellow leaves of the Rhus.  They did for one season.  I over romanticized the Rhus, it is a rangy looking thug. It looks fantastic in a pot though.  I can see why people fall for it and I would consider using it in a container.  It spread on its root stock into the lawn and other areas of the garden.  The Persecaria is supposed to be a thug…it’s a dud.  It didn’t thrive on my neglect and lack of ample moisture.  The good news is that neither were bothered by much of anything else.  The critters left both alone.

Rhus and Persecaria


The plant that bothered me to remove was a prized Styrax japonicus ‘Emerald Pagoda’.  Two years ago when the 17 year cycle of cicadas had them chomping leaves and creating garden mayhem everywhere–except my town, my young Styrax was the only plant  in my garden that was attacked. I decided to watch it and hope for the best.  I didn’t get my wish and it sadly went to the compost heap yesterday.

So what is going to take the place of everything I removed?  Plants I’ve never grown before…

Garden Design Details: Fall Beyond Foliage

I had some rare time in between landscape design projects and clients last week and as I’ve been meaning to take my new camera lens out for a spin, I stopped by Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown to search out some of the details of the season.  The focus of this public park is plants…not necessarily design although it has its designer-y moments.  I go here when I need a plant fix.  I send my landscape design students here to photograph and learn about plants just as I did years ago when I was learning.

Winding path Frelinghuysen Arboretum

Grasses, asters, Japanese anemones and Monkshood were at their peak and the large swaths of hardwood foliage astound, but there are many other details that can make a landscape’s planting design special in the waning warmth and long low light of autumn. Sometimes they are stalwart summer hanger’s on and sometimes they are plants whose season is now.

Semi spent bloom Heptacodium

The almost spent bloom structure of a Heptacodium miconoidies (Seven Sun Flower) has beautiful open structure and pale pink color.

Branches Acer japonica

I’m a sucker for contorted branches of a Japanese maple silhouetted against some foliage ‘stained glass’…

Autumn fern

The gold and russet fronds of Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn Fern) in a woodland setting adds some unexpected living color to the ground plane. Mostly the oranges of fall are fallen from above.

Nicotiana sylvestris

The late blooming native Nicotiana sylvestris (Woodland tobacco) is a giant in most gardens but so worth it in terms of drama.  One of my personal favorites, and easily raised from seed, it takes forever for this plant to appear, and does smell a bit like an ashtray…remember those?

Pinus bungeana

Pinus bungeana‘s (Lacebark Pine) exfoliating camo bark.  Who wouldn’t want this in their garden?  I don’t see this tree in commonly in the trade or used enough in gardens.  In fact, I’ve only ever seen one once in a residential garden where I kept it from being cut down!

Aconitum and Anemone japonica

Lastly, as I said in the beginning the Aconitum and Anemones were at their peak.  So pretty reaching for the light.


Garden Design

The New Garden Design

The new Garden Design magazine promises to be full of inspiration and ideas for all of us.  I lamented when the previous one stopped publishing so I’m happy about this. Their primary focus is now American gardens and designers–not just the ones on both coasts either.  How do I know this for sure?  I’m a Contributing Editor.  That doesn’t mean I’m giving up my landscape design practice, it just means I have another outlet to express my love of  great design.

Garden Design

It is going to be a beautiful book like publication without any advertising and printed on beautiful paper.  It will be sold in garden shops and individual issue or annual subscriptions are available.

No, I’m not going to leak any stories!  You’ll have to wait until May and read it.  Until then, my latest piece is up on their website.

Spring Bulb: Asphodelus fistulosus

I don’t usually write about plants I haven’t grown, but I’m so starved for spring I started looking through some images thinking to do a post about early spring bloomers.

Asphodelus aestivus Vobulis

Instead I found some lovely images of  Asphodelus fistulosus (Hollow stemmed asphodel) from my trip to Morocco in January.  It took a bit of sleuthing to figure out what this plant was…I hope I’m correct!  It was blooming everywhere in Volubilis, a Roman ruin, in the northeast near Fes and made me so happy to see it thinking that spring wouldn’t be far away at home.  Boy was I wrong!

Asphodelus aestivus close upAsphodelus aestivus with ruins Vobulis

It is a weed there, so beware here, several states list it as a noxious weed and it is prohibited! There were piles of it pulled out from unwanted spots. A member of the lily family, it has a long bloom season and is shorter than Eremurus and much less showy, but pretty nonetheless.  I don’t think it will be hardy in most of NJ since it’s listed as hardy to -0 and this winter we had a few days below that!


Veronia and maple

Planting Design: Late Fall Texture and Color

Now that we’ve begun the season of darkness and it looks like midnight at 5 pm, bursts of golden color during the day is important. I love the last of the riot of color and texture that is in my front home garden.  The details become very important.

Veronia and maple

Vernonia noveboracensis (New York Ironweed) seed heads and browned leaves and stems against a background of Acer rubrum ‘Autumn Blaze’ (Red maple) foliage.

I look for plants that at minimum do three seasons of heavy lifting even if it’s in a period of decay.  They have to be tough and deer resistant.  They also have to play well with others and offer opportunities for textural combinations since most of their bloom times are fairly short lived.  Here are some of the stars in my New Jersey home garden in late fall.  None are difficult to grow or find and all are suitable for a small space–some take up airspace like the narrow yet 7′ tall Veronia rather than having a big footprint others like the Amsonia need a wide birth and frequent division to keep them where they are.

Leucanthumum superbum 'Becky'

Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’ (Shasta Daisy) 

Cotinus coggygria 'Ancot'

Cotinus coggygria ‘Ancot’ (Golden Spirit Smokebush)

Amsonia and sedum

Amsonia hubrichtii (Threadleaf  bluestar) and Sedum x ‘Autum Joy’

Fothergilla gardenii and red twigged dogowood

Fothergilla gardenii foliage and Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ (Red Twigged Dogwood) twigs.


Malus x ‘Coralburst’ (dwarf crabapple) fruits.

Vernonia noveboracensis seed heads

 Vernonia noveboracensis (New York Ironweed) seed heads.


Planting Bambi’s Buffet

Twelve years ago I built a garden on what was a deer path in my narrow side yard.  Why? To experiment with plants primarily for deer resistance, but also to know and grow new plants for my landscape designs.  I don’t generally plant things for clients that I haven’t grown.  That means this garden as well as my others are in a constant state of upheaval and change.  The side yard gets almost totally replanted every three to five years; the others which are more public get things tucked in or dug up.

Side yard unplanted

This is a replanting year for the side yard.  Many of the previous plant experiments have been removed.  Some of the structural plants or things that I’m attached to for whatever emotional tug they have on me remain.  The space was better designed and built out of entirely found materials when I started it (below), now it’s somewhat of a hodgepodge with a nod to design.

narrow side yard garden

The garden faces south and has hot sun in the middle of the day with shade on each end as well damp areas and those that are dry so it suits a wide range of situations.  The soil has been amended in the same way I would have a garden prepared anywhere–with rich organic matter and not much else.

Here are the 5 I’m most excited about from a much more extensive planting list.

Aesculus parvivlora var. serotina ‘Rogers’ – I’ve wanted to grow this for years.  It’s a tough sell to a client though since they usually look like they’re defective in containers in the nursery.  This is a plant for someone with patience…I have that!

Aesculus parviflora var

Bouteloua gracillis ‘Blonde Ambition’ -I don’t have a good image from the plants I bought because it looks crappy in the container right now, but I have high hopes for this one.  I love it’s airy qualtiy and that’s hard to find in a small ornamental grass.  Here’s a link.

Helenium x ‘Ruby Tuesday’ – I’ve killed more Heleniums than I have previously admitted to, but I keep trying…

Helenium x Ruby Tuesday

Hypericum x ‘Blue Velvet’ – much finer foliage than its cousins.  Grey blue too.  I’ve had great success with every Hypericum I’ve grown and use the groundcover Hypericum calycinum often.  It’s a fantastic and showy semi-evergreen groundcover for a south facing slope which in my mind is akin to planting Hell.


Stachys monieri ‘Hummelo’ (also known as Stachys alpina ‘Hummelo’) – I’m finally getting around to a plant that everyone raves about–it’s not blooming right now but has very beautiful foliage.  We’ll see if it makes the appetizer tray in Bambi’s buffet!

Stachys monieri 'Hummelo' foliage

 So in a couple of seasons I’ll let you know what’s been eaten at this buffet since you’ll see them in future designs if they hold up.  In the meantime I’m going to try some in client’s gardens that have sturdy deer fences!



Planting Design: A Wet Shady Meadow

I will admit to having to take some time to wrap my head around an addition to a garden that we installed last year.  Although we have improved the overall drainage on the expansive site, there is one pesky area that is still a little bit damp.  It’s walk-able and mow-able, but my client has come around to what I had originally suggested for the spot – a wet, shady meadow.

Meadow style plantings and damp shade don’t have to be mutually exclusive and here are three plants I’m considering to give it multi-season color, drama and texture.  They are all in my experience reasonably deer resistant also.

Rogersia pinnata – a plant I haven’t used in a couple of years since most of the shady spots I’ve been working in have been dry woodlands.  I’m going to try two varieties for their rough texture and difference in foliage and bloom color.  The one I’m most excited about is ‘Chocolate Wings’

Lobelia silphatica – one of my favorite self seeders.  My current client LOVES blue.  It may be the perfect plant for this area.

Juncus inflexus ‘Blue Arrows’ – another choice for color and fine threadlike foliage with a stiff vertical habit

I’m excited about this part of the project because it allows me to flex and stretch in ways that I don’t always have the opportunity to do.




Fragrant blooms of a yellowwood tree

Native Plants: Cladrastis kentukea – Kentucky Yellowwood

My little town has an unusual collection of street trees.  On my block alone there are red maples, dogwoods, redbuds, oaks, and two native beauties – Cladrastis kentukea all planted in the hell strips.  1′ to 2′ abundant clusters of fragrant white blooms on two side by side trees made me screech the tires on the way home the other day.  This isn’t a common tree around here and it is a stunner in every way.  I have to remember to us this beauty in more landscape designs!

Fragrant blooms of a yellowwood tree

Kentucky Yellowwood

Cladrastis kentukea has a loose informal shape suitable to casual settings or as a feature tree in a large landscape.  Its native range is further south – hence the name.  Yellowwood is hardy from zones 4-8, with brilliant yellow fall foliage. It is a large shade tree that can reach 30-50 feet, likes full sun, and has a long taproot so make sure it’s planted where it can stay.

New Garden Plants

My Wee Spring Plant Nursery

Here I go getting all plant-y again…

In January I offered to share a snippet of  my favorite  Heuchera ‘Molly Bush’ which I’ve grown for almost 20 years back to Allen Bush who bred it to begin with.  He graciously sent me a care package in return.  I’m excited to see how these gifts fare in my home garden after its makeover this year.

I’m giving them all spots in pots before I set them out into the garden since I’ve just started a major renovation and the clean-up is yet to be finished in my holding areas.  I will also pay attention to them since they’re on a table right outside my back door.

New Garden Plants

 What was in both packages:

Stachys ‘Silky Fleece’ (back right) – From Jelitto where Allen works now. I know the deer won’t like that and I have just the spot for it– in the front border opposite a big and hopefully divided super easy to grow Stachys byzantium that a client gave me years ago and thrives in all kinds of neglect.

Arum ‘Tiny’ (back left) – I’m super excited about this one –a dwarf variety that originally came from Monksilver in the UK.  I’ve always wanted to grow Arums and just haven’t gotten around to it, so now I have no excuse.  Let’s hope I don’t kill it.

Chrysogonum ‘Norman Singer’- (front right)  The one you can’t see behind the tag…this is a totally new plant for me.  I’ve never grown it.  It’s a native shade lover and I have dry shade so we’ll see if it can duke it out!  I’m thrilled to have it.

Erigeron pulchellus var. pulchelus ‘Lynnhaven Carpet’–(front left) Another eastern/mid-Atlantic native.  I have a soft spot for Erigerons so I have to find a special partially shady place for it. (Why do I always think of swans and teddy bears when I type the workd Erigerons?)

Heuchera ‘Molly Bush’ -In the center of it all from the original plant I bought from Allen all those years ago.  It’s been in both of my gardens since then.  And no, the few available in the trade aren’t the same…they’re just not.

This isn’t an eye candy type of post…I have to wait for these babies to grow up a bit for their glamour shots!

Witch Hazels…I’m bewitched.

It started out simply.  Admiration in a late winter garden.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane'
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’

I’ve planted them for my clients for years, but have never had one of my own.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Spring Promise'
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Spring Promise’

Then I wrote a piece for the upcoming issue of Leaf.  Then I became obsessed.  I have to have one–I am bewitched!

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane'
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’

Hardy in zones 5-8, Hamamelis hybrids have a rich range of color, fantastic fall foliage, and are generally a medium to large, broadly vase shaped shrub.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’

The bonuses are the super early bloom time…late January to mid-March in my zone 6 part of New Jersey as well as their deer resistance.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Sunburst'
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Sunburst’

As I said.  I want one.  I really, really, want one.


Spring Brights in the Garden

Early spring is coming early here this year.  Gardens are bursting with unseasonably warm weather.  Here are two stars of the early spring garden (blooming this week) that are much more interesting and super substitutes for the ubiquitous forsythia.

Cornus mas is a small flowering tree, hardy to Z5 with beautiful exfoliating bark and foliage that makes it a great choice for small gardens.  Here it’s paired with Jasminum nudiflorum (Winter Jasmine), a semi-evergreen low growing shrub that is hardy to Z6.  I love to use it draping over walls.


Late Winter Plants in glorious bloom!

Earlier this week I walked around The New York Botanical Gardens with landscape designer Naomi Brooks of Verdant Landscapes.  The two of us were like kids released into the sunshine after a day too long in school.  Our walk was stop and go as we oooh’d and ahhh’d and took photos of plants in bloom.

Here’s what made me stop and think that I really need to pay more attention to the late winter garden.  I think I’ll challenge myself to make one when I finally settle on a new house.

Prunus mume 'Matsurabara Red'
The lovely native Hamamelis vernalis
Wild and wonderful Edgeworthia chrysantha
Helleborus x ericsmithii 'HGC Silvermoon' holds its blooms up!
Hamamelis x intermedia 'Primavera' was one of many varieties blooming
My favorite viburnum...V. bodnantense 'Dawn'
We all know how much I love Mahonia bealei...

Just a note…The botantical gardens are probably a full zone warmer than my 6B, but in a regular winter many of these are blooming here too.  There, though, the Jasminum nudiflorum (Winter Jasmine) and many of the winter Camellias were already largely bloomed out.



Plants to try in 2011

In my landscape design practice, my primary focus isn’t plants, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in them.  In fact, in a garden, plants are the workhorses that hold a design together in a specific season.  I have to know hundreds and hundreds of plants in order to make the best possible choice in any one client’s landscape design.

Just like every other person who is serious about gardens, I spend much of winter pouring over plant and seed catalogs.  That’s where the similarity ends however.  I look for plants that will add to my designer’s tool box that I can use in other people’s gardens rather than developing serious plant lust for my own.   Here are three of the plants I’ve been looking at–some are new introductions, others just new to me.  All are more or less native…some more, some less.

Helianthus x multiflorus 'Sunshine Daydream'

I like this tall and mildew free Helianthus from North Creek Nurseries for its late summer button-like blooms.  So many late flowering yellow perennials have large blooms and this will allow a different scale and will create a show in the back of a late season border.  Massed they’ll be absolutely spectacular.

Panicum virgatum 'Ruby Ribbons'

I use grasses frequently in areas where deer are prevalent and Panicums are a favorite.  This native is a cross between two of my favorites:  ‘Haense Hermes’ and ‘Heavy Metal’ .  Love the red foliage!  Maybe I won’t have to plant so many red fountain grasses in containers to get this rich color–they’re not hardy or native, this is.

Heucherella 'Solar Eclipse'

I’ve been in lust with the variegated foliaged geraniums for a few years now.  I use them in containers for a punch of all season color and textural interest.   Heucherella ‘Solar Eclipse’ from Terra Nova gives me the same warm and tingly all over feeling…but for shade.  I just love Tiarellas and their spawns Heucherellas…don’t you?

What plants are you going to try in the new year?

Fall as Spring Garden Inspiration

This fall has been particularly inspiring for its color.  It’s been a while since I did a post on color and this one is going to be a little bit different.  I want to try and use the fall foliage of a single plant as inspiration for an early spring garden.  Rather than a single hue, I’m going for a mood and a range of color. I specified this plant for a client’s garden.  When I visited last week, the foliage just made me stop in my tracks.  What’s more is that I have this plant in my garden and as of today it is still green!

Rather than the deep oranges, vibrant yellows and clarets we expect from fall foliage, this smokebush – Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’ has muted tones that are just by their juxtaposition electric.

Cotinus coggygria 'Golden Spirit'

Here’s a possible palette.  It’s a little bit narrow, but very, very sophisticated.  The colors are complex and lend themselves to both plantings and accessories.  At this point there’s no clear front runner although you could make one color dominant.  So let’s go shopping via the web!  All of the images – other than three I took on site – below are linked to their source (so just click them)  if you’d like to explore the idea on your own.

Autumn Smokebush

Here’s how to translate that into a garden…for the opposite season via accessories, plants and just about anything else you could want for a lovely outdoor space.

Fermob furniture

Above the peach/salmon color dominates via garden accessories and below a pale Margarhita green.  It would be easy to do this with any of the first three hues.

Classic wicker furniture

It takes discipline to pick one narrow range and let all others be supporting players in a garden design as our tendency is to fill gardens full of color, color, color.

Some other details that would work…

An obvious first choice would be from the wide range of Heuchera colors available.   Below is ‘Key Lime Pie’, but there are abundant choices.

Heuchera 'Key Lime Pie'

Hellebores - an early spring favorite

Bulbs are a great choice for the early spring garden and there’s still time to get some and plant them before the ground freezes.

Accent Daffodil via Colorblends

Viridiflora Tulip via Tulip World

The garden will need other details – that’s what the darker, more neutral browns are for…

Rustic gate from a private garden in NY

Rustic twig work is best done in early spring when saplings are green…so a rusticated fence or gate is a perfect early spring garden project.  If metal is more your style…salvage yards are full of reclaimed rusty fence sections…

Rusted salvage yard fencing

The possibilities for the color in one small random photo to inspire an entire garden are endless.  All it takes is a bit of imagination and some web shopping!

Plants and Gardens as Merchandise

A couple of weeks ago I went to PANTS10 (Penn Atlantic Nursery Trade Show) which is a pretty big show regionally. About a week after that, pictures started surfacing of the IGC (Independent Garden Center) show in Chicago which is a big deal nationally.

I want these shows to be better than they are.  I want them to dazzle me.  It’s time for the green industry to realize that all consumers–wholesale or retail—want an experience, not just merchandise–even if that merchandise is plants.  It’s time to inspire us to buy merchandise to help combat economic uncertainties.

Typical Pile it High Nursery Display

Too many of the displays had no thought or merchandising pizazz–these aren’t big box stores, they’re showcases for merchandise and plants that their purveyors really want and need us to buy.   I realize that much of the audience is garden center owners, contractors and nursery growers, but I firmly believe that even the most die hard, steel toed boot wearing, big pickup truck driving, tree spade buying guy would respond to great merchandising.  Hell Cabela’s, the outdoor sportsman’s paradise, excels at it.

Since I didn’t go to IGC, I only have pictures from PANTS10…here’s some who did it well there…often on a budget.

Still primarily plants…Moon’s simple use of their name punch added to this wholesale nursery’s brand–simple and effective.

Moon Nursery display

Plug trays coupled with photographs and a simple graphic layout from North Creek Nurseries was extremely effective.

Photos and Plug Trays from North Creek

The current trend for vertical gardening was used to great effect to display their annuals by Garden State Growers.

A Wall of Annuals

How do you make bags of soil appealing?  Organic Mechanics underscored their brand’s earthy appeal and commitment to sustainability via their booth.

The Potting Shed

And lastly, a bit of sizzle doesn’t have to be exotic.  Overdevest Nurseries used aluminum trash cans and bins as planters to contrast with an incredible selection of plants.

Aluminum 'planters'

Garden Renovation

For more than half of the past year I’ve been observing and writing about my small side yard garden.  I didn’t know when I started the project where it would lead.  Inexperienced house painters, a severe drought and weeks of  intense heat  have brought me to an impasse.  Try and make do or rework.  Since I am a landscape designer, I’ve decided to redesign and renovate my own gardens.

The front garden c. 2008

In the twelve years since I first started gardening here, times have changed.  Winters are warmer but seemingly more intense.  Water restrictions are in place in the summer.  Spring and fall are still cooler, but spring seems shorter and fall longer.

The original side yard garden
The original side yard garden design

The structure and overall layout of the gardens will not change much–the plant selection and some of the details will.  I’m adding a rain barrel to an area of the yard with no spigot and difficult access, but  is adjacent to the house and has a downspout.  I’m going to relocate some plants, trash others and add new ones.  Anything new will have to be tough to be a long term contender.  Here’s some of what I’ve been stockpiling–you’ll see the combinations aren’t for the faint hearted.  I’ve been struggling with how to use yellow foliage for a while, so I’m taking it on in the home garden.

An experimental combination

I want to combine this Rhus thphina ‘Tiger Eyes’ and grow the Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’ up through it.

Cercis canadensis 'The Rising Sun'
All three foliage colors

A new introduction.  This is going in the front yard in a newly enlarged bed.  I live on a corner.  It will stop traffic!

Supporting players

I want to beef up the late season show.  The gardens have a progressive dominant bloom color from early spring to mid summer.  It loosely ranges  from white to yellow to blue to hot pink, so I’m adding indigo and orange to the late summer show with Veronia noveborancensis (an Eastern native) and Helenium x ‘Dancing Flames’.  The Continus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’ in the background will yellow up more when it gets its new sunny home.  More to follow as the story unfolds–I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Grounds for Sculpture

Last Sunday I met up with a group of my peers from APLDNJ for a summer social and private tour of Grounds for Sculpture.  I hadn’t been in a few years, so enough time had passed for me to see it with ‘new’ eyes.  The day was blazing, the company was stimulating and as always the sculpture park was a mix of high and low, weird and wonderful and outside the box thinking.

Over 250 large and small scale sculptures are on the grounds, many in their own ‘garden’ spaces.  What has always fascinated me about the park is the way plants, landscape forms and elements are used.  They are an integral part of the experience.

Picea abies 'Pendula'

Two Picea abies ‘Pendula’ form a living arch that frames the view of  a highly polished steel sculpture just beyond it on a walkway.

Undulating walk

One of two walkways with Corten supported turf ‘waves’.

Gabion Wall

This gabion wall supports a suspended bridge.  It could have simply been filled with rip rap, but instead it is a sculptural wall that forms the backdrop of an amphitheater.

Red Maple Allee

Nowhere in the park are plants used in a more arresting way than this allee of red maples.  They were dug and planted as young trees in groups that had already formed.  They are pruned up so their trunks form a living fence and the effect is highly sculptural.


The stone and steel sculptural piece in the foreground is entitled Grupo and is by Pat Musick.

Water Feature

I kept on thinking about Luis Barragan in this series of courtyards.

J. Seward Johnson, the park’s visionary philanthropist is also a sculptor and his work is throughout the park.  He creates vignettes of life-sized characters doing things.  The most famous are recreations of paintings by the French impressionist painters in 3-D.  I find them hilarious…none more than this one of Monet’s Woman with a Parasol on a hill of grasses and plastic poppies…yes plastic.

Fake Poppies et al.

And because this is a sculpture park I’ll show you my favorite non-plant piece (Hearts Desire by Gloria Vanderbilt) which is new to the park since I was last there and was in the ‘Garden of the Subconscious’–a meandering space formed with weeping pines and spruces.

Kewpie dolls in Hell (not it's real name)

Go if you can, it’s worth the trip.

An A+ Planting Combination

I’ve become enamored for the second time with Astrantia major.  Over the years I’ve included it in more than one planting plan always hoping it will be deer resistant…it’s not.  This year more than any previous, the deer have devoured plants they have previously ignored–or at least left alone until later in the season.  I’m going to have to spray the three Astrantias I recently acquired for my shade garden.

Astrantia major and Astilbe sp.

My inspiration for a planting combo that I didn’t think up is this one of Astrantia major and one of the mid-height pink Astilbe.  As soon as the heat wave is over I’m putting these two ‘A’s in the garden for an A+ combo.

Oh! Kay…

Don’t get used to it–that is two plant postings in a row– but May brings bloom, and I fall in and out of plant lust every minute.   I have often said that plants are the last thing on a designer’s list when fleshing out a landscape plan, but without the knowledge of them…well that’s a whole other discussion.

My favorite magnolia  is M. grandiflora ‘Kay Parris’.  It  has large creamy almost prehistoric looking blooms that are wonderfully fragrant.  The tree itself is upright instead of broad and its  foliage is shiny green on top with fuzzy cinnamon undersides.  Hardy to zone 6 it’s appropriate for smaller gardens.  I have used it in client’s gardens for years and it never fails to delight.

Kay Parris

Tender Ballerinas

A slightly damaged Styrax japonica ‘Emerald Pagoda’ has become mine.  I have always wanted one. The blooms remind me of the chorus in Swan Lake.  It’s supposedly only hardy to Z7 and I’m in Z6. If I plant it in a slightly sheltered position next to the house in my sunny side yard it might be just fine.


I won’t plant it for clients until I’m sure it will make it through the winter. That’s the main reason my garden is such a hodge podge…I have to see a plant growing before I’ll spec it for someone else–it’s part of the trust factor between designer and client.

Busy Bee

I have been a busy bee trying to finish the show house garden this week.  Everything that can go wrong has…enjoy a post from this time last year–originally posted on May 5, 2009.  Miss R will be back next week.

Why Not Wisteria?

As beautiful and romantic as it is… Here’s why I never recommend it, plain and simple.

Wisteria escaped from a garden climbing a very large Picea abies on my block

There are wisteria vines choking out, shading foliage and pulling down garden structures in more places in New Jersey than I care to relate.

Monday 8 | A Year of Mondays Project

Three days of incessant rain, wind and gloom.  This morning in the garden there were the usual early spring suspects – a bumper crop of wild onions that need prompt removal, nubs of sedums pushing through the soggy ground, and the scent of blooming Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’.  What surprised and delighted me most was on my way out of the garden.  There it was, something that I’d walked past on my way through the iron arbor in search of whatever today would reveal–a sure sign that spring was here–the tender new growth on a Spiraea thunbergii ‘Mt. Fuji’.  Soon it will burst into glorious white bloom.

Textural Enhancement

It snowed last night.  The predicted 1″ is more like 4.  I was out early enough-before the melt and legions of snow blowers-to notice that many of the background textures of the gardens in my neighborhood were much more visible with their snow cover.

Structural players take center stage

Structure and texture are  not something I usually think about when it snows, so I was surprised by my own observation.  Background masses are suddenly front and center in the landscape.

Rhododendron sp.
Taxus sp.
Philadelphius sp.

I am wondering how to take advantage of this-even as I realize it’s serendipity-when considering winter gardens in my landscape design work.

Monday 2 | A Year of Mondays Project

This is a little bit of a cheat.  I’m about 175 miles from my home garden…two states away actually.  So before I left yesterday I went out to the garden.   When it gets warmer I hope to make some drawings, but I’m not so dedicated that I’m willing to sit on cold damp ground to make them.

Monday 2

The photograph is in this context is more about composition and exploration, but it is also a portrait of one of my favorite shrubs.  The Hellebores are already pushing up through hard ground yet this is the earliest plant to bloom in my garden- Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’–and its buds are plump and ready.

Sometimes they look better naked…

I have been determined this year to celebrate beauty in the winter landscape beyond evergreen plants, still standing perennials and grasses.   In the clearly defined four seasons in New Jersey,  winter can seem barren and devoid of  much that we find interesting in gardens.  If  we can’t put our love of bloom and foliage aside, there seems to be nothing left except to wait for spring.  Not so.

A small copse of native ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)

I am lucky to live and design gardens where there are abundant varieties of deciduous trees.  In winter, their bark’s textural interest can create a cold season landscape that is elegant and subtle in its beauty.  Bark is the unsung hero of the winter landscape.

Heptacodium micronioides in the winter landscape

Years ago I took  a class in winter tree identification.  Before that I depended on foliage as a way to identify a tree.  Since then, bark and branching structures have been the main features I use even in the summer.

Heptacodium miconioides bark (Seven sun flower)

In the stark, low light of mid-winter bark’s texture and wide range of colors and patterns are enhanced.  In the overcast grey of January they become beacons in a neutral winter landscape.

Acer griseum (Paperbark maple)
Stewartia pseudocamelia (Japanese Stewartia)

Even during a January thaw without the contrast of a snowy background these textures are complex and interesting.

Cornus mas (Cornelian cherry dogwood)
Acer saccharum (Sugar Maple)
Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku' (Coral bark maple)
Salix contorta sp. (Corkscrew Willow)

Some trees, and many more shrubs have bark that is so much more than grey.  Bark can also add a punch of color to the winter’s neutral color palette.

A grove of limbed up Picea abies and Pinus strobus (Norway Spruce and Eastern White Pine)

By no way complete, here is a short list of other trees whose bark enlivens the winter landscape.

Highly patterned jigsaw like bark: Platanus occidentalis (American poplar) taupe and white jigsaw bark, Pinus bungeana (Lacebark pine) shades of green and grey, Cornus kousa (Chinese dogwood)- taupe, brown and ivory, Lagerstromia indica (Crape Myrtle) –rust and tan,  Ulmus parviflora (Chinese elm)–intricately patterned bark that I wrote about in a previous post

Striking bark color: Betula jacquemontii (Himalayan Birch) stark white and exfoliating bark, Fagus grandifolia (American beech) smooth pale grey, Pinus densiflora (Japanese red pine) –russet

Highly textured bark: Carya ovata (Shagbark hickory),  Acer pensylvanicum (Snakebark maple), Betula niger (River Birch),
Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn redwood), Cornus florida (Flowering dogwood), Malus sp. (Crabapple varieties)