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.
When we need to “Water” ourselves we take a drink towards the top of our stem, our mouth.
This water, sooner or later is then is eliminated, as if by gravity below the point of entry.
Plants, on the other hand, take a drink at the very bottom of their structure, their roots, and then, defying gravity, eliminate the excess at the very top of their structure, their leaves.
How is this journey accomplished?
Pathway of Water Through a Plant
Water enters the plant through the root hairs.
It is then conducted upward in the stem via the xylem.
Water exits the plant through the stomata located on the leaves.
Osmosis is the process used for the water to enter the root hairs.
Cohesion-tension theory is believed to be the method that water is conducted upward via the xylem. Think of adjacent drops of water, which when their exterior barriers are broken, move & merge into one larger drop.
Transpiration is the process of water evaporating from the leaf.
Roots have microscopic root hairs to take up more water
At the root of it all…are the roots.
Roots are designed in different ways to anchor plants.
Their main purpose, however, is to gather from the soil the water & nutrients needed to sustain & grow the plant.
To do this the root is designed in a point called the apical meristem.
This apical meristem pushes through the soil in search of nourishment.
In order to increase the surface for absorption the root has microscopic root hairs that increase the surface several hundred times. By osmosis, these root hairs bring water into the root.
Osmosis is the process that allows water to pass through cell epidermal walls. Water molecules attempt to balance the amount of water pressure on either side of the wall. Once the water enters the root hairs the equalizing mechanism is shut down & the water can’t escape. It then moves from the root hairs to the roots via a process called turgor.
Water moves through the plant from roots to leaves through the xylem. Osmosis moves the water from the ground to the root systems & cell turgor moves the water through the xylem.
Cell turgor is what keeps the firmness in plants. With low turgor you get wilting. You want to keep all cells filled with water or the cells begin to die.
This is why you cut flowers under water to use in your flower arrangement.
To protect the cells from exploding with too much water as it moves from the roots to the xylem, the cell walls protect themselves by pushing the water out into the hollow tubular cells in the root’s center using a gentle pumping action called root pressure. This brings the water into the xylem, which now conducts the water upwards from the roots to the leaves.
Rhododendron leaves in winter will curl up to reduce the number of stomates on exposed surfaces to reduce the transpiration rate of water. In my garden the rhodi leaves curl when the temperature moves into the 20’s
Transpiration occurs in the leaves by way of the stomates usually located on the underside of the leaves. Water is vaporized through the stomates & is replaced by liquid water that has been delivered by the continuous flow upwards through the xylem system of roots, stems and leaves.
This transpirational pull is felt throughout the entire length of the plant.
In most plants about 98% of the water is lost through the transpired water vapor from under the leaves. A 48-ft tall Silver Maple is thought to transpire up to 58 gallons of water an hour.
You can perceive this on a hot summer day when sitting under a large shade tree & enjoying the cooling effects of the transpired water.
Plants protect themselves from too much loss of moisture by closing the stomates in the underside of the leaves. Generally, stomates are open during the day & close in the night-time. In the winter when the ground freezes you can see the curled leaves of large leaved rhododendrons as they reduce the available surface of exposed stomates.
In preparation for winter and in times of drought, leaves will fall from the trees in a process called abscission further reducing the stomatic surfaces used for transpiration.
In winter, the deciduous trees have lost their leaves and water movement halts. If the water freezes in the cells, it ruptures the cell membranes. You can see this quickly in Colocasia AKA Elephant Ears after the first cold snap.
One way that winter-hardy plants survive is by a process of cold hardening, which uses sugars that function somewhat like antifreeze.
The pathways for water distribution are also modeled for nutrient distribution in the plants but that is worth another entire post.
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.
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.
Oak tree lost in battle with Hurricane Sandy
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!
Theodorus Hendrik Gerrits, 1914 – 1991. Thank you!
This tree is for my uncle who shared with me his garden and his love. Thank you!
Recently I was asked about replanting trees after the destruction of Storm Sandy. I’ve given a lot of thought to this issue since my garden lost 4 large oaks which were living here before I moved into the shade they kindly provided me.
Following the storm, my arborist Ron Strauss of Tree Believers, (631-864-5514) sent his newsletter , “The Root of the Matter”, with recommendations of what to and what not to replant. Here is what he said:
We recommend that you do not re-plant using the following species of trees (all commonly planted in LI landscapes) that did not endure the storms well.
Emerald Green Arborvitae
Norway or Crimson King Maple
Now to the question of planting recommendations his list included:
Green Giant Arborvitae
For our smaller gardens, trees that I recommend and have or will be planting are:
Dogwood ‘Stellar Pink’ (this is one of the disease resistant Rutgers hybrids) 15-30’ ht & spread. Pink flowers in early summer.
Stewartia pseudocamellia var. koreana. Quite slow growing 30’ht, 20’ spread. Decorative bark. White flowers in early summer. Single or multi-trunk.
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.
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!
Woodland walkways with Ginkgo bench in the distance.
Today the sun is shining on the beauty of my garden after the blizzard of February 10th, 2010.
I haven’t been out yet since I’m leaving all the shoveling to my hubby Dave. But I ventured to take the screens out of some upstairs windows and shot some photos and video of the heavily snow-laden branches.
It seems from my perspective so far that the only major damage is the loss, yet again, of the top of the American Holly, (Ilex opaca). I don’t remember what year it was but it happened once before over 15 years ago. The central apex broke at the time from another snowstorm but grew back with a double lead. I don’t know yet whether I’ve lost just one or both.
I made a short, one-minute video of the garden as it looks this morning before the wind picks up and blows all the heavy snow from the branches. It will be fun to watch the garden perk up during the day as the snow begins to rearrange itself.
“Kansas Peonies” Art inspired from my Mother’s Day present.
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.
Japanese Maple a birthday gift.
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.
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.
A sturdy old oak stump nestled in my woodland garden
This grand old oak tree was hollow and very much alive when I bought my property in 1989. It was a constant fascination to me that such a large tree could survive when so much of it’s trunk was hollow. This was years before I formally studied horticulture and learned about the xylem, cambium and phloem and their role in feeding the tree and keeping it alive.
I just loved the strength and endurance of this massive tree for what I could see with my own eyes. It had the ability to live year after year with half of it’s core gone, pushing out leaves in spite of itself. To me it was a tribute to raw determination.
A few years ago though, I noticed a decline in the top growth and I became concerned. This huge tree had always leaned quite heavily sideways and if it fell, though it wouldn’t land on any house or structure, it could fall onto the roadway and possibly injure folks driving off to do errands in their car. To avoid that possibility I called for a conference with my arborist, Eran Strauss of Tree Believers. We decided that the tree had indeed reached a tipping point and was now a danger.
Eran and I had his crew cut the tree to a height of about 25 feet so that if it fell, it would remain on my property and fall into my woodland walks. Though I missed this living example of determination, I felt relieved that danger was averted.
So one morning, weeks later, as I’m taking my first sip of coffee and looking out my kitchen window, something had dramatically changed in the garden. As I wandered out to examine the change I came upon the toppled top 15 feet or so of incredibly decayed pieces of oak tree trunk smashed to bits and strewn around the garden. The only damage was to my wire compost bins and not to any people. Our plan had worked.
I now enjoy watching this remaining stump play host to birds and wildlife. The ivy and mushrooms love to snuggle into crevices. This old friend makes me smile each time I see it, remembering the strength and determination it had to live life on it’s own terms. And now it is resting and still giving back to the universe.
I don’t have much seating around my woodland walks other than tree stumps since it is a place for a meandering journey rather than a destination. But I do have one bench that allows me to sit and take a break if my phone rings while I’m gardening.
It also is very much a destination for my grandsons since they use it as a stopping and starting position for their many excursions with the dinosaurs and forest tigers they’ve found roaming the woods.
This first bench I bought in 2000 to commemorate my graduation from Farmingdale State with a degree in Ornamental Horticulture. By the time this photo was taken in January of 2007, the bench was beginning to sink if you sat on it so it truly became merely a garden ornament.
This next bench I bought in September of 2008 to celebrate my birthday. I found it on the web at shop-nc.com:
It surpassed my expectations in the quality of materials and the beauty of the design. I would certainly recommend the product and the company.
I took this photo in April with one of my Rhododendron PJM’s in full bloom. A few years ago I transplanted this rhodi from another part of the garden and positioned it behind the bench to give a sense of enclosure. The view beyond is borrowed scenery since my property line is about 10 feet behind the bench.
Here is a view from behind the bench looking towards my home. If you look closely you can see that I have secured the bench to the adjacent oak tree to prevent it from getting legs and walking out of the garden. Some years ago I found that my wood chipper had disappeared from the garden and it took me quite some time to get over the sense of violation and intrusion.