Drought Management

Free Water if you want it

To those of you in more verdant zones, you may not know that the Northeast of the American continent is in a drought, severe in many places. While I was perusing social media today, I came across a plea from a gardener in Massachusetts seeking help for her drought stricken garden. She was asking for ideas on what other drought stricken gardeners were doing to get water to their gardens.

Although I hadn’t considered it until I read her plea, I  realized I have a stopgap measure for drought stricken gardeners. I have been using a dehumidifier each night to get the damp out of our cottage in Nova Scotia. Each morning, I pour the collected water onto a shrub much in need of hydration. It’s a win-win.

In a fellowship of gardeners, I offer you all this slow, but steady, sustainable, inexpensive method to get some water to your gardens this 2016 year of drought. May the gardening gods be with you.


Alliums massed 

I’ve just come in from the garden where I’ve been moving plants around to mass them together. I love the effect of massing plants – large swathes of color, form and texture bundled together strategically to create drama and excitement. The most excitement is when they are in bloom, but even when not, massed foliage makes a statement. I attempt to use massing to move the  eye though the landscape, its fun to plot how I want people to experience the garden. The hardscaping is set in stone, literally, but with strategic massing I can imitate movement and make the plant flow directional, which leads the eye. It’s a fun game of manipulation visitors don’t even realize is happening. I used to think I massed plants because I was a lazy gardener, and it seemed easier to me to put blocks of plants together. I realize now that I like massing because I have always preferred strong visual graphics. Massing creates strong dramatic scenes in the garden. I have massed peonies, geraniums, daylillies, astrantia, astilbe, azaleas, anemones, veronicastrum, veronicas, geums, dianthus, lambs ear, camassia, salvia, asters, sedums, hellebores….I like to mass! Of course, there are vignettes in my garden which are petit and graceful, and they will force me to stop me in my tracks to admire them. They mostly occur in the garden by accident, the geums nestled next to geranium sanguine stratum huddled beneath a Miss Kim lilac, entwined with some rogue Sweet Woodruff – none of this vignette was planned, Mother Nature made it happen. These vignettes are the details in the larger canvas of my mostly massed garden. I can’t decide which method I prefer, but I do choose which method I plant, and I choose massing. I’m kinda of an in your face kinda gal.

Is it only Digging in the Dirt?

IMG_3381IT’S been a busy week in the garden. For the past 5 days I’ve worked in the garden every day, all day. By all day I mean  about 8 hour days 9 – 6 with about an hour “off” for lunch and a rest. I’ve planted over 100 perennials:

55 Geranium macrorrhizum Bevan’s Variety –  because they spread and are tough,  10  Geranium Sanguineum Striatum – I like how the pink flowers dance, 8 Anemone sylvestris “Madonna” –  we’ll see if they need as much room as the description says they do, 3 Anemone hybrida “Pamina” because I love anemones!, 5 Gaura  “Whirling Butterflies”  – I’m trying again with these, one year I will hit on the truly perennial Gaura because when I do it will be fabulous because they are fabulous, 3 Lychnis coronaia which are from a lady at  the New England Herb Society who told me they  are a pale pink that she gathered from a friend’s garden and if I kept them away from the white and magenta rose campions I would continue to have pale pink , which is fine with me, one Rue  Thalictrum Rochebrunianum because I”m curious to see just how tall it will get, 5 Achillea “Cerise Queen” because I’ve had a change of heart about yarrow and now think its OK and so regret pulling out  what I did have growing happily, 4 Oriental poppies of unknown color because one can never have too many poppies of any color, one Gentia ‘True Blue’ because only one was left from the nice lady who was selling them at The Massachusetts Horticultural Society Plant Sale , 20 Astrantia “Roma” which I preordered sometime this winter from Avant Gardens Nursery because in the past I’ve had difficulty sourcing “Roma” and I needed to add 20 to my existing bed of Astrantia “Roma”, 8 various Aquilegia the more the merrier of these beauties, one small sedum “Cherry Tart”, two sedum ‘Thundcloud’,  one (hopefully) perennial Sage, 3 Coreopsis of some variety from the Big Bang series, 3 Daphne “Pink Fragrance” because I am perennially (get it?!?) optimistic that one day I will have gorgeous full grown daphnes scenting my garden although so far  my optimism has not kept alive the 8 daphne I have “lost”  to mother nature,  3 Heuchera “Mahogany” because I finally found some more of these at White Flower Farm this year and this cultivar has been difficult for me to find and I have looked a number of times since I first saw it at the London Chelsea Flower Show about 5 years ago and I fell in love with how it’s particular red color grows nicely against the brick edging of my walkway, an unusual Nepeta  which for years was thought to be a Veronica from Avant Gardens, 7 – count them 7! – Gaura ‘So White’ all in a row in relatively poor, well drained soil because I want them and I keep believing the tag that says they are hardy in a protected spot in Zone 6, even though my experience has been otherwise, and 6 or 7 lily of the valley : yes I KNOW they are aggressive, but they will do very well where I planted them, 5 Epimedium ‘Pink Elf’  which I am spraying furiously so the bunnies will not eat these as they have all the other epimediums and probably some other things I can’t think of right now.

I divided and replanted dozens of other perennials:  Filipendula  rubra ‘Venusta’ because it was taking over the whole bed it was in; I know people love this plant but it flops for me and crushes whatever is around it and I didn’t like it where it was, Sedum “Matrona” which should have been thriving where it was but wasn’t  so hopefully it will thrive in its new location, Thalictrum ‘Elin’ second time these have been moved and divided,  Veronicastrum  virginicum ‘Lavender Towers’ because they were so happy where they where I wanted them somewhere else, but that somewhere else was in full sun and they were not happy, so back they go to where they were happy and to where the Filipendula is now no longer, Salvia nemorsa ‘Snow Hill’ because it is too short to be as far back in the bed as I have had it for too many years, a dozen or so astilbe seedlings which have generously reseeded themselves, but in the wrong places, lots of  Geranium nodosum, a terrific plant of which I have not yet had too much of a good thing,  too much  Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’  which I have had too much of ; I can not bring myself to love this plant, despite it’s adorable name and sunny personality, so I have been digging it up and giving it away,   Anemones which I planted in the wrong place to begin with 2 years ago because I mistook them for Astantia, and it’s hurting me to have to move them since they are so very happy where they were mistakenly planted , and because they hate to be moved, but they are edging out my Astrantia bed and I have been attempting to create a large bed of Astrantia in this spot for some years,  Eryngium giganteum ‘Miss Wilmot’s Ghost’ which I am almost regretting planting as seedlings are cropping up many feet from the actual plant and I fear as the years go on I will be pulling out more seedlings then I let bloom, sigh,  dug up Comptonia peregrina Sweetfern because it is so successful where it is it is popping up all over the place and since originally I paid a lot of money for a tiny plant 9 years ago because it is supposedly difficult to propagate I am going to give away these newly generated plants to people who will appreciate them,   and Aster ‘October Sky’ –  a lovely spreading aster, but it does get big and billowy so it needed to be moved to where it can enjoy more space and not crowd it’s neighbors. 

I’ve raked, weeded, pruned, hauled debris to my and the town compost heap, done a number of runs to collect bags of compost when what I make myself   ran out, watered seemingly endlessly, given away countless bundles of Shasta daisy, treated scores of iris for iris borer – dug them ALL up, divided them, cut  them back, soaked  them in a combination of  bleach and water (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) for two hours, dried them out for two days, doused them with Sevin which I hated using but I hate not having iris in the garden more and then replanted them,  cut back all the stalks I had left up for the birds over the winter, and hauled  them away, redesigned the two largest perennial beds (still a work in progress) raked away thatch and reseeded that area in the lawn, turned on the outside irrigation and dealt with holes and eruptions where needed, planted  2 flats of petunias in containers, made a root cutting of my Harry Lauder Walking stick for a friend, put mothballs down the latest chipmunk holes to hopefully deter them from those locations, sprayed quarts of Plantskydd to stop the rabbits from eating all the tender new growth on all the newly planted and newly emerging perennials, dug up and transplanted a mature azalea, lifted and carried  1/2 dozen 40 and 50 lb bags of compost and much – and put them down where needed. And whatever else needed doing.

Are you still with me on this? It’s a laundry list of activities, but I’m getting to the point. Yesterday,  afternoon  as I was finishing the last task of the day (before I went to get dinner ready for friends who were coming over)  which was planting the third Ilex “Blue Princess” in a row when a woman walked past with her dogs. My dog ran out to greet her dogs (grrr…..I wish my dog wouldn’t do that!) and so the woman and I exchanged pleasantries on what a nice day it was to be outside and then she added “digging in the dirt”. I nodded numbly.  Digging in the dirt? IS that how the world views my effort to create art with nature? I loved making mud pies as a kid – now that is digging in the dirt! but garden making is not making mud pies. Garden making is –  at the very least  – a combination of design, plant knowledge, a multitude of skills, decision making, triage at times, color theory, pest control, sweat, mental labor, physical labor, physical discomfort,  a considerable financial investment, a huge time commitment, hopefully some inspiration,  surely some divine intervention,  please ! some luck, and the age old battle of woman trying to mold nature to her vision. Garden making is so much more than digging in the dirt!!!  Since that conversation I can not get the term “digging in the dirt” out of my mind, nor the connotation that all the effort I expand on my garden is viewed by some as a pleasant, or perhaps even frivolous past time, like making mud pies.  If  this perception is true it would explain why there are so many terrible “gardens” out in the world. If the effort needed to create a garden is viewed not as the near herculean effort it so often is but as something as simple as digging in the dirt then it is no wonder people don’t have good gardens.  If buying a plant, bringing it home, digging a hole  in the dirt and putting the plant in the hole is considered gardening  – then it is no wonder the world is strewn with sad, uninspired collections of plants thrown together. Most jobs are under appreciated by those who don’t do them, so garden making isn’t unique  in this regard but it is perhaps unusual to have it disdained to your face, even if it were meant as friendly talk on a beautiful day in the neighborhood. 

I am often asked to have my garden be on tour. It is nice to be asked, it is flattering to be asked. It is not hard to say no. I create and maintain my garden for myself. I love my garden. I know what goes into it. I alone can appreciate the thrill that this year 4 of the 5 Porteranthus trifoliatus planted two years ago not only survived but are stronger and bigger than last year. Only I will mourn the loss of the Chinese tree peony that succumbed to the 50 year cold spell of February. No one else will notice, certainly not anyone who visits only on a day when the garden is in full bloom and at its pristine best because of the weeks of work that went into making it pristine.  When I look out across the whole of the garden, or at an individual plant, I know what I did to create that scene, and what I need to do to maintain it. It is a labor of love, it is, for me at times, a herculean task. It is, after all, garden making. I love it. I don’t try to convert  unbelievers into garden makers. I go it alone, except on the rare occasion when a kindred soul wanders in and then oh! how exciting to share the garden. In the meantime, among the labors, and inspiration, and financials and discomforts and decisions and luck there is occasionally some digging in the dirt, but that is the least of it, if not the least fun of it. 

Artists’ Gardens


I’m researching a new project. The  general subject is gardens, of course, but the specifics are amorphous and swirling in my mind trying to identify themselves. Still, until they do, I am researching gardens. This has lead me further a field than the internet,  and back to the library. I am always happy to be reminded of what a wonderful resource a library is. I am particularly lucky to live in the Boston metropolitan area where I have access to not just the connected suburban library system, but the world renowned Boston Public Library and a number of university libraries.

Today I spent part of a rainy Sunday afternoon reading Bill Laws’ Artists’ Gardens (Trafalgar Square Publishing 1999).  The book  features the gardens of 20 artists. Most of the artists in the book may be familiar to readers’ of ofgardens : there is Renoir, and Monet, of course, and Gertrude Jekyll and William Morris, Paul Cezanne and Frida Kahlo. More men than women, sadly predictable, but also slightly incorrectly because the gardens of these artists were mostly designed and kept by the wives of the artists. By the act of painting the gardens, the ownership of the garden reverted to the artist and his wife, the true gardener, became, once again, anonymous.

There are some bright exceptions in the book. Isamu Noguchi’s garden is all his, although there isn’t any plant life in the garden. The plot twist, for me, is that the women artists featured:  Kim Ondaatje, Frida Kahlo, Gertrude Jekyll, Barbara Hepworth and Jennifer Bartlett  are both the artist and the gardener. As in gardens as in life. Women do it all.


Art in Bloom

IMG_3312 2.JPG                     I’ve ventured into new territory this week, that of floral arranging. With a partner,  I am participating in The Museum of Fine Arts  annual floral show Art in Bloom. Each spring over 5o garden clubs are invited to interpret a work of art. Our assigned piece was Mrs Billington as St Cecilia by George Romney. Above, you can see both the painting and our arrangement.

Before this past Friday, neither my partner nor I had ever participated in Art in Bloom. While my partner has floral arranging experience, I am a complete novice. We were excited and nervous, and happy to rise to the challenge. The whole experience has been a fun adventure. The Associates at the MFA run a very well organized event. It’s a lot of work for everyone, but it draws the crowds, every year thousands of visitors come to see Art in Bloom and for good reason. The number, diversity and creative interpretations of the arrangements are fun, and impressive,  to see. If you’re in Boston, I hope you’ll go see for yourself.

Art in Bloom



Winter is Coming

The debris from over 100 peonies
                                                           The debris from over 100 peonies

I know winter is coming not by the date on the calendar or the outside temperature plunge, but by my withered peony plants. Come late fall, the leaves and stalks of my many peonies will have begun to decompose, and it is time to cut them down and haul them away. I put off cutting down my peonies  for as long as possible to insure they get all the energy possible in through their leaves for as long as possible. But once they begin to turn brown and even some to mildew, it is in their and my best interest to cut them down. If they stay too long in the garden, any diseased leaves can fall to the ground and  any undesirable spores can hibernate til next spring and begin another cycle.

Good peony management is equal to good hygiene.

It took a whole day to cut down the over 100 peonies in my garden and haul them away to the dump. I don’t compost them in my compost pile because, again, any undesirable spores can be spread through the compost so I take them to the town dump. This is rather hard work, and it pains me to see so much potential compost going to waste! But, it must be done. There is so much volume I have to borrow a friend’s truck to  move it all.

It is only at this time of year that I question the number of peonies in the garden, but only briefly. For all I have to do is think of their spring exuberance to chase away doubts that they are too much work, or too ephemeral and I find myself researching new sources for new peony introductions. A fetish can be a wonderful thing.

I am heading out now to plant two Sugar and Spice peonies in a client’s garden. Lucky her, she is in for a treat come spring.