Tag Archives: garden design

Garden Recordkeeping Part 4

As September 2013 winds down I have some photographs and notes to record. This is the fourth of several posts.

While I am in the mood to record some thoughts about the previous gardening season I wanted to jot down this reminder. Several years ago I wrote an entry about a New York Times interview with Piet Oudolf in which he was asked for “final advice for the beginner.”

Experience starts the moment you start to like gardening. You can’t do it right the first time. You can’t even do it right in a few years. You always see the next step you have to do. Start simply, putting good combinations of plants together, and work from there. You have to go through all the steps. You cannot skip any lessons. That is honest. It’s hard work. But you get something back, that’s the good thing. It’s like raising children. You try to do your best.

To read the entire interview see: The New York Times, HOME & GARDEN, Q&A: Piet Oudolf on Designing a Winter Garden, By SARA BARRETT, Published: February 9, 2011. The Dutch designer shares advice on getting the most out of your garden all year round.

Meditation Garden On A Rainy Day

Garden and Meditation Circle

Garden and Meditation Circle

Seeking Balance

This twenty-foot diameter meditation garden was created years after the patio, French drain, perennial beds and Red Maple were all in place. This accounts for the odd positioning that makes the circle appear to be balancing on top of one corner of the patio.  I have always been satisfied with the design of the labyrinth itself, but never fail to notice the awkward detail of how it is situated.

Garden and Meditation Circle

Garden and Meditation Circle

A smaller circle could have been better integrated to fit among the existing elements of the landscape, but would not have been as functional for my walking meditation. I briefly considered using a square, but found the circle much more compelling.  Although the circle’s placement by necessity is a bit eccentric, the pleasure of having the meditation garden far outweighs the downside and serves as a reminder to me there are many ways to achieve harmony and balance in a garden.


Late afternoon, 63F. It has rained off and on during the day and more rain and cool temperatures are forecast throughout the week.

Garden and Meditation Circle

Garden and Meditation Circle

Color And Texture — Inspirations

For years I ripped out inspiring magazine images of plants and landscape designs. These I tucked into manilla folders, referring to them often for guidance or just for a reminder of what is possible when it comes to that gentle tug between nature and humans known as gardening.

Digital folders are easier to manage, tag and search these days so I am posting a manilla folder of images for later reference.

This gallery is a collection about texture and color in the summer, ideas garnered from a walk at Duke Gardens yesterday.

A Museum Garden Court

This afternoon I spent some time with Rodin at the North Carolina Museum of Art. The West Building, which houses the Rodin collection, opened in Spring of 2010. Surrounded by meadows formed of native grasses and punctuated with winding paths, this building is beautifully landscaped.

Multiple courtyard gardens reiterate the building’s emphasis on nature and openness. In this one the gravel floor, wispy bamboo and harmonious reflecting pool create a wondrous space in which to enjoy art and nature.

What Is Missing?

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed) 5/27/2011

My neighbor gave me some Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion) this spring, so just as I got those re-introduced into the perennial garden, I noticed the Foxglove do not look like they will bloom this year. And where are the Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed)? There should be at least three of these native milkweed species plants providing larval food for Monarch butterflies. The one pictured above was flowering in late May last year.

Realizing several things are missing from the garden this year made me think back to some other plants that were once important to the garden, but are no longer around.

Colocasia (Elephant Ear) and Cornus C. Kousa Dogwood both succumbed to back-to-back drought years, but were great features in 2006. The Kousa never bloomed though.

Colocasia (Elephant Ear) 7/5/2006

Kousa Dogwood 7/5/2006

Eutrochium purpureum (Joe-Pye Weed) was actually called Eupatorium purpureum when this first grew in my garden. A native eastern North American plant, Joe-Pye can grow 5-8 feet. I planted this in a spot too close to the house and was not able to move it. Now I see places in the back of the borders where one might do well.

Eutrochium purpureum (Joe-Pye Weed) 7/18/2006

Both Rudbeckia hirta var. angustifolia (Black-eyed Susan) and Crocosmia should be easy to grow here. Both have repeatedly been added to the garden but they do not stay around.

Black-eyed Susan 9:6:2009

Crocosmia 7/25/2006

Hydrangeas are also finicky in this garden, probably not getting enough water in the years I have tried them. With all the rain this year perhaps one would have thrived. They grow all around this area, including next-door, so it is certainly possible. Asiatic Lily, Phlox Paniculata and Hosta were highlights in the garden’s early years. Deer have made these too frustrating to grow.

Hosta and Bishops’ Weed 5/25/2006

The garden is starting to slow and I am wondering what plants to add to give it more structure and carry it further into the summer. Trips to garden centers and public gardens are in order for inspiration.

My Garden Attic

Contemplating yesterday how best to proceed with my garden renovation started last year, it dawned on me how much my garden resembles my attic.

A recent attic cleanup effort resulted in many donations and a few trips to the dump–hard work and satisfying. Now someone else can enjoy the colorful elephant and 3D puzzle.

Despite the improvement the attic remains filled with a large number of items that simply entered my life at some point. For whatever reasons they were introduced, collected, saved and are now still a part of my life.

Like the lathe-turned rocking chair, built more than fifty years ago by my carpenter craftsman grandfather, some attic treasures are cherished as a way to remember my family. These items are part of my childhood, my heritage, and I hope one day someone close will want them. There is always enough room in the attic to keep these treasures.

Other things in the attic are oh so very useful, such as the large blue-speckled enameled canning pot I bring out to make watermelon pickles. Never mind it has been more than eight years since the last batch of pickles emerged from a steamy water bath in that porcelain pot. I still embrace the idea this canner still could be called upon any day.

Then there is the other stuff. Some of this stuff is not valuable, like old papers no one else would care about–too boring to look through, but possibly too important to simply discard. There definitely is good stuff too though: photographs,  extra Christmas ornaments in perfect condition; numerous books (classics); musical instruments; many useful things maybe someone might want.

So, after this recent, frenzied cleanup effort, the attic still needs attention and organization, and thus it is with my garden.

In the past year I have added a juniper shrub hedge, a meditation circle with a labyrinth and a picket fence around the entirety. I have enjoyed gardening more than ever, weeding, trimming, planting and delighting in the cycles that take blossoms from newly opened toward waning. The garden has some beautiful moments.

Yet, looking out on this wintry day my 10 year-old garden feels like an attic, a quarter-acre room filled with perennials that fondly became part of my life at some point. As I think about plant height, size when mature, color combinations, texture, light requirements, it hits me that I am working with a garden attic full of treasures and stuff.

Just as my grandfather’s rocking chair sits in my attic, sitting in perennial beds are various plants made dear because they were shared with me by relatives and friends. As they bloom each year I am reminded of these special gardeners and the garden seems even more special. Among the treasures are

woodland phlox, an old-fashioned rose, tradescantia and sweet pea, rose campion, dusty miller, columbine–these pass-along plants formed the beginning of my very first garden.  They were the first couple of boxes in the garden attic.  I love them and can always find reasons to keep them.

Other things in the garden are useful plants I want to keep where they are for the time being. (Remember, I just do not want to make those pickles right now.) Some plants that are reliable through periods of drought or heavy rain or severe cold or those that manage to bloom when it is 100 degrees for 5 days in a row, those plants fulfill a purpose in the garden.  It would not make sense to get rid of those or disturb them until there is a good design plan in place to replace them. And so, year after year the lamb’s ear keeps spreading, the daylilies attract deer, the ‘Blue sky’ salvia crowds and intertwines with everything; however, again this year, the garden might need some reliable bloomers, some things to fill up an empty space here and there–better hang on to these for now. So the boxes keep accumulating in the garden attic.

Then there is the other stuff, mostly good stuff too that just needs so much sorting out.

Plants like irises, pink yarrow, tansy, canna and others need to be dug and divided, replanted, relocated. I never seem to get around to it, but when I do, these will yield leftovers to be donated, useful plants maybe someone might want.

The garden has evolved over time and filled up with treasures. Now it needs a strong design plan, it needs structure and discipline. What a great time this would be to organize a serious cleanup in the garden attic.  If I do not make some ruthless decisions now, once the spring flowers start blooming I simply will not have the heart to even think about it until next winter.

The Garden Mid-May


The garden has been left largely on its own this week with very little intervention:  no deadheading, trimming, shaping, relocating, or new planting. But it has been under observation.

The focus has shifted from irises.  Other interesting perennials are beginning to stand out.  Some look lovely where they are; some are obviously drifters that would never have been placed where they currently call home, inserting themselves into others’ territory; and others stand abandoned, their intended partner plantings lost due to deer damage or drought or perhaps to shifts in sun and shade patterns within the garden.

As part of the garden renovation begun in January, the garden has been enhanced with a Blue Point juniper hedge, a 4-foot picket fence and a meditation garden with a labyrinth.  These major projects have given the garden a boost of character and charm and made the garden a serene and peaceful place to enjoy.

Next up is to evaluate, restore and improve the conscious design of the plantings, with consideration to texture, color, plant heights and growing seasons.  Many of the existing plants have been in the garden since 2001, with most of those brought along from a previous garden.  Many are pass-along plants that hold special meaning and memories of people, times and places. This next phase of the garden’s redesign will aim to rein in the wayward and the aggressive ones, but also to highlight these wonderful plants that feel so much like old friends.

In the Garden Today

End-of-Winter Beginning-of-Spring Inventory

March 20, 2011. Today in this Northern Hemisphere town of Chapel Hill, N.C., the vernal equinox occurs at 6:21 pm.  This seems like a good time to inventory the garden.

The newly planted Blue Point Juniper hedge is doing well, but will not be providing much screening for several years.


The earliest of the daffodils and the burgundy hyacinths are at the end of their bloom cycle. Iberis sempervirens (candytuft) and  Muscari (Grape Hyacinth) are opening slowly. Several sedums are emerging (the rabbits must be pleased).

Tradescantia (Spiderwort) is coming up in various spots and a few echinacea (Purple coneflower) have returned.

The first flower is open today on the White Flowering Dogwood, while ‘Flower Carpet’ Narcissus have been lovely for a week or more.

Coral Delight Camellia

A nice surprise in the garden today.

The spring-blooming camellia ‘Coral Delight’ popped out when I was not looking. I missed checking on it yesterday and today discovered several blossoms had opened wide.

Daylilies attract the deer so I am trying to pull out many of them.  I must hurry to finish the job before they grow any larger or they will be too tough to dig out. Some of the resulting space freed so far was used to transplant a few Shasta daisies.

Hellebore- Lenten Rose

Hellebore (Lenten Rose), which opened one month ago, continue to bloom profusely in their charming manner.

The newly planted Sweet William is doing well and the evergreen HeucheraPenstemon is recovering from the long winter. Digitalis Purpurea ‘Alba’ or ‘Camelot White’ (Foxglove) looks promising.

Small pink yarrow, tansy, lamb’s ears and rose campion (shown here), all rather aggressive growers, are coming back strong.

The old-fashioned spirea is the star in its section of the garden, brightening up the entire space of the western border.  (A pink saucer magnolia behind the spirea is a fortunate example of a borrowed view.)


Nearby the Eastern Redbud competes for attention, deservedly so.


Just one week ago the Jackmanii clematis had new leaves, but was still largely brown. Today it is lush with green.


Several black-eyed Susans echinacea (purple coneflower) seem pleased with their new location along the southern path. They were transplanted last year from an over-crowded spot where they did not have have enough sun.

Russian Sage and Bee Balm

Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage) is another transplant to this section of the garden; Monarda (Bee Balm) is just starting to emerge in this and several other sections of the garden.

Phlox subulata (Creeping Phlox) has been blooming all over town but started opening only today in this garden.

Creeping Phlox

Phlox divaricata (Woodland phlox) has been a favorite in this garden, but it has not bloomed well in several years.

Woodland phlox

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern Red Columbine) is quickly unfolding in several spots around the garden.

Eastern red columbine

Salvia (Meadow Sage) has started to form buds.

Meadow Sage

An iceberg rose should have been pruned earlier, but it is now getting its leaves. The deer find it delicious. There are several perky mounds of catmint. Sword-like leaves of these bearded iris seem to grow inches daily. The garden also has German, Japanese and Siberian iris and a couple of Dutch iris.

Catmint, Iceberg Rose and Iris

In some ways the garden appears bare but there are many other plants not even mentioned.  The inventory will have to be continued later.  One last thought for today though.

As I go about renovating this garden, I do recognize that improving the overall design and structure (or “bones) will make the garden more interesting year-round.  I have read that just having a collection of plants does not make a garden.  But at this time of year seeing my particular group of plants develop and mature provides immeasurable delight and satisfaction.  It is like having old friends come to visit.  And it feels like a garden.

Meditation Path Plans

Plans for a five-circuit garden labyrinth up to 24 feet in diameter are under consideration as part of the garden renovation.

Contemporary designs may be easier to integrate into this rectangular back yard garden location, but it seems that the circular labyrinth will fit and is the preferred choice.

Over the last few days some basic measurements have been taken and drawings made, accomplished by laying out a grid in the garden composed of 8-foot units and marking it with surveyor flags.  How to orient the labyrinth is unresolved but one idea is to enter from the patio.

Decisions about materials are complicated by budget, maintenance and other feasibility considerations.  Plans now are to kill the grass and mulch the entire circle.  Inexpensive stepping stones may be added for the path.  Small plants will accentuate the path and serve as the walls: candytuft, creeping moss, and thyme seem to be good choices, filled in with annuals this summer.  Lavenders and other small, fragrant plants will be nice as well.  Liriope muscari (not spicata, the creeping aggressive variety) may also help define the path.

Next step is to mark out the path with some temporary surveyor’s spray paint and try to get a feel for the effect of the meditation path.

Garden Path Ideation

Southern Side Path

During this garden renovation some form of a simple meditation path will be created.  The layout for the path is under consideration.  A Chartres-style path would be nice but probably will not work in this small quarter-acre space and a more contemporary, free-form path is appealing.

One aspect to think about is what material to use to build the path.

Red hexagonal or square blocks will be the most inexpensive solution, but the blue slate used currently in the southern side path is attractive and appealing.

Colonial Williamsburg has well-designed formal gardens, many with oyster-shell paths, but the shells are not workable in my garden.

Williamsburg has oyster shell walkways

Path material ideas from local garden tours

Other path ideas noticed on local garden tours might work well:

Large, thick stones are very substantial and evoke permanence. Too costly for now.

Large stones would make a special path

The soft crunching sound of gravel is interesting, but will the gravel be content to stay in place.

Simple gravel path

Curving path

These round stones are effectively placed and would be easier to install than the other options. The various path materials have merits. A simple path like this will work fine for now.

A gentle curving of the path’s direction will give the garden a bit of perspective and help create a journey for the garden visitor.

Time to map out the layout of the garden’s pathways.

Garden Design For Weathering Winter

Attempting to recapture that satisfaction I once found in my perennials, this winter I’ve been assessing and making plans to renovate the entire garden. Looking back at photographs since 2006, the historic record documents many beautiful instances in my garden during spring and summer. Few photographs even exist of this garden in winter.

So this morning I read with interest a New York Times interview with Piet Oudolf on four-season gardening and was charmed and reassured by Mr. Oudolf’s insights and advice.

A goal of my own redesigned outdoor space is to rely more on structure and texture, particularly from trees and shrubs. Flowers will remain a central purpose, but currently the garden all but disappears in winter. Though I already leave many perennials to die back naturally to keep the birds happy and provide winter interest, the present garden configuration does not sustain itself adequately until spring.

When Mr. Oudolf was asked, “What’s important about a garden in winter?” he responded with a lovely summary:

You want a moment in the garden to be quiet. There’s so much to do in the summer, with cutting and keeping up with plants and just enjoying and looking at the garden. Sometimes it’s too much. In the winter you need less to get satisfaction from the garden. If you have only a few plants in the garden in winter, it’s enough to keep it interesting.

I will refer to his statement as I attempt to bring in winter interest to my own garden. Remembering his words will help me find a winter focus.

It has already become clear my garden’s makeover will evolve over multiple years. Although when I started this project I consciously used the term, “renovation” to emphasize big changes were necessary and serious “plans” would be drawn up, now practicality is taking root.  Time and budget restraints are facts.  But one of the best lessons of this assessment and design process has been to engage me, the gardener, with my garden once again.  My interest in the garden has been regained and I will take the time to develop the garden and take the time to observe and enjoy the garden.

In the interview Mr. Oudolf was asked for “final advice for the beginner.” His words were the balm I have been seeking:

Experience starts the moment you start to like gardening. You can’t do it right the first time. You can’t even do it right in a few years. You always see the next step you have to do. Start simply, putting good combinations of plants together, and work from there. You have to go through all the steps. You cannot skip any lessons. That is honest. It’s hard work. But you get something back, that’s the good thing. It’s like raising children. You try to do your best.

I see the next step I have to do.

To read the entire interview see: The New York Times, HOME & GARDEN, Q&A: Piet Oudolf on Designing a Winter Garden, By SARA BARRETT, Published: February 9, 2011. The Dutch designer shares advice on getting the most out of your garden all year round.

Garden Design – Reflections and Plans

Originally the garden layout tried to take advantage of borrowed views to create a larger feel than the back yard of a quarter-acre property might normally command. Wanting to create a neighborly, friendly openness seemed to be the appropriate guide in defining the early perennial borders.

On either side of the yard, the perennial beds were built right up to the property line, allowing the garden to be viewed from the outside of either edge. Several Arizona Cypresses were used to add height and to demarcate the back corners of the property, but a low-growing gardenia hedge was chosen to close off the back edge, leaving a view of several picket fences and architecturally interesting homes to extend the space.

Time moves on. Gardens and gardening goals evolve.  Over time controlling the view year-round has become a more important priority than openness. As most of the perennials die back during the winter, the view degrades considerably, whether one is looking into or looking out of the garden.  Even in June as the perennials are filling out, one can see that the view leads the eye away from the garden.

The lack of screening and the lack of structure or “bones” are leaving the yard overly exposed. The garden offers little sense of privacy and retreat, two characteristics that now will be held up as defining measures of success in evaluating the garden’s renovation.

The view reveals everything at once. The use of designing outside rooms is frequently mentioned as a way to break up space in a garden. Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton, Maryland is an excellent example of this technique.  Unlike that garden mine is quickly and easily read. Except for getting a closer gaze at a particular plant there is no mystery or surprise or discovery.

Concepts for my garden redesign checklist

  • Use screening for controlling views
  • Seek to develop sense of privacy and retreat
  • Consider garden spaces as rooms
  • Include meditation path
  • Create destinations within the garden
  • Add seating to provide different perspectives for enjoying the garden
  • Choose the right plants for the mixed hedge; pruning to maintain size and shape is not an option