Tag Archives: garden renovation

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.

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.

Last Day of May

Canna and Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

Early this morning Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) and Canna waited in the shade as the sun slowly moved to warm these sun-loving perennials.

Echinacea purpurea is native to Eastern USA and bees find it attractive. Later American Goldfinches will enjoy its seeds.

Canna and Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

While it still can this bee should enjoy the Tradescantia (Spiderwort) that abounds in the garden. This week I am making some progress in cutting it back, but am finding it difficult work to remove it by the roots.

Tradescantia (Spiderwort)

Although afternoon temperatures reached 92 degrees, the garden this morning was pleasant and mostly shaded, perfect for welcoming visitors to view the flowers. So when a neighbor and her friend walked by while I was taking pictures in the front side garden, I eagerly asked them to come to the back to see my garden.

This year, more than in any other year, I have felt comfortable with the state of the garden overall and am happy when I can share this place. It is not perfect, of course, but some key garden renovation projects during the last year have made the garden much more cohesive and have given it personality. The meditation circle is one such project and today my neighbor’s friend walked the meditation path, experiencing  a labyrinth for her first time. It was a nice morning in the garden.

Late Winter Garden Notes

Several clusters of cheery daffodils enliven the garden. Adding more spring bulbs, (especially daffodils which the deer resist) would be an easy improvement to make. Usually when it is time to order and plant bulbs I tend to be focused elsewhere. This is a reminder to myself to really do it this fall—plant more Spring bulbs.

By this time last year I had been very active in the garden, planning the garden renovation, pruning, tidying around the perennials, installing a hedge. I have logged many fewer hours this year. Although the need is strong, discipline is lacking. Garden tasks abound. There are weeds to pull, pruning and trimming chores and general cleanup to perform, as well as some paths to redesign, more screening plants to choose and a replacement to locate for the Arizona Cypress that died last year. Note to self: get busy on these projects.

Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion)

Actually two items can be checked off my task list this week. I planted six or seven Rose campions a thoughtful neighbor potted up and saved for me after I lamented that my magenta ones died out several years ago. The garden has many white ones thriving that were planted from seed, but I had missed the red. These three were placed near a lavender, spiderwort and irises.

Penstemon 'Huskers Red'

Another chore completed recently was to finally plant several perennials purchased a couple of weeks ago.  Five Phlox subulata (Creeping Phlox) were added to a front section of the western border.  Many things there had died out over the years, leaving behind mostly a sad area of mulch, so the phlox will add color in Spring and will be mostly evergreen.

Three Penstemons ‘Huskers Red’  went into the meditation circle at turn-around points. The purpose is to provide some visual guidance (and a physical barrier) to clarify where to step next along the labyrinth.

Camellia x `Coral Delight` (C. japonica x C. saluenensis)

The label that came with this Camellia ‘Coral Delight’ indicates flowers should appear December to February. Planted in 2006 on the north side of the house, it actually blooms around March 20th each year. So many plants are opening ahead of schedule this year, it will be interesting to see if that date will hold.

Perhaps a Trout Lily?

In late December I transplanted this mottled-leafed plant and its mossy accompaniment from its home under a beautiful tea camellia at my sister’s house.  Upon seeing it, the name Trout Lily came to mind, but so far I have not found a picture that matches these reddish leaves—trout lilies seem to have green leaves with a mottled pattern.  Time will tell if it will bloom so it can be identified.

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.

2011 – A Garden Review

2011 – A Year of Gardening and Writing

2011 has been a rewarding year for working in this garden and for writing about it as well. On the last day of the year it seems a good time to review pbmGarden entries and remember favorite garden scenes, assess goals and carry over ideas.

2011 Month By Month

January was all about making plans for reviving my interest in gardening.  I wanted to rejuvenate the existing garden and often found myself remembering an older garden that was more special to me: Remembering Gardens and Gardeners.

February was a continuation of reflection, ideation, and assessment. In Reflections On A Rainy Afternoon I made some brief almanac-type observations, weighed the pros and cons of fencing the garden and looked back for inspiration at pictures from prior years. Deer have become a big problem for gardeners in the area and in Garden Plants the Deer Allow Me To Enjoy it was therapeutic to enumerate the many plants that the deer have tended to ignore.

In early March Meditation Path Plans were under consideration and by mid-month I could see the Meditation Garden Taking Shape.

By early April the meditation garden was still the main focus of my attention, but in Encircling The Garden I took time to notice the emerging bearded iris, spiderwort (tradescantia) and more. Digging the labyrinth was a huge job, including an 8-hour stint on Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday. Just two days later came Labyrinth Friday, marking an exciting milestone in the garden renovation. Meanwhile many perennials had emerged and were blooming and it was Time To Enjoy The Garden.

By the first of May the garden was full of Garden Scenes to share. The Meditation Circle was a happy focus. In Transitions and A Few Hours In the Garden Today I made note of  many garden chores that had been accomplished. May was a peaceful time to be grateful and enjoy the pleasures of the garden, as evidenced by Morning Garden Walk.

Early in June, June Vignettes documented historic high temperatures and  told of what an active place the garden had become, home to bees, birds, and butterflies as well as plants. Views Of The Late June Garden seemed a lament of the passing of Spring and acknowledgment of the waning of the garden’s interest.  Yet, the garden continued to be a thriving place.

In July I wrote only three entries, starting with Early July and July Flowers. There were still plenty of blossoms to photograph.  In July Draws To A Close the grass had browned from severe drought and heat and the importance of the garden’s new meditation circle was highlighted.

Nothing in August.

By mid-September the garden caught my interest again and I captured its essence in a four-part series beginning with Blooming In Mid-September  (and continuing with part two, part three and part four). Rain and cooler weather had revitalized the garden and the gardener. A significant feature of the garden from its beginning, an Arizona Cypress “Carolina Sapphire” died and had to be taken out.  This event was noted in A Tree LostSeptember Finale illustrated the garden’s autumn charm.

In October I summarized the creation of the meditation circle: October Meditation On The Meditation Circle. Other posts during this time documented the cooling weather and highlighted many perennials of interest, such as Ginger Lily (in October Flourishes) and Russian Sage.

The weather in November was mild.  I photographed the garden frequently and posted many large galleries such as November ObservationsChrysanthemums Just Before TenDroplets, Webs and Color: Select Details, and Garden Gallery.  During November I did few chores, though it certainly would have been an ideal time.

In December Winter Daphne are already blooming.   So are the Hellebores, earlier than ever, as noted in Late December Vignettes.

2011 – A Good Year In The Garden

This year has been a good one in the garden. Many plans for renovating the garden were completed this year–a screening hedge, a fence and a meditation circle with its own labyrinth. The new fence kept deer away. The meditation circle added a peaceful, meaningful focal point to the garden.  Rains were reasonably frequent, enough to support lush, satisfying growth. So, yes, it has been a good year.

But I am writing about a garden, so there is a new list of tasks. Removing a holly hedge and a dead cypress have left empty spaces for now. Installing the fence changed the usefulness of existing paths and created the need to improve garden access points.   The garden’s design and structure needs improvement.  There are new plants to learn about.  So, yes, there are may tasks.

Thinking about the garden will be a good way to spend these upcoming winter days. Happy New Year!

A Close-up Texture Study

The garden is losing a sense of overall structure as autumn progresses, something I had planned to remedy when I started a renovation project last winter. Indeed there have been enhancements toward this end. The additions of a screening hedge of five ‘Blue Point’ junipers, a white picket fence enclosing the garden and a meditation circle with a labyrinth are all happy improvements. Still, the overall garden framework is and will be a work-in-progress.

Today I have set aside that larger view to concentrate on the textures that reveal themselves when one closely examines individual elements in the garden. With their leaves puddled around their bases or scattered into the neighbors’s yards, a river birch, a pair of crape myrtles and a Chinese elm prominently display interesting bark surfaces.

Chinese Elm

Chinese Elm

Chinese Elm

Chinese Elm

Crape Myrtle

River Birch

The rich green color and fern-like quality of tansy and yarrow leaves are lovely and welcome this time of year.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

Pink Yarrow

With mild temperatures in the seventies the yarrow continues to set buds, set off by the silvery narrow leaves of a nearby lavender.

Pink Yarrow and Lavender

Eastern red columbine adds garden interest year round. Though the colorful leaves are drying now they add contrast to the burgeoning hellebores leaves underneath.

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine)

A Tree Lost

A dying Arizona Cypress “Carolina Sapphire” was removed Tuesday from the northwest corner of the garden where it had grown for almost ten years. One of three small evergreen trees along the back corners of the property line, this cypress not only anchored the garden and provided privacy, it hosted many of the garden’s birds.

Northwest corner "Carolina Sapphire" 9-27-2011

The tree succumbed to some aggressive and apparently ill-timed pruning this past Spring when limbs were removed to accommodate the new picket fence. Sap started rushing out from the fresh cuts and soon the tree began browning. The cypress worsened throughout the summer. Fortunately the two Carolina Sapphires at the southwest corner were unscathed, although they were pruned at the same time.

Northwest corner 9-28-2011

The garden renovation plans begun last winter have been on hold much of the summer. Perhaps finding a replacement for this lost tree will help revive them. The new fence and the meditation circle were successful additions to the garden and now there is an opportunity to make new decisions about the garden’s structure.

Especially in winter this tree will be missed.

Arizona Cypress - January 2011 Snow

Views Of The Late June Garden

Gone is the lush, verdant freshness that characterized the garden in spring.  Summer has arrived.

High temperatures and lack of rainfall are taking a toll on the garden’s charm and beauty as many plants begin to dry and yellow. The grass is browning quickly.

Though the garden has peaked for this year, there remain a few spots of interest.  One such spot is a borrowed view: a neighbor’s striking row of sunflowers add a happy whimsy.

Closer to home, spikes of Liatris Spicata ‘Alba’ contribute interesting texture and plantings of Shasta Daisy, Monarda, and Echinacea add drifts of color, but the garden definitely is losing its overall cohesiveness.

Part of this year’s garden renovation is to evaluate the garden in every stage, through every transition, and to decide how to improve the plantings, extend the blooming period.  Finding success in redesign will allow the garden graceful ways to peak, rest, and recover throughout each season.

In the meditation circle Angelonia angustifolia (summer snapdragon) provides dramatic color, especially the Angelface® Blue.  Ten more angelonia, purchased at a great sale price from Southern States, were added to the labyrinth last Friday.  They are a lighter shade, Wedgwood Blue, but should contribute blooms until the first frost.

The Rudbeckia Hirta ‘Irish Eyes’ has formed buds and will soon add some bright yellow at the back of the west border.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Time To Enjoy The Garden

After all the analyzing, planning, digging, weeding, pruning, and mulching since first contemplating back in January a renovation of the garden, today was a fitting time to settle back and enjoy, relax, and appreciate the plants and the setting. Though the to-do list remains a long enumeration, today was a chance to observe and to just be.

The quiet evening air was punctuated by the sounds of cardinals and robins conversing through the neighborhood as a mourning dove, chickadees, sparrows and a towhee flitted about the garden. The sun lowered gently, highlighting along the way a certain branch of the dogwood, then focusing on several iris stalks to form a tiny vignette. The rains last week and this spring in general have ensured a verdant lawn and vibrant garden scene.

Looking into the garden one sees white bearded iris standing tall and erect. Nearby the eye is drawn to the deep blue of meadow sage, but soon there will be competition from drifts of lavender Phlox divaricata (woodland phlox).

The dogwood dropped the last of its petals this week after its best blooming year yet.

Nepeta (catmint) is opening beneath Lynn’s iceberg rose, which is full of buds and the old-fashioned rose has a few pink flowers already.

Both clematises are strikingly beautiful. This one is Jackmanii, growing just outside the new gate at the southern side path.

The penstemon forms a nice clump and displays rich green and red-hued foliage. Penstemon seems like a good candidate to use in the meditation garden. A visit to the garden center this week may offer up other ideas.

Tradescantia (spiderwort) is a cheery, nostalgic favorite from childhood. Although it tends to move itself around the garden too freely, it is easily one of the most welcome plants in this garden.

 Along the side path grows lavender and another old-fashioned flower, rose campion. Neither is blooming yet. Returning in this same part of the garden is monarda (bee balm), lamb’s ears, and a lovely stand of yellow irises.

Tomorrow chores await but today in the garden, there was time to just enjoy.

Labyrinth Friday, 2011

Including a meditation path in this garden has been one of the goals of the garden renovation project and today marks a huge milestone.

Just ahead of predicted huge storms tomorrow, the basic structure of the 20-foot diameter meditation circle is complete!  Hope the rain will be gentle and kind.

After 27 days of preparation the 3-circuit labyrinth was christened late this evening by a very tired gardener’s celebratory walk.

Thyme, marigolds and candytuft have been set aside waiting for this moment.  Soon the planting can begin to form the walls.  There is always more to do in a garden.

Completed Meditation Circle

Meditation Circle-Birds Eye View

Sunday Almanac

It was a dark and stormy night, producing more than an inch of rain. The sun emerged today eventually bringing temperatures up to 70 degrees.   Tomorrow is forecast to be 87 degrees, not quite enough to top the 1978 record of 90 degrees.

The meditation circle garden is a flooded, soppy mess today so it has not been possible to proceed.

Unnoticed before today, it seems suddenly a few foxgloves have sprung up in the perennial bed at the western border of the garden.

Digitalis purpurea (Foxglove) 4-10-2011

On Flag Day, 2009, the foxglove made a strong statement in the garden.  A richer color would have been a nicer choice perhaps.

Digitalis purpurea (Foxglove) 7-14-2009

The southern path is filling out but does nothing to screen the neighbors’ side yard. This area needs some thought as the garden renovation progresses. There is always plenty to think about in a garden.

Southern path viewed exiting the garden

Encircling The Garden

It was a beautiful day for laying in bricks to edge the meditation circle. There are a few wobblies to straighten, but it is great to have the circle well-defined. Still more soil preparation is needed before the red stepping stones can be arranged to form the labyrinth.

Around the garden many things are growing nicely.  The Hellebores continue to bloom, Eastern Red Columbine is starting to open in various (mostly self-chosen spots), Monarda (bee balm) and all three baptisias are emerging.

An amaryllis from a Christmas past is emerging behind Lamb’s Ears and Yarrow.

The bearded iris which yesterday showed no sign of buds suddenly revealed them today, in different sections of the garden.  These are along the southern side path next to the house.

Rabbits or deer seem to be nibbling the remaining daylilies that still need to be dug out of the garden.  Similarly something for the first time ever has been also eating the spiderwort (tradescantia), an all-time favorite in this garden.  This one, also in the southern side path, somehow escaped being part of the grazing buffet and is the first tradescantia to bloom this year. What a cheerful little flower!

Meditation Garden – More To Do

Progress on the meditation garden and labyrinth is very slow.

The roto-tilling was magical (for about six hours). The next day after the roto-tilling had been completed, rain poured for hours. Normally the rains are welcome in this garden but not this time, as the soil is now all packed and clumped again and will have to be reworked.

A stack of bricks offered by a neighbor more than a few years ago finally are being put to good use to form an edging around the meditation circle.  Setting in the bricks is tedious, but the end result will look nicer than the black plastic edging that had been considered at first because of its practicality.

Each step of the way this project has been a challenge.  The work creeps along.

Other garden news: the new fence is scheduled to be installed early next week.  There still are a few plants to relocate before the workmen arrive.  Especially in a garden, projects beget projects.


Progress On The Meditation Garden Circle

Amazing progress. Rains were expected starting with occasional showers this morning, but they never arrived. We need the rain desperately, but its delay gave me time to complete the excavation stage of the meditation circle in the garden. For the most part I stopped counting the hours spent on the job this week, but I clocked 5 hours today. Now after four days, the digging is done.

The grass has been turned over within the entire area of the garden circle. Left behind are clumps that must now be chopped up and smoothed, but the work seems manageable now.

Meanwhile the garden is changing daily and chores are accumulating.  Some plants need to be divided and those daylilies the deer love so much are growing taller and getting tougher, stronger roots with each hour that passes.  As much as I enjoy them, they must go.

The Eastern Red Columbine has a delicate pale green leaf, but the flower itself was today’s attraction as a bit of red is beginning to be revealed.

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern Red Columbine)

The spirea continues to be beautiful and full.


The flowering dogwood is going to make a fine display this year.

Flowering Dogwood

Meditation Garden Taking Shape

This early morning bird’s-eye view shows the placement of the meditation circle within the overall garden.  I love that the circle seems like a peace symbol.

Digging out grass to form the meditation labyrinth has become a meditation in itself.

Having underestimated the task of cutting up and turning over the existing sod I have spent seven or eight hours outlining the circle with a spade, then moving around the circle’s interior.  The back right-hand section has been cut into strips and just need to be flipped over, but many more hours are needed to complete the labyrinth.

The weather yesterday, when the bulk of this digging was accomplished, was close to perfect for the task at hand.  A few clouds moved in and out, the sun warmed the air but was not intense. Low humidity made the day very pleasant.

As I worked, a few distractions, voices, lawn mowers and such, drifted into my consciousness then out again as a satisfying rhythm emerged.  The repetition of the work provided a meditative manta. Lift the shovel. Force it straight down. Rock it back and forth. Lift up the sod. Lift the shovel…

The meditation garden is taking shape in form and purpose.

Meditation Path Design

With calculations, marking paint, surveyor flags, rope, a Sharpie, and a very patient husband, the labyrinth design for my meditation garden took on three dimensions today and I was able to walk around the path.

The entrance to the 20-foot diameter labyrinth is located at the edge of the patio. The center has an 8-foot diameter, large enough to hold a bench.  Distance between the walls is 2 feet. The walls themselves will be formed of small mounds of perennials such as candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) and thyme, filling in with annuals such as French marigolds.

This area of my renovated garden will be a peaceful spot to practice meditation and enjoy being outdoors.

pbmgarden Labyrinth Design

Spirea Inspires

In two more days it will become official, but why wait? When the spirea blossoms fill the western border Spring has made its way to the garden.

Anticipating this day back in January, I had guessed the spirea blooms would open up two weeks ago.

An impetus for renovating the garden is reinvigorating the outdoor space so there are interesting views year-round.

This morning the garden looks tidy with fresh mulch and newly mown lawn, but seeing vast expanses of bare mulch is not part of the plan. Later in the spring as the perennials begin to fill out this will be less of an issue. Ideally though the plantings and not the mulch should dominate and guide the eye, even in late winter and early spring.

A trip to my favorite garden center yesterday was fun.  Picked up a small container of  emerald blue phlox (phlox subulata). Also found a Sweet William (dianthus barbatus), a nostalgic, old-fashioned plant which I meant to plant as seeds last fall.

Today will be sunny and 80 degrees.

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.

Reflections On A Rainy Afternoon


Rain showers started around lunchtime on this fifty-degree late February day, prompting a delay in planting some newly acquired iberis sempervirens (candytuft) and two new Daphne odora. The garden should be mildly refreshed, but much more serious rainfall is needed.

Fence and Hollies

During the last several weeks the idea sprang up (once again) of completing a fence around the garden to help provide a backdrop for the perennials. The recent, extensive pruning of hollies, gardenias and cypresses was done to clear the property line, just in case.

Complicating the decision about getting a fence are a dozen needlepoint hollies that were installed in 2001 as foundation plants along the back of the house.  The hollies came as part of the builder’s landscaper package without a red alert indicating they would grow enormous roots that could endanger the foundation eventually.

Several of the hollies will need to be removed to make way for the fence.  Should they all just come out now?  Descriptions of how to wrestle them out of the ground make it clear the undertaking would not be for the faint-of-heart.

The idea of putting in a fence is using up a lot of time and energy.  It would be costly as well. The resulting improvement would greatly enhance and elevate the garden’s overall structure and beauty.

Reminders – Why Garden?

Scenes from this garden in previous years propel, excite and encourage me to continue working through the garden’s renovation details.

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.

New Juniper Hedge

The installation of five junipers along the southern border this weekend marked the satisfying start of some renovation work in the garden.  The selected plants, Blue Point Junipers, are medium growing, pyramidal, coniferous evergreens.  Blue Points are deer-resistant, drought tolerant, like sun, and will fill in to make a nice screening hedge.

The final height and spread will not be known for some number of years.  The garden center itself had contradictory information, but for this garden the is for 8-10 feet tall with 3-4 feet spread. Should they end up with 10-14 feet height, that would be ok; but a 4-8 feet spread would likely be too crowded.

Family: Cupressaceae
Genus: Juniperus
Species: J. chinensis
Juniper chinensis ‘Blue Point’

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.

Pruning My Garden Options

Renovating the garden this year is exciting, yet overwhelming.  There are so many decisions; sometimes they seem to be firmly made.  Another day, the doubts are back.  A bit like life itself.

Visiting a garden center today did little to help finalize plant choices. Camellias.  What a lovely choice for a hedge: evergreen and very Southern. With the right selections, there could be blooms throughout the year or all at once in a mass of soft color.  But–is there too much sun; will the deer ruin them; do they require too much water?

Juniperus chinensis ‘Spartan’.  Possibly a good choice, but will it get too tall and overpower the perennial beds?  The winter color seems drab. Can make-do without a lot of watering, once established — a necessity for survival in this garden.

The garden center had some 3-4 foot pots that would make great accents in the garden. Using several of these would add height immediately, so smaller, less expensive specimens could make a big impact right away.

A meditation path still holds intrigue.  Stepping stones interplanted with creeping thyme would awaken the senses and offer a joyous way to experience the garden.  My old garden had such a path, and although it had not been conceived as a meditation path, each step did lead friends laughingly through the phlox, iris, coreopsis, zinnias, gladioli.

May decide to enclose the yard with a four-foot picket fence, the only style and height allowed in the neighborhood, having already installed the maximum amount of six-foot privacy on one side several years ago.  An expensive option, the deer could breech it, but might it deter them some?

It is not hard to select numerous things that would make a garden wonderful.  The difficulty is pruning my garden options.