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