Entries in garden design (138)

Saturday
Sep212013

I Didn't Charge for My Gardening Advice.

My financial adviser Billy called me the other day and asked if I would offer garden design advice to one of his neighbors. The wife is undergoing chemotherapy and has determined that a revamp of her tired-looking garden would be an ideal project to put back some balance into her life. Their garden truly needs a major overhaul and I was pleased to offer suggestions; I even recommended the name of a handy man that can do it economically. The husband is on board with the project and eager to make it happen.

When I first heard the family name of these neighbors, I smiled. Their two children had been classmates of my two daughters in elementary school over thirty-five years ago; both children and parents are among the nicest people my wife and I had ever met. That our two families did not develop a long-term relationship was a loss. We lived at opposite ends of town and our paths did not cross outside the schoolyard.

Given the unusual three-way relationship between us all, professional fees seemed  inapropriate and my wife inquired how I intended to handle this matter. I replied in a nano-second and without deliberation. There would be no charge for this meeting.

My decision was not influenced by the fact that the wife is ill or by the warm disposition of these extraordinarily nice people. I took my cue from Billy. He is my role model for generosity of heart. If he asks for help on behalf of another person, I will offer it for the same fee that he has been charging me for the past twenty years, whenever I rely upon him to help me navigate through choppy and unfamiliar waters, i.e. there is no charge.

Before becoming a financial adviser, Billy was an architect with a background in commerce, housing developer, and renovator. In those roles, he took upon himself the responsibility of guiding some of his clients through financial crises that might have otherwise caused them to lose their homes. That serendipitous kindness, combined with a facility with numbers, led him naturally into his present career as a financial adviser.

During the past twenty years, he has worn several hats in our relationship with him. While renovating our home, inadvertently he became our personal therapist due to the trauma and upheaval that the project created. When I retired from industry, he guided me through the maze of bureaucracy so that I might ease into my golden years with dignity. Now, whenever there is maintenance to be done around my home, I ask for his opinion. That counsel is offered with enthusiasm and sincerity; usually, I receive instructions for a solution and the name of a handy man or contractor whom he has already vetted for competence, reliability, and affordability. Later, he will inquire if the recommended tradesperson satisfied my needs.

In all the years that we have known him, whenever my wife and I have leaned upon Billy, and it has been frequently, he has never asked for compensation. My calls to him are not screened and my email inquiries are sometimes answered late at night, on weekends and on holidays. At the worst, while communicating by phone, he will sometimes put me on hold in order to comfort another client in distress.

To ease my guilt for taking advantage of his kind nature, I once offered payment when time invested in my issues became excessive and to this day, I will insert a plant into his garden, at no cost to him, when I discover there is a difficult-to-find item or a flower color on his wife’s wish list. The irony is that Billy is a competent weekend gardener and there is very little that I am able to do for him. Recognizing that I have a need to be helpful, he will occasionally contact me for garden advice just to make me feel good.

Realistically, my gestures of appreciation to him will never sufficiently compensate for his accumulated generosity of self. Therefore, when he phoned and asked me to assist his neighbor, I was delighted to do as he does. I passed it forward by sharing my time and knowledge with them without motive, expectation, or compensation. That too, made me feel good.

Sunday
May052013

Plants That Need Companions Can Be Lovely

The setting for this plant composition enhances the appearance of yellow forsythia. I forsook my forsythia many years ago.

In USDA Zone 4 where I garden, this shrub appears unpleasant when it flowers because it grows alone; no other tall shrub is in bloom at the same time and there is no other surrounding green vegetation to offset the seemingly harsh colors of its petals.

Consequently, this plant stands out in dramatic starkness; in my growing zone, forsythia is appreciated solely because it is the first tall shrub to bloom - not because anyone thinks it is pretty. Perhaps more homeowners here might consider it beautiful if complementary plants surrounded it, i.e., flowering shrubs of a comparable height and volume that temper the energy of forsythia’s intense coloration.

Years ago, when I first moved into my home, I found a single forsythia bush planted by a previous homeowner. It was garish-looking against the grey early-spring sky and the still-dormant, straw-colored grass. A specimen of an identical shrub, growing on my neighbor’s lawn, looked no better. In one case, backed by a sober grey stone façade, and in the other, up against a conservatively dark red brick wall, our matching shrubs looked like overly made up courtesans invading a house of worship. In time, both my neighbor and I dug up and discarded our unsightly guests.

In warmer growing zones, where other plants are in bloom at the same time as forsythia and where the colors of home exteriors allow this plant to blend in better chromatically, there is a positive appreciation for this shrub.

The photos posted here were taken on a recent spring trip to Boston, which is located in one growing zone warmer than mine, USDA Zone 5. There, I discovered forsythia blooming in concert with tall, early-flowering intense lavender-pink rhododendron-azaleas. [Yes, that is the new nomenclature] Backed by a light-coloured cream façade that subtly echoes forsythia`s yellow, the results are eye-catching.

The blending of three colors in a harmony of tone and volume creates a delightful visual experience. In addition, the shrub is set among glossy evergreen groundcover that enriches the composition. Dark green raises the number of colors in the composition to four. In such a compatible tonal environment, the yellow-flowering shrub looks beautiful.

This successful combination was achievable for several reasons. First, Boston has a longer growing season than Montreal does. As a result, the early-blooming rhodo-azaleas develop sufficiently tall and wide to balance the energy of forsythia. Secondly, many home exteriors in Boston are surfaced in pleasant light tones that enhance the shades of early-blooming plants. Thirdly, challenging conditions of heat, shade, and drought in some parts of this eastern seaboard city demand ubiquitous planting of evergreen ground cover. The color-rich lushness of these all-purpose problem-solving plants enhances the appearance of nearby shrubs and perennials.

In Montreal, USDA Zone 4, where winter often lingers too long, there are no colorfully blooming shrubs in early spring that reach the volume necessary to moderate the vivid color of forsythia. Sombre toned home exteriors also exaggerate the intensity of its yellow flowers. Furthermore, a more temperate climate allows us to cover our grounds with turf that is rarely green enough at this time of year. As a result, forsythia appears harsh when it blooms and few of my neighbors are inclined to include it in their landscape plans.

Ironically, the one flowering shrub that offends in my home city appears stunning when it blooms in a climate that is merely one growing zone warmer. This observation may be generalized as follows:-  a plant that looks pretty in a catalog, eye-catching in a nursery, or impressive in a friend's flowerbed, may not appear equally beautiful when added to one's own garden. Surroundings can enhance or diminish the beauty of any plant.

Sunday
Mar312013

Tree Tunnels: A Visually Stunning Photo Essay

JACARANDA WALK, PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICAOne doesn’t have to be gardener to appreciate nature’s beauty. I discovered this photo-essay via a friend’s email; she sent it to me after receiving it from a colleague who had copied it from a foreign-language forwarded message received from Europe.

AUTUMN TREE TUNNEL, SMUGGLER'S NOTCH, VERMONT, USAIt is possible that it originated at toptenz.net.

BAMBOO PATH, ARASHIYAMA, JAPANThe power of the images is so moving and pervasive, that readers around the world have been downloading this post and eagerly forwarding it to their contacts.

RUA GONCALO DE CARVALHO, PORTO ALEGRE, BRAZILIt has been re posted on countless other websites, including YouTube. Yet, there has been no accreditation to its originator. This reproduction has occurred even though the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects the content of the original source.

GINKO TREE TUNNEL, TOKYO, JAPANThe photo-list impressed me so that I thought to share it with my readers.

WISTERIA TUNNEL, SHIZUOKA, JAPANHowever, as a blogger, I had an obligation to determine its source. 

CHERRY BLOSSOM TUNNEL, BONN, GERMANYThat created an ethical dilemma because this copyrighted material has already been reproduced without accreditation all over the internet and has been forwarded around the world via innumerable personal emails.

YEW TREE TUNNEL, WALES, UKBy now, some may incorrectly assume that it is in the public domain.

TUNNEL OF LOVE, KLEVAN, UKRAINEUsing a Google search, I discovered that, to the best of my knowledge, toptenz.net is the originator.

THE DARK HEDGES, GRACEHILL HOUSE, NORTHERN IRELANDI would be grateful to any reader who can confirm or correct this information. In the meanwhile, I hope that these images generate as much pleasure for you as they have for me and the thousands of readers around the world who have been sharing them with their friends.

Monday
Mar182013

Fine Foliage for Flowerbeds and Container Gardening, a book review

Fine Foliage, Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz,       St. Lynn’s Press

Sometimes, a gardener will return from the nursery with a car full of annuals and perennials, place them in flowerbeds or containers according to the guidelines of good garden design, and yet, the resulting plant arrangements still look wanting.

Perhaps the gardener forgot about foliage. Foliage is to garden design what fashion accessories are to clothing. Without the addition of the interesting leaves of perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs, annuals, and trees, a garden never seems to be complete.

Image copywrite by finefoliage.comFoliage works as a facilitator. It allows otherwise unintegratable plants to combine successfully with others. It also serves as a proscenium, helping to make a perennial or a combination of perennials and shrubs appear more beautiful. Foliage may also supplies direction, volume, color, texture, visual excitement, movement, and mystery.

However, foliage has another role to play; and that is the theme of this book. When plants that are defined by their leaves rather than by their flowers or berries, are combined with other foliage plants, they provide unusual and spiritual visual drama.

Image copywrite by finefoliage.comThe premise of Ms. Chapman and Ms. Salwitz’s beautiful and delightful little book is that it is possible to create successful, eye-catching plant combinations using foliage alone for flowerbed and container gardening. The publication showcases more than sixty inspired foliage-plant partnerships that illustrate this successful style of garden design, while, at the same time, revealing the authors’ immense talent in that field.

Each combination is given a two-page spread with full-color, exquisite, high quality photographs of the individual plants within. So that readers might achieve similar results in their own garden beds and containers, descriptive directions accompany each grouping. Attention is also paid to important details such as sun or shade requirements, seasons, growing zones, soil preference, plant characteristics and care.

Image copywrite by finefoliage.comHowever, what sets apart this book from other garden design manuals is the focus on helping the gardener… get to “beautiful”. The authors take the time to explain why each of their sixty foliage combinations is successful. This information allows readers to gain a designer’s perspective. That outlook, in turn, will enable them to make better choices; it also encourages gardeners to take risks - all in the hope of creating unique personal landscapes and container gardens.

This richly illustrated guide is full of easy-to-use advice. Gardeners of all skill levels will be able to adapt  instructions to create elegant, stylish, flowerbeds for their gardens and breathtaking, designer-looking, containers for their patios.

Image copywrite by finefoliage.comBoth authors are hands-on gardeners. Karen Chapman is a garden coach, horticulturist, garden writer and owner of a container design company. Christina Salwitz  is a garden coach and garden writer who specializes in garden and container design. The authors live with their respective families in the Seattle area of the State of Washington, in the USA.

                            

Monday
Mar042013

Garden Mentors and Facilitators; A Love Story.

Image copyrighted by Sheila RobertsonScratch beneath the surface of many gardeners’ bio - graphies and one finds inspiring people who influenced and  helped them realize their dreams. Sometimes these pivotal characters are responsible for imbuing a love of gardening; sometimes they are mentors to those who have already discovered a passion for horticulture. Often they are simply generous souls who, by contributing time and energy, help gardeners achieve their goals. A magic occurs when they also become one’s friends for life.

Sheila Robertson, aka Orchard Annie, had left a lenghty commentary on one of my blogs. It was so comprenhensive that I reprinted it in a blog post of its own. Then, I decided that I needed to know more about her. How did she come to amass such a body of practical gardening information?

Inspired by my curiosity, she submitted an informal autobiography in which she pays tribute to the men in her life that facilitated her journey. Serendipitously, inside her narrative, I discovered a romantic thread.

Although she has always been sufficiently strong and independent to “go it alone” and has been proud to do so, several men contributed to helping her realize her garden dreams. By doing so, they also enhanced her horticultural experiences while she travelled abroad or gardened at home. In her own words, excerpted from a mostly unedited first draft, here is Sheila's story.

Image copywrited by Sheila RobertsonAs a stay at home mom of fourteen years living in an owner built home economizing a family of five on a joiner man’s wages, budget and sweat equity are dear friends of mine. I was spoiled by a husband who built cabinetry for the likes of the King of Spain at a world-class yacht works. I only had to envision it and he would create it for me. I learnt to expect quality in my goals: attention to detail is everything, the medium can be budget. My favorite free pastime was checking out books from the library and feasting my eyes on landscape and home design.

When I found myself single and moving 60 miles for work, I had to relearn everything I knew about gardening, such as rabbits in the country are kept in check by hawks, in the burbs they are a nightmare!

I had researched what would add value to the home as I planned to stay only the few years until my youngest was out of school, so I set to work on low maintenance, best value curb appeal: evergreens, flowering shrubs, long lived perennials and, because this neighborhood is chock-a-block with dense shade trees of gigantic potential, small ornamental trees to create privacy and dappled shade.

High volume at work meant 20 hours of overtime weekly; exhausting but it afforded me the indulgence of several trips to Europe.

A view of the RHS Gardens at Wisely; image copyrighted by Sheila Robertson.One of the most vivid and haunting memories of all my travels was touring the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens at Wisely in Surrey, acclaimed the best of all the RHS. No form of garden is unrepresented and each is done to perfection. At every turn there is a breathtaking surprise.... turn round to see where you’ve been, the changed perspective offers a whole different delight. Their extensive arboretum is also aesthetically laid out, not a hodgepodge of species as so many are.

So there I was, gob stopped with awe looking about me and wishing I had someone to share this with, someone who appreciated the beauty… someone who appreciated me.

A bus had arrived and the passengers milled past I noticed many were smiling white haired couples hand in hand, enthralled by the magic only a garden paradise can bring, so touchingly in love with the world and each other.  I said to myself, “That’s what I want. Of every wish in life, I would be exactly like them.”

On returning home, I signed up on Match UK with the headline, “Would you care to show a lady from the States around Surrey?”…, wonderful friends to be made online! The extraordinary glimpses into British life these friends afforded me can’t be found in any guided tour I’d been on through the Visit Britain website. 

Orla, a manageress at my circa 1600 hotel and now dear friend, introduced me to her friend Clive via a phone call. An hour later, this enthusiastic hiker and history buff was leading me through woods to a lonely disused Norman church upon a steep ridge overlooking a valley. In the UK, building is restricted to certain areas, the effect is awe-inspiring: islands of dwellings in a sea of green farmland with waves of crazy quilt hedgerows.

Clive showed me his favorite estates, a centuries old mill turned into a restaurant with water wheel on display in operation, obscure village museums and most importantly, before I owned GPS he would drive me through the route I’d be on the days I was alone. I never tired of fitting in several stops every day, each home unique, each garden a revelation of how the same plants in bloom can paint a whole different picture.

I had several outings with an exceedingly well-mannered Protection Officer from New Scotland Yard who had worked with the Royal Family. He was my personal tour guide at Windsor Castle, so amazing the attention to detail, plus the tale of a ghost he had witnessed! The moat surrounding the Round Tower is a steep bank of landscaped splendor with black swans in the water far below…

On a trip the following year, I truly thought I was destined to live in England when I met Franklyn…….so like-minded and in love with touring estates, hiking sheep-dotted pastures and oceans of bluebell-coated woodland… and letting a pocket guide to the best pubs in England direct us over hill and dale down idyllic country lanes to cross-road hamlets and fantastic meals.  Then the recession hit so hard that neither of us could travel and I haven't returned to Europe since.

Back in the USA, in 2009, Sheila met Steve through Match.com: Steve is a cheerful, caring and athletic farm boy with degrees in engineering and project management. He admitted to me he usually hated helping in the garden; however, the example I set of loving the process just as much as the finished product (and the subsequent enjoyment of these private havens from the rest of the world!) caused my yard to become his hobby also. It’s just him and me creating these plans…

Image copyrighted by Sheila RobertsonSteve’s engineering skills and school of hard knocks land-use knowledge from the farm are invaluable. He also has a much better eye for fine tuning curves and proportions. The plant materials and placement are my forte; Steve offers suggestions but, as in all things, never insists. I very much appreciate he does not care how I spend my time as long as it’s his choice when he joins in.

Thus far he has designed and built concrete piers to clip the large shade sail over the deck to, a grape arbor with benches, a fountain, a potting bench, several fences and paths, and two 300 gallon water butts (an inch of rain fills both) are replete with pumps for hoses in addition to large taps to quickly fill watering cans.

Image copyrighted by Sheila RobertsonIn a soggy spot of the lawn we dug out an 18-foot diameter circle one foot deep, tiled it, and used up those yards and yards of that ugly stone mulch I detested as drainage gravel sandwiched between landscape fabric to keep the layers from migrating into the clay below and fine black gravel on top. It makes an impressive fire pit area.

What I had once fervently wished for at RHS Wisely is mine! Both Steve and my hair have faded to white, and smiling hand in hand, he takes me to all of the public gardens and museums my little heart desires. I love him dearly. We have many more phases before our own English gardens rival those I fell in love with in Britain; I have no doubt they will be achieved. In all my dreams, I never knew life could be this much rewarding and fun!

Sheila gardens in Wisconsin in USDA Zone 5a. Due to the severity and unpredictability of the Great Lakes weather patterns, she plants only USDA Zone 4 perennials. When I first met her online, I encouraged her to create a blog of her own. Here is a link to her cleverly titled “Scents and Centsability”.