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

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Solitude (serenity in the garden)


I have a house where I go
When there's too many people,
I have a house where I go
Where no one can be;
I have a house where I go,
Where nobody ever says 'No';
Where no one says anything- so
There is no one but me. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

NY Botanical Garden - a Springtime Delight

A wonderful class at NYBG - Jan Johnsen      
I am off to give a class on the 'Secrets of Creating Serene Outdoor Spaces' at the NY Botanical Garden this morning.  I love this class because it allows me to really go into depth on many little known aspects of garden design.

The NYBG venue is also so inspiring and I hope to take some photos of their magnificent daffodil many types of daffodils!

And if I am lucky, after class, I  can walk on some hidden paths and enjoy NYBG at its most sublime.

NYBG path

What a treasure that place is...go explore - and take a class - whenever you have a chance!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

O sweet spontaneous - e.e. cummings

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, April 14, 2014

Plant a Child's Vegetable Garden!

 I am reprinting this post from last is so timely!

 3 secrets to a successful 
  1. They should not be too demanding, 
  2. They should offer fairly quick results
  3.  The must not  require too much maintenance.

But how to achieve this in a garden in the short few months before school is over in June?

 Go to and then, prepare, prepare, prepare.

1First, your veggie garden site has to have full sun for over 6 hours a day. This is a must! And morning sun is preferable over 6 hours of late in the day sun.

2. It must be relatively level and have soil deep enough to sustain plant roots and facilitate adequate drainage (about 16 inches deep at least). No 6" to bedrock or placed atop asphalt.

The soil has to be prepared beforehand - not by the kids, but by adults. 

The quality of the soil decides the success of the garden. Little kids cannot be expected to amend and prepare the soil in the correct manner...

The soil preparation stage is where most kids' gardens go astray.

The grown-ups must work the soil to get the ground ready for the enthusiasm of children with trowels and a bunch of seeds.  This is no easy task -  the soil has to be friable ( I love that word) and fertile. 

Woodland soil is not suitable nor is sandy amendments will be needed (worm composting, anybody?)

3. Third, the arrangements for watering and weeding have to be addressed beforehand. Kids will lose interest after a while (summer sports are calling) and someone has to do it consistently...

If those three considerations are fulfilled then the kids' garden will be a great success! If not, it may become a short lived exercise....

What to plant?
Veggies for a kids' garden should be hardy, fun to look at and mature quickly before school is out in what can we plant?

One idea is to choose varieties in unusual colors, shapes and sizes:

"Easter egg" radish Ovals in shades of purple, lavender, pink, rose, scarlet, white. 25 days. Fast and easy to grow, radishes are best in cool weather.

Carrot Thumbelina
Round, golfball  gourmet carrots can be harvested after 60 days!

Ideal for containers or gardens with poor soils. Sweet taste and small cores make thumbelina great for salads, stews, snacks or hors d'oeuvres.

 Red Saladbowl - Oakleaf Lettuce 

Radiant burgundy, deeply lobed, delicate oak-like leaves form a rosette. Red Saladbowl matures early, holds its mild, nonbitter salad quality for a long time, and is slow to bolt.  seed with organic pelleting for fast and easy germination.

Potato - All Blue
Skin is purple and the flesh is blue.  A wonderfully flavorful potato with meaty flesh.  It is not a quick grower but the fun is in harvesting it in late summer...

one great way to grow potatoes - fill a tire with soil and plant the seed potato within this tire...add another one atop it as potato seedlngs emerge and grow about 8  inches and cover them with soil it again with a third tire as they grow toward the light...

Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights' Mix

This chard seed mix has stems in yellow, gold, pink and crimson.  They're best harvested young for salads. Ready to harvest in 60 days.

And what about flowers?
Plant spring pansies for color and this:

Nasturtium Alaska Mix

These colorful and edible flowers tolerate poor soils and heat or cold. They grow on compact plants with attractive variegated foliage. Flowers and tender young leaves add color and a peppery zip to salads.  Big seeds are ideal for kids' gardens.

I hope this gets everyone starting to think about planting out those veggies...I got these photos from Burpee's Seeds. This well known company is a great on-line seed source - but the time is nigh...the best seeds go quickly.....

Sunday, April 13, 2014

'Before and After' - Garden Photo of the Day

before and after 
 Everyone loves 'before and after' photos...Here is a a B & A of a flower bed....time to plan for the flowers....

Thursday, April 10, 2014

'Purple Smoke' - The best Baptisia

Photo - Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden - Puple Smoke Baptisia and Carolina Moonlight Baptisia

 This year I am planting Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'. 

A deer resistant, native, drought tolerant, purple, long lived perennial! Wow!

It is a hybrid of B. australis and B. alba and is a vigorous grower.  Discovered by Rob Gardener of the North Carolina Botanical Gardens, it has charcoal-gray stems and is purple.  

Baptisia is a native perennial that has a long taproot, loves sunny sites with lean or poor soil. Average to dry soil is best.  Its deep tap root allows it to survive long dry periods, making it a challenge to move once it is established. 

Purple Smoke from Bluestone Perennials

The flowers resemble lupines and are smoky violet. Numerous flowers open first at the base of the flower stalk in May and ascend upwards, topping out at 4.5' tall. It has fine textured, blue-green foliage. 

The flower spikes rise above the foliage for easy viewing. I love its unique flower color and strong vertical form.  A Niche Gardens introduction.

"is one of the best—if not the best—Baptisia on the market."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Oh No They Didn't! Fashion Statement Garden Hose

Garden Hose in Radiant Orchid  from Boxhill
 The lowly garden hose is now a Fashion Accessory for your House! Here is the latest from Boxhill - the Reimagined Garden Hose. 

Oh NO! A garden hose in the 2014 color of the year, Radiant Orchid!

The fashionistas are trooping into the garden and accessorizing the place.  Out with that 'plain jane' green, top of the line Flexogen hose that you saved up for and in with a colorful hose complete with a gold plated metal tag.

What is next? A Haws watering can in Vivid Blue?  A garden tarp in a classic Ralph Lauren plaid?

This is a part of the Boxhill description:

"Garden hoses are not the most glamorous items in the world, but they are eye-catchers, usually placed right in the spotlight....

Let your garden hose be an exclusive detail on your house instead of hiding it away!"

That is the height of something - I am not sure what.

One question - where is the fitting at the end of the hose? I don't see any in the photo.

You want the know the name of the gold hose above? It is named Gold Digger. I am not kidding.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

THE BEST - Dwarf Calamint 'Montrose White'

The thing to do this year is PLANT FOR THE BEES.  So if you join me on that important bandwagon I suggest you plant - 

Dwarf Calamint 'Montrose White'  (Calamintha nepeta spp nepeta 'Montrose White').

Calamintha is an herb that's native to Europe and is used in cooking in Italy under the name nepitella.

This plant, I predict, will be a 'Perennial Plant of the Year'. Why? because it is a hardy (to USDA zone 4) and delightful flowering perennial plant that is deer resistant.  YAY!

Calamintha nepeta spp nepeta 'Montrose White' was named by Mike Yanny of Johnson’s Nursery in Menomonee Falls, Wis. 

Yanny’s wife purchased the calamint from Nancy Goodwin at Montrose Nursery. Yanny saw that the plant thrived under benign neglect and came back every year as strong as ever. He asked Goodwin if he could name and patent this particular calamint ‘Montrose White.’ She agreed.

‘Montrose White’ is a compact, clump-forming, 12" - 16” high plant that is covered with tiny white flowers from June until frost.  When temperatures fall in autumn the flowers turn lightly lavender. It does not get floppy and has very fragrant leaves. It can grow very wide.

'Montrose White' calamint loves full sun and well-drained soil. It will not tolerate wet soils so let it dry out between waterings.  It has no special fertilizer or pH requirements.

The best thing about this flowering plant, besides the fact that it roots from cuttings in a few weeks, is that it is sterile - this means that no seed heads are formed and no seeds are produced thus it always looks great!

Important: it does not self sow as the straight calamint species does.

'Montrose White’ is ideal for sunny shrub borders, rock gardens containers. It blooms all summer and if you plant it near a path and brush against the foliage, you will smell a scent of strong peppermint.

Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are crazy for it. In bloom, Montrose white looks like a summer snow flurry. It is perfect for a white garden.

This short plant is drought tolerant and looks fabulous planted beneath taller summer flowers such as  Echinaceas, Phlox, Perovskia and shrub roses.    It also looks great in front of grasses and with any blue colored plant. Just remember it is a bee magnet.

All in all, a deer-proof plant that rewards us with flowers, scent and a long blooming season... and keeps the bees happy. Award winner, for sure.

by Bohns Farm

Friday, April 4, 2014

My one day Class Wednesday April 16 in NY - Jan Johnsen

I am teaching a one day class on Wednesday April 16 at the NY Botanical Garden 
It is a fun, eye opening and fun class!            (class size is limited.)

I  share my insights into landscape design and how to use various cultural and ancient traditions in a garden. I discuss how to use the compelling duality of Yin and Yang in a setting, explain how each of the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, west) affects us differently, which proportions create a more harmonious setting.

 I also show how to place rocks in the landscape according to the Japanese understanding. Everyone loves this. and of course, I discuss Color and its effects on our wellbeing...

I show 2 beautiful powerpoint to illustrate my talk..  Handouts reinforce the information I provide.

Here is what students have written:

No wonder you were instructor of the year! Your talk was delightful, Jan. You gave us all a thoughtful, colorful start to planting season. I have some great new ideas. Much thanks!
AP, garden designer and NYBG instructor

Jan is not only a skilled landscape designer, she is one of the best instructors you will ever have the pleasure of hearing lecture.
RR, landscape designer

I really want you to know just how successful you made our day. In fact several members thought this was the best presentation ever…You had a wonderful way of relating to the group…We attracted more people than we originally thought!
M M, - Garden Club    

photo by Jan Johnsen

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Praise for the lowly Dandelion

The dreaded Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), for which we spend tremendous amounts of weed killer money to eradicate, has been prized over the years for its medicinal and nutritious properties.

In fact, dandelion roots, flowers and "dandelion greens" (leaves) are all edible!

Dandelions are a rich source of vitamins A, B complex, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. And in traditional medicine, dandelion roots and leaves were used to treat liver problems. Native Americans used dandelion decoctions (liquid made by boiling down the herb in water) to treat kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn, and stomach upset.

From a great blog: Sierra Foothills Garden 

• Dandelion roots can be roasted as a coffee-substitute, or boiled and stir-fried as a cooked vegetable.

• Dandelion flowers can be made into a wine.

• Dandelion greens can be boiled, as you would spinach, and served as a vegetable or can be inserted in sandwiches or used as a salad green (it has a little "bite.")

 Dandelion greens are high in vitamins A and C, and iron!  The French even  have a well-known soup called creme de pissenlits (cream of dandelion soup), which is easy to make.

Read more:

 from Embracing My Health blog

Harvesting the greens (the leaves)  is the most popular way to eat Dandelions. The best time to harvest the greens is in early spring, before the flowers appear, when they are the tenderest and least bitter. 

Boiling them or stir frying them will further reduce their bitterness.

So why pay pay extra to purchase foods with similar (or even inferior) nutritional value, when you have a free source of leafy greens in your neighborhood?

My musings:  It makes sense that, at the end of winter, when our ancestors were probably hungry and vitamin deficient, that Nature would see to it that they had a great source of vitamins proliferating all around them! No one had to seed them or turn over the soil...the Dandelions appeared just for the picking! 

And today we spend so much money just to make them go away....something is wrong here.

Just make sure to avoid harvesting near roads, since road salt and/or toxins may be present. Likewise, you obviously shouldn't harvest from a lawn where herbicides have been used.

From Wellness Mama

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My book is out! Thoughts on this fateful occasion...

My book has shipped from Amazon and yesterday was the first day people received it!

 I have to admit that I am ecstatic. It has taken me eight years to write this book and get it published.  I have met and surmounted all the obstacles. I am so happy. 

Chapter: The Magic of Water from Heaven is a Garden
I was told over and over by various publishers that I had no 'platform' and that my subject matter was not of interest to others. But I knew in my heart that I had something of value to share with others. St. Lynn's Press agreed with me - thank you St. Lynn's!

This morning I read Wayne Dyer's latest posting and it struck a chord. I have abridged it tremendously in the interest of brevity.

Here is a very abridged excerpt from Wayne Dyer's new book, "I Can See Clearly Now " :

click here for his website

"My agent and publisher both feel that we’d have runaway bestsellers if I authored books on money and sex, and all concerned would harvest a financial bonanza.....

immediately tell him [the agent] that there’s no way that I am interested or willing to undertake such a proposal... I explain that the talks I’ve been giving in spiritual gatherings for the past year have led to my fascination with the idea that individuals are capable of achieving a kind of God-realization if they change the way they think....

Artie is beside himself in frustration with me... 

I say I’m sorry, but I can’t let money or status or anyone else tell me what to write and speak about....

William Morrow agrees to be the publisher for my next book, but they offer no advance against royalties [I can relate] ...

I am undaunted. I know what I want to write about, and I feel the presence of something Divine whispering to me that I’ve made the right choice..."

Wayne Dyer

I heard those whispers too...there was no choice. And I am so glad that I did not give up even at the bleakest moments. This is for anyone else who feels the same way - keep doing what you believe in, those whispers are not wrong. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Heaven is a Garden - an interview with Open Voices - Nature Sacred

This interview with me is from a wonderful blog called Open Voices which is part of the Nature Sacred website. I am honored that this fine group chose to spotlight my new book. I urge you to check them out - always something inspiring in their blog!

A Deeper Place of Being: An Interview with Jan Johnsen

Posted on 03/06/14
Jan Johnsen’s forty years of practice in landscape architecture has taught her that gardens not only inspire and delight but also impart a sense of well-being, offer respite, and induce feelings of renewal to those who visit and simply sit awhile.  Drawing on historical precedents from many cultures as well as design techniques honed through recent practice, her gardens are deeply nuanced, no matter the size.  In anticipation of the upcoming release of her latest book, Heaven Is a Garden – Designing Serene Outdoor Spaces for Inspiration and Reflection, published by St. Lynn’s Press, Open Voices spoke with the noted landscape designer about her passion for creating outdoor havens for our spirit.
Open Voices:  Your blog is called Serenity in the Garden, and you describe your landscape design practice as serenity by design.  How did you come to understand and specialize in the serene aspect of gardens and garden design?
Jan Johnsen
Jan Johnsen:  I went to Japan as a college student, in the 1970s.  I was planning to be an architect, primarily because that’s all I knew.  So, I was working in an architect’s office as an intern in Osaka, but I lived in Kyoto, Japan, the home of all the legendary Japanese gardens.  So of course on the weekends I would visit them.  The architecture office was very stressful during the week and the experience of going into these Japanese gardens such as the Nanzen-ji or the Kinkaku-ji opened my eyes to the power of gardens and nature and how it alleviates stress.  Just breathing in the cedar-scented air and walking on those quiet mossy paths that are so familiar in Japanese gardens made me aware of a deeper place of being.  I could just feel the stress just drop off of me and the longer I stayed in that environment the happier I was, the calmer I was.  As I went on to study landscape architecture, no one ever talked about that; everybody talked about all the various functional things that you have to consider, but nobody ever talked about how gardens make you feel.  It was then I just realized I wanted to create serenity in the garden and that’s how I came upon it.
Open Voices:  Your gardens provide the opportunity for renewal and respite – how are your gardens designed to support that goal/outcome? What are some of the design building blocks you use to promote that opportunity and that feeling for people?
Jan Johnsen:  That’s the crux of my new book, Heaven is a Garden.  I use various understandings that I have developed that are not normally taught in garden or landscape design classes.  I’ve developed them over the years through my reading and my experience, and that’s what I want to share with everyone.  For example, one of the most important techniques is what I call finding the power spot.  I believe that every bit of land even my little postage stamp of a backyard has what I call a “power spot” — which is any place that you might find a little more interesting or compelling than the rest.  It can be a high spot, even if it’s just like say a foot and a half higher than anything around it, or it can be a shaded corner.  Essentially, it’s the heart of the garden.  Most people look at shaded corners as dank places that nobody wants to sit in, but once you see it as a power spot you can draw attention to it in a variety of pleasant ways.  I often say to my clients, let’s go find the power spot and people really respond to it, often asking, “How do I know where it is?”  And I say no, no, no it’s any place that you deem noteworthy.  There is no right answer.  And that kind of makes everybody relax, it’s more of an intuitive feeling where you walk around and say oh, I like it here, I like the view here, I like the way the breeze hits me here, I like the shading from the tree here; whatever it might be.  So that’s one of the first things that I do.
book coverOpen Voices:  Your new book draws on the ancient traditions of sacred space to create havens of retreat and respite in our hectic   lives today.   What are some examples of sacred spaces or their traditions that inspire you and how have you translated that into landscape design?
Jan Johnsen:  One widespread tradition that I really like is that   of the prayer tree.  Long ago in Siberia they would hang bits of cloth on trees, mostly birch trees, and use them as prayers to the   universe; the messages on the trees would act as emissaries and would somehow be transmitted through the tree itself.  They still do that today in Siberia. At the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, they have a wishing tree and I talk about this in my book, too.  They have little paper labels with strings and you write your little wish on the label; it’s lovely.
Open Voices:  What is the most common request you receive from homeowners looking to create a little slice of heaven in their backyards?
Jan Johnsen:  The most common request is for a quiet, beautiful sitting spot where people can just literally relax.  And, once you find a power spot in the garden it’s often located in a place which would be just the perfect spot for a quiet sitting area.  In that regard, I utilize something I call “The Lure of the Sheltered Corner.”  We all adore being in a place where our back is protected and we have a nice little view.  It doesn’t have to be expansive just a nice little view to look at.  But I think it’s the quality of being protected behind either by a low wall or by some shrubs, a tree, or fence or trellis, which is so common and appeals to everyone.
Open Voices:  What do you notice happens to those who make an effort to search for “serenity in the garden”?
Jan Johnsen:  My hope is to open people’s eyes to the deeper understanding of power of place and nature. I want people to understand how being connected to the earth and connected to nature can transform their lives.  And they may not even realize it in the in the beginning, but my talent is to use garden design to transform people’s relationship with the outdoors.   The design techniques and the design understanding that I share in my book can be used not just by homeowners, but they can be employed by community groups as well.  For example, I talk about a rock’s resonance; people look at rocks like ah, a rock.  But in fact, rocks are our memory keepers, they’re there before we got here and they’ll be there when we leave, they’re the quiet ones.  If we can open people’s eyes to things like that I think we’ll have vibrant community spaces and maybe municipal managers will look on our endeavors a little more openly.