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

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Cottage Garden Primer

Cottage Garden - Jan Johnsen  

  I once worked with a lovely client ( now a dear friend!) who wanted a cottage-style flower garden.

Now there are cottage gardens and then there are cottage gardens...know what I mean?

In Great Britain, it seems everyone has the most magnificent flower garden, each more spectacular than the next...

their lushness sets a standard of perfection for cottage gardens that makes me want to say to someone here in the Northeast U.S., 'Would you like to consider an ornamental grass garden instead?"

Designed and installed by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

But of course, the call of a cottage garden, filled with a profusion of  flowers and smelling of roses, peonies and lilacs, makes one dizzy with anticipation.

All you need in my part of the world is a deer fence, deep fertile soil, constant watering and someone to tend it lovingly... a tall order indeed.  

But it can be done.  And that is what we did - installed a deer fence, brought in great topsoil and carefully amended it and added irrigation. My client followed through and tended it with a loving hand and added wonderful flowers whenever she saw the need.

The result?  A sumptuous garden filled with a riot of colors, lurid with intoxicating scents.

I planned the garden to be a 10 foot wide curved plant bed bordering a level lawn. The only problem - there was no level lawn.

The rear property sloped steeply downhill and in order to make it level I needed to bring in soil and retain it with a wall. This is a big proposition in any situation but here it was especially dicey because I didn't want to disturb the roots of the native hemlock trees growing near where the wall was to be located.

To accomplish this, I used the stacking, concrete units that are part of a wall system called Alpenstein. This is a great solution because no footings are required and Alpenstein allows you to plant within each unit!

 It is a versatile, plantable wall system. Once planted with vines and spreading groundcovers, an Alpenstein wall blends with the natural setting.

Designed and installed by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

After the site was perfect, I set about planting perennial and annual flowers. Perennials come back every year and form the backbone of the cottage garden. For that I set out large drifts or groups of medium tall, durable flowers in the mid-zone of the bed  to add height and variety. 

These included 'Sunny Border Blue' Speedwell (Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue'), the PPA Plant of the Year 1993, and 'Caesar's Brother' Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica 'Caesar's Brother'), a reliable and graceful flower with pansy blue coloring....

Veronica photo from Bluestone Perennials 

Additionally, I planted the graceful Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis gracillimus) and other 'foolproof'' perennials like dwarf Gayfeather, (Liatris spicata 'Kobold'), the tall 'Magnus' Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus') and dwarf Chinese astilbe (astilbe chinensis pumila).

Below is the list of the dependable flower varieities I used for this garden. No unusual cultivars here - just a cottage garden full of faithful staples that work together in cozy harmony..

My Flower List for This Cottage Garden
Jan Johnsen


Botanical Name                                       Common Name

Artemesia 'Silver King'                             'Silver King' Wormwood

Astilbe chinensis pumila                            Dwarf Chinese Astilbe

Coreopsis vert. 'Moonbeam'                    'Moonbeam' Coreopsis

Dianthus 'Bath's Pink'                               'Bath's Pink' Dianthus

Echinacea purp. 'Magnus'                         Magnus Coneflower

Heuchera  'Palace Purple'                         'Palace Purple' Coralbells

Iris sibirica 'Caesar's Brother'                    'Caesar's Brother' Siberian Iris

Liatris spicata 'Kobold'                              Dwarf Gayfeather

Lilium orientale 'Stargazer'                         'Stargazer' Oriental Lily

Peonies                                                      Peonies

Persicaria 'Donald Lowndes'                   Don. Lowndes Fleeceflower

Phlox pan. 'Bright Eyes'                           'Bright Eyes' Garden Phlox

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'                                   'Autumn Joy' Sedum

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm'                     Dwarf Black eyed Susan

Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue'                     'Sunny Border Blue' Speedwell


Botanical Name                                          Common Name

Senecio cineraria                                          Dusty Miller

Cosmos sulphureus                                      Cosmos 'Klondyke mix'

Ageratum 'Blue Hawaii'                                Blue Hawaii Ageratum

Catharanthus roseus                                     Annual Vinca

Heliotropium arb..Marine'                           'Marine' Heliotrope

Salvia farinacea 'Victoria Blue'                      Salvia 'Victoria Blue'

Salvia 'Sparkler Purple'                                'Sparkler Purple' annual Salvia

cottage garden and flower beds by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools
photos of
veronica courtesy of Bluestone Perennials, check them out! 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Trees of Peace

"...Years ago I heard somebody say that all our political and diplomatic conferences ought to be moved out of smoke-filled rooms and held underneath trees..."

-  Clyde S. Kilby,   page 159 of “The Lost Myth”, Arts in Society, Vol. 6, 1969.

from justfocus in New Zealand

Imagine if the United Nations met under trees? I imagine their discussions might be a little more fruitful...

Trees are a wonderful mediating influence in our lives.

If a child misbehaves, instead of sending them into a corner have them go outside and sit at the base of a tree...or better yet - in its limbs!

Tell him or her to talk to the tree and listen to its guidance...the children would know exactly what you mean (up until about age 9). No tree out there? ah! now is to the time to plant one.

Here are 3 trees associated with peace-making:

Great Elm of Pennsylvania (actually, Great Elm Tree of Shackamaxon)

In 1682, along the banks of the Delaware River, under the shade of a great elm tree, William Penn made a Treaty of Friendship with the Native Americans which led to the founding of Pennsylvania.
William Penn's Treaty with the Indians became a universal symbol of religious and civil liberties. Voltaire made reference to the event in 1764 and artists thoughout Europe recreated the scene first painted by Benjamin West in 1771. Edward Hicks (Peaceable Kingdom) created numerous depictions of the treaty meeting to promote social change.

The "Great Elm" as it was known, remained as a living monument to this event until it fell during a violent storm in 1810. You can still visit Penn Treaty Park.

The descendent of that Tree is still there, now called Penn Treaty Park. It is the original scion of the great grandfather that still blooms in Haverford, Pa. (Haverford College.) More interesting info and pictures can be seen here: Treaty Elm Tree

Treaty Oak (Quercus virginiana)

Treaty Oak in 1970's from Mr G's photos in Picasa

Native Americans of the Austin region preferred to make important decisions under a grove of live oak trees - the so-called Council Oaks.

 Tejas, Apache and Comanche tribes revered these trees. It was here that Stephen F. Austin closed the first boundary line pact with the Indians.

The Austin "treaty oak" is the last survivor of these council oaks and is almost 600 years old

 In 1927 the American Forestry Association proclaimed the Treaty Oak to be "The most perfect specimen of a North American tree" but today it is a shadow of its former self.  In 1989 a vandal poured a large amount of herbicide on the ancient oak.

 The tree went into shock but Ross Perot financed the rescue of this landmark tree  - three and a half feet of contaminated topsoil around the tree were removed and replaced, tall shading screens were erected and spring water was misted onto the leaves every half hour. The Treaty Oak survived but lost many limbs.

They made many products from the fallen branches of the treaty oak - the most popular item for sale seems to be the 'treaty oak gavel' - for use by the judiciary - how fitting!

Eastern White Pine

Did you know that the native Eastern White Pine of the Northern U.S. was, in a sense, an inspiration for our Constitution? The Tree of Peace, the White Pine, was part of the great legacy the Iroquois people gave to our founding fathers.

About 1000 years ago the tribes of what is now the Northern U.S. were mired in violent bloody feuds. According to the Native American legend, the Creator sent a spiritual teacher, a Peacemaker, who appeared in the Finger Lakes region of New York to show the way to establish a higher order of human relations.

He called all warring people together and said there must be a concerted effort by all for peace to prevail and through his Great Law and spiritual inspiration, he convinced the warriors of the five warring tribes to form a confederacy, a league of tribes.The Peacemaker called for all warriors of all tribes to bury their weapons and then planted atop them a sacred Tree of Peace, a White Pine.

He proclaimed, "If any man or nation shows a desire to obey the Law of the Great Peace, they may trace the roots to their source, and be welcomed to take shelter beneath the Tree."

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Unhappy Hipsters in the Garden

These photos and captions are from Unhappy Hipsters....a very funny website, please check it out..I have my comments in bold below.

Sure she was watering a street tree during a statewide drought. But the gate was made of recycled street signs. Carbon footprint: neutral.
(Photo: Randi Berez; Dwell Magazinre, Dec/Jan 2006)

My comments - you gotta love that street sign fence!

The porthole windows seemed like a good idea. But now the house appeared to be leering at them, distinctly ominous.
(Photo: Philip Newton; Dwell Magazine, March 2004)

My comments - such emphasis on the house design..such little emphasis on the landscape...

It became their routine. And so the evenings stretched out before him: still, gray, and gravel-strewn.
(Photo: Dean Kaufman; Dwell, November 2006)

my comments - OMG..must be hot as blazes in the summer

Not on the grass, Sweetie. Never. On. The. Grass. See how much fun Daddy is having?
(Photo: Jack Thompson, Dwell, October 2009)

My comments - Those pavers set in the grass are too far apart, a common mistake.  To get to the door you have to take giant steps or forget about staying on the paving altogether....

Flipping the pages hurriedly, he sensed that the potted plants were advancing.
(Photo: Dean Kaufman; Dwell, Dec/Jan 2007)

My comments - HaHa..I have this urge to plant some climbing ivy there, anywhere.

We’re not ready to go out there yet, honey. And besides, didn’t I do a pretty good job bringing the outside in?
(Photo: Christopher Sturman, Dwell, November 2009)

My comments - Oh No... I use that line all the time!

(I would love your comments as well...) 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Annual Flowers - Colorful, Joyful and So Rewarding

(Jan Johnsen - angelonia, vinca and dusty miller)  

  Annual flowers - those that bloom all summer into late fall then give it up for good - are the secret to a joyful and colorful garden. 

I know people think planting annual flowers take too much work in spring but I say, "go ahead, try it! The rewards in your garden continue into the late fall."

(Jan Johnsen - profusion zinnias, marigolds,salvia, plectranthus)

Colorful annual flowers make us happy, enrich our lives and then sometimes take our breath away, to boot.

(Jan Johnsen - coleus, plectranthus,angelonia, and more)

I know all about annual flowers because after graduating college (landscape architecture focus) decades ago, I went to work in the display gardens at MOHONK MT. HOUSE in New Paltz, NY.

 I was not very happy about the situation because back then, in LA school, flowers were not popular. 

I thought flowers 'beneath' me because I had drunk the 'koolaid' that said landscape architects need not be concerned with such superfluous things as flowers.

As I said, this was decades ago when marigolds and junipers ruled the U.S. landscape world. (smile).

(Mohonk Mountain House, incredible place)

But, as it always happens, the very thing you think is not good is actually the best thing you could ever hope for! Life works that way....

(one of the famed gazebos of Mohonk)

I ended up working for a Frenchman, Alain Grumberg, who had emigrated from France and was a Master Gardener in the truest sense of the word.  He was head of the grounds at Mohonk and had won the "Best Resort Grounds in America' the year before I arrived.

(Versailles Gardens in France)

He had worked in the Versailles gardens before coming to this country...and I worked for him, seeding every annual, transplanting every seedling in the greenhouse and planting out every annual plant with him ....kind of tedious but wow, what an experience! The plant beds were amended every year with all natural, composted horse manure, the flowers fed with liquid fish emulsion.

The flower beds were graded with a  strong 'crown' in the center. 

(Part of the display gardens at Mohonk Mt. House)
I learned from Alain how to plant annual plants like a professional  - fast and perfect . Then I took care of the Victorian display garden here.  Edging, weeding ( no mulch!), and watering....

So here I am today, drawing the detailed site plans (grades, drainage, construction specs) and then planting the annuals as well! Kind of a double whammy....

(Verbena bonariensis and 'Senorita Rosalita' Salvia, a fun, tall combo)

And as I always say, when people visit a landscape, they don't say, "what lovely drain grates" but rather, "What incredible flowers"...its all about the flowers, don't you know.

And the bees, hummingbirds and butterflies will thank you too.

(Angelonia - 'Wedgwood Blue',)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A New Idea for a Gabion Wall - Logs

designed by Temple University's  horticulture department
Here is a great idea - a new take on the gabion wall (those walls full of stones)...

if you have a lot of logs and don't mind watching them decompose in front of your eyes :-)

This photo is from the great Arslocii:Placeness as Art blog post: click here

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Try the fragrant August Lily Hosta

Aphrodite - August Lily Hosta
(photo - Jan Johnsen) 

The old fashioned 'August Lily' (Hosta plataginea) is a magnificent fragrant, white flowered Hosta that deserves to be rediscovered.

First imported to England from China in 1790, Hosta plantaginea came to the United States a short time later. Since this species is from a more southern clime than other Hostas, it is more heat loving than most.

It also blooms later in the year and features a honeysuckle like fragrance!

The large white flowers of Hosta plantaginea certainly puts it in a class by itself.  

They  are relatively 6+ inches long, pure white and open at 4pm in the afternoon. (Most hostas have flowers that open around 7am in the morning).

And the best feature for me is that Hosta plantaginea continues to produce new leaves all summer long.  This is a particular advantage when the original spring foliage becomes damaged or diseased. So the hosta leaves look as fresh in August as they do in spring.

Try the double-flowered selection, Hosta plantaginea 'Aphrodite'. 

It has large, pure white, intensely fragrant flowers that open in late summer on 2ft stems. Try it along a sheltered path where you can take in the heady fragrance.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Taoist Explanation for Cause and Effect

“When two things occur successively - 

 we call them cause and effect, if we believe one event made the other one happen.

 If we think one event is the response to the other, we call it a reaction.

Zaterre Landscapes

 If we feel that the two incidents are not related, we call it a mere coincidence

If we think someone deserved what happened, we call it retribution or reward

depending on whether the event was negative or positive for the recipient.

If we cannot find a reason for the two events' occurring simultaneously or in close proximity, we call it an accident

Therefore, how we explain coincidences depends on how we see the world.

 Is everything connected, so that events create resonances like ripples across a net? 

Or do things merely co-occur and we give meaning to these co-occurrences based on our belief system? 

Lieh-tzu's answer: It's all in how you think.” 

― LieziLieh-tzu: A Taoist Guide to Practical Living


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Did you see the Blue Moon? July 31, 2015

A blue moon is when there is a second full moon during a calendar month, 

While most years have 12 full moons, this year has 13.

Blue moons are very rarely blue. 
Does the moon affect you? The gravitational pull is intense. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

A garden is first and foremost...

by Dominique Lafourcade

“A garden is first and foremost a work of art, 
with the garden playing the roles of architect, sculptor, 
musician and painter in turn. 
A garden should move visitors,
setting all their senses aquiver”.

- Dominique Lafourcade

by Dominique Lafourcade

Monday, July 27, 2015

Millennium Allium flowers-deer resistant!

My current favorite. They are starting to bloom now at end of July. So beautiful when contrasted with 'Victoria Blue' Salvia in a planter.

I took this a little while ago by my front walk.

3 Simple Garden Design Tips

Jan Johnsen garden and photo - Heaven is a Garden     

Jill Sell of the Cleveland Plain Dealer just wrote a lovely review of my book,  'Heaven is a Garden': 

"As life gets more hectic, we seek homes and gardens that are refuges from the chaos. It doesn't matter if we have a five-acre property, suburban half acre or a balcony off our apartment; a garden that provides serenity is a treasure. 

Jan Johnsen's Heaven is a Garden (St. Lynn's Press) is a gem of a little book that provides both inspiration and practical suggestions for creating our own garden sanctuaries. 

from Heaven is a Garden

A few of her thoughts:
• A cozy, sheltered corner can be created next to your home by using the rear wall as one side of the corner and a low hedge as the other side. Johnsen calls the result "a wonderful niche for a small table and chairs. "

• Plant beds shaped as spirals are most captivating, according to the author. Try compact herbs, low boxwood hedges or lavender to define the spiral shape. 

• Consider a loop path for your back yard, which "allows people to walk the perimeter of a garden, looking inward from different view points," suggests Johnsen. 

Heaven is a Garden 

"You can place different garden elements along this encircling path, creating places where people might pause. The stopping points lead people from one destination point to the next, bringing them back to where they began."

To see the whole article click here

Heaven is a Garden - Blue Wonder Scaveola

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Before and After - Garden Photo of the Day

This is a great reminder of how fast plants grow -
Golden Majoram is planted in the squares at the base of this Grape Arbor.

The photo at top is taken from one end while the after photo is looking toward the other end...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

T. Jefferson's Amazing Vegetable Garden

Vegetable Garden at Monticello 
Thomas Jefferson, the third president, was an ardent plant lover and a pioneer plant distributor. He collected exotic trees and shrubs and investigated new crops to grow in the United States. He was instrumental in introducing many vegetables into the young American culture.

For example, he smuggled rice in a tea canister from his tour in Italy and sent it to South Carolina and Georgia as a possible crop. His attempts to have farmers in those areas sow various varieties of foreign rice, were finally successful  and, in time, it became a flourishing agricultural crop.
Jefferson also sent Lewis and Clark off to explore the west and asked them to gather native seeds. He corresponded with many to have them send vegetable seeds from other parts of the globe.  

Nicholas King, mapmaker for the Lewis and Clark expedition explained, “no person has been more zealous to enrich the United States by the introduction of new and useful vegetables.”
Peter Hatch, who spent 35 years restoring the 2,400 acre landscape at Jefferson’s, Monticello told Teresa O'Connor of the great Seasonal Wisdom blog that the vegetable garden at Monticello, was Jefferson’s chief horticultural achievement.  Hatch noted that Jefferson, “...documented growing 330 varieties of 99 species of vegetables here... This experimental laboratory was the garden of Jefferson’s retirement years.”

Jefferson chose an ideal  southeastern orientation for his immense terraced, vegetable garden. More than five thousand tons of rock were built as high as 12 feet high to create level land on a hillside and offered breathtaking 40-mile views to the south and east.

Hatch’s book,  A Rich Spot of Earth: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello notes that more than 20 different lettuce types grew at Monticello, including Tennis Ball, Brown Dutch and Ice. Some were eaten fresh, others were steamed like spinach.

Lettuces were harvested every month of the year because as, Jefferson wrote in his gardening calendar, “… a thimbleful of Lettuce should be sowed every Monday morning, from Feb. 1st to Sept. 1.” ( see Seasonal Wisdom for a great description of this.)
Tennis Ball Lettuce - buy seeds from Monticello

Jefferson was an inveterate foodie. He loved English peas and allocated a great deal of garden space to growing this cool-season food at Monticello. He even had spring pea-growing contests with neighbors and used branches pruned from his peach tree to stake the peas.
from Map and Menu 
He never stopped experimenting with growing vegetables of all kinds. Jefferson wrote to a friend that growing new possible food crops was essential, saying, 
"the scripture precept of 'prove all things and hold fast that which is good' is peculiarly wise in objects of agriculture."
Thank goodness Jefferson was a horticulturalist! His efforts in the plant world provided our young country with a diverse plant palette, including all-important and nourishing vegetables. 

 Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture". We are so lucky he felt that way.