Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Plants are Cool

I had this moment yesterday when I was tired and digging dahlias and planting bulbs and feeling the weariness of the long, long season, when I looked up and my heart did a little extra skip beat. And this view caught me by surprise, I never look at this garden from this angle, and the morning light was glaring through the feathertop flowers of the Pennisetum villosum, catching the bronzy colors of the cannas against the glossy green box and then the mighty out-of-place amazing castor bean, towering above me was just so epic and weird. And I thought even with my best (or random) intentions to what I am planting, why and how, the plants will always surprise me and often surpass my wildest dreams.

And I am driving off the road for mums right now. Like this one Chrysanthemum 'Gethesamane Moonlight,' originally from Plant Delights. This has been extremely hardy and has spread to be an enormous clump- this plant doesn't get going until October, which is just fine by me. She's glowing in daylight.
Salvia 'Big Blue' is one of the best annuals, chunky and deep violet blue and tall! Thank you Emily for introducing me to this gem.

I was not a fan of the the Dahlia 'Coltness Hybrids' that I grew from seed this year (too short, too pastel, too compact), but as I was digging them up I decided to keep particular one, yellow with peachy pink blush. This one specimen bloomed well and has a nice shape to the petals. It spurred some discussion about what makes a plant good of the best discussions to have, especially when tired!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

October Flowers

This is the time of year when I love the gardens the most. First of all, the expectations are low. No one is expecting the gardens to be fabulous. Everything that is dead is easily forgiven, and usually quite beautiful with its dried out stalk and seed head, and only occasionally offensively mushy and rotten or something. But no one is expecting flowers. And so the lush flowers of late October are much more appreciated now then they ever would be in high summer. Nastursiums are peaking. Never have they looked better, in the cool crisp air, dry, pristine, and unencumbered- exactly right for this time of year. And when I see them entangled in evergreens, traveling inwards and emerging through gaps and spilling flowers forth, I am brought back to England, specifically to Beth Chatto's when I fell in love with the red Tropaeolum speciosa scrambling through a weighty evergreen tree. At least that's how I remember it.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Cutting Back a Garden

Today I went to cut back a garden and I couldn't do it. It's a classic problem in October. After frost it is time to pull the annuals and put the gardens to rest (when not digging, planting, or planting bulbs).  And then I show up and it still looks like this. It might even be at its very best, at its absolute fullest and most rosy-bronze, with the best lines, sticks and seed heads and still so many flowers. I have to ask myself, 'Would you rather cut this garden back with spitting snow in 30 degrees weather?' If the answer is yes, then I have to leave it for another day- when it probably will be spitting rain and snowing and I will curse my past self.

And this grass- when it starts to bloom with that late afternoon back light illuminating the soft fluffy flowers- I keep thinking it is alive somehow, covered in hundreds of wooly caterpillars. The colors too, it is bronze pink orange, but dusky too, with gray and mauve. I can never capture the way it looks and certainly not the way it makes me feel. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The World Garden

I have been digging around in the archives and came up with some great photos of a trip I took to see The World Garden at Lullingstone Castle in Kent, England.  The garden is arranged by continent, planted with flora indigenous to each place. It is a plant collectors garden, but really beautifully arranged, not in the standard plant, place, plant, place kind of way; it felt much more meandering, intermingled, and wild. It is the collection and design of Tom Hart Dyke, a plant hunter to the max, who even survived a kidnapping while on an expedition through the Darien Gap in Panama. While held captive, Tom Hart Dyke dreamed up his World Garden scheme. After his release he settled back at his family home (of 20 generations) at Lullingston Castle and started to layout the garden.

I happened to be in England during a heat wave, which is apparently not normal, and so the day was very hot. The garden is walled in too, which helps give heat loving plants a better chance at thriving and surviving the typically mild and wet climate of England.  It was impressive to see how many desert type plants seemed to thrive in The World Garden. It is a gardener's enigma to always be pushing zones and climates, and inspiring to see what can be made to survive by manipulating soil structure, drainage, and protection.

Dianthus carthusianorum
One of my favorite plants, little bright pink spiky flowers on very slender upright stems. I always want it to have more impact and punch, but I still just love its wispy ways.

The frothy white blooms belong to Buddleja loricata, or the South African Butterfly Bush. I am normally not a huge fan of the butterfly bush, but this one was stunning. It was covered in open and airy gray-white blooms and each floret had a small yellow center. Planted en masse, it was just beautiful. Unfortunately for me it is hardy to zone 7, so I have no plans to plant it here in Vermont.

Close up of Buddleja loricata

There was a glasshouse with a few different micro ecosystems. Here a gorgeous cactus in bloom and below the tallest Echium I have ever seen, reaching all the way to the ceiling. I regret not photographing the castle itself- it is dreamy- as well as the surrounding countryside. The place is surrounded by open fields and forests and there is a walking path that runs along a stream for quite a long way. It is a place that you could spend an entire day wandering the gardens and hillsides.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


In September my good gardening friend, Emma, and I visited Innisfree garden in Millbrook, New York. The weather was perfect and the garden was quiet. Built around a lake, a lovely path winds along the shore where you encounter beautiful scenes, perfectly laid out, wild in feeling, but manicured and exact. The garden was designed and built by a couple, Walter Beck and Marion Burk Beck. Walter was inspired by Japanese and Chinese art and aesthetic, in particular an 8th century Chinese artist, poet, and gardener named Wang Wei. He championed ideas about thoughtfully designed garden vignettes within a larger landscape. Walter Beck called this concept 'cup gardens.' In 1938 the couple teamed up with Lester Collins, a budding landscape architect at Harvard, who worked with the Becks to connect the series of smaller garden compositions into the larger landscape.

"Western gardens are usually designed to embrace a view of the whole. Little is hidden. The garden, like a stage set, is there in its entirety, its overall design revealed in a glance. The traditional Chinese garden is usually designed so that a view of the whole is impossible. [It] requires a stroll over serpentine, seemingly aimless arteries. The observer walks into a series of episodes, like Alice through the looking glass."
Lester Collins, Innisfree: An American Garden (1994)

One side of the garden felt like a beautifully maintained trail or park, and that was where we started, and then we began to come across these "three dimensional pictures," of intentional scenes. The further we went, the more ornate the scenes became, with more structure, stone work and more cultivated plantings.

A stand of Lotus nucifera along the shore. This felt down-right exotic to me!

There was lots of stone work and little scenes tucked into hillsides.

Along with ancient Chinese thoughts and practices, the garden also embodied Modernist ideas. This geometric stone pillar sat in the middle of a wide lawn, continually spraying water.  In the spirit of wandering through a landscape Alice-in-Wonderland-style and encountering "episodes," coming across this fountain fit the bill.

There was never a house built on the site, but there was lots of stone work, patios and terraces giving the garden a feeling of having been lived in. I think foundation gardens, whether real or imagined, are always interesting; it illustrates the juxtaposition between man and nature (and in someways house and garden), the garden will always win in the end!

To read more about Innisfree or to plan a visit, check out their website here!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Bill Noble's Garden

I was lucky enough to visit Bill Noble's Garden in Norwich, Vermont this past October. I was accompanying Claire Takacs, an exceptional garden photographer, on a shoot and while she diligently photographed the garden I got to walk around the garden with Bill Noble and talk about plants and garden design. It was a cold October day, with spitting snow and a punchy cold wind, but then the clouds would blow open and let in rays of spectacular fall light, illuminating the garden.  The garden is great: it is beautifully designed, incredibly varied from garden area to garden area, and chock full of interesting plants. I love this particular shot above with the upright Thuja occidentalis 'DeGroot's Spire' against the pollarded poplars (Populus nigra var. 'Thevestina') waving around in the wind.

The main perennial beds are laid out in quadrants with long, straight axial paths. The plantings were composed of large competitive perennial groups, asters, phlox, joe pye, iris, and sedum, with some anchoring shrubs. This time of year the colors were rich maroons, purple, earthy pinks, and lush greens. There were flashes of white from the phlox and the bleached out Deschampsia cespitosa, as seen here in the foreground.

I hadn't seen this plant before Leucosceptrum stellipilum and it was very stately that cold October day. Any plant just coming into its own late in the fall is always celebrated. This unusual plant came from Ed Bowen at Opus Plants who is a great plantsman growing and selling amazing plants.

The 'Silver and Gold' garden, named after the Cornus, creates an interesting mosaic of foliage colors and textures.

This part of the garden is like an old foundation garden and it is built on the site of an old stable. There is a long evergreen hedge on the left and an old stone wall on the right, giving it a feeling of having walls around it. The plantings are fairly horizontal, and planted in large groups, and it gives the space tapestry of mostly evergreen interweaving foliage.

In this area of the garden, Bill Noble has a nice collection of small, alpine plants and unusual specimens built atop an old milking parlor. Including this rare find, Serratula seoanei, whose name was forgotten until Ed Bowen chimed in (thank you Ed!).

A great garden by a great gardener. Check out his work here!

Thursday, August 27, 2015



 Well, it has been awhile. It is difficult to get back into the habit of writing, recording, and photographing after such a long hiatus: I blame slow internet (until now) and also that cute baby. But now I am back. So here is a hodgepodge of the past week; of gardens I work in, of my own gardens, of plant interests, successes and questions.

That red plant is Lychnis chalecondica, a nice shocking red in early summer and here it is going for a second round of bloom in August. It is plant, that when blooming, stops people in their tracks. It stopped me the first time I noticed it planted in the stock beds at Great Dixter amongst our beautiful, white flowering fleabane, Erigeron annus.

This is Ipomopsis rubra (standing cypress). The plant looks a lot like Eupatorium capilifolium with its fluffy, bright green foliage heading awkwardly straight upwards, but then it has this striking pink flower! I was particularly shocked to see this type of growth when the whole time I thought I was growing that sweet, twining Cardinal Climber Ipomoea sloteri. Haha, what a surprise.

This is a pool garden that Laurie and I planted three years ago using plants pilfered from other parts of the garden, including an Indigofera (possibly 'Rose Carpet?'-hugging the pools edge and doing fantastically against the rocks) and these wonderful Pennisetum alopecuroides seen here in full flower. We planted about 100 drumstick allium (Allium sphaerocephalon) and over the years they have tripled. Last year we cut them back once they went brown, but this year we've let them go to gray and we think they still look good.


I think front-of-the-border annual plants can be a little tricky. I want something lush, full, and interweaving so it is a major success when I stumble across one that I love. Like this Gomphrena 'All Around Purple.' It goes in a little small, but after a few weeks of summer heat the plant takes over whatever spot it is given. It weaves, it bushes, it stays upright (with no flopping) and keeps on blooming and blooming. A great cut too, straight stems of medium length, that can be used in dried arrangements. It is an electric purple so bring on the color. I love it with the silvery Plectranthus 'Silver Shield' pictured here.

Clerodendrum trichotomum
A very exciting underused plant around these parts. This one gives a scary zone rating (zone 6 or higher), but in Vermont it comes back happily from the roots. This spring, after a very harsh winter, shoots came up from the base, and are currently heading into flower. 

Glowing white Euphorbia marginata all self sown.

And who is the plant? My guess is a short, fine leaved Helenium, but I cannot find evidence that this type of Helenium exisits...yet. This was a throw away plant with no label, and now it is doing beautifully. Annual, perennial? It is about 5" high and ever blooming.

And lastly, I am in love with Rudbekia triloba, with its clouds and clouds of airy black eyed susan flowers. Here it mingles with Sanguisorba officinalis which I started from seed last year. I planted it in my gravel garden last fall, just as a holding spot, and it has done so well without water or compost. The stems are super strong and straight and not one has flopped. It is behaving very well in these conditions, even though I would have thought it wanted moisture and rich soil. What a nice surprise! I thought I preferred the cultivar 'Tanna,' but actually the straight species offers a bigger effect, slightly larger leaves, taller stems, and bigger flowers.