Closer To The Finish

If you read this blog regularly, you may recall we started building a vegetable garden for a client about 6 weeks ago.  A lot has gone into that project, but finally the physical structure was at a stage where we could plant. 

The first to be planted was a collection of 5 espalier fruit trees.  A pair of double candelabra apple trees trained in the shape of an arch were planted on either side of the gate.  Centered on each side of the fence, a pair of quadruple cordon pear trees. 

 fenced vegetable garden

The idea is to allow the horizontal arms of the pears to grow the entire width of the fence.  Though this heavy wire mesh and cedar fence is handsome, I can imagine the entire front face of this garden covered in leaves-and hopefully, pears.  

wire fencing

Though the Gala apple arches had been trained in this arch shape for years, we built a simple steel rebar arbor onto which each branch could be tied.  Once the major branches put on sufficient caliper, this arch will no longer be necessary-nor will it be visible.  The trees had been trained to form an arch that was 4 feet wide.  I wanted the entrance to the garden at least as wide as the double gates.  The bald spot at the top of the arbor will be covered in just a few years.  The walkway into the garden, and all of the garden floor is compacted decomposed granite.

pear espaliers

Though the pear espaliers have 4 distinctively horizontal arms, the secondary branches could easily be allowed to grow out,  making a solid green wall.  The espaliers we buy are grown in giant containers, with the trunk at the back.  This makes it easy to plant the espalier close to the fence.    

tiered plant stand

This vegetable garden table was inspired by English auricula theatres.  Tiered stands that permit the staging of potted specialty plants, as in auricula primroses were very popular in England in the 19th century.  This steel three-tiered plant stand will be covered in clay pots, planted with herbs and small growing flowers.  The copper pipe through the center of the table is for irrigation.  At the east end of the garden, a spigot was installed for handwatering.  Though each box has drip irrigation, there is no substitute for the sure hand and good judgment of a gardener. 

raised beds for vegetables

Steve built a bamboo teepee for pole beans.  The beans are planted only on the north side of the box, so the orange bell peppers planted underneath will still have good light.  Some of the vegetables have been growing in containers in a greenhouse, waiting for the garden to be ready to plant.  Each group of plants is clearly marked as to variety on large wood markers.

By no means do I mean to imply I am a vegetable gardener.  I am a serviceable gardener.  My clients have to take ownership now, and grow with this garden.   This first year will provide an opportunity for them to decide what they really wish to grow.  Everyone’s taste in food is so individual.  This first planting has a little bit of a lot going on for them to try. 

There are leeks, onions, and salad onions.  A fresh crop of lettuces.  Bell peppers, pole and bush beans, and 4 types of tomatoes.  Eggplant, patty pan squash,  and four varieties of cucumbers.  There are loads of herbs-rosemary, Greek oregano, flat leaf parsley, three types of basil, and thyme.  Three types of mint, and lots of cilantro.  Steve laid this garden out from the plants and seeds that I bought, as he has lots of experience with this sort of thing.  The yellow marigolds-just for fun.  Early next week, we will plant the clay pots, plant perennials and roses outside of the garden, reconfigure the edge of the driveway, and plant some grass.

The Last Day Of My 61st

By coincidence, Melissa from M and M Flowers came to do her yearly pruning on the boxwood on the last day of my 61st year.  As this is just about my favorite day of the gardening year, I felt my previous year was coming to a close in a way that made me very happy indeed. 

topiary yews


pruning boxwood




green velvet boxwood





isotoma fluvialitis

My garden is a place very near and dear to me-it looked beautiful last night.  Spotless.  As is her usual way, the boxwood is beautifully pruned.  Her crew did not finish until almost 7 pm. All my thanks, Melissa and group.



A Day In The Life

planting annual containers

I am still out with my crew planting the flowers non-stop.  It will be close to 80 projects, once all is said and done.  The work of getting ready to plant is grueling-the design, shopping, loading, unloading, emptying out old soil and adding fresh.  A good many of these jobs take upwards of 5000 pounds of soil.  Every plant that gets planted is placed by me.  I may make a change in a design, faced with the actual plants and the actual containers.  A plan is a guide.  So extra plants get taken along, should they need to be called into service.

This planting is 40 minutes away from me, in a remote location down a dirt road, on a small lake.  I did the landscape for this new house probably 8 years ago.  The annual planting is not a particularly large or elaborate one.  What make the job such a pleasure is a chance to spend some time in a landscape that is getting some age on it.

The perennial gardens are fairly wild.  Only the strongest plantshave prevailed-the soil is very sandy, the care is casual, and the wildlife is active.  My client is a business owner who loves the garden, but in a different way.  He likes that some plants have grown together, that other plants have receded. He likes that very casual cottage look. A large deer population keepsd his evergreens skirted up-especially in winters where the snowcover is deep.

I find its overgrown and unfussed over appearance very relaxing and serene.  It has evolved into a landscape that is more wild than not.  I find it has that rural French look that Rob photographs over and over again when he is abroad.

We plant lots of verbena bonariensis and cosmos in the areas where wild daisies have colonized.  We don’t touch the climbing roses, climbing hydrangeas, clematis or Boston ivy. 

shrub roses

A steep slope in the back is planted with grasses and shrub roses.  The path to the rear large is a large and simple swath of field grass.  By this I mean the grass has violets, clover, and all manner of other short growing green plants that do not mind a mower.

The stone staircase pictured on the right is the only safe way to get to the lake, although I can imagine sledding down this hill in the winter.  The landscape at the lake is what nature put there to begin with.  This is one of the quietest places I have ever been.  That alone makes this planting trip a pleasure.


Most of the pots we plant are fiber pots, which we replace yearly.  In a month, the pots will not be visible, for the planting.  Flowers will cascade over the balcony.


This 19th century coadestone pot made by Doulton (now the Royal Doulton china company in England) became the centerpiece of this fountain.  It is lined with a waterproof plastic container, into which we place a collection of water plants.

Boston ivy

The changes of grade are a challenge for moving plants and soil around, but they offer beautiful views of the lake. It will be a while before these pots look like much.  But this is a job which is a pleasure to plant. To be here is a lot more than work.  It is an experience I look forward to every year. 





Almost done.




Contemporary Container Plantings

mirror in the garden

I do have clients whose taste in furnishings, art, architecture, design, and landscape is thoroughly contemporary.   Thoroughly contemporary? What that means exactly is subject to endless discussion and interpretation.  But I find as long as I devote the lion’s share of my attention to form, shape, mass, volume, color and texture in a simple, even austere way, I will be well on my way with a contemporary landscape.  Contemporary container plantings?  I don’t know exactly what I mean by this, but they are much more about the abstract elements of design, and only lastly about the plants.         

contemporary concrete planter

This very simple vintage concrete contemporary bowl is placed so it intersects with the boxwood.  This gesture is much more about creating a certain emotional tension between a living plant and an object.  This gesture has an edge.  The choice of container and the placement are critical to a planting with a contemporary feeling. 

contemporary container planting

I planted it with cirrus dusty miller, and succulents all of the same color, but with very different textures.  The planting is in a spiral pattern-definitely out of the round of the container.  The planting features the dirt – the empty space – as much as it does the plants.

 contemporary gardens

This pair of tire planters are planted with flowers of very different size and habit.  The red leaved America canna was underplanted with red threadleaf alternanthera.  The Caliente geraniums are the same series of plants, with the same growth habit, in a mix of dark red and bright orange.

contemporary container plantingA A long curved bed is planted with red cordyline-spikes.  In traditional plantings, a spike might be the centerpiece of a pot.  Here they are planted in rows, like crops.  A dark pennisetum of similar color but different texture is planted in the same pattern.  To finish, black red sweet potato vine.  The monochromatic color scheme is dramatic, but austere.   The planting is more about the shape of the bed, and an unexpected mass of color, than it is about the individual plants.   

An utterly simple concrete bowl is planted a larger version of that red cordyline.  Each plant was deliberately planted straight up and down.  Had the outer plants been turned out to the side, the result would have been vaguely reminiscent of a topiary sphere-a very traditional shape in the garden.  The interior is planted with black sweet potato.  I’ll see how that grows, and what it does.  I might intervene, and shape that vine, or I might never touch it. 

elegant feather

These tall simple concrete pots encircled by snakes make quite a statement, planting or no.  I filled them with elegant feather grass.  This plant will grow straight up and skyward.  That long look is a compliment to the shape of the pot.  The relationship of the container to the planting is especially important in contemporary plantings.   

millet "Flashlights"

This mid century modern fiberglass and concrete container is home to a mass planting of the millet “Flashlights”.  Its vertical habit will not obscure the interesting shape of the container. 

dark foliaged heuchera

The dark leaved heucheras are moody.  This ruffly variety has a deep purple obverse.  Those curly leaves make the subtle vertical lines of the pot much more visually important.  This cylinder is not really round. It is a subtle approximation of round. It is comprised of many straight sections joined together-so say all of those curly leaves.   


These succulents on stalks have an exotic, and otherworldly appearance.  Baby versions of the same plant carpet the bottom of a very detailed black cast iron planter I would guess is the work of Carl Milles when he was at Cranbrook. 

contemporary garden containers

This concrete container with a roller coaster edge gets a lime planting-angelina, gold marjoram, and some tropical succulent whose name I do not know.  I imagine it will have a very lively texture once it is grown in.

red foliaged plants

The red cordylines and threadleaf alternantera have an entirely different appearance in a sunny location.  Will I keep the alts trimmed?  I can’t tell yet. 

planting contemporary containers

This is a container planting of a different sort-as it should be.  Any garden should reflect the taste and sensibility of the governing gardener.  That is the best part of a garden-you get to be the guv, and you get to be surprised by what nature has in store for your efforts.  I will be interested to see what the future holds for this planting.