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.
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.
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.
At this time of year, garden shows are in abundance. The Northwest Flower and Garden Show has already been tucked away until next year, with two Portland shows about to happen over the next two weeks. The granddaddy, The Philadelphia Flower Show, begins Feb. 28.
Seeing something new is what I yearn to see as a landscape designer, but I also enjoy things I have seen if they are done superbly. As for the awards, I think the judges were spot on in their judgment this year. Also, I found this year’s gardens more difficult to photograph than ever before and I think it was because many designers didn’t consider backdrop (as in protecting the viewer from the marketplace beyond or ugly walls) and reflections (particularly of the overhead show lights in the adjacent marketplace); so my profuse apologies for out-of-focus photographs. Here’s what was most interesting to me at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show:
For those of you expecting a gushing love affair with the Adirondack chair, this is a rant about the excessively-used and overly-beloved garden seat.
People use Adirondack chairs in nearly every style of garden imaginable. While a few locations are well-suited to this chair, many are not. Thomas Lee designed this chair in 1903 when he needed some chairs outdoors at his summer home in the Adirondack Mountains. I’m not saying that the only place that this chair should be used is in the mountains, but frankly that’s where it is best suited. Woodsy settings by a lake next to a rustic cabin are most appropriate where you can lay back a bit and daydream.
This brings me to the ergonomic application of the Adirondack chair. Too often people use multiple Adirondack chairs around a campfire or an area clearly intended for conversation. Have you ever sat in this chair? If you haven’t, give it a try and just try looking at the person across from you who will (also) be straining their eyes to look back at you. The angle of this seat and back isn’t suited for conversation, reading, or much else except for staring out across a view. While its arms are handy for setting a drink, heaven help you if you actually try drinking, because you’ll end up wearing a glassful with your head leaning against the back of the chair.
There are more knockoffs of this chair than anyone could count, with square backed versions for modern gardens, heart cut-outs for cottage gardens, plastic versions for the budget-squeezed garden, ad infinitum. Many children have made one at school for unsuspecting parents because they are relatively simple to cut out and assemble. They are available in a rainbow of colors, too, but that doesn’t mean they are the best design for most gardens.
There is a very well-known garden in the USA with a large French mansion on the grounds where Adirondack chairs seem to multiply like rabbits out away from the house. The chair and the French house are about as disparate as you could imagine. Think Victorian chair with Japanese garden incongruence. The primary rub here is that gardeners, horticulturists, and many designers too, ignore the architectural detailing of the house and pretend as though it doesn’t matter. In fact it does, and substantially.
If I’ve sent you into a dither over outdoor seating styles or you are furious about the attack on your favorite chair, you are in luck. My newest book can help you remedy your garden furnishing dilemmas and mistakes. The Professional Designer’s Guide to Garden Furnishings serves up a history of furniture as seen through the evolution of a chair, a vast array of alternative seating styles, and a resource index at the back to contact vendors. Even though the title has the word ‘professional’ in it, the book will help any garden owner select appropriate furnishings for their own garden, too.
Serendipity is one of my favorite words. According to Google, “ser·en·dip·i·ty is the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”. Due to the nature of chance as it applies to gardens, I often think of it as a design principle in landscape design. In a quote from my book,
Understanding Garden Design: “While not officially a design principle, serendipity, or good luck, cannot be ignored as a factor that has the potential to impact the design of a garden. One year I planted several highly attractive and unusually colored violas in my garden. Serendipitously, they seeded around, expanding their realm, and created quite a beautiful massed planting. Then serendipity turned sour. The adjacent gravel path offered a charmed life for the violas. A few were delightful, few more a bit cheeky, and the eventual flood became the curse of my path. Serendipity does not necessarily stand the test of time, but there is always a chance it might provide more than an ephemeral effect for which you will be grateful.”
I bring it up now because someone recently reminded me of a talk that I gave several years ago during January entitled Intentional Serendipity which has a slightly altered meaning. The presentation was specifically for a group of people learning more about creating sustainable gardens.
Gardens are by definition a contrived space in which man bends Nature to his will. But Nature has a good deal more perspicacity than man. Don’t we gardeners often unconsciously concoct situations in our gardens where Nature says, “Aha! Opportunity!”? Perhaps as we go about gardening, we should consider living with less expectation and more anticipation.
I’ve begun interspersing some plants with not just the notion that I will like them together, but also with the inkling that I am setting up a contest to see which will plant will become the ‘dominatrix’ and which will become the ‘submissives’. What better time to plan a Fifty Shades of Grey approach to planting design than in January? This year I anticipate some results from some intentional intermingling of the many newly planted areas of last year. So stay tuned.
For 2014, however, I know there are a number of things that I should do to improve my intentions. I intend to:
irrigate plants adequately
create healthy soil with plenty of proper drainage and mycorrhizae
assure that plants have the correct amount of light,
use organic methods of maintenance
select healthy plants based on their ability to thrive in my climate without being invasive
These are must-have intentions that enhance serendipity. While there are a few more things I might do, I have to acknowledge that the rest is up to Mother Nature.