There are some plants in my garden that just demand to be viewed together. In my front garden bed is a Fire Flame Tree Peony that for years has bloomed at the same time as a perfectly color matched azalea. Together they light up their niche in the world for a week or two each year if I’m lucky.
These Fire Flame Peonies blooming in my May garden along with the azalea inspired my original painting.
Keep the rain away from the peonies and the heat away from the azalea & I’ve got a perfect vignette. I love the way the focal points shift around my garden all year when either color takes prominence or form, as it does in winter.
I think of my garden as a theater production where spotlights guide your eyes around the action on stage.
If you want to extend the season of the colorful joy of these planting combinations you should consider buying one of my pieces of Art. Visit my Art Store to see your options. You won’t be disappointed!
Fire Flame Peony – Available in the Mary Ahern Art Store
This large vase-shaped hosta emerges slightly behind some of my other hostas such as ‘Blue Cadet’.
This slug-resistant architectural specimen is a commanding presence in my perennial garden. Though planted in full sun with absolutely no sunburn effects, I plan to divide it in the fall and put a portion of it in the woodland near the Hamamelis. I think their V-shaped structure will echo each other offering a nice rhythmic change of scale and will tie the two plants together.
The distinctive vase shape of the Hosta ‘Krossa Regal’
I’ve put that project on my to-do list for the fall. The spreadsheet keeps growing. Soon I’ll have to employ a Gertrude Jekyll type labor force to keep up with all my ideas.
I bought this plant in the early 1990’s from a mail-order house that I don’t think still exists. At least, they don’t have a web presence at this point in time. I still remember the excitement I felt when a box with the plants showed up on my deck.
It was my first plant mail order purchase. I’d worked so hard to pick and choose varieties of hostas with different leaf shapes and colors. I was still in my newbie phase of disdaining variegated plants so all my purchases were solid greens and blues.
Hosta ‘Krossa Regal’ in the perennial garden
I remember how horrified I was when those straggly roots came out of the package. I felt so robbed. I’d never seen or even heard of bare-rooted plants at that time. Was I ever that young and naïve?
Well, I planted them all and they all lived. But over time many of my plant labels were lost or destroyed or misplaced so I no longer can easily identify some of them. The Krossa Regal is an exception since it has such distinctive charisma.
There are so many stages of hostas that I enjoy seeing. None of them include slugs by the way.
Having a shade garden I naturally grow many different cultivars of hostas. This particular one is named ‘Blue Cadet’ and was given to me years ago by my son Chris for Mother’s Day. Two Cadets and a Phlox subulata, I made out like a bandit!
• Hosta ‘Blue Cadet’ top view
Each year I try to catch the hostas as they emerge from the ground but each one has its own timetable and the prime time is very short. If you go into the garden in the morning to look at their progress, by the afternoon’s stroll they’ve changed again.
I’m always glad when I take these worm’s eye view shots with my Sony digital with a swivel screen so I no longer have to lie in the mud like the good old days. I can thank my friend Elise for nodding in the right direction when it came time to buy my first digital camera.
I love the textures of the newly emerging hostas and the changes in coloring at the base. I love the unfurling spirals so dramatic from the top view. Each leaf unfolds with its own personality and destiny.
• Hosta ‘Blue Cadet’ in June
I don’t grow hostas for their flowers but some of them do have quite beautiful and in some cases, fragrant blooms. The Cadet has a nicely formed lavender flower emerging by the end of June. The heart-shaped leaves have a blue tinge to them and in my garden is almost slug free. It forms a compact, well-balanced medium sized tidy mound like the rest of the tokudama clan of which it is an offspring.
I think I should transplant some of my Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’ to create a vignette. The scale of the two might get along nicely.
My Garden and my Art go side by side. Both require me to make aesthetic judgments about composition, scale, color, texture and style. When I’m deciding where to plant the flowers I’ve hauled home on my endless trips to the nurseries it doesn’t seem that much different to me then when I’m deciding how to compose them on a two-dimensional surface.
I think about what style I’m looking for, what colors will work together, whether the scale of the placement works for me. I think about the type of flower and texture of the leaves. I make decisions about the 3D composition of the garden much like the 2D composition decisions on a painting.
. Anemone coronaria – Watercolor Painting also, available as a print.
The garden adds so many additional layers of complexity since the artwork is moving in time with nature, the seasons, the elements, and time. The painting remains caught in a moment.
Capturing that ephemeral moment is so gratifying to me in my Fine Art. I control it, unlike my Garden which is usually out of control.
This watercolor painting is available directly from me, Mary Ahern, as an archival print on Fine Art Paper, double matted and ready for framing.
Grape muscari, otherwise known as Grape Hyacinths live close to the ground. For years I never took much notice of them except for the little spots of brilliant purple that bounced so nicely against the bright yellow daffodils they bloomed along with in April.
Then I got down. Hands and knees down.
What a surprise! How intricate the little flowers are. Little bells dance around a central stem forming a small pyramid. This inflorescence changes shape as it ages and can be more and less tightly knit.
The individual purple doesn’t seem to change on each bell but the overall purple varies when viewed at a distance based upon the tightness of the overall flower.
I enjoyed these 4″ bulbs so much in my garden that I bought a bag of them from Costco one year and low and behold the next spring the flowers that bloomed were very different from my originals. They were more blue than purple and were more rounded than pyramidal.
So I googled Grape Muscari and found a world of cultivars I didn’t previously know existed. That’s one of the things that is so much fun about gardening. You are constantly in a learning mode. You are in for surprises every year and every season. The knowledge and information you acquire just keeps on growing, along with your garden.
So now I know that so far in my garden I have Muscari armeniacum and M. azureaum. Next year I’m sure to have more.
When I made my Digital Mixed Media Painting of my Grape Muscari I was careful to recreate the basal growth of the leaves. It would not have been accurate if I’d placed the leaves higher on the stem. The painting would have looked like a plant Frankenstein. As a Garden Artist, that is not what I’m trying to create.
You can view this Grape Muscari piece in my Store.
• Dicentra spectabilis vignette with Athyrium nipponicum var. pictum fern, Hyacinthoides hispanica and Polygonatum biflorum or Solomon’s seal.
Isn’t that a fantastic name? Dicentra spectabilis. It just rolls out of your mouth in a lilting singsong kind of rhythm, doesn’t it? I love to say it quietly under my breath as I walk around my woodland garden in May. Not too loud so as to scare the birds and the neighbors (and myself for that matter.)
I love their color pink. I have some white ones, but the pink ones are just so luscious. They reseed very freely for me and I’m able to reposition the offspring into springtime vignettes
• Dicentra spectabilis otherwise known as Bleeding Heart dazzling in my spring garden.
When I bought this property in 1989 there was one plant of Dicentra native here and I’ve managed over time to spread the wealth around my own garden and also with other gardeners. What a treat!
I don’t mind that they die back in the summer because it gives me another planting opportunity but some of the holes they leave behind can be very BIG planting opportunities…all the more opportunity for creativity to kick in.
I made a Digital Mixed Media Painting, which I call, “Dicentra Necklace”. I think of these joyful little gems in my garden, decorating the light greens of spring with their pink heart shaped “jewelry”.
• Dicentra necklace is a composition I made using the beautiful flowers from my own garden.
• This photo from my studio shows the reference to the size and treatment of the “Dicentra Necklace”, 12×36″ framed.
I have a number of varieties of White Daffodils growing in my garden but I don’t feel that I ever have enough. Since I am over run by squirrels I try to focus away from crocus and my beloved tulips. (After all, both my parents were born in Holland!) Squirrels consider the bulbs as an entrée and the flowers, if they arrive, as a delectable garnish but they leave my daffodils alone.
The abundant shade in my garden causes challenges to many of my daffodil plantings but I still crave the color in early spring. One of the fun parts of designing gardens is figuring out how to hide the declining leaves on the daffodils as they absorb the chlorophyll for next year’s growth.
I’ve been known to hide them using daylilies, Siberian iris and ornamental grasses. I’ve stopped braiding the leaves since it seems so demeaning to their dignity plus is reduces their exposure to sunlight which helps photosynthesis.
I created a Designer Print from one of these white daffodils. I love the way daffodil leaves have a slight twist to them. One of the things I kept in mind when composing the piece is that the stem is offset where it enters the back of the flower, unlike a tulip which is a straight up vertical.
Another issue is making sure that I paint the shadows different from when the “light” hits the round stem vs. when it hits a flat leaf.
You can see this Single White Daffodil on a Black Background is available in my Shop. in a variety of sizes on canvas, fine art paper, metal and acrylic. I think it has a rather heroic feel to the composition don’t you!
My garden is often the source material for my Art. Though I am not a Photographer, I like to use my digital camera to record the progress and changes in my garden from day to day and year to year.
Springtime is such a hectic time since I’m always late uncovering the perennial beds. These jolly yellow daffodils came up in my entry garden and I was lucky enough to catch the early morning light behind them.
My entry garden is still in need of some tidying but putting the pansies into the pots and baskets takes my mind off the leaves from last fall.
My front entry garden with yellow daffodils and purple accents.
Though I like to create gardens and like to create Fine Art using my garden, in the garden I get messy and dirty while my Botanical Art is clean and stylized.
This Designer Print is a very popular piece that surprisingly sells all year long, not just in the spring as I would have imagined. People buy this Single Yellow Daffodil as an individual piece and also as a grouping along with some of my other daffodil Art Works. You can see them in my Art Shop
I have designed a rather informal garden with meandering paths using a variety of materials. At the end of, or just around the corner of each path, is some type of focal point, which draws you forward, in eager exploration. My garden is about moving through and around rather than sitting in one location and observing the whole.
The irregular bluestone pavers serve as the path to bring you from the front entrance, around the deck, and under the aging mountain laurels. The azaleas to the left are rather dense so you don’t see the deck but instead have the sense that you’re walking through a woodland. The path is narrow and the laurels create a ceiling of sorts until you emerge into the openness of the front garden.
Oak Tree focal point as you emerge from the mountain laurel path
Frank Lloyd Wright designed the ceilings in his houses to give the same effect of enclosure and expansion as you walked from room to room. Variation of space enhances the experience of the individual as they explore the design.
This giant oak serves to keep the garden and deck cool all summer and feed the squirrels all winter with it’s abundance of acorns. In the fall you need to sit on the deck with an umbrella over your head since the acorns come down with such determination.
I am an Artist so color, texture, scale, focal points and other factors drive much of my garden design. My son gave this Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’ to me many years ago. Not knowing the eventual size of the tree I placed it right by the deck where I would be able to enjoy the delicate filigreed leaves all summer.
For a few short weeks in May this wonderful, almost stage setting display of cool pink azaleas blooms as a backdrop to set off the wine colored purple leaves of the maple. The azaleas were already on the property in this location when I bought the property in 1989 though they have certainly grown and expanded.
Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ or commonly known as Creeping Jenny with dandelion
As a ground cover underneath the mounding maple, I planted Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, commonly known as Creeping Jenny. The bright, almost chartreuse yellow offsets and lightens the ground underneath the purple leaves of the maple lightening an otherwise potentially dark corner. Happily, both the maple and the nummularia retain their vibrant colors the entire summer.
I would like to take credit for the whimsical placement of the dandelions in front of the maple but alas, that was the creative idea of Mother Nature.
For the past 25 years I’ve cultivated my woodland gardens. For the first decade I cleared the tangled woods, studied the indigenous plants, planned paths and materials. I worked on creating a natural looking shade garden focusing on the large oak trees and Kalmia that inhabited this spot of land before I showed up.
A lot of thinking and sweat went into this garden. I selected what shrub trees, like the untold numbers of small cherries, that needed to be removed. Purged, or shall I say, paid someone to purge the thick growths of poison ivy. Fought and pulled, yanked and grunted bales and bales of ivy from the trees and ground in a continuing war for dominance.
When the bones were clear I began to plant. The lists of shade tolerant shrubs and perennials read like a who’s who of my garden. Mistakes were made. Shade is not shade. Lessons learned. Successes were savored. Learning that gardening in shade reduces the need for weeding, plus you perspire less. Perfect!
Oak tree lost in battle with Hurricane Sandy
But Sandy decided she knew better and redesigned my garden. She blew in and knocked down three large oak trees and a beech thereby instantly transforming my beloved woodland shade garden into a sun-splashed mecca. Thousands of weeds instantly rejoiced by dancing in the new sunshine, prancing in the beds and mulched walkways. Ivy rebounded with a vengeance of superiority, eyeing triumph. Scores of broken and battered kalmia, enkianthus, leucothoe, rhodi’s, azaleas, viburnum, hammemelis, and andromeda wept.
And now?? Lessons begin again.
Looking for low-maintenance in the sunshine? Remembering our club trip to the Highline designed by Piet Oudorf, my Dutch hero, I’m creating new plant lists with sunshine in mind to cover the time for my new gingko to grow and spread. Shade my grandson will perhaps enjoy in case I miss it.
Amsonia, salvia, achillea, aster, coreopsis, Echinacea, eremurus, liriope, persicaria, rudbeckia, sedum, helianthus, and grasses, yes many textures and heights of grasses. I’m excited now that my period of mourning has passed. Excited by all the new possibilities in the sunshine.
So now, after an unusually warm & snow-free winter, the weather has already skimmed the high ’80’s during the month of May. As I sit on my deck exhausted from the heat, wondering how I’m ever going to be able to do all my planting after I’ve indulged at our plant sale & exchanged plant trophies with my gardening girlfriends.
The good news is that I’m a shade gardener. (That’s not to be confused with a shady gardener.) If I play my cards right I never have to bow down in the bright sun, slather myself in sunblock, or supply myself with a straw hat. The sun, which in my youth was my friend, now entices me only from sheltered nooks.
I garden in full shade, dappled shade, high shade, mostly shade & some minimal shade. Because shade is an elusive distinction, my garden is a type of laboratory. Often I’ll divide a plant in order to test the shade tolerances of specific species or cultivars. I document my garden with extensive photos & data as part of my enjoyment of the Art of gardening.
Shade gardens are about subtleties. Textures of leaves, the size & scale of those leaves, the shiny leaves versus those with indumentation, rough to the touch or smooth as suede. Color in the shade is not blinded out by the harsh sunshine. One can appreciate the varieties of green, the blue-greens, the lime-greens, the purple-greens & how about green-green. The color of an emerging stem or bud versus that in its maturity is quite an event to observe in the shade garden.
My shade garden is zen-like for me. It’s about savoring the space, the sounds of the birds singing for their supper, the smell of the soil on moist mornings, the wandering on my woodland walks.
Oh, and one final thing, because of the shade there is very little weeding to be done. Sweet!
Woodland walkways with Ginkgo bench in the distance.
For years I’ve been hauling hoses back and forth across my property. Each year the hoses get heavier and more difficult to move. In the last few years I can count far too many lost additions to my garden for want of water. Not a good way to treat the plants and certainly not a good way to protect the investment I’ve made in my garden.
So we half bit the bullet and had the initial stage of an irrigation system installed. If you live on Long Island and want to know a truly professional company to work with on your irrigation needs, go to Rain Rich located in Greenlawn NY. First we met with Manuel Nava who is the service manager and did a very thorough layout and assessment of our somewhat complicated property. Then Rich Silverman, the owner and founder of Rain Rich met with us to discuss the staging of the project over time.
Woodland paths restored after the irrigation pipe installation.
As he explained, since we have a mature, heavily planted garden, all the digging work would be done by hand in order not to disturb the root systems. The garden, since it was in peak season would be protected and returned as quickly as possible to an undisturbed state. As a skeptical New Yorker I figured, “Oh sure, that’ll happen!”
Well it did! Rich was true to his word. In one day he had a crew come in and hand dig all the trenching for the water and the electrical work. They first moved aside all the wood chips from my woodland walks and then dug the trenches. After the installation was completed, the soil was returned and the wood chips restored. Had I not taken pictures all day during the project, had I been away for the day and missed the frightening havoc wrecked upon my garden I would not have believed that the piping system had been installed. After all was done, it was hard to see that anything or anyone had been tromping around the property.
Rain Rich trucks of Greenlawn NY
What an amazing and careful piece of craftsmanship!
Rhododendrons have such a great place in plant hunter’s history. Tales are still being told and re-enacted as new and old seekers traverse the back roads and non-roads of the Himalayas in search of the newest and rarest of Rhodies. Courage, stamina, and leeches always play a big role in these adventures.
Having quite a different perspective of plant hunting, I traverse the hills and dales of Long Island in search of the ever elusive cultivar not yet in my plant collection. Rather than being the intrepid adventurer of far off lands gathering seed, I drive to nurseries and make some of my decisions on whether I can lift the plant into my car. Rhodies can be backbreaking.
Which brings me to the problem of this Rhododendron catawbiense which is an original inhabitant when I bought the property in 1989. The foundation plantings were all huge view-concealing Rhodies. Over time I’ve managed to dig up and move all of them except this last remaining specimen. Some of the huge plants I moved by myself and in some cases, I hired a person with a bobcat. Some survived the transplanting and some didn’t. In retrospect, I think the fatalities had to do with watering and drought issues since the rootballs of Rhodies are pretty shallow and self-contained.
View from the dining room window of the Rhodi in bloom
The way to view Rhododendrons is not to the exclusion of a view of the rest of your garden when sitting at your dining room table. This view is only beautiful for 2 weeks a year when the rhodi is in bloom. The only other benefit to having this view is that in the winter you can use the leaf curl as a thermometer to determine if the temperature is below freezing. Not worth it I say. So, as I’ve said every year for the last decade or so, I’m going to move that Rhodie to the woods this year.
I’ve been working on my garden for a long time. When I had the driveway widened, I had bluestone gravel put down since I like the crunching sound of homecoming when I drive off the paved street into the driveway.
I took the stones, which come up every time I sink a shovel into the garden, and used them to create the edging with the slight curves that welcome you onto the property and foreshadow the style which will be followed throughout the garden. Though I had professionals widen the driveway and initially place the stones I supplied, I moved them and moved them for quite awhile until I got the actual curves visually right.
I moved the stone edging 6 times before I was satisfied with the curves. I did this instead of joining a gym.
Garden Entry May 2008
I planted spring bulbs and flowers, in order to give an early season, welcome to the folks driving by and the ones who walk by on their daily exercise circuit. I am pleased how the area filled in since my initial planting in 2001. In fact, it has filled in so fully that I’m able to divide and share the wealth with some other eager gardeners.
I like the way the stones seem to have settled into their niches and look as though they’ve always lived where they are. The soil has slid through the gaps and the ground covers have leaped over the tops, naturalizing their display.