Creating harmony, simplicity and peace in the landscape......

"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.

Gardening is an instrument of grace. "

May Sarton

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

'Sun King' Aralia - Bold and Stunning in Part Shade

Sun King Aralia - photo by Wayside gardens 

A shrub for part shade, Aralia cordata ' Sun King', grows 3' - 5' tall and wide and is a great companion to Hosta. Many sources say it is deer resistant - so maybe it is....

Aralia Sun King on Right..Great photo by Karl Gercens

Brought to the US and named by Barry Yinger, who found it in a Japanese department store nursery, Aralia 'Sun King' is one of the most amazing new perennial introductions in the last decade! 

The Golden Japanese Aralia grows in USDA zones 4a - 8b and emerges with bold, gold compound leaves. The foliage will remain gold all summer given a few hours of sun a day. In heavier shade, foliage will be lime green.

photo by Plant Delights Nursery 

It has bright red stems and later in the season it features small white flowers that attract plenty of pollinators like honeybees. This is followed by masses of beautiful purple/black berries that birds (especially thrushes) love to snack on.

What a great backdrop of a partly shaded border!

aralia berries - birds love them. from Bellevue Botanic Garden 

 Aralias will spread if you do not weed out any seedlings you do not want.  'Sun King' grows vigorously, swiftly reaching its mature size.  Just watch to keep it in bounds.... Plant 'Sun King' in part shade and moist conditions. Likes ample water. 

And hopefully, it really is deer resistant. Looks good near a burgundy foliage like heuchera, threadleaf Japanese Maple (deer resistant too).  Here is another wonderful Karl Gercens photo, 'Sun King' Aralia on left:

sun king aralia on left - Photo by Karl Gercens

Saturday, January 24, 2015

10 Great Garden Photos of 2014 - Serenity in the Garden

Allium 'Millenium' by Laura McKillop

What makes a great garden photo? Anything that delights you.

But if I had to put my finger on it - salient aspects would be the quality of the light and the richness of color. And composition figures prominently. 

That said, here are some memorable photographs that have been featured in this year's 'Serenity in the Garden' blog posts.

My criteria? Whatever grabbed my eye as I perused the photos..

moongate by Richard Hartlage

Andy Goldsworthy Spire, San Francisco


Blue Moon Bridge by Virginia Small 

Meadow flowers

Baptisia Purple Smoke, Bluestone Perennials

Jan Johnsen, landscape design 

From the film, Being There

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Trompe l’oeil for 21st Century Landscapes

Michael Krondl - waterworks in Katonah, NY

One day in 2007 I was driving along a road in my area when I saw a long wall of falling water that wasn't there before. The water was gushing over the wall but I saw no evidence of any water beyond that . Hmmm.....

Photo by Jan Johnsen

I had to stop the car and take a picture. Then I had to walk up there and see what was going on....

It was an art installation using photo-derived imagery of a waterfall. 

A digital print on vinyl  - trompe l’oeil for the 21st century! 

 The artist is the talented and inventive Michael Krondl.

The 200-foot long waterfall called 'Rising Water/Falling Water' was in front of the Katonah Museum of Art.

I was struck by this vinyl wall of water..I had to see how he attached it to the existing wall...ah yes, grommets!

photo by Jan Johnsen

The possibilities of this trompe l’oeil in a landscape or public setting are vast-

Walls of water on subway platforms, sides of buildings, billboards, gas stations...

why not? As they say, views of nature help us relax. Serenity in the Garden goes viral.....

Mr. Krondl's other projects include 'Waterwalk' he did for the Center for Contemporary Art in Prague. It was created to commemorate the anniversary of flooding that had devastated Prague in 2002 .

Mr Krondl explains on his website that he made the digital print on vinyl in 2003,by taking a series of photographs of the nearby river.

He digitally “seamed“ these together to make one large image and this was printed by a commercial billboard printer. It was then installed on the floor of the Palmovka Synagogue, a spot heavily affected by the floods. People walking on the surface of the 'water' felt they were literally afloat.

Someday I will place a trompe l’oeil 'water wall' somewhere.....or this! (look carefully):

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Henri Matisse - Quote of the Day

"What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity..." -


To the end of his days, the French artist, Henri Matisse created visual art in any way he could....

His works continue to attract the admiration of many around the world.  Purity and serenity win out every time.

Friday, January 16, 2015

'Illumination Flame' Foxglove - Super Star

 'Illumination Flame Foxglove - Digitalis (Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame')

This half hardy perennial (USDA zone 8- 10) is taking the hort. world by storm. 

Charles Valin crossed the common garden foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, with its Canary Island perennial cousin, Isoplexis canariensis to create this stunning, 2'-3' tall beauty. Digiplexis is its name.

It blooms continuously from Spring thru Fall and, even though sterile, attracts butterflies and bees. Magnificent, huge, non-stop, 3' tall bloom spikes hold large, rich pink and orange blooms with spotted golden throats. A great cut flower too.

Easy to grow, give it good loamy soil with compost added to see what it really can do! And it’s adaptable to full sun thru bright shade. A dark foliaged companion would be lovely next to it. 

With its endless blooming, it also makes a terrific choice for a large pot.

'Illumination Flame' Foxglove - 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Keys to Wellbeing - A Scientific Study

What factors influence wellbeing?

According to The Daily Life Study from New Zealand that tracked nearly 1500 young people  (average age, 19) the pursuit of happiness needs fruit, nature, sun,  sleep, selenium.

Fruit and vegies: Healthy amounts can elevate moods and raise curiosity and creativity.

Nature:  The project found spending time in nature was good for the soul -  a walk through the botanic gardens improved emotions. So a daily walk in a park can improve emotional wellbeing.

Sleep and exercise: At least seven hours' sleep and a daily run improves wellness.

Vitamin D: Reduces the risk of depression, if only because of getting outside in the sun.

Selenium: Can trigger depressive symptoms if too low or taken in amounts too high. The source of selenium is oysters, tuna, whole wheat bread, sunflower seeds, poultry,  and eggs. 

 Overseen by Otago University psychologist Dr Tamlin Conner, the research project  found a link between selenium concentration and a negative mood among young adults. Dr Tamlin Conner said adequate selenium intake was required for optimal antioxidant defenses against glutathione peroxidise, a key antioxidant enzyme.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

This Tent of Dripping Clouds - Ralph Waldo Emerson

The misery of man appears like childish petulance, 
when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight
 on this green ball which floats him through the heavens. 

What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, 
this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between? 
this zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds,
this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year? 

Beasts, fire, water, stones, and corn serve him. 
The field is at once his floor, his work-yard, 
his play-ground,
his garden, and his bed.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Chapter II from Nature, published as part of Nature; Addresses and Lectures

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Moon Gates

My blogoversary (a 'new word ') passed and I didn't notice... So in the spirit of belated celebration, I am reprinting one of the very first blog posts I wrote. 

Two evenings ago, driving along a road in open farm country, I watched as the January full moon rose over a snowy landscape. The large white disc shining brightly in a liquid gray sky was spectacular!

I now understand why animals howl at the moon - it must be a sympathetic show of appreciation and awe...

The grandeur of the full moon made me reflect on moon gates, the traditional Chinese circular entryways that lead into contained gardens and cities.

The rounded opening alludes to the full moon and the Chinese adage that says, 'Flowers are more beautiful when the moon is full.'

Stepping through a round portal is symbolic of many things. Like our entrance into this world, it is an enveloping opening that calls to us to see what is on the other side. This sort of entry speaks to us of mystery and delight.

It is not a soaring Calatrava-like bridge or ornamented portico,  a moon gate beckons quietly, saying 'come see for yourself..."

Naumkeag, photo by Jan Johnsen

One of the most lovely moon gates that I have had the pleasure to step through is the gate in the Chinese garden at Naumkeag in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Naumkeag is a shingle-style 'country house' estate designed by noted architect Stanford White in 1885. As all Gilded Age homes, it is filled with finery and art, but, to me, it is the gardens that make this public attraction memorable.

Sitting on 8 acres of landscaped grounds surrounded by 40 acres of woodland, meadow, and pasture, the property was originally designed by Nathan Barrett then expanded by noted landscape designer, Fletcher Steele (what a great name!) between 1926 and 1956.

The moon gate is part of Steele's Chinese Garden (1936-1956) and was added as the last piece of the puzzle in 1956.

The most wonderful aspect of this particular moon gate is the masonry. The wall, of which it is a part, is built from dark red brick and gray fieldstone. The gate itself is brick topped with lovely brickwork and a wooden roof.

The masonry is quite different from traditional Chinese moon gates which are often fashioned from smooth stucco or finished stone. Here, the large round gate fits in with the native plants of this region perfectly and does not look ersatz or slightly out of place as so many Chinese gardens appear to be in my part of the world.

Btw, it is said that a moon gate brings good luck to all who pass through it so, with that, a summer visit to the Berkshire Mountains and the stunning Naumkeag may be just what you require! This photo below is taken from the Naumkeag official website:

Weeds are Flowers too - Garden Photo of the Day

ox eye daisy 

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.’ – A.A. Milne

ox eye daisies in Ohio

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Dormouse and the Doctor by A.A. Milne

My mother would read this poem to me when I was a young child in a NY city apartment. I loved it although I had not a clue what a geranium or delphinium was.  

The Dormouse and the Doctor

by  A.A. Milne

There once was a Dormouse who lived in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)
And all the day long he'd a wonderful view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)

Doctor came hurrying round, and he said:
"Tut-tut, I am sorry to find you in bed.
Just say 'Ninety-nine', while I look at your chest...
Don't you find that chrysanthemums answer the best?"

The Dormouse looked round at the view and replied
(When he'd said "Ninety-nine") that he'd tried and he'd tried,
And much the most answering things that he knew
Were geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue).
The Doctor stood frowning and shaking his head,
And he took up his shiny silk hat as he said:
"What the patient requires is a change," and he went
To see some chrysanthemum people in Kent.

The Dormouse lay there, 
and he gazed at the view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue),
And he knew there was nothing he wanted instead
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red).

The Doctor came back and, to show what he meant,
He had brought some chrysanthemum cuttings from Kent.
"Now these," he remarked, "give a much better view
Than geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)."

They took out their spades and they dug up the bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red),
And they planted chrysanthemums (yellow and white).
"And now," said the Doctor, "we'll soon have you right."

The Dormouse looked out, and he said with a sigh:
"I suppose all these people know better than I.
It was silly, perhaps, but I did like the view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)."

The Doctor came round and examined his chest,
And ordered him Nourishment, Tonics, and Rest.
"How very effective," he said, as he shook
The thermometer, "all these chrysanthemums look!"

The Dormouse turned over to shut out the sight
Of the endless chrysanthemums (yellow and white).
"How lovely," he thought, "to be back in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)."

The Doctor said, "Tut! It's another attack!"
And ordered him Milk and Massage-of-the-back,
And Freedom-from-worry and Drives-in-a-car,
And murmured, "How sweet your chrysanthemums are!"

The Dormouse lay there with his paws to his eyes,
And imagined himself such a pleasant surprise:
"I'll pretend the chrysanthemums turn to a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)!"

The Doctor next morning was rubbing his hands,
And saying, "There's nobody quite understands
These cases as I do! The cure has begun!
How fresh the chrysanthemums look in the sun!"

The Dormouse lay happy, his eyes were so tight
He could see no chrysanthemums, yellow or white.
And all that he felt at the back of his head
Were delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red).


And that is the reason (Aunt Emily said)
If a Dormouse gets in a chrysanthemum bed,
You will find (so Aunt Emily says) that he lies
Fast asleep on his front with his paws to his eyes.