Posts Tagged ‘outdoor space’

Truly Fall

The day is blustery and seasonably crisp. There is a frost warning for Plymouth County tonight. Yesterday brought warmth and a steady offshore breeze for a perfect fall beach walk at Humarock beach.


Normally uneven and rock strewn,  the ocean at low tide provided a smooth, wide swath of lightly packed sand like a freshly paved road.

The wind whipped and curled the modest waves which beguiled a couple of surfers. 



A bicyclist rode by. We exchanged hellos and nods to other couples. And a few dogs.


Afterwards, we gleaned late season tomatoes from our friends’ garden since they’re traveling in Southeast Asia. It is truly fall.

The Tupelo Speaks


Once we asked a well-regarded landscape architect, Roger Washburn, to consult. It turns out we could not afford him but he was generous with his time and ideas. Among other things, he noted our stand of tupelo trees. My tree knowledge is limited so it was noteworthy to me that they were noteworthy to him.

Our tupelos stand behind the weathering Tin Man; they anchor the hanging garden mirror and, here’s the part I’m getting to — they announce the peak of summer.

The tupelos are the first to turn color and drop a leaf and they typically do so in early July, which makes sense from a plant perspective, being on the waning side of summer solstice. This year’s tupelo turn came two weeks late. What now?

Summer Harvest

Hydrangea, phlox, and echinacea

Hydrangea, phlox, and echinacea with “Minuet”

Hydrangea, black-eyed susan, phlox, monarda

Hydrangea, black-eyed susan, phlox, monarda

Our summer’s peak saw a blistering heatwave that started early and ended late. Still, the flowers were heavenly. For example, the hydrangea by the back door trellis had hundreds of blue heads, the kousa dogwood is still in bloom, the monarda and phlox are swarming with bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. The swimming pool has been our respite.

More recently degrees have ranged from low 60’s F to mid 80’s F. And rain.

When it was just too hot outside, we enjoyed the blooming harvest inside. This garden is my joy.

My Sister’s New Garden

My sister’s new garden is nestled within hilly SW Portland. It is compact and lush.  I didn’t realize you could harbor such variety and fullness in a small space. Chalk it up to my sister’s sense of order and tidiness.

Meandering nasturtiums splay over the edge of the patio. They thrive on the concrete’s radiant heat.

A curvy flagstone path wends into the back corner, as if there were more to see just around the bend. Crocosmia has nearly finished blushing scarlet; a few sunflowers reach skyward (why aren’t the centers going black, she wants to know).

In their midst stand gayfeather (liatris spicata) and a staked tomato!

The piece de resistance anchors the back wall – two significant clumps of bamboo confined to an elegant wood planter she purchased up the coast. It is both an appreciation of things past and a recognition of bamboo’s beauty constrained by reality: you don’t want these aggressive grasses overrunning your main garden.

My sister tends her new garden with care and delight. Whimsey and prudence. Premeditation and pluck.

The first thing she installed was the incandescent string of lights vining the translucent, shed-like roof over the sitting area, which is the perfect place for enjoying the flora while reading, writing, sipping – or, finding a brother savoring Sauvie Island Blueberries with Barbados Cream. Heaven.


Garden Mind

Not this blue, really?

I got the White Flower Farm Spring 2012 catalog this week. It’s a page turner as usual, with saturated floral images of garden gems in perfect flower – where the reds are redder, the greens greener and the true blues truer than life. One day, there might be a garden catalog with wilted, spent flowers going to seed. Unlikely.

My garden overwinters – stark and dreary, especially without frost or snow cover. I hope it gets cold enough to kill the bad bugs; I hope there is enough snow cover, eventually, to supplement the good stuff (my brother told me snow is the poor man’s fertilizer). But, I digress. What is really at work is stillness. No growth, just the remnants of the garden being earth bound — skeletal, essential, and creating reserves for the proper blooming time.

What I have is garden mind.

Our garden (aka, “R” Garden) sits, while last year’s beauty decomposes into next year’s growth. I see the garden’s shape from our upstairs window – the straight and curvy lines, the beds, the flow from one section to another joined by lawn, paths, steps, and bridges. I like this flow and work to refine it in my mind: firm up that edge with a low border, trim that shrub to be a better neighbor, hack that pachysandra, reset those stones, et cetera. In a process of refinement, endless tweaking shapes the garden and morphs its profile. Its essential personality, established long ago, matures incrementally, bringing charm, whimsy and nature into harmony improved by age.

Of course it’s a living thing and changes occur, apparently spontaneously, as well. Like the clumping bamboo that finally, finally decided to become the screen I imagined ten years ago. Who knew it would take this long? I suppose that’s where annuals come in. They provide the instant gratification that delights the eye and other senses. Not much mystery but adornment galore and great expectations easily met. We enjoy the splash, the visual spice, and the abundance of blooms overlaying the perennial foundation.


The garden mind dwells on ideas and suffers no toil. No: weeding, spraying, mowing, aching backs or biting no-see-ums. It sees golden possibilities; it harbors hopes and plans — flights of fancy that could occupy the whole of next season. It’s a great place to visit.

Herbs – the spice of life

When late afternoon arrives in our patch of yard, we turn on the reading lights. That’s because we live in dappled shade and shadows from our forested northeastern exposure. 1/2 block away it’s full sun, while we’re calling it a day.

One outcome of our scant daylight is we don’t grow food, or anything else that requires full sun. Which is OK by me because my short stint as a food grower was neither a personal or agricultural success.

Consumers are people, too

I support the concept of growing your own nutrition, but I do not support the worry: fungus, beetles, blight, cut worms, watering, fertilizing, weeding, thinning, fencing and harvesting gallons of one thing (I hope you like squash, dear). And then, it starts again next year. From scratch.

Do I lack intestinal fortitude? No, I just can’t tolerate the suspense of bringing in a crop. I gladly shop for local produce. Just leave me to my perennials.

Best of both worlds

I designed my garden for other senses – mind, eye, nose

– outdoor spaces, fragrant offerings, inspiring creations, intriguing curves, mini-vistas and low maintenance. OK, I pamper the roses a bit. Everything else weathers; a planting survives and thrives or … succumbs. Perennial pragmatism.

My one exception: herbs and annuals in pots.  I hate buying fresh mint at the supermarket. Ditto parsley, sage rosemary and thyme, invariably expensive or trucked from Mexico. In pots, these herbs unfailingly just grow, and without fuss — my kind of crop! They satisfy my gardening principles while providing a culinary and aesthetic je ne sais quoi.

Besides the flavor-your-food value of herbs, groupings of pots in different shapes and sizes partition and highlight an area, add graceful greenery / vivid accents, and blend practical herbs with vibrant annuals (my fave – nasturtium with lobelia). Pots of varying sizes, habitats and materials punctuate my external rooms.

I have a few herbal and non-herbal relics that winter over — bits of this and that: liatris spicata, lamium “White Nancy”, dicentra, ferns. Even my potted oregano returns each year and mint, running freely in the perennial beds, is rampant. While they do not survive Zone 6A winter, I’ve harvested parsley in late December and rosemary in January. First frost does in the basil – it’s known as a tender perennial.

Terracotta and Not

I use both clay pots and plastic pots. Classic terracotta (literally baked earth, unglazed clay) is porous, warm and weathered. Saucers under the clay pots extend the watering effect. Plastic scores lower for aesthetics but meets the low maintenance requirement because it conserves moisture much better than terracotta. That means less stress on the plants and less work for me.

I’ve taken to the heavily glazed, gigantic earthenware pots from Vietnam. They conserve water, do not crack like terracotta and make a bold statement that anchors a grouping of smaller pots. Filled with soil, they stay put!

Global watering

For pots that need chronic watering, I discovered a remedy that works pretty well — the glass watering globes that you fill with water and stick into the potted soil.

In the past I had tried mixing in the gelatinous granules (polymers) that soak up water and then release it to the plants. It’s a clever idea that doesn’t work well. Mostly the granules expand beyond reason, force the soil out of the pot, and don’t deliver much water to the roots of your potted plants. My experience is supported by research.

Food for Thought

While my aesthetic vision continues to conjure up garden designs, I find joy in snipping fresh rosemary, basil, and perennial mint into my cuisine, or pinching a spicy nasturtium flower to decorate dinner. It’s another way I delight my soul.

How do you make food or fantasy in your garden?
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18 Steps to a mirror in the garden

I discovered an outdoor art installation in a Paris park that inspired my garden mirror. The art was well-integrated into the context of the outdoor setting, not separate from it. I liked that. My idea was to hang a full-sized mirror in the garden that would reflect back on the garden. Read the story, see how to do it! Read the rest of this entry »