The CC Rule


I have a young and active client with three very active children.  Her daily schedule makes mine seem sedate.  She ferries kids, entertains friends, and maintains very active family relationships.  When I can catch up to her, she is strong minded and decisive about a beautiful landscape.  Every year we do something.  We did plant a run of Belgian fence for her a few years ago-she harvests and eats those pears.  Whenever we get there to prune them back into shape is ok with her. If she has to search for her pears in a tangle of foliage-so be it.  Only very rarely does an emergency arise in her garden.


CC has an uncanny ability to decide when to fuss, and when to go with the flow. Make no mistake-this is a very valuable skill.  She knows how to get through a day.  This means that she is content to let nature take its course-as opposed to opposing whatever nature has in store.  I have been known to throw myself at every issue in my garden like I have but 10 minutes to live.  I so admire how she coolly and adeptly assesses a situation, and acts.  Or not.  The “or not” part is a choice, actually. My friend Janet came to see my garden at 7 am this morning.  Buck was a little appalled about entertaining at that hour.  But we both had watering to do-before it gets hot. We were sitting in the garden when she asked me if I ever sat in the garden.  I do every day, after work.  For a little while.  Then there are things to do.  We both make a fuss.  The car pictured above obviously belongs to an obsessed gardener I know and like who would put put his top down, and ever so slowly drive a group of giant dahlias home.  

 CC is not at all that way.  Once she has made a decision about what she wants me to plant for her, she never touches, grooms, feeds, or otherwise interferes with what I have planted.  In September, I stop by and see that every plant in her pots has interacted, and grown together. Not one plant has been trimmed, deadheaded, or groomed.  Miraculously, this lack of intervention on her part works beautifully.  This window box was planted in the early years of the store.  The shop consumed so much time there was little left over to put to this box except to water.  Did I like it then-not so much?  I greatly appreciate it now. 

An absentee attitude is a good thing on occasion.  That which nature provides, or doesn’t has charm and appeal.   Every plant has a space to start with.  They duke it out, and come to some agreement.  The begonias may be miffed that she does not cut off those dead flower heads every day, but they keep on growing.  This pot of mine is is a little heavy on the chocolate sweet potato vine, but it has a naturally flowing appearance. 

There is no doubt that I interfere with the natural order of things in my garden.  Sometimes I water too much-I never err on the side of watering too little.  Every nursery person I know will say that more plants are lost to overwatering than anything else.  I worry my plants.   I plan as if planning were the crowning achievement of a gardener.  I move things around.  I desert some plants, and plant loads of other plants.  I like getting my own way.  This spring planting I photographed in August-a community had been created without me.  So I chose to do nothing about it, except enjoy it.

When I saw this CC plantings last September, I put my elaborate and intense program on pause.  The natural order of things made for a planting that was exquisite.  Exquisitely natural and unassuming.  Enchanting-of course.  There are but a few bits of heliotrope still representing-but is that not enough?  Her white non stop begonias wre breathtaking. 


 green container plantings

I would interpret the CC rule thusly.  Scheme, draw, plant-and then step back.  Let nature react to your plan.  Give nature plenty of time.  What you see in the end should inform your ideas about gardening.  Lots of plants resent too much touching.  Too much supervision. Too much fussing can drain the life out of a garden, or a planting.  This pot I have at home I have not touched, except to water.  And I water it as little as possible.  

This petunia and licorice pot has been sparingly watered, and shows no signs of any awkward trimming.  It is a prime example of benign neglect.  And a recognition that most plant have an incredibly powerful will to live, if you let them.  

That is not to say I won’t intervene with noxious weeds, or dry soil, or any plant clearly asking for help.  But making a huge issue of a stray this or that can put a damper on your garden party.

What a difficult gardening season this has been-from the magnolia flowers frosting off, to the poor early show on the roses, to the heat and drought.  And now more heat, starting up again.  My 3D osteospermums have been sulking in the heat.  But for sure my containers have some robustly growing osteo bushes that will start to bloom again when our temperatures cool down.  The CC rule-in some cases it is the only approach that makes any gardening sense.  




Sunday Opinion: Powerful

Having just worked through 10 days of scorchingly and witheringly high heat, and gone home to a house without power for almost 5 days, I have the following observations.

Power is a word that has lots of meanings and plenty of nuance.   Now that I have my power back-meaning my electrical power- I was able to research the meaning of the word power via google.  Relevant descriptive words include might and force.  Strength.  Potency.  authority.  and energy. 

A powerful piece of music demands a response.  A powerfully executed painting demands the visual attention of a variety of people with very different points of view. That powerful painting, or that opera,  may enchant generations of viewers. A powerful argument is convincing.  Niagara Falls is a place that details the power of nature.  A powerful country depends on its economic and political strength.  The sheer power of a cheetah may overcome the incredible speed of a gazelle.  A powerful design, as in the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, the discovery of radium by Marie Curie in 1898, the drawings of  Leonardo Da Vinci, the plays written by Shakespeare, the theories of the universe posed by Stephen Hawkings, the paintings of  Helen Rosenthaler, or the novels of William Faulkner- very powerful ideas, and art can influence thinking for generations. Should you be an afficianado of landscape design, I am sure you are aware of the work of Mien Ruys, Kathryn Gustafson, Andre LeNotre,  Jacques Wirtz, Vita Sackville-West, and Fernando Caruncho-I could go on without respite for a few days about those landscape designers who have powerfully influenced my thinking about the landscape.  Every true gardener is endowed with electricity.  Power.  

But I have a simpler idea in mind here.  I am interested that a good portion of the meaning of power refers specfically to electricity.  Having been without electrical power for more than just a few days,  I am confident in saying that I like my electricity.  Electricity powers my computer, my air conditioning, my sprinkler system, my lights, my refrigerator-electricity powers my world.   Would I want to do without it, permanently?  Not a chance.  Sleeping in the basement was ok-not great.  I like ending the day in my own bed.  Would I be willing to isolate myself, and give up my computer?  When my electricity came back on,  I felt as is I were set free.  Would I want to do without what electricity provides-no.   The days I spent without electricity-trying.  Not great.  Really irritating and exhausting.

The power we know as electrical energy funds our culture.  It funds our ideas.  It funds our plans.  Electricity in the garden-I am sure you have experienced it.  On that one special day, or that special moment. Once you experience it, you’ll want to experience it again. That said,  I so hope you have power.  A life without it would be a very different life indeed.       



At A Glance: Back Up And Running

This was a scene from my neighborhood 5 days ago.  Incredible, the force that could snap off a tree this size.  Extremely high temperatures were accompanied by strong storms, high winds, and torrential rain.  Adding to the weather misery-a power outage that went on for days. We spent our evening hours in the fountain, cooked on the grill, and slept in the basement.   

Of course my back yard fountain wasn’t running, but the water was wet and cool-at least the first few days.

The corgis have no use for this body of water, except to take a fastidious drink now and then.  But I could see them warming up to the cooling possibilities of the water every day that went on without electricity.

We spent 2 hours night before last outside, in the water.  Milo never budged from his spot.

Though the air was 99 degrees, the water was much cooler. 

When the power finally came back on yesterday afternoon, we let out the top 6 inches of warm water, and refilled the pool. Sitting next to the water outake, we all felt like we had just been sprung from jail.  It was exhausting trying to work all day in that heat.  By this time in the evening, I wanted anything but some more heat. 

My furry friend had the same idea. 

cardigan welsh corgi

By 7 pm last night, we were invigorated.  Or at least hydrated. 



Nicotiana Fete And Fandango

 nicotiana alata

Being ever so fond of all of the cultivars of nicotiana, I planted the boxwood parterre in front of the shop this year with a mix of 3 kinds.  Nicotiana “perfume white” is short growing, and as  fragrant as the name suggests.  Nicotiana alata white is a taller, lanky growing nicotiana with larger and more widely spaced branches and flowers.  Bur nearest and dearest to my heart is the big growing species, nicotiana mutabilis.  I can’t manage to let a summer go by without planting it-usually in my own yard.  This year I planted lots of them at the shop.

The garden had an odd look early on-every single plant got its own 4 foot tall bamboo stake.  There for a while, we had a stake garden.  But there are few things more trying than staking a plant that needed that stake weeks previous.  If you have ever tried to get an Annabelle hydrangea that has gone over in wind or rain off the ground, you know what I mean.  The afterthought staking always looks like that afterthought.

nicotiana mutabilis

Our stakes go a good foot into the ground.  Given the torrential rains and high winds that accompanied all the heat we have had the last 10 days, I am so glad we did it that way.  We did not loose a single plant.  In another week, those stakes will completely disappear from view.  Nicotiana mutabilis is never more beautiful for me than it is in the fall-it is happy in cool weather.  But I see no signs of heat stress here.  We have watered heavily and regularly-as much for the boxwood as the nicotiana. Like the annual flowers, woody plant material stressed by too dry conditions are more susceptible to other problems.

  nicotiana perfume white

There are a few perfume white nicotianas in the window boxes.  They are a great size and height for a container that is already a good distance off the ground.  We keep the giant leaves at the bottom trimmed back, so as not to cast shade on the neighbors. When using nicotiana in containers, the grooming at ground level is important. They produce leaves prodigiously.  

nicotiana mutabilis

The flowers of nicotiana mutabilis are very small, and an utterly simple shape.  But a happy plant will produce thousands of them.  I don’t understand the science, but each plant will produce pale, almost white flowers, pink flowers-and hot pink flowers-all at the same time, on the same plant.  The slender stems make it seem as though those small blooms are floating, hovering over the container.

Nicotiana alata lime peroduces flowers that are just that-lime green.  In a good season, they will bloom heavily the entire summer.  I have seen them peter out in really hot weather.  In that case, I cut them back a little, and feed.  They seem to revive when the weather cools off.

I remember taking this picture of a pot at home some years ago in September.  The nicotiana was sending out giant thick bloom stalks.    The composition was no doubt lopsided, but I loved the exuberance of it all.  The stiff habit of those giant dahlias is completely masked by that cloud of flowers. 


This English concrete pot cast in a classic Italian style is a huge pot-it measures 39″ by 39″.  The surface is 12 square feet.  The nicotiana mutabilis makes a giant airy bouquet-the pot is the smallest element of the composition.  This picture was taken the beginning of September.  I like annual plants that can go the distance-an entire summer season-and on into the fall.  I like to get tired of looking after my container plantings before they give out. 

nicotiana mutabilis

One of more foolish container moments-planting nicotiana mutabilis in a relatively small Italian terra cotta urn. The bigger foolishness?  How much I loved the look.