At A Glance: What Now?

A Level Playing Field


I have skimmed over many gardening articles in the past few years advocating the abolition of lawn in the landscape.  In general, I do not favor the act of banning.  Those who would ban this or that somehow have the idea that the lives of others are just waiting for them to intervene and save them.  Thanks very much, but I have done a fairly good job up until now making my own decisions about how to live my life.  That aside, I think lawn has an important place in the landscape.

Perhaps I should distinguish between lawn, and grass.  I do not have lawn-as were rolled, tended and cut every other day in those classical English gardens that make my mouth water.  I have grass-that low and densely growing perennial that covers considerable and any amount of square footage without any maintenance- save a weekly cutting. Grass grows willingly.  It grows on slopes as well as flat ground.  Grass covers bare soil, and vigorously resists invasion from weeds. Beautifully graded soil, covered in grass-a sculpture. 

Grass is all about endurance.  Grass endures the impromptu soccer game, the garden party, the dog play, the car tires, the wheelbarrow grooves,-grass sits on the ground, enduring a lot of  physical activity in a garden-with few complaints.  It has to be the most versatile and accomodating plant on my planet.  That green skin of grass covers a fair amount of my property, to good end.  It enables me to get from one place to another. When of a mind to goof off, I might lie down on it. It enables me to be in the garden.

My corgis have legs barely 8 inches tall.  They are not so crazy about gravel or concrete-they like grass under their feet.  Their favorite time of the day-home, with the grass underfoot.  A level playing field for their horseplay is essential to their play.  The job of a retail dog has its demands.  They are happy to get home, cut loose, and relax.  The lawn is a place the four of us can relax and enjoy the garden.   

Were you be here, you would understand. When I come home, I want an outdoor place to be and sit-this means a patch of grass. I will admit I have one client with no grass-save for a patch big enough for him to take a nap. You may think this funny-I think he has a very keen sense of what luxury means.  

Is there another plant other than grass that would tolerate and facilitate my nightly corgi show?  I think not.  The most ordinary and familiar of plants can be of such importance in the big scheme of your landscape. 

I have devoted no small amount of time to a discussion of grade. Earth, moved up, and down.  Level ground makes people feel secure.  No one would enjoy a garden cocktail party on a slope. Once that grade is established, there are a lot of ways to handle the space.  It is as important to have functional and useable spaces as it is to have trees or roses. 

We like our grass.

Red, Pink and Light


Reams have been written about the science and psychology of color. I doubt I have much to add to that discussion beyond saying that no small amount of the pleasure I take in gardening involves tinkering with color.  One of the best parts of annual gardening is that my committment to a composition is for one season only.  I so like the chance to start over.  My annual plantings are a brand new party dress for my garden-the color of which gives me lots of pleasure.  There are few colors I do not like; though I am not a fan of grey, I planted the front of the shop last week with lots of silver grey foliage.  Planting a scheme which has a good possibility of not appealing to me is part of the fun it. OK, maybe my idea of fun is a little offbeat-but so be it.  Strong color has always appealed to me; how I express strong color depends on the effect I hope to achieve.  Pink and red make a great color combination.  The above pictured pots are based on a pink and red scheme, but the effect is formal and elegant.

Park Princess dahlias are as big a statement about pink as one could hope for.  Were I to pair this plant with orange geraniums and yellow boston daisies, or red cannas, the effect of the color would be hot and tropical.  As I was after a more formal and restrained expression of color in the planting, the pink and red I have leavened with lavender and pale pink.  Light colors have the added property of reading well front a distance; these front porch pots make as much visual sense from a distance as they do up close.

Tickled Pink million bells are a strong red violet at the throat, but the overall color reads as light, almost white, and airy.  They help to take some of the heat out of the purple wave petunias in this pot.  The variegated licorice acts like lots of ice cubes in this big drink of magenta red violet.  Had I used lime licorice here, and orange millions bells, the effect of the color would have been much different. The color is there, but expressed in a more restrained way.   

Once the pale pink mandevillea and lime nicotiana in this pot gets going, it will read in cool contrast to the cherry red geraniums and pink petunias.  Hot and light colors mixed together is visually lively.  Considering some of the ways in which color works will produce better and more satisfying containers.

Red flowers can be dramatic in a landscape, as red and green contrast sharply.  Red is most effective when viewed up close, or when the dose of red is a big dose.  Red tulips, poppies, dahlias, geraniums, solenia begonias-they represent the color red effectively.  Red mandevillea grows vigorously, and blooms heavily.  Should red be your pleasure, any of these plants can deliver.  Red caladiums are a different experience of red.  The red color is overlaid on a green leaf; the visual effect is muted. 

I plant lots of geraniums-they are the little black dress of the annual world.  It is no wonder so many people plant them-the color is striking.  But pairing red geraniums with pink petunias, or strawberries, yellow dahlberg daisies or lavender star trailing verbena can make that red look like a fresh idea.
The big shot of bold color from these solenia pink begonias is the star of the show on this side porch. All the other plants lay low, in support of the dominant scheme. 

Persian Queen geraniums are so versatile in a container planting.  The lime green leaf is electric when paired with red; the flower is an equally electric pink. This discussion of pink is entirely different than the neighboring pots-but all the pots are friendly to one another.

Pink and red geraniums alternating in the series of pots on a flight of steps get an alternating underplanting as well.  I like garden ideas that are expressed clearly.  Once I make a decision about where I want to go with color, I try to express that decision in as many subtly varying ways as I can.  This endows individual pots with  distinctively different compositions that still work well together overall. The planting has a rhythm and visual interest that helps make the flight up or down an interesting one.

Red, pink and light, coming up.

Ready For Water

These early June days, my days are filled with projects, and those scraps and pieces more commonly known as following up.  The fulfillment of all of those little ending details that transforms a job to be done into a finished and beautiful presentation.  These big things and little things, at the same time, is the normal course of events.  At home, a big and little thing of my own.  Carter has rebuilt my leaking fountain, and Buck repainted the inside.  The chlorinated rubber pool paint has to cure five days before the pool can be filled. It seems like it has been a lifetime since I have had  my water.      

Post the appropriate waiting period, Buck is filling the fountain.  Gillette Pools installed new out take jets-installed properly in the wall of the basin.  The original pool had these jets installed in the stone riser-not such a good look. Lest you not understand the effort expended for my fountain by Gillette Pools, they took on a massive mess, and made it right. They took on a deconstruction and reconstruction; this is tedious and uncertain work.  I had to commit to the project before what they knew what it would take to fix it. Yikes! Though we cleaned the inside, the sandy grit from the concrete work is still visible on the bottom of the pool.     

Howard and Milo are happy about getting their overscaled water dish back; the moment water started pouring into the fountain, they were there checking it out. Sometimes I leave the water at the level shown here-sometimes I fill it all the way to the top.  Today, I am feeling like to the top is an excellent idea. If you think this was the equivalent of Christmas Day to me, you are right. 

Milo is in motion running for his life the very second water starts blasting out of those jets. How did I know when the exact moment was at hand?  Buck and I were on the phone with each other-as he needed to be in the basement to adjust the valves governing the height of the water.  I was so worried the pumps would not work at all-having been silent almost 10 months.  No science here-just a nagging worry that something else would go wrong.  Buck had hauled the filters outside and cleaned them, and was very confident all would work fine. 

The water coming out of the jets-old stinky and dirty water. It will take a few minutes for each jet to be flushed out, and spouting clean water.  The corgis are no where to be seen.  Then the tedious job of getting the jets adjusted so the height is just so-meaning high enough to make enough sound to blotto the sound of my neighbor’s lawn mower.  The sound that a jet of water produces is the best part of having a fountain. 

Each valve gets turned up or down and up again until the pressure produces spouts of equal height. 

The water is murky with mortar and dirt.  It will take a few days stirring up and filtering out before the water is clean.  The reconstruction was such a beautiful job; the water appears to my eye to be exactly level-as if the fountain had a sheet of glass over the top.   

In another few days, the water is clean, and the Corgis are back to drinking from it like nothing had ever happened. But I know plenty has happened-and more is yet to come.  Dealing with the damage to the landscape is the next order of business.  There is more work to go than what I would like.  The good part-I have the luxury of rethinking certain parts of the composition.  Luxury from disaster-this is what I call trying to keep a good attitude going.    

I will keep you posted.