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Entries in garden design (142)


How to Design Exciting Flowerbeds Throughout the Seasons; a book review for

Perennial Companions: 100 Dazzling Plant Combinations for Every Season, Tom Fischer, Richard Bloom & Adrian Bloom, Timber Press

Tom Fischer never fails to dazzle us when he produces his little gems of garden books. This publication contains unusually beautiful photographs that reproduce the intense pleasure that only flower gardening can provide. There are one hundred plant combinations portrayed in this book, not only to admire, but also to inspire readers to create their own beautiful flowerbeds throughout the blooming seasons. For sourcing these exquisite images, we are grateful to the very talented Richard Bloom and Adrian Bloom.

a midsummer to late summer combinationPhoto credit: Richard Bloom and Adrian Bloom, used with permission.Once the gardener has become accustomed to selecting, planting, growing, and caring for perennials, the next step is to use plants to compose visually exciting compositions. Some call it nature’s eye candy. For this project, the garden is a canvas, and the plants are paint colors and texture. This is about flowerbed design and one does not need a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in Design to understand or master it. All it takes is patience and a love for experimentation. Moving plants around, until a beautiful combination is achieved, is not difficult work.

Composing with flowers and foliage is an opportunity for gardeners to connect with the creative side of their brain and to have some fun. By using one’s imagination, one’s eyes, and a shovel, the experimentation does not have to be hard work. If anything, it is quite enjoyable and rewarding. Given the thousands of perennials available for us to work with, and the extraordinary range of plants' shapes, colors and textures, the possibilities for beautiful flower combinations are endless.

early summer combinationPhoto credit: Richard Bloom and Adrian Bloom, used with permission.The purpose of this book, therefore, is to act as inspiration, to help unleash the creativity that lays hidden deep within all of us. No one is exempt from creativity. It is there; one just has to find a way to connect with and coax it out. The visual inspiration contained within this book is for just such a purpose. Open up any page and, instantly, one may become smitten by the beauty of the seasonal compositions.

To achieve this powerful affect, Richard Bloom and Adrian Bloom photographed eye-catching flowerbeds in many world-class gardens. In the UK they found :- Bressingham Gardens, in Norfolk, Eastgrove Garden Cottage Nursery, in Worcestershire, Glen Chantry, in Essex, Hulwood Barn, in Suffolk, Lady Farm, in Somerset, Merriments Garden, in East Suffolk, The Picton Garden, in Worcestershire, RHS Wisley, in Surrey, Scampton Hall Garden, in North Yorkshire, and The Thumbit, in Suffolk.

In the USA, the gardens that were sourced are: - Chanticleer Garden, in Wayne, Pa., New York Botanical Garden, in Bronx, NY., and Dennis Schrader’s and Bill Smith’s Garden, in Mattituck, NY. Some of the designers whose work is represented in this compilation of seasonal beauty include Adrian Bloom, Judy Pearce, Tom Stuart-Smith, Piet Oudolf, and Ann James.

mid-spring to late spring combinationPhoto credit: Richard Bloom and Adrian Bloom, used with permission.So that there is no mistake about the artistic purpose of the book, only some technical information about portrayed plants is provided; the author wisely recommends further online research for any needed elaboration. After all, this publication is a visual stimulant, not a primer.

Although I have written about this before, it must be repeated that the beautiful graphic design, that identify Tom Fischer’s Timber Press books, transform them into thrilling must-haves for gardeners - books so versatile that they may also serves as hospitality gifts, token presents, and stocking stuffers.



A "Renaissance Man" Writes About Landscape Design

Envisioning the Garden, Line, Distance, Form, Color, and Meaning, by Robert Mallet, Norton & Co.

This is no ordinary book on landscape and garden design. The author’s sublime, poetic writing takes this publication out of the mainstream and raises it into a class by itself. What also makes the work exceptional is that Mr. Mallet has successfully integrated several disciplines of study to create one inspiring work.

In a friendly style, reminiscent of the passionate English garden writers of the first half of the twentieth century, the author introduces the reader to the primal significance of good landscape design, with references to the physics of optics, the anatomy of the eye and brain, the psychology of perception, and the fundamentals of pure design.

Mr. Mallet’s multi-discipline approach is reflected in the book’s original French title: - Optics of the Garden; Enlarging Space and Liberating the Spirit.

An illustration from the book: Staircase with Campanula porscharskyana.The author elaborates the details of his thesis in seven chapters in which he discusses lines and punctuation, scale, distance, forms, textures and lighting, colors, other senses that have an impact on a garden, and the search for meaning in landscape design. The book concludes with a short, inspiring summary of the author’s philosophy on the subject of gardens.

An illustration from the chapter A Search for a Meaning.To illustrate the breadth of the author’s intellectual horizons, consider an excerpt from a chapter on scale.  When discussing miniature gardens in a paragraph titled “Elasticity of mental markers; bonsai gardens”, the author reports: - This representation on a smaller scale of a much larger natural world is intended to liberate us from our everyday environment and to allow us to escape into an idealized world. It can even serve as real therapy for people who are trapped inside their own mental universe.

Illustration from a discussion on distance and perspective.On each of the 143 pages, Mr. Mallet shares fine details of landscaping concepts that are sometimes overlooked by other writers. For example, he elaborates on the art of lopsidedness, illusion and staged effects, false perspectives, verticals in front of horizontals, shadows, placing jagged forms in front of ovals and rounds, nuance rather than contrast, placing cold colors in front of warm colors,  proprioception - a sixth sense that improves how we see by using sound and smell - and the emotional dimension of a garden.

Few books on the subject of landscaping touch the soul of the reader with the depth of meaning that Mr. Mallet has successfully imbued in his writing. While many of the examples, diagrams, and illustrations are drawn from large estates, the fundamentals are universal and applicable to gardens of all sizes.

Reviewed for



An Environmentally Friendly Garden Material.

Elephant Seat, dimensions: 23"L x 21"W x 31"H - Weight: 35 pounds Imagine visiting an outdoor- decor store to purchase a high quality lawn ornament only to discover that the concrete products are uniformly monotonous and dull looking. There are more attractive synthetic versions available but they are unacceptable. A respect for the sustainability of our planet makes one cringe at the thought of buying a garden fixture that resembles clay or concrete but in reality is made from polluting synthetic resins.

There is another choice. One can now choose products made with a material that is in harmony with nature. It’s called CompoClay. This eco-friendly substance is an alternative to common hazardous materials such as petroleum based resins and polyurethane foam.

Kobe Lantern, dimensions: 15.75"L x 15.75"W x 23.75"H. - weight: 43 poundsAfter seven years of research in Hong Kong, an innovative medium has been developed that emulates wood, metal, stone and concrete, without sacrificing safety or durability. Surprisingly, it is made primarily of abundant, naturally occurring land minerals, as well as sand, sea salt, water, safely recycled fly ash - a coal combustion byproduct that would otherwise go into landfill - and lightweight glass fibers for strength. Consequently, this material does not pollute the environment.

Here is a truly green product. VOC-emissions free, it has a low carbon footprint, produces minimal manufacturing waste, has a clean product life, is non-combustible, and is free of fire toxins.

Buddha in Meditation, dimensions 17.75"L x 9.75"W x 28"H - Weight: 36 poundsThe CompoClay company in the USA imports and distributes decorative interior and exterior products made with this material. It is such a versatile medium that the company also offers a custom service for designers requiring original items for their projects. Almost any look or feel is achievable and existing objects and product designs can be easily reproduced. Basic finishes, displayed on their website, include seven ceramic, seven metal, twenty-four wood, four painted, six stone, and seventeen concrete.

Because it is an extremely durable material with superior weather resistance, CompoClay may be used in the garden for sculptures, lanterns, planters and ornaments. It is highly resistant to UV radiation, moisture, free-thawing and thermal shock and is coated with a water-based sealant that preserves its finish and durability.

Sapporo Lantern, dimensions: 16.25"L x 16"W x 41.25" H - Weight: 64 poundsThis material first came to my attention when my daughter sent me a link to an online site selling a  Japanese style garden lantern made from an environmentally friendly substance. I was so intrigued with the concept that I contacted the company for background information. I am pleased to share these details with my readers.

An online store is available at California readers in the Bay Area may visit showrooms in San Francisco and Alameda. Addresses are on the company website at


Beautiful Plants: Can There Ever Be Too Many?

Azalea gardens, from

When the renowned landscape architect Wolfgang Oehme died last December, one of his pet peeves was reported frequently in various tributes to his lifetime accomplishments. Oehme abhorred Azaleas. Not only did he find them ubiquitous, but he also found their green foliage boring after the shrub stopped blooming.

 I am not comfortable with his assessment.

Azalea closeup courtesy of

The first time I saw azaleas, I was overwhelmed with joy. I thought I had magically stepped into a Technicolor Walt Disney movie. It happened when I first visited Rockland County, New York at the height of the blooming season; I was euphoric. 

Once, azaleas were new to me. I had never seen them growing in my area - that is until recently, after they were bred to be winter-hardy. Some might say that if I had grown up in a temperate climate, where they grow abundantly, perhaps like Mr. Oehme, I too might tire of them.  

But I doubt that would ever happen. Those of us who are moved by colorful flowers will admire them where and when we can, no matter how short the time to enjoy them.

The family, including rhododendrons, is quite versatile. Its  many varieties have proven to be visually effective even when used as foundation plants. Flowering shrubs in this group create a win-win situation for the gardener. They provide lush clouds of vivid color in late spring, followed by a proscenium of green foliage that not only enhances later blooming perennials and also camouflages the homes’ foundations. I will never tire of using them.

Understandably, it is an aspect of human nature that ubiquitous plants will annoy some gardeners and turn a few of them into horticultural elitists. They observe the same plant used so often, and in so many locations, that they cannot  bear to look at it. The question remains: - why do the rest of us continue to plant them? Because they are reliable.

Wild eupatoreum,

Endless miles of native species of eupatorium, asclepias, and achillea that I observed as a child on summer holidays left me hating these native perennials. Later in life, I would deliberately avoid using them. Then, one day, I noticed new cultivars bred from these families, growing in a neighbor’s garden; I was impressed how attractive they appeared.

That inspired me to reconsider my attitude and I began to incorporate them into my work. When they were combined with other plants to create impressive combinations, they proved to be among the more dependable specimens in my flowerbeds. Now, they are the workhorses that help make my gardens beautiful.

Hemerocallis Stella d'Oro,

A similar case can be made for Hemerocallis Stella d’Oro, and Knock Out Roses. They are considered by some to be good-old-reliables; they grow anywhere, pump out endless color, and return season after season with little effort from the gardener.

Knock Out Rose,

That they have become ubiquitous should not make us cringe upon seeing them. They are effective wherever they are used. It is fortunate that, living in unpredictable and changing climates, we can count on them to awake and rebloom each season.

In deference to the late Mr. Oehme, I understand his reaction to the seas of azaleas he discovered when he first arrived in America from Europe. Perhaps it is because he took up residence in a temperate climate that he disliked them so. Wherever endless varieties of plants grow in abundance, one has the privilege of selecting and discarding them at will. After all, there are so many from which to choose that eliminating one or several from one’s repertoire is not a serious matter.

We northerners cannot behave so cavalierly in our gardens. We work with a restricted list of plants that withstand our cold climate and short growing season. Consequently, we are appreciative of all beautiful plants. No matter how often they occur in the gardens around us, we never tire of looking at them. We are just grateful.


Brunnera Jack Frost; Does it Really Need a Perennial of the Year Award? 

Photo by Walters Gardens, Inc.

Recently, the Perennial Plant Association selected Brunnera Jack Frost as Perennial of 2012. Many of my garden writing colleagues reported this news as the innocuous, recurring, marketing strategy that it is; except for one who was unhappy. This garden writer argued that such awards are responsible for taking exquisite, unusual, and beautiful perennials and turning them into common, over used ones. I disagree.

I believe that how a plant is used, that is, where it is placed and how it is combined with other plants, is more important than its exclusiveness. There are flowerbeds around the world that have been designed effectively with the most common perennials, and yet they capture our attention with their artistry.

For example, a wild Rudbeckia perennial self-seeded in one of my most successful flowerbeds. I used to dislike this plant; I was never a fan of its gold and black coloration, and it is seen in almost everyone's garden on the street.  Nevertheless, combined with the taupe-brown tone of the home’s façade, the yellow Rudbeckia’flowers looked amazing; they took my garden design to a level higher than I could ever have imagined possible.

I do not feel that my professionalism is compromised when an exquisite, rare, unusual plant earns award-winning status and becomes ubiquitous. I am unmoved when these gifted plants are used in every parking lot across the country. What I do care about is that they will be used. I, for one, will continue to design with them.

From a business perspective, it is effective marketing to designate one perennial as special. At the nursery or in a mail order catalogue, when a plant is flagged to be out of the ordinary, it draws consumers’ attention. That may determine which plants the customer will buy.

While this tactic may be of no value to seasoned, knowledgeable gardeners, I’ll bet it comes in handy for the less-than-omniscient gardener, overwhelmed by the vast number of plant options. Believe it or not, some are delighted to have choices made for them in the guise of an award winning perennial. It makes the selection of plants easier.

So thanks, but no thanks, for the Perennial of the Year awards. I don’t need them, neither do any of my colleagues. However, I know many gardeners who do. Anything that helps a homeowner create a more beautiful garden is an asset to our industry.

Photo by Walters Gardens, Inc.

With this year’s selection of Brunnera Jack Frost our secret is revealed. Now, EVERYONE will know about the sublimely beautiful shade plant that turned all my clients’ sunless gardens into sculptural collages. The texture of its foliage is a work of art and the white highlights on the green leaves capture daylight to make this plant glow in the shade.

Brunnera Jack Frost will illuminate a dark spot in the garden, from early spring until late fall. In spring, mature clumps of this no-care perennial will produce frothy bouquets of light-blue flowers to touch the hearts of all.

Oh! I forget to mention its elegance. Holy Cow, what elegance!  In every garden, no matter how messy or haphazard the flower composition, this plant exudes serenity and good taste.

If this perennial becomes over used, as it surely will by the end of the 2012 season, some designers will feel uncomfortable using it to create a flowerbed with an original, exclusive vision. That is exactly what lies at the heart of the disdain for the Perennial of the Year award. It may be good for retail business, but as designers, it’s not good for ours. Few, if any, should sympathize with us. Instead, rejoice that another great plant has been "found".