My new iPhone 13 has a great feature for identifying plants. Just take a photo of the plant, hit all the right buttons and voila, it gives you the suggested name or names of the plant. It also gives a few links to try to further learn about and identify the plant as well as suggestions for other plants similar to it for further research.
June 6th is one of the many days I think of my Uncle Teddy, the man who introduced me to gardening at the tender age of 6. Because of him, I began my long journey into gardening. I’ve written about him in previous posts.
This year on June 6th, I opened my garden to benefit the Huntington Historical Society. It was so fitting that it fell on Uncle Teddy’s birthday since, in the garden, he and I are entwined together. For five hours straight I taught, explained, identified plants, offered historical references, shared my knowledge, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Between 200-250 people came to enjoy my creation.
I am a gardener. So in 1989 I bought the garden with the home I could afford in the zip code I sought to live in. It’s the first house as you enter my town but some have needled me and said it was the last. I know better.
That gray day in February, the realtor brought me to five different properties. It was the first day I was actually house hunting but when we pulled into this particular gravel driveway I knew I was home. The house didn’t really interest me all that much because I knew the garden had good bones. The giant oaks and the abundance of understory shrubs of mountain laurel spoke to me. I particularly envisioned how beautiful the spring would be when all those dogwoods came into bloom.
I was home and I knew it. So I made an offer below the asking price. As a single parent of two teenage sons, I reserved enough cash to modify the living space so they could have a room of their own. The offer was too quickly accepted which dismayed me since that meant I could have bid even lower. But, oh well, what’s done is done. I had the garden I dreamed of.
That winter I would walk in the garden pulling dead leaves from the shrubs, picking up twigs, learning, and looking. Eagerly I awaited the new growth of spring the flowering of the dogwoods. Fingers crossed there might also be some perennials bursting with color in the beds. Continue reading →
I had to take a break from the hours I had just spent weeding in the garden in the heat of the summer. I was bone-weary. Thirsty enough to pour a gallon of water down my throat. My back ached from all the hours of bending and lifting. I was dirty. Actually I was muddy with sweat.
I sat back, sinking into the cushioned deck chair in the shade, my fingers wrapped around a huge glass of iced coffee. As the dizziness started to subside, I looked down towards my feet stuck into filthy work boots and next to them I spotted a carpenter ant. Now, as you know, carpenter ants are the big ones. But size is relative. Compared to me it was really, really small. This tiny creature was carrying on its back what looked like a giant white breadcrumb that was twice the size of her own body.
This little ant had a destination in mind and was determined to get it there. Well, as I sipped my iced coffee and began to cool down I watched this creature travel across the deck, board by board. It managed to carry this load on its back over every crevasse and never drop it. Occasionally she met with another carpenter ant but after acknowledging each other they each went their own way. My ant never shared its load with others to make the job easier.
Every year I’m faced with decisions about where to spend my energy. Each year that decision shifts as my available time, available focus, and available interest fluctuates. Those issues don’t present themselves in linear time. There is no steady march towards some undetermined goal. No inevitable trudge towards downsizing.
Now I’m facing another decision point, one that I face each fall. I ask myself if it’s worth it to continue my seasonal shifts of bringing the garden indoors and outdoors again next spring. Do I let nature make the decision and just buy all new plants when the season begins again? And if I do decide to harvest, what will I bring in, where will I put it, is it worth the effort this particular plant will present me with, and what is the value of each choice given my limited space?
In my garden I have hundreds of shrubs and trees. I’ve designed woodland walks that encourage immersion in the garden as you journey along the different paths. Each time I walk the garden I meander a different trail to observe the small and big changes that occurred since my last visit. Sometimes it’s a new tiny shoot emerging from the soil just seeing daylight. Sometimes there is a plant weakening and a slipping into senescence. But each time the garden tells me its stories.
Twenty years ago when I was designing this garden I hired a company to help carve the terrain. Soil was to be dumped behind the row of trees along the edge of the property to make a berm, thus creating a buffer to the street and more privacy in the woods. The driver of the bobcat had the sensibility of a construction worker rather than a gardener. There was a carelessness to his treatment of the trees. He didn’t respect their majesty. At one point he drove his bobcat forcefully into the trunk of one of these, he didn’t blink, he didn’t stop, he just backed up and kept going, Concerned only with his job at hand.
I walked to the tree truck and gently covered the gouged bark with the palm of my hand. I spoke to it as I often do while amongst the plants. Over the roar of the machine, I softly apologized and told the tree I was so sorry. I felt its hurt personally. It felt natural to me to nurture that injury as I’d cared for the scrapes and cuts on the bodies of my young sons.
At the end of the darkness of winter, I start from infinitesimal seeds the hopes and dreams of a new season. Spring is about optimism, plans and possibilities for a future of glorious beauty meant to nourish our hearts and our bodies.
Dreaming of meals, the simmering soups bubbling on the stove, the roasts in the oven. I am transported by the seasonings growing in my herb garden, warmed by the sun. These meals will nourish those who gather together.
My Art Starts in the Garden
I love to share my garden! This is a creation that I’ve been working on for over 30 years and what fun is it keeping it all to myself? That feels so selfish to me.
So the best thing I can do, since it’s hard for so many of you to travel here, is to take you on a garden tour around my 1/2 acre woodland walks in Northport NY. We’re Zone 7 here and this Garden Tour video is in the early spring on March 21, 2020 around 6pm in the evening.
I haven’t yet finished my fall cleanup at this point and of course, as gardeners well know, the garden is never perfect. At this time of year, in my neck of the woods, something new opens every single day. It’s a very exciting time for me each day as I walk around to see what’s new. Spring is about renewal. About optimism. About color. About surprises.
This is the first in a series of Garden Tour videos I’ll be doing so please remember to subscribe to my YouTube Channel to be alerted when I publish new videos.
My garden is the source material for almost all of my paintings. It is where I get my inspiration. It’s where I present yet another aspect of my creativity but this one is in 3D and seasonally adjusted over time and temperature.
How do we grow gardeners? We start them young. We intrigue them with our questions about what they’re seeing, what they’re hearing. We let their imaginations run rampant. We celebrate their dirty hands and knees and when they grow up they already love their favorite garden spots.
We pass on what our elders taught us that captured our fascination with the world around us. How did we come to appreciate the complexity of leaf edges and the critters crawling under our stumps and stones? We talked with them, we enjoyed the experience of learning and sharing. We made the garden the center of their invented stories, their imagined dinosaurs, the strolling around the paths that led to nowhere but really everywhere.
My Uncle Teddy passed down to me the mysterious and exciting world of nature and the gift he gave me keeps giving. As my grandson CJ completes his Eagle Scout project of creating a woodland path through a nature preserve dedicated to native plant species with the eradication invasive species, we see how we generationally share our knowledge and continue to contemplate our universe.
My muse is my garden. Other gardens as well, but my garden in particular. I move in it, feel it, and hear the breezes whisper through it. I watch the lighting during the day as it slides over and around the textured surfaces.
Lighting is so different on days with sun and with clouds. Lighting in the spring with the bright yellow-greens of optimistic new growth and lighting by the fall with ambers & tans of a lived life. Morning light offers tender ambiance while afternoon colors not only light the scene from a different direction, the colors are deeper and warmer.
My garden brings consciousness and meaning to me. It keeps me grounded. The ephemeral beauty of an unfertilized blossom studied up close with magnifiers and macro lenses is a representation of a miracle. The world of possibility. The beginning of a story I represent in my Art. I walk through my garden gathering ideas. Stories I want to tell. Suggested ideas I want to convey.
In my garden I spend time designing the landscape or I spend time closely and intimately with a singular specimen at a particular stage of growth. In my studio I may paint a vignette or a full landscape view of a part of the garden I’ve designed, or I may choose to paint a small portion of one flower that has moved me. The minute miracle. This is my work. Outdoors and indoors. These are the stories I tell. This is my Art. You can see more of my work in my online Art Shop.
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.
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!
In October of 2012, Superstorm Sandy felled 4 large Oak trees in my woodland garden. We were lucky that was the only damage we suffered in that severe storm other than loss of electricity. Instantly my garden went from full shade to sunshine a dappled shade. What a transformation for it and for me.
After a period of mourning, I started rethinking, planning and studying what to do with this newfound daylight.
One of the mighty Oak trees was left with an interesting sculptural remnant which I originally planned to keep in remembrance of what had been. As usual, I changed my mind as I started designing and replanting. Like most gardeners, I change my mind all the time as I work in my garden.
I decided to plant a Heritage River Birch, Betula nigra “Heritage” in memory of my Uncle Teddy who introduced me to gardening. As a child visiting him in Schenectady from my treeless home in Brooklyn, he one day found me peeling the bark from one of his many white birch trees. When he asked me to stop as I was pulling the “skin” from the tree and hurting it, I looked around with tears in my eyes and realized that the entire garden was alive. I was transformed!
This tree is for my uncle who shared with me his garden and his love. Thank you!
I lost some friends.
Sandy came to visit and in a fury broke, smashed and tore away some of my garden friends. These huge and venerable trees were here before I moved into their space many decades ago. They’ve provided me with the backbones of my woodland garden. They helped me design the paths I carved out of the thickets. They offered the strong verticals of a towering garden design.
These old oaks shared their shade keeping me cool in the summer. This shade offered me the opportunity to explore the great variety of plants and shrubs that thrive in their speckled light. Shredded oak leaves of these generous trees have been the basis of the garden mulch that nourishes my woodland garden.
I am mourning the loss of what was.
But now I’ve planted bulbs where the oaks once stood.
I look forward in the spring to enjoying their 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!
Four O’Clocks were my first introduction to growing plants from seed. Uncle Teddy took me by the hand at his home in Schenectady and introduced me, the kid from Brooklyn, to gardening. I can still smell the soil as we dropped the seeds of Four O’Clocks into the ground he taught me to prepare. Four O’Clocks weren’t the only things growing in his garden, so was I.
The Kansas Peonies I grow in my garden was a Mother’s Day present from my son Chris. I have so many gifts he’s given to me over our many years together but I still cherish the bright pink of these robust plants each year as they bloom for me right in season. They return each Mother’s Day, expanding and adding to their beauty, as does he.
One year for my September birthday, my son, Michael came swooping in proudly bestowing upon me a stripling of a Japanese Maple. Still dangling was the $9.99 tag placed on it from Home Depot. Now, this mature specimen holds court as a central focal point in my front garden.
A bouquet of Zinnias comes into my hands each year when my husband Dave buys them from the gardener with a stand up the street from us. The grin on his boyish face as he hands them to me with love is matched only by the riotous colors of the single and double flowers grouped tightly in his hands.
On Mother’s Day this year my grandson C.J. bounced up to greet me with a pot full of poppies. He shares my garden with me and helps to bring my attention to all the wonderful colors and shapes he finds there for fear I might miss them. These poppies are pink he told me and reminded me that we need to photograph everything so we’ll remember how they looked.