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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Friday, February 17, 2017

Buttercup Winterhazel - An Early Spring Fragrant tree

Winterhazel from American NurserymanMagazine

What blooms earlier than forsythia, has a delicate fragrance and is an easy-to-care for  compact delight ?  It is also hardy to USDA Zones 6-9 and native to Japan and Taiwan.


Buttercup winterhazel  (Corylopsis pauciflora) 

Toward mid April (depending where you live), the bare branches of buttercup winterhazel hang with inch-long clusters of soft yellow flowers that appear as little lanterns.  

The fragrance is noticeable, making it perfect near a sitting spot.  It was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 1993. 

This is a different species of winterhazel - Corylopsis glabrescens ‘Longwood Chimes’ has exceptional fragrance.

Winterhazel (pauciflora)is good in a small city garden or as a woodland underplanting in open shade. 
It glows in front of evergreens and is a perfect pairing with purple Rhododendron mucronulatum since they flower at the exact same time.

 And winterhazels look wonderful with snowdrops and hellebores! 

Portland Nursery photo

As the flowers fade, the leaves unfurl to 3 inches long, bright green with red edges before darkening to rich green. In fall they turn a gold-bronze.

This species is compact and is the ideal choice for a small garden.  Plant in spring, in  well-drained, acid soil, in a spot with light or dappled shade. It will tolerate full sun with regular watering in the summer. It needs little pruning.

Branches of Corylopsis pauciflora are best collected in February for flowers in early March, up to two weeks before their normal bloom season. 

C. pauciflora can be hard to find, but well stocked nurseries will carry it. Look for it in Spring! 





Thursday, February 9, 2017

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

'Om' in the Garden

Om symbol in garden - Jan Johnsen

We need to balance the pace and intensity of modern life 

with periods of what poet May Sarton 
has called "open time,
with no obligations except toward the inner world 
and what is going on there."

~ Thomas Moore
So how to touch the inner world in a garden?..


I suggest chanting 'OM.' (really it is 'AUM'), long and sustained, several times...“Om” is the oldest and most widely known one-syllable mantra or chant.    It is said very, very slowly.

Mantras are believed to contain a vibrational power that can lift us to higher states.

Scientists recently discovered that rhythmic recitations of a mantra can slow breathing and regulate heart rhythms, this in turn oxygenates the blood, lowers blood pressure and induces a feeling of calmness and well-being.

The Sanskrit symbol above represents “OM”. It does not say '30' as some might assume.   
The Om symbol (in photo above) consists of three letters, “a,” “u,” and “m,” and includes an after-sound of silence:

• The “a” (pronounced "ah," the upper curve) represents our waking state.

• The “u” (pronounced "ooh," the long, lower curve) is the dreaming state.

• The “m” (the curve issuing from the center) is the dreamless state of deep sleep.

 The after-sound is represented by the dot at the top...

Silently repeating a mantra does not produce the same effects as reciting them out loud.

You must chant OM. out loud...slowly. and remember the 'dot' or after-sound silence.

If repeating 'om' is not your thing then try this during your 'open time':

Listen - to the sounds around you.


Feel - the plants or the ground under your feet or the sun on your face.

See - what is around you.  enjoy the colors.


Smell - what does your environment smell like?


At first, you'll find your mind wandering away frequently but this exercise is calming and pleasant, a relaxing break.








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