Thursday, December 18, 2008

Xmas Dread

A Plastic Santa Claus at an Undisclosed Location
Winter King Hawthorn at Kingwood Center

During the Christmas holiday madness there is always the faint whisper of tiresome people complaining about, among other things, the proliferation of cheap artificial materials that are so ubiquitous they have actually come to symbolize Christmas decor. This being a garden lifestyle column I can hardly avoid joining those tiresome people. I have come to dread Christmas for many reasons, but certainly the glorification of Chinese molded plastic is one ritual worthy of dread. From a gardening perspective, wouldn't it be more gratifying to grow and harvest natural materials for winter/Christmas decorations instead of buying imported red and green petrochemicals? I offer up two pictures of Christmas decoration for contrast. Guess which I, for one, prefer.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Clothes Make the Gardener (sorta)

If gardening is part of your lifestyle you must like being outside. Although it may seem obvious, having the right clothes to wear can make a huge difference in how enjoyable being outside can be, especially in the rain, snow, or cold. I learned this lesson when I had the good fortune of gardening for an employer who offered a clothing allowance for work cloths. If the clothing allowance was used just for specialty cloths it was sufficient for buying (over the years) the best rain suit, the best coveralls, the best work coat, the best gloves, and etc. I never appreciated how not only bearable but actually pleasant inclement weather can be to work in until I had the right clothing. I even experience a sort of euphoria when I can work comfortably in weather that would normally chase me (and everyone else) inside. I also learned this lesson as a cold weather runner. It is fun and empowering to have just the right equipment to do the job and clothing is part of the equipment. Some of my favorites are my L.L. Bean high-top rubber bottom insulated boots, Helly Hansen rain wear, and Carhartt insulated coveralls. I am still looking for a really good pair of cold weather work gloves.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Valuable Subtle Floral Display

A plant like our native witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is great for the "lifestyle" garden. Admittedly it is easy to be skeptical of the glories of its floral display. On November 13th, as I was walking through the public garden where I work (Kingwood Center) I noticed a slight yellow tinge to a large shrub at the edge of the woods. Closer inspection revealed the witch-hazel in full bloom. The value is in its nuance. Visceral connections to your garden in November may be a challenge, but having flowers, even modest ones, provide a wonderful discovery opportunity, and another reason to be out there in your garden.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Paw Paw

This last weekend I noticed my paw paw fruit were finally ripe (after a few light and one heavy frost. Determined to make good use of all my garden's bounty I did a search for recipes and settled on paw paw preserves. My fiance and daughter got a good laugh at my efforts, especially when the preserves proved to be watery (bad recipe) and not very tasty (a problem with paw paws?) I would describe the reaction to tasting my paw paw preserves as,"...not too bad, but a taste is enough." Unfortunately I can't try something else with my paw paws until next year.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Accommodating Pipevine Swallowtails

To what lengths should a gardener go to accommodate wildlife, like butterflies for example? I felt badly a few years ago, because I squashed most of the pipevine swallowtail caterpillars on my Asian species of Dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia manshuriensis). My vine was small, and I didn't want it ruined, but I did spare a few caterpillars. I didn't see any for the next couple of years, so when they finally returned this year I let them have their way with my vines. You can see the result in the picture above. (Click on the picture to see it full sized.)Most of the damage was done late in the season, so the health of the vines will not be adversely effected. If my vines were more prominently displayed I may have been more concerned about the appearance, but so what. In my lifestyle garden theme I accommodate minor inconveniences like the feeding of pipevine swallowtail caterpillars. All things considered it is the preferable approach.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pruning (and eating) Concord Grapes

I am enjoying a huge grape harvest this year. I think I finally understand the pruning technique, to which I attribute my bountiful fruiting. Unfortunately it took a few years to sink in. Our local extension agent, Maurus Brown, specialized in grapes before he moved on and wasn't replaced. While he was in the area I had the pleasure of two of his lectures on grapes. After each lecture I would try to apply his pruning suggestions to my vastly overgrown concord grape vine. This spring I finally felt like I knew what I was doing. There is no substitute for learning proper techniques. Oh yes, it is great fun to shoot the breeze while standing at the grape arbor squeezing grapes into your mouth and spitting out the seeds. I liken it to friends sitting around picking nuts from their shells or sitting on the porch eating watermelon.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Tied Hedge

Now here is something you don't see every day, a tied hedge. A recent visit to the Cleveland Botanical Garden revealed the above pictured cockspur hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli). At first glance it seemed to be a normal hedge, but a closer look revealed the technique of, rather than cutting off the branches, tying them into the body of the hedge. The staff member I spoke with said it is a bit daunting with the large sharp thorns of this hawthorn. I thought it not only created an interesting affect, but I suppose it is a continuation of a technique used historically on agricultural hedges to bolster their ability to fence in livestock.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Other Container Plants

Crocosmia 'Star of the East'
Boophane disticha
Ennealophus euryandrus

Creating a container display full of colorful seasonal plants is very popular, but most of my containers each have a single plant that I keep year after year and only a few are particularly showy. I guess its the collector in me, but I don't think I can know a plant very well until I grow it. My containers allow me the chance to challenge my horticultural skills by growing a variety of tender plants year after year without a greenhouse while allowing me to come to know some weird or unusual plants I wouldn't get to experience otherwise.

At the extreme end of the spectrum of what I will put up with to satisfy my curiosity is Ennealophus euryandrus. This obscure member of the iris family is a wretched specimen as seen above. The flowers are sparse and are typically gone by the time of day I get home from work, but I keep it around, somewhat reluctantly, because growing it feels broadening to me. The slightly obscure Boophane disticha, on the other hand, is very exciting because of its distinctive leaf arrangement and its long life cycle. Its habit of slowly developing a larger and larger bulb each year and taking who knows how long to flower (seven years and counting with no flower)makes it seem venerable and worthy of a sort of reverence. Finally my Crocosmia 'Star of the East' gives me the more conventional satisfaction of a fabulous flower show as well as a glimpse into the fascinating history of Crocosmia breeding in Norfolk, UK.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Garden as a Dialogue

I recently read a great quote that ties in perfectly to this blog's theme of gardening fitting into a lifestyle. It was from the back page columnist in the June 2008 edition of Gardens Illustrated. He said "And the gardener is essential to what a garden is. It is a dialogue between a gardener and the natural world. It is not the natural world. It is not the gardener. It is the thing between them and a living thing in itself."
The image above is typical of what some may say is a muddle but to me is part of my dialogue with the plant world. The mix ebbs and flows as I direct it but also as I sometimes follow its lead. The Sidalcia just behind the Japanese Iris is one of those plants that defies the gardener's directives and finds its own comfort zone.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lifestyle Garden in Garden Restricted Neighborhood


This home has an attractive courtyard enclosed on three sides. The fourth side was open to the street, and the neighborhood has very restrictive rules on what is allowed in the way of landscaping. Working closely with the sensibilities of the neighborhood I added a few tall, narrow, and upright white cedars, rearranged and added some tall grasses, and added a few highlights like spring daffodils and summer Liatris (see the Liatris in bloom in one of the images above). The neighborhood approved the modest little landscape addition and the courtyard became a much more attractive place for making a garden part of the owner's lifestyle.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pass Along Plant (Cardiocrinum cordatum)

A great pleasure of gardening is acquiring plants that have a special history. In 2005 Tom Yates of Lantern Court at Holden Arboretum gave me a little pot of an undetermined Cardiocrinum. He said it had beautiful leaves in the spring which you can see from the top photograph. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was hardy for me, and, of course, I was thrilled with the beautiful leaves. Cardiocrinums are monocarpic, so they take a few years to bloom and then they die. This year, three years after receiving the plant I got the special pleasure of seeing it bloom (see picture above). Now I know it is a Cardiocrinum cordatum. As the plant dies I will be looking for offsets around the original bulb in hope of finding a cluster of new bulbs to distribute in various locations around my garden.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Edible Landscape

I haven't addressed the edible landscape in my lifestyle garden blog so far, I guess because it is so obvious. I try not to be a slave to my edible landscape. I mostly grow trees, shrubs and perennials and grow only a few things that have to be started anew each year. So far this year I loved my asparagus and now it is blueberry season (as pictured). The grapes are far from ripe but show a good fruit set; apples and pears are coming along; and I may get a few peaches this year. My son is impatient for the raspberries which aren't quite ready. For me having these plants is like having candy plants. I just go out and pick them when I want a snack, and sometimes I get up the energy and maybe get some help (as pictured) and prepare something a bit more substantial than a snack. I recommend this approach to reluctant gardeners. Grow a few easy woody plants and just enjoy whatever bounty they provide - no pressure. I would like to make more efficient utilization of all the food I grow, but I believe it is a skill and a commitment that I haven't quite developed yet. My food plants, however, do bring great pleasure and connect me with my garden in a manner that does not compare with ornamentals.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Exemplary Lifestyle Gardening in California

I usually use images of my own garden on this blog, but a recent trip to California allowed me to be enthralled with Rancho Los Alamitos, an historic garden in Long Beach. The place epitomizes my ideas of how a garden can play a critical role in creating a satisfying lifestyle.

Click on images for a closer view.

These first two pictures are of the inner courtyard. Imagine walking through these areas as you go from one part of the house to another.

The last two pictures are just a sampling of the comfortable environment of the garden around the house. They struck me as wonderful places to relax and enjoy the fabulous climate of the area, and one of the best of these was a tiny little courtyard (that I couldn't capture with my lens) used by the former owner and current Director as a private refuge for careful contemplation.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Perennials and the June Peak

This picture was taken on June 7th, a time in Ohio, at least, when growers of annuals and tender perennials are still lining out little plugs and waiting for a bit of growth. Meanwhile, I have already had three months of pleasure from my perennials. As I look at the the garden pictured here I know that after late June the peak bloom will be over for this spot, but it will continue to be interesting. By the way, I have become a bit of a compulsive rock wall builder. The rockeries offer the opportunity to grow plants that don't seem to make it elsewhere. I am particularly pleased with the blue flowered Iris sintenisii and the pink flowered Polygola major and the pink flowered hybrid Lewisia all more or less in the middle of the picture. For a closer look click on the picture.

Monday, June 9, 2008

More Meadow


When I started this blog less than a year ago some of my first images were of my efforts at developing a perennial planting that would simulate a meadow. Here is a glimpse of the garden this year. I read about this sort of thing regularly, and people make it sound like such an easy thing to do. I have long been skeptical of its ease, and my efforts, while very satisfactory, have been anything but easy. The weed pressure is the biggest problem. Regular hand weeding has been a must for me, and that is after I spent a couple of growing seasons prior to planting creating a "clean" site. Secondly it was expensive planting many hundreds of plants even though I was able to buy tiny plugs wholesale. It was another challenge to establish those tiny plugs directly in the garden. Seeding is probably a more economical alternative, but the weed pressure is many many times greater the first few years, the design options are limited, and the range of plants available is extremely limited.
By the way, the most prolific plants in this picture are Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale 'Beauty of Livermore', the pale blue flowering Amsonia hubrictii, and the consipicuous but not so prolific blue flowers are dark blue and lighter blue selections of Siberian iris.
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Friday, May 30, 2008

To Spray or Not

Iris 'Honey Glazed'

The use or avoidance of pesticides is integral to a gardener's lifestyle. I try to avoid them, but I am not an absolutist. For example, I don't know how I would manage my ten acres without glyphosate (i.e. generic brand Round-up) and Ortho's cocktail of selective broadleaf herbicides. (The latter is mostly used on poison ivy.) I use one fungicide and only once a year on my two peach trees to avoid peach leaf curl. (I don't spray my apples at all.) I feel pretty good about being mostly pesticide free. The bearded iris pictured above is an example of a decision not to use pesticides. I am visited by iris borers and actually gave up recently on a clump of tall bearded iris because of chronic infestation from borers. But so far this year borer problems are not evident as typified by the the Iris 'Honey Glazed' pictured above. I think the use of pesticides is a cost/benefit question. Unfortunately, people typically under estimate the cost of pesticides such as their personal and family's exposure, general pollution of the environment, and adverse impact on biological equilibriums. For me the cost is higher than the benefit of spaying my iris for borers.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Economical Plants Allow Experimentation

Dodecatheon meadia

Sometimes we chose a good plant but a poor place to plant it. It's nice to be able to put plants in a few different places to see how they will do, but that's difficult when the plants cost several (or even a score or two) dollars each. Bulb dealers often have good deals on plants we might otherwise think of as perennials. Pictured above is shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) which I bought a couple of years ago from a bulb dealer for just a bit more than a dollar each. At that price I was comfortable buying enough plants to try them in several places. As expected they dwindled away in at least one spot. If I had purchased only a few and happened to put them in the unsuccessful spot I might have concluded that I just couldn't grow shooting star. (By the way, the recent edition of Rock Garden Quarterly includes a very convincing argument for why Dodecatheon is more properly in the genus Primula.
Another bulb dealer bargain I got a few years ago was gayfeather (Liatris spicata) for $.35 each.
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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Curious Little Book

Here is a great little book about incorporating gardening and similar aesthetics into a lifestyle. I'm not normally a fan of garden narratives. They tend to be excessively sentimental, try to awe us with their triumphs over exaggerated gardening obstacles, or ponderously name every plant in the garden. This 1898 book written by Elizabeth von Arnim, but first published anonymously, doesn't lack for sentimentality, but the free spirited Elizabeth is such an amusing character I find it somehow appropriate. Popular in its time but safely categorized as obscure today the book describes an at least somewhat fictionalized year in the life of the author on her German estate. The author's first of twenty-two books, this light reading offers fascinating glimpses into pre-World War I rural Germany, early feminism and (most importantly to me) an example of how a garden can be instrumental in personal fulfillment. I was lucky to find a copy of the book, in of all places, one floor below my office in the Kingwood Center library. Alas, the copy is too fragile to circulate, but the book is available free on-line and inexpensively from many book dealers.
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Thursday, April 24, 2008


One of the most common reactions I get when people visit my garden is expressions of surprise that I have a clothesline. The sanctimonious side of me wants to ask why they don't have a clothesline. We tolerate utility meters, poles, and wires, propane tanks, satellite dishes, stand pipes, dog runs and cages, cars, asphalt driveways, and concrete sidewalks in our gardens; why shouldn't we find room for something as valuable these days as a clothesline. And in keeping with my life style gardening theme, I find some gratification in hanging my clothes up to dry, although I do begrudge the extra time it takes.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Subtley vs. the Big Show

One of my favorite aspects of my early spring garden is the search for small emerging growth, especially when flowers are involved. I mentioned on a previous post how winter aconite scattered sparsely in my rockery gave me a different sort of satisfaction than the scores or sometimes even thousands typically displayed in dramatic massings. I was reminded of a similar sense of satisfaction as I recently discovered my double bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis 'Multiplex') emerging, each enscheathed by a leaf. They will be an eye full when they open, but I love this stage at least as much.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


I laughed at myself yesterday (2 April 2008) when I saw this lone tiny little flower in my early spring garden. In 2005 I bought this bulb for $15.00. Two years later it hasn't done much. I was seduced by esoterica, a common disease among gardeners. Meet Shibateranthis pinnatifida, also known slightly less esoterically as Eranthis pinnatifida. It's a charming little Japanese woodland native but given it size, its $15.00 price, and little apparent proclivity for multiplication I don't think I used my garden budget very wisely when I bought this.
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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Common Plant in an Special Venue

It has been a long winter and a slowly developing spring here in north central Ohio. Typically Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite) is long gone by 29 March when this picture was taken. What I like about this picture is that I planted my winter aconites in my rockeries rather than in the swaths they are typically used for. It is a common plant often taken for granted as a patch of early spring yellow. As a scattering of individual plants peaking out of rockery I think they take on a sort of rarefied air to themselves as something to be savored, a precious thing to be closely observed.
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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Special Quality of Vines

I have had occasion to speak and write about the book A Pattern Language recently and I am reminded about the transformative quality vines can have when well placed such as on the tool shed of this Chicago area garden. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Great Shade Garden Plant

It is a bit slow growing but in a few years golden-seal will make a sumptuous clump of deep green leaves even in deep shade. These red fruit are a bonus. I wonder if they are edible; they look tasty, but I am afraid to try.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Missed Opportunity


I am giving a talk to a local Lion's Club in a few days on the history of Kingwood Center. I had a great time scanning old black and white prints of Kingwood in the days when it was Mr. King's home and when it was a new public garden in the 1950's. It reminded me again how interesting Mr. King's featured garden was in his time, when it still reflected the original 1926 design details of the landscape architecture firm Pitkin and Mott. It has been a source of persistent frustration that I have been unable to find the funds to restore that garden. Currently the garden is showing its eighty-plus years. That's not to say our current treatment of the garden isn't attractive, but the infrastructure is crumbling and we are missing a great opportunity to really distinguish this space from the rest of our contemporay gardening efforts.
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Tuesday, January 29, 2008


While on a North American Rock Garden Society meeting in the summer of 2007 I had the chance to see Deschampsia flexuosa (Wavy Hair Grass) in its native habitat as pictured above. I am always fascinated by the frequent contasts in appearance and behavior of plants in the garden (see below) and in the wild (see above).
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Monday, January 28, 2008


Deschampsia flexuosa (Wavy Hair Grass) is a fairly obscure native grass that I have enjoyed growing in my garden. It was slow to take, but as can be seen in the picture above it has begun to fill in nicely. It is notable in part because it is shade tolerant unlike most other grasses, and it forms short dense mats with pleasantly soft flower and seed heads. I saw a line drawing in William Robinson's The Wild Garden of peonies growing in a swath of grass. Maybe this Deschampsia can be that swath of grass for my peonies growing on the edge of the canopy of a silver maple.
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