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

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Great True story about Organic Soil

Tony Avent runs the wonderful Plant Delights Nursery - offering a diverse collection of plants and the catalog is a collectors' item

On April 29, 2010 Anne Raver of the New York Times asked:  "How does Tony Avent, the horticultural mythbuster, grow so many plants successfully in his garden?

Rule No. 1: he uses the same mix of 40 percent native soil, dug on his own land, and 60 percent compost for every plant.

''The soil for every plant we have is prepared exactly the same, whether it's a pitcher plant or an agave,'' ....

After he switched to organics, he said, ''it took about a year before everything started jumping. Our insect problems disappeared. It was just amazing.'' ...."


This observation took me back to 1972 when I was a landscape architecture student at the University of Hawaii and minoring in tropical agriculture

The university farm was in Pearl City ( next to Pearl Harbor) and it was divided into one large section devoted to standard agriculture (agribusiness majors)  plots and a very small section reluctantly relegated to organic gardens (run by us 'hippie haoles' who were studying tropical agriculture)...


I had come to Hawaii via Kenya and was very interested in saving the world through tropical organic gardening.
This is me in Pearl City, Hawaii tending to my vegetable garden years ago - note the Kenyan Kikoy I was wearing..the latest in fashionable gardening clothes.. .:-)

The agriculture students got stipends for their seeds, fertilizer and pesticides...

the organic students got nothing....and you know what happened?

                                                                                                                                  

Well,  every semester the organic plots got better and better because the soil was being improved consistently with fish emulsion and compost ( a local health services organization was training mentally disabled students on how to make compost on premises)

while every semester the big fertilized plots run by the aggies got worse and worse...this was back when 'organic' was some weird, unrealistic approach to agriculture....and no professor back then would acknowledge what was pretty evident to the eyes.  The crops treated with herbicides and chemical fertilizers were poor and weak....


Of course, it didn't help when the campus newspaper did a cover story on our 'new organic plots' at Pearl City..and they interviewed me.

I talked about how our crops were flourishing and about a new (ha!) organic pest control called BT -bacillus thuringensis. After that interview,  I presented a report to a Hawaii legislature committee on why Oahu should use their sewage sludge in a soil fertilizer similar to Milwaukee's Milorganite ....

they didn't go for it but look at what is out there today:


Now, almost 40 years later, I marvel at how long it took society to understand what we - the hippies - knew:  Organic is the only way...it is Nature's Way.

And look at what they offer at Pearl City today:

Organic Gardening!

Live demonstrations by UH Master Gardeners including Organic Gardening 101, Building Healthy Soil, and Composting! First demonstration begins 9AM -10AM, next session 10:30AM -11:30AM. 

Composting Worms for Hawaii  
Small-Scale Vermicomposting 
Backyard Composting Recycling a Natural Product 
Building Healthy Garden Soil
Organic Gardening Resources


We have come a long way....

The truth is that true tranquility lies in compost and happy earthworms....

And if you live in Connecticut you should know about these people too:


And you should know:

Authentic Haven Products - Compost tea














Saturday, July 30, 2016

Cottage Garden Primer




Cottage Garden - Jan Johnsen  


  I once worked with a lovely client ( now a dear friend!) who wanted a cottage-style flower garden.

Now there are cottage gardens and then there are cottage gardens...know what I mean?


In Great Britain, it seems everyone has the most magnificent flower garden, each more spectacular than the next...

their lushness sets a standard of perfection for cottage gardens that makes me want to say to someone here in the Northeast U.S., 'Would you like to consider an ornamental grass garden instead?"

Designed and installed by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

But of course, the call of a cottage garden, filled with a profusion of  flowers and smelling of roses, peonies and lilacs, makes one dizzy with anticipation.

All you need in my part of the world is a deer fence, deep fertile soil, constant watering and someone to tend it lovingly... a tall order indeed.  

But it can be done.  And that is what we did - installed a deer fence, brought in great topsoil and carefully amended it and added irrigation. My client followed through and tended it with a loving hand and added wonderful flowers whenever she saw the need.

The result?  A sumptuous garden filled with a riot of colors, lurid with intoxicating scents.


I planned the garden to be a 10 foot wide curved plant bed bordering a level lawn. The only problem - there was no level lawn.

The rear property sloped steeply downhill and in order to make it level I needed to bring in soil and retain it with a wall. This is a big proposition in any situation but here it was especially dicey because I didn't want to disturb the roots of the native hemlock trees growing near where the wall was to be located.

To accomplish this, I used the stacking, concrete units that are part of a wall system called Alpenstein. This is a great solution because no footings are required and Alpenstein allows you to plant within each unit!

 It is a versatile, plantable wall system. Once planted with vines and spreading groundcovers, an Alpenstein wall blends with the natural setting.

Designed and installed by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

After the site was perfect, I set about planting perennial and annual flowers. Perennials come back every year and form the backbone of the cottage garden. For that I set out large drifts or groups of medium tall, durable flowers in the mid-zone of the bed  to add height and variety. 

These included 'Sunny Border Blue' Speedwell (Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue'), the PPA Plant of the Year 1993, and 'Caesar's Brother' Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica 'Caesar's Brother'), a reliable and graceful flower with pansy blue coloring....

Veronica photo from Bluestone Perennials 

Additionally, I planted the graceful Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis gracillimus) and other 'foolproof'' perennials like dwarf Gayfeather, (Liatris spicata 'Kobold'), the tall 'Magnus' Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'). 

Below is the list of the dependable flower varieities I used for this garden. No unusual cultivars here - just a cottage garden full of faithful staples that work together in cozy harmony..


My Flower List for This Cottage Garden
Jan Johnsen

Perennials

Botanical Name                                       Common Name

Artemesia 'Silver King'                             'Silver King' Wormwood

Astilbe chinensis pumila                            Dwarf Chinese Astilbe

Coreopsis vert. 'Moonbeam'                    'Moonbeam' Coreopsis

Dianthus 'Bath's Pink'                               'Bath's Pink' Dianthus

Echinacea purp. 'Magnus'                         Magnus Coneflower

Heuchera  'Palace Purple'                         'Palace Purple' Coralbells

Iris sibirica 'Caesar's Brother'                    'Caesar's Brother' Siberian Iris

Liatris spicata 'Kobold'                              Dwarf Gayfeather

Lilium orientale 'Stargazer'                         'Stargazer' Oriental Lily

Peonies                                                      Peonies

Persicaria 'Donald Lowndes'                   Don. Lowndes Fleeceflower

Phlox pan. 'Bright Eyes'                           'Bright Eyes' Garden Phlox

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'                                   'Autumn Joy' Sedum

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm'                     Dwarf Black eyed Susan

Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue'                     'Sunny Border Blue' Speedwell

Annuals

Botanical Name                                          Common Name

Senecio cineraria                                          Dusty Miller

Cosmos sulphureus                                      Cosmos 'Klondyke mix'

Ageratum 'Blue Hawaii'                                Blue Hawaii Ageratum

Catharanthus roseus                                     Annual Vinca

Heliotropium arb..Marine'                           'Marine' Heliotrope

Salvia farinacea 'Victoria Blue'                      Salvia 'Victoria Blue'

Salvia 'Sparkler Purple'                                'Sparkler Purple' annual Salvia












Monday, July 18, 2016

Win a free issue of Garden Design Magazine right here!



As you may know, I love Garden Design magazine. It is gorgeous, each issue is 148 pages thick and packed with fascinating gardening info and landscaping ideas and, best of all, it has no ads!  It is published quarterly, one issue per season.

How can they make it work? Well, it is a subscriber-supported magazine. Jim Peterson is the publisher and Thad Orr is the editor. I think they have made it the best garden magazine out there....
Would you like an issue? I am giving out the current issue to 3 lucky winners...see below for my random drawing.
 And I am thrilled to say that Garden Design chose to feature my ideas on Creating a Relaxing Retreat in their current issue which features Serene Spaces. I am honored and so happy that it is being shared by such a prestigious and elevated magazine!
The 6 page article, 'Serenity and the Sweet Spot', offers my tips for creating relaxing outdoor spaces that I have refined over the years. I look to ancient sources and have used them in my landscapes. They took my photos and had a brilliant illustrator from Spain, David Despau, interpret them in colored pen an dink drawings. Wow.



Also they have a 16-page spread on David Austin roses.

And an article on hydrangeas that made me swoon. I am planting so many of the new varieties these days for clients. And then there is the article on the Thomas Jefferson garden at Monticello with Peter Hatch. It is called 'Jefferson's Legacy, at last' That is the best!  TJ is my hero and I went to see Monticello on my honeymoon. (I have been back since). 
GD_Summer2016_PeterHatch_pg36
(Photo credit: GardenDesign/Ngoc Minh Ngo — used by permission.).
And lastly, they have a great piece on Disneyland's horticultural magic. What a fascinating article! Am I gushing? Well that is because it really is a great magazine.

For a chance to win an issue of Serene Spaces issue of Garden Design (U.S. and Canada residents only) post a comment below.
I use the number generator at Random.org to select 3 winners.

Winners will be announced both here and on my Facebook page on Saturday, July 23, 2016, so check back!
If you want to buy your own subscription to Garden Design, and receive your first issue for free? Click here: Garden Design.





Sunday, July 17, 2016

Loren Eiseley's Prescriptive for Our Times

"Let it be admitted that the world’s problems are many and wearing, and that the whirlpool runs fast. 
If we are to build a stable cultural structure above that which threatens to engulf us by changing our lives more rapidly than we can adjust our habits, it will only be by flinging over the torrent a structure as taut and flexible as a spider’s web, a human society deeply self-conscious and undeceived by the waters that race beneath it, a society more literate, more appreciative of human worth than any society that has previously existed. 
That is the sole prescription, not for survival — which is meaningless — but for a society worthy to survive."
Loren Eiseley,  Firmament of Time
For more excerpts from Loren Eiseley go here: 






Saturday, July 9, 2016

Garden Design Magazine - My Tips and Interview

Garden Design Magazine interviewed me for tips for blending ancient and modern ways to create gardens that simply make you feel good.  

They also had the fabulous illustrator from Spain, David Despau, illustrate photos of some of my landscapes.

 I am honored.  It is in the summer issue of Garden Design:



It is such a great magazine. 


You can use this link to subscribe to garden Design and get your first issue free


You can also order just this one issue here








Friday, July 8, 2016

“Learning the Trees” - Howard Nemerov

I used to teach Tree Identification at a community college decades ago.

 I also wrote the book, 'Ortho's's All About Trees' which introduces trees to the reader. 

This poem reveals the beginner mind.   Watch for samaras and drupes.... 
 
Jan Johnsen



Learning the Trees

Related Poem Content Details

Before you can learn the trees, you have to learn 
The language of the trees. That’s done indoors, 
Out of a book, which now you think of it 
Is one of the transformations of a tree. 

The words themselves are a delight to learn, 
You might be in a foreign land of terms 
Like samara, capsule, drupe, legume and pome, 
Where bark is papery, plated, warty or smooth. 

But best of all are the words that shape the leaves— 
Orbicular, cordate, cleft and reniform— 
And their venation—palmate and parallel— 
And tips—acute, truncate, auriculate. 

Sufficiently provided, you may now 
Go forth to the forests and the shady streets 
To see how the chaos of experience 
Answers to catalogue and category. 

Confusedly. The leaves of a single tree 
May differ among themselves more than they do 
From other species, so you have to find, 
All blandly says the book, “an average leaf.” 

Example, the catalpa in the book 
Sprays out its leaves in whorls of three 
Around the stem; the one in front of you 
But rarely does, or somewhat, or almost; 

Maybe it’s not catalpa? Dreadful doubt. 
It may be weeks before you see an elm 
Fanlike in form, a spruce that pyramids, 
A sweetgum spiring up in steeple shape. 

Still, pedetemtim as Lucretius says, 
Little by little, you do start to learn; 
And learn as well, maybe, what language does 
And how it does it, cutting across the world 

Not always at the joints, competing with 
Experience while cooperating with 
Experience, and keeping an obstinate 
Intransigence, uncanny, of its own. 

Think finally about the secret will 
Pretending obedience to Nature, but 
Invidiously distinguishing everywhere, 
Dividing up the world to conquer it, 

And think also how funny knowledge is: 
You may succeed in learning many trees 
And calling off their names as you go by, 
But their comprehensive silence stays the same.

Howard Nemerov, “Learning the Trees” from The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977). Copyright © 1977 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Beautify Your Vegetable Garden with These Ideas.....


The French have long understood that vegetable gardens can be places of beauty. They located their traditional potagers, or kitchen gardens, outside their kitchen windows and included vertical structures, flowers, and artistic plant groupings designed for aesthetic appeal. 
Flowers look beautiful and attract the all important pollinators to your garden. Read the wonderful article I have linked here for learning how to include beautiful flowers and more in your veggie garden. 
Infographic - go here for more






Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Rare Honey Moon on the Summer Solstice - Tomorrow, June 20



On June 20, 2016 there will be a very rare Honey Moon at the same time of the summer solstice - the longest day of the year.  


June's full moon is  known as a "Honey Moon" because it can have a slightly golden tint, according to EarthSky.org.  


yellowish 'honey' moon

That's because it appears low in the sky, meaning we are viewing it through the lens of more of the Earth's atmosphere. This is the lowest moon of the year, the moon's path across the sky this month actually mimics the sun's low arc across the sky in December, according to EarthSky.

Pink honey moon rises over Sweden
The June Full Moon rising appears to loom impossibly large near the horizon. That effect has long been recognized as the Moon Illusion

The cause of the giant Moon illusion is poorly understood and not explained by atmospheric optical effects, such as scattering and refraction...they cannot fully explain this !

Majestic scene with honey moon 

 Btw, is this why they call the sojourn after a wedding a Honeymoon? Did everyone get married in June and so that was how the name came about? Just asking.
If you want to know all the names of the moons click here and go to the great blog, Seasonal Wisdom. Teresa O'Connor describes all the moon names - fascinating. 

Again click here for more fascinating info on this event











Monday, June 13, 2016

'Purple Smoke' - The best Baptisia

 This year I am planting Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'. 

A deer resistant, native, drought tolerant, purple, long lived perennial! Wow!


Photo - Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden - Puple Smoke Baptisia and Carolina Moonlight Baptisia

It is a hybrid of B. australis and B. alba and is a vigorous grower.  Discovered by Rob Gardener of the North Carolina Botanical Gardens, it has charcoal-gray stems and is purple.  

Baptisia is a native perennial that has a long taproot, loves sunny sites with lean or poor soil. Average to dry soil is best.  Its deep tap root allows it to survive long dry periods, making it a challenge to move once it is established. 

Purple Smoke from Bluestone Perennials

The flowers resemble lupines and are smoky violet. Numerous flowers open first at the base of the flower stalk in May and ascend upwards, topping out at 4.5' tall. It has fine textured, blue-green foliage. 

The flower spikes rise above the foliage for easy viewing. I love its unique flower color and strong vertical form.  A Niche Gardens introduction.


"is one of the best—if not the best—Baptisia on the market."












Saturday, June 4, 2016

Muhammad Ali's Peace Garden Initiative

photo courtesy of business wire

The Muhammad Ali Center of Lexington, Ky and Yum! Brands Foundation launched the global Muhammad Ali Center Peace Gardens project on September 21, 2010. 

This coincided with the United Nations International Day of Peace.



Peace gardens focus on using edible plants from different cultures to teach youth about the world through culinary delights. 

They also teach children how to "nurture and care for other living things" and remind them about the importance of fruits and vegetables  in their diets.  



Through the process of growing food students learn about nature's processes and increase their access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

What better way to create awareness about hunger than to have them actively involved in growing a garden, taking food home to their families, and giving to the community?


The model for this idea came from the John F. Kennedy Montessori school.  Children participated in all aspects of the garden including planting, nurturing, harvesting, cooking and donating food to the hungry.

The model garden consisted of different vegetable beds representing the different countries and the diverse cultures of the school.

  • Squash and beans were grown in the United States/Native American garden and were used to make “3 Sisters Harvest Soup”.
  • Tomatoes, peppers and onions were grown in a Salsa Garden representing Mexico.
  • Sweet potatoes and black beans were grown in the Cuban garden bed
  • Edamame was grown in the Asian bed
  • Potatoes and cucumbers represented Russia.

“The ‘Muhammad Ali Center Peace Gardens’ program will sow the seeds of cultural respect by teaching children how to build gardens with plants from different countries,” said Greg Roberts, President of the Muhammad Ali Center.









Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Add a Lively Red Accent in Your Landscape

(Red New Guinea Impatiens,landscape and photo by Jan Johnsen)

Bold. Bright. Pop.

This is what RED adds to a garden.

RED, an eye catching hue, stands up to the summer sun's withering glare in the afternoon.

When all pastels fade away, red, orange and yellow sing their hearts out....and RED always steals the show.

RED has a vivid history - Check it out on the sensational color website. It is the color of the root chakra (this means 'energy point) of the body:

"This chakra is located at the base of the spine and allows us to be grounded and connect to the universal energies. Groundedness, belonging...."

(sounds perfect for all us grounded gardeners)



In Japan RED is associated with certain deities. Their “Shinkyo” (Sacred Bridge) in Nikko, Japan is a wonderful example of the contrast RED makes with green in a natural setting.

You can also see how effective RED is in the modern Chinese Red Ribbon in Tanghe River Park, designed by Turenscape :



This use of RED has always been popular in Chinese gardens...Here is another example showing a red Tori or gate...what great proportions too.



I was first introduced to the power of red by the French artist, Matisse...I loved his 'Red Studio' when I first saw it as a child in a NY museum:



And of course Red furniture outdoors attracts the eye:



Here is a landscape I designed - the red bench definitely dominates the scene:






I often plant RED Callibrachoa in my clients' gardens. It is a eye catcher for sure!



I also plant a mass of red begonias next to dark green leucothoe to make a statement. This is what I did along an entry walk:



Of course the spilling over of Superbena Royale Red Verbena in a pot is unmatched:

(courtesy of Proven Winners)

And Nemesia, a cool season annual flower, is also a knock out in red, Sunsatia Cranberry Nemesia :

(courtesy of Proven Winners)

Did you know that Bees can’t see the color red, but they can see all other bright colors. Red flowers are usually pollinated by birds, butterflies, bats, and wind, rather than bees.

I love red tulips against a white fence so I planted these Parade tulips:

(Jan Johnsen)

And of course the traditional Red Geranium always signifies 'welcome' in so many languages:



So please consider 'spicing up' your outdoor surroundings with some RED today - you won't regret it!


(Silas Mountsier Garden, photo by Jan Johnsen)