In Bloom Plant List / August 10th 2014 / Zone 5B


AUGUST 10th 2014
08 11_9275
The plants listed below were among those in bloom or looking great on our
Open Garden Day. This list was very popular, so I thought I would provide it for those of you who could not be there or didn’t get things written down that you might have liked to.





























2011 Aug 24_1330_edited-1







































Thalictrum, MaryJo McConnell……………………………………. Thalictrum …..MaryJo McConnell 2014




ANNUALS in Containers









2009 june 25014 GYNURA 







SENECIO SERPENS (no flowers but wow)






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Thankyou Salem News and Marblehead Reporter

We got some very nice press for
August 10th Garden Conservancy event……….

from the Salem News, Marblehead Reporter and Boston Globe !

It was a perfect Open Garden day………..221 people contributed to the Conservancy, and with the children counted in, about 233 attended.

…….One couldn’t ask for better attention than that….

The energy in the air was positively swirling around all of us and innumerable questions got answered………..

Precious was a two year old sniffing everything with her Mother’s help…and smiling each time, as we humans tend to do when experiencing garden intimacies. Our grownup smiles are often inner smiles, but she expressed herself so openly……..

And there was young girl who was crying because she had lost the ‘grass bracelet’ made in the previously visited garden… I gave her leafy strands of Myrtle Jekyll’s white, whereupon she made herself a crown and was fully consoled.

Wonderful to have so many people sharing a love of plants and beauty all together, talking Garden life, Horticulture and Design all day long…

I had a list of the plants in bloom hanging on the door to my shed / office in plastic, and that was covered with thumbprints, much better attended than the one with absolutely all the plants of 19 Circle Street.
I will soon publish that shorter August 10th In Bloom list as a post on this Website.

And so……….Thankyou Salem News !

and Thankyou very much
to the Marblehead Reporter

for putting us in the
Top 10 Things to do in Marblehead !

Photo by Joe PuleoAnd Thanks to the Boston Globe for including us in their unusual things to do that weekend.

Ellen Cool

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Garden Conservancy Open Day in Marblehead 8/10/2014


Garden Conservancy Open Day in Marblehead

(click above for descriptions of and directions to the gardens)

Sunday, August 10 | 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Visit four gardens in Marblehead, MA. in any order you like.
Admission is $5 for each garden.

Proceeds are shared with
Marblehead Conservancy
and Symphony by the Sea

Copy of Copy2 of Ellen's Garden Panorama

Rich’s Cove   289 Ocean Ave, Marblehead

                          Music in the Garden here !

Kearney Garden  13 Flint Street, Marblehead

The Parable, Ellen Cool’s Garden  19 Circle Street, Marblehead

The Seven Muses   21 Circle Street, Marblehead

We all hope to see you in our Gardens on this special day !

Ellen Cool

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Best Evergreen Floor Plants

Best Evergreen Floor plants

Chapter 1 : The Myrtles

A Suitable Plant for Memorial Day : Vinca

 The word ‘Vinca’ is derived from the Italian verb ‘Vincere’,

which refers to success by winning or conquering,
whether I, you, he or she.

The Vincas are a seriously reliable and handsome Genus of plants,
so it is easy to think of them being referred to as lauded ‘winners’.

Some sources find derivations for Vinca’s name in the Latin ‘vincio’,
to bind or to band, the reference perhaps derived from the use of myrtle strands
wreathed together to make crowns,
worn in honor of a success or an occasion.

So my blended thoughts of Vinca went to those who honorably
won over the world for all the right reasons
and deserve every wreath of gratitude we can provide.

Crowns for our American Veterans,
who by persevering
have given us the world as we know it.

Vinca Gertrude Jekyll's white

 The Best of the Vincas

Vinca minor Gertrude Jekyll's white, Euphorbia Chamaeleon
Vinca minor alba ‘Gertrude Jekyll’

Of the evergreen floor plants, among the most beautiful and useful of the Myrtles is Vinca minor alba ‘Gertrude Jekyll’. This favoritism has developed because her glossy evergreen leaves are smaller than those of most Vincas, and so the overall texture made by the colony is finer and neater than other kinds. Spreading and mounding at just 8” high, her gracefully entwined foliage makes a neat, all year, low maintenance floor. This kind of Vinca grows by rooting along her leafy strands, and so she is easy to increase, but that habit means you will have to blow or hand clean, not rake, the beds she lives in. If you over sprinkle a top dressing of composty loam once a year or so, and tuck in Gertrude’s outreaching strands, you will soon have a respectable colony.

Growing in part shade as they often do, Gertrude’s white flowers brighten the woodland margin in late April through mid-May. Miss Jekyll herself even used this plant under hedges. She can also thrive in a sunny location when plenty of water is provided.

The evergreen V. m. Gertrude Jekyll provides a fine textured shiny background for the many prior and subsequent picture events that will overlay the floor blanket her colonies make. Within the bounds of each shining colony other, more deeply rooted kinds of perennial plants and bulbs can appear and disappear, Jack in the Box style.

If you would worry that you might miss the typical blue flowers of the myrtle clan, it would be easy to have plenty of flattering blues nearby using various Pulmonarias, Fragrant Dutch  Hyacinths or the little blue grape Hyacinths that bloom around the same time in similar habitats.

Vinca m. argenteovariegata
Vinca minor argenteovariegata

For variegated green and white leaves, the only attractive and reliable Myrtle I have found is Vinca minor argenteovariegata. It has a pronounced white outline and its offshoots do not typically revert to green. The foliage will light up a shady place and give you blue flowers in May. Like Gertrude, this form has a root-as-you-go habit, making a strong colony. It earned an award of garden merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Vinca Ralph ShugertVinca minor Ralph Shugert

For bicolor leaves Vinca minor Ralph Shugert is handsome, but it’s more of a clumping than a running kind of Myrtle, and increases more slowly than the two kinds above. Though often referred to as white, the outline of its green leaves is more of a parchment yellow color to my eye.

While this plant  looks great in the nursery pot, and is thus very popular in the trade, many offshoots of this variety disappointingly revert to all green leaves as you can see in the above photo, so I don’t use Ralph much.

The Myrtle Clan

Vincas have almost no pests and even the deer don’t favor them as edibles, but they may not be a good solution if you have sizeable dogs. As their paws wander around innocently, they tend to pull up Vinca’s shallowly rooted stems.

The larger leaved all green forms of Vinca minor can be used very successfully as groundcover in a large landscape, but maintenance shearing is recommended to help keep the colonies looking neat and fresh.

Vinca minor
Ellen Cool

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Good Green Words

____Green Words You May Enjoy Knowing___

 Picea p. procumbens

Viridescent = Iridescent Green

Etymology: Latin viridis green + iridescent

Originated Circa 1847

An iridescent surface is one that appears to change color

as the angle of view or the angle of illumination changes.

 “It is hard to photograph sparkle”

Isaac Mizrahi, 2009


Hosta Popo ______________________________________

When you see a prefix of  Ver- or Vir-,

you can suspect the word may refer to greenness of some kind.
Or possibly Truth…..(Veritas)


Viridity is a noun denoting the quality or state of being Green, either in reference to color, or to the alternate meaning of youth or naive immaturity, described by the French, middle English or Latin root origins of the prefixes Vir- and Ver-.

Pluralised, this becomes Viridities = Many green qualities.

Some other nice green words are:

Viridis = general green of any shade

Viridiflorus, viridiflora and viridiflorum = green flowered

Viridifolia = green leaved

Vireo = refers to a family of small, typically greenish birds

Veridian = a chrome green pigment between green and cyan on the color wheel.

Verdancy = noun referring to greenness.

Verdant = an adjective describing the greenness in hue, generally of growing things. It has a lush sort of connotation to it.

Verdure = greenery, green growing things.

Verdigris  = the greenish patina color of oxidised copper, from the French ‘vert de grice’, literally, the green of Greece.

Hosta blue mouse ears

You may also find the Vir- inside a word, as with

Atrovirens = dark green

or Flavovirens = yellowish green.

And then there is this very lovely word referring to the

greenness of the soul -


In the 12th century, this word began to be used to describe the inspiring “greening power of God”,
referring to the animating life-forces within all creation. (Hildegard of Bingen)

 Ellen Cool

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Free Flowers for Valentine’s Day and Beyond

Free Flowers for Valentine’s Day and Beyond

In February and later, nicely shaped cut branches of  Forsythia
brought inside to a vase with lots of water
will flower gracefully within 2 weeks.

Yes, it really is as simple as that. Just keep the water refreshed, nearly to the top of the container.

If you cut some pieces just as February begins, you should have flowering by Valentine’s Day. If you cut some a little before Feb. 1st and some a little after, you can be sure to have plenty whose flowering time is just right.
If you take groups of Forsythia cuttings at interval cycles of a couple of weeks, you can have fresh flowering branches from now through the time this shrub flowers outside.

I have a friend who keeps her bunches in an unused bathtub. She likes fresh armloads of it around in February, March and April.
Personally, I just pop some shapely stems into the intended vases right after cutting them and enjoy watching the buds swell and then flower. I swap
out these branches for fresh ones, cut at a later date, when I want another round of sunny yellow.

If, instead, you nonchalantly leave the branches in the vase after the flowers have dropped, and you keep the water refreshed, the stems will soon have fresh leaves. These can be pretty too. You would just have to be willing to pick up the fallen flowers, and to be patient waiting for the foliage.

Forsythia, Daffodils and Anemone in February

The photo includes purchased Anemones and Daffodils, but the Forsythia and the sword shaped Arum leaves are straight from my garden in February.
Unless covered with snow, the nearly evergreen Arum italicum pictum is an amazing perennial whose foliage can be cut  for one’s vases throughout every winter.

I will be writing about this plant and other evergreen perennials very soon. 

You will have to find a Forsythia to trim, but our ecotome is full of them and most would benefit from some annual pruning. This is a multi-purpose time to do some of it. Each shrub has so very many flowers that a few stems from considerate places will never be missed.

If you haven’t got one of these rambling reliables, you can ask a neighbor or friend, or respectfully diminish a shrub that is encroaching on a public way.
If, by mistake or on purpose, you prune stems from some other
kind of rambunctious shrub instead, don’t worry. It may give you lovely leaves for your vase. Surprises can be sweet. You might have to wait quite a while though. Some shrubs and trees are difficult to bring into leaf or flower indoors. You can try. The grace of the branches alone can be satisfying, but if any of your experimental stems displeases you, just subtract it.

Another Good Candidate

Salix hakuro nishiki is a beautiful willow with variegated leaves in summer. If you take in these slender red stems in February or March and treat them the same as Forsythia branches, you may get charming tiny catkins along their length. It has been widely planted in recent years, so you might find a good gardener who could spare some modest branches.
This Salix is a great treasure, and I rarely make a landscape without one somewhere, but it is a fast grower can be hard to keep up with if you are trying to keep it small. Luckily, that same enthusiasm lets you prune it quite alot, just about any time of year, and it will be right back.
Through the warm seasons their delicate green and white leaves make these useful in arrangements.

 Some Other Considerations

Considerate winter pruning for decorative branches of Forsythia would be to take each stem nicely back to any growing point. These shrubs typically grow several feet a year, so trimming off  branches 2 or 3 feet long will just give you back a few feet for that individual to grow into for next year. There will still be innumerable quantities of flowers on any well grown specimen.
Just don’t shear Forsythia back in summer or fall since this unnatural technique removes many of the buds and makes unnatural stubs. You would lose the possibility of graceful branches of indoor and outdoor flowers that year.

As a shrub, Forsythia is perhaps most attractive in a fountainesque form. The correct general pruning technique to accomplish this would be to cut some of the oldest and woodiest of  its stems all the way to the base of the shrub, and take away crossover branches that interfere with the fountain shape. This will rejuvenate the overall plant. Other needed pruning is best accomplished soon after flowering so as not to cut off branches when they are preparing flower buds for the following year. Forsythia is forgiving. Whatever you do, these plants will recover.

While not a favored plant for a small landscape because of its overenthusiasm and taking ways, it announces spring wherever it resides, and having one tucked into a corner somewhere can be precious in giving you free winter flowers forever.

Ellen Cool______________________________________________________________________________________________

For Valentine’s Season
I want to refer you to this beautiful

Film of  Free Hugs Day
from Milan, Italy

Since the Idea of Free Hugs began in 2004, such events have taken place
all over the world.
Films have been made of these special days
in myriad individual cities.

The First Saturday after June 30th is the appointed ‘Free Hugs day’ each year, Worldwide.

Free Hugs Campaign Italy – Abbracci a Milano – YouTube


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Recycling Christmas Greens

Wreathing the Beds

Greens After Christmas

  • A second harvest purpose for the branches of Christmas trees and other holiday greens is to use them as decorative wreathing for your otherwise somewhat bare perennial beds.
  • One might choose to lay evergreen branches on some beds just to look wonderful through the winter, but these branches can also do the very important job of helping to insulate the plants residing in the earth beneath them. I find this branch overlay technique especially useful wherever it can help to protect small or shallow rooted plants.
  • Branches 2 to 4 feet in length cut from Post-Christmas trees or post-wreathing materials can be used, whether they are yours or contributed by a neighbor.
    Considerate pruning of resident evergreens can provide cuttings too. These greens can all be laid out along the edges of your perennial beds or wherever vulnerable plants are sleeping. I weave these offcut branches together by crisscrossing in an over and under way to help them resist being blown about by winter winds.

    The picture below was taken at Pepsico Corporate Headquarters in Purchase New York, famous for its Arboretum and the Kendall Sculpture Park. Here sheaves of pruned branches of evergreens are used to systematically protect the planted edges of beds. The woody ends of these sheaves are shallowly dug into the earth before it freezes, and by ‘planting’ them in this way, they stay in place through the winter to protect the edge plantings, remain green pretty well through winter with the help of the moisture around their cut ends, yet are easily removed in Spring.
    These 3-4′ evergreen offcuts are taken from trees elsewhere in the arboretum when routine pruning is done, and they are used particulaly in windy places or where low plantings are subjected to snow plow piles in winter. In the photo they are wreathing a beautiful edging of boxwoods.
    Insulation is most needed through the late winter thaws.
  • It is just perfect that these lovely recycle materials are so readily available just after Christmas since the insulation this handsome wreathing can provide is most needed from January through March or so. Setting the branches out any earlier would not be better, since it is good for the plant materials to get a thorough soaking before the deep freezes set in.
    If there is some snow on the ground, you can wreathe right on top of it, and as the snow melts, the branches will settle roughly where you wanted them. Adjust as needed.
  • I apply this protective layer religiously to beds where temperature changes tend to be rapid and heaving is a frequent problem. It  helps to buffer the temperature ups and downs which cause ground heaving. Snow would do much of the job of protection by itself if there were a reliable covering of it through the freeze-thaw cycles, but in this part of New England you can’t count on a snow blanket.
  • The evergreen boughs protect the plants in much the same way that hay would if it would stay put. The difference is that you will have green beauty through most of the winter, and a much easier cleanup in spring.
  • In my experience, if there is any wind at all, hay straw distributes itself absolutely everywhere. Plucking it piece by piece out of the shrubberies, evergreen groundcovers, pebble paths and underdecks can prove extremely annoying. One would prefer not to make this mistake in an ornamental garden setting.
    Suspenders and a Belt 
  • Even if you have done your best to protect your plants, whenever there are are substantial thaws, you may want to scout around a bit. Locations that get alot of winter sun can thaw out surprisingly quickly. When they do, the the ground may heave up precipitously and the roots of newly established and shallow rooted plants may be lifted up too. Their roots are then out of the ground, exposed, and so could easily be killed by the next cold snap.
  • To keep such perennials and new plantings safe, you need to
    press the individual plants back  into the earth while it is soft.
    Quickly, before the ground gets cold again and closes them out.
  • Planning wise, in general it will be best to avoid locating small or vulnerable plants in places that thewinter sun hits heavily.

  • In Britain, winter protection is sometimes conferred by sheaves of cut deciduous branches, to which the people have given the charming name of ‘twig thatch’.
  • In their famously beautiful and lovingly tended North Hill Gardens, to soften some of the harsh aspects of the climate of Vermont, before winter Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd have cut Miscanthus bundles from their own stands of these grasses and then laid them out as needed to protectively insulate the fruit trees* who also live within their ecotome.

* Don’t use limbs if the needles have begun to dry out. The fresher or moister the better.
Firs and other soft greens will be the most pleasant materials to handle.
Short needled Pine and Hemlock branches don’t last as well as most other evergreen things.

* lecture, personal communication, 2008

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Winter Preparation

 Anticipating the End of the Year

Winter Preparation

Some More Things They Never Tell You.

Save the final blowing and cleaning of your diverse planted beds until after the ground is cold hardened.

  • For the thorough cleaning of beds in which perennial and self sowing plants reside, it is safer for those inhabitants if you wait until frosts solidify the ground.
    Necessary walking in the beds and the directed winds of the finish blowing then happen after the hard ground closes and protects the subterranean tenants.
  • I will imagine that you have been lightly cleaning the leafage throughout the fall, now you can safely finish up. For earlier raking, I find that a soft fingered rubber rake is the only tool gentle enough to leave the perennial crowns and soft earth undisturbed.
  • Where shallow rooted plants and self sowers you treasure reside, you may want to keep the blower away altogether and just work on those areas by hand.
    Where the parent plants or I have sown seed I may set a croquet hoop or a ten penny nail in the ground to remind me to be thoughtful in that place, both for the present and then in the spring cleanup.

Don’t let your Trees and Shrubs go Dry into winter weather.

  • It is very important for your plant materials to have moisture at their roots before the hard winter sets in. Nature usually provides this end of season water, but you will want to be watchful.
    If nature does not provide at this important time, it will be valuable if you can bucket or otherwise provide some water to any trees and shrubs, especially if you have planted them within the last few years.
  • Full settlement time for your recent plantings is often estimated as at least a year per inch of  girth.


  • For many woody plants, this will be a good time to fertilise. Application at this time of year allows the waters of winter to slowly distribute the nutrients. For the same reason it can be a good time to distribute any compost you may have available to you.
  • Topdressing with composty material in the perennial beds is well accomplished after the cutdowns, when you can see the low places especially well.

Anti Dessicant Sprays

  • If your plant residents are in the path of extreme drying winds through winter, this can have a damaging effect. Many kinds of evergreens can benefit from an anti dessicant (= anti-drying) spray, which can provide a protective coating on their leaves or needles that helps them hold on to moisture within their sylvan selves……..

Winter Work for your Buildings and Grounds

  • For construction, repair or painting projects on structures and buildings lying behind the planted beds, the safest time of year will be now and soon, or just pre-spring, before the first bulb thinks about coming up.
  • When the ground is frozen solid you can walk everywhere with impunity,  so this is a good time to transport needed things across your planted land if doing so might cause damage to your soft grounds at other times of the year.
  • With a durable hard freeze, you might even get a bobcat in if you needed one.
  • Or move a building across a lake or pond.
    In long ago times, before elaborate trucks came along to help us, this was a typical practice, requiring alot of patience, alot of man and beast power and perfect timing. Where it was the shortest distance between two points, buildings that needed to do so crossed the water with specialised boats, or on sled contructs over ice.
  • Overland night trucking is probably the go-to solution now, especially since some bodies of water in our region used to freeze most years, and now almost never do. Also, we have no oxen and few horses to help.
    In places that still have a thick hard freeze transport over ice is still done, but trucks usually do the pulling.

Arrange Your Winter Views

  • In winter much of the essence of the landscape is expressed through its embedded shapes. Evergreens and architecturally fortunate trees and shrubs, wonderful stone, wood and iron elements are set off at their personal best. You can count on them.
    Each element in the built and structured landspace reveals the form of its true self when the white overlay of snow arrives to outline all its details.
  • If you arrange all the objects in your landscape thoughtfully; sorting, stacking, coiling and otherwise neatening before snow comes, you can make your landscape appearance more sculpturally satisfying for the whole winter. Try to take care of these things before the ground hardens and the buckets and such freeze solid.
    If you have placed them nicely, your work will spring freshly to life with the upcoming brushstroke outlines of snow.
    In our climate, the good effect of your end of season attentions will last for many months.

    ...The wheelbarrow  photograph was taken next door to one of my favorite nurseries, the Conifer Connection in Pembroke, Massachusetts
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Landscape Design Advisories: Chapter 5 / Shaping Your Landscape

A Reasoned
Landscape Design Advisories:
Chapter 5

Shaping Your LandscapeRacket Shreve / Four Papers
Seeing the Shapes

Shaping the details of whatever you will be making in your landscape is often best sorted out functionally and visually where the projects will come into being.
Whether regarding stone work, wooden structures, garden bed shapes or individual tree and plant placements, opportunities and problems will show themselves with this approach. You can usually improve your process and the quality of your outcome if you tangibly work through the details where they will come to life.

“….prototypes, even quick and dirty ones,
shed light on how a concept meets real world needs.”

Tim Brown / Change By Design


With a photo series you can readily reflect on whatever you happen to be thinking about in your design preparations, even after dark and in the winter. A series of purposefully taken photographs can provide elevational views of your landscape and buildings for use as working images to draw on or trace over. You are after simple image tools to help you see the shape outlines and recall the details of the things you’re thinking about. By considering such photos and overlays you can begin to see how your ideas will look as you will approach them in the 3 dimensional world.

Your ‘before’ pictures will be precious later.
Aside from their usefulness in the ongoing work, having them will help you realise how far you’ve progressed as your projects develop. I would suggest a full series, in both directions of travel and from your various present and future viewing locations.

Paper images will not, however, convey what you will see and feel at the various locations, heights and angles which you experience moving through the landscape. The considerate shaping of features of the property  depends upon the relational appearances of the elements, as seen from many different places, and so is a multi dimensional matter.
Three dimensions are difficult to imagine without an experiential component. You will perhaps have lots of measurements and paper information and some sketches, but to fine tune each project, you will also want to pre-visualise it as best as possible on the site.

“If the designer is forced by complications to
figure things out on paper, the final result will be better
if the plan is then memorized and hidden, and the work
laid out on the ground with the help of stakes and string”

Fletcher Steele / Gardens and People

 Adusting the Shapes

ARL logo 2The shaping of elements that are part of your overall landscape design can be explored with simple visual aids.
On the ground plane, I use lengths of white, 5/8ths inch Dacron braided line to lay out the shapes I am considering so that I can experience them close at hand and from a distance. I find that pieces 25 to 40 feet long are my favorites, having a carrying and casting weight allowing them to be readily at hand  and easily tossed about. This kind of non-stretchy line is used for boats and so can be purchased in marine supply stores. Arborists use similar rope, but plain white is harder to find in their supply stores, and it is my favorite color for the application.
I am very fond of my lines, and consider them essential tools. Their malleable braided form allows smooth curves and outline details to be created and subtly adjusted.A Simple Braided LineDon’t let anybody convince you to use hoses except in an emergency. If they are the least bit kinky, which hoses almost always are when stretched out, they will be useless for outlining gentle curves.
When my braided rope is laid out to make the shapes I think I want, I spray a dashed line over the rope with water soluble paint from invertible spray cans. I can then take the same piece of rope to lay out the next section of the proposed work. For a multisided configuration, like a path or patio, I may use two lines, to help visualise the relational layout before I need to spray anything.

Now you can stand back from your tentative marks a while to look at, walk around, and think about the shapes that have been preliminarily decided.

 “With pins you keep things open, with thread you finalise them”
Sonia Rykiel

Live with them a while, and see if you can optimise them in any way you hadn’t thought of before you started physically thinking about them.
This is the time to adjust relational shaping, even if not all the elements you are outlining are part of this particular year’s projects. You are anticipating the future, both in terms of the process of the building and the life in the completed place, so as to better prepare for it.

When everything seems just about right, I lay the ropes on each section again, and overspray them with a continuous visible line. This outline becomes the cut line for the work.
On grass or moist earth, the paint lines last a couple of weeks, but if you’re still thinking, in a very few minutes you can easily respray over your existing line and get a couple of more weeks to consider things. If you don’t like what you did and want a clean start, a couple of mowings will erase them.

If your layout with the line runs over existing structures where chalk paint might not come off easily, you can use large sticks of sidewalk chalk to write temporarily on stone, wood and even a painted house. Chalk markings are truly ephemeral since the first rain may wash them away, but once you have decided your shapes by using chalk as a visual aid, a good graphite pencil, grease pencil or mason’s marking chalk will serve for more permanent reference points, final markings to inform the upcoming work.

Snow is also a useful tool.
The great thing about snow as a medium is that it comes right to your house and presents you with a full clean canvas, allowing you to ‘draw’ everywhere within your connected landscape, at full scale and all at the same time with your feet as the principal tools. As you wander through the landscape you can physically mark the outlines of shapes that you are thinking about creating. You will be exploring the tangible ‘footprints’ of your future built projects, planted beds and the paths to such things. Play ….this is the iterative – adventurous- part of your design explorations. (See also ‘Drawing in Snow and Sand‘)

MORE ABOUT ROPERopemaking to Rule the Waves

Hemp and natural fibers of many kinds have been used in ropemaking for thousands of years, going back to China, circa 28 BC. Hemp was so widely used in the making of canvas and rope in Holland that the English word ‘Canvas’ when translated into Dutch was ‘Cannabis’, the Genus name of the Hemp plant. The Dutch currently use the English word ‘canvas’ as their own word for the fabric.

At the time it was acquiring colonies, the tarred Hemp used by England’s sailing vessels was the finest rope in the world, and it is widely thought that this superior rope allowed England to ‘rule the waves’. If you think about it that way, rope is the true engine of the sailing vessel, fueled by the wind.

Hemp came to North America with the Pilgrims, and was planted and then used for ropes and fabrics in the colonies. In fact, growing Hemp in the 1600s was mandatory in some places, and was encouraged throughout the colonies in the 1700s. Around the time of the Revolutionary War, Hemp could even be used as legal tender to pay your taxes. Between 1763 and 1769 in Virginia it was illegal not to allow Hemp to be grown on your land!

Hemp was largely replaced by Manila from the Abaca plant, found in the Phillipines in the mid 1800s. This material had greater strength and so supplanted Hemp, Sisal and Jute for many applications. Growing Hemp was banned in this country after 1860.

Though a rope may seem a simple and humble thing in our times, a hundred years ago and earlier all ropes were handmade in ropewalks, typically twisted from 3 strands of hemp, sisal or jute material.

In a Ropewalk,
“yarns (are) stretched out between revolving hooks that twist the yarns together,
the ropemaker walking backwards all the while”

From The Story of Rope / Plymouth Cordage Co. 1931

With the technology up to the 1800s, to make a given length of line, one had to have a building of that length, a remarkably long and narrow construct, often existing close to the water’s edge because ship riggings required especially long lines. The longest rope making building on our coast measured 1350 feet, in Charlestown, Massachusetts. There are few such places left since manufacturing techniques no longer require these extraordinary buildings.

During the time of World War 2,  the supplies of Manila materials for rope and the silk for fabrics were cut off because they originated from hostile parts of the world. In the same way that used metal was collected and melted down for military equipment, Americans were asked to save even scrappy bits of old rope for reuse.

Hemp, which had not been much used in the USA since 1860 when it became illegal to grow, was pressed back into service. You needed a permit to grow it, but the country needed the material, and so growing hemp was again encouraged.

By 1939, Nylon material was developed by Dupont and was found to be useful in parachutes and netting. At some point, a Liutenant Colonel stationed overseas, realising that strong rope was urgently needed for cliff ascents and other military purposes toward the end of the war, suggested that it might be made out of this Polyamid known as Nylon.

Proudly, New Bedford, Massachusetts produced the first 3 strand synthetic rope, making it possible for cliffs be climbed, ships and parachutes rigged, and the War won.

Developed later, Dacron was Duponts’ trade name for its special polyesters. Since the strength to weight ratio is very high, it holds its shape and doesn’t weaken when wet, it makes an ideal braided rope.

Your Own Rope

Knowing what once went into making rope makes me think of my ropes as especially great treasures.

The best ones for the landscape purposes I describe are made from synthetic Dacron materials, braided with a braided core. If you invest in one of these, it is likely to be useful over and over again in your landscape and general life. My working lines have lasted 30 years and look like they’ll keep going for lots more. Once in a while I hose them down or let them get rained on and dry them in the sun, but overall, they get better with age, with the traces of earth and chalk paint as patina. I keep one in my car at all times.
Depending upon what it is I am transporting, the rope can be rigged to help keep things from sliding around, act as a cushion, support or weight and of course, you can tie something down or hang something up if you need to.

Visualising Heights

For considering choices for the heights of things in the landscape that will be near eye level from some vantage points, any old 2 by 4 or wood stake five feet or so long can help. You will want someone to hold it horizontally for you at the heights being considered so you can stand away and consider the effects of different choices. This process will help you to visualise the proposed elements in the landscape, clarifying what can be revealed or concealed, or perhaps how a particular sloped angle versus a level line will look in the context when developed as a wall, fence, shaped earth or whatever you are imagining.

When considering heights 3 feet or less above the ground level, I put up vertical stakes and link them with a masonry line to see and adjust the contour / location choices. I like 3/8ths” rod iron or 1 1/4″ wood stakes. You will probably need a heavy hammer (a two pound one is good) to get each stake solidly into the ground, so you can pull the masonry line taut between them.

For flat stonework, to see the proposed grade of something which will be less than a few inches above the existing ground level, I may just use 10″ nails connected with masonry line.
These large nails can also be helpful in marking individual locations you need to keep track of for other reasons. They are so useful and easy to have around that I keep a collection of them to press into service as needed.

Line levelA useful accompaniment to visualizing anything with masonry line is aline level’, or as my Italian masons call it, a ‘piccolo livello’, translated as ‘little level’. This is an inexpensive, pocket sized tool and yet is quite accurate. It slips onto the masonry line to tell you where real world level is, so that you can work in relation to that. I wouldn’t want to be without one since this tool comes into play in many aspects of both the planning and the tangible building of landscape projects. Lee Valley Tools has a nice metal one. These days, most of them are plastic, but they all work the same way.
When you get your line, be sure it is true masonry line, or your line level won’t slide along on it properly.

Visualising Plantings

Whenever Adrian Bloom of Bressingham Gardens in England set about designing permanent plant materials into his beds, initially an assortment of stakes would appear, set into the proposed planting places. They would be left long enough to experience from all perspectives, and moved around until the best considered design emerged. The handsome beds within his properties are world renowned.

People as Trees

You may find friends posing as trees to be very helpful.People as trees/ photo by Steven Speliotis

To inform him in thinking about locations for trees, Frederick Law Olmstead found it helpful to have people stand in likely places, sometimes even having them raise their arms up to be more realistically arboreal. He would have them move around, like pawns on the landscape, until their relationships seemed just right, then mark the chosen locations.

You could do this as a party game, if you needed to site a lot of trees.

LINK to Chapter 6 / ‘View Considerations’

Ellen CoolI am grateful to Dave Richards, the Technical Director of The Cordage Institute, for our clarifying conversations about the history of rope.

A Reasoned
Landscape Composition.
Stonework and Garden Design.

Unusual Plant Materials, Troughs
Tools and Antique Garden Ornaments



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Stone Facts and Stories

Stone Facts and Stories

What is the difference between a ‘Rock’, a ‘Stone’, and ‘Granite’ anyway?

Saying bedrock, rock, stone or granite is like referring to the same Ornithological acquaintance in conversation as
a bird,  a songbird or, more particularly, a Sparrow.

Westerly Rhode Island Quarry, Comolli Bros.

  • Bedrock and Rock are terms used to refer to large deposits of naturally occurring stone materials.
    The character of the rock varies from place to place, so the bedrock you are referring to in a place will be of a certain kind. Granite is one of the many possible kinds.

  • Rock is also a general term, used to refer to pieces of the bedrock, whatever their size. The photo above shows the natural granite bedrock on the right, and the worked pieces of granite from the quarry on the left, shoring things up. The picture was taken by permission of  Comolli Granite Company, stone masters in Ashaway, Rhode Island, the home of beautiful Westerly pink and blue granite.

  • Stone usually refers to a worked or smaller piece of rock, whether granite or any other kind.
    Stone is also sometimes used as a generic term, like ‘rock’ or ‘bedrock’.
  • Rock and Stone can thus refer to the same item.
    Most four letter words like rock are Anglo words, and were considered vulgar by the ruling Saxons who would have used the word stone instead.

    For the same reason, many four letter words in the English language have a word with more than four letters which is considered more polite, to express the same notion. They mean the same thing, just the longer word was considered a nicer way to say it.

    A more dignified word was especially appropriate because, even up to the 20th century in Scotland, Argyll people  thought of “going to the stones” as currently they think of “going to church”. The Gaelic phrase asking if you were going to church translates literally as “are you going to the stones ?”  (From John McPhee / The Crofter and the Laird, and other writings.)

    Babson Rocks

    This carved message with raised lettering was inscribed into a huge stone in Dogtown, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. This motto and many others were commissioned from local stone cutters in the 1930s by  Roger Babson, the owner of the Babson granite quarry, who donated more than a thousand acres of the Dogtown land on which the stones reside to the town of Gloucester around that time.

    The ‘Babson Boulders’ are inscribed with various messages he thought it was important to leave for us. There was little work for the quarry men in those depression times, and so his wishes were welcomed, and his words carved beautifully.

    The 24 mottos that are carved into some of  Dogtown’s larger stones are:
    Be clean
    Be on time
    Be true
    Get a job
    Help Mother
    If work stops values decay
    Keep out of debt
    Never try never win
    Prosperity follows service
    Spiritual Power
    Use your head
    Babson Boulders, Dogtown Ma

  • Granite is a kind of rock.
    The word granite comes from granum, the Latin word for a grain, in reference to the grained and crystalline structure of this type of rock.
    The composition and thus the appearance of granite varies from place to place, and so from one quarry site to another. The mineral elements and geological history in a particular location make the pieces from there tend to typical colors and a usual courseness or fineness in the enclosed grains.
    For example, the bedrock in Barre, Vermont gives us a uniform, fine grained white granite, while Rockport, Massachusetts rock inclines to a coarser grained beige and grey mixture which includes clusters of beautiful black biotite. Other quarries might have more pink or more green in their stones.
    A local stone master can often say where a piece of granite comes from based on its individual appearance..

  • Local Materials...
    If you are working on your landscape and want your framing to feel a part of nature, look around to see how the local stone has been used in other landscapes. You may want to try to get ‘related rocks’ for continuity of appearance, which will help to give your place the esthetic of belonging there.
    In the case of granites, you may prefer to choose a particular kind to use throughout your landscape, so consider the choices carefully in the beginning as they will affect the whole picture.
    If you begin with bright or steely grey pieces from Chinese quarries, you may find the stone does not have the local feeling that you were after, though it is a ‘granite’. Look around at your local sources for old or new pieces and try to get a kind that you can realistically acquire more of, over time, for your future projects.

    beach cobble…..
  • Cobblestone..
    The oldest paving cobbles were natural, rounded stones, 2.5-10″ or so, difficult to run wheels over, but available galore from the beaches, and so pressed into use.
    Subsequently, in our area and all along the Eastern coastline, handworked granite cobbles, with flat surfaces were cut from our New England quarries and brought in to pave the streets.
    Over time, the term ‘cobblestone’ in New England has come to refer to flat surfaced square or  rectangular pieces of granite which have been trimmed into sizes useful for paving. These days, some of those old street cobblestones may be purchased used. They may be shiny and a bit rounded on one side from the wear of use over time by creatures, carts and cars, but that is just the patina. They started off pretty flat from the quarry.

    granite line-1

    Simple granite rectangles were cut to be incorporated into buildings of all kinds. The same kind of quarried granite, cut to other sizes, came to be widely used through the 1800s and early 1900s as building stone and as the material of choice for shoring up the shorelines. At one time there were 32 different measurements just of paving blocks, and each town and city commissioned particular sizes for their streets, from their choice of quarries. For the Boston streets alone, 5,500,000 paving stones were  commissioned just in 1874. For these reasons there is variety in the shapes, colors and kinds of recycled stones we can find for our uses.
    Now that asphalt and concrete have become the building materials of choice for paving, a large percentage of these cobblestones have been or are being removed from the roadways, and many useful and beautiful things can  be made with these repurposed, hand cut pieces of stone.…..

  • Reusing Cobblestone and Other Granites
    For paving purposes, originally the individual cobbles were most often set vertically into the ground to strengthen the paving for heavy use, and  their largest ‘faces’ were hidden.  When I reuse these in lighter use residential applications, I like to let their biggest faces show. In this way, I have various shapes that lend themselves to composition. Being handcut, each one has a slightly distinctive self.
    Considered as design elements, cobbles and other granite pieces can be blended into a composition by patterning the sequence and configuration of their shapes. Whether as an outline for a garden or used in a path or driveway edge, this sort of treatment may make your place more interesting than having all the same size ones set up in a soldierly rows or lined up for a patio floor.
    Shown below on a path, as an example, one edge of the outline has a careful line or curve, and the other is allowed to vary in a thoughtful sequence using the related shapes of the stones themselves.
    In the example below, building roughly a mirror image of the shape sequence on either side of the path gives balance and continuity to the overall effect.
    ……Cobbles entering the garden
  • Fieldstone refers to the ‘country stone’, whichever kind comes out of the local ‘ fields’ of a place.
    Such stones often have rounded corners from rolling around in the earth and being affected by water over a long span of geological time. Depending on where you live, your fieldstones will have a different character, based on the bedrock they came from. Their color and texture will vary according to their elemental makeup. In one geological area they may tend to be more flat, in another, more rounded. If you look at the local stone walls, you will get an idea of what came up from the earth nearby.
    If they have been out of the ground for a while they will have beautiful colors from the effects of weather, moss, lichens and such. The classic fieldstone one prefers is that material which the farmers brought out of the land a hundred years ago and more, and so the stones have had ample time to green up.
    If the stones have been locked in the earth until you dig them up, they will typically have less color than if they have been on the surface for a while. Such stones with a rounded fieldstone character but not much color are referred to as pit rocks. You can use these, but they may look like unbaked dough for a few years. The process of coloring up begins once they are in touch with the growing surface of the earth, and happens faster in a shady, moistish place. Feel free to rub mud on them or add a moss and buttermilk concoction once in a while to encourage biological beginnings on the stone’s surfaces.
  • Blasted stone
    This stone has been created from local bedrock too, but broken into workable sizes unnaturally in the blasting process, often spitting rock apart where there is no natural seam.
    It will tend to have sharp edges, and so this is not my first choice for individual stone placements in gardens, where I avoid sharpness. In the hands of a mason who can choose out the stones with the best faces and make small seams it can be made into beautiful stone walls.
    ……Stone Wall, Local blasted stone

I will have much more to tell you about “the long stories of stone”. Meantime, see if you can find some treasure granites for your place. I am sure you will be happy for their company.

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Potatoes and Rocks on Long Island

The Rock who Tried to be a Potato

Potatoes and a Rock

When you hand harvest potatoes in Eastern Long Island you soon learn that the sandy earth coats the stones which also inhabit the earth there so thoroughly that, before washing, the two entities are often virtually indistinguishable. Their weight difference is the only clue sometimes. If you harvest one by mistake, when you drop them into the colander, you will know by the clunk what has happened.

Potato harvesting machines with conveyor belts bring the potatoes up to a platform where there may be one or more people whose dedicated job it is to ride atop the machine to pick out the rock imitating potatoes as they come up the belt. These are returned to nearby earth along with roots and earth debris to sustain the soil texture and minerals for the future. If you would like to see how this works, this video shows how it takes fast hands and sharp eyes.

The rocks of Long Island themselves are sometimes referred to as ‘potatoes’ by the local masons because rolling around for eons in the sandy earth of Long Island has made many of them into potato like forms, in plus sizes as well as the medium and small vegetable sized ones. Being so very rounded, the local stones are not easy to build with, as you can find out for yourself by trying to build a wall with potatoes sometime.

Ellen Cool



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Long Blooming Plants: Thalictrum rochebrunianum and Other Fabulous Flower Fireworks

Thalictrum rochebruneanum, photo by Jennifer Pedersen

Thalictrum rochebrunianum is a Star for the Fourth of July.

You can expect Lavender Flowered Fireworks, every year....

Thalictrum rochebruneanum, Veronicastrum and Astilbe in August

  • Sometimes called ‘Meadow Rue’, or ‘Lavender Mist’, this plant is elegantly vertical. When in bloom, each individual is like a 6’ magic wand, with delicate foliage and perfect lavender sparkles, which fluff out at the top in a crescendo. Given its height, throughout July,  T. rochebrunianum floats over most other perennials.
    Often person height or taller, experientially this plant is a being in the garden you can have a face to face relationship with.
    Some particular plants in sun will begin to flower in mid June, then those in shadier places later, lasting through July and into August. Each plant typically blooms for 4 weeks or more, but if you have some here and there in different exposures, T. rochebrunianum’s contribution to the garden pictures can last twice as long.
  • This sturdy but slender Thalictrum likes a bright woodland setting, but can reside in any watered, well drained place except for the very hottest ones. They usefully self sow and thrive even in shady places getting just some shafts of light each day.
    The back, the middle or whimsically near the front of the bed can all be suitable places for this plant because it looks so good for so long.
    It is perhaps best sited with some other later flowering plants alongside and in front of it, as these can provide a little support to the wands plus keep the picture show going for the rest of the season in that place.
  • Parent plants will self sow, their seeds finding places where the ecology is right for them. Just don’t cultivate the earth where your seeds may have fallen and you would like this Thalictrum to reappear. You could choose instead to gather seed into an envelope and sow it in fall after the final cleanup.
    You can easily move young individuals from wherever they germinate, or leave them where they land, as the spirit takes you.
    Please follow this link for my article containing information on Techniques for Keeping Self Sowing Plants.
  • When the plants don’t contribute to the picture any more, having let them seed around a bit, you just trim them to the ground.
  • Some Woodchucks think this plant is delicious, unfortunately.

    Verbena bonariensis

    Another tall, slender, lavender flowered being for a sunnier part of the bed is the 5’  tall Verbena bonariensis.

    Verbena bonariensis at the door
    Joining the garden picture in July or so, this Verbena says hello to passers by at a friendly height. I have her a few feet away from a door, and from there she extends delicate purple flowered arms to meet each person entering. This Verbena is long blooming, and will take you through much of the rest of the season. It is a self sower in sunny and well drained places.

    Thalictrum  kiusianum

    There is a miniature Thalictrum who is as exceptionally small as T. rochebrunianum is tall. Thalictrum kiusianum is 4 inches high in contrast to the height of 4 to 6  feet attained by their cousins. This beautiful little plant readily makes colonies  in partial shade, is somewhat long blooming and has been  hardy, self sowing and reliable here in Zone 5B for 7 years.
    Thalictrum kiusianum in a Hypertufa trough, Clematis Diana alongside
  • Right now, in shady places in the rock garden beds, their colonies are displaying tiny elegant stems and frothy lavender tops, making miniature fairy fireworks, also for the Fourth of July.
  • My stone and hypertufa troughs also provide perfect settings for these small but resilient colonies.
    Their size makes them ideal companions for miniature hostas and other small scale trough plants.

For More Fabulous Flowering Fireworks

Please use my ‘Search’ to find articles I have written about other Long Blooming Plants who will be around
Fourth of July.

The photos below are of some of the varieties that appear within those writings such as
Star Quality Clematis , Lonicera....

Clematis Betty Corning, July 4th 2010

Clematis Princess Diana, on the Fourth of July

Lonicera sempevirens and Ampelopsis elegantissimaEllen Cool

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Volunteer Vegetables : Edible, Ornamental…and they come back every year.

Certain edible plants return each year, and some are easy to have in the garden. These I call volunteer vegtables since they so willingly come back in Zone 5B.

Red Leaf Shiso = Perilla frutescens crispa

Shiso and Japanese painted fern with rose flowered Impatiens

I first met the red leaf Japanese Perilla, also known as Shiso, at a supermarket in a plastic bag.
A bouquet of 15 or so rooted, leafy stems of a plant I had never met were being sold with the herbs, next to the Basil, so I took them home for a taste….

red leaf Shiso
They were flavorful in a unique way, and with their serrated mahogany leaves, the rooted plantlets looked like they might turn out to be pretty plants, so I put some into the garden. They grew well and were beautiful against backgrounds of green with their contrasting color, and they echoed the reds of nearby Japanese Maples, Euphorbias and Heucheras. The red Perilla holds its color even in partial shade, and this rare quality can be useful in your ornamental plantings.

Much to my surprise, with no encouragement at all, this plant returned abundantly from self sown seed. It has come back every year for the last 8 years here in coastal z5, and now ornaments many garden places and I practice subtractive gardening to keep the numbers in check. It is fun to have pretty plants around that you can just eat a few leaves from when you’re in the garden.

For the same reason I love having bronze Fennel (Foeniculum purpureum) around in sunnier places. It too comes back reliably on its own here. It has a rusty red color, a feathery texture, looks nice amongst the perennials and towards the end of the season, I can eat pinches of seeds whenever I pass by. There are plenty for me to take some and for the plants to still self sow modestly around.
Perilla = Japanese red Shiso

Green Leaf Shiso = Ao-Shiso

Some years later, when making a landscape for a client who is a sophisticated and adventurous chef, we sowed purchased seeds of an all green form of Japanese Shiso. Reputed to be the most delicious type, Ao-Shiso is a very sought after ingredient for sushi. It proved itself to us to be delicious, tastier than the red form, if not as ornamental. I roll the leaves and cut them with with scissors as one does with Basil, and add them to salads and sautes.
Perillas are known to contain omega 3 acids and are used in traditional Chinese medicine to encourage the immune system.

Our enthusiasm for this plant grew as Ao Shiso returned the following year alongside its mahogany cousin, also having great numbers of seedlings. It has been back in profusion for 3 years now.

Both types do fine in partial shade, and it’s hard to find edibles you can say that about. They will also be fine in sunnier places, but don’t give them too much sun or they will mature quickly and won’t be pretty or delicious for as long a time.

Green leaf Ao Shiso, photo by Jenn Pedersen

Either of these kinds of Shiso will stand 18 to 24” or so tall at maturity, and they can be assets in the ornamental garden as well as the kitchen, but you will prefer to place them where you won’t mind that they seed themselves around prodigiously. Your other ornamental plants need to be protected from their ebullient colonies.

Picked young, the leaves of these plants are especially delicious, so if they land up amongst your other plants, they can be harvested with their roots on when small, and so removed and eaten before they cause trouble to your other plant residents. The gathered ones can be kept in water with their roots on for an edible kitchen bouquet, though the leaves are at their best when freshly picked.

I leave both kinds of Shiso babies to grow to maturity where they are handsome and aren’t bothering any other plant residents, harvesting their leaves  as needed for cooking or decoration.

Their handsome appearance wanes as they go to seed, so you may want to consistently trim off their seed heads or remove some considered number of plants to keep things looking tidy. By doing these things you may also avoid having more seeding around than you want. In Japan the seedheads are part of flavoring and decoration of a great variety of foods. At the end of their time of good appearance, I  trim them flush to the ground or remove the plants altogether, depending upon what is best for the nearby garden.

If you shake some of the seed heads you get from trimming into an envelope, you can decide later where you do and don’t want them next year. Wait to sow them until you finish cleaning your grounds in fall, scrabble the earth a bit and sprinkle from your envelope. Put a dusting of earth over them. They will be back next year.

To get things started, you could begin them in spring from commercially available purchased seeds or, if you visit my gardens in the growing season, these and other unusual plants I have written about in my articles can sometimes be bought to take to your own place.


Landscape Composition
Stonework and Garden Design
Unusual Plant Materials, Hypertufa Troughs
Tools and Antique Garden Ornaments




781 856 5600

Posted in Food Plants, Garden Making Guidance, Plant Portraits and Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Responses

Happy Valentine’s Day……. Love, Earth

 A Heartful Potato

heartful potato

 Plants are not exactly friends, but they’re friendly.

This potato was born in a heart shape. It was harvested last year in Newtown, Connecticut at the Sticks and Stones Farm. This farm of  moss and stone is a living gallery of ideas and instruction on how to design, build and live with natural materials. They sell the produce they grow if there is more than they need. An altogether heartful place.

The black pottery bowl came from Mexico. It was designed by an unknown artist to spin on a flat surface, animating the shapes that are etched into it.

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Reusing Antique Granites

Some of the handsomest granites for residential landscape use are those which were quarried and worked by stone cutters and masons a hundred years ago or more. With the wear of use and coloration from a century of  exposure to the elements, these stones have a patina of age.

The granite bedrock formed around 4 or 500 million years ago, but the more recent history of granite as shaped by the hands of man has enhanced the beauty and potential usefulness of  the pieces now available for our home purposes. When these shaped stones are brought into landscapes and garden settings, a quality of timelessness is added to our personal places.

The local granite in the past century was custom split and detailed for building and roadway uses, with alot of hand work involved.  In this century many of those proud old stone buildings as well as the curbings and cobbles of our 19th and 20th century roads are gradually being replaced by modern constructs, using materials less costly and more easily handled than granite.

If care is taken when the old things are deconstructed, the granites comprising them can remain in perfect condition for reuse. The orphaned pieces may show excellent workmanship, whatever they were originally made for. There are many easily used shapes which require only a good imagination (and maybe a bobcat) to repurpose.

Low cobble and Granite wall

A Waterfall

The waterfall below was made from cornerstones of a New England Church. The building had been dismantled a hundred and ten years after it was constructed. Many granites from that carefully made Church are now embedded in residential landscapes that Stone Garden Designs Inc. has created. They have become parts of newly built steps and walls or have been reborn as seats or tables.

Granite waterfallThere can be many differently shaped granites in a building, as this Church illustrates.
Built in 1890, happily it is still standing.……………………………………………………..

granite church

A Place to Be

This table and the granite seats alongside of it were brought to my personal landscape, a wish  granted for my 40th birthday. Originally foundation stones for a local building, they are now at the heart of my display gardens. The stone retaining walls were codesigned so as to incorporate them seamlessly.

……………………………………………………………….. ………………………  ……D.M.S.
A Simple Seat in a Woodland Margin

One cat,

Granite Seat.

                        Two cats.

……………..Just then, in she came from who knows where.

cats 2011………………………………………………….

For lots more information about Granite and stone use in the landscape, please use my search box.

Another title for this piece could have been “Low Maintenance Stone”. Once your substantial stones are settled, apart from sweeping them gently when you are so inclined, your only task will be to enjoy them.

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Granite Splitting for Reuse

Reshaping Granite for Reuse

Sometimes the shapes of the old pieces of granite one comes across are not precisely the dimensions needed, and this is where the splitting illustrated below can be helpful.

This curbstone was 18″ or so wide and about 8″ thick, as they often were, and an 8″ x 8″ post was needed, so the granite was split, using the ancient technique of inserting wedges and feathers into a line of pre-prepared shallow holes.

A heavy hammer is used to slowly and evenly embed the wedges further into the stone between the metal feathers. By ‘playing the granite’ with the heavy hammer, much as you would play a scale back and forth on a piano, pressure increases within the stone in all the places where there are wedges inserted, and soon the seam of the stone begins to open.
Once past a certain point the seam opens up the rest of the way completely on its own, splitting the piece from the parent curbstone, and a new ‘old’ post has been created. When you see the small channels in the granite, such as are visible in the photo below, you will know that the granite has been prepared with this technique.

Granite Splitting Tools

Tools used in splitting granite

I photographed this particularly excellent demonstration of splitting on the site of Olde New England Granite Company in Lynnfield, Massachusetts, a place where old cut granites receive the respect that they deserve.

P.S. Only the first Youtube you will see is by Stone Garden Designs, since Youtube puts up others on similar subjects after ours is finished. The ones from the UK are especially informative.

Stone master Brad Parker has allowed the irregularities of the natural seam of the stone to give character to the newly exposed side by using this method. If the piece had been mechanically sawn, the ‘new’ side would be unnaturally smooth and flat.

Diamonds would have been used up if the stone had been sawn, since cutting the very hard granite often requires costly diamond – enhanced sawblades.

Saving diamonds has to be a good thing, and we can accomplish the savings by using this traditional method whenever it is suited to the work.

granite splitting
Above shown are the wedges and feathers used, removed after the granite seam fully opens.
This photo and the one of the splitting tools were taken at the old Babson Farm Quarry site in Rockport Massachusetts where, on many Saturdays, they demonstrate this technique for visitors. The Rockport and Gloucester Quarries were very active from 1840 through the early 1900s. By 1929 the widespread use of concrete as a stone substitute and the Depression era in general contributed to the closing of all but a few small sites.

The Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, Massachusetts has a dedicated Granite Quarrying Gallery which displays tools, images and artifacts related to the history of the quarries. Barbara Erkkila’s book Hammers on Stone is a beautiful and informative telling of the life within the quarry towns in those times. It was from her own collections and personal knowledge that many of the tool and image displays in the Museum gallery were established.

Posted in Your Reasoned Landscape | 3 Responses

Halloween Orange

An organised colony of mini Pumpkins for You.

Pumpkins in Kindergarten, early 1800s.

Ellen Cool

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Long Blooming Perennial Plants : Prizewinning Series

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Long Blooming Perennial Plants : Prizewinning Series

A First Prize
in the category of
Long Blooming, Best Standing Perennial Self Sowers
goes to:

Linaria purpurea (purple)

and to

Linaria purpurea Canon J. Went (pink)

Linaria purpurea Canon J. Went

The pink form of this Linaria is named in honor of Canon J. Went (ecumenical), and was his horticultural ‘goal’ plant. This extremely long flowering plant bequest enhances our gardens  and roadsides with its slender spires these many years later because of his caring attentions. Subsequent generations of gardeners who have treasured this pink Linaria have, each in their turn, kept it going.

Linaria purpurea, the purple ancestral wild form from which the pink was derived, is also a beautiful long bloomer. The pink has perhaps an airier appearance with its light color. For your plant paintings sometimes you may want pink, sometimes purple, so its nice to have a choice.

Both color forms are elegant plants, which strikes me as being in line with their Italian heritage. Refined and delicate in appearance of flower and foliage, slender yet sturdy in stature, they stand 18 to 30” tall, and typically manage without support. They are easily pleased by a broad range of full to ½ day sun places, and a lean sandy soil is fine for them, though better earth is also suitable. They thrive in association with rocks, sowing happily betwixt and between.

If you occasionally trim down spent stalks as the flowering season goes along, new budding stems will come up. If the place is not too hot and there is enough water, this reflowering can go on for months each and every year, from June until at least October.

I find them easily managed in a garden setting, with some subtractive editing when there are more individuals than you want. They are good to share since they do well for mostly everyone.

Self Sowing Perennials

These are Perennial in character, meaning that the parents come back, and in addition both color forms self sow reliably. The babies typically mature and flower in the first year.

From your parent planting, over time, the seeds will find nearby places to nestle into all by themselves. Once you have established this Linaria, you will probably have it for all of your garden life, if you so desire. The babies will also take care of themselves long after the original gardener is gone.

It is easy to share their seeds with other gardeners. Roughly collected seed can put into an envelope and site sown in its proposed new home as soon as it is dry. I sow them at the end of the gardening year, after the chosen places have been cleaned up for winter. Baby plants and more mature individuals can also readily be moved to wherever you might like to have them, at most any time of the year.

To Preserve the Pink Form for the Future

I wouldn’t be without either color of this effervescent plant. I use both colors amongst the edge plants in the first and second tiers of planted beds and also in ledge, street and driveway pockets. The pink form is, however, more rare. Since it is subject to genetic interchange with the species purple form which tends to be dominant, without intervention, the pinks will get married up with purples and that will soon spell the end of the pink strain that Canon Went so nicely set aside for us.

If you isolate a colony of pinks from the purples, in a location out of the ‘bee line’, or otherwise away from the purples so there won’t be much chance of back cross, and if you remove any reversions to purple that do crop up in that pure colony over time, you will help to preserve the pinks for the long future. If you take seeds from these more purely pink groupings and share or otherwise distribute them to places where their own color form can be isolated and thus predominate, that helps too.

As long as you considerately do this isolation in certain particular places, you can freely enjoy having both color cousins together elsewhere in your gardens. Where I want to keep both colors together, I rogue out a larger percentage of the purple babies to keep plenty of places for the pinks to succeed.

Streetside Champs

Both color forms are also Streetside Champions, meaning that they can look lovely with little care wherever a suitable crevice can be found and are tough enough for along the edges of moderately traveled streets, even with the sand, salt, pee and heaped up snow that affects the edges of our paved places in New England.

The Purple form is even more robust than the Pink, but both colors are very easy seeders….. ready, willing and able plants with few pests or problems of any kind, except for their (over) enthusiasm. The bees and company find them irresistible.

Posted in Garden Making Guidance, Long Blooming Plants, Most Popular Posts, Plant Portraits and Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Responses

Open Gardens in Marblehead 8/13/2011

Ellen Cool’s Garden at 19 Circle Street
and two other
Very Special Marblehead Gardens

will be participating in the Open Days Program to Benefit

The Garden Conservancy


The Marblehead Conservancy

At any of the addresses, you just pay $5.00  to go in.

We hope that you will bring your questions, enjoy the landscapes and

go home with ideas.

Good Gardens are for Guidance.

To find out more about the Gardens open on that Day :

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Designing Your Views: Landscape Design Advisories / Chapter 6

A Reasoned Landscape bannerChapter  6
Designing Your Views

peastone line
You can lead the eye wherever you want to.
Controlling the view Create Your Views.

In designing your views, there will be considerations particular to your own place,
but certain broadly useful guidelines can be applied to help you solve your design puzzles.

Work around existing features
Make whatever you add complementary to what you already like and will keep in the place.

Plan to erase whatever does not please you.
When you are designing your views, through your design, you will want to show the virtues and hide the defects of your landscape situation.

 “Make the longest view into the longest vista and give it a focus.”
Rosemary Verey

Donna's view

 Often the farthest away places of a property are important starting points in the design thought process. Determining where you can create your best focal places and destinations can guide the forms and relational placements of built and planted features.

 “Build around a vertical point.”  
Beth Chatto

 A strong vertical feature, such as a tree, structure or any individual element, can create a clear dominant focus, making a comfortable beginning place for your thoughts on the design of the surrounding areas. This applies in every scale, from grand vistas to planted troughs.

         The vertical point does NOT have to be in the middle.
It is often better somewhat off center, unless the design is formally symmetrical.

“If we look at a satisfying planting
(whether it is) a small garden or a large border,you find
it is dominated by one thing, with lesser things arranged around it.”

Graham Stuart Thomas

 People seem to like to know where to begin and complete their visual experiences, where to rest their viewing and thoughts.

Flamingo relatives
 You need both dominant and subsidiary shapes.
If you have more than one principal dominant in a view, the various things of equal strength will compete for your attention all at once and so create a restless feeling for the viewer. It is usually more satisfying to arrange things so that there are clear dominants and subsidiaries arranged in a somewhat graded series with respect to one another, no matter how large or small the scale of your picture may be.
You will often want to break horizontal sweeps, but without creating too many primary focal places in any one view.

Subsidiary forms are just as important as the primary ones.
It is the relationships between  the dominants and subsidiaries that you need to thoughtfully establish.  The different forms have important, multi dimensional roles.

Go to the Mother
It may help you to think of how a natural woodland edge is organised. Plants of descending come out to the margins, using the available light at all heights. Special plants spring up where there are openings in the canopy, or in places where water is plentiful.
When we imitate nature somewhat for our own landscapes, we are benefiting from eons of experiments the plants have done amongst themselves. What we see recurring in nature can feel right when we bring some  of that vision home to a similar ecotome.

The Viewer and the Viewpeastone line

A vista needs a place from which to enjoy it.

Insert a “place to be” by putting some seating there.
The Emperors of China made many special ‘places to be’ within the land contained in the “Forbidden City”, where they and their families were destined to spend so much of their lives. Many of them became very personally involved in the creation of the landscapes and gardens within those walls.
Contained in the Quianlong Emperor’s gardens of the Palace of Tranquility and Longevity is a special building from the late 1700’s called the “Belvedere of Viewing Achievements”. It was designed as a place dedicated to viewing and reflecting on all that was created in the landscape and on the achievements of their lives and those of their predecessors.

I would wish everyone such a Belvedere. Even a small one is good, a chair in a just right place. When you have spent time making your landscape, you too will have earned your views, so think about siting your best viewing locations right along with the views you will create.

There should be a focus from any usual place of viewing.
Where will you wandering most often? You will want your compositions to be particularly satisfying from the places you will experience frequently in your daily views and meanderings.

close up view
The scale of the compositions that matter in a location will depend upon the distance of the viewer to the view.
A picture seen typically from a certain distance should be made in a scale that will be most effective at that distance.
In close up places such as the foreground edges of planted beds or near your steps and paths, on stone walls and in troughs you will probably want things that are pleasing most all of the time. In the places you walk close to, materials you choose should become more beautiful as you approach. The details of the small scale will be seen. There are certain ‘Sunday Best’  plants for the front row category, you just want to be choosy.

Thoughtfully combined tree and shrub shapes or wonderful plants with large, coarse or short lived foliage can perhaps be most satisfying when seen from further away. The attributes you cherish about them may be best shown at a distance, where modest character flaws, gangly legs or disappearing leaves can be masked by chosen plant associations in larger, layered plantings. Ephemeral plants you treasure can flower and disappear into populations of overspreading bed fellows whose good appearance will continue through the subsequent part of the year.

“Put as few obstacles and diverting lines as possible between you and your view.”
Thomas Church     Gardens are for People

one flamingo
Wherever you have a nice view, whether technically what you see belongs to you or not, you will want to flatter that view and be careful not to compete with it or obscure it. If you had a real Flamingo distracting you it might be all right, but generally you wouldn’t want your planted composition or sculpture to try to compete with an ocean or other handsome natural view. You can enhance such scenery by greening the edges.

Everything seen together should look well together as a view.

Entry ViewUsually the composition should allow you to see through to more distant desirable views, except where you are after an enclosure or surprise effect.

When layering your landscape pictures, check carefully about the mature heights, breadths and textures of fore and mid-ground materials.
It is unfortunate that there are many mistakes in the attributed size classifications of particular kinds of plants, especially if the plant has been introduced in the last 20 years. Dwarf plants are slow growing, but when they are introduced, still too new to anticipate the mature sizes, yet sometimes guesstimates get into the literature and onto plant tags. Most times, the plants will end up larger than predicted, sometimes substantially. Thus it may be best to check a few recent and athoritative sources, or better yet, find someone who has one growing.

 “Take care of the corners, and the centers will take care of themselves.”
F.L.Olmstead [1]

The corners of your property are often key elements in the shaping of the interior enclosure of personal grounds. Frequently they become your distant focal places and establish key planting areas. If you attend to designing them nicely, their shaping will help to guide the forms of the places in between.

Go Around the Corners
Create corners
with your fences or background plantings.
This will create interior triangular enclosures, focal ‘triangles’ where you can readily insert curves on the infacing borders of your place. For  multilayered plantings such triangular spaces seem to me much easier to organize than are strictly linear beds.
Without turning the corner, the fence or boundary planting may read visually as an unfinished straight line in space.

There should be
“Nothing to detract from the picture in its season.”

Christopher Lloyd

 This is a cardinal rule in planning. If a kind of plant or anything else diminishes the beauty of a particular place just when other plants and most everything is lovely nearby, best re-site the detractor.


Whatever looks dead or messy when the things around it look good should probably go elsewhere. You won’t want something very late to leaf out in Spring, like Hibiscus syriacus for instance, near to all the lush early spring leafing and flowering things. If it is a good plant in other ways, you can probably find it a place where it will be more enhancing, in a scene more suited to its annual time of beauty.
If you have ornamental onions whose foliage turns brown before their fabulous flowering time (Alliums, eg. Globemaster and many others), put them where their leafage is automatically covered by bedmates. And so forth.

Plant evergreens in front of the bare deciduous things.
For the sake of the greener compositions in your winter views, deciduous woody things with messy sorts of habits, though they may have fine qualities in different seasons, may be better sited quietly behind, beside or above your better shaped and evergreen things. This way there is nothing unlovely in between you and your winter assets.

Bank the beds whenever possible, to keep the maximum in the view.
This technique is used by Jewelers, Caterers, Restauranteurs, Farmers and others
who tilt or bank their creations so details can more readily be seen.

Balsam Farms, Long IslandSimilarly, creating garden beds with a gentle pitch from the back to the front will help the plants contained to show well.
In the landscape, the embanking angle usually needs to be shallow to be sustainable in relation to erosion. If it happens to be too steep where you want to plant, a bit of contour terracing or rock support may be helpful.Hosta embankmentTo accomplish an embankment easily, look for places on your property which have masonry materials. These can be used as  “back support”, adding some earth at a slight angle for the new bed. Unattractive masonry foundations, steps and corners can be softened in this way, and the plants love the good drainage.

Consider a grade change in your land form.

raised bedGrade changes often lead to a feeling of increased space overall, making each part of the scene distinct. A raised bed can also lead to a greater intimacy in the experience you have of your plants and earth materials by bringing them closer to you and making them inviting to touch.

Adding edge stones can help make a raised place safer in relation to paws, feet and corded edge trimmers.
A line of handsome large-ish single stones well laid can be support enough for such a purpose, acting like a low stone wall. If an area is too steep for good planting, raising the edge may allow you to create a more level planting place, less susceptable to erosion. This is surely more handsome and enduring than the wooden perimeters often used to make ‘raised beds’.

The curves of the plant shapes themselves can allow a banked presentation to the view.

Pinus hillside creeper, fukozumi, Picea montgomerey, Cotinus

A similar principle is shown in the designed layering of your chosen plants with decreased heights from back to front.
Nature tends to accomplish this on its own in typical woodland margins.
Plants of different characteristic heights occupy all the possible ‘altitude’ niches there and, so layered, can share the light of the edge space.
By consciously arranging things this way with your plantings you can increase the diversity of plant materials in your views.

 Night views
Just a little light in a somewhat distant place will provide some depth of field for the night thoughts and views.
Well designed low voltage lighting can simulate moonlight every night in places it illuminates, but if what you have is candles, even a few, though subtle, can be meaningful.

LINK to Chapter 7
Evergreen and Everseen Landscape Framing

With many Thanks to my Clients for generously
allowing photos of my work in their landscapes to be used on this site.

 [1] A Favorite saying of Olmstead, in The American Gardener” Allen Lacy
My Best,
Ellen Cool

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Responses

Euphorbia, Beautiful but Sometimes Dangerous



When you trim ANY Euphorbia variety – and there are many lovely ones among the 2000 or so species in the Genus -

Be Careful not to get the latex like sap that bleeds from cut stems onto your hands or face

……and Oh my Goodness, Don’t rub your eyes !

……and clean your clothing and tools thoroughly.

  • Many different kinds of Euphorbias have somewhat recently become readily available to gardeners everywhere. In general, their beauty, hardiness and the ease of successfully growing these plants make alot of their varieties ever more popular.
  • With substantially increased use of  garden forms of this Genus, there are more people exposed to the potential of an allergic reaction.
    Please  make your friends and neighbors aware of this possible drawback, and tell them to be careful………especially if you notice they already have some Euphorbia relatives in their landscapes. Some ‘bleed’ less sap than others, but forewarned is forearmed.
  • I have been handling these plants for years, as have many assistants and clients, and have never had any allergic response to them, but apparently while some people can handle these plants with no problems at all, other people will react violently to the latex like sap that bleeds out when the plants are cut. It has been reported that some people may also react after touching the plant bodies themselves, even uncut.
  • Sometimes the area of the eyes can be especially sensitive. As in the case of some insect stings for people with sensitivity to them, there may be swelling, and this can be particularly upsetting and dangerous in the face and throat areas.
  • I recently witnessed this Dire effect. Not having had any treatment, the person affected became hugely swollen all around the face and eyes. In her case, she went to her Doctor and subsequently Benadryl ™ helped to resolve the symptoms. Since then I have been made anecdotally aware of others who have had similar, if less extreme, painful and disturbing reactions.
  • Since the individual affected most strongly also has an allergy to bee stings, those of you that share that sensitivity may want to be especially careful.
  • Any of you who would not want to run the risk of having a reaction may prefer not to grow any Euphorbias.
  • If you have children of ages where all the world is a tasting opportunity, it will be safer not to grow this Genus, at least until the children are older and wiser. My sister liked sand at an early age, but some children are plant tasters.
    What to do If……..
  • If you are exposed, at your local pharmacy you can find a product called Tecnu®, which should be applied to the area of contact before you wash.
    Its job is to take up the oils on the skin after exposure to Poison Ivy or Poison Oak, and it can similarly help many people after contact with Euphorbia sap. It is also used also to clean the clothes and tools involved when the exposure occurred.
    If Tecnu® isn’t readily available and you have a bar of Fels Naptha® soap handy under your sink, Fels Naptha is reputed to have a better effect than other commonly available kinds of soaps. Could it be the bit of Lye in it?
  • If you are a gardener or landscape person who is likely to be exposed to any of these plant irritants, it may be best to  consult your Physician beforehand for medicine to have on hand in case of an allergic response.
    Even some people who are not sensitive to Poison Ivy or Poison Oak may still react to Euphorbias.
  • Its good to keep some Tecnu where you can get it quickly, perhaps in your first aid kits, just in case.

So Why Grow Them?
Because there are many wonderful things about Euphorbias to consider.


  • Most people would agree that Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are beautiful and useful in ways that no other plant can quite replicate. It is the same for ‘garden’ varieties of Euphorbias.
  • Among the many other very remarkable kinds of Euphorbias, some have a particular niche in our green world that few other plants can occupy.
  • And the Deer don’t typically eat them, Yay !…….. Probably precisely because of the irritant in their sap.


Euphorbia graminea Diamond Frost

This lovely floriferous annual is perhaps the single most useful ingredient I have in my repertoire of  plant elements for container plantings. It contributes an airy and cooling quality to any planted grouping in which it is incorporated, growing between other materials gracefully, blending them together without disturbing their growth. When other kinds of plants lean with the weight of their summer flowers, E. Diamond Frost will become increasingly vertical (and wider too) through the growing season, continously flowering with very minimal trimming, flattering all the plants with which it resides. It is heat and drought tolerant, tough in character but delicate in appearance, a winning combination.
This one does not return in our zone, but I scramble to get it from the nurseries each year so as to be sure to have it on hand when I am making up my container compositions.

Euphorbia cyparissias

Euphorbia cyparissias is beautiful and valuable in the landscape nearly all season. Many self sown generations of this plant have been happily occupying the ledge of wild things on my street for more than 30 years, with no attention whatsoever. That was how we first met, and I just had to find out who that lovely plant was.

  • The colors of the stems, leaf bracts and flowers contribute to its beauty, but it is in foliage texture and overall adaptability to inhospitable locations that this plant excels, as do many of its relatives. In driveways, ledge pockets and other marginally habitable places, these can be of use. Though individual plants are small, the many tenanted colonies make a broad and satisfying visual statement.
  • The ‘flowers’ of Cousin Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are modified leaf parts, so with that precedent I include E. chamaecyparissias in my long flowering self sowers list. I value these feathery plants as much as any otherwise floriferous treasure.
  • E. cyparissias Fen’s Ruby is an especially beautiful form with its mahogany and lime florets through April and May. Equally importantly, the feathery leaved colonies look excellent for many months with one trimming at most (*** Now be careful of the sap !).
    If you prefer, you don’t have to trim them at all, just pull out any plants that brown up, leaving the ones that are green and fresh looking. That is how I usually proceed with them.
  • Each plant is from a few inches up to 18” high, depending on the ecology inhabited. Their bluegreen color and soft texture contribute a great deal to the beauty of the sunny to semi-sunny places where they like to grow. If you have ½ day sun and some stone crevices, and site them where you don’t mind an expanding colony, you will probably enjoy their appearance and self sustaining capabilities very much.…………………………………………………………………..
    Euphorbia dulcis Chameleon

    E. chameleon has been popping up here and there throughout my perennial plantings since I introduced it into my gardens 10 years or so ago. Mahogany leaves at 18″ high dress up garden beds by their contrast against greens, while lyrically echoing the coloration of red Maples and other sundry plants with related russet hues in their foliage and flowers. Appearing in some new places each year because of their naturalising tendencies, they add enhancing surprises to the landscape. They are not nearly as prolific as E. cyparissias in offspring, but you will have quite a few most likely since they are ecologically easy to please, and so seed into a variety of habitats. The minute they don’t look nice, I trim them to the crown, and they dont seem to mind too awfully much, reliably returning.
    When there are too many I edit some out, usually leaving the young ones and deleting the older individuals as they become rooty with age.
Posted in Long Blooming Plants, Plant Portraits and Stories, Things They Never Tell You, Your Reasoned Landscape | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Responses

Long Blooming, Self Sowing, Comeback Plants

Prizewinning Self Sowing Plants :
Annuals and Perennials

.Longblooming Comeback Plants for Zone 5B

It is a good feeling to have some favorite plants that you know are So Happy in your place that they will be coming back of their own accord, year after year, through generations of new individuals. 

  • Some kinds of plants amongst both perennial and annual kinds, naturalise through self sowing. This means that they make new plants by seeding themselves around, with babies growing up and flowering wherever the seeds have found suitable growing  places. You can think of them as opportunists.
  • Now, if a kind of naturalising plant is, as it happens, beautiful in both foliage and flower for an exceptionally long span, and has no bad habits except for occasional (reversible) overenthusiasm, it can be a great joy in the garden. Quite a few of  self sowing comeback plants are exceptionally wonderful kinds to have, providing color and good foliage for months on end, every year. Wherever self sowing plants of good character appear and thrive, they can provide charming ‘repeating lyrics’ that help to connect your gardens visually and create a naturalistic feeling in the place.
  • Naturalising plants provide a bit of serendipity in the landscape, turning up in slightly different places and configurations each year, sometimes planting themselves where we would never have thought to, or even have been able to.

        Annual and Perennial Self Sowers

  • Annual plants are among the longest blooming beings in the garden scene, so most of us like having some of them around to keep us company every year. Though the ‘parents’ of annual plants don’t come back, since by definition an annual completes its life cycle within a single year, in the case of my selected treasures, you may not need to buy new ones each year. The self sown offspring of annuals typically bloom in their first year from  seeds.
  • There are also long blooming, self sowing Perennials who can stand beautifully and flower over a long span, some even in their first year. With the self sowing perennials here listed, the parents may well return, and in addition there will be baby plants.
  • Through many years of trials, I have found certain particular kinds of plants, some annual and some perennial, that are especially hardy and invariably represented by their self sown children every year, if left alone with a suitable piece of earth in an appropriate ecological context.

The Longest Blooming, Handsomest and Best Behaved of the Self Sowing Plants

These Prizewinners, all long blooming plants, have been selected to recommend to you from amongst  the naturalisers for our ecotome.

Photo by Jenn Pedersen

  • To be on my ‘Prizewinner Lists’, each kind must qualify in all the above mentioned desirable characteristics, also returning reliably pretty much on its own, and needing only a modest amount of tending. The volunteer offspring must also be easy to subtract (move or remove) if there are more than you want, because in some cases you will get both quality and quantity.
  • Within each Genus there may be other nice representatives, but for various reasons some might not be as easy to enjoy as my selected wonderful cousins. They may have drawbacks as plants, endangering other plant places by greediness or other bad behavior. Some may have unattractive foliage, or leaves that turn brown at just the wrong time. Some are  beset by pests or other problems that typically spoil their appearance. Any sign of these things will have kept such lesser kinds off my lists.

    The Good Guys and the Bad Guys
  • Just because a kind of plant happens to self sow, that does not make it a bad plant. It’s important to look into the matter case by case.
  • There are many naturalisers that you probably would not want, inextricably weedy in the worst of ways, and not attractive in our eyes. With aforethought, you can avoid the bad guys.
  • The good guys ask very little, but they have much to offer. They are often able to occupy places where season-long color and soft healthy greenness are hard to achieve with other plant materials. Some are drought tolerant, all are low to moderate maintenance.
    Here the purple wands in foreground pictured above are self sown ‘ Linaria Canon Went reversion’, the parent purple genome represented. The Canon’s selected pink form is about to bloom in the left midground. Each of these blooms 2 to 3 months each year.
    The other plants in the photo are not self sowing, but Oh ! the Larix d. pendula wreathing the garage, and the Rudbeckia maxima providing yellow daisies at the highest level, shall we say, over that lovely indefatiguable and weed impermeable grass, Hakenochloea aurea. These plants are growing in a surface of 3/8ths inch gravel = peastone, with sandy loam underpinnings at the garage end of a driveway.
  • All the plants that are included here are both pleasing and easily pleased, and I am sure that you will enjoy any that you bring to your place.

Best Friends in the Garden

  • In my work as a Landscape Designer over these 30 years, I have met a great many thousands of candidate Plants, and these particular ones, I feel, deserve special recognition.
  • Each of these kinds of plants seems to me so important, whether they are small or large beings, that I will be putting effort into providing you with individual Portraits. I plan to give you mostly information that you cannot otherwise get readily from other sources, identifying some of these wonderful plants for you and talking about how they behave in the landscape, helping you to see how you may best use them in your own endeavors.
  • Once you know Who These Good Guys Are, you can Google their names for further specifications or to find some parent plants to start you off.
  • I am the only Juror of these Juried lists, but I have been very choosy. These are just the very best plants I have found amongst the naturalisers and I want to be sure that you get know about them.
    Whether Annuals or Perennials, once you have determined which particular excellent plants are likely to self sow for you and have sited them to suit their preferences, their future is ensured, and yours will be enhanced. If you start with wonderfully garden-worthy varieties such as I have listed below, they can become welcome cohabitants.
    You may also know of some potential Prizewinners that I have never met, and I will hope that you will write to me and tell me about them, and I will be so very pleased to make their acquaintance.
    Making a Beginning.
  • The most reliable way to start out your sowing cycle is to get a few good mature parents of each kind you want. Site each in a particularly propitious place, perhaps choosing a few different places for your best probability of pleasing them, and watch over their establishment. If you make the ground around them welcoming, the original purchased parents will then seed themselves into the neighborhood. Their babies will mature and flower all through the next year. The babies of those babies will cover the year after that and so on indefinitely.
    Since these plants can sow themselves directly into neighboring earth for each next generation, there is no ‘potting up’ necessary, ever, unless you want to for reasons of transport or some such. If they turn up in the wrong places in your landscape, you can easily move chosen babies when they are small from wherever they turn up directly to wherever you want them.
    In the case of self sowing perennials, the system of establishment is the same, but some kinds take more than one year to get to flowering size from site sown seeds.

Keeping Things Going

  • You will need to follow certain simple practices in your gardens for self sowing to work, but these things are easily accomplished. The methods are described herein, and contextually in my up and coming Plant Portraits series.
  • In the meantime, to begin this recurrent life cycle, get your choices from this list at the nurseries when they appear (or grow them from seed, just this once) and Site them in various parts of the garden to see where they may do best, choosing places where you won’t need to disturb the earth nearby too much.
  • When you set about getting these things, you may need to look in at the garden centers somewhat frequently, since not all the ‘best’ plants arrive at the same time. They arrive in batches, different kinds at differing times. Nursery production is seasonal, but whenever some of the best things do come in, they leave at a surprisingly rapid rate, and then you might have to wait till next year to get started.

A Garden with the Best Plants in it is made by a process
which spans some years.

Techniques for Keeping Self Sowing Plants

Or They’ll March out of the Beds

  • Self sowing plants, like most plants, grow towards the light, so their blossoms and later their seedpods tend to lean that way too. Over the years your front row plants may thus seed themselves right out of their intended beds, into places where they can’t succeed or you won’t want them.
  • Similarly, if you put self sowing things on the tops of little hills they will somersault beautifully down for a few subsequent generations, and then they may seed themselves right over the edges of the embankment. Unless you intervene once in a while, these treasures can disappear entirely from wherever it was so special to have them.

Suspenders and a Belt Principle

  • To prevent such losses, I pay special attention to my front row plants and ‘harvest’ seed from these.
    Basically, this means that I snip off a few handfuls of seedpods when they are ripe and I am trimming gonebys off the parent plant anyway.
  • These then go into a paper envelope of some kind, with their name and the year of harvest written on it. I let them stay in the envelope till fully dry. At some point I do take out the large chaff, but I’m not a bit fussy about leaving some. I can’t imagine it matters much about the extra bits you also shake out. These kinds of plants usually provide enough seed to sprinkle themselves liberally, and in a natural, undisturbed setting the ground around the parent plant would be made of seed and chaff together, after all.

After the Fall Cleanup.

  • Once you have finished any raking and cleaning or blowing you may do in your beds each fall, prepare the earth places where you want to have those particular enveloped plants next year and liberally sprinkle the seeds,  adding a bit of earth over them.
  • Another source of seed for site sowing in fall is the old parents themselves. When it is time to remove the seed carrying annual parents, typically after the beds surrounding them have been finally cleaned, you just add back a little earth to the removal indentations you create as you as you take out the parents, to get back to grade. Now shake the old plants upside down in these places then sprinkle the area with a very light overlay of earth, just to keep the seeds from blowing away, much as you would do for the enveloped seeds.
    This will add some more seeds to those already self sown, improving the overall odds of germination and thus probably the speed of colonization in your gardens. And it is so easy to do..

    Listen to the Parents
  • For direct site sowing of a particular kind of plant, I often choose the area around the place where an old parent of theirs succeeded, which helps assure that the babies will be born in an ecologically appropriate context, and this location assists me in keeping track of whose babies are whose, when everything is germinating all at once.
    A Please Do Not Disturb Sign
  • The areas you disturb by cultivating, blowing or heavy mulching may lose some of their seeded inhabitants, so try to avoid these activities in areas you want to colonise. A memory marker on the attended area can be helpful. I use croquet hoops until things are established, just to remind me where to be careful.


  • Nature will move your self sowing plants around, and there will be multiplications and losses, so the placements of most of these kinds of plants will change if they are without a guiding hand through the years. Midground plants may end up in the foreground, and background ones in the midground, so some may need to be resited. Just move them when they are young, and this won’t be difficult.

Subtractive Gardening

  • You can have too much of a good thing.
    By character these self sowing plants are all opportunists and easily pleased. They may be so willing that, through the years as their numbers accumulate, the colonies may require a ritual of subtraction.
  • The tending of these lovely volunteer plants is principally in deciding which to leave where they are, which to usefully transfer elsewhere, and which to ruthlessly remove to compost. In these matters you will be the Editor in Chief, a job which you may enjoy. There is rarely only one right way to use your materials, you will just need to decide what you want. As in cooking, when you begin with plenty of good ingredients, you can scarcely go wrong.
    There are some people who think that
    everything comes up in all the right places,

    …and others who that think nothing does….

Tricks to Keep Plants Long Blooming

Use Various Exposures

  • If any given Kind of Plant can thrive in a range of exposures, and you put some in a shadier and some in a sunnier place, you will usually have a much longer season of bloom of this favored thing within your landscape.
    If a long blooming kind of plant is sited in various locations, it will have an ultra- long season, overall.

Avoid Extremes

  • If you have chosen garden places that have No burning hot or parchingly dry episodes, most long blooming plants will flower and stay nicely green their very longest.

Tend to Their Water Needs

  • All of these plants need attention to their water needs. Some need less than others, but especially when you are establishing any garden place, your attentions to suitable watering are needed from the start.

Keep them Trimmed

  • While it is not necessary to trim most of these things but once or twice in the season, you will do what you want about neatness, trimming to your taste and preferences.
    If you trim, you often improve the performance of the plant. When you want a long blooming plant to spend it’s energy on providing new stems for upncoming flowers, you will be helping it to conserve energy for that purpose if you trim away goneby stems, even if they are somewhat hidden under flowering skirts, after trimming the plant  will have a rejuvenated appearance.

Have different ages of plants.

  • Last year’s plants may start earlier and end sooner than the new young ones, but then the young ones starting later may flower beyond their parents span.
  • Have patience, the colonies take a while to establish. With perennial plants, shrubs and vines, older individuals may flower for a much longer span of time as the years of residence accumulate, which is probably tied to how many roots support them.

So Who are those
Long Blooming

Self Sowing

Handsome and Reliable Plants ?


PRIZEWINNERS  1980 – 2010

Part One :

The  Front Row Plants  =  Featherweight Category

Alyssum snow crystals = Lobularia maritima snow crystalsalyssum snow crystals

Photo by Joe Puleo
  • Often used as an endlessly blooming white bed edging, this double form is the loveliest alyssum that I have ever had the pleasure to live with. Her fragrant flowers, though tiny, are visibly larger than those of most alyssums, and they cover her freshly for months on end. A fine textured, low and flowing character allows her to be a beautiful floor-foil for most any plants arriving in the surroundings. As a container plant, these fill in edges and corners nicely, and will often seed themselves into the ground below the container for a lovely naturalized effect the following year. She has returned in every garden I have ever made.
  • If you prepare the ground near the parent plant for the babies to be sown into, your patience will be annually rewarded by some volunteers. Over time, through the snowball effect, these can become colonies. You just have to start that snowball rolling.
    I let the self sown plants proliferate and leave them or move them to wherever they may be needed, but I also usually succumb each year to getting a few more of this alyssum from the greenhouse in May. These will provide their white details for the month before the naturalized babies from last year’s parents are big enough to flower.
  • There are many varieties and also other colors of edging alyssums in the trade, and many of those also return sometimes, but L.m. snow crystals stands out amongst them all in appearance and in reliability, making little colonies in a great variety of places. And white is so useful.

Gypsophila muralis

  • This is one of the less well known annuals whose surprise and enhancement value make them beloved contributors in every garden they find their way into.
  • The pixie dust pink chiffon of hundreds of tiny Gypsophila muralis plants can make you a floating, translucent carpet. Muralis is the smallest of Gypsophila, the genus of plants referred to as ‘Baby’s Breath’ for their airy appearances. Though many kinds of plants in this genus are large and perennial, G. muralis is an annual usually ~ 5” tall. The very substantial visual effect she has in the landscape comes via the great number of individuals in the self sown colonies she can make for you. Although this plant is believed to originate from eastern europe, a folk name for this plant in Italian is ‘Nebbia’, which translates as fog or mist, and sounds to me  like a term of endearment. The softening outlines this Gypsophila provides enhance the floor of any sunny or semi sunny, well drained place. The older varieties, the soft pinks (g. muralis) return extremely well for me, but I have added G.m. gypsy rose for her darker pink coloration, and am hoping that she will add her gypsy genes for a wider range of pinks overall in the landscape.
  • Coming back willingly from seed as they do, as many as I can make room for will nestle in between other edge plants. I also grow them in my dry stone walls and between paving stones in footfall protected places.
  • They are nice to touch, and lovely close up, so I particularly like having them in near to hand locations. I encourage them in my stone and hypertufa troughs which are sited atop stone walls or other surfaces at touching height. They are a great asset in these permanent containers, being a companionable height and scale for the other perennial and annual occupants of these small scale trough worlds.

Delosperma cooperei

  • Brilliant royal magenta flowers cover this floor dwelling plant all blessed summer, as its graceful foliage rambles happily among stones.
    Of all the Delospermas I have tried, D. cooperei is the hardiest and most reliable by far, not to mention the handsomest (just an opinion). In the just right place he will return each year, and the colonies can even increase stoloniferously if you can find a spot to please them. Yes, that means that even the parents come back sometimes.
  • D. cooperei seems to like a hot sunny place with an opportunity to put roots under, and foliage over, stone. Their colonies thrive when receiving overhead water a few times a week, but their succulent leaves allow a lot of heat tolerance when necessary. Some gardens have kept this plant in Z5b for years, but only in the best of circumstances. If you are a bit warmer, perhaps these will prove even more reliable. This plant hails from New Zealand originally, and so may be fine in a good many Zones besides my own.
  • For landscapes that cannot overwinter this treasure, some plants can come in via the local Nurseries each year. D cooperei has fortunately become widely available, hence easily replaced. I wouldn’t want anyone to have to miss a year.

California poppy = Eschscholzia  californica

  • The true fruit-orange and lemon colored California poppies are sometimes difficult to site with groupings of flowering plants having gentler tones or otherwise incompatable hues. Eschscholzia blooms for such a long time span that through the season, these neighborhood color disagreements can be many.
  • If you like, you can choose to build your compositions around the bright orange and hot yellow of the common forms of this poppy,
    but the good news is that there are ivory, pale yellow and a whole range of pink California poppies = Eschscholzia varieties. These alternate flower colors get along more easily with a wide range of the typical hues of other planted compositions. Like their brightly colored relatives, these less color dominant varieties have a very long blooming habit.
    When sited according to their ecological preferences, some babies of these forms will ritually appear through self sowing, if somewhat less prolifically than their bright cousins. But they are easily encouraged. You will need to save seed, as they are notorious for escaping from the front row. They pop, after all, being Poppies, and so the seeds can land up a bit afield from where you meant to have them.

.  .Johnny Jumpups = Viola tricolor

Salvia snow hill and Viola tricolor hybrids

  • These very small flowered Pansies are handsome and willing, and they flower semi-endlessly. They have been in cultivation for uncounted years, and are the long ago parents from which most garden pansies were derived. For 4 months or so their white, purple and yellow faces are companionable in a broad range of garden contexts, the purples excluded perhaps where you’re growing more truly blue things in the picture..
  • These enhance both sunny and semi-sunny locations, as they can manage fine with a few hours of the day’s sun..

  • All these Violas should be trimmed a bit as the season progresses. Whenever stems get long and rangy and don’t please me anymore, I just trim them back to their crowns and shake their seeds onto ruffled ground. Sometimes these plants then start making new flower stems from their crowns, but anyway there are usually other individuals starting up nearby to freshen the scene.
  • The word Pansy is thought to come from the French word ‘pensee’ (pon-say), which means ‘thought’. A bouquet of Pansies, in the symbolic language of flowers down through history, has represented a bouquet of thoughts. Flowers that represent thoughts. Wonderful.
    Viola tricolor =
  • Another traditional name for this historically beloved European herb plant was ‘ Hearts-ease’. This refers to its medical uses for chest complaints and other physiological problems.
    Cool Hybrids
  • Most all of the small faced Pansies seem to intermarry. The outcome color combinations of their faces are marvelously diverse and sweetly surprising. It turns out that a given plant may be self-fertile, that is with both sexes on the same plant, but in addition, they cross pollinate amongst themselves with noticeable abandon.
  • To add interesting characteristics to the offspring, I have sought out white, pure yellow and near black Violas as well as particularly small foliaged or extra-long blooming varieties, and added these to the landscape as I came across them to refresh the genetic possibilities of my home colonies. My colonies are thus a colorful admixture of every handsome, tiny face I ever met.
  • I just put some of these prospective parents in the beds with the resident small faced Viola cousins to get some more variety into the offspring of the next generations. Any hybrids turning up with unattractive colors or features are removed. Typically they show a wide range of pleasing variations in their faces and statures.
  • Since I brought all their parents together, and my name is Ellen Cool, I call the ones who live here the ‘Cool Hybrids’. If you similarly arrange marriages, you will have your very own hybrids too.

The List of  Longblooming, Self Sowing
Prizewinner’s Portraits
are described in my next Posts.
Some of the Upcoming Winners Are :

Linaria Canon Went pink, and the ancestral purple

Corydalis lutea and Corydalis lutea alba

Viola Koreana

Posted in Garden Making Guidance, Landscape Making Guidance, Long Blooming Plants, Most Popular Posts, Plant Portraits and Stories, Things They Never Tell You | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 369 Responses

Snowy Valentines

Embossed Earth

……. Two touching stones in green embossed earth,
moss joined each warm summer -

Now in snow blanketing. Comforted.
Soft impressions of themselves together,
Bonded forms in a wide landscape of white.

……. ……
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Snow, Brooms and Squirrels

The Old Worn Corn Broom



A friendly old Corn broom is indispensable for sweeping snow off trees and shrubs in the winter and for freeing frisbees, balls and balloons in the other seasons. Its bristles softened and shortened by time, usually on an angle from all the corner work it has tried to do and the leaning it has experienced, a plain old broom will be gentle on living plant materials. The narrower end allows you to brush off the canopies of trees and the bodies of shrubs without harming them.
Your favorite evergreens (and other above ground plants) will keep their shapes better through the snowy, icy  seasons if you can prevent freshly fallen snow from accumulating too heavily.……

  • The business end of a natural fiber broom is typically made of the upper stalks and tassel stems of Sorghum bicolor (or vulgare). These plants are commonly called ‘Seed Corn’, even though they are not related to our familiar edible Corn at all ( that would be a Zea not a Sorghum). In the growing fields Sorghum’s appearance is somewhat Corn like, just no ears. The appelation ‘Corn Broom’ has become descriptively traditional, and so we use it anyway.
  • Once upon a time, in 1797, Levi Dickenson of Hadley, Massachusetts discovered the fine qualities of these Sorghums, and made a broom for his wife of them. Enthusiasm ensued, and this excellent new material was soon sought after for broom making in general.
  • Throughout the millenia, in the various parts of the world many different kinds of plants were found useful for sweeping . What was utilised depended on what was growing nearby and the local customs. With long, straight and slender stems, the shrubs we colloquially call ‘Brooms’ (Genera Cytisus and Genista) were found suitable, and these and many other kinds of plant materials were pressed into service. With experimentation over time and the passage of knowledge between cultures, however, Sorghums have proved themselves perhaps the most effective of natural materials for the job of sweeping.
  • Until about 1820, Brooms were typically round in form. The branchlets of whichever material was used were usually clustered around a stouter central piece of wood.
  • Since no aspect of the design of tools and furnishings for daily life was overlooked by the Shakers, brooms were taken seriously, along with pincushions and hundreds of other useful things, and improvements were sought.

The Shakers believe that their furnishings were originally designed in heaven, and that the patterns were transmitted to them by angels. Their designs are beautiful and they work extremely well.

  • The Shakers proceeded to redesign broom configurations, flattening out the brush end, and so making this tool easier and more efficient to use in our home grounds, in their estimation. And then there came the angled form, probably also from the angels...
  • This photo by Grace Jeffers shows the way that the de-seeded and dried Sorghums were flattened in the broom presses of the Hancock Shaker community in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. At one time, a great many brooms were made there. The image comes to us by way of  Wilsonart’s  Blog, ‘The Statement’, a highly informative online magazine for Designers.
  • Many of our ‘Corn Brooms’ now come from Mexico, where the appropriate Sorghums also grow very well.
  • Shaker design has provided us with patterns for brand new brooms with either flat or angled working ends. The angled ones are configured that way to do corner sweeping perfectly from the start. Gentled down a bit with floor use for a while, this shape is what you are after for use amongst your trees and shrubs as well as for your corners.
  • At their tops, Sorghum bicolor plants have seed filled tassels from which the seeds themselves must be manually removed when the tasseled ends are dried for broom making.
    A Seed Corn Wreath
  • There is another less universal but very lovely use for those same upper stalks without removing their seeds. The tasseled tops of  Sorghum bicolor, with a foot or two of the stem still attached, make a beautiful wreathing material. The seed laden bunches are tied on to encircle a metal wreath frame in an overlapping sequence. The handsome tassels swirl gracefully, their rich mahogany seeds texturally beautiful against the green tinged khaki of the leaf and stalk matrix. The seeds stay on a long time if noone eats them.
  • When the hard weather is coming, though, I hang the Seed Corn wreath outside on a strong hook so the squirrels can sit or clamber on it comfortably. The hanging place we have chosen is seen from our windows, so every day for weeks we can watch these companions gathering and enjoying our gift.
  • In the right settings squirrels may be rewarding cohabitants. In a profound way it seems meaningful to bear witness to the life their busy families infuse in to the landscape. A visible parallel existence. Though our small personal land can only support a limited population, as concerns any creatures or plants who are living here, I do want them to live happily as long as they can behave compatably.
  • Still outlined in snow after the snow has melted everywhere else, the Squirrel’s twiggy nests high up in the trees seem poignant and eloquent now, as I write from the garden shed in cold January. A new snow is falling today, softening the nest shapes still further.
  • Some years ago my squirrel families discovered pillow batting and fluff. On a neighbor’s moving day one winter, serendipity sent a torn pillow into our yard. I guess that I thought it was just some snow, since I didn’t clean it out of the landscape right away. My squirrels seem to have been experimentally minded, quickly discovering the fine insulating properties of this fluff. When I figured out that it was pillow stuffing and saw that it was being used, I left it there. Every bit gradually disappeared, tucked in as lining in their leaf and twig nests. I know this for sure because, sadly, in a winter gale a few years later, a three foot diameter masterpiece nest, and the 25 foot long ‘home run’ limb leading to it, crashed to the ground. My squirrel was suddenly homeless.
  • The next day I came upon this small Denizen sitting in praying position at the V base of the broken limb, the tattered nest on the ground nearby. Head tucked into chest, eyes closed, he seemed deeply pensive and, I must imagine, sad for the loss of his long beloved cozy place in the tree. The family has returned and rebuilt, but I wonder if they will ever have a nest as special as that one was. Perhaps some pillow stuffing should appear.

Corn Broom Drawing by Racket Shreve

For more information on broom making see :

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Landscape Design in Snow


Two Chairs in SnowTaking time over the drawing phase of your landscape making journey, whether in snow, on sand, lawn or paper, will strongly influence the quality of the choices you will ultimately make in the design of the things for your landscape.

  • Drawing in snow is a pleasant way to get thoughts going for your future projects. The great thing about snow as a medium is that it comes right to your house and presents you with a full clean canvas, allowing you to draw everywhere within your connected landscape, at full scale and all at the same time.
  • As you wander through the snow and mark the outlines of  shapes that you are thinking about creating, you will be exploring the tangible ‘footprints’ of your future built projects, planted beds and the paths to such things.
  • Once drawn out roughly, you can physically experience the relationships of all the landscape elements. Walk everything to see how the flow and the relational shaping feels, from all directions, adjusting your imprinted lines until you are pleased with form, flow and linkage of all the parts of your place.
  • Play with slow curves, fast curves, driveway apron curves, deck configurations, or anything you like.  Site wall beginning and ending points, table and chair locations. You are searching for pleasing spatial relationships both functionally and esthetically. These will endure when the projects come to life.
  • Now you can check the views of your evolving outlines from elsewhere, indoors and out. Try to avoid random footprints as best as you can until your intended shapes are done, but if the process gets messy, there will likely be a next snow for a new clean canvas.  You will have more chances to try various things to find some ideal solutions if you start with the early light snows, This process can be one of the upsides of the snowy season.
  • With a tape measure in your pocket, when you come to some conclusions you can give yourself some coordinates for key relational points to roughly record what your winter thought process has concluded.
    Even without much in the way of recorded measurements though, you will have learned alot from your experience with the snow lines, and the thoughts they engendered.
  • By Spring you will perhaps have developed some ideas of what you may want, consulting your memory and measurement notes. Once the ground is green or brown again you can be laying things out in an exploratory way using some braided line[1], marking sprays[2] and stakes.
    Invariably there will be new or preeminent considerations which come to the fore as your organic things reawaken, become fully three dimensional and your active outdoor life begins again. Add these thoughts into the mix and keep thinking.

    “Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake”

    ………………………………………………………………..Wallace Stevens

  • While having carefully considered your range of choices before beginning your projects, you may find that you want to adjust and fine tune your compositions right up to and even during the time of building. That’s fine.
  • Leaving details as flexible as possible until it is necessary to finalise them usually leads to the best custom work with natural materials, if you can continue to pay close attention all along the way.

“If the designer is forced by complications to figure things out on paper, the final result will be better if the plan is then memorized and hidden, and the work laid out on the ground with the help of stakes and string”

…………………………………………………….Fletcher Steele   Gardens and People

1] 5/8braided marine or arborist’s line is my favorite, in 30’ lengths or so. Tosses well and can be fine tuned in its shaping.
Cans of invertible white chalk or waterbase spray ‘paint’ are my usual choice for marking grass or earth but not for masonry or stone.  These wash out of the grass after a couple of weeks , if there are the usual delays, it is simple to overspray again as long as you can still see your lines. If you mark after the grass is just cut, the outline will last better.

( Based on my articles ‘The Quiet Season’ and ‘Landscape Design in Snow’)


  • If it happens to be a warm season instead of winter, and you can get to a suitably sandy beach, you can try out alot of your ideas with just your feet and hands and perhaps a ‘pencil’ of driftwood or shell.
  • Drawing in the sand in a reduced scale can help you think about shapes, curves, intersects and relationships of things experientially. If/Then propositions are easy to experiment with in the forgiving sand.
  • Contemplating the forms made by the lapping waters of lake or ocean can inform your thinking about naturalistic curves  that may be beautifully incorporated into features of your own place.
  • Since you can’t take the beach to your house, it is only a conceptual exercise, but it can be very helpful. You may want to find a time when there are no other people on the beach, as they probably won’t understand what in the world you are doing and it is a nuisance to have to explain and lose your pleasant concentration. If the sand is just moist enough, your lines seem especially beautiful, so try for the time of an outgoing tide.

“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake”

………………………………………………………………..Wallace Stevens


  • All written and visual materials on this site are Copyrighted. (C) Ellen Cool 2010

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