Sunday, May 31, 2009

Arching Bells

Maybe because its Latin name could inspire fear in any designer, or maybe because it isn't seen often, but Nectaroscordum siculum ssp. Bulgaricum should be used by more garden and landscape designers. A bulb, hardy from zones 6-10, it is delicate yet architectural with mauve, ivory and pale green bells arching from a single stem. N. siculum is sometimes called the Sicilian Honey Lily or sold as Mediterranean Bells. It is another underused plant that deserves more attention.

I have used it in my garden as well in those of several clients. The deer don't eat it and it starts its show right after the alliums--to which it's related. The leaves, like alliums, aren't terribly attractive and can easily be hidden by careful planting design that allows N. siculum to punctuate shorter plants with more interesting foliage. The first time I saw it in a garden, its companion was Hosta 'Sum and Substance' and the combination stopped me in my tracks.

A European native, this bulb is easy to grow in sun or partial--so easy in fact that these have been slowly multiplying in an abandoned garden near here for as many years as I can remember.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Long ago I lived in Lille...France that is

I have long been fascinated with all things French. I even went so far, years ago, to live there for a while. Not in romantic Paris or sunkissed Aix en Provence, with its fields of lavender, but rainy, industrial Lille. My only garden there was a pot of geraniums on my kitchen balcony to brighten up the grey skyline view.

Even though the photographs evoke the grey that, for me, is unique to northwest France, imagine how thrilled I was to find the work of Frank Lefebvre and his company Blue Nature. Primarily interior, there are outdoor pieces as well. Some designs are modern and clean lined while others are traditional flights of fancy.

Inspiration--This would make a wonderful deer fence for any garden

I just flat out want this...for me or one of my landscape design clients

Using petrified, reclaimed and untreated wood this company, based near Lille, crafts beautiful and evocative pieces that honor and respect the materials they are made from. Isn't this what the best garden design does also?

Clean and crisp--fusing ancient and modern
Just because--again a great inspiration piece

All photographs: BLEU NATURE – Sarl BN HOME Photographers : Didier Knoff and Gilles Piat

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I started thinking about this when all of my white shrubs bloomed at once this spring. They are supposed to bloom in a kind of sequence. The absence of color was just as, if not more powerful, than a garden full of color.

Just the spireas--lilacs & fothergilla were blooming too

I know the idea is not new, but white has a symbolic power beyond the absence of color and I think it's appropriate for our times.

The staircase at Chanel for the 2009 Haute Couture collection
photo via Chanel

A puff of dandelion seeds (plenty of those around here)

A lace table cloth


Nautical ropes

Weathered Picket Fence

Dodecatheon meadia--native and beautiful
Photo via

White wicker

The White Garden at Sissinghurst
photo via Meade/

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Often way over my head

My neighborhood has some unusual street trees. A few blocks away there's a solid block of Sweet Gums (Liquidambar stryaciflua) that make an incredible tricolored foliage show in the fall and an unbelievable knee high mess when they shed their macelike fruit. Bags and bags of them are heaved to the sidewalk by the homeowners who have to rake them from front yards, sidewalks and hell strips.

Anyway, when I was out for my early morning walk today I noticed a young, low branched Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) in bloom. An eastern native, it's not often I get to see these exotic flowers at eye level as the trees in my parts are tall, tall, tall and their blooms are usually 50-60-70 feet above my head.

A sun kissed 'tulip'

Monday, May 25, 2009

Talking to Myself

I have in some way and in fits and starts kept a journal for years. There have been times when just the act of chronicling what ever was happening in my life has helped me sort it out. As a teenager they consisted of pages and pages of laments, descriptions of parental and personal drama, social slights and ad hoc adventures.

After graduating from art school I starting making illustrated journals in black bound sketchbooks and for years I kept them safely in a box to be looked at now and then. Ten years ago, all but one of these sketchbook journals were destroyed in a basement flood.

Studies for a series of landscape inspired brooches circa 1977

What wasn't destroyed were the two new types of journals I had been keeping. In dated composition books I kept a series of garden journals. My garden composition books were often carried with me to the nursery, library or bookstore. My first designed garden is in one. Although I have an extensive design education and years of experience, I am a self taught gardener. My garden journals contained sketches, ideas, bloom times, receipts, plant labels all types of information that I wanted to remember.

A page of one of my garden composition notebooks

In small sketchbooks I kept travel journals. Since I have always had to travel on the cheap, these journals became souvenirs of my adventures. I recorded descriptions of places and made collages of tickets, postcards and sketches. Ephemera was collected and the notebooks were created on the go. They were a record of where I had been in the world larger than my own backyard.

From a trip to London in 2001

In both of these new journals there were also tidbits of the old journals--personal notes and the occasional lament.

When I first started writing Miss R, I didn't realize that it would evolve into a new type of journal. The first year was stop and go, and I didn’t really pay much attention to the content or frequency. Now I realize that the content is really an extension of my years of writing about my life. No, I don't often write about personal drama, but I do definitely write about the way I feel about what I do. I also write about places I've been and plants I've seen and post drawings, designs and other tidbits of my creative life.

A recent page from my current notebook

I still carry a notebook with me to jot down ideas, plant names, or make a quick sketch of something--although digital pictures have replaced some of my sketches. I realize that recording my ideas and experiences has been part of my life long creative process.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Field Trip--Upper Montclair

I have a soft spot for bearded Iris. I use them often in the gardens I design. They are reliably deer resistant and I like their sculptural blooms and their grey green spiky foliage.

Each May, when I was a teenager, my mother and I would go to a neighboring town during bloom time to visit Mr. Grey--an Iris expert who grew and sold hundreds of varieties in straight rows in his suburban yard. We would choose one or two to try in my mother's garden. I still have a yellowed and much cherished typewritten sheet that I follow from Mr. Grey explaining his best practices for dividing, cleaning and planting the tubers. I learned from Mr. Grey that the easiest way to keep track of when to divide iris is to do so every presidential election year.

Yesterday was a glorious, perfect day. Off I went to Upper Montclair to the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens.

One of the long Iris borders at Presby and the crowd of admirers

Van Gogh's Iris, 1889 (Getty Museum)

Iris at Presby Iris Gardens 2009

It's close by--less than 30 minutes away, yet I'd never been at bloom time before. Consistent here, Iris start on May 15. Of the 3000 varieties in the garden dating back to the 1500's, here are a few of my favorites.

Thornbird (1988)

Auntie Em (2007)

Quaker Lady (1909)

Gracchus (1884)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Fringe Benefits

I love our native fringe tree, Chionanthus virginicus. Hardy to zone 3, it is delicate, fragrant and underused in the landscape. Sometimes I see it used here as a multi-stemed shrub, but seldom as a mature understory tree.

I've used it in gardens as a shrub, but never as a tree--I will after this week. On a road I have driven down hundreds of times, there it was in full glorious bloom, at a bus stop on Mountain Avenue in Springfield.

The Fringe tree on Mountain Avenue


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dreaming of Other Places

I have itchy, gypsy feet. When the weather gets nice my longing to pick up and go gets worse.

I want to go some place exotic--full of color, odd sounds and history.


I want to go some place I've never been that will inspire me.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I need to get outside of my comfort zone.


Maybe it's just the May-hem of being a landscape designer at this time of year causing me to want to escape.

Yellowstone National Park

Don't get me wrong--I love what I do, but I need to recharge and my creative batteries sometimes need a jump start.

Nikko Temple, Japan

Travel does that for me--it jolts me into a new direction every time.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

I've always had wanderlust and have luckily been able to indulge it on mostly a whim. When I was younger with less responsibility, I'd just pack a bag and go.

Fez, Morocco

Now it's not so easy. I dream of the places I want to see and save and save until I can afford to go. One of the above will be next.

First Year Snapshots

Yesterday on my way to somewhere else, I stopped at a garden I designed and installed last fall. The design mostly followed the footprint of a formal garden that had fallen into ruin--the concrete pond was there as was a crumbling low garden wall. I updated it and designed a scheme of mostly deer resistant plants--the exceptions being roses and daylilies planted at the owner's request.

These are not the best photos I've taken and I usually don't photograph gardens in their first season --they need time to fill in. First year photos are like taking baby pictures--the gardens are going to morph and mature and come into their own as they grow--and really they're just another cute baby. I made an exception yesterday since really liked what I saw.

Upper and lower borders--the wall is very old-and was covered with ivy

Lower border--it has a sequential bloom pattern

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chelsea Flower Show Junkie

Yes, I admit it. I'm a Chelsea Flower Show junkie and this week it's time for my big fix! I follow the Chelsea Flower Show like some guys follow the Jets. I can't get enough.

I find the gardens to be great sources of inspiration. Flower show gardens, regardless of size are places to experiment and often exciting ideas emerge. I know the Chelsea gardens have huge corporate budgets and I know they're theater, impossibly perfect and created to last a week instead of a lifetime. It doesn't matter...I have to have more, more, more.

Here's a video of this year's Best Show Garden designed by Ulf Nordfjell for The Daily Telegraph:

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Fence from 'Trash or Treasure?'

It's almost finished--glad it didn't get damaged on its trip to and from the dump! Here's the fence. It needs paint and the posts need to be trimmed and capped. A simple loop will keep the gate closed.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Garden Visits--Chester and Far Hills

Accompanied by a friend, who is also a landscape designer, a map and our cameras we set off to see three gardens in Morris and Somerset counties for an Open Days garden crawl. With my trusty point and shoot, I took many more photographs than I have here. Some are for inspiration, some are for reference and others will be shared here later illustrating other posts.

This area of New Jersey is known for its history and tradition. Homes dating from late 18th and 19th century sit side by side with those built in the last real estate bubble. The three gardens we visited were traditional, based in European traditions, and on properties with old homes. All three gardens were several acres, the result of years of vision, personal attention and financial commitment. Aliums were in bloom everywhere. Container plantings were significant players at both Hedgerows and Kennelston cottage forming their own small 'gardens' or creating focal points within larger plantings. I think I'd like to explore containers as a contributor and design element later.

A stone pier, containers and gate at Hedgerows

With the morning's fog still creating an atmospheric haze, down Old Chester Road we drove, our first stop was Dan and Jeanne Will's garden, Hedgerows. For me, the most interesting part of this garden was the woodland. Meandering paths wove in and out of plantings that were in places highly edited and in others self seeded. The combination of intent and abandon was charming.

Self seeded Primula japonica were abundant, as were Myosotis sylvatica

Gravel paths weaving in and out of plantings

A small rustic yet elegantly proportioned summerhouse

Our second stop, Hay Honey Farm, was one of two we planned in Far Hills. I first visited this garden 4 or 5 years ago. This time, the owner requested that photos not be published, so I won't share mine here. A series of gardens included hillside woodland with a beautiful Rhododendron walk, a hayfields with remarkable views across the valley and a Laburnum allee. This garden is well worth the visit.

A gravel path through a shady garden room at Kennelston Cottage in Far Hills

After a drive on dirt and gravel roads through some of the most beautiful country in New Jersey we arrived at our final stop--Kennelston Cottage. This was the most traditional garden of the three. Recently featured in New Jersey Life magazine, Kennelston's gardens are a series of interrelated rooms and vignettes.

The Potager with chimney pot planters

A lovely purple and white poolside planting scheme

The view to the house from the pool