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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thomas Jefferson and his Private Retreat, Poplar Forest

I admit it, I am a Thomas Jefferson nut....

No well known historical person has combined so many diverse talents as good ole'  T.J. (well, maybe his friend, Ben did...) Besides his leadership and writing acumen, Jefferson was a genius when it came to building design, planning and, yes, gardening.

I admire his plantation retreat, Poplar Forest, in Virginia.

Here, Jefferson used a single geometric form, the octagon, for the house and a circle for the surrounding landscape. 

He took advantage of the sloping terrain and built the octagonal building into the slope so that lower entrance opens directly onto the ground level and the upper level opens out to the higher ground on the other side. You can now visit the restored 'villa retreat'  - please check out the website for a fascinating history of this wonderful place.
Poplar Forest, Jefferson's Private Retreat that he designed

Jefferson created two artificial mounds on opposite sides of the house and planted trees on these hillocks to further envelope the house. The techniques Jefferson used in siting and manipulating the earth around the house were way ahead of his time!

Jefferson was also an ardent plant lover and a pioneer plant distributor.

 He collected exotic trees and shrubs and investigated new crops to grow in the United States. He sent rice to South Carolina and Georgia from his tour in Italy and, in time, it became a flourishing agricultural crop. Jefferson also introduced the Pecan tree to the Southern U.S. by distributing the nuts and growing them in a special nursery.

A tribute that probably pleased Jefferson as much as any other was the naming of a native Virginia flower after him -  Jeffersonia diphylla. (Color Drawing: Wolcott, M.V. 1925. North American Wild Flowers. Smithsonian Institution. )

In their excellent book, 'Thomas Jefferson, Landscape Architect,' Frederick Doveton Nichols and Ralph E. Griswold summed up the man as landscape artist and planner:

"By applying his profound knowledge of nature and his intelligent observation of historic architecture, he was able to plan many houses and assist in the design of a state capitol, a federal city, and a university to fit the needs of our country. 

He was a pioneer of an art that united the natural landscape with architecture for the glory of a new nation."

Now, how many national politicians can do that today?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Organic Weed Killers You Can Make

Got weeds?

Before you reach for the RoundUp (and killing bees and polluting soil and water in the process) - try these cheap, organic ways to get rid of them:

wrotter by Sneeboer

Dig Out the roots

Yes, this method takes a bit of time and you must let them dry out in the sun... but it works!

But if you’re looking for a quicker way to rid yourself of weeds, try one of these homemade herbicides:

CAUTION!  A herbicide is a "substance that is toxic to plants," but they can also have a negative impact on the soil if applied in large quantities and they may cause human injuries if misused. So be mindful...

Drench with boiling water:

Boil water and then pour over the leaves and stems of the weeds you want to remove. This is great for sidewalk or driveway cracks or over a larger area that you’d like to replant after the weeds are gone. There is no residue or harmful long-term effects. Do not pour over the flowers or vegetable plants you wish to keep!

Fight 'em with fire:

 A flame-weeder tool allows you to apply flame and heat directly to the weeds without catching the whole neighborhood on fire. DO NOT DO THIS in fire-prone areas!  

Red Dragon VT 1-32 C 25000 BTU Mini Weed Dragon Propane Vapor Torch Kit

Use salt and a little soap...:

Common salt is an ancient way to kill plants. Because salt can have a detrimental effect in the soil, it’s important to only apply it directly to the leaves of the weeds, and to not soak the soil. 

Dissolve 1 part salt in 8 parts hot water, add a small amount of liquid dish soap (to help it adhere to  leaf surfaces), and pour into a spray bottle. Spray the leaves of the weeds with the solution. Be careful to not soak the soil and keep away from cement sidewalks or driveways (it may discolor them). Multiple applications may be necessary.

Add vinegar: 

Apply white vinegar to weed leaves ( white vinegar from grocery stores is usually strong enough for most weeds). The vinegar can be applied by spraying full strength onto the leaves of the weeds. Repeated applications may be necessary. Add a  little liquid dish detergent if you want. (You can buy stronger vinegar from garden supply outlets ) .

Salt and Vinegar:

Do both!  Combine table salt with white vinegar (1 cup salt to 1 gallon vinegar) and spray this mixture on the leaves of weed plants. Add liquid soap.

Good Luck, Weed Warriors!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jared Leto Hugs a Tree - Garden photo of the day

Jared Leto knows what is important..

I want all celebrities to photograph themselves hugging a tree...

in fact, I  want everyone to photograph themselves hugging a tree.

Please send me them to me here in the comments section. Thanks!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Nature Speaks: Color in Nature, Color in the Garden

 a great internet radio show!
I just had the nicest interview on an internet radio show with Christine Agro on Nature Speaks.

We spoke about color and its effect on us and how to use it in a garden... It is a lot of fun! If you would like to hear us talk about color please click here: 

Nature Inspired: Color in Nature, Color in the Garden

We  talk about yellow, green and white and of course, blue .... also about Lakshmi gardens, the idea of a Venus garden...and the sparkle of a white garden. 

Then Christine mentioned the most intensely colored fruit in Nature is Pollia condensata. I did not know about it and so I looked it up...

The berry is an intense blue and cannot be eaten by birds. It is shiny and keeps its color for a hundred years!

The Pollia does not contain colored cells; instead, its cells are coiled in a twist and form sheets. When sunlight filters down through these layers of cellulose, the vast majority of the cells reflect only the blue wavelengths. A few cells reflect other colors, which gives the fruit its characteristic shimmer.

Pollia condensata

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Calla lily 'Goldrush' - A Midsummer Beauty!

from Gardening at Mohonk 
The hybrid calla lily 'Goldrush' is a tender bulb that is easy to grow. It has striking yellow blooms that light up patio pots and make great, long lasting cut flowers.  

The calla “blooms,” are not flowers at all. They are a fleshy leaf that is uniquely shaped.  

Green foliage, spotted with white, adds beauty even when not in bloom. It is  tough and long-lasting, and wonderful in cut flower arrangements

Gold Rush's slender, upright form allows you to enjoy lots of blooms without giving up much square footage. Good for tight spaces. Excellent with dahlias in the center of a bed or with cascading plants in containers. One bloom can last for up to 2 weeks. 

Zantedeschia 'Gold Rush' likes partial shade/full sun, grows  16 - 22" high, and is hardy in zones 8 - 10.  It flowers all summer long.

 In cooler zones, lift tubers in fall and store indoors.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Gardening and Metaphysics

Click here: Namaste Publishing.

A wonderful publishing house, Namaste Publishing,  featured a blog post of mine on their website a while back. 

 Namaste is an interactive website and a publishing house. They are the publishers of Oprah's fave, Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now.

The post they published was called "The Best Place to Seek God,"

Please click on it and check it out.

I wrote:

"I see the piece of ground outside our door as an everyday conduit to the energy of life that flows within plants, water, trees, sunlight, rocks, birds, and assorted creatures. 

When we are in a serene garden we connect to an aliveness that resides in these forms. They help us to experience the divine."

Gardening and metaphysics are twin passions of mine. This is what propelled me to write my book, 'Heaven is a Garden'

Perhaps the name is too intense, maybe I should rename the post...

 'echinacea enlightenment' 
Echinacea Harvest Moon  - Monrovia 

or 'rudbeckia ruminations' 
Viette's Little Suzy Rudbeckia

or 'miscanthus mysteries'

Maiden grass

on second thought, I do believe that a garden is, "The Best Place to Seek God,"...  I think I will keep that name.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

'Quiet Mark' Treehouse - Garden Photo of the Day

Blue Forest built this tree house

The Quiet Mark Treehouse by John Lewis
 was designed and built by Blue Forest. 
 and will be a central feature at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 
8th – 13th July 2014.
The theme of this year's RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show  is
‘Grow, Inspire and Escape’.
This stand-alone treehouse was inspired by the shape of a small copse of Oak trees. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Fragrant Chinese Lilac

'Lilac Sunday' Chinese Lilac - source: Fine Gardening 
 The Chinese Lilac (Syringa chinensis) is neither Chinese nor a true lilac. It was the first known hybrid lilac and was discovered as a seedling growing in Rouen, France in 1777.
Chinese Lilac is considered an "old-fashioned" shrub. It is known for its marvelously fragrant, showy purple, violet, or white flowers which appear in mid-May and last for one to two weeks.  It is a hardy, very wide spreading shrub, growing eventually to 12' by 12' wide. 

White Chinese Lilac - source: David J Frank
Chinese Lilac is the star of the show in spring when its intoxicating scent perfumes the air.
The multitrunked silhouette of the Chinese Lilac differs from the more upright and narrow Common Lilac and many people prefer the Chinese Lilac for this reason. 
It makes a perfect small tree for a small to mid-size yard.  It grows in USDA zones 5 - 8.
Chinese Lilac likes full sun and needs good air circulation around it to prevent powdery mildew from forming on its leaves. In this regard, it is a good idea to plant it as a small bushy tree out in the open lawn rather than in the shrub border or with a grouping of other plants.  
It is a good plant for urban areas because it is highly adaptable to poor soils, drought and pollution. 
Except for powdery mildew in late summer, the Chinese Lilac is a vigorous shrub. However, prune only after flowering, as it sets the next season's flower buds during the summer. 
A cultivar is 'Lilac Sunday' and the Saugeana, a lilac with vivid rose-red flowers. Hardy to -40 degrees!
Saugeana Chinese Lilac  source:

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

'Ruby Slippers' Oakleaf Hydrangea - a great native, compact flowering shrub!

Ruby Slippers Oakleaf Hydrangea - photo by Sandra Reed

 So you want to plant a native shrub that tolerates half shade 

(shade in afternoon), 

has big blooms  in the summer 

and has great Fall color?

Oh yeah, and it should be compact, fairly minimum maintenance 

and grow to -20 degrees F.  And it should be reddish/pink.


is the answer. 

Monrovia - Ruby Slippers close up

Its 9" long flower clusters start out white, then gradually change to pink and then red, growing above the beautiful oakleaf foliage, which also turns an amazing mahogany red in the fall.   

It grows to just 3 1/2 ft. by about 5 feet wide.  Zones 5-9.

Developed by the U.S. National Arboretum in McMinnville, TN in 2010, 
the compact Ruby Slippers is a cross between Snow Queen and PeeWee hydrangea.
It does not grow higher than 4 feet. 

It is perfect for small residential gardens (such as mine). 

It also does well in planters and containers - perfect for balconies and decks!  And if you have a larger area, you can use them in a mass planting, as a striking hedge and in mixed borders. 

Blossoms remain upright even after heavy rains and strong winds. The same is true for the glorious leaves.

 Just make sure to mulch to retain soil moisture and help keep the roots cool.

Winter interest? It has lovely cinnamon exfoliating bark which is beautiful.

Ruby Slippers is spectacular anywhere it's planted.  

(this is a repeat of an earlier post but well worth re-visiting!) 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Seasonal Wisdom Garden Blog - Find the Power Spot in your Garden

Teresa O'Connor has a wonderful garden blog called Seasonal Wisdom. It is full of fascinating and well written posts!  She was a finalist in the Garden Blog Hall of Fame - so you know how great the blog is.

She very kindly reviewed my new book and asked me to write a post for her.  I am sharing it here. I hope you enjoy it and check out Seasonal Wisdom!

So if you would like to read about the Power Spot in Your Landscape - Click Here.

Garden Tip of the Day - Color in the Garden

Expect to plant up to four times as many cool colored plants

as warm colored plants 

if viewing the garden from across the yard.

For more info - click here:

Cheekwood Plantation in Nashville, Tennessee

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Copper Poppies for your Garden

Myburgh copper poppies 

 If you want a nice touch in your flower beds try this: Copper Poppies!

Stephen Myburgh makes Copper Poppies in three sizes. They are easy to place – gently push the stem of the flower into the ground. Buy several and create a simple arrangement with a few of these.
And the Poppies collect water for the birds or you can float candles in them. Great idea.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bluebells in a Beech Forest - Garden Photo of the Day

In Belgium, near Brussels, the floor of the Hallerbos Forest is covered with bluebells from spring to early summer. The wooded area covers 1360 acres...

When it is foggy the effect is positively ethereal!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Summer Solstice and the Catalpa Tree - Garden Photo of the day

Catalpa tree flowers - source: Kansas Native Plants 

Did you know that the Catalpa Tree drops its flowers, which look like orchids, on the Summer Solstice?

Catalpas are the last to leaf out and their flowers tell us when the longest day of the year is. On this day they fall like snow...

The Catawba Indians of Upstate New York, where the Catalpa is native, regarded this tree as sacred.  There is a great story about how they were seeded all over the midwest:  The Great Catalpa Craze. 

I love Christine Agro's messages and mandalas. Here is her 'Catalpa meditation':

source: Catalpa: Be In Tune With Nature

Saturday, June 21, 2014


Coral Coast Bridges
So you place a lovely garden bridge in your garden..

now the question arises: to stain it a color or not?

Most people are inclined to say, 'let's let it turn gray naturally'....

But what about staining it with a wood stain in the color of gray or brown? is that better? 

Coral Coast Bridges say: 'Make your backyard or garden as pretty as a painted picture with a Bridge stained Dark Brown Stain.'

You can stain it a color or treat it with clear weather treatment, or both. I like the look of a stained, treated bridge. It lasts longer.  See above for a good comparison.

So here is are 2 photos below of a bridge I placed in a landscape over a stream I created. 

The one on top was 'before', the one on the bottom is 'after'...

Which Do You Like? Let me know.

BTW, the client always wanted red but I resisted....not brave enough, I guess. 

Jan Johnsen -  garden bridge before staining 

Jan Johnsen - garden bridge after staining 

And if I were brave, here is what a red bridge looks like. I think it was the preservative treatment that made them look red  (similar to why we have red barns) in the old days. This is in Japan:

shinkyo bridge 

A red bridge is so striking. I must garner more courage.....