Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Changing Economics

This morning I was up early to photograph one of my favorite's client's garden on the North Shore of Chicago. We have been working together on the landscape since 2000, so I have had the opportunity to watch the neighborhood "evolve." This "evolution" seems to be a microcosm of what is happening across the U.S. During those seven years, in one block, houses have been torn down and rebuilt larger on the two adjacent lots, two directly across the street and another down the street. Most are spec houses and one is vacant as it is owned by the developer who does not live there. As is the fashion in many high-end Chicago suburbs, the styles of both house and garden, harken back to an imagined colonial past. Old Abe may be turning over in his grave.

After he saw my client's garden, one of the developers called while he was in the process of constructing the house next door. Despite his awareness with LEED housing issues, and his expression of wanting to implement environmentally conscious practices in the yard, he decided not to use our services. Now that the house is on the market, the house has been landscaped with much of the usual non-eco-friendly material, including vast amounts of turf grass and pear trees planted very tightly in a row a few feet from the southern property line. Why are these a problem? Well, one issue with turf grass is that it uses about twice as much water as trees & perennials. Also, especially when people plant turf grass in adverse conditions (shade & tree root competition), people tend to over-fertilize (into the ground water) and over-apply herbicides to offset weeds. As for the pear trees, I could not go on the property to see what cultivar they are. However, many problems exist with Bradford pears and I suspect there may be problems in the future. Plant & economic diversity can be a more environmentally friendly path.

Diablo Ninebark & Lady's Mantle

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Restless Cicadas

Check out Restless Photography's 17-year cicada visual update from the Morton Arboretum....27 May 2007 entry. AWESOME pics!

Friday, May 25, 2007

What Remains of the Doublefile Viburnum Bloom...

...after we had three days of upper eighties temps, forty mph west winds and no rain. The ginger and Tokudama hosta survived pretty well in the dry shade. I love the Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum. The cultivars 'Shasta' and 'Mariesii' appear quite similar, but I prefer the latter: in my experience it has a more horizontal habit. This is the perfect plant to use close to Lake Michigan (warmer) in concert with Prairie architecture. If you want to read about Prairie landscaping, read Wilhelm Miller's classic treatise: The Prairie Spirit in Landscape Architecture.

Solomon's Seal Diffusing Light

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Planting in Pure Sand

In this image, you can't see Lake Michigan, the ticks or the poison ivy. But look at the fun Bluestone, Sedum & Cotoneaster. Our great client is registered here by the landscape design and her fabulous but unphotographed pots with orange streamers. You will have to imagine them.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Northwind Perennial Farm

Yesterday was a glorious spring day in the Great Lakes region. Strong sun, clear skies & reasonable temps. Picking up plants at one of my favorite nurseries gave me the rare opportunity to explore a plant Mecca in spring. Northwind Perennial Farm, near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, is exceptional on many levels. They sell & promote unusual plants with a nod to natives, their lovely staff knows a lot about their products, and the place is so well-conceived and arranged, that people visit just for the charming experience. Of course, if we want to ensure the future of gems like this, we need to support them with our hard-earned dollars (they work much harder).

August 25 will mark my fourth year of speaking at Northwind ("Garden Snap!"); I do it because it affords me such pleasure. And I always purchase one of their interesting bits of garden ornamentation. Check out their updated website and go to "Calendar of Events" to see their high-caliber speakers' list. You will always learn something from Roy Diblik, one of the owners & grower. [Here's more about him on a previous web entry: ] Better yet, make a trip and buy something or seven.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Farm Institute

One of the recently established, special places on the Vineyard is The Farm Institute, Katama Farm in Edgartown
In a few years, its objective of "reconnecting children and the community with the culture of agriculture" seems well on its way. Along with our yin/yang friends above (plus goats, pigs, sheep & chicken), the Farm Institute provides shares in its CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), Community Gardens, a Corn Maze and of course, many engaging activities for kids.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Even though I work in different regions, every state in the U.S. shares this common problem. Invasives work by getting a foothold and knocking out diversity & competition. On the east coast, just as in our area of the Midwest, the invasiveness of Phragmites in wetlands continues to be a huge challenge though there is some evidence that a native form may have existed before the colonies. Luckily, at my Massachusetts site, the clients have engaged an expert local firm, EcoTerra Design and Consulting, to deal with the problem. The Phragmites are no easy obstacle. First, they are cut down manually, no fun in winter water & winds. Next, a form of aquatic herbicide, Rodeo, is applied. Due to the aggressive way in which the plant spreads by rhizomes, dredging may also be required. After the Phragmites, which has already undermined the structure of the dune between a fresh water pond and the Atlantic, has been eradicated, restoration plants will be introduced. Since this is on an island with unusual ecology and a very active local government, this will be a bit of a test case. Fingers crossed; I will report over time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

National Stewardia Collection at Polly Hill

My website has an entry from a previous visit to the Polly Hill Arboretum in West Tisbury, Massachusetts. Polly, who just died at 100, was an incredible pioneer in expanding the plant palette on Martha's Vineyard. The Arboretum now hosts a Stewardia collection that will take your breath away and make you start reciting haiku spontaneously. The bark's the thing...

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Mass & Void

Judging from a walk through my neighborhood tonight (and work with clients), this is a difficult concept to practice. Not only was I overwhelmed by the pinks and the purples (Redbuds, Crab Apples, Lilacs & Judd Viburnum) without much green to distinguish them, but also, one fragrance canceled out another. I often try to compare the rhythm in a landscape to dance or music: we need to introduce contrast in order to fully enjoy the virtues we are striving to create. In this woodland setting at the arboretum, I felt the plants could breathe and I with them.

Keeping Lightning at Bay

Mature Specimen

Visiting an arboretum always delights me because I get to be a student. Inevitably, I see some tree in its mature aspect and gain a whole new perspective. Here we are at the Morton Arboretum (Lisle, Illinois) viewing a Hedge Maple...commonly used in, surprise, hedges, and not usually allowed to develop into the graceful form you see part of here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Not Turf Grass

An old friend just emailed to say she went to my blog because she needs all the gardening help she can get. In that spirit, here's a practical entry on "turf grass."
Here in the Midwest, our environment (I'm like a broken record) is closer to Siberia than England. Given global warming, we don't even have the snow cover anymore, but we do have wild swings in temperature and go from drought one summer to torrential downpours the next. Turf grass thrives where the temperature is moderate, has some cloud cover, gets lots of moisture. In the UK, they appear to be comfortable with wildflowers/and or weeds growing amidst the grass. Here, we are puritans. Some green grass evangelists seems to favor taxing the environment and poisoning children & dogs over tolerating a few weeds in the grass. Well, arrogance, not tolerance, is our national behavior these days anyway. My response is to encourage people, as much as possible, to eliminate as much turf grass as possible. People with small children want the grass for the kids to play on, but they often treat the grass with way too many chemicals and so, what's the trade off? The turf grass industry has miseducated consumers into believing that we need to fertilize our lawns many more times than necessary. Consequently, all that extra fertilizer (high in Nitrogen) goes into our water system. If you are intent on having turf grass, only fertilize once a year (end of August is best), mow high (about 3 inches) and leave the clippings to decompose after mowing. Turf grass wants lots of sun, so if it is under a tree, it's not worth it: the tree roots will win all the competition.
If you want to learn more, check out Soil Food Web. Basically, turf grass and trees want different biology (microscopic critters) in their home soil: bacterial for the grass, fungal for the trees. The more we plant in plant communities, the better for human communities.