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Showing posts from April, 2010

O.C. Simonds - An American Landscape Design Pioneer

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Ossian Cole Simonds was one of the early practitioners of modern American naturalistic landscape design. His technique of using thickets of native trees and gently sculpted landforms in the early part of the 20th century caught the public’s attention and he became an influential landscape designer. He humbly attributed his design approach to “old principles” yet his innovative ideas were the inspiration behind the Midwestern ‘prairie style’ school of landscape design.


In a 1922 talk at the University of Illinois, Simonds urged design students to become familiar "with the hills and valleys, the level areas, the location of buildings, the distant views, the existing growth, the surrounding property…" before beginning a design.

He noted that a landscape designer has "a mission to investigate, study, and acquire knowledge regarding the beauty of Nature and to impart this knowledge to those with whom he comes in contact."

This ‘old principle’ of looking to Nature as …

That Same Rock Garden - for Jim

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My friend, Jim, says he hardly has time to read blogs but that he does look at photos...
so for Jim, I decided to place a few more photos of that rock garden I just wrote about ...
He is thinking of creating something similar in front of his 'fueling station'....
(the rock garden in summer)
Wouldn't it be great if all gas stations had gardens like this?  This is what the rock garden looks like right now, in early spring:


(Iberis (Candytuft) and Grape Hyacinths - an unbeatable combination)

A Rock Garden to Celebrate Spring (and a Wedding)

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About 2 weeks before her daughter's garden wedding, my friend was in the throes of pre-wedding running around and decided that her overlooked hillside rock garden needed help, and fast.

She asked me, "Can you improve upon my little rock garden? It looks so unkempt."

I took the project without a second thought. My friend is from Switzerland where they create the most beautiful 'Alpine' rock gardens above the mountain summits. Although our rock garden could not sustain delicate 'alpine' plants easily, I did want to recreate a little bit of 'home' for her in her garden.

We did not have enough time to bring in a tractor or large rocks so I decided to rearrange the existing small rocks and gather sllightly larger rocks from their property. We used a large 'treecart' and lots of muscle to carry the rocks uphill to the garden site.

We dismantled the existing rock garden and gently dug up the existing plants. I created a narrow winding path with ro…

Gandhi and the World Peace Rose Garden

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To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves. –Mohandas K. Gandhi महात्मा

Mohandas Gandhi was first called Mahatma (महात्मा) by Rabindranath Tagore. It means 'great-souled', a person of profound wisdom...and that he was.

Gandhi extolled the virtues of the simple life, spinning cotton, making salt and gardening. In fact, at the end of his life he lived in a self sufficient community in India called Sabarmati Ashram.

Gandhi's life was his message.  And his message was non-violence, love and yes, working the soil. In effect, he was reminding us - with his lifestyle - not to forget ourselves...


Peaceful living and gardening to me are synonymous. If you are a contented soul then you will inevitably be in the presence of flowers.

(Poolside landscape by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools)
Flowers embody peace. Gandhi knew this.

It was probably inevitable that some wise people would establish a memorial amidst flowers to Gandhi.  The Gandhi World Peace Memor…

Grow A Three Sisters Garden

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(from Nativetech)
According to Native American legend, corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters who grow and thrive together.When planted together, the Three Sisters all help each other - the corn stalk serves as a pole for the beans, the beans help to add the nitrogen to the soil that the corn needs, and the squash provides a ground cover of shade that helps the soil retain moisture.

(courtesy of HumanFlowerProject)

Bean vines also stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind and spiny squash plants discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans. Addiitonally, the large amount of crop residue from this planting combination can be incorporated back into the mound at the end of the season, to build up the organic matter in the soil and improve its structure.
(pole bean plants - courtesy Hort purdue)
According to Three Sisters tradition, corn must grow in community with other crops rather than on its own. Why? Most thought it was …

Savoring A Garden

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Early Spring is a wonderful time to savor a garden....

Just as a wine connoisseur relishes that first sip on his tongue, so can we revel in a flower, a scent or even a Sprng breeze. Gardening and wine are very similar - although not essential to life, they enrich the experience and contribute to an overall sense of well being.


Garden lovers know what I am talking about - that exquisite moment of 'stop time' when the wafting fragrance of a single rose-pink blossom captures your attention and lifts you away.

Or when, basking in the warm morning sun, the birdsong is louder than the chatter in your head.


Or that first deep breath you take when stepping outside into the budding green realm where Flora reigns. In short, gardens allow you to delight in the little things of life, to savor the essence of the our natural world... to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.


Other activities can transport us away from the daily hubbub - yoga, reading, running - but only gardens can be shar…

Its Time - Spirea, Butterfly Bush and 'Lifting' a Tree's Canopy

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Russian Sage - Prune Back Now
In the northeast of the US, early Spring is the time to trim back many shrubs, especially those that flower on this year's wood... If you do this now then the plants will be full of flowers at a proper height.

If you don't, they will be leggy and odd looking...do not be afraid to cut, cut, cut....

Plants to prune back to a foot or 18 inches above ground now are :

Butterfly Bush Dark Knight (Buddleia spp.) (courtesy of wayside gardens) Spirea Anthony Waterer and other summer blooming spirea(Spirea spp.)

Limemound and Lemon Princess Spirea and other summer blooming spirea (Spirea spp.) (photo courtesy of Greenleaf Nursery)

Blue Mist Shrub (Caryopteris spp.)
'Lifting' a Tree's Canopy
You may also prune certain trees now and remove selected lower limbs to 'lift' their canopy. This allows more air and light into a space, providing 'filtered' shade which makes the area more inviting and more hospitable to 'understory' shade …

The Energy of Stone and How to Use it in a Garden

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Rocks reflect the energies of a place.
They resonate with the atmosphere of their natural setting and enhance the overall mood, engendering good feelings and a serene sense of place.


My belief in the power of native rock is borne out of decades of working with stone in the landscape. As I set them carefully in a slope, along stream beds and use them as rustic steps,  I cultivated a kind of 'rock awareness', and could sense which rocks were amenable to change and which were not.

(Johnsen Landscapes & Pools)
In fact, I silently talk to the stones as I work with them. The operative word here is 'silently' because if I spoke out loud I think the workers and my clients would look at me askance...but nonetheless, I do talk to the rocks.
My 'knowing' about a rock's innate energy is best described by Lame Deer, in his book, 'Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions':
"You are always picking up odd-shaped stones, pebbles and fossils, saying that you do this becaus…