The Lucky Gardener

April 27, 2012, 15:15
Filed under: garden design, inspiration, sprig flowers, Uncategorized

Trillium – a sure sign of Spring

What marks the arrival of Spring for you?

Is it one thing in particular? Perhaps the classic sighting of the first robin, spotting the first snowdrops or crocuses, or seeing bags of grass seed stacked outside the hardware store? Maybe, like me, it is simply something in the air – the moist, rich smell of soil readying to nurture its emerging plant life for another season.

Gardening has become a national pastime of huge proportions – there is even a National Dandelion Day. (Incidentally, World Naked Gardening Day is May 5th). We have become a nation of gardeners for whom Spring is perhaps the most anticipated time of the year.

Of course, plants aren’t the only life form that points the way to Spring’s arrival. Starting in early March, young turkeys descend on our lawn, the goldfinches flying around our birdfeeders regain their yellow plumage and swarms of tiny insects appear out of nowhere, buzz about for brief moments, then vanish with the wind.

Another indicator is the beginning of the greatest national pastime…Baseball. That sport’s Opening Day celebration is possibly the most-anticipated event in our country. For weeks before, we follow the players through their pre-season warm-ups, watching them stretch, run and throw while working out the kinks in their bodies and long-dormant skills. These weeks of practice remind their muscles how to prepare for the grind of the long campaign ahead.

Gardeners don’t get a Spring Training, nothing to ease them into the season. Our first days count, and are typically followed by calluses, sore muscles and stints on our own Disabled List. And unfortunately, we don’t have a 0 or extra players on a bench to replace us.

Like baseball players, gardeners get to work outside and roll around on the grass, and we don’t work in the rain. Our seasons last only during warm weather, and, as baseball teams go from city to city, gardeners will travel during the season to other gardens near and far. And, as with the occasional mid-season trading of players, gardeners have been known to trade plants, even in the intense heat of summer, when an opening develops or something we already have just isn’t working out.

I love visiting other gardener’s gardens, always learning by listening to someone else’s ideas and walking through their inspired creations.

But, as much as I appreciate the novelty in visiting new gardens, I feel no greater comfort than while surrounded by the familiar, deep-rooted affection I have for my own.

A clear home-field advantage.

Transplanting A Giant
November 9, 2011, 12:12
Filed under: fallen trees, inspiration, storm damage

In my landscape design/build firm, refurbishing a client’s landscape occasionally involves removing well-established specimen trees. Frequently, the client will offer us the tree in exchange for what they imagine will be a huge discount off of the job price. Invariably, they’d heard wildly exaggerated stories of the value of the tree and images of 4-figure savings dance around their heads. Ninety-nine and seven-eighths percent of the time, we can’t move, or aren’t interested in, the tree. When we were offered the Japanese Split-leaf Maple pictured below, however, it was too good to pass up – especially when we knew exactly where to put it… OUR garden!

Always a risky venture, the decision was made to commit the time and resources required to move the mature specimen.

Early one morning, four men set out to begin the transplanting process – equipped with truck, excavator  machine, trailer, shovels, burlap, baling string, hoisting straps, peat moss and fertilizer.

Extracting the fifteen-foot wide tree from the ground required every tool they brought to the site, including the horticultural knowledge and delicate maneuvering skills each man had acquired through years of experience.

Once successfully separated from its native soil and loaded on the trailer, the operation shifted to prepare the spot where the tree would spend the rest of its (hopefully) long life. The following slideshow and video chronicle the final phase of the project.

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Día de los muertos…de las plantas: A Pre-Halloween Trick

In most parts of the United States, our days leading up to Halloween can be busy hanging ghoulish decorations, carving pumpkins and perfecting costumes. This year, though, if you live anywhere in the Northeastern US, such plans were set askew by a freakish snowstorm that blasted its way up the Atlantic Coast just two days before ‘tricksters’ were to swindle ‘treaters’ out of their candy.

Nearly one foot of snow fell here in Nyack. The weather event came so early in the autumn season that most trees had yet to complete their end of year leaf-drop. As a result, gravity’s pressure on increasingly snow-laden leaves began to quickly and violently detach limbs from trees and trees from soil.

Looking out at the tops of trees swaying in the strong winds, I heard dozens of loud cracks, followed by ‘smoke-like’ puffs of snow, then finally definitive crashes of wood hitting the ground.

Magnolia, Bradford Pear, Purple Plum and Tulip trees seemed to be the most affected, though no species was uniformly spared.

Many old-growth trees and established landscapes were destroyed – a loss of plant life much worse than had resulted from any hurricane or ice storm I can remember.

The aftermath looked like a tornado. A Bradford Pear, about thirty feet tall, was felled in perfect symmetry, as the following pictures show.

In many countries, Halloween is not so much about candy, but rather for remembering family and friends that have died. Certainly, the massive loss of trees caused by this storm qualifies a new type of celebration for El Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

Rocks In My Head?
October 26, 2011, 10:00
Filed under: bluestone, garden design, inspiration, masonry, patios, Uncategorized

I find comfort in the company of rocks. Boulders, field stone, quarried stone or sandy pebbles – they all make me grin. The feelings run deep, relating mostly to my preference for using natural materials in my garden designs.

As with enduring lifelong friendships, certain rocks have accompanied me through more than one house move, becoming part of gardens in different locations. A good rock is hard to find and not lightly left behind.

One day last Spring, I wanted to rearrange a few plants and rocks in the garden. For some reason, I encountered exceptional resistance while attempting to move one of my larger ‘friends’ just a few inches from where it was. The wrestling match that ensued left me breathless, yet exhilarated.

At that moment, with a twinge in my back and twinkle in my eye, I realized that even though I design and build gardens every day, it had been quite a while since I was in the trenches, interacting with rocks at that more personal level. I missed the action, bloody fingers, blisters and all.

That brief encounter was an eye-opener. And, whether it was a personal challenge to summon long-dormant abilities, or a direct, some said foolhardy, attack on the aging process, I gave myself a summer project of building a bluestone patio on our property.

I set out each day full-tilt, buoyed by youthful enthusiasm and, no doubt, glorified memories of my own past conquests. With focus firmly fixed to the tough work of hauling, lifting and sorting slabs of stone, the patio quickly began to take shape.

However, as August gave way to September, fatigue and apathy had me in their grips and slowed progress considerably.

Heart and soul lost ground to creaking bones and aching joints that led to nightly bouts of live rigor mortis.

I’m convinced that had it not been for a hurricane, flattened wheelbarrow tire and my Chiropractor’s summer vacation, I surely would have finished in time for our Labor Day party.

When did rocks get so heavy, anyway?

It Must Be Love
October 12, 2011, 20:17
Filed under: garden design, inspiration, spring flowers

It must be love.

Nothing else could justify the presence of roses in my garden.

Let me explain.  Whether driven by personal design style, or an unfounded sense of Plant Kingdom hierarchy, I take pride having excluded certain plants from my landscape designs.

You wouldn’t, for instance, find a Yucca in my beds. Pachysandra wouldn’t be spec’d. And most definitely, prissy Roses were never, ever, a consideration.

With these self-imposed limitations, imagine the predicament I found myself in during a home-improvement project my wife and I undertook a few years ago.

We wanted to close off from view, the exposed underside of our wood deck, and finally finish a project started eight years before.

Tired of looking at the ugly, barren space, we struggled in choosing an approach to make the sixteen foot long, by eight foot tall space seem less imposing. Realizing the problem had no great solution, we feared that the wrong strategy would only make the situation worse.

We decided to install cedar lattice panels as screening, and though we were by no means convinced the choice would be visually satisfying, we felt we picked the best of the worst options.

Unfortunately, when the project was finished we were miserable – it didn’t work. We needed a fix, and quick!

The only solution was to grow something on the structure to disguise it, and in my heart I knew only one plant would really be right – and I didn’t like the answer. By the excited look in her eyes, I immediately knew the same thought had popped into my wife’s head, as well.

“Can climbing roses be trained on the lattice?” she asked.

Before taking time to dream up reasons why not, I heard myself stammer the unimaginable.

“Uh, I guess so”.

My answer triggered a smile that reddened her cheekbones and raised her ears skyward. I, on the other hand, was already dealing with my anxiety of actually being a rose owner.

We planted three climbers and they began to grow, covering the lattice with a profusion of blooms and gentle fragrance. The problem solved, I reluctantly tended to the needs of the vines. The scratches and punctures resulting from their pruning became constant reminders of my generosity in planting them.

One very hot day, after a particularly sacrificial session of cutting back the vines, I felt woozy from blood loss. In that semi-conscious state, a memory appeared of the flowers my wife chose for our wedding and of the vows we took that day.

Regaining strength and becoming aware of my surroundings, it occurred to me that of all the wedding proclamations we voiced, there was one I purposely had not made.

Still somewhat dizzy, and blinded by the day’s unforgiving sunshine, a voice from above commanded me, “I want more!” I was startled by this heavenly directive.

I realized it was just my wife, standing on the deck, shouting down to me.

“I beg your pardon,” I sang, “I never promised you a rose garden!”