Creating harmony, simplicity and peace in the landscape......

"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.

Gardening is an instrument of grace. " - May Sarton


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Tulip Time in Holland, Michigan - wow!

Do you know about Holland, Michigan,  the 'tulip town'?

The Holland Michigan Tulip Festival displays over six million of the town's signature flower every year.

Also known as the Tulip Time Festival, it is the largest tulip festival in the United States and Reader's Digest has named it the best small town festival in the country.

Indeed, Holland, Michigan was named by Money Magazine one of the top ten places to retire, partially due to its cultural assets and large amounts of green space. 

I bet the tulip festival has something to do with this because any town that dedicates itself to flowers has got to be special!

The idea of Tulip Time was introduced in 1927 at a Woman's Literary Club meeting by Miss Lida Rogers, a biology teacher at Holland High School.

 She suggested Holland adopt the tulip as its flower and set aside a day for a festival. She wanted every resident to plant tulips in their yard. The first year in 1928, City Council purchased 100,000 tulip bulbs from the Netherlands. These bulbs were  planted in city parks and other areas. Bulbs were available to Holland residents at one cent a piece.

Thus, it was in 1929 that thousands of tulips bloomed, and Holland invited visitors to come during a week in May.  The festival began in earnest in 1930 when 250,000 tulips were planted for the event. 

Now they are are planted along city streets, in city parks and outside municipal buildings as well as at tourist attractions. 

About one million tourists visit Tulip Time each year bringing in a lot of tourist dollars....

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Savoring a Garden in Spring

Early Spring is a wonderful time to savor a garden....

Just as a wine connoisseur relishes that first sip on his tongue, so can we revel in a flower, a scent or even a Spring breeze. 

Gardening and wine are similar - although not essential to life, they enrich the experience and contribute to an overall sense of well being.

Garden lovers know what I am talking about - that exquisite moment of 'stop time' when the wafting fragrance of a single rose-pink blossom captures your attention and lifts you away.

Or when, basking in the warm morning sun, the birdsong is louder than the chatter in your head.

Or that first deep breath you take when stepping outside into the budding green realm where Flora reigns.

 In short, gardens allow you to delight in the little things of life, to savor the essence of the our natural world... to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Other activities can transport us away from the daily hubbub - yoga, reading, running - but only gardens can be shared

. And gardeners are only too happy to share their 'dreamtime' with others. Its a gift to be able to say, "Come to my garden and be transported with me."

(Johnsen Landscapes & Pools)

How can an outdoor setting affect us so markedly? The realm of nature is not simply a nice view or a pleasant sound - it is the energetic presence that enlivens us.

Garden lovers know this - the trilling of songbirds really does lift our spirits. The quality of
sunlight does affect our outlook. And red really does stimulate!

(Planter - Jan Johnsen)

So go out there and immerse yourself with nature right outside your door - plant that pot of flowers....spread those nasturtium seeds...prune that smokebush....

and when you do, savor the air around you - it is humming with those subtle flavors of oak, maple and a slight hint of crabapple.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Pink Muhly Grass- Frothy, Pink and Deer Resistant

Pink Muhly Grass - Spring Hill Nursery 

Pink Muhly Grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, is a native 'fave rave' of mine.
You might say it is a 'fave rave nave'.
It is a show stopping plant in the fall with its giant puffs of cotton-candy-pink plumes.

Whether in a hedge, border or patio container, this ornamental grass offers unbelievably profuse, feathery blooms amid 4 foot stems and a cascading habit. Give it plenty of sunshine and good soil drainage, and it will do the rest, beautifully withstanding heat, humidity, drought, and poor soil!
Pink Muhly Grass, is an extraordinary ornamental grass plant for many reasons: 

  • Its flower heads appear in the fall as a frothy haze of deep pink.
  • It is low maintenance and virtually pest free.
  • It is deer resistant.
  • Its deep roots makes it a tough, drought tolerant plant suitable for erosion control on slopes and useful in xeriscapes (Although regular irrigation and fertilization will encourage the best bloom).
  • It grows quickly with narrow glossy green leaf blades.

It is not hardy in my area as its native range extends from the south Atlantic Coast down into Texas and Mexico (zones 7 -10). Some people in zone 6 can grow it but it is iffy, depending on the microclimate. I will grow it as an annual.

photo from Baltimore Sun
 'Regal Mist' is a spectacular variety with a  haze of dusky pink when it blooms. It  looks amazing when placed against a dark backdrop of evergreen shrubs or a wall. 

Plant it in a group to create a magnificent sweep on a hillside and enjoy the full effect of this grass swaying in the autumn wind.
Or plant it by a pond, pool or other body of water.

Or plant it en masse in a sunny border with Knock Out Roses and geranium 'Rozanne'. wow!

You can also cut the flowers, dry them and enjoy them all winter indoors.

Pink Muhly Grass is a thoroughly enticing, tough and beautiful native plant. Plant some for a grand show in autumn.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Daniel Burnham honors Frederick Law Olmsted

On March 25, 1893, a gala dinner was held in honor of Daniel Burnham in Chicago.
But when Burnham took the stage, he chose to honor someone else instead: 
“Each of you knows the name and genius of him who stands first in the heart and confidence of American artists, the creator of your own parks and many other city parks... —Frederick Law Olmsted.”

Then he added:
 “An artist, he paints with lakes and wooded slopes; with lawns and banks and forest-covered hills; with mountain sides and ocean views. 
He should stand where I do tonight, not for the deeds of later years alone, but for what his brain has wrought and his pen has taught for half a century.” 
A collective roar went up among those assembled.

paraphrased from:  “Genius of Place: The Life Of Frederick Law Olmsted” by Justin Martin

Monday, April 18, 2016

Hand Weeding - by Christopher Lloyd

"Many gardeners will agree that hand-weeding is not the terrible drudgery that it is often made out to be.

Some people find in it a kind of soothing monotony. 

It leaves their minds free to develop the plot for their next novel or to perfect the brilliant repartee with which they should have encountered a relative's latest example of unreasonableness.” 

― Christopher LloydThe Well-Tempered Garden

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Oak Trees and Einstein

Why do certain tree species evoke the same response from all people? 

The Oak, for example, was considered  by the Celtic Druids to be the 'King of the Greenwood' . To them, oaks represented mighty and enduring power.  

The ancient Greeks also revered oaks - groves of them were deemed sacred territory.  
And Native Americans viewed the oak tree as a symbol of strength with supernatural powers. In fact, the tradition of “knocking on wood” is said to be of Native American origin  - they would knock on an oak tree in order to avert the failing of a hopeful prediction.

Katsura Tree

This similarity is true for many other trees from Ash trees to katsura trees to maples.... So why do disparate cultures see tree 'personas' similarly?  

I think Albert Einstein figured it out.

  In  1905, Einstein, a young patent inspector in Switzerland,  came up with a simple equation that challenged the way we in Western society saw the  physical world: 

Few people, at the time, realized what this mix of numbers and letters meant but it was revolutionary to those who did. 

Einstein originally wrote the converse of this elegant equation  (M =  E/C2)  but it all means the same thing - 

mass (or matter) is a function of light and energy;

matter is energized light.

As Niels Bohr, another famous scientist, explained it, mass is basically ‘frozen light’. This applies to all physical creation, including trees and humans.

In essence, Einstein realized that human beings (and trees) are ‘energized light beings’

 This revolutionary equation brought modern physics to the border line of science and spirit. 

Einstein alluded to this interface when he described the awe that inquiring scientists feel when confronted with the  inner workings of nature:

“…[it is] a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority, that compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. 

 This feeling is … closely akin to that which has possessed the religious geniuses of all ages.”

  (Albert Einstein, the World as I See It”, p.29)

   If we, and the physical world around us, are ‘energized light’ then the idea that electromagnetic auras surround our bodies is not as improbable as once thought.    

Ironically, Science, in its own way, has validated the Renaissance paintings of the saints by confirming the existence of halos...

            Plants and trees are also energized light and they, too, have an energetic aura.

Once you see the world in this way, thanks to E = MC 2 , a garden is more than a verdant retreat - it is also a conglomeration of chlorophyll filled, light catching balls of energy!

As Rumi, the 13th century Persian Poet and mystic, wrote:

"Once we were particles of Light, now we are beings of

Light, radiating Love"

P.S  There are no coincidences - just co-incidents.  So I had to share: I posted this blog post this morning and now, about 9 hours later, I am reading a book on art called, Refiguring the Spiritual by Mark C. Taylor.  He talks about Turrell, Barney and Goldsworthy but then, in the second half of the book he starts to talk about gardening and then about the root of the English word 'matter':

Here is what he wrote that pertains to this post:
"hyle in Greek does not originally mean matter, it means forest...Romans...have translated...hyle with the word materia...Materia means wood..."

Sp I guess my choice here to use trees as a stand-in for the 'matter' that Einstein referred to in his famous equation is a good one! 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Hanami - Annual Cherry Blossom Viewing Time in Japan

Weeping Cherry blossoms at NY Botanical Garden - photo by Jan Johnsen   
 The Tradition of Hanami
When I lived in Kyoto, Japan I was lucky to see Hanami in action.  In Japan, the seasonal blooming of cherry trees is celebrated nationally in an event known as hanami (flower-viewing). 

The practice of hanami is centuries old; it began during the 8th century, when it referred to the viewing of the ume, or plum tree.

 But  later hanami was synonymous with 'sakura' - cherry - and the blossoming of the cherry trees was used to predict the next year's harvest.

Photos of the Hanami in Yokohama

Hanami was a time to perform rituals marking the start of the planting season. These rituals ended with a feast under the cherry trees, and this persists to today.  

 Starting in late March, television weather reporters give the public daily blossom forecasts, tracking the "cherry blossom front" as it progresses from the south to the north.  Families, coworkers, and friends rely on these to quickly organize hanami parties as the cherry trees begin to bloom locally.

"Hanami -- The traditional Japanese custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers. Young people make merry under the sakura (cherry blossoms) late into the evening."  << What a beautiful word - am impressed that words exist to describe the joy in an event.  I hope you all have Hanami and make some merry today :)
Hanami at night

 Parks like Tokyo's famous Ueno Park become crowded with picnickers, and rowdy nighttime revels take on a festival atmosphere. Hanami at night is called yozakura, literally night sakura. In  Ueno Park,  temporary paper lanterns are hung for the purpose of yozakura.

Why the cherry? The delicacy of the sakura blossom has captivated the Japanese for centuries and you can find it in many forms of Japanese art.  But the flower's delicate quality lends it a melancholy air, as well.

 After the cherry tree's buds open, it's just a few short days before the blooms vanish entirely -- the lovely petals all fall in a spectacular pink flurry. The blossoms' ephemeral beauty adds to its quiet allure.

Sakura in the city
sakura in japanese city

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Spirit of Stone - My talk at Tower HiIl Botanic Garden April 2

Spirit of Stone - Jan Johnsen 

Stone is so often overlooked but it is an integral part of our landscape. 

 I will be presenting my popular powerpoint talk, Spirit of Stone, at Tower Hill Botanic Garden next  Saturday, April 2. 10:00 am - 12:00 pm

During the informative and captivationg class, I will share the secrets of stone placement in the garden and talk about how to use stone in innovative ways.

Register for a  chance to learn how to create sublime gardens that feature both plants and stone!

Click here:

Monday, March 21, 2016

O sweet spontaneous - by e.e. cummings (an ode to spring)

 O sweet spontaneous
by: e.e. cummings (1894-1962)

 sweet spontaneous
earth how often have
fingers of
prurient philosophers pinched
has the naughty thumb
of science prodded
beauty, how
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
to the incomparable
couch of death thy
thou answerest
them only with

Monday, March 14, 2016

'Millenium' Allium flowers - deer resistant!

   Alliums - photo by Jan Johnsen, author of  Heaven is a Garden

Plant 'Millenium' Alliums this spring. They start to bloom at end of July. Deer Resistant.

Allium 'Millenium ' provides gorgeous, butterfly attracting flowers in summer -  deep green foliage, profuse display of bright rose-pink flowered globes.

Allium 'Millenium' is a fool proof companion plant that looks great with many other summer blooming perennials. 

 So beautiful when contrasted with 'Victoria Blue' Salvia in a planter.

I took this photo on my front walk.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

'Ivory Silk' Japanese Tree Lilac - A Tree for All Seasons

Ivory Silk Tree Lilac photo from Arbor Hill Tree Nursery 

Years ago I moved to Northern Vermont  (Montpelier) and worked as a landscape designer for a design / build firm there.  I soon discovered that my 'plant palette' was greatly altered due to the colder climate. 

I had to learn about cold hardy plants - and fast.

One of my favorite cold hardy discoveries that has remained a favorite of mine is the ornamental tree,  'Ivory Silk' Tree Lilac  (Syringa reticulata "Ivory Silk" ). 

This small flowering tree, which grows no taller than 25 feet, was selected by Sheridan Nursery of Ontario, Canada in 1975 as a compact cultivar of Japanese Tree Lilac.

 It needs full sun and is hardy to USDA Zone 3!

I love 'Ivory Silk' because it flowers later than other flowering trees and has spectacular creamy white, fragrant flowers borne in abundance in 6" - 12" long clusters. 

In my part of the world it blooms from June to July.  The fragrance is similar to a common lilac.

I also admire its lovely upright oval form. This is quite different from the spreading habits of the other small flowering trees such as dogwoods, cherries, magnolias and crabapples.

The leaves are fairly large and dense. It has no disease or insect problems and is adaptable to a wide range of soils and exposures. Ivory Silk can be used as a patio tree, lawn specimen or even as a small street tree. 

Since they tolerate a wide range of conditions, they are great in urban areas, including as parking lot or boulevard plantings.

'Ivory Silk' Japanese Tree Lilac won the Cary Award in 2000 for outstanding plant for New England gardens. 

But there are also a few others to consider as well:

 'Chantilly Lace' - A form with variegated foliage, the leaves of this plant feature a pale creamy yellow perimeter. 

 'Cameo Jewel' - is a variegated form with yellow-cream splashed foliage.  'China Gold', and 'Golden Eclipse' all offer variously gold-margined or gold-spotted young foliage, which usually matures to a muted green.

 'Summer Snow' - A more compact, rounded tree, this form reaches 20' tall with large flower panicles. Its toughness and small size may make the plant a good street tree.  It came from Schichtels' Nursery near Buffalo, NY.

 'Morton' - trademarked as 'China Snow' is from the Chicagoland Grows Program and is noted for its tolerance of drought, extreme cold, and de-icing salts, combined with its narrow habit, and attractive, cherry-like bark.

Summer Charm® Tree Lilac (Syringa pekinensis ‘DTR’ 124) which bears profuse white blooms similar to those of Ivory Silk Japanese Tree Lilac. However, its lustrous dark green foliage is finer textured than that of ‘Ivory Silk’ and has a more rounded, relaxed form. Hardiness is USDA Zone 3.