Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sounds of the Creek

Lokatong Creek is about a quarter mile behind the house. You can hear its soft, muffled roar through the trees almost any time of year, except when it's frozen or in drought. The rain is starting now, after several days of warm weather - so warm I've seen forsythia and rhododendron starting to bloom. Here is a view of the creek from early November, as its flow began to slaken after heavy rains.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Rosemont Valley

These photos of the Rosemont Valley show an almost idyllic landscape rooted in two centuries of agricultural history. My Rosemont Garden was designed, not to duplicate the look of the valley, but to complement its aesthetic and emotional character - to suit the "genius of the place" in Alexander Pope's words.

The Garden at Federal Twist is only four miles away as the crow flies, but it's a world apart, a closed setting in the woods, with a tree-ringed circle of sky, protected by the surrounding forest, not open, windy and bright like the Valley. I'm slowly working out the nature of the new garden, but I'll remember it's still only four miles from Rosemont, and try to preserve something of that memory.

(Click on the photos to get a better sense of the scale of the landscape.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Seedheads in the garden

Noel Kingsbury's Seedheads in the garden is written for gardeners who haven't yet become converts to the beauty of plants in the fullness of autumn, or the opportunities they provide for continuing interest - and moments of wonder - during their death and decay in winter. The new book lacks the poetry of Designing with Plants (written with Piet Oudolf) and the erudition of Planting Design: Gardens in Time and Space (also with Oudolf), but it carries forward a useful idea. I hope it will reach a wider audience interested in sustainable garden design.

I'm still in the early stages of planting the new garden on Federal Twist Road, but patterns are beginning to emerge, and a collection of seedheads is in the future. Rudbeckia maxima has proven to be deer resistant through the green season, and its large dark brown seedheads (above and right) contrast well with grasses. The grasses, too, offer an even longer lasting, though smaller and more delicate tracery. Miscanthus purpurescens, leaning in the wind in the photo below, is full of drama, while Panicum virgatum 'Cloud Nine' emulates its tranquil cloud-like name. It too can be blown wildly about and lean to the ground in the wind - though the lower photo was taken on a still day - and surprisingly returns upright when the weather settles.

Miscanthus purpurescens

Panicum virgatum 'Cloud Nine'

I intended to collect teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) seed in the wild this fall, but never got around to it. I planted it in my garden in Rosemont, where it was especially beautiful in summer, and added interesting structure in winter. Note that it requires careful control, seeding with wild abandon. The last photo shows it in mid-summer.

Dipsacus fullonum

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Vermont Gardener

Being a fan of slow gardening and fuzzy gardening (gardening in the context of the wider landscape and, well, the universe, I guess), I recommend The Vermont Gardener.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


An old weeping cherry, planted when the house was built in 1965, frames simple Miscanthus sinensis 'Silberfeder' on a breezy October morning. Unintended movement of the camera exaggerates the light and movement. Just such accidents, serendipities, are the life of a garden, and guide its design. I was at a meeting yesterday in Crystal City, an office development in Arlington, Virginia, jammed up beside Washington National Airport. The Crystal City plantings were quite obviously expensive, and very attractive in an office park kind of way, but that neat, overly manicured style isn't my idea of a garden. There's too much of the cookie cutter architect's vision about it. Better a little mess, accident, and chance, or at least a suggestion of something not entirely within our control. Ironically, those Crystal City plantings are only about a half mile from Oehme & Van Sweden's thrilling plantings at National Airport.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Joe Pye Weed: Eupatorium purpureum subsp. maculatum 'Purple Bush'

A valuable perennial - one of my favorites. It's easy to grow anywhere that's a little damp, and it's rather deer resistant if you can help it get above deer grazing height by hiding it in ornamental grasses or providing early physical protection. Some survive the deer even without your help.

This is a plant with good structure - one of the strongest, easily standing up to heavy snow in my Delaware River Valley garden - beautiful umbelliferous flower heads, and distinctive foliage that makes a strong geometric statement. Though it grows in clumps, it's a good competitor and does very well in a naturalistic garden setting, easily holding its own among other aggressive plants.

Joe Pye Weed is beautiful throughout the year, providing a pale creamy frosting of color as the buds emerge in early summer, large, sometimes huge, compound flower heads in late summer then, as weather cools, turning dark mahogany in autumn rain, and a leaden brown, almost black, as the weather cools.

It would be a mistake to cut it down in the fall. The darkening color makes it a good foil for the brighter ornamental grasses, and it stands tall, turning into winter sculpture in frosts, freezing rains, and snow.

Click on the photos to see more detail.


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