Vanessa Gardner Nagel, APLD, NCIDQ, is the author of The Professional Designer’s Guide to Garden Furnishings and Understanding Garden Design: The Complete Handbook for Aspiring Designers. Vanessa is an award-winning, eco-conscious designer who turned her global design experience as a commercial interior designer inside-out into landscape design. Today, after more than 40 years as a designer, she continues to supports the design philosophies of integrating the exterior with the interior and 'finding the common thread' when 'weaving' a garden design. Vanessa is the owner of Seasons Garden Design LLC in Vancouver WA, a certified fellow of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, and speaks to groups of any size on gardening and landscape design.
Last month I wrote about cutting back. I am now in the middle of that process with most of the grasses and some of the ferns removed from the middle of paths, having chopped some into mulch for various beds. I continue to watch the Icarus-inspired piles of twigs and branches reach higher every day, however.
Teensy little prolific weeds spread across my paths in gleaming spring green. New pots of plants are jumping into my car as I drive by my favorite nurseries (at our now recommended social distancing due to the highly contagious COVID-19 virus) because I now have ‘holes’ where the garden renovation process has been most exuberant. Choirs of little black pots are now grouping themselves around the garden waiting for direction and singing loudly for attention.
Sleep is not just adrift; it’s torn apart by thought tornadoes.
I am officially in ‘spring overwhelm’.
What to do?
Organize. Make a realistic calendar of what’s possible. Find a service that can help you with the biggest tasks that make getting the garden in shape feel more possible. I’m hoping for a chipping service to eliminate the pruning piles when the temporary closed business policy is lifted. I have to purchase more inline irrigation hose and get those laid out as far as possible. If I can’t finish the entire garden now, some parts of the garden at least will be on an automatic irrigation system until next spring. The rest I will have to water with sprinklers. While the weather is still cool, keep the larger plants in pots in order to more easily layout the irrigation hose and weed. Then plant. Have mulch delivered so I’ll have a pile to draw from as needed. This will keep new plants moist and inhibit weed seed germination. Having a system condenses my panic into manageable busy mode. What helps more are cheery wee plants waving hello at every bend in a path.
If you have friends who are willing to help you, accept
their generosity, feed them something good and hearty, and be exceedingly
grateful they are your friends who like to garden with you. Return the favor as
soon as you can, because gardening with a friend is a very special
relationship. But for now, make sure you stay at least 6’ or more apart.
Most gardeners have an emotional attachment to their gardens. I certainly do. And who of us has not used their garden, during a difficult time, as a place to think-or maybe not think and make all thoughts disappear into weeding, raking or planting?
The virus, COVID-19, has coincided with some dire circumstances in my immediate family, but even if it were just the virus, it’s enough for me to focus more time at home and in my garden. I’m lucky I have a garden in which to immerse myself now and a pet who enjoys meandering through it with me. Many of you reading this do, too.
Some hospitals have ‘healing gardens’. I have never figured out why they are uniquely healing, as I believe that just about any garden can have that effect. But, on the rare occasion I’m in a hospital, I will visit them to become soothed.
People without a garden may want to visit natural spaces, maintaining precautions as needed during this period of ‘social distancing’.
However you connect with Nature, it is there for us during difficult times to make us whole, however that may be defined for each individual.
If you don’t have a garden, now is a good time to create one. Then you can apply the recent advice of my friend, Naomi Brooks: “Weed when you need to think, no pruning when you’re angry, and edge to recapture a sense of control.” Something tells me I have a lot of edging in my near future.
My cutting back period is typically Valentine’s Day to St.
Patrick’s Day and this week I chose to cut back lavender, my bird topiary, and
a bunch of grasses, so I can prepare for planting.
Lavender is one of those evergreen woody ‘perennials’ that needs to be cut back hard every year to regenerate the plant-right down to new growth closest to the center of the plant. Otherwise lavender turns into a twisted mess of wood in about 5 years and you have to replace it.
I trimmed the bird topiary lightly and then took a photo to study its shape. Note my red lines which are the guide for its final trim.
Even dried grasses have a wintry presence. Wait until late winter to cut back.
When I trim grasses, I do so knowing the trimmings will be chopped and used as mulch, not taken away to become compost elsewhere.
It has been years since I have written a blog post. I
stopped when I was discouraged by my software computer issues and I was too
busy with work. So I never quite got back to it. I spent the time I did have on
shorter posts on Facebook which has taught me some lessons. One in particular
is to limit the focus and keep it short if you want more readers. Recently I
decided to hire some help. Enter stage right: Susan Langenes. So expect a more
updated look very soon as we work out issues.
My blog will continue to focus on garden design and gardening through the lens of a garden designer and long-term gardener. Mind you, I am not a horticulturist, so don’t expect me to know every species and cultivar of Arctostaphylos. But I will write about what’s happening in my garden, particularly with respect to why I’m making changes or creating something new. Don’t gardens deserve to remain fresh and relevant while they still remain true to their sense of place? I will also write about gardens I create for others, gardens I visit, garden shows, and new garden books. And I will keep posts brief so it takes you less than 5 minutes to read them. Like this one.
Belonging to a gardening group such as the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon offers an opportunity to share your garden with other members. Each year the HPSO committee creates a booklet containing a list of gardeners willing to open and share their gardens from late spring to early fall for that year. Gardeners must make their decision in January, allowing the committee adequate time to create the booklet.
This year I decided to open my garden since I hadn’t done so for the HPSO in several years. In January, all things seem possible. The reality is that it always comes down to the wire with doing the best you can manage with whatever Mother Nature and life has dealt you during the intervening period. So plans to remodel and paint both pergola and patio fence, relocate the blueberries to the crop circle to create a bocce court, and sand & paint the decks succumbed to being too busy with garden design clients. Removing two of the three overgrown (and invasive) English laurels left a large space on which to spend the limited resources of time and money. Many garden areas simply needed an infusion of a few plant replacements: either new or relocated. Some areas just needed to be ripped out and re-done. Plants needed to move to new areas to be more successful. I’m not telling gardeners anything they don’t already know. This is the life of a gardener.
Attending an open garden often creates expectations that the garden must be in a perfect state. In a small garden, that is more likely the possibility, as the amount of required resources isn’t as demanding. However, in a large garden, such as mine, resources required to do everything one wants to do can leave one in a pauper’s state. And with our numerous mature Douglas firs, the fir debris alone is a constant maintenance issue. I also believe that gardeners should not be intimidated by these expectations because seeing a portion or two of a garden in an unfinished state offers opportunities for learning that might not otherwise be visible. This would not be the case for a show garden or a garden where people are being charged to enter (necessarily), but for a garden club where members share their gardens, this practice should be more common. I have visited some public gardens when only the irrigation system was visible at the end of February. However, I saw volunteers pruning, preparing soil, and was able to analyze the irrigation layout. Very educational!
The day my garden was open (several weeks ago on a perfect August day) I had roughly 50 people visit, which kept me on my feet talking with other gardeners for the full 5 hours. Many plant questions were answered, gardening advice was shared, lemonade and gingersnaps were dispensed, and everyone had a delightful time. Enjoy the photos from the day!
About this time of the summer, as wave after wave of heat descends on the Pacific Northwest, I find I spend an inordinate amount of time at the end of a hose. So much so that I begin to feel that in lieu of arms, I have hoses. This year has been worse than most because I decided to turn off the irrigation system and water by hand.
Purposely not using the irrigation system may seem foolish, but much of the system needs to be revised and repaired. Rather than waste water shooting in the wrong direction, I’ve opted into the more time consuming method until we can make repairs in early spring.
What I’ve discovered is many plants didn’t need the amount of irrigation I had programmed. Often I was over watering an entire zone for the sake of one plant (i.e. Astilbe or similar thirsty plants). The entire driveway garden has not had any additional water this year other than the two cloud bursts associated with infrequent thunderstorms. The only plant that has suffered so far is a daylily up near the top whose roots mingle with a Douglas fir tree. I’ve decided that I will move that daylily to an area where it is not as dry and allow more Euphorbia characias wulfenii to seed in there, with perhaps some red-orange Kniphofia. These are two plants already in the bed that are doing well. Also included in the mix are Stipa gigantea, Eryngium giganteum (although I’m considering its purge due to its slutty ways…it is also known as ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost’), masses of orange lilies, carpet rose ‘Paprika’, purple asters, Blue Star junipers, Coppertina ninebark, Berberis ‘Sunjoy Gold Pillar’, Epilobum (Zauschneria), 3-Yucca ‘Color Guard’ in red-orange pots and a newly planted Callistemon. The border is about 5’ deep at the top, tapering to 2’ deep about 75’ down the driveway. Then is widens again as it gets beyond the property line row of arborvitae that my husband planted when we first moved here 24 years ago.
So while the rest of my garden gets pampered with additional water, this is one area that gets very little and still thrives.
Whenever I see yet another article on outdoor living, my mind wanders back to the week I spent in Provence during June 2004 with my daughter. We did everything except sleep, shower and pee outdoors. With our window wide open at night, we heard a musical spill of water from a very close canal, so even sleeping felt like we were outdoors. It was magical.
This experience taught me the importance of BEING outdoors to the greatest extent possible.Connecting with nature makes us more sensitive to how we fit in on this planet plus it improves so much about who we are as individual human beings. Do I have scientific proof of this? Can we measure IT? If so, what do we measure? Do we take exit surveys when we leave a garden? How satisfying was our experience on a scale of from one to ten?
I have had a few clients (very few) that have aversions to being in some outdoor spaces because they have a fear of bugs, especially spiders. Fear is something to overcome, not used as an excuse to limit our experiences. Nature is a place to engage with life. I feel blessed to have a large garden in which to wander and a wild ravine to observe from inside and outside. During the summer when we can have morning tea, dinner in the evening, or even a brief lunch midday as a work break on our patio, it calms my state of being. It limits the adrenaline rush on those hectic days with a deadline to meet. (Maybe we can measure adrenaline levels?)
All I can say is use whatever space you have available to embrace nature. Create spaces to sit, lie down, dine, play, workout, and even take a shower in your yard. Create a garden that entices you to be outside…even in the winter…to investigate what’s new and pique your curiosity. It can take you back to one magical outdoor experience and also create new ones.
I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year. While I can’t wait for my garden to wake up in spring, I find myself wishing that it would slow down so I can keep up with the work out there. So much happening!
After a hard winter I am browsing the garden for dead plants. What I’ve discovered after many years though, is that looking for dead plants in March is much too soon. I usually give plants at least through May to recover. Here we are in the first half of April and this is what I am discovering.
One of the plants I’ve been keeping a close eye on (because I planted quite a few of them) is Disporum ‘Green Giant’. They were all knocked back to the ground this winter, despite their ‘evergreen’ claim. It is also supposed to be a zone 7 plant, so I have faith that I will see little nubs sometime soon, especially because the nights have warmed to a minimum of above 40 degrees. The plant is supposed to be 6 feet tall, so if they don’t come back I’ll have to get replacements. I use them to disguise fencing and create a visual barrier from one garden area to another.
Another great plant that could be used in a similar fashion is Eucryphia milliganii. I planted this about 10 years ago, so it’s had plenty of time to get its roots established. I read that it is a zone 8 plant, so I protected it this winter. I’ve since found out from reliable resource, Paul Bonine (one of the owners of Xera Plants, Inc.), that it is a zone 7 plant. There are little green smidgeons of new growth on it so I know it has survived successfully. This is supposed to be a dwarf Eucryphia growing to about 4-5 ft. So far it has stayed within those bounds, but I thought it might also have something to do with having been in too much shade (not true for this year now that the huge English laurels have been removed) or at the feet of several 100’ Douglas fir trees.
A few more surprises waved hello as I wandered through the garden. Edgeworthia dropped most of its blossoms but now has new leaves popping out. Carpenteria californica and one other mystery plant have lots of burned leaves but are coming around with new growth. The mystery plant takes a lot of shade as well as full sun I sort of recall being called “mosquito” plant, but it doesn’t look anything like that when I search for the plant on the internet. I hope one of my fellow ‘hort heads’ can identify it.
Another good garden plant for structure is Euonymus ‘Green Spire’. Not as hardy as the fortunei species, this plant took a bit of a hit this winter, too. A species rhododendron (unknown because it is from a friend’s garden who passed away a number of years ago) looks like it sailed through without any damage. But it’s blooming, so I have to throw you a bone after looking at dead leaves and bare stems.
The point is that if you rush right out and tear out a plant that looks dead, you might regret that you didn’t wait longer to see if the plant would come around on its own. Patience, fellow gardeners, patience.
The Philadelphia Flower Show (grand Poobah of American flower shows) is the first show I’ve attended where floral exhibition was integrated into the landscape rather than segregated as a separate area. This year’s theme, ‘ARTiculture’, found designs inspired by a selected piece of art, a range of paintings by a particular artist, or even a specific exhibit at a museum.
An imaginative, enormous flight of floral imagination greeted us as we (with fellow APLD members) entered the show. Nearby was a large ‘wild’ garden that focused on native plants. We saw gardens inspired by painters, Mondrian, Matisse, Wyeth, and more, as well as one inspired by a Korean exhibit. Smaller student gardens emphasized sustainability. Here are the gardens or details that captured my attention:
Because I will be in Philadelphia during the course of Portland’s Yard, Garden, & Patio Show this year, I asked to come to the show the day before its opening. Yes, it’s a LOT hectic that day, with so much construction still going on. So I’m focusing this designer’s eye on what was in place during my visit and definitely before all gardens were complete and ready to face the public. Favorite components of these Designers’ Challenge Showcase Gardens were:
Come Alive Outside, Design and construction by Dennis’ 7 Dees
There were several features that I particularly liked in this garden: the constructed garden room with dining within, the use of metal watering troughs as raised planters, the funky water feature, and the decking pattern. The galvanized steel roof of the structure worked well with the galvanized planters.
Inside Out, A Family Portrait: Design by Elida Rivera/All Oregon Landscaping
A garden created for a family that likes to cook outdoors, as well as a fire place where they can gather are the components that define the layout of this garden. Beautiful outdoor kitchen counters and a table with colorful stools are exceptional details.
A Bountiful Feast, Design by Jenna Bauer with Showscapes
Although there was a LOT of activity within the center of this garden, components that were pretty evident are a water feature to welcome visitors, raised edible beds, a chicken coop, Belgian espaliered orchard/screen, entertainment bar, and sustainable greenhouse. When completed, this garden will also include a compost transfer station and a water collections system. I really liked the entire concept of having these all relate to one another.
Abstract Reflections, Design by Matt Hammack, Autumn Leaf Landscaping
Goal to make small space look larger, elevation changes, angles, saturated soil/low spot area, reflective pond with fire elements, art backed by water screens with dripping water, covered patio structure which can double as a greenhouse; woven metal fence (from metal flashing).
Small Lot, Big Entertainment, Design by Linda Meier with JP Stone Landscape Contractor
There were several clever highlights in this garden and they all involve circles: The repurposed metal disc used as a hanging lamp; the exceptional cut metal screens by artist, Patrick Gracewood; another round metal disc is used as a water fall. A partial circular pergola that supported the light fixture also supported hanging metal screens which could diffuse a view beyond in a real garden.
The Art of Tranquility, Design by Treeline Designz with JSI Landscapes
A structural wall that encloses and divides this garden into two distinct areas defines the garden’s layout. Prayer wheels to be installed later in the day will welcome visitors into the space. While I was there they were working on the water feature area and paving. I loved the angular shade structure and guessed that the colored tubes might be what was going to go overhead to create shade or act as lighting. I’m also a sucker for those gorgeous ceramic prayer wheels which you can see in the “Learning from Garden Shows, Part 1”.
Not part of the show gardens, but still a nice feature is an edible garden where designers have planted edibles that not only taste good, but look great together!
The Hardy Plant Society of Oregon always has a spectacular display of winter-interest cuttings along with one of Linda Beutler’s amazing floral arrangements. This year is no different.
Now, off to packing for Philadelphia and the last garden show of this 4-part series.