Mother’s Day, 2014

rose-garden-in-May.jpgWe have had enough warm weather for any gardener to begin to sort out the landscape disaster at hand, courtesy of our 2013-2014 winter.  As the weather warms, it becomes clearer what is surviving, and what will not.  Evergreens pruned after August 1 show plenty of damage.  Late season pruning may look smart, but it is an invitation to trouble.  I would advise, if you have formally pruned yews, boxwood or arborvitae, quit cutting August 1.   As for my roses, I quit dead heading them in mid August.  In the interest that they might so better over the winter, intact.

winter-damage-on-roses.jpgThe spring version of the state of the roses was alarming.  The cold came so quick they did not shed their leaves in November. But I had hope. Even though I know that there is no negotiating with nature.  The winter was what it was.  No matter what I hoped it would be.  \winter-2014.jpgIn February, I was buried in snow, and enduring below zero temperatures-for days on end. Now I really understand the winter we just had was incredibly hard. The damage to the landscape is impossible to ignore. I am still worried about my parrotias, and my dogwoods. Given a certain level and length of cold, treasured plants can fail.  The end of a hundred miles of really bad garden road-devastating.

carefree-beauty-roses.jpgMy rose garden is not large or elaborate. It is not perfectly maintained.  In a good year, it delivers thousands of blooms.  The perfume is exquisite.  It has taken 7 years to get the climbers to represent high on my south facing wall.  Never mind the time it took to attach each cane to that wall.  I was living large, given my wall of roses.  My shrub roses were 7 feet tall.  Not so shapely, but beautiful in bloom.  I treasured them.

rose-garden.jpgEvery night in June Buck and I go to the rose garden.  To talk about the day, and to admire the roses. This is a ritual that helps bring order to my busy work life. For the past week, I have been studying the current situation.  Today I am quite sure most of my roses are dead.  The climbing roses are leafing out 8 inches above ground level. The Sally Holmes shrub roses are all dead, but for 2 lone shrubs who have shoots emerging from the bottom. The tops of the Carefree Beauty roses are leafing only intermittently. All of their 7 feet of height has died back to within 6 inches of the ground.

rose-garden.jpgI will say the winter devastation to my roses is very tough to take.  I know I need to prune every rose down hard.  I hope the climbers will respond to my pruning call with gusto, and grow like crazy. As for my shrub roses, I am warming up the idea that they will need to be replaced.  And that I will need to start fresh, and design a new garden. I won’t do a new garden tomorrow-I am still in the shock stage.

garden-roses.jpgI lost my Mom in 2002.  I think about her most every day.  If she were still here, she would encourage me to get over my troubles, and move on. She would never dream of making fun of my disaster.  She would feel for my loss-genuinely.   That’s what Mom’s do.  They help make their children grow.  But she would nudge me in a new direction.  I know I would be so grateful for her concern and counsel.  A Mom-there is no one else quite like her.

garden-roses.jpgMy good friend Joey Randall posted on her facebook page this week that a Mom’s hug lasts long after she lets go. Her words are so much comfort to me today.  If you have had treasured plants that have disaster written all over them, call on your heart.  If your Mom had a lot to do with the length, width, breadth and capacity of your heart, consider yourself blessed. Consult her in any way you can. I cannot really explain this, but my memory of Julia will make my loss of the roses easier.  A Mom is a delight, and a steadfast and most dear friend. A Mom is an ally of the most important sort.

Thinking of you today, Julia.




October-garden.jpgThe pumpkins on the stairs flanked by my summer containers -visually jarring.  Different seasons with different plant vocabularies are duking it out. The past 3 weeks has been the best weather we have had all summer.  I haven’t taken these two pots apart, as I can’t get by the foolish hope that they will finally get better and be what they were meant to be.  In another the season, the nicotiana , tibouchina, angelonia and the  boston daisies would be blooming profusely.  The petunias would have kept up with the licorice. Instead, I have robustly green blobs of potted plants that continue to prosper-courtesy of the warm fall weather.

October-garden.jpg They don’t make enough visual sense to permit a decent photograph.  Can you hear me sighing? I can talk this way about them, as they are my pots.  If they were your pots, I would just be sympathetic.  Rotten bit of luck, this cold and rainy summer.   The saving grace of these pots?  The cup and saucer vine has finally decided to bloom.

Oct 12, 2013 (51)Cobaea scandens is a large growing vine that holds itself up by means of spiralling tendrils.  I grow it as an annual, though it is hardy in zone 9 and 10.  The vine is slow to get going, and really wants a warm and sunny situation.  They don’t ordinarily begin to bloom until later in the summer, but they do bloom on into the fall.  The flower buds are a pale lime green, the flowers a pale lavender.  The lavender deepens to purple as the flower ages.  The shape and size of the flowers make them well worth growing.

variegated-boxwood.jpgIt has taken the grass, scaevola and petunias a long time to grow to a size proportionate to the variegated boxwood.  I rather like the look of this pot right now.  I suspect that this is the best it is ever going to look, given that November is but 2 weeks away.

coleus-wasabi.jpgThe Wasabi coleus grew strongly, in spite of the cool rainy summer.  Mercifully, it has overtaken other plants that did not fare as well.  These boxes have that topsy turvy look that is a sure sign that the garden season is waning.

Persian-Shield.jpgThe Persian Shield has grown steadily all summer, and now dwarfs the pot in a way that suits me.  This looks lush.  It is also a reminder that annual plants do not make giant root balls.  They spend most of their growing energy above ground, as they only have one season to grow. At this late date in the season, I have to watch the water carefully.  This pot is full of roots, all of which need regular water.  Even though the daytime temperatures are cooler, the available water is being absorbed at a surprisingly fast rate.

summer-containers.jpgI did like how the thumbergia vines eventually draped over my olive jar, but they too need warm weather to thrive.  Most of the blooming went on between the plant and the wall-on the back side.  The brick absorbed heat during the day, and gave off heat at night.  My cannas are in their first round of blooms since they were planted in May.

angelonia.jpgAngelonia that is thriving and blooming well is a sure sign that the fall has been warm.  They like heat. The graceful habit is as much a pleasure as the flowers.  Many annual plants have a very stiff habit.  Angelonia can soften the mix in much the same was as a grassy plant. This new ageratum, “Artist”, has been a stellar performer.  I would plant this again.

fall-color-on-hydrangeas.jpgThe Limelight hydrangeas are at the height of their fall color.  This flourescent pink coloration I call the super nova stage.  Like a star that glows dramatically just before it dies, this color is a sure sign that the garden is waning.  Only rarely do we not have a hard frost before the end of October.  The forecast seems fairly benign fore the next week.  But as anyone who lives in Michigan knows, the weather can turn sharply at any time now.  The perennial plants, shrubs and trees have been preparing for this a long time already.  The growth of trees and shrubs slows dramatically the end of August.  Having a long season to prepare for dormancy helps them survive over the winter.  I have not cut the roses since the beginning of September.  They are seeding-forming hips.  I like the look of the hips on the roses.  I better like that there are no pruned stems which would invite disease or insects.

fountain.jpgBuck has been so busy at Branch that he hasn’t had time to clean the fountain.  I rather like that lime moss growing inside.  It not only looks great with my Scotch moss, it is a sign of the time of year.

The Garden Designer’s Roundtable: Romance



What makes for a romance?  An attraction that cannot be denied.  An attraction that evolves from the excitement generated by the hope that a relationship might lead to a steadfast commitment.  The romance suggested and generated by the possibility of love-who hasn’t experienced it?  Gardeners romance their gardens-meaning they seek to establish a  relationship with their environment, their love of plants,  and their property to a mutually satisfying end.  I never met a gardener that was not committed to the long term.  However, mutually satisfying outcomes are rare.  Things go wrong.  Plants die.  Taste’s change.  More than rare, garden outcomes that stir the heart are short lived.  Ephemeral.  This makes the possibility of true romance all the more desirable.


Nature-the object of every gardener’s sincere affection.  On occasion, that love is returned.  Sometimes I am face to face with it in such a way that takes my breath away.  But more often than not, nature has another idea in mind.  I have had my hopes dashed more often than I care to recall.  The weather here last spring was anything but.  All of the efforts made to protect the spring flower buds-spurned.  There are less dramatic challenges to one’s love for the garden.  A lack of rain-or too much.  The neighbor’s kid or the neighborhood rabbit who snaps all the lily buds off.  The specimen evergreen that is not so happy where you have planted it.  The effort it takes to improve the organic content of the soil.  I suppose the spring will eventually come when I think I’ve had enough-but it hasn’t happened yet. 


Anyone who gardens long enough realizes that a romance has its ups and downs.  There are on occasion those perfect moments. An hour or a day or a season that enchants and utterly satisfies.  They could be very simple, and not so readily apparent to a casual observer.  The sun emerging after a spring rain.  A quiet hour spent weeding.  Watching a hummingbird feed.  How the roses look just before they bloom.   


That June day several years when the roses were blooming like I had never seen them before-heart stoppingly romantic.  That summer day when all is good enough in the garden such there is time to take time to enjoy it.  There are those perfect moments that come when you least expect them, and are over before you know it.  That fairly accurately describes my relationship with nature.  Never easy, and often times irritating and disappointing.  Despite all that does not work,  a life without a serious relationship with nature has no appeal to me. 


This cold windy and snowy February moment that Milo and I shared in the garden-satisfying indeed.  I am sure the other members of the Garden Designer’s Roundtable have an equally personal romance with nature-be sure to read on.


Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Let It Snow

Snow-just what is it?  Water, high in the atmosphere freezes, forming very small ice crystals.  These ice crystals, in the form of individual snowflakes, fall to earth, blanketing your garden and mine with a white granular substance we call snow.  Frozen rain, if you will.  Ordinarily, I am not a big fan of the snow.  It is cold.  It is difficult to walk and drive through.  Worst of all, it is a sure sign that the growing season has come to a close.  Once the garden goes to sleep, the snow usually comes, and covers all until the weather turns.

Snow can be just the thing-for people who sled or ski.  My appreciation is a little less visceral.  I love the white of it.  Snow makes such a stark and crisp contrast to our relentlessly gray winter skies.  Even the softest light will make it sparkle.  Fresh heavy snow is visually dramatic in form, texture, and mass.

 Snow falling on a windless day emphasizes the shape and configuration of everything it touches.  Flat surfaces build up snow collars.  A chain link fence catches the snow in a way that beautifully describes its texture.  A perennial garden cut back to the ground gets a softly undulating and sleepy shape.  The snow will detail every vertical blade of ornamental grass left standing.

 In my zone, a winter blanket of snow protects many plants from dessicating winds.  Though it is hard to believe that ice crystals could offer any protection, a blanket of snow insulates.  The frozen ground will stay frozen.  Ground that freezes and thaws can heave plants out of the ground.  Insulation is a preventative against all kinds of loss.  Heat loss from the roof or the hot water pipes.  My down jacket-insulation against the cold.  The snow keeps everything uniformly cold. 

 A winter with no snow cover worries me.  I like all of my plants buried in snow.  Comforted and protected-this they need.  The winter temperatures and winds can kill.  As much as I treasure what nature provides, winter can be a formidable enemy to living things without protection.

As for the snow falling today-I welcome it.  Our summer was very hot, and very dry.  In the back of my mind, a worry about the lack of water.  Snow is water in an alternative form.  As every living plant depends on water to survive, I welcome this version.  Once the ground thaws, a bit of that water delivered via snow will be absorbed into the ground.

Last winter was an anomaly.  Warm temperatures throughout-no snow.  This weather deprived me of plenty.  No flowers on the magnolia trees.  Poor bloom on the roses.  Garden disappointment-I hope to not have this next spring.  Today’s heavy snow comforts me.  It is so beautiful.  It is so expected. 

My good friend MK writes me today that the snow is uplifting his spirits.  Discussion not needed- I understand his feeling.  The snow feels right.   Basic to the psyche of any gardener is instinct to protect.  The snow blanket is an essential part of the natural order of things.

Bring on the snow!  I am enchanted as much by its beauty as I am by its utility.  Though I will never enjoy it to the extent that Milo does, I appreciate this particular season for what it is. Quiet, and beautiful.