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

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

I Go to the Woods Alone...



Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend….

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours.



Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned. 


woodland walk - photo by Laura McKillop  

I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.



If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Why Gardening by the Moon Works


"With the waxing of the moon, the earth exhales."
- Ute York


Lunar gardening is fun and makes so much sense! 
Photo above is from the SpaceFellowship, Rob Goldsmith.
The gravitational pull of the moon on the earth affects water on our planet. The moon's pull is stronger than the sun because, even though the sun is larger, the moon is closer to the earth.



As the moon gets full or waxes, its gravitational pull on the earth gets stronger. And it is felt the most when the moon is full (the moon and sun pull from the opposite sides of the earth at this time). 

This is when the tides are at their height and  people go a little wild.

But not only does the moon’s gravity affect tides and us, it also affects underground water tables

So if you plant when the moon is waxing or growing toward being full, remember the water table is rising as well.


This means water is more easily available to a plant. The increased moisture content of the soil encourages seeds to sprout and grow.

Dr. Frank Brown of Northwestern University researched this over a ten-year period of time and found that plants absorbed more water at the time of the full moon. 

Tests by Frau Dr. Kolisko in Germany and by Maria Thun also found maximum seed germination on the days right before the Full moon.


So as the new moon (no moon) grows, seeds swell with water and burst into life more quickly. This 2 week period in a month is considered the best time to plant leaf crops. 

And this period is great for harvesting leaf crops because as the moon moves towards full the plant is putting everything it has into growing and is full of nutrients.



Similarly, when the moon goes from full back to being a sliver the opposite is true.

Ute York, in her book "Living by the Moon" says
" With the waning of the moon, the earth inhales. Then, the sap primarily goes down toward the roots. Thus, the waning moon is a good time for pruning, multiplying, fertilizing, watering, harvesting, and controlling parasites and weeds” 

Now is the time when the water table drops, and it is a good time to plant root crops, such as turnips, carrots, onions, and bulbs etc.

How to know? Get a MOON PHASE widget and put on your homepage. And go to this  Farmer's Almanac article (click on it) for more info.




Thursday, January 5, 2017

'Sparkler' Carex - a great plant

Sparkler Carex

What is deer resistant, grows in part to full shade, has varigated leaves, likes wet soil, has no serious pests and will naturalize and spread? 

Carex phyllocephala 'Sparkler' - photo by Laura McKillop
Carex phyllocephala 'Sparkler'             
'Sparkler' Carex or sedge thrives in moist, organically rich soils so it is perfect for rain gardens or heavy soil. It is considered to be winter hardy to USDA Zone 7 (hardy to 10 degrees).  It can be grown as an annual is colder regions.
‘Sparkler’ is clump-forming and has whorl-like clusters of grass-like, variegated leaves at the end of each 12" - 24" tall stem. This makes it look like a mini palm of narrow leaves with broad white margins. Tony Avent describes Carex Sparkler as “a grove of miniature variegated palm trees.”


photo taken by Laura McKillop in the conservatory at Longwood Gardens

In southern locations where plants are reliably winter hardy, you can grown them in a mass in a shady spot..in colder areas you can grow them in planters to light up a shady corner. It is also great for cut flower arrangements.

This Japanese import looks lovely among ferns in the woodland garden or along a border. Tell your garden center to order it now for next spring!






Monday, January 2, 2017

Make a Yoga Garden This Year

yoga garden - Johnsen Landscapes   

Picture yourself being outside in a garden on a warm sunny morning. Nearby, birds are singing and flowers are blooming. This is a perfect space to unroll a yoga mat and embark on some ‘sun salutations’.  So why not create a yoga garden? You can do this using some design ideas I offer in the book,
‘Heaven is a Garden – Designing Serene Outdoor Spaces for Inspiration and Reflection’ (published by St. Lynn’s Press).

Innisfree  garden in NY - please visit!
Just as yoga allows us to ‘tune into’ our bodies, serene gardens help us get in touch with nature's calming energies. Any outdoor setting, no matter the size, can become a place of quiet beauty. It should be partially sheltered, out of the wind and be bathed in gentle sunlight from east or southeast or dappled shade.   I suggest you aim for 'simplicity, sanctuary and delight'.
Bedrock Gardens - please visit!

Simplicity means clean lines such as slow curving walks or plant beds. Sanctuary refers to a a sheltered corner formed by a hedge or tree  where we feel protected. And delight is anything that gladdens your heart. This can be a patch of flowers, outdoor art or a trickling water fountain.
And of course, you can utilize nature’s nurturing qualities by carefully placing a large rock or stone sculpture within your backyard. The natural ability of stone to ‘ground’ us was well known to ancient cultures and we are now rediscovering this wonderful idea.

  Additionally, the colors blue and green induce calm and add a feeling of restfulness to any outdoor space. You can also paint a gate deep blue or add more green textured plants to your garden.  And, as I describe in my book, certain trees can add a beneficial and supportive energy to their surroundings.  Lastly, we all respond to the fullness of a rounded shape such as a round finial or rounded planter.

PJM Rhodys and tulips make a Spring garden sing.
A yoga garden is a quiet place of renewal and contemplation and can be any size and in any locale. I have a small backyard where I added a curving ‘dry stream’ along one side. This stream hints at a waterway but there is no water in it. It is lined with rocks and contains decorative pebbles atop gravel. The plants that border it are the show as is the stream’s simple curved layout. I used two-thirds evergreen plants and one-third deciduous plants, which follows the ideal proportion found in Japanese gardens. 
I like to use many green textures in a garden..then I add a rounded artful accent

  I firmly believe that a backyard designed to be a ‘little piece of heaven’ can remake ordinary time and space into something memorable, just as yoga does. Together, they can create some magic in your life. 
P.S.  Check out my upcoming book, The Spirit of Stone - and use the grounding energy of stone in your new yoga garden!








Thursday, December 29, 2016

Garden tip - Obey the Request of the Stone

rocks and blue fescue - Johnsen Landscapes

My upcoming book, The Spirit of Stone (published by St Lynn's Press) will be out in February, 2017 .  It looks at many ways you can use natural stone in the garden from artful accents and stone walks to sustainable dry creeks and rock gardens.

One of the topics I address is the art of setting stones in a rock garden. I once lived in Japan (I worked in a landscape architecture office in Osaka) and so I feel a special connection to Japanese rock gardens.   In my work with placing rocks (often with large machines) I always listen to what the stone says. Sometimes, after a tough time placing a rock, I say that the stone does not want to be there and remove it. 

 I used to think that this conversation with a rock was my unique approach. But I was wrong. I also said that the first rock to be set determined the rest of the rocks in the garden and so this was the most important. Again, this was an old rule that I thought I made up. The 11th-century guide to making Japanese gardens, the Sakuteiki, said it first. 

Steinhardt rock garden in NY - photo by Jan Johnsen

The Sakuteiki was written in a time when placing stones was the most important part of gardening in Japan. Stone literally defined the art of garden making, ishi wo tateru koto (build up with stone)  referred  not only to stone placement but also to garden making itself. 

Here is an excerpt from the wonderful book,  ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ by Tan Twan Eng. It is an interchange about setting rocks in a Japanese-inspired garden:

 “How will I know where to place the stones?”
“What is the first piece of advice given in Sakuteiki?
I thought for a second. “Obey the request of the stone.”
“The opening words of the book,” he said, nodding. “This spot where you sit, this is the starting point. This is where the guest views the garden. Everything planted and created in Yuguri has its distance, scale and space calculated in relation to what you see from here.


 This is the place where the first pebble breaks the surface of the water. Place the first stone properly and the others will follow its request. The effect expands through the whole garden. If you follow the stones’ wishes, they will be happy.”


boulder outcrop with plants - Johnsen Landscapes & Pools












Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Enchantment of a Curved Garden Walk or Wall

Curved Walk - Jan Johnsen
The line of a garden walk can be an integral part of the overall composition rather just a simple linkage. And the layout of a garden wall can be something more than a physical barrier.

 For example, ancient Chinese garden designers used curving perimeter walls to enclose their revered gardens.  Osvald Siren described the winding grace of a Chinese garden wall in his book, 'Gardens of China':

“They seldom follow straight lines, and as a rule are not broken in sharp angles; they rather sweep in wide curves, ascending and descending according to the formation of the ground and thus often have the appearance of being elastic or modeled rather than built up.”

The elasticity of a curve lends a mysterious air to Chinese gardens.

Andy Goldsworthy, the great land art artist, did this with a stone wall at Storm King Mountain Sculpture center.



You can also attract people’s interest by laying out a walkway in a strong, playful line. Here I laid out an S-shaped steppingstone walk rather than a straightforward direct walk. Of course, this is not for carrying groceries to the house but rather, is a meandering garden path.


The curved walk adds a lyrical quality to the scene and makes a garden more enticing. Why not try something like this in your garden?





Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Garden Lady chats about Heaven is a Garden

C.L.Fornari photo of flower ice cubes in a serene garden in Cape Cod

C.L. Fornari, aka The Garden Lady, has a wonderful garden radio show that airs every Saturday on the Cape Cod station WRKO from 12-2 p.m. You can hear it as a podcast online.

Her show covers many gardening and landscaping topics and she discusses her favorite plants and answers listeners' gardening questions.

 C.L. is also the author of the inspiring book, The Cocktail Hour Garden: Creating Evening Landscapes for Relaxation and Entertaining
The Cocktail Hour Garden shows how to enjoy that special evening hour in the garden

I was especially thrilled a week ago to be interviewed by C.L. about my book, Heaven is a Garden.  She asked some great questions about what is music for the eye in a garden and how to make your garden in tune with the four directions. C.L. is an insightful interviewer and I wanted to  share our short and fun chat with you!

Click below to hear our conversation or even read the transcript:

The Garden Lady radio chat with Jan Johnsen about Heaven is a Garden, 2016 









Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hip Hip Hooray for Rose Hips

rose hips photo by Jan Johnsen

 Allow your roses to form hips. Did you know that, like many plants that produce fruit, the formation of rose hips is a signal to the rose to go dormant for the season?

from Monrovia - Japanese rose 


Rose hips provide wonderful color in the garden and are a good source of vitamin C for birds in the fall and winter. 
They are one of the highest plant sources of Vitamin C. 'Cherry Pie' Rose makes great rose hips:

Oso Easy Cherry Pie Rose -from May Dreams Garden Blog 


You can eat them too. Rose hips are used for jam, jelly, syrup, soup, beverages, pies, bread, and wine. They can also be eaten raw if care is used to avoid the hairs inside the fruit.  The redder they are, the softer and sweeter.  

source: live by the sun blog 









Friday, November 18, 2016

Speaking with Earth Spirits



Amsonia foliage sparkles in fall

Speaking with Earth Spirits 

Deep down, in the warmth of the fecund earth,
the spirits sing songs of life.
Hoping we hear, they inhale and exhale along with the seasons.

Beautyberry in November

Now, in the cool days of November,
they sing to us of rest and replenishment 
and ask us to be calm.


Molinia stands tall in late fall

The time has come to listen
and of course, to rake the leaves...the leaves...

- Jan Johnsen

the deep reds of November









Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Renew Your Garden Tools!

Caked on dirt on these shovels....

 Winter is the time to get your garden tools in shape... hand tools such as shovels, picks, trowels, loppers, etc. should be cleaned, sharpened and well oiled.

Steel wool can clean off any rust or caked-on dirt.

And pure white vinegar works to remove rust too: pour into a bucket or small plastic tub. Submerse rusty pruning shears in the solution and soak overnight, or roughly 24 hours. The acid of the vinegar eats away at most of the surface rust.  Wash off the next day...for more on this go to the Backyard Boss article on cleaning pruning shears. 


This photo is from a great article about renewing your tools. Click here


But the most important thing I have found is to make sure to oil the tools. It is a rust preventative and a wood saver. 

Moss in the City

A while back, in our shop (I own a landscape design/build firm and we have trucks, crews and lots of tools) we would have a large container filled with sand and motor oil and put our tools in it. 

...the sand acts an abrasive to remove dirt and the oil prevents rust. But this is not so smart.

Why? Because the petroleum oil goes from the tool into the soil! 

Today's Homeowner 

Blake Schreck of the Garden Tool Company knows a thing or two about garden tools.  And his timely advice is to use boiled linseed oil.

Linseed oil is derived from the dried seeds of the flax plant and is a great alternative to any petroleum based product. 

The Garden Tool Co. oils every tool that does not have a finish on it already before it ships.
Blake notes: "A cautionary note: The boiled linseed oil that is available today has a small amount of solvent added to it to keep it from hardening in the can, so after you apply it to your metal and wood, let it dry completely before using your tool, (about 24 hours) that way the solvent will have evaporated."


Garden Tool Company - Border-Spade-with-T-Handle-by-Sneeboer

Remember to use BOILED linseed oil which dries quickly. 

Actual linseed oil can take ages to dry!  

Just dip a rag (cotton wool or a cloth) in the boiled oil and coat a thin layer of oil on the metallic parts. Make sure to cover evenly and do not be tempted to add multiple coats or a thick layer of oil.  Let it sit for about 15 minutes and then wipe off excess. 





Its a good idea to oil the wood handles as well to prevent cracking. 
Thicker layers take longer to dry and often do not dry to form a hard surface and multiple layers of thin coats are also not a good idea, because they become prone to being removed when scratched.
I have also heard about Ballistol. lt is 85% mineral oil and maintains, protects, preserves metal and unpainted wooden surfaces. 

Ballistol is biodegradable, and neither its use nor its disposal will pollute air or water. It comes in an aerosol and pourable version. It has a sweet and mildly pungent smell similar to black licorice

Want to learn more about garden tool maintenance? Please see Blake Schreck's "Garden Tool Care and Maintenance" article by Blake Schreck.














Monday, October 10, 2016

Garden Design Magazine's New Gorgeous Videos!


This is a great magazine.

Have you noticed that I love the new Garden Design Magazine?

At every talk I give, I gush about it.  It is a gorgeous magazine devoted to garden design and plants. Every article is fascinating. It comes every few months.

Dwarf NY Asters featured in the Fall issue of Garden Design magazine


Now they have upped their game even more and have developed some fabulous videos that share with you a little of what is in their issue....

Jim Peterson, the publisher and driving force behind the magazine, plans to make three kinds of videos. The first supports stories in the magazine. The second is about garden features that are popular and on the fabulous Garden Design website  and the third will be about garden design and will be made in collaboration with designer,  Richard Hartlage.

Here is an interview with the editor of Garden Design magazine, Thad Orr, talking about the magazine and what is covered. It is a gem of a magazine and I urge you to subscribe to it!




Here is Thad Orr talking about the article about Desert Native Plants - wow!





Get your first issue free when you subscribe, use www.gardendesign.com/jan