Winter Arrangements, Indoors and Out

  • In my landscapes, evergreen branches that will need to be pruned anyway wait for that attention until I can use their lovely offcuts for decorative winter purposes.
  • You will see your tree and shrub elements alone in the winter, when there are fewer other plants around to distract you. It is a good time to focus on tending them, cleaning and pruning as pleases you and balances them.
  • Evergreen and berried trimmings can provide a winter harvest, to arrange however you like.

Before The Ground Freezes

  • If you want to use the trimmings outside to enliven window boxes or decorate other winter proof containers, cut them freshly and get them firmly tucked into the earth/substrate before the freeze so you can arrange them easily and nicely. When the ground freezes it will hold the stems tightly and the decorative effect will last through much of the winter. You won’t be able to tuck them into the earth any more after the hard freeze, and the branchlets will probably dry out faster without the ‘earth connection’.
  • In the house, greens and berries will often dry out within a couple of weeks, but outside in draining containers or window boxes, they may last through much of the winter if arranged so that their fresh cut stems are in typically moist ground. If everything freezes later, that’s fine.
  • To replenish your indoor arrangements through the winter you can trim your evergreens more than once, cutting pieces whenever you need them. It is fine for the plants if considerately done. Just don’t take too much, and cut cleanly to a growth node.
    I particularly love Pieris japonica cuttings indoors since their buds gracefully adorn them through the winter, and I can harvest a few as needed.
  • Some evergreens last longer than others cut and arranged outside. Chamaecyparis, Sciadopitys, Taxus, Firs, Arborvitae, Boxwood and all sorts of Ilex can provide satisfying, long lasting branchlets for indoor and outdoor purposes. So can innumerable other evergreens.
  • You can most readily find out who lasts well and who doesn’t by trying out evergreen cuttage of whatever plant materials you happen to have or can get a hold of.
    Perhaps skip the Hemlocks and short needled Pines, as they seem to dry out and brown relatively quickly when cut. Prickly Junipers and Spruces in general aren’t much fun to handle, so I don’t use them often, though they can be handsome.
  • The bulk of pruning for certain particular kinds of trees or shrubs may best be done at certain prescribed times depending on that particular plant’s habits and needs, but you can always ‘reserve’ at least a modest number of especially handsome branches to cut when they will be most useful.
  • The cold season is the dormant season for many evergreen and deciduous sylva, and is a perfectly good time to lightly prune your conifers and certain other residents.
  • With the evergreen Hollies, pruning nicely before the holidays is perfect, since if you do that, you are not as likely to mistakenly prune them later in their growth cycle, thereby losing their pretty tips, flowers and hence the berries for the following winters. Many Hollies berry on second year wood, so keep that in mind when deciding what parts to prune. Some evergreen Hollies have dark berries or none, but their glistening foliage may still recommend them for decorative uses.

The Right Parentage

  • There are many different kinds of Hollies, and they have different favorite partners, so when planting them at your place, you need to be sure that you provide one Boy Holly of the right parentage for every Holly grouping you would like to see in berry.
  • For most kinds of Ilex, to berry they need to marry. Ask your nurseryman or Google about your particular kind so you end up with a suitable mate.
  • While Ilex Boys are not usually handsome, one is all you need for a nearby gaggle of Girls.
  • If the Girls are downwind it seems to help. Though Hollies are not typically wind pollinated, it would seem that the pollinators are assisted by having the wind at their backs. One upwind Boy manages to pollinate all the suitable Girls on our street.

The Gypsy

  • If you are lucky, as we are in Marblehead, you may have a wonderful Gypsy * bringing cut stem gatherings of Ilex sparkleberry and its kin to your neighborhood garden center – just before Thanksgiving. Here, the precious bundles of stems carrying shining red berries arrive wrapped in newsprint, tied with rubber bands of all colors and dimensions…..perhaps saved through the gatherer’s year, anticipating the harvest? Makes them all the more precious.
  • Sparkleberry kin (Ilex verticillata and decidua varieties) are deciduous, which means that they drop their leaves. In our zone that happens early enough to let their staunch berries shine cleanly alone on the stems in November.
  • The older forms of deciduous Ilex that were planted before the era of  Ilex sparkleberry, were in general taller and more spare, with a lighter distribution of berries on their individual stems. Less heavy with berries, the individual stems of those older forms were in some ways more graceful than the more popular current forms.
  • Being red, they draw your eye from quite far away, winter beacons without electricity. Stems from this late, bright harvest accompany prunings of things I grow in my landscapes in the outdoor evergreen arrangements.
  • With some moisture at the base of its stems, Sparkleberry lasts more than a month outside, and sometimes two. It is lovely with snow on its branches.

Grow Your Own ?

  • If you have a large landscape, it may be wonderful to grow your own deciduous Ilex, but I prefer to keep these shrubs at some distance from the close landscape since their habit is rangy. Because of the tendency to prodigious growth, these multistemmed shrubs can be considerately trimmed for berried stems, year after year. Though the place where they grow may need to be much vaster than your own, you can enjoy their berries close to your personal spaces if you can find a source of cut stems, a local harvest at this time of year.
  • We are fortunate in our dear, reliable, anonymous gatherer, may we call you our Gypsy ? You have been part of our Holiday lore for so long, you represent a cherishable story in our traditions.

* A person who wanders alot and lives close to nature, and thus knows where such treasures may be found, thoughtfully and somewhat magically bringing things to us exactly when we wish for them, each and every year.

** There are also beautiful yellow ( I. chrysocarpa) and orange (I. auriantica) berried kinds.

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Dear Readers


In the Spirit of Thanksgiving I wanted to thank you all for

your thoughtful comments. They do encourage the work.

I don’t answer comments because if I did I would never have time to write my articles, but I do think about the things you say, and my writing will reflect your input.
Please try to comment at the end of the particular article you are referring to, as that way I will know which one you were especially enjoying.

* The Photo is my own, and was taken in the beautiful landscape of the New England Wildflower Society in Framingham, Massachusetts, fondly referred to as ‘The Garden in the Woods’.

I spontaneously arranged the brick and oak leaves during the very first snow of that year, which came right around Thanksgiving. I took the picture to be able to share my feelings of gratitude for the beauty of such moments with others at future times, and now with you.

Technical Questions
Certain of the same technical questions about my site keep coming in from many of you, so to answer these FAQs for everyone I wanted to tell you  that:…………………

  • My work and all the images are copyrighted, but you may copy a couple of paragraphs from any single post to another location, along with a link to my site for the full article.………………….
  • My RSS feed is now working, sorry for the delay.………………….
  • The Theme I chose from WordPress is described below.
    My goal was to have the posts seem like the pages of a book.
  • What appealed to me about this theme was that it was well tested, straightforward and yet extremely flexible. This has allowed me to do my own post and page layouts easily, keeping them simple if I wanted, with only my own chosen shapes, colors and images.
  • I had alot of help getting my site up and running so that I could readily add my original work. Thankyou specially to Larry Hanapole, Jennifer Pederson, and Ian Stewart.
    For the moment, my category panel is not well organised. I’ll be working on it soon, but for now my site searchbox can best help you find things that I have written on particular subjects that may interest you.

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Your Ecotome


  • This self describing noun is not much in current use, yet it would seem to me by its etymological origins that it could usefully be incorporated when referring to ones own local ecological context.
  • The ‘local ecotome’ would refer to the surrounding area of which you are a part, the one whose ecological realities affect your place.
  • ‘Your ecotome’ would refer to the ecology of your own portion of the land, inclusive of all the ecological factors relating to your area,  modulated by the way you handle them in relation to dwelling with and attending to the land, its creatures and plant inhabitants.
  • In some usages, ecotome is pronounced ek′tōm (Stedmans Medical Dictionary)

I’d rather pronounce it

Sounds like HOme.

Etymological justifications

I have gathered these expanded definitions from Merriam Webster, various specialty lexicons and the Internet.

  • Ecotome : Boundary zone between different plant communities, as at yard edges, between forest and prairie
  • Ecotome : general usage elsewhere in internet, place where 2 ecologies come together
  • Eco- : Etymology: late latin oeco = household, from greek oik-, oiko-, from oikos house : habitat or environment : ecological or environmental
  • Tome 1519   1: a volume forming part of a larger work.
  • Etymology : Greek tomos 1 : part : segment <myotome> 2.  Middle french or latin; middle french, from latin tomus, from greek tomos section, roll of papyrus, tome, from temnein to cut; akin to middle irish tamnaid he lops, polish ciąć to cut, and perhaps to Latin tondēre to shear.

    For each of us, our ecological ‘ tome’ is our own chapter, the piece ‘cut out’ for us, our  own portion of the land.

  •  ’your ecotome’ could mean the inclusive ecology of your particular biogeographical portion of the land of our earth – the part you are tending, the way I am thinking of it.
  • The ‘local ecotome’ would be the the inclusive and interwoven ecology of your local surrounding lands.
    I find it a useful word, and hope that you will too.

My Ecotome.  This is Home.

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Fall Tending

Good Garden Housekeeping

  • Fall tending in your garden will help all the winter compositions to show their best.
    There should be nothing to detract from the pictures, even in this season.
    Most herbaceous plants are trimmed down close to the earth now, but any that still look nice, by flowering or being evergreen, perhaps by keeping their leaves on through many frosts or being graceful in the way they carry snow, are left in the beds. In earliest spring these valiant semievergreens will need to be trimmed down for the new leaves to come up easily, but for now anything which contributes to the beauty of the place stays.
  • The cleaning process uncovers areas of ground which have not been seen since May, and invariably little hills and valleys appear in the grade contours of your planted beds.
    Each valley represents a place where you, your resident creatures or organic processes removed some earth. Maybe you took a plant out for a friend, and forgot to fill in the hole fully, or a cat visited and made itself a comfortable spot. Through the green seasons, even though the floor is hidden, there are many effects of water, weeding, pets, squirrels, treading, ball retrieval and overenthusiastic blowers. One way or another, there are always pockets needing a bit of filling, and now you can see them.

    Replenishing your Earth by Topdressing
  • In a habitat undisturbed by us, the nutrients contained in the fallen leaves and bits of last years’ plants gradually and reliably feed the earth place from which they originated.
  • In our tended landscapes, for the sake of continuing health and good grooming of the grounds close to our homes, we often remove this miscellaneous and often messy looking endemic covering layer, and come back with a covering material having a more even appearance. This mulch that you use for esthetic reasons probably is not a balanced nutrient source for your plants. If it isn’t, you will need to otherwise feed the earth in an ongoing way. Please see my article on Earth Swapping.
  • You will want to add the amendments to the layer of soil which lies below your mulch. You will be most effective and disturb your grounds the least if you wait until the covering mulch layer is thin anyway, and needs refreshment. After leaf cleanup is usually the just right time since invariably some of the mulch gets cleaned away too. At this point, add your topdressing ingredients; those compost, loam and any earth amendments (including fertilisers) that you may need in the beds.
  • With a little delicacy of distribution, topdressing your perennial beds with earth x compost  can even out the subtle grades in between the resident plants and not cover their sleeping crowns. I use a large aluminum scoop [1] instead of a shovel for better aim in such places.
  • Late fall is the ideal time of year to take care of these matters, giving winter rain and snow time to melt the nutrients down into the earth for the good health of next year’s gardens.
  • After topdressing, if particular plants would benefit from an insulating blanket, you can reapply mulch to their places as needed. In general, for larger areas you may want to wait till after the spring cleanup to freshly mulch for a clean summer appearance.
  • A good fall cleanup will also help your earliest Spring pictures to show at their best. Hellebores, Crocus, Snowdrops, Squills and others may come right up through the snow, giving you little time to neaten up just before their moment to shine arrives.

          Tending the High Ground

  • To keep an ecosystem healthy, plants at the tops of grades typically need more  addition of water, earth and nutrients throughout the year than do plants at the bottoms, who receive these things through the ground that lies above them.
  • In the absence of natural leaf fall and decomposition processes, nothing feeds the top of the hill unless you do. The high ground places are typically the first to dry out, and so are also the first you should remember to water, throughout the year. The good effects of what you do there will naturally be distributed down the grade with time.

 What will happen in April depends alot upon what you did the previous November and December.

[1] My favorites are the larger cast aluminum ones. I use one with an 11” by 5 ½” body, 4” handle and another an inch or so smaller in each dimension. They live outside for the better part of forever.

Posted in Garden Making Guidance, Landscape Making Guidance, Things They Never Tell You, Your Reasoned Landscape | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Responses

November Nor’easter

………………………………………………………………. *

The small grove of Maples

I pass each late night

Today were moon – lit

Cross black blue and star white.


Nor’easter behind them,

Their yellow leaf  hands

Waved wildly at me,

Those last leaves of the stand.


Soon to be fallen, tonight was so dear,

“Till next year” we said to each other,

“Till then”.

Sleep well, I will see you in Springtime, Dear Friends.




* Drawing by Racket Shreve.

** Maple Leaf  stone carving by John Novak, with Corydalis lutea alba alongside.

The parents of this Corydalis lutea alba  were a precious gift from Lincoln Foster, from the gardens at Millstream House.

H. Lincoln and Timmy Foster were for me……… and for eversomany others ……….. the gracious American Parents of Rock Gardening.

Please see their wonderful book, Rock Gardening , by H. Lincoln Foster, and Illustrated by Laura Louise (Timmy) Foster, 1968.

Posted in Garden Making Guidance, Long Blooming Plants, Plant Portraits and Stories, Things They Never Tell You, Your Reasoned Landscape | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Responses

Long Blooming Vines: Loniceras

Long Blooming VinesSome Favorite Honeysuckles

Lonicera sempevirens and Ampelopsis elegantissimaIf you find a place in each view for one or more kinds of the longest blooming plants, and build your landscape pictures to complement their colors and character, your beds can nearly always be freshly beautiful.
These enthusiastic, long flowering Loniceras are tough and reliable, contributing substantially through the garden year wherever they reside.

First Prize:
Lonicera sempevirens Dropmore Scarlet

In our area, Lonicera dropmore scarlet is the longest blooming vine of the Honeysuckle clan. Iridescent orange with yellow and red highlights, it reflowers prodigiously starting sometime in June, going all through summer season, with a few flowers even into October. Scarlet can grow up from locations that have modest light at the base of the plant, but sunshine is needed on all the places where you want flowers. If they can get at least a few good hours of daily light in the growing season, either of these prizewinning Loniceras will bloom quite well. More light will give you more flowers, and this plant can thrive in alot of sun, but in less light you might well enjoy the warming welcome that Scarlet can provide all season, though there will be fewer flowers. Trimming off spent flowers as soon as possible will be key to keeping her continuously clothed in new buds.

Lonicera sempevirens is proudly a native North American species. Dropmore scarlet resulted from a cross between Lonicera sempervirens and Lonicera hirsuta made by Dr. F.L. Skinner at Dropmore in Manitoba, Canada and was introduced in 1950. Some of the other L. sempevirens varieties are also candidates with great garden promise.**

Second Prize:
Lonicera periclymenum Graham Stuart Thomaslonicera-graham-s-thomas

My second favorite long blooming Honeysuckle is Lonicera Graham Stuart Thomas, who is usefully a light clear yellow, often an easier hue to add into diverse color schemes than Scarlet’s orange.
While reblooming reliably over a long span, it is less floriferous than Scarlet, but absolutely rock hardy, with excellent foliage and nectar for you in its flowers. In short, this is a vine I would not want to be without. Graham Stuart Thomas was one of the greatest plantsmen and garden writers of this past century. It seems appropriate that this excellent vine carries on the tradition of quality that his name has always represented.

For years I thought Lonicera g.s.t. was a sempevirens variety, because the vine  behaves like Scarlet in so many ways, but Graham is actually a relative of a European wild species rather than our own continental native. In 12 years of growing this plant I have never had it self sow or otherwise behave in ways that might indicate invasive tendencies...
There are other Loniceras that are Invasive , so do be particular as to varieties you choose.

Growing Loniceras

…..Siting Your Vines
These Lonicera relatives are beautiful in nearly every way, but like Clematis and climbing Roses, their legs are not usually their best feature. Providing a handsome skirting planting or a structure in front of their awkward legs will often flatter the overall appearance of your vine in the landscape. Something a few feet high or so will work. If it is something planted, your bed needs to be wide enough to accommodate the stature of all the plants sharing the bed.

  • If there is too much competition or too little water for them, Lonicera’s flowering may dwindle. You want to anticipate providing enough regular water and nutrients for all the residents to thrive.
    An airy location and good drainage are necessary since there can be mildew type problems with the leaves, more probably if the place retains moisture.
    Encourage the Climbing…..
  • .Both of these Loniceras are easy to please ecologically and malleable in their shape, but they need strong structures to tie them against as they grow along. If left to themselves to figure out where to go, they are bound to get floppy and messy. In fact, if you have a tumbledown wall or other disreputable something you want to cover, let these Loniceras cascade. They will clamber all over the place and take care of the coverage problem floriferously.
    They don’t attach to buildings or structures on their own, which is a good thing because they won’t damage your home as self attaching vines do, but it means that if you want to use them in a vertical application, the support structure is very important. Your supports need to be designed to have places to weave through and tie to all along the projected travel routes of your vine. This construct is your way of telling the vines where you do or don’t want them to go, and helping them to get there. The upcoming performance of any climbing plant will depend alot on the support it is given. Hopeful tendrils, encouraged by tying up, will send up more new hopefuls.
    The further along the vine can get, the more lovely and continuous its flowering will typically be.
  • If thoroughly supported in their climbs, these Loniceras will happily cover a 6 x 8’ section of fence, or elongate to even double that if encouraged to do so. If such are your landscape needs, Scarlet and Graham will also flower well even if kept small or spare by pruning, but the new shoots will still need structure and guidance. If your vine wants to twine counter clockwise, respect its wishes if you want maximum enthusiasm.
  • In the peak growing season, you can expect to be touching up the clasps and ties once a week if you want to guide the climb. The process of tying can be a lot to keep up with, but it makes all the difference in outcomes. A wonderful invention from Bosmere Tool Co. ® called a ‘Lever Loop’ allows you, in the blink of an eye, to clasp the shoots of a climbing plant to one another or to any nearby slender support without cutting and tying all those little bits of string. You gently pinch these clips to open them, so they can be moved around anytime. They last for years, and are inexpensive to begin with. They will change your relationship to your climbers for the better, but don’t give up your jute twine, you’ll need some of that too.
    Pruning Your Loniceras
    Any stem left on after its flower has passed will begin to go to seed. This tends to take energy out of the flower production end of things. If instead you trim the goneby stems back to the next set of leaves – or further especially if you want to reshape the vine a bit – this will help the vine to put its energy into sending out new shoots, which will carry the flowers of the upcoming weeks.
    Towards the end of the garden year, I stop trimming and so some fruits develop. They color up nicely to red and are eaten by the birds.
  • Later I cut back these Loniceras, often quite drastically, to a base shape that is gracefully pleasing even in winter. These old wood stems will send out new shoots from just about everywhere along their length, and then flower on all the new stems. I always leave a few long old stems that have already accomplished the job of getting where I want them.
    You need to anticipate allowing many feet of growth in all directions each new year, so keeping a trimmed winter shape can also help to keep your summer Lonicera within chosen bounds...

    Color Worries …Uh Oh … Orange.

  • Most people would agree that Dropmore Scarlet’s iridescent red, orange and yellow coloring is beautiful by itself, but there is a common prejudice against using orange plant materials, and the overall effect of the flowers is in the orange range.Lonicera and Kousa, june 22,2007

    “All colors ar
    e beautiful or ugly
    according to their quality and place
    in relation to other colors.”

    Fletcher Steele,  Gardens and People

    Color is, by context, difficult or easy.

  • This everblooming orangey red vine is particularly valuable because its warm bright tones draw your eye from a distance over such a long span of the garden year. The best thing about Dropmore Scarlet’s color contribution is flowering profusely on and on for 5 months, but this is also the difficult thing, because through all that time she needs to be sited with companionable colors, so you will want to choose the surrounding plants carefully.
    Dropmore Scarlet, or any similarly colored plant, can be difficult to simply insert into the landscape because  there are many plants flowering in the BIV*** parts of the color range at overlapping times of the flowering year. This steers many gardeners towards complete avoidance of oranges and reds as being the path of fewest potential color disagreements. If instead you use the orange with color companions which enhance it, all will surely be well.
    Orange and orangey reds particularly argue with many ‘reds that have blue in them and blues that have red in them’. Dropmore Scarlet’s rich tones may make otherwise lovely light pink plants look sickly. Rhododendrons in fushia hues prefer to be elsewhere. There are definitely things you may want to avoid having if they flower in the same view at the same time.
    On the other hand, the oranges are always lovely with yellows and white, and can be paired with certain blues and lavenders very successfully.

‘If Red is in your Blues
or Blue is in your Reds,

Orange will be Safer
in Some Other Garden Bed.’


Color planning changes everything. …….‘Accessorise Colorwise’

  • Celebrating the oranges and reds in particular places by making color compositions with them in mind prevents these problems. If strategically planted with only agreeable companions in the view, Dropmore Scarlet can become a beloved centerpiece for a great many pictures throughout the year.
    This is not even difficult to accomplish.
  • To avoid color arguments I can suggest that Dropmore Scarlet and other true orange flowering plants are easy to partner with plant colors as long as they are on the ROYG*** parts of the color circle, and she also gets along fine with either white or ivory.
  • I have found many pleasant companions for the lovely Dropmore Scarlet, and below are described a few of her best friends in my landscapes. There are never any arguments  in these compositions since they were designed with Scarlet’s esthetic comfort in mind.
    Chamaecyparis obtusa nana lutea and Chamaecyparis o. cripsii are yellow evergreens and thus all year companions to the ROYG color palette. The white Geranium sanguineum album has been chosen for nearby floors instead of her purplish red, lovely but contextually difficult color cousin. Nearby in the views, the papery light orange poppy flowers of Papaver rupifragum appear daily for two months and more, providing a tinted color echo for Scarlet.
    Even in shade, Hosta June, with yellow paint swaths on her leaves and nearby colonies of the variegated Saxifaga umbrosa aurea provide foliage sunshine in the view. There can be bright orange Arum italicum pictum seedpods in late summer.
    The gentle everblooming Corydalis lutea is an yellow enhancer tucked into corners nearby. Corydalis lutea alba keeps ivory flowers alongside Dropmore scarlet in a modestly lit landscape, June through September.
    There are lots of textural deep greens in the background. In mid summer white Cimicifuga plumes, Japanese Cimicifugas for later, yellow Ligularia Britt Marie Crawford and afterward Anemone j. Honorine Jobert  join the composition. All these are lovely with the color set. Clematis paniculata takes us to the end of the year in complementary white floral enthusiasm. Clematis Tangutica is another perfect companion, just dont cut off her spent flowers, since her seedheads are enhancing to the picture.
    Towards the end of the garden year the red, orange and yellow tones naturally begin to dominate the fall landscape, which is by then decorated with berries, russeting fall foliage and pumpkins. Dropmore Scarlet’s flowers and berries are color allies in this context.
    Rules are also made to be broken.
    It is easier to start with this ‘rule of thumb’ way with things that are most likely to work well. I’m just saying to be wary. Certain selected blue-reds and purples can be very happy with some oranges.

    Other rules may come into play.

    I find that when combining any flowering plants for composition, if the color saturation (intensity) of variously colored elements is similar, it can help them to look better when they are together in the view.

    * There is a yellow Lonicera variety called John Clayton which is smaller in stature than either of my first prize winners. This size class would seem potentially very useful, and the plant easy to site since it’s yellow, but my experience in our local 5b coastal ecotome has shown this kind a little more susceptible to aphids than my aforementioned favorites. Lonicera s. Mandarin is an exquisite terra cotta corally color but, in my experience, this vine had a disappointingly short blooming season and was overall a weaker plant than the Loniceras herein recommended, so I don’t use her any more.**L.s. Alabama Crimson behaves much like cousin Scarlet but is a bit redder in color, less orangey. She appears an excellent candidate for our gardens. I have only been growing her for a few years, not nearly as long as I have my tried and trues, but she’s well on her way to my Best list.
    *** Red Orange Yellow and Green = ROYG / Blue Indigo and Violet = BIV


Posted in Garden Making Guidance, Long Blooming Plants, Most Popular Posts, Plant Portraits and Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 68 Responses

Plant Names and Why They Matter

“Most of us are bored with gossip and photographs

of people we do not know.

The beginner feels the same way about plants”[1]

The plant scene becomes more interesting when you understand the cast of characters a bit. To develop relationships with the plant players, you will want to get to know them as individual kinds. The only reliable way to do that is to know their true Botanical names.

These names are the language of the landscape, the working vocabulary that you will need if you want more than a petting and tending relationship with your plants. If you want to think about them on your own and with others, you will need to be able to refer to them.

  • Information Please
    Once you have the Botanical name of a plant, no matter where you gather further reference information about it, the knowledge you acquire will be accurately related to the particular plant you are wondering about.
    Learning about the plant materials enables you to choose the best candidates for your place by foreseeing where they will succeed ecologically and pictorially in your landscape.
  • Knowing the Name allows you to get more of the same thing again.
    If it turns out that you grow and love a plant, you will be able to get more just  like it or to guide others to that wonderful kind you have found.
  • The most Beautiful Plant You have ever Seen.
    To obtain a plant you want for your own garden, you could beg some seeds or a baby from a place where you see it, but otherwise, you will need the full name to get the plant you expect to get from anywhere else.
  • There are Madison Avenue plants. [2]
    Plants may be substantially more or less gardenworthy. There can be a great qualitative difference between one variety within a species and the others, yet the better ones often cost pretty much the same as their lesser relatives, both in cash and in effort to grow and keep. The less wonderful ones always seem to outnumber the best ones, but there are a great many plants to be choosy with, and noone can grow them all, so why not be discriminating ?

    The best plants may be harder to get a hold of initially, but once you realize that the difference is substantial you will want to know which is which.

“Difficult plants if not successful after a fair trial

should be abandoned for easier subjects of which there are plenty”

Sir Peter Smithers of Vico Morcote

  • By carefully choosing the best, you will be protecting and propagating the exceptional ones for the future.
    To understand the importance of the differences in the names, you can compare this to your type and brand name choices in groceries. You’re off to the store for your favorite cereal.You may want flakes, but do you want large ones or small, wheat, corn or bran? And you may prefer the one with the raisins, so you will search for the one with all these characteristics, and try a few different ones. Which one you end up liking best is up to you, but Kelloggs Raisin Bran ® and Post Raisin Bran ® taste different from each other.
    Once you know your favorite, you want to be able to get the one you like so much again.
    You can only do that with plants if you know their Botanical names.

“Without names there is no recognition,

without recognition there is no minding,

and without minding there is no future.”

Geoffrey Grigson[3]

Bottlephorkia spoonifolia    (11)

The only Plant names which are accurate are

the Botanical Names,which are the

Generic names accompanied by their Specific Epithets.

Some people will refer to these names with terms such as

the ‘ ‘True names’, the ‘Generic names’, the’ Specific names’,

the ‘Latin names’, ‘the Binomial‘ names or the ‘Taxonomic’ names……

The Good News is that

All these terms refer to the

Same Plant Name,

= Which is the Botanical Name.[4]

  • Each plant is by its full Botanical name unique.
    By considering the qualities and propensities of particular plant materials your informed choices can make all the difference in the world to the level of beauty and sustainability you can hope to attain in the landscape.
  • Common names
    While charming, and sometimes informative, these names usually apply to a broad group of similar plants. These kinds of names may vary from place to place, from culture to culture and change over time. For such reasons common names don’t help you much in getting to know the special plant you were curious about any better.
  • Some of the very best plants of all time are no longer in commercial cultivation.
    Purchasing plants is kind of like voting. If people don’t pay attention, they may be buying and thus multiplying just the most popular plants of the moment.
    You help the ones you acquire stay in commerce, and often the others do not stay.
    You wouldn’t want to neglect the very best plants that have ever been, who would be so satisfying in the garden context. The better ones deserve to be remembered and asked for by Name.

“The Common is more Supported than the Rare.”[5]

So you will want to know Who’s Who.

Botanical Names Tell Stories.

“Each Plant has a Generic name and a Specific Epithet” [6]

The specific epithet is often a descriptive or characterizing word or phrase composed of multiple words.
This means that the true Botanical name of a plant may be a piece of descriptive prose, if only you know how to translate some pieces of the Botanical language.

  • These Three Things about your Plant will be parts of its Name:

1. The Genus, or Surname of the larger clan to which your plant is related.
This is given on the Left Side of the Botanical name
( = the opposite of the human name way)

2. The Specific Epithet
This follows to the Right of the Surname. The species and subsequent names of the epithet are often adjectives.
A species has traditionally been partly defined as a group closely related enough to intermarry.
Through these marriages there can ensue a great many closely related forms, some which are distinguishable by some meritorious characteristic from other close kin within that species. This may be, for instance, desirable color, texture, stance, shape, duration of bloom or pest resistance in this particular offspring.

3. The Variety
If there is merit to the differences between kin, that special kind of plant will perhaps get a subspecies or varietal name of its own and then will be separately propagated.
This third name is a very important bit because with only the genus and species names, you won’t know which offspring you might end up with from all those marriages.

  • Clues Within the Names
    The species and subsequent names often work as adjectives. For this reason, embedded in the Botanical names are often partial descriptions of the particular kind of plant. They may contain clues to notable particulars of character, appearance in color or texture, and sometimes to behavior or ecology of origin.
    Sometimes the variety name references the ‘Human story’ of that kind of plant. The plant name may honor the people, places or particular nurseries involved in either originating, finding and/or perhaps propagating the plant you are getting to know.

Manypeeplia upsidownia

As an example of descriptive naming,

from A Nonsense Botany by Edward Lear.

  • Botanical names are more easily remembered when you understand their intrinsic meanings.
    The appended adjectives help you to understand things about your plants, so you will probably enjoy learning some of this vocabulary.
    The plant below is related to all Clovers = Oxalis but note the appended adjectives. This particular kind has some special characteristics as described in its name.

    Vive la Difference.
  • A Translated example from the Real World :


Oxalis triangularis papilionaceae ‘Atropurpurea’

Triangularis = shaped like triangles, =  three angles
Certainly describes the leaf shape well.

papilionaceae = like a butterfly
In the night this plant closes up its leaves and they look like butterflies at rest.

Atro = dark, purpurea = purplish color
Dark purplish leaves which contrast beautifully with green foliage in the surroundings.

  • Your Translations

You will need a Plant Lexicon or a Naturalist’s Lexicon[9], whether paper or Cyber, to ‘decode’ the information within the Botanical names.
Whether the words came from Latin, Greek, old English or wherever, a Lexicon can help you translate the specific epithet to find out what the adjectives at hand actually mean.

  • If you can just be brave enough to begin to think in ‘plant language’, start with your few words. Add more words to your vocabulary little by little as you go along, just as you would with any language you were trying to learn. Having learned a little of the vocabulary, when you come across new plant names that contain this word you will automatically know something about the plant at hand, though you have only just met.
    The important thing is to decide to put yourself in a milieu where the language is used, and pay attention. Make a beginning, do the best you can, and all will be well.
    Learning a language takes time. Expect to take notes.
  • Never mind perfect pronounciation or exact spelling, ask about it later.
    Just try for enough of the spelling to subsequently get Google’s help in the matter.

In “Winnie the Pooh” Christopher Robin made a sign for Owl’s door which said “Ples nok if rnser is reqrd”. [10]

We readers figured out what was meant.




[1] Fletcher Steele, Gardens and People
Madison Avenue in New York City is renowned for having shops with the highest level of beautiful merchandise for sale, but the things are invariably expensive.
From an article in The English Garden, By Plantlife International
It seems to me that if we capitalise the terms “Latin” names and “Greek” names that we ought to capitalise “Botanical”  names, as it refers to the language of  the Plant Kingdom.
Andrea Bocelli
Michael Dirr, who always says things well.
[7] and (11) From A Nonsense Botany by Edward Lear

[8] Watercolor by Racket Shreve
Horticulture Publications has recently (2005) published such a volume, calling it Plant Names Explained. It has lots of useful Botanical terms in translation.I also have a lovely old volume from 1944 called The Naturalists Lexicon by R.S Woods, and it serves me very well much of the time, though less complete for Botanical references.
A.A. Milne


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Plants as Beings

Plants are such dynamic living beings that ‘It’ just never seems to me to be the right pronoun to use in conversational and prose references.

As one Horticulturally minded friend has said,  “referring to a plant as ‘It’ is absolutely Rude”

For fun, try referring to particular plants, shrubs and trees too, as ‘he or she’, as you would refer to Friends.

  • You are referring to a KIND of plant with its name or pronoun anyway, not to an individual plant of one sex or another.

Pronouns and any names of endearment you may have for your plant characters have nothing to do with plant sexuality in a biological sense. Relaxed reference to plants in this way just gives them personifications so we can fondly think of them.

  • As a separate matter altogether, when pertinent, you can find out if a particular INDIVIDUAL of a kind of plant is a biological male or female….. or both.

Traditionally, since it’s confusing to know what’s ‘correct’, one just avoids the ‘he, she’ pronouns. When the plants become ‘it’ by default, or you use the whole botanical or common name over and over in conversational references, talking or writing about the plants as entities is somewhat awkward. You have to pluralise things unnecessarily, using they and them and those, and juggling sentences around to avoid the pronoun problem.

That’s what I’d like you to help me to fix.

The Good News is…

You can just Choose your own Pronoun

as the Spirit moves You.

Which pronoun you use in referring to a kind of plant can be an
entirely subjective decision.

Your choices are just to help you remember the names and/or personas of the plants to which you refer,
whether in thought or in deed. Whatever you decide is ok if it solidifies your relationship with the plant.
What you decide probably matters more to you than to most people you might be talking with.

It’s a friendly approach. You make your own rules. Try to be consistent, but if you call a plant he today and she tomorrow that’s ok too, no harm done, you can change your mind.

It’s just easier and more lighthearted to think and talk about the characters of your green world that way.

Plants as beings. Less stilted. Animates them.

So how to choose your pronoun? If you know the varietal name, perhaps this type was named for someone who discovered that kind of plant, or hybridised to achieve this particular wonderful form…was it Charles Sargent or Betty Corning? You can think of the plants as he and she respectively if you want. Or perhaps a kind of plant by color or character is feminine or masculine in its appearance, from your point of view, suggesting a pronoun choice.

If we go by their given names, Clematis Princess Diana would surely be a she with her lipstick pink flowers, Clematis Mrs. Robert Brydon would be she though bluish, Linaria Canon J. Went would probably be a he, though pink, but not necessarily.

You just can decide for yourself what you think is most appropriate.

If you don’t like the idea, please understand that I felt I needed to sometimes refer to plants with personal pronouns for my writing to be as alive as I want it to be, and the logic behind this way of referring to particular plants needed some explanation.

I hope that you will take your Freedom, and think of your plants however you please.

  • Woods Cree is an Algonqian language spoken in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada. It recently got some attention with the focus on Native Americans in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

In that language there are only 3 personal pronouns, but each represents 3 or 4 pronouns !
The pronoun nȇya means I-My-Mine.
The pronoun kȇya means You-Your-Yours.
The pronoun wȇya means He-She-His-Hers.

With these basic, all encompassing pronouns, it would seem you could hardly go wrong.

It would be nice if our All-American language made such inclusive accomodations, at least for plants.

For the time being, enjoy your plants whatever you do.Photo by Jennifer Pederson / Papaver rupifragum, double form

Posted in Garden Making Guidance, Plant Portraits and Stories, Things They Never Tell You, Your Reasoned Landscape | Tagged , , , , | 33 Responses

Growing Your Own Moss: Some Tricks to Know


Moss Face
If you have Moss and you want to encourage it, or you are bringing some into your land…

Choose or create an ecology like the one in which your moss was originally thriving.
Look for clues as to the favored habitat of your particular candidates. Think about the soil and exposure around each kind in the places where you find it. Most kinds of mosses are shade loving, but there are sun accepting ones, and some amble over stones. Try to reestablish each in its preferred ecology within your landscape.

  • Will you be walking on your moss a bit ? The ferny Hypnum seems better in this application than most others.
    Lovely soft clumps of the trailside pincushion mosses will need a more protected context.

“The way to study a plant is to look at it and observe how it behaves,
to see where
it flourishes and where it gets into trouble.”

Fletcher Steele / Gardens and People

  • Blow them off a lot – mosses don’t like debris on them.
    Keep your would be mossy place blown off or otherwise swept clean of all leaves and miscellaneous stuff. This is critical to the maintenance of all mossy places.
  • Moisture on their tops.
    Moisture from above is important to all mosses as they don’t gather moisture from below.
    Reproduction is accomplished best in a moist environment, so if you want the colony to flourish, reproduce and so expand, keep the moss surface moist.
  • Your earth should typically be of a pH less than 6.
    In the top 2” or so, at least, and a 5 to 5.5 pH is usually even better.
    This will be acidic soil, so it will be best to choose a setting where the surrounding plants are acid loving as well.
  • Bring in different kinds of mosses – but be discriminating.
    There are many kinds to choose from, and some are more desirable for your gardens than others. Typically the coarser kinds will outcompete the velvets, so you may want to keep them separated. The fine textured types may be less commonly available, and slower growing, but even small pieces will multiply along fine in a well chosen moist setting.
  • Many of the beautiful ones look their best if living in a moist place.
    Mosses will be happier, prettier and more amenable to colonisation with moisture around most of the time. Shady, cool and moist places are usually good, but it is sometimes hard to predict who will do best exactly where, so perhaps try each kind in different locations. As soon as you see who does best in the places you would like to have them, go get more of those kinds.
  • Never take more than a few pieces from a colony.
    Wherever you find your moss, choose your removal locations so that the remaining moss colony can fill back in from all sides. When you cut a piece out, sprinkle some earth from nearby into the hole you make to encourage replenishment of the original colony.
    There can be hundreds of moss plants in a square inch of a colony. Perhaps this is part of the reason why even small gathered pieces can feel like great treasures.
  • Propagating your own moss.
    Moss can regrow from tiny broken pieces. This is very advantageous both to the moss and to us since it can be transported willy nilly via the paws of wandering creatures and colonise new places. In the forest the squirrels or chipmunks may be the local transporters, but our human paws can easily bring them to new places too.
    G. muralis, l. Alpina, mosses and Euphorbia chamacyparissias………
  • If you crumble a pad of moss, the bits will make new plants.
    The appropriate destination ecology needs to be  chosen for the kind of moss.
    To make conditions optimal, sometimes organic encouragement in the form of buttermilk or beer (both have their fan clubs) is reported to have a good effect on the rapid colonisation of the new place. Having heard this advice long ago, I keep a tin of powdered buttermilk handy and mix the moss crumble with some of it before distributing the moss to a new place. I subsequently mist the moss area so the preparation wont blow away, then let the whole situation get naturally watered in over time. If I’m after crevice moss as on a terrace, I may do a gentle hand sweeping of the place with some powdered buttermilk once or twice a year.
    If I want to encourage moss on a trough or other broad surface, I may make a slurry of the moss/buttermilk crumble with water so I can pour it on something, but I prefer the dry method when adhesion is not an issue, since it is so much less messy.
    My mosses do well, but I don’t really know if it is because of the buttermilk, the watchful watering, or the wandering ants and earthworms.
  • More Moss Tricks
    If I want some moss on a stone wall (any stone or cement artifact is game) I gather sheets of lightweight rock loving moss, let it dry, and then with any old waterproof glue, adhere some here and there onto the stone or mortar .
    I try to choose places somewhat high up where the colony will receive surface moisture. Water and gravity help the moss reproduce down from there.
    The parent pieces you glued on may fall off after a while, but by then you’ll probably have some oncoming colonies they have generated. The patina the mosses provide makes the wall look older sooner, and I’m often working towards that effect.
  • Green Side Down over Green Side Up.
    For transport of mature colony cutouts, I place the small pads side by side close together to conserve the integrity of the pieces. If you are layering pads for transport, the moss will stay cleaner if you layer the pads tops to tops and bottoms to bottoms.
    10” x 20” draining nursery trays are useful carrying tools. You can put a bit of newspaper as a tray liner to keep the bits in the tray, but get the mosses to safety soon as the paper won’t last, or if it does, it will trap water in ways the moss won’t like.
  • Mosses are patient.
    Most kinds will turn all shades of brown and look terrible in drought, but they are usually not dead, just in a sort of suspended animation. A little surface water will usually bring the colony back to a lovely green. It will be nice if the mosses are someplace where the wind or the grade of the land helps to take the leaf fall away, but it will be best to site the moss out of strong, drying winds.


  • Moss will grow best where it doesn’t have much competition.
    It is often hard to weed mosses without breaking up the pads, so if you want to keep the colonies pure, try stay ahead of any invasions. Count on some time for detail weeding now and then.
  • Mosses have been Men’s and Women’s companions down through time.
    They insulated hands and feet through many long ago winters, and provided pillows for sleep. For countless generations they kept women clean through their monthly cycles and diapered their babies. [1]
    After having lived so closely with them for so long, it would seem natural that so many of us have a heartfelt affinity for Mosses.
  • E.O. Wilson would call this Biophilia, meaning our attraction to and affiliation of feeling for landscapes, plant materials and creatures with which we coevolved.For some pictures of the different kinds of Mosses and their names, please see my article on Moss Identification

    The radial moss garden pictured above was made lightheartedly from the leftover masonry materials at the end of a full landscape renovation project. The peaceful place thus created has become a beloved feature for the People and their gathered Mosses.

[1] Please see the most wonderful book about Moss that has ever come into my hands.
Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
She received the John Burroughs Medal Award for this lovely work.

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Mosses You are Likely to Meet

 Mosses You are Likely to Meet

Accurately labeled, this display identifies many of the prevalent resident mosses of New England so that they can introduce themselves to you. Once you know the name of the kind you are curious about, you can find out more about it with the help of Google.

I wanted you to know the names of these particular ones, since they are kinds you are very likely to meet up with if you wander in the woods of New England. The side by side display is very helpful for comparisons.

This Moss collection resides in Newtown, Connecticut, at the Sticks and Stones Farm which I had the privilege of visiting this past weekend. The farm is a quite a magical place where our New England stone and native trees encourage the mosses to do their best, with the mindful attention of the overseeing ‘parents’ of the place, Tim Currier and Annie Stiefel, who are always looking after the best interests of the beautiful mosses, creatures and stones that reside there. They can tell you much about the lives and stories of the many denizens of their woodlands, and if you would like to acquire a tray of moss of a chosen kind, they can provide it.
They also have at least a million weathered stones from which to choose, should you need some, and unique stone sculptures and handmade buildings embedded in their landscape to inspire your future.
If you are truly fortunate, you may be able to go up the stone mountain in the faithful but ancient Rolls Royce. Here and there on the property there are a few guest cottages, each unique, charming and sometimes available to stay in. Lots of magic.

Tim Currier and a Moss Garden

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Earth Swapping = Easy Underground Composting


Underground Composting

You will need loam and compost each season in your yard. Often it will just be a little, but you can’t get along without it.
Earth washes away, sinks and compacts so somehow, if you are working the garden, you will always need a little more. One might prefer not to get it in plastic bags.

With a system of earth swapping you can easily generate a dividend of usable loam while adding nutrients all over your grounds, thereby completing a recycling process underground within your own land, without compost bins.

This Old World way of handling organics is a simple and useful method for any size or type of garden, creating a minimum of disturbance to the appearance of the place. Anywhere it is convenient for you to have the trench is fine.

  • Dig a trench somewhere you have open ground, preferably in a ‘behind the view’ type of place. You will want a location that doesn’t have large tree or shrub roots. It will be most useful if the width and depth of the trench are at least 12” to 18”.
  • Or just dig a hole if that’s all you have room for. The deeper the hole the smaller will be the footprint on your land for the amount of compost recycled, so on a small property, deeper may be better.
  • Right away you will have a dividend of the trench loam you dig out to use elsewhere.

I call this Earth Swapping.


  • When making the trench, there will be a surprising amount of loam coming out of even a modestly sized one. Try to work directly to a tarp or buckets, or have a wheelbarrow tending the work since you will probably want to take some of the loam to other parts of your property without handling it again.

  • The nutrients provided by the compost you add into the new trench will disperse underground, so you never need to turn anything, but you may want the trench somewhere near plants you especially want to nourish.
  • Locating a digout on high ground is especially good, if you can, because the organics you add will travel naturally downhill through the earth to the plants below.
  • Make a new trench whenever you need the loam that will be generated, and you have some suitable compostable material upncoming to refill with. You don’t have to fill the whole trench right away, gradually is fine, as the clippings come to hand.
  • Over time you can work your way around the property. Just keep track of where you have already been.
  • Need some finished compost? Go into a trench you made a couple of years ago and take some. You can just leave the trenches and reuse the same locations after some years, or you can choose to overplant them when they have finished settling.
    3 Buckets

Choosing Your Ingredients

  • Restrict your compostables to garden clippings from the plants that are in the landscape anyway, resticted to clippings that are not parts of undesirable plants.
    If you don’t add any fruits and vegetables or other kitchen refuse, you can use this easy system without attracting (new) pesky creatures.
    Do use trimmings and clippings from your garden maintenance of good plants, as well as parts of annual plants you dig up after they have passed their season. Fast degraders are some of the best candidates. Tree leaves can be good, but it depends who your trees are. Some make better compost than others, so consult the Internet for details on this.
  • The compostable materials don’t need to be degraded beforehand as they will do that in the earth as well or better than in a plastic composter. Just put your trimmings into the trench. Making them smaller by rough chopping will speed composting up but it is not necessary.
  • You can refill nearly to the top with your compostable amendments, layering in a little of the trench loam you took out now and then as you come back up to the top. Water heavily to settle everything. Add some more material as needed, then a little of your loam at the top, and a sprinkle of mulch on the surface if you want neatness.
  • Before long the trench will sink a fair amount, so at some point you will be adding more earth or compostable materials to bring you back up to the grade of the nearby areas. Topping off the trench in the fall is handy because you will probably have a lot of cleanup clippings and some leaves to recycle then, and these materials will have all winter to begin to helpfully decompose.
  • When filling back the trenches with compostables, if you happen to have unwanted grass sods, use these deeply, and put the sods in upside down for good measure. Your other composting materials become the next layer up. Layer in some of the loam you took out of the trench. Put worms in if you like.………..

    Wheelbarrows have many other uses too

Some Problems to Avoid

  • Don’t use things that take ages to degrade, like woody things, twigs, tree and shrub root balls and such.
  • Don’t use weedy things that you are trying to remove from your land. Some may come back even from bits of stems or seeds in your underground compost.
  • Don’t use any plant materials if they appear to have leaf problems that fungus or insects might have caused.
  • Although you may be able to recycle only a small percentage of the organic material from your property, that small amount is very meaningful to your resident plants.


  • If there is extra compostable material, as there probably will be, you can arrange for it to go (or take it) to an alternate location where the recycling  into earth can take place off your premises, to be used ultimately by someone else. This way it wont be wasted.
  • Your mowing service may ritually take away your extra plant trimmings and other non smelly organics, if you organise things that way with them. This way your excess clean compostables will end up with grass clippings in a suitable organic home, just elsewhere.
  • I keep a trash can dedicated to garden organics. I have put holes in the bottom so that it doesn’t retain water. Any extra organic material goes into this, and leaves my property with the grass clippings each time the mowing team comes.


  • Some coffee usually remains in my cup at the end of the day. As I walk through the garden, I give this small encouragement to my acid loving evergreens, trying to keep track of who has already had a recent dose. I’m sure that it makes a difference to each of them.

Drawing by Racket Shreve

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The Tuft of Flowers

………………………..Robert Frost

I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the leveled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been,–alone,

`As all must be,’ I said within my heart,
`Whether they work together or apart.’

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a bewildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night
Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

`Men work together,’ I told him from the heart,
`Whether they work together or apart.’

……………………………………………. Drawing by Racket Shreve
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Propagating your Clematis

Certain methods of propagation are so simple that it would be a shame not to use them.



If you take a stem or branch of some cherished woody plant, bend it down and bury it a few inches (or more) in the ground adjacent to the parent, you will have a good chance of getting a new rooted plant in 6 to 12 months, having invested perhaps a half an hour of time.

  • To try this easy method, sometime during the cooler parts of the growing season, choose a particularly long, flexible stem and bend it to the ground to see if it will reach easily to a nearby place in the earth and beyond, while still connected to the parent plant. If there is no such stem, encourage one to grow down low, then next year propagate it.
  • Find a place on the stem which can be buried some inches underground and still come up with a good length on the other side. Prepare a comfortable hole perhaps 6-8 “wide and deep in that location. Wound the place on the stem that reaches the bottom of the hole by making a slice through the underside of its outer layers.
  • Dunk the cut in a little rooting powder[1], shake it off, then set the stem in the hole firmly (no wiggling stuff) with a  4-6” U shaped ‘anchor pin’[2] in the bottom of the hole. Puddle, tamp and bring the covering soil to grade, perhaps adding a modest sized stone over the rooting place to stabilise the earth and help to mark the location.
  • Keep the area from drying out too much through the seasons. Before you can cut the new plant away from the parent, you will be waiting 6 months to perhaps a year, depending on the plant type, just to give you a rough estimate of when to check back on the root zone. You can probably peek a bit to see how the rooting is going along by carefully squirrelling the loam away from the rooting place.
  • When good roots have formed at the wound, cut the new plant away at this umbilical connnection between the parent and the new roots, and now you can take the baby to plant wherever you like.
  • Sometimes over the years, things get sick, squashed or eaten, so if I have more than one of each of my favorites, I feel safer.
  • There are woody plants you come to value, but you may never be able to find a second time. Perhaps it came from a long ago garden, but for whatever reason, your favorite plant may not be currently available in nurseries. Plants go in and out of fashion, hence in and out of the local nursery trade, so special varieties can disappear. Named varieties sometimes undergoe subtle genetic changes, and your specimen may carry more desirable traits than the one bought some years later, from a different propagation source. For real world examples of close calls, please read the Clematis histories in my previous post. There are so many stories of plants nearly lost, amongst natives and hybrids…….

A little propagation of the particular kinds we value, for whichever good reasons, will help to keep the Best things in our Green world.

If you have friends or family with vines you admire, perhaps they will let you try this multiplying technique within their homegrounds. Hopefully together you will create some offspring to travel to your place. The plants in your grounds will then also carry your memories of the people and places from whence they came.

This simple propagation technique works for many other woody plants if their branches or stems can be brought to touch the ground. I usually bury the current years’ wood, if there’s a choice.

Sometimes it won’t work, but many times it will, and you have risked little.

[1] I use a widely available Rooting Horomone which has a fungicide in it (My current one is made by the Dragon Corp. in Roanoke, Virginia) If you are a recreational propagator, just get the little 4oz. pack for a few dollars. Even this amount will do lots and lots of rooting experiments.


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Pruning Your Clematis

Clematis Julia and Rose Jeanne la JoiePrune After Flowering.

This is the the general rule for all Clematis, as it is for most plant materials.
But When After?
This question has a long answer, but the situation does not need to be as puzzling as you might think.
For most people the confusing thing is which Clematis to cut down substantially and which should not be pruned much if at all in fall.

You don’t have to know the names of the Clematis to know what to do, you just need to watch to see when each plant has flowers, and remember which ones bloom early and which ones bloom mid or late in the season.

A shortcut to remembering easily what to do
or not to do in Fall is contained in my rhyme :


“If it blooms before June, don’t prune.
If it blooms after June, wait till it swoons
but leave at least three to climb to the Moon”

And now for the Rest of the Story
Why it Works that Way.

1.  Early Flowering Clematis Varieties

These kinds typically flower  only on the previous years wood, so you need to leave a lot of the vine in place through the winter.

Pruning things soon after they finish in spring and early summer conserves the energy of the plant for the parts that will remain, so for those kinds that are not cut down fully each winter, do what pruning is needed soon after flowering and the plant will then put its energy into next year’s flower buds.

For these, you should do your trimming after blooming and not in the fall cleanup. This timing will allow your plant to develop a full quota of flowers for the following year. Don’t procrastinate or your vine will have put energy into preparing for next years flowers in places you may need to prune away.

The pruning of the early flowering Clematis is mostly to improve the shape of the plant or to keep it within your chosen bounds. For this type of Clematis I usually would take down up to 20% of a given plant in a given season. For these spring bloomers you want to leave a lot of room for them to grow into and occupy since you can’t shrink them annually as much as you can the later flowering kinds, which are largely or completely cut down each year.

2.  Midseason Bloomers

These may bloom on both old and new wood, so don’t prune off all the old stems.
Do plan to take some old wood away each year after flowering so there will be plenty of room for new wood to also be gracefully produced within the allocated space for reblooming and for the coming season.

  • “Wait till it swoons”

For both the midseason or late forms, you can do as much pruning as you like during the season after flowering to neaten things up, but often the seedheads at the end of the season are lovely, and the leafery is still handsome, and there is no need to prune right away. You can wait on this till the plant is no longer contributing to the picture. Some long blooming, midseason  and late blooming types bloom on new wood only, in which case a full cut down, like that used for late flowering forms, will be preferable, but in either case, there is no rush to accomplish the pruning of these. Finishing the cut downs of these plants can wait until the garden is being put to bed, the leaves are droopy (swooning)  and you are thinking of next years pictures.

3.  Late Season BloomersClematis paniculata and Clematis tangutica

For the late flowering Clematis, pruning long after flowering is typically fine. When the vine no longer contributes nicely to the picture, it is time. In the fall these late kinds will be pruned mostly all the way down anyway for their own good health since they typically bloom entirely on the new wood that they create in a single season.

Just when you should prune these is flexible, and can largely depend on whether the appearance of the vine continues to be pleasing. The seedpods and foliage of some of these kinds can look lovely till frost and beyond, so certain of these climbing friends can be assets even through the holidays.

The right time to take them fully down will be when the vine is not contributing to the beauty of the place, and when you have time. There may be other considerations like how much you mind cutting things down when it’s very cold, or when your last organic trip to the dump can take place.

Sometime between late November and the early winter, I take back all the late Clematis to about 12” above the ground, leaving 3 or 5 of the old stems that have gracefully climbed quite high that year.

  • The Three that you Leave to Climb to the Moon.

When you cut down your vines, even those that only bloom on new wood, I leave a few of the old woody stems in place where they have climbed to the places you wanted them to. That way the new stems in spring will have something to twine around, and I will have something to easily attach them to in just the right spots.

  • Who Is Who, by Name or by Character

If you acquire your Clematis with its given name, Google will help you find out which type of trimming it needs.
If you don’t know the name, watch the particular variety you are wondering about through the year. Try to see if it is blooming just on new wood (this year’s stems), or old wood (last year’s stems), or on both old and new wood.  If it flowers on both kinds of wood, you will want to leave some of the old wood on when you prune in fall so that it can do the same thing next year.

If the flowers are on new wood only, you cut down the whole vine to 12″ and it will start over in Spring.

You may not know the true name of the plant, but you have discovered something of its character, and that’s what matters for the pruning.

  • Happy Couples have Compatable Habits

Clematis Hagley Hybrid and a Jackmanii

Clematis can be lovely in intertwined pairs with complementary or contrasting colors and shapes. If you would like to try for this effect, be sure the pair you choose have the same or compatable pruning needs if they will be planted close together.

If you choose one kind which needs to be cut down early and one late, and they are growing substantially together, you will spend a silly amount of time trying to do the right thing for each of them in their entwined situation….every year forever.

If you want different seasons of bloom to occur in an overlapping place, and so may wish for Clematis with different pruning needs, start them in locations substantially apart from one another, leading their most distant stems to meet in your chosen places. This helps to keep the trimming manageable.

If the references tell you they grow 6 feet or 20 feet, pay attention, because they probably will do just that after a few settlement years, so space them accordingly.

If you make a mistake and prune your Clematis too far back or in the wrong season by mistake, it will usually just start over….as long as you have been careful not to hurt the places where the crown rises out of the ground. Sometimes when renovating an older vine that has not been tended and has gotten itself into a tangle, a one time purposeful and considerate OOps will be necessary.

The worst that can happen, if it’s a kind of Clematis that blooms only on old wood, is that you will have to wait a year for flowering, until it has some ‘new’ old wood.

Plant Protection
When I plant a Clematis I usually also permanently plant a croquet hoop over the crown to mark the place and protect it from the footsteps of overenthusiastic or forgetful people and other creatures.

Posted in Garden Making Guidance, Long Blooming Plants, Most Popular Posts, Plant Portraits and Stories, Your Reasoned Landscape | Tagged , , , , , , , | 53 Responses

Clematis Clues


Clematis Betty Corning, July 4th 2010
More Lovely with Age

  • Every flowering season will be better than the one before if your Clematis is well contented in its place. As plants settle in to your land over time, individual Clematis vines of generally long blooming varieties will usually produce more blossoms in each subsequent year, which adds to the length of their overall blooming season in your garden, so be patient.
  • This increasing ebullience seems to have to do mostly with the ever larger root system, since even those kinds that are completely cut down to 1’ of stems at the end of each season show this effect, as long as you have respected the habit of growth of the plant in your tying and considered the timing of the pruning of the kind you are growing.
    For further information on such matters, please see my article on Pruning Clematis.

Stay Ahead of your Vines

The upcoming performance of a climbing plant will depend alot on the support it has been given.

  • Hopeful tendrils, if encouraged by tying up, will send up more new shoots. The further along the vine can get, the more lovely and long blooming it will usually prove.
    Weekly tying will probably be necessary as the vine grows into its place before flowering.
    The process can be a lot to keep up with, but it makes all the difference.
  • A wonderful, simple invention you can get from Bosmere Tool Co. called a ‘lever loop’ allows you, in the blink of an eye, to clasp shoots of clematis and other climbing plants to one another or to any nearby slender structure with no cutting or tying with bits of string. The clips can be moved around anytime, last for years, and are inexpensive to begin with. They will improve your relationships with all your climbing plants.

Clematis Princess Diana, July 4th
Lead The Willing

  •  To get your climbers started off right, you’ll need to have something in place to encourage the very beginning of their climbs.
    With a newly arrived Clematis I usually remove the bamboo or metal scaffold used to support the plant in the nursery pot because this will be harder to do later, and the temporary pot support is usually not the right thing to keep in the landscape. If the vine has twined through its structure and can’t be untangled easily, I sometimes cut the supports apart in many places, sacrificing them instead of the tendrils of the oncoming vine. You might need wire cutters.
  • The lowest element of the new support structure is important and usually should be no more than a foot or so off the ground. If your structure is further away, you can gather the new shoots together with twine and then tie this bundle with a suitable length of twine to the lowest rung or tying place you do have. The shoots will try to climb this, but for best results and easiest management, assist them onto a truly climbable structure as soon as possible.
  • The important thing will be that the intersecting joints of the applied structure should somehow create weaving and tying places through which you can fasten the oncoming vines. The support should be held at least an inch or so away from the wall or other attachment surface so there is a ‘behind’ to weave vines into easily with fingers, lever loops and/or twine. Simple wooden straps, lattice or any desired wood, wire or iron support can each be fine if appropriate in the circumstances.
    A friend of mine was eyeing a flat bedspring she had saved from an old single bed. She saw that its form could be usefully pressed into service for her vine of choice. With a little spray paint of a chosen color, it could be camouflaged against its background, then covered with climbing leafery.


  • When a new Clematis is planted I always put a croquet hoop over its (vulnerable) place of origin to protect the crown of the plant, and to remind me just where it is. I leave it there to discourage feet of persons or other creatures.
  • I have also been advised by Clematis nurseries not to use slow release fertilisers when the Clematis are young.
  • For lots more information, please link to my article about Long Blooming Clematis.


Posted in Garden Making Guidance, Long Blooming Plants, Most Popular Posts, Plant Portraits and Stories, Things They Never Tell You, Your Reasoned Landscape | Tagged , , , , , , | 53 Responses

Some Things They Never Tell You

 …..About Planting Trees and Shrubs

  • Decide and then tag the best faces of  your chosen individuals in the nursery.
    Look for the best faces of your chosen trees and shrubs when they are standing relaxed in the nursery. Tie a ribbon or somesuch to a branch at the front and center of the plant’s face as you will want to see it in your landscape, especially if the plants will be tied up for transport to your place. When your things arrive, find your ribbon marking, and you will know just where the best face is. This way you can get the individuals into their places close to correctly before you fully untie them.
    The wrapping of branches distorts them, making it harder to find the face just when you need to at planting time. If you haven’t marked, you may need to untie things and give them at least some hours to relax before you can find their best faces.
  • Clean Plants and remove extraneous tags, twine and dead or broken branches before planting.
    This will save a lot of time overall. When the plant is in its B&B* or container, you can reach everything more easily than after planting. Just lean the whole situation over to reach the highest and lowest branches.
    While the plant is in its root wrappings it is often the best time to clean at the base of the individual. Unwanted plants may be sharing the pots as volunteers, and before planting is a good time to remove them. If the invader has become so very entangled in the root ball that you might destabilise the contained plant by removing it, don’t. Just chop off any seeding parts and plant the whole situation as is. You can remove the rogue and its roots safely after your good plant is well settled in the earth.
  • Watch out for plasticised burlap.
    This is insidious stuff……. If the plant is wrapped in plastic burlap,  since this material will not biodegrade, every bit of it must be removed. The roots of your plant will not be able to grow through the plastic burlap, so if you leave it on, the plant will suffer, and probably die before long.
    When you scrabble the roots of a pot grown thing, you may even ( ridiculous but true….) find plastic materials harking from a previous growing phase. Please pull these out from amongst the roots to favor your plant’s growth.
    Normal biodegradeable burlap is also cut away once the plant is in the hole. If, however, the plants roots are not well grown into the medium, I may cut away just the top ½ of the wrapping burlap and leave the rest so as not to destabilise the root ball. 
  • Look out for ball and burlap plants that have the crowns of the tree or shrub badly wrapped.
    When you measure for the planting bowl you will dig, you need to know the actual depth of the root ball, from the base to the crown of the plant. The earth and roots within the burlap may have shifted, so look into the tied burlap center, reveal the crown, then measure from there for a suitable digging depth.
    If the crown of the plant gets buried, in most cases, your tree planting will not succeed.
  • A stone or three as needed.
    In New Hampshire, in places where there is a lot of heaving and thawing or movement of underground water, trees are traditionally planted with one or a few stones set judiciously beneath and alongside their root balls. This helps water to drain away and stabilises the root ball.
  • “Plant in a bowl, not in a hole”              Richmond Poole, Arborist and Teacher
    Unless you have a special circumstance, it will usually be best for the base of the planting bowl not to be much deeper than the actual rootball height. If you make the hole deeper, the soft earth you come back with may allow the tree or shrub to sink some over time.
    If the soil in the base is loose at planting time, tamp it down as best as you can before measuring for your planting depth.
    On the other hand, some extra diameter of the prepared hole can be an advantage for the planting. If you can add back some freshly softened earth, the newly arrived plant will easily put new side roots into it. Don’t put too much by way of enhancements into the bowl earth though. It will usually be better if the comeback earth you use has plenty of body to it, and drains well. Use whatever loam or mixture the plant came with (unless weedy) to blend in with the native soil.
  • Removing root bound plants from containers
    If you find that your purchased plant does not easily slide out of its pot ‘house’, it has probably been living in there a while and its roots may be tightly grown into every crevice. Systematically hitting the outer part of the pot on all sides with a trowel or hammer may loosen things up so that the plant can slide out…..but…..if  it doesn’t come out readily ……..
  • Don’t pull on the plant itself
    If you pull on the plant, you may do some damage. Instead sacrifice the pot by slicing the container away. Cut down from top to bottom in a couple / few places with your all purpose scissors or a mat knife. You can recycle the plastic pot parts.
  • Access to water and nutrients
    Once a plant that has been grown like this comes out of its pot, the sides and bottom will often be densely networked with roots, many of which may have been growing around the potted plant in circles. To encourage normal root growth and avoid the self strangulation encirclement can cause, I scrabble all the sides and base of the plant with a garden fork or knife until the roots are somewhat freed up. Often I may need to cut the roots in many places to help the inner ones  to grow out into their new homes. Opening the roots a bit  facilitates the entry of water and nutrients from the new surroundings to encourage your new plants.
    For many trees, you may want the crown of the plant a bit higher than the surrounding grade. This anticipates a little settlement and enhances drainage around the individual crowns. Usually this means just a subtle inch (or two) of height advantage, tapering away gradually into the surroundings. It will not remind anyone of a hill or a volcano if you do it considerately.
  • If the root ball is unstable in its container, Don’t disturb the roots.
    Perhaps the plant was grown in a sandy loam, or recently moved to a new size pot. In such a case, remove it from its container carefully, trying not to disturb the roots any more than is necessary in transferring the plant into its new ground.
  • Melting the Earth. (Puddling)
    When the tree or shrub has been stabilised for verticality and good appearance, and filled back with earth 2/3 of the way or so, I add Roots 2 (TM), diluted in lots of water to the trough area around the plant. This elixir reliably eases the transition for most tree and shrub plantings. Unlike some fertilisers, direct application cannot harm the plants.
    With or without the Roots 2 (TM), once you have stablilised your planting fully, puddle it, let it drain, puddle again. This brings loam in around the roots, helping them all to make contact with the earth in their new home, and gets rid of the dreaded ‘air pockets’ that would hinder transplant success. You will add back some earth to bring the surrounds back up to grade. This melting of the earth snuggles the roots in, and snuggling is a good thing.
  • Some shrubs like to have their crowns on grade, some don’t care.
    If they are suckering or stoloniferous types you can expect some indifference in this matter.
    There are also some things whose crowns are better off planted deeply. Our Roses and Clematis number among them, so you will want to check into the specific planting needs of your particular candidates.
  • * B & B =  Ball and Burlap = A method of tying up the rootball of a tree or shrub for transplanting, by wrapping it in burlap and securing it with (usually) Jute twine.
    Alternatively, the same kind of plant may have been grown on and matured in plastic containers. Both ways can work well. I find container grown plants are easier to handle and safely transport, unless the root ball is large.

Posted in Garden Making Guidance, Landscape Making Guidance, Plant Portraits and Stories, Things They Never Tell You, Your Reasoned Landscape | Tagged , , , , , , | 121 Responses

Gardens are for Guidance

On Sunday the 27th of June between 10 and 5

Our Gardens At 19 Circle Street Will be Open

To Benefit the Garden Conservancy and the Marblehead Conservancy.

There are Other Lovely Private Properties Close By which will be

Open that Day for Viewing -

I Hope that You will be able to Experience Some of Them.

Please see the poster below for further information, or go to

To see any of the Gardens,You just go There

and Give a $5 Donation at the Door.

You can also pick up a Map with linked directions at 19 Circle Street on that day.

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Landscape Design Advisories: Chapter 4 / The Logic of your Property

A Reasoned Landscape bannerLandscape Advisories

Chapter 4

As with almost everything, thinking in relationships will lead to unity in the outcome.

Any piece of your place that you alter or create affects other parts of a complex whole. Good design solutions come from looking for the best combined placement and shaping of the parts.Unity in the function and esthetics of a place can most easily be accomplished if the designed portions are created in tandem with all other parts of the landscape with which they will interweave. This kind of thinking can help you find the path to unified logic for your property.

Mosaic stones, from Bali..

Plan Tomorrow Today

If you mentally place all the forseeable necessary features and the connecting paths early in the planning, even roughly, you can do a better job of finding places for everything in the end.
Often individual features can be designed to serve multiple purposes and so accommodate many different needs, but only if you plan for this integration.

“Setting is more than scene.”
John Stilgoe

To be deeply beautiful, the built landscape should be comfortable and correct in the way it takes care of its natural and unnatural inhabitants. The water, the soil, the creatures, the plants, the cars, bikes, woodpiles, trash bins and door latches will all benefit from considerate configuration.
You are creating a setting for life.

The logic of all of the parts of the property should come together before you build anything.

Even if only a few parts of the landscape will be built in the near future, you will want to mentally site all the things you may ultimately want before any work begins.
There will probably be a few wrong turns in your mental search for a path to a unified logic.
Try to tangibly imagine the physical things which must have placement in the landscape so that you and yours can live the way you want out of doors. With ideas of the features you want to be sure to have in your landscape in mind, you can begin to make good decisions about the use and linkage of the parts of the property. Mark the things you figure out onto real ground.

The things you need and want will each and all require physical places and comfortable access in your landscape. The placement of custom landscape needs such as gates, trash houses, tool, bicycle or boat shelters, outdoor working tables, swings or other such will be more difficult to accomplish nicely if these necessary elements have no planned places where they can go without detracting from the overall experience of your land.

Not leaving room for all probable features when you lay out your land may block you from ultimately having a complete product and good flow on the property, in the end.
As your first thoughtful year on the property goes along, take lots of photos and write down what you observe and learn. Note down your ideas and keep an ongoing list of considerations handy. Make lists of your intentions and goals, plants you love, looks you like. Save image clippings and network referrals. Keep everything in a folder together.

Where you begin the actual work process will then depend on priorities which consider both the logic and the physical logistics of the creation of the overall landscape.
A worthwhile landscape often takes some years to make, but it should follow a considered sequence, with first things first so as not to disturb finished work later.
The shaping of the land itself and the hardmaterials work almost always come first since you will be digging up some ground. Working with such fundamental elements can build in capabilities which shape subsequent development.
The enduring success of any outdoor living space, like any indoor one, will typically be dependent on its foundational work, a one time investment in its future. This kind of work is an expensive part of your landscape making process, but if done early in the sequence of building, it will often cost less in dollars and garden disturbance than if you try to do it later, in backtrack mode.
Proceed thoughtfully as there are many possibilities and repercussions of what is or is not done, down the road of time.

A garden without stones is like a body without bones
Allen C. Haskell (1)

D.M. Schneider

Site the elements you are considering on the real ground.
Go into as much detail with yourself or selves as possible, making decisions about what you and your land will need and want. Try to tangibly imagine the physical things which must have placement in the landscape in order that you and yours can live in the way you want outside. Realize that the things you need and want will each and all require physical places and comfortable access in your landscape. Keep an ongoing list of considerations handy.
When you think you like what you have designed, mark it. When you mark things onto the real ground, you can see, walk, and feel them.
Look over the combined design. If it isn’t just right, mow it, adjust things and try again.

Where land is concerned, common sense must
study and decide, on the ground.”

Fletcher Steele (2)

Think through every project in realistic detail.
Consider the comings and goings of daily garden life.
Go everywhere with the imaginary trucks, wheelbarrows, tools, hoses and outdoor electricals. Think about the hard and soft materials your landscape will need over time, and leave access passageways.

Have a pretend party. You will be looking into your future.

party wheelbarrow Hallockville Homestead, LI

LINK to Chapter 5 / Seeing The Shapes

1) Allen Haskell, Horticulturist, in conversation…… often repeated thought from his Mason.

2) Fletcher Steele /   Gardens and People

A Reasoned
Landscape Composition.
Stonework and Garden Design.

Unusual Plant Materials, Troughs
Tools and Antique Garden Ornaments

Posted in Garden Making Guidance, Landscape Design Advisories, Landscape Making Guidance, Your Reasoned Landscape | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 125 Responses

About Ellen Cool and ‘A Reasoned Landscape’


Designer, PhD Biology,  Author @


Landscape Composition, Stonework.
Garden Design, Creation, Restoration.

With 34 years of Immersion in the Work of the Land.

Garden Visits by Appointment
781 856 5600
19  Circle Street, Marblehead,  Mass  01945

Arthur Schwartz

“As time went by I realised that the particular place I had chosen
was less important than the fact that
I’d chosen a place and focused my life around it.”
…………………………………………………………………….Richard Nelson , Alaska

All the methods and plant materials discussed in these pages come out of
personal experience in my own, my client’s and other
graciously shared landscapes and gardens.
in Zone 5B on the Atlantic Coast
All the photos on this site are of Stone Garden Designs’ finished projects,
unless otherwise noted.

Collected Advice

I am a Gatherer, a Collector of things that I think belong together because of some commendable qualities they share. This is part of my nature, and I have fully embraced it.

One of my very favorite collections is of Priceless Advice that I have been given over the years with regard to the making and keeping of landscapes. My intention is to provide you with the most useful thought tools that I have found through personal and professional devotion to designing, building and experiencing of outdoor places for 30 years.

Tools of Thought

Many of the Landscape Advisories in ‘A Reasoned Landscape’ have been given to me by the exceptional Mentors and Masters of all kinds that it has been my privilege to come across in my work or through their instruction and writings.
Time and time again in my projects, certain advisories come to mind because they are invariably useful tools of thought when looking for landscape solutions in the circumstances to which they apply.
All those that have
proved reliably useful for attaining quality outcomes in some aspect of landscape design, building or tending have been gathered in like precious jewels.

“Design takes from everywhere.”
Sonia Rykiel

There have been Masters of many different disciplines and mediums, but no matter where the guiding thoughts came from, if they proved reliably useful for my Landscape work, I saved them for you.

Knowing some rules can provide a safe beginning from which your artistic interpretation
can leap with confidence.

Once the artistic and building principles are considered in the work, the creative opportunities for originality remain, but the solutions derived have a greater probability of providing comfort and beauty in the resulting landscapes.
Some of these helpful thoughts can be communicated in only a few words and yet are universal and priceless. Others take longer explanations or are more specific to but many are likely to make a contribution to thoughts about design and creation all along your landscape making journey. I hope that you may usefully call the applicable ones to mind when they can come into play in your own work.

“Precepts or Maxims are of great weight;
… a few useful ones on hand do more to produce a happy life
than the volumes we can’t find.”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Best  Plants

The second useful collection is within my Plant Portraits.
This is a short list chosen from my estimation of the Best Plants for our local ecotome , coastal Zone 5B . I will mostly be writing about those plants that are currently uncommon, but are so wonderful that we want to be sure to preserve them by growing them into the future. I look forward to telling you about these stellar characters of my close acquaintance.
All the plant materials I recommend in my writings have been trialed over many years. They are exceptionally handsome, reliably hardy and behave admirably in the contexts described. To be portrayed in the Plant Portraits, each kind has to satisfy numerous criteria of quality for landscape use, so each is a tried and true treasure.
What I am presenting is a lifetime collection of best friends in the garden.

If you are not in my zone, I’ll leave you to check elsewhere on the internet for the particular zone appropriateness for each of these plants that you might like to have.
Many of the kinds to which I refer are very adaptable plants, and may think little of a zone change, one way or another. I hope you can grow lots of them.

For You

Originally, this material was collected for multiple separate books, but now the Web seems the best place to find people passionately involved or at the ready for the creation of things which bond them to their landscapes and gardens.

There are many dozens of topics I have written about in rough drafts, but all the pieces need polish and finish, some helpful imagery, and so a lot of time. I am enjoying the process as one would the sewing together of the patches of a patchwork quilt. I will be providing finished segments as I can, or am encouraged too, so perhaps the advisories will come to you as you need them. I hope that you can have patience with the handmade way I will be giving you these things.

I look forward to giving you many lovely pages.


* Lucius Annaeus Seneca / 4 BC to 65 AD

Posted in Authors and Artists, Garden Making Guidance, Your Reasoned Landscape | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 104 Responses

If You don’t know where you’re going……..

If you don’t know where you’re going

you’ll wind up someplace else.……..

……………………………………………Yogi Berra


Studio of time and experience

Here we experience the good and bad;

What we have, and what we had -

…………..This session ,

Not just another version………..

Saying is too much mix up – mix up!

Saying is too much mix up – mix up!

Too much of that wigglin stuff………

………………………………….Bob Marley

Posted in Garden Making Guidance, Your Reasoned Landscape | 22 Responses

Happy Mothers Day

Alot of our offspring are plants.

This Tree Peony is in bloom over a dwarf Pine for Mothers Day……unusually early this year.

and this Crown of Asparagus was picked on Mothers Day morning.

Posted in Garden Making Guidance, Plant Portraits and Stories, Your Reasoned Landscape | 11 Responses

Landscape Design Advisories: Chapter 2 / Approaching Your Land

A Reasoned Landscape banner
Landscape Design Advisories
Chapter 2
Approaching Your Land

A Year of Observation

Many of the plant materials and sylvan creatures of our northern landscapes appear and disappear through the course of the seasons, so it will require a year of observation just to fully see who lives on your land.

You will want to know your Land Partner intimately before you can consider what will be best to do.
Once you are aware of what is currently happening on your land, you can best alter things in ways that can benefit your place.

To establish this close relationship, you will want go out and be in your landscape as often as you can through the year. Wander and sit everywhere, in the light of different times of day, in all seasons and weather. Notice everything you can and then wonder about it. See what you find pleasing and what displeases you. As you walk around, your feet will be looking for the paths you may want to establish. You will be gradually deciding the views you want to keep or erase, and you will find out what your favorite places are. Watching the behavior of individual types of plants and animals through the year will help you to figure out who the good guys and who the bad guys are, by your definition of partners or pests.
This is your search for the ‘spirit of the place’, and it is an integral part of a considerate design process.

Before you begin changing things much, it helps to know where and when the sun shines, shadows fall and the wind blows – for different times of the day and through the different seasons.
You will want to know things like where water comes into the property by sky, by drainpipes or through the ground, where it pools and where it never reaches.
See what is thriving or working well, what is not, and figure out why. See where the grass dries out (you will need to add water) and where soil erodes (fix the grade), where plants and weeds are happiest (plant more things there), and where even the tough multitude of native plants can’t manage to grow (the ground is not welcoming to plants, something drastic must be changed).

This kind of a searching and questioning process will help you to identify the problems and possibilities of your natural surroundings.

The information you gather will be fundamental to your design and thereafter to your lifelong experience of the landscape.
A well considered and well constructed landscape is fundamental to a natural, comfortable and pleasant daily life for plants and people alike.

A trained observer such as a landscape designer, landscape architect or horticulturist can notice clues to the pertinent considerations and probably find good solutions more quickly than you can, but you can probably figure out a lot of it. It will just take longer. Racket Shreve's signature  Pay lots of attention and make notes, lists and labels.
You may think that you will remember everything, but you won’t.

“the horror of that moment”, the King went on,
”I shall never never forget.”

“You will though”, the Queen said,
“if you don’t make a memorandum of it.”

……………………………………fromfrom Lewis Carroll     Through the Looking Glass

LINK TO CHAPTER 3 / ‘Deletions are First’

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Deletions are First / Landscape Design Advisories: Chapter 3

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Landscape Design Advisories
Chapter 3

Deletions are First
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Start with the Givens.

For the design of the all the work, from built work to plant work, you may first want to carefully consider which features of the property will or will not be altered.
The features that definitely remain are your ‘givens’, fundamental in directing the location, organisation and character of the elements which you will add.

Deletions are Important

  • You don’t want to begin your design thoughts with respect to existing unsatisfactory features, whether hard materials or plant materials.
    You will probably want to be liberal about removing things you are sure you don’t ultimately want
    , mentally if not actually, for the time being. If possible, begin your thoughts with what you have that you love – or can move or enhance.
    Perhaps there are poor placements of structures or plants ? Will you ultimately retain  that particular piece of unfortunate architecture or masonry ? Too many trees or shrubs ? Which are the worst ones? These kinds of  thoughts will guide you to your best ways forward.
  • To begin to look for your best property arrangements, deletions that you are sure about  come first.
    In an old landscape there will probably be more than one set of deletions, perhaps ideally with a cautious phase at the start. If, however, it is clear that something will be subtracted, taking it out as soon as you can will help you to better see the possibilities for arranging your landscape.
  • The ramifications of deletions are best experienced as they can rarely be fully pre-envisioned.
    I prefer to decide and accomplish essential deletions before planning a landscape in detail. What you move or remove changes the visual, ecological and physical circumstances of your land. When you can experience your landscape more fully, the best choices begin to show themselves.
  • You can neaten up from the earliest days
    This helps you to better experience the property, as you begin to consider what to change and create there. Take away all miscellaneous unwanted stuff. Clarifies things.
    Working in the connected spaces will help you see how they need to tie together.
    Straighten out your garage, cellar and garden buildings and get your doors working well. You’ll need a good broom.
    Rake, sweep and clean off the outdoor floor, especially potential walking pathways. Shear away chaff, dead stalks and trim off the brown bits in the beds. Soft tined rakes and blowers are helpful.
    You are getting to know your land partner and looking for the important paths and places....

    Now, Delete considerately.Before Deletions

  • Cut out dead trees and shrubs.
    Cut back or remove any individuals that are harming better trees or other things. You will want to determine which trees and shrubs are the better ones, if you need to make choices. Only take away ones you are sure about, but remove those as soon as you sensibly can. Many beautiful things are scruffy or invisible in winter, so watch through the seasons to find out who is who.
    Clean the trees and shrubs you are likely to be keeping. Take away dead and crisscrossing branches. You may want to prune some trees up 7′  or more if you will want to walk under them in your revised landscape.

    After Completion

Site Your Essentials

  • Elements of your landscape which are not yet present but will be needed for your outdoor life will need to be roughly sited early on. You will want the best locations for what will become the most used places.

  • Paths, entrys, sheds, water places and all essential immovable features, both existing and needed, will become centers of thought for your design planning and affect what you will choose to add.
    Whichever elements are of greatest of importance to you need to be optimally connected in the end, so their associated paths should be shaped early in your plans.

    Reuse and Recycle

    If plants or structures are just in the wrong places, perhaps they can be moved. Even large ones. I have had very good success with Rhodys 10′ high and wide, and many other plant materials with stature. It depends on the kind of root structure the plant has, or perhaps on whether you can get a machine to help transport them.
    Old swingsets can become archways to climb plants over. Wood playhouses can move, and can become mini studios. Smaller ones may become homes for plants to climb in and out of, perhaps with a seat inside for you.
    Earth or stone materials that will be recovered during digging work can create an opportunity elsewhere to raise a bed or embank a garden. Even broken concrete and silty loam can sometimes find a suitable filling purpose somewhere on your property, or that of a friend or neighbor.

    Getting Ready for the Work

  • If you have some really good plants but you need to get out them of the way of proposed work,  it will be good to wonder ahead of time where else those elements might be well used, and plant them in those locations.
    If your recycled plants will be used later around your finished built work, you can make a rough nursery bed somewhere out of the way of the building process, preferably out of the hot sun to protect your plants for the duration of the process. This can be just a simple trench or larger dug out place where your ‘plants in transit’ can be kept in soft earth and easily watered until your new grounds are ready.
    You then have a pallette of plant materials to draw from when the time comes to populate your new places.

    Link to Chapter 4 / The Logic of the Property

A Reasoned
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Stonework and Garden Design.

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My Lucky Clover


…………………………………………………..Racket Shreve


I know that I have been very lucky to have had this lovely Oxalis in my life for so many years. Though sometimes these clovers are called ‘false Shamrocks’, Luck is where you find it. This is an ever  pleasing and easy to please plant that I would not want you to be without. Growing her is a way of growing your own good fortune.

In winter she comes inside in a decorative pot or two, and with minimal water and care, flourishes. Her charming merlot leaves grace a modestly lit place throughout the cold season, and sometimes she comes to the table.

In spring, the clumps go into the open garden, where they enhance the greens around by contrast. She expands admirably throughout the growing season if you site her well.

In the cycle of her care, she is prepared to come indoors again in the fall. By pulling apart the now abundant corms, I can provide the beginnings of a colony for a few more people each year.

Using this in and out system, a client of mine put her winter ones as a centerpiece on a long shelf by a bank of warm windows. She has found the corms multiplied so extremely well both winter and summer in such a good spot, that after some years, the entire 8 foot shelf was filled with with lovely containers of  Triangularis, even though she is very generous and always gives lots away. This plant will be fine with a less ideal place, it will just multiply less quickly till it gets into the true garden.

Triangularis is reputed to be edible, but I have not looked into this. She is still too precious to me, and too useful as an ornamental.

You can easily start your own Oxalis triangularis cycle by purchasing a small cluster in February or early March. They are often around at this odd time in nurseries and grocery stores for St. Patrick’s Day.  When its suitable weather  for tender plants to go outdoors, 1/2 to 2/3 light places are fine. Just plant them where they will enhance what you have.

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Begin Before the Beginning

” The Red Queen gave Alice sage advice on storytelling when she said, ‘Begin at the beginning, go on until you come to the end, and then stop.’ But it is advice that I seldom follow. I usually begin somewhere before the beginning; write until the beginning identifies itself; and I always run the stop sign at the end. Only then do I stop. And revise. “

Gerald Carbone,  Journalist

Racket Shreve

Making a Beginning

“…It’s only a matter of finding someone to start them off, someone prepared to communicate and share… turn them into mad keen gardeners”

…………………………,……..Christopher Lloyd  The Adventurous Gardener

  • Start a file folder labeled Landscape.

A legal sized folder may serve you best because drawings and plot plans are often oversize, and anyway things accumulate. Even if you are keeping information in your computer, there will be lots of images and bits of paper to file from the tangible world that you may want to refer to.

Receipts for the landscape work done will be important to keep since they represent potential ‘capital gains’ deductions applying to the cost base of your home should it be sold later in its life.

  • Take a photo series of the whole property before you begin.

These will be your ‘before’ pictures, so be thorough because, like baby pictures, you won’t be able to take them later. You will enjoy having a record of how far you’ve come as things progress.

I typically take a series of  photos, sequential images of the existing property, with the series of views seen traveling back and forth in all the natural walking ways. You are after a complete record of the appearance of the house and grounds. Unimportant views can become important later as your place develops.

You can use these photos as working images. With them you can readily reflect on whichever context you happen to be thinking about, even after dark and in the winter. They will provide elevational views which can allow you to make tracing paper overlays and see how your ideas look as you approach them in the 3 dimensional world. From small photos you can make 8 1/2” x 11” images for a more realistic view. It won’t matter much even if the enlargement is a bit blurry, as long as you can see the shape outline of the things you’re thinking about.

  • Make a basic outline sketch of the house on the land, to scale.

Your drawings should particularly include the segments of the property that you are working on. Typically you will want to know the dimensions and placements of built structures, doors, windows, hardmaterial features and plants you have and are keeping as they are, and so must consider. the Existing plot plans or architectural drawings may be helpful but are often incomplete concerning the details of outdoor features.

One way or another, you will need to have basic sketches of  your landscape and building parts, with rough dimensions and drawn in relation to their surrounding grounds.

If the house and land documents are too large, too small or too complicated to be useful, you can have them, or portions of them xerox reproduced in a more useful size. You could also choose to take what pertinent information the documents provide, add missing dimensions yourself, and draw a simplified base sketch in a manageable scale for your purposes. Older plans should be checked for accuracy, since sometimes the particulars were not taken as seriously as they are today, and anyway changes may have been made over time.

If the edges of your property are involved in your design and there is any question about them, you may want  a survey of some boundaries to avoid neighbor problems. Property lines are not always as you think they are. You will want permanent markers to be placed on the land when the survey is done. Ask for this, as strangely it is not always provided otherwise. Don’t accept bits of orange ribbon in the shrubs. 12 penny nails will do, but something very difficult to move, like a heavy granite marker buried a foot or more in the ground, will be best where there is room.

Diagrams of outdoor drainage, electrical or irrigation conduits will be helpful too, if they exist.

To find out where underground services come into your property, requesting a Digsafe[1] permit will result in physical markings being drawn on the ground to indicate the locations of underground services coming into your property from its bounds on the public land ( often in non soluble paint ). These Digsafe markings will usually include gas, electricity and telephone lines, but the services checked by Digsafe are slightly different depending on your area and the depth of your proposed excavation. Digsafe will tell you which things will be marked when you call and describe the depth of your proposed work.

To avoid cutting other underground utilitiy lines within your property you may need to contact private service providers concerning cable lines, private electrical lines, invisible fencing, and irrigation conduits.

Even if you have a drawing which seems to show the locations of underground features, such as water, electrical, gas and sewer lines, you will need to get a  Digsafe permit before any digging work can commence.

  • What will matter the most is not the quality of your drawings, but the thoroughness with which you can consider the projects through the papers.

The quality of your sketches won’t matter much since the only person who will need them at these early stages will be you. These are tools of memory, thinking drawings. Without this roughish work, one finds that there are considerations and details which would not have come to mind. You will have some measurements, as good as you can make them, but your sketches are not intended to be building drawings. They represent a previsualisation of your evolving ideas, with some dimensions and notes, reminding you of things you have decided or ones you want to think about more. They are a necessary part of the thought evolution of the design and the built product.

If detailed building drawings are needed to make your ideas come to life, professionals can create them. When you talk through your ideas with the proposed builder of the project, your conceptual sketches and gathered images will help you to communicate your wishes. A seasoned builder usually takes his own detailed notes on dimensions, doing whatever building drawings are needed, integrating your design choices.

The more collaborative the process, the more the landscape becomes your own.

  • Xerox your basic drawings a few times. File the original clean copy before you write anything on the xeroxes.

To avoid having to make basic drawings by hand more than once, make a bunch of xeroxes before you begin to add proposed outdoor features to any. File away a clean copy for future duplication.

  • Fill in all the bits of information you have about the property on these copies.

Note down your thoughts on these papers as you shape the parts of  your landscape in concept. Move things around on paper and in your mind.

As you find things out about your place (eg. about drainage, underground lines, service providers and so on), keep a record. You can consolidate later on a fresh copy if you need to.

  • ‘Trace over trace’

is a time honored way of working through ideas amongst design professionals. Use a pencil though, and keep a kneaded eraser handy, because the process of codeveloping the design for related parts of the landscape is like traveling through a maze. You may make a few wrong turns and need to back up. Before building anything, you will be thinking through all the projects mentally, visually and physically many times. Trace over your tracings to adjust until you have finished thinking.

  • Consider the history of your land

You might want to gather old photographs and documents concerning your land that you, your town or Historic Commission may have. Nomatter how old or young your house is, your land had a history. All your investigations may help you to find the spirit of the place, historically and ecologically. I have found old well sites and bridges, native american hearthstones, beadmaking stones, stone toys and 18th century artifacts of many kinds. These had been buried by time and were uncovered by the mason or groundsman during the work, and they  influenced the design spirit of what was subsequently made for the particular place.

[1 ]Tel # = 1 – 888 – dig safe =

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