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Showing posts from January, 2010

Shifting reality…in a garden

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Serenity gardens are places where you can stop and shift your reality…. Sounds a little odd, yes? But an outdoor retreat can help us to become more grounded and relaxed which aids in changing our perceptions. Additionally, a serene outdoor space helps us to see that our thoughts and feelings directly affect the world around us. As the writer, Anais Nin said, “We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
This is what serenity gardens are all about: changing the outer scenery in order that we might change the inner scenery which, in turn, changes our perception of the outer scenery… No wonder we are always rearranging the living room furniture!
I love the idea of ‘shifting reality’. It is a little like changing the radio dial or channels on the TV, only here it is about altering attitudes or perspective. I will never forget, while doing a short stint teaching Sunday School to 4 year olds, one little boy, tired of the lesson, said to me, “change the channel…”
Here are a few w…

A Moon Gate in New England

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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 so many things. Like our entrance into this world, an enveloping enclosure calls to us to see what is on the other side. This sort of entry speaks to us of mystery and delight - no soaring Calatrava-like bridge or ornamented portico -  a moon gate beckons quietly, saying 'all is well, come see for yourself..."

photo by Jan Johnsen
One of the most …

Gardeners Supply Company - more than gardening.....

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In the late 1970's and early 80's I worked for the now defunct Garden Way, Inc. in northern Vermont. I was hired to develop their greenhouse supplies catalog and write their solar greenhouse gardening manual ( I had a lot of experience in this). We were ahead of our time, I think, and full of idealistic fervor about  the power of gardening to make the world a better place.
I was susequently hired to develop plans (using my landscape architecture education) for their demonstration center promoting the Garden Way lifestyle. The 7 1/2 acre site was to have a composting demo, organic vegetable display gardens, chickens, turkeys and rabbits, canning info, solar panels, wood stoves - the whole works!  It also contained a new solar powered office building for the Garden Way corporation, makers of theTroybilt rototiller and the GardenWay Cart.

Alas, it all came crashing down in 1982 when the company had a 'coup' and the dreamers were thrown out by the business people.....the on…

The Best Garden Gates for a Great 'Entry Experience'

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Writing about portals allows me to wax philosophical.
Portal = entryway = moving into a new space = change of venue = a new outlook...

In other words, a portal announces that you are about to have a new experience which may change your perspective on things.... Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, an entry experience is the transition from known to unknown.
And like that long rabbit hole, if you elongate or expand the portal area it makes the transition even more tantalizing. How to do that, you ask?  The best answer is through pictures....

The gate above was in a property that I redesigned...The clients loved this old garden gate so we renovated it with new hinges, roofing and paint.  I installed a bluestone threshold beneath and extended it out into the peony garden. The gateway leads down into the new pool area and therefore I salvaged the existing brick steps as well. 
This is a portal supreme. Overhead roof makes a grand statement. The white color stands out against a green worl…

More on Portals in Landscape Design

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The word 'portal' is not often associated with gardens - people normally think of portals as an outer space term ( i.e. entering a worm hole) or an internet word referring to an entry point to other websites.
In landscape design, I define a portal as an entrance or gate that is imposing or accented in some way.  Thus an opening to a wooded path is not necessarily a portal but rather an access point....

Here this lovely grassed path on the grounds of the wonderful Ashintully Gardens in Tyringham, Massachusetts (click on link) has no specified portal, although I love the two stone round finials on either side of the path entrance....

Garden makers are becoming more cognizant of portals and how they can contribute to the overall experience in a garden - the current popularity of  wooden arched arbors and gates in my part of the globe is testament to this fact.

But, as in all design, it is about context and the presence of an arched entryway does not a garden make! Be mindful of wh…

'Portals' for a Serenity Garden

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Conspicuous portals or entryways signify the transition from one space to another. In the case of a garden designed for calm and reflection,  a portal is a nonverbal cue to visitors that they are entering a separate and special world.
Portals can take many shapes and be constructed of many materials - the possibilities are limitless. Arches, gates, pergolas,walls, plantings, and even fake crossed elephant tusks ( as I saw in Kenya) make a beautiful statement in the landscape.

Ceremonial portals have been used in the West and Asia for centuries. In Japan, the compounds of Shinto shrines are entered by passing beneath a 'torii ', a wooden overhead structure, often painted vermilion red.  Torii mark the transition from the normal world to the sacred.

The Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto features many torii, creating a mesmerising effect. Torii in a garden can also be fashioned from logs, stone or stainless steel.

One of the better known ceremonial portals in the United States is the…

Jewel Tones in a Poolscape

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The saturated hues called jewel tones fit a poolscape beautifully – a swimming pool in full sun in mid-summer is the perfect setting for these powerful colors.

You can include them in your plantings or in pool furniture, in pots and planter colors or in your pool tile...

Here is the infinity pool tile at the Jade Mountain spa in St Lucia (I have been to St Lucia but unfortunately I was there before this lovely place was constructed) …the colorful pool tiles sparkle brilliantly under the clear water.

I have also incorporated multi hued  tile in swimming pools …I use a blue blend of glass tile as a perimeter tile under the coping and atop the automatic pool cover ledge. The result is beautiful - as long as the installer knows how to install glass tile perfectly.
Jewel toned glass tile is one way to add sizzle to a rectangular swimming pool and can establish the color palette for all other decorative touches for the poolscape….

Swimming Pool and gardens designed by Johnsen Landscapes & P…

More on Jewel Tones.....

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I love the term 'jewel tones' - Sounds like it refers to crystalline music: "the singer's jewel tones soared through the atmosphere..."
In fashion, jewel tones are as popular as ever.  They never go out of style..they are the clear, pure colors that people with a 'winter' skin coloring should wear ...some folks just look fab in purple, magenta and royal blue. This photo of some fashion stars courtesy of Team Sugar.
Of course, a garden dressed in jewel tones sparkles like no other. When planting out one of my landscapes I contrast deeply saturated hues with foliage plants. For example, this photo illustrates Impatiens 'Blue Bayou' mixed with the broad, green leaves of hosta and the whitish cast of Japanese Painted Fern. I find that intermixing plants such as this is better suited for a serenity garden than a 'monoculture' planting of impatiens or hosta.  I also love the clear colors of deciduous azaleas, specifically the Northern Lights hybrid…

Garden Architecture for the 21st Century

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...So you want a little shed in your serenity garden... a place where you can retreat to.. a small enclosure to get away from it all, have tea or simply work....

but you can't afford an elaborate structure nor will your town zoning look favorably on a structure with a large footprint...

and furthermore, you want something that will conform to your vision of a curvilinear landscape filled with healing ovals, labyrinthine circles and sinuous walkways...

Well here is one intriguing answer ..The Archipod. (click link)

Archipod's (pronounced ‘ark-ee-pod’) goal was to create a small garden office, a building specifically designed to be situated within a landscape and be efficient, ergonomic, and unusual. Well, in my mind, they certainly succeeded!

Here is a paragraph from their website:
"The ‘Pod’ is constructed predominantly from timber, the world’s most replenishable construction material, and is insulated to a standard exceeding that of current Building Regulations. The stru…

Jewel Tones in the Landscape

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I just advised my students at Columbia to use 'jewel tones' when coloring their landscape plan.....

I realized after class that they may not know what that term means.  I thought that  perhaps others might be interested in my explanation as well ...

Jewel tones are rich colors with a high level of saturation which makes them bold and distinctive.

Their richness resembles the color of gemstones, such as  emerald green, amethyst purple, ruby red, topaz yellow, sapphire blue, tourmaline green, and turquoise blue.  

Many jewel tone colors excite us with their richness and vibrancy. Many artists use these saturated colors.
In gardens, jewel tones create a lush look, especially when paired with other similarly saturated colors. For example, complimentary amethyst purple and topaz yellow are amazingly vibrant together.  But make sure that both are equally rich in color or one will overwhelm the other....
Jewel tones are bright and elegant....but they must be used in moderation or th…

Thomas Church and his Gardens for People

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As part of my advice to look to other garden designers for inspiration, especially in the depths of winter as it is here in the Northeast U.S, I would like to pay homage to Thomas Church (1902 - 1978), one of the most influential American landscape architects of the twentieth century.

Church's ideas on the 'modern' landscape revolutionized residential landscape design and forever changed the look of the suburban back yard.

Born in Boston, Church came under the spell of California's climate and outdoor lifestyle when he attended U.C. Berkeley. He received his landscape architecture degree from there in 1923 and his Masters in Landscape Architecture from Harvard in 1926.  Although Thomas Church spent most of his time designing private residential gardens, his larger projects include Stanford University, General Motors headquarters, the University of California at Berkeley and U.C. Santa Cruz.

Church advocated viewing residential property as a single living space with …

Garden of Cosmic Speculation

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Now who wouldn't be interested in a garden with a name such as this?!!  ..The ‘Garden of Cosmic Speculation’ in Dumfries, Scotland is a study in green. Here, Charles Jencks and his late wife, Maggie Keswick, created on the grounds of her mother’s 30 acre estate what some call, ‘the first true garden of the 21st century’.

Jencks, an architectural writer and garden designer, wanted to celebrate the fundamental magic of nature via landscape design, using the garden as a microcosm of a greater world. “What is a garden if not a miniaturization, and celebration, of the place we are in, the universe?” asked Jencks.

The couple built a magnificent landscape that features sweeping earth works and meandering waterways. The spiral shape is prominent in the gardens. It can seen in the tall, cone shaped grassed mound that  rises several stories above - and reflected beautifully in - a body of curving, still water.
Jencks’ fascination with quantum science is evident in this verdant setting...S…

Pantone Color for 2010: Turquoise

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Ok, color authority Pantone has selected turquoise (Pantone 15-5519 TCX) as the color of 2010.....

So how many plants are turquoise?  Hmmm.... gotta think on that....the turquoise color is extremely rare in the plant world.
If you live in Florida you can plant Crossandra seen above...or up north try Caryopteris Petit Bleu (not a true match for turquoise)...or some of the blue ornamental grasses would be good  - is Blue Oat Grass a turquoise?
Of course you can always do what one of my dear clients does and add a punch of color with outdoor pillows!  A lot less maintenance for sure.
Or use brightly colored ceramic pots or paint a bench turquoise as they do in the Bahai religion's revered 'Ridvan garden' in Israel.

Ridvan is indeed a serenity garden of the first order and is where the Bahai religion's founder received many insights....perhaps it was the turquoise....?

garden shown above by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools (clink link)

Pixar - Coloring Our Senses

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No doubt you have seen at least one Pixar film in the twelve years it has been in existence. Pixar, a made-up Spanish verb meaning "to make pixels" or "to make pictures", is a famously creative animation studio that has become the 'new Disney' by consistently producing films that delight both children and adults.
The vivid color of their animated films has slyly opened the public's eyes to the amazing possibilities that color offers in creating moods, conveying feelings and exciting our senses. Each film's color palette is strikingly different. Who can forget the blue underwater world of 'Finding Nemo', the green world of 'A Bug's Life' or the more subtle colors of 'Ratatouille'...
Why on earth would I be talking about this in a serenity garden blog?  Because the color combinations of each Pixar film can teach us a lot about using color and color combinations in the landscape!
It may seem silly to look at 'cartoons'…

Jellicoe's Wise Words

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A garden maker of any sort must look to landscape designers of the past and their design philosophies. Each garden that I have created has been built upon the ideas and influences that I have absorbed over a lifetime.



Creative ideas don't just come out of thin air - they are an amalgam of what we have learned and used in the past. By looking at other cultures' tradtions and their approach to the natural elements you can enhance your garden immeasurably. The English garden designers such as Russell Page, Arabella Lennox Boyd, and Gertrude Jekyll stand side by side with their design counterparts in the United States, Japan, France and India in my world. I borrow from all unabashedly and thank them all for their inspiration, guidance and insight.

By focussing attention on gardens and their positive affect on our wellbeing, I hope to use this blog to promote an added appreciation for the greatest of domestic arts, landscape design. As Geoffrey Jellicoe, the author of, 'The La…

Green-Only Gardens - Serenity Squared

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The Roman goddess of love and beauty, Venus, clothed herself in green. Associated with peace, harmony and renewal, green is the 'master color' of Nature, exhibiting more shades in a garden than any other color. This is why a green-only garden can appear to have so many hues...
Green in a garden speaks to us on a visceral level. The message it sends is one of ultimate calm. It is no accident that the Hindus say the light energy of green governs the Heart chakra of our body. They believe that imagining green or surrounding ourselves with green will allow more love, emotional balance and empathy to enter our life. Gardeners, no doubt, benefit from this association -  as Russell Page, the English landscape designer, sagely noted, “Green fingers are the extension of a verdant heart.”
Physiologically, green calms the nervous system and slows the production of stress hormones. Thus it alleviates anxiety and balances the entire body. In feng shui green is the color of fresh energy and …

Avatar in the Garden

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AVATAR - cliche? overlong? Disney meets Transformers? Yes to all BUT....
Here is what I like in the film:
the enchanting world of amazing, light filled plants - energized light as Einstein described it.the flying scenes (as we all do during sleep) the metaphor of going to sleep and waking up - into a new consciousness ...an allegory for the global  need to transform to be ready for what is on the horizon . Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman wrote about this in the latest issue of Cygnus Review, “We are now between ‘two worlds,’ the caterpillar world where our future is limited by our creepy-crawley past, and the butterfly world where humanity can soar to reach its highest potential..... "

Serenity Gardens can help us attune to the new themes of love, nature and brotherhood...

(garden & gate...Jan Johnsen)

Pierre Dupont's Green Pearls

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Alice Dupont, after receiving a pearl necklace for her birthday from her wealthy husband Pierre, told him that she would rather have a string of trees planted instead. Pierre happily complied and planted a 10-mile long allee of Oak, Sycamore and Elm trees along the newly built Route 52 which connected their estate, Longwood, with the city of Wilmington. From that day forward, Alice referred to those trees as “my pearls.”

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all request that a green 'pearl' or two be planted for our birthday?
(This photo is not the original planting - just a nice pic of how wonderful trees look in a row along a road...)

info from Longwood Garden's Archivist Sandy and Longwood Fellow and Historian Colvin