Time to Smell the Roses

June is the Month for the Rose

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”- William Shakespeare

Yellow Rose

One can not imagine a June garden without the presence of the rose. Whether climbing on an arbor, rambling over wall or fence, as a hedge or a single favorite against a trellis, its charm and allure is the highlight of the June garden. More than any other flower the rose have long been a source of fascination and inspiration for cultures around the world. The rose has captivated and enchanted man’s imaginations. Poets and writers from different culture have been inspired by the beauty and fragrance of the rose, the association of the rose with beauty, romance and perfection dates back to some of the earliest societies and continues to this day.
The 2012 Herb of the Year was the rose. Roses have been valued for centuries for their beauty and fragrance in the garden, but they also have many herbal uses; petals are used in perfumes and cosmetics, and the fruit is used in beverages, supplements, and herbal medicines. From the Classical Era of the Ancient Greeks and Romans to this day no other flower can lay claim to the rich history of tradition, symbolism and reverence that the rose signifies. It is the national flower of England, the floral emblem of our country as well as the state flower of four states. One only has to reflect on the richness of this legacy for a brief period to come up with many of its associations. Before FTD and”say it with flowers” the rose conveyed many sentiments in the popular Victorian fad of composing “tussie mussies” to express a message to a lover or friend. In the Language of Flowers the rose had several meanings depending on its color. A bouquet of red roses, often used to show love, is used as a Valentine’s Day gift in many countries to this day.

A rose is a woody perennial of the genus Rosa, within the family Rosaceae. There are over 100 species. They form a group of erect shrubs, and climbing or trailing plants, with stems that are often armed with sharp prickles. Flowers are large and showy, in colours ranging from white through yellows and reds. Most species are native to Asia, with smaller numbers native to Europe, North America, and northwest Africa. Species, cultivars and hybrids are all widely grown for their beauty and fragrance. Rose plants range in size from compact, miniature roses, to climbers that can reach 7 meters in height. Different species hybridize easily, and this has been used in the development of the wide range of garden roses.[1] _Wikipedia.
A  featured article in the Boston Globe Magazine (April 15, 2012) titled “Return of the Rose” by Carole Stocker featured a new book by rosarians Mike and Angelina Chute. In their informative book, Roses for New England: A Guide to Sustainable Rose Gardening, ( www.rosesolutions.net. ) they encourage any of us who were timid about the requirements of growing these wonderful plants to take heart. “The new ones are easier to grow, bloom longer, they’re disease- resistant and little by little their fragrance is returning.” This is great news as many people stopped growing roses because of the pesticides and fertilizers used that resulted in the death of animals, especially birds. Plant breeders have risen to the challenge of developing roses that do not require constant spraying for pests and diseases and we now have many great choices to select from. Significant among these is the Knock Out series which has the added bonus of being a repeat bloomer.

Roses are easy to grow and can stand a lot of neglect – though they do perform best if you give them some loving care.
•Most do best with at least six hours of sun
, rich soil and mulching ( add dehydrated cow manure and peat ) Feeding when coming into flower (as the buds form) Rose Tone scratched into the soil
. Keeping them clear of ‘black spot’ and aphids particularly. ( use an organic product ), reasonable watering ( consider a drip irrigation system on a timer to avoid spraying foliage )
Prune out diseased, dead or damaged branches in early spring.
Among the Chutes’ favorites are All The Rage, Yellow Brick Road, Super Hero, Yellow Submarine, Julia Child, Rhode Island Red, Clair Matin, Knock Out, Pink Knock Out, and Macy’s Pride. I invite you to introduce some roses into your garden for the pure joy of experiencing the sensual pleasure they provide. I also encourage you to visit your favorite local garden center to feast your eyes and treat your nose to the array of roses in all their glorious profusion this month.



Let’s Contain It

” The Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers “

This month is very, very busy as so many outdoor tasks and household must dos are crying for our attention. It may mean painting, cleaning out garages for that sale, power washing the deck, cleaning windows and putting in screens, retrieving outdoor furniture from its winter storage location and the list goes on and on. Memorial Day is on the horizon and many of us anticipate the arrival of guests and planning for those festive cookouts.

In the garden things are really “revving” up. Ours lawns need weekly mowing, the weeds are showing up and most of our perennials have made their appearance and perhaps you have already harvested some of those cold hardy lettuces in your vegetable garden. May is the month we look forward to planting the beautiful color that annuals bring to our gardens and containers. The excitement of choosing those perfect pots, urns and flower boxes to fill with a profusion of bloom is perhaps the most welcomed gardening task for me. Every year we are presented with new selections and it is like looking at a litter of puppies_I want them all! How do we select from all these choices and what cultural practices will ensure months of enjoyment from these displays?

If you are anything like me this is a real seek and find adventure for rarely do I find all the right plants in the right combination of color, texture and habit at one nursery. So it usually takes me over a week to gather the palette for this season_usually a revision from last year’s display. Select a container(s) that you positively love, the bigger the better or opt for a grouping of three in varying heights, purchase quality potting soil ( Miracle Gro is good ), select plants that reflect your color scheme and have contrasting textures and heights; i.e. tall thrillers, lower fillers and trailing spillers. After planting sprinkle in some granular slow-release fertilizer like Osmocote and remember to use a water soluble liquid fertilizer at least twice a month to keep those flowers popping. Some plants need regular dead heading and I usually do some serious pruning of more aggressive plants by mid July. If you want to simplify maintenance, group your containers and design a convenient watering system because by August the ‘bucket drill’ will become a daily necessity.

Flower Boxes_Library

The flower box here (above) was designed for the Centerville library and features a beautiful ‘azak’ box from Walpole Woodworkers filled with a combination of dwarf boxwood and cascading juniper for all season interest. After the summer show it is refreshed with fall flowers and then ultimately decorated for Christmas. The ‘thrillers’ here are tiny “Italian Cypress’ trees and mandevilla vine. Geraniums, supertunias, bacopa and ivy ‘fill’ and ‘spill’. This combination was a great performer and greeted visitors all Summer long.

Here is some eye candy to tantalize and get those creative juices flowing.

Trio-Whimsey Side-view Favorite-Watercolor Favorite-Container-Pic Cornwall-Urn Caladium


I invite you to visit my web site Embellir page for a display of some of the containers I have designed for my clients and for my personal enjoyment.

Embellir 2nd Choice

About the Author and Photographer: Elaine Johnson has been designing residential landscapes on Cape Cod and the South Shore for over 25 years. She has a very strong background in creative design and project management for all phases of construction and installation. With an extensive knowledge of plant material suited to local growing conditions, she designs landscapes that have lasting beauty and integrity. To learn more about Elaine and see a portfolio of her work please visit her website at Elaine M. Johnson, Landscape Design.

Decisions, Decisions. Recent Hydrangea Introductions.


I invite you to click on this link to view my Keynote slide presentation created for the Centerville Public Library two years ago. All About Hydrangeas_All About Hydrangeas Continue reading

Awaiting the Vernal Equinox.

“May flowers always line your path and sunshine light your day. May songbirds serenade you every step along the way. May a rainbow run beside you in a sky that’s always blue. And may happiness fill your heart each day your whole life through.” ~ Irish Blessing

March Equinox

             The March equinox will occur in March 2016 on Sunday, March 20, 2016 at 12:30 AM EDT


This marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and fall (autumn) in the southern hemisphere from an astronomical viewpoint. The March equinox is the movement when the sun crosses the true celestial equator – or the line in the sky above the earth’s equator – from south to north, around March 20 (or March 21) of each year. At that time, day and night are balanced to nearly 12 hours each all over the world and the earth’s axis of rotation is perpendicular to the line connecting the centers of the earth and the sun. All of us who love gardening anticipate this event and hope that the phrase “Spring on Cape Cod” is not an oxymoron this year. Anticipation for this Spring is long awaited as we have just experienced a fairly “easy” winter this year. As I write this the evidence of that encouraging fact has been the early appearance of snow drops and crocus and in some location an early breaking of buds on Spring blooming trees and shrubs. Hopefully it won’t be too long before forsythia, cherry trees and other early Spring shrubs and trees will reward our patience.


Four years ago the United States Department of Agriculture ( USDA ) published their revised Plant Hardiness Zones. Zone maps are tools that show where various permanent landscape plants can adapt. All horticultural material is classified according to its hardiness. Hardiness refers to a plant’s ability to tolerate temperature. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map divides the United States into zones according to the average minimum cold temperature. Plant material should indicate which zones it should be able to survive the average maximum and minimum air temperature. If you want a shrub, perennial, or tree to survive and grow year after year, the plant must tolerate year-round conditions in your area, such as the lowest and highest temperatures and the amount and distribution of rainfall. Here on the Cape we went from zone 6b to 7a which basically means we can “try” to plant a broader palette of regionally recommended plants with caution. When it comes to plant hardiness ratings and zone maps remember: they are general guidelines, not rules. There are any number of environmental circumstances that may result in different micro-climate growing conditions in your landscape and the intimate knowledge of those conditions results in successful gardening. The best rule of thumb is to be aware of your “ecological zone” and notice what thrives here on the Cape by careful observance of natural areas and long established gardens.

Hardiness Map


In addition to these guidelines one must remember to take into account our frost free period. Each winter, on average,our risk of frost is from October 17 through May 4. Almost certainly, however, we will receive frost from October 31 through April 15. We are almost guaranteed that we will not get frost from May 23 through October 2. The frost-free growing season is around 166 days. My wisdom has always looked to the last full moon in May and know that we are safe after that occurrence. The Full Flower Moon of May will occur on the 3rd which is very early in the month, so I would advise waiting until the 15th or later.

Enough science! Here are some practical tips for plant selection during March:

Some Plants That Can Take a Chill:

Bulbs: Crocuses ,Daffodils, Dwarf Iris, Grape Hyacinths, Hyacinths, Ranunculus, Tulips

Annuals: African daisies, Marguerite daisies Nemesias, Osteospermums, Diascia.
Perennials: Adonis, Barrenworts ,Bergenias ,Corydalsis, English Daisies, Hellebores,   Pansies, Primroses, Virginia Bluebelss.
Tips For Acclimating Your Plants:

Plant spring containers when nighttime temperatures are consistently above freezing or just dipping down to about 30°F.

Spring Grouping
Cold temperatures and excessive sun can damage plants that haven’t been hardened off properly.
To harden off plants, keep them outside in a protected, partially shaded area for a few days, exposing them gradually to more sun and cooler temperatures.
Protect plants when a light frost threatens by covering them with an old sheet or blanket.
Move pots to a sheltered location if a severe frost is expected.
_Resource: “Celebrate Spring”, Dennis Schrader, Fine Gardening.com

 Spring Blossom Eye Candy

IMG_5364 IMG_0983 IMG_0964 IMG_0960 IMG_0955 IMG_0967 Fine Gardening pic




On a recent visit to Mahoney’s Garden Center in Falmouth I took the opportunity to add some cheer and color to a typically gray Cape Cod day. Nothing beats the blues better than feasting our eyes on the early harbingers of Spring especially pansies with their smiling faces and bright hues. After the routine chores of Spring cleanup consider placing a few containers filled with early blooms around your yard. Good strategic spots might be near the front door, on a deck, in flower boxes and in beds seen from your windows. Adding these small touches will certainly give you pleasure and herald the arrival of Spring on the 20th. Happy Gardening.


At Mahoney's

Wonderful containers by Lachuza overspilling with pansies, hyacinths, “tete a tete” daffodils, heater ‘Lime Rickey’ and ivy. Created by Elaine M. Johnson_Embellir.



Knock Out Small Trees.

by: Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
 “I think that I shall never see 
a poem lovely as a tree. 
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest against the earth’s sweet flowing breast; 
A tree that looks at God all day, 
And lifts her leafy arms to pray; 
A tree that may in Summer wear a nest of robins in her hair; 
Upon whose bosom snow has lain; 
Who intimately lives with rain. 
Poems are made by fools like me, 
but only God can make a tree.”

Look for great blooms, colorful foliage, interesting bark and a sculptural silhouette .








OK, I know it is the end of February and as I write this it is snowing again. The scene out my window is a heavy blanket of snow camouflaging much of the details of the landscape. What is apparent though is the overall structure or “bones” of the property; i.e. major trees and shrubs, architectural elements and the delineation of outdoor spaces or rooms. With an imagination and portfolio of photos taken last Season, one can start contemplating where a small tree might be added as soon as Mother Nature cooperates.

“In a world where garden space is shrinking, it easy to think there is no room for trees. But landscapes without trees are like rooms without ceilings. Using flowers, foliage and texture as guidelines create interesting garden for you and generations to come.” Richie Steffen_Curator/Elizabeth Carey Miller Botanical Garden_Seattle


Imperial Alder


Even if you have very little space you can always find room for adding a great container to hold a small tree. You can place the container as a focal spot in a garden border or add it to a grouping on your deck or terrace. Do choose a large, durable container with drainage. Use a quality soil mix and monitor watering requirements. I have both deciduous and evergreen plants in containers throughout my gardens and they add interest in the winter months. The picture below features a Japanese Maple which are a perfect choice for containers as most are slow growing. Visit The Essence of the Tree to see a great selection.

Tree in pot Boxwood





Before setting out to your local garden center or nursery to pick out that ‘perfect ‘ tree do your homework. Here are some helpful suggestions and resources to aid in your selection.

1 .Evaluate the size of your property and whether your selection is appropriate. ( most of us do not have the space for a European Beech or English Oak! ).
2 .Avoid planting too close to the house as trees can be a hazard during storms and can also impact the longevity of your siding and roof.
3. Avoid trees that have vigorous fibrous root systems and heavy canopies,as when mature, other plants will not compete and thrive under them.
4. Consider the purpose of the tree; i.e. for filtered shade on a hot day, ornamental features, winter interest, privacy screening, etc.
5. Know the cultural requirements for your tree as to soil type, hardiness for our zone, disease and pest resistance, light requirements and siting ( are you on the ocean? or have a lot of wind? ).
6. What size tree to start with? Can you handle the planting alone or is heavier equipment required? ( trees are priced according to caliper of trunk approximately 18” from top of the root ball. A 2” or more caliper is a fairly heavy tree and to avoid injury to you and damage to the tree you should consider professional help for installation. )
7. Do ask for advice at your nursery. These people are valuable allies in helping with your selection.



Here are some of my favorite small ornamental deciduous trees that are “Happy Campers” on Cape Cod. This list is by no means all inclusive but all have interesting foliage, flowers, bark and branching habit and are well-suited to our smaller properties.

Cornus kousa, Chinese dogwood

Bay Lane KOusa




Stewartia pseudocamelia ( sorry no common name )

Fink_Stewartia Stewartia
Styrax japonica, Japanese Snowbell
Acer rubrum, Swamp maple ( our native swamp maple )
Acer griseum, Paperbark maple( bark detail above )
Acer palmatum ‘Sango kaku’, Coral Bark Japanese Maple

Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ Japanese maple Katsura
Malus Adirondack, Adirondack Crabapple( disease resistant to Apple Cedar Rust_see my blog_A Stately Native)



Magnolia grandiflora ‘Butterfly’

Butterfly Magnolia





A word about Watering:
Until new roots grow into the soil of the planting site, your tree will be dependent on the water that is held in the original root ball area. Especially if you are planting in late spring or summer it is critical that this root ball area does not dry out. In areas with clay soils, the surrounding soil will pull moisture out of the porous soil mix the tree is potted in, so your tree may dry out much more quickly than you expect. Check and, if needed, water your new tree right at the root ball every few days for the first several weeks during the growing season. The soil around the rootball should remain moist though not saturated. Within several months, when sufficient numbers of roots have grown into the loosened, mulched soil surrounding the rootball, you can direct your irrigation to that area. If you plant in fall or winter, you will probably need to water your new tree every two to four weeks during its first summer, more often in especially hot periods. If your tree is planted in spring or later, you may need to water as often as once a week throughout the first summer. When irrigating, apply enough water to thoroughly wet the root zone to a depth of at least a foot, but don’t water so often that the soil stays waterlogged.
A newly planted tree may take 1-2 years to become established. Larger container stock trees may take longer to become established than smaller stock. vavaville tree foundation.com
Of all the joys of gardening nothing beats the excitement of picking out and planting a new tree. Aside from your own personal satisfaction you will have the bonus of knowing you are celebrating the richness of our natural world. It is truly a gift that keeps giving for your own enjoyment and a legacy for the future.

Venus Dogwood

Pictured above the beautiful large flower of ‘Venus’ Dogwood. This spectacular, fast growing hybrid Dogwood is distinguished by exceptionally large, white flowers – as large as your hand! Summer flowers yield attractive strawberry-like fall fruit. Glossy green leaves will show wonderful fall color. This vigorous selection from Rutgers University has outstanding winter hardiness, good tolerance of drought conditions and is highly resistant to disease. Deciduous. Available online at Monrovia or White Flower Farm. Request this specimen from your local nurseryman.


Why Hire a Landscape Designer?

Design It and then Build It


It is my belief that sound design and proper planning will prevent impulsive decisions, direct the program for installation in a timely and appropriate sequence and by the nature of the process save the homeowner time and money. Despite the claims of HGTV, beautiful gardens are created by careful planning and execution and not miraculously over a weekend.  Rome was not built in a day and neither is your garden. Hiring a landscape designer if only for a valuable consultation is well worth the investment. Why not do it right the first time thus saving you valuable time and money.

Concept Drawing Landscape design is a forming of relationships, and a creation of balances between the complexities of nature and architecture.

You see your landscape everyday, you know that there is something wrong but don’t know how to address it. You see the plants and turf struggling, you know there is a low spot where all the water pools, yet how do you fix it? You’d love to add an area for relaxation and entertaining or a safe place for your kids or grandkids to play, but where?. Maybe a fire pit would be fun on a Summer evening or this might be the year for that pool you’ve been dreaming of for years. These features and so many others are the things a professional Landscape Designer can design and implement for you. The designer’s role is to create a plan that translates your dreams into reality and solve your landscape problems. The goal is create spaces that are both functional and beautiful.

A landscape designer is a garden professional who  has a high degree of artistic talent along with a thorough understanding of which landscape materials are best suited for your garden. Having been educationally and real world trained this type of pro can save you time and money thus allowing you to enjoy more quality time with family, friends and leisure in your yard.

A designer can help accomplish your landscape goals and devise a plan that fits into your budget. An estimate is generated from the plans which allows everyone to see what exactly is being done, where it is being done, and how much it costs.Landscape designers work directly with the installation crew to make sure that all of the elements from the design plan are carried out. The designer is available throughout the entire process to answer questions from the homeowner and installation crew to avoid costly errors and second guessing. I believe that a landscape designer is only as good as their crew; with a crew of experts behind them they can create anything. He or she is your advocate and is present to guarantee that the installation proceeds on schedule and according to the goals established.

When you hire a professional landscape designer you are hiring someone that understands your area and what will work best for you. He or she can give you different design options and create an accurate final plan that a licensed landscape contractor can bid from. These drawings will show accurate dimensions and will also note the specific types of hardscape and plant materials that are proposed for use. These drawing will take into account your budget, site conditions, climate and your ultimate use of the space.




 Photo_Preston Montague

The decision to hire a professional landscape designer can be one of the smartest investments you’ll make toward enhancing your home and its setting. A landscape designer can work with you to turn that neglected corner into a garden sanctuary, or help you completely plan and furnish your outdoor living spaces with the creative use of plants, hardscaping, and other garden elements, resulting in a unified, balanced environment that you’ll enjoy for years to come.

APLD® New England Chapter members continually hone their landscape design skills. Many of our members are Certified, which means they have submitted their work to a rigorous, juried peer-review process.

Our work is about much more than just a good-looking landscape. They are just a snapshot of moments within a larger design of a landscape that grows and evolves over time. When you dive into the designs more and look at multiple photos from the same project alongside the design drawings, you can start to see how they are fundamentally great places to be in. They may be great spaces in which to relax, hold a party, have a family barbecue or watch the birds.

We work with the big picture.. Landscapes do not exist in a vacuum, and it’s the landscape professionals job to work within the site context to design places that fit the big picture.The saying “the design is in the details” rings especially true for residential landscape design.Our technical expertise goes beyond merely knowing about current trends. Improved plant knowledge is a great example of the value of continuing education for landscape designers and greatly benefits clients. . The horticultural world is vast, with new cultivars being developed in response to diseases every year. Landscape designers stay up-to-date on horticultural issues and use that knowledge to design landscapes.

                                     Landscape Design = The Art of Design and The Science of Horticulture.

“The complexities that arise in designing a garden or a landscape come from the necessary intersection of multiple disciplines in order to address all the layers that abound in nature. To succeed you need to have some proficiency with numerous fields of study: horticulture, soil biology, engineering, and art to name a few.” _

Graphic Plan

_ Plan Graphic_Matthew Cunningham

A Landscape Designer can help you with:

1. Idea Generation

2. Site Analysis

3. Conceptual Design

4. Construction Planning

5. Budget Creation

6. Contractor Liaison

7. Project Management

One of the real benefits of working with a professional landscape designer in the design development process is in having this person stick with you through the construction phase. Every project will have the potential to be improved upon as it is being built. Additionally, almost every project will have some “unknown” pop up during construction. Having your designer close at hand or as your project manager will ensure that you capitalize on opportunity and minimize any unforeseen pitfalls.

If this is the season you are going to finally tackle that project you’ve been contemplating, think about contacting a professional landscape designer to guide you in developing a plan for you and facilitating the installation process.

Design triangle


APLD Graphic                             Log onto www.APLD.org to find a Professional Landscape Designer in your area.

Please refer to this very informative article on Houzz for more information on the nature of professional services: “What to Know About Landscape Design Service Agreements.” The graph below is provided for the state in which I practice and is fairly representative of fees for APLD Landscape Designers.

Cost of LD

Evolution of a Landscape Project

 Concept Plan

Boyd Rendered copyBefore;

Boyd Before


The Afters:

Boyd After #2


Boyd After


Welcome Home_Creating Curb Appeal for Your Front Yard.

                                 Curb Appeal Up Front and Personal



Design: Elaine M. Johnson Landscape Design Cape Cod


Looking beyond the island in the circular drive of this contemporary Cape Cod home one notices the stately planters punctuating the portico entry. They draw the eye and are the perfect scale for the facade of this home. How can one analyze and then determine a pleasant front entry utilizing the ideas presented here. Read on.


This year February still finds us in the grip of Winter and, as gardeners, we are probably getting cabin fever and aching to get outside, dirty our hands and start that Spring clean up. Until that happens it is a great time to take a look at the elements of your front yard design. Are you pleased with what you see? Perhaps this very brief introduction will provide some clues to improving the “Approach”, “Journey” and “Arrival”.
The term curb appeal was originally coined by the real estate industry to explain those elements that prospective home buyers look for and find appealing when shopping for a future home. Most of the suggestions for providing this allure are applicable to our discussion here; i.e. making improvements to enhance the appearance of your home and therefore give you the benefit of arriving home every day to a beautiful and comfortable environment. This goes beyond a sense of pride in home ownership as it is a very PERSONAL expression of your tastes and what makes you feel good to be home after a long day at work or other consuming daily activities.

These photos are depict three categories describing the progression one makes from the initial ‘Approach’, to the ‘Journey’ and ultimately the ‘Arrival’. This is a transitional experience beginning with the moment one drives up to and enters the landscape, the walkway to the front entry and then the pause at the entry before stepping into one’s home. There are many ways to punctuate this progression with hardscape, architectural elements and plants.I am including a link here to a Keynote Presentation I developed. It is my hope you will find beautiful and practical ideas from these slides to formulate ideas that are suited to the architectural style of your home, solve functional problems and add that all important Personal Curb Appeal.




WElcome Home

Design: Elaine M. Johnson Landscape Design Cape Cod



The Approach






The Journey


The Arrival


This stately colonial has a serpentine brick walk from the parking area above the retaining wall that serves as a very welcoming journey for the visitor to the from door. The portico’s scale is in keeping with the architecture and scale of the home. Pairs of traditional urns frame the front door as the focal point of the foundation plantings.

Design: Elaine M. Johnson Landscaping Design/Cape Cod.

Cornwall_option #2 cropped



Best Cornwall_Front Entry


At the entry of this traditional Cape Cod home in Sippiwissett on Buzzard’s Bay the brick walk leads to an intimate front yard courtyard and the entry. The addition of a simple pedestal and bowl planter draws the eye and says “Welcome Home” to homeowner and visitor alike.



Design and photographs by Elaine M. Johnson, Landscape Design Cape Cod. 



A Time to Dream and Scheme

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast

Man never is, but always to be blessed_”
– Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man







January has delivered we Cape Codders a real taste of Winter with some snow and very cold temperatures. But as gardeners, this time of year heralds the arrival of catalogues and an abundance of posts on the web for thinking about and planning our 2015 gardens. In this posting I will share some great sites to peruse to stimulate your senses and provide ideas for your landscapes.

White Flower Farm, Proven Winners and Monrovia have posted their new introductions and these sites offer so much “eye candy” we can easily get too ambitious in our enthusiasm without making some notes and simple sketches of existing areas in our yards. I recommended in a previous post that it is a good idea to journalize successes and failures of last year’s attempts. If you didn’t do this, take heart, I am sure with a little imagination you can create such a list. Let’s face it, when it is 5 degrees outside, this can be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon with a cup of tea curled up by the fire. Monrovia’s site has a fun surv ey where you can fine tune your gardening style and see photos of gardens that depict this style. Check it out http://www.monrovia.com/design-inspiration/style-quiz/. Magazines like Fine Gardening and their sister web sites remain one of my favorites and posts have occurred highlighting new introductions and lots of gardening advice for designing and growing plants.

It is also the time for reviewing trends and speculation on what might be the “hot” new product or landscaping amenity. The last couple of years folks have dramatically expanded the use of the outdoor spaces with terraces, decks, outdoor kitchens, fire pits, et. al. it seems we Americans are really starting to appreciate “exterior decorating” paying as much attention to the outside as they do to the interiors of their homes. Julie Moir Meservey’s latest book, Landscaping Ideas that Work, is an excellent resource. I also love Billy Goodnick’s Yards_Turn Any Outdoor Space into the Garden of your Dreams. He writes in a very refreshing style and you will find a no-nonsense approach to design. Vanessa Nagel, an award winning designer and author, shares her experience and creative genus in her book, Understanding Garden Design, a treasure trove of inspiration and practical advice.

Julie Yards




There is a continued interest in container gardening, having fun with succulents and tropicals with an emphasis on foliage and texture. Again, please take a look at Karen Chapman’s and Christina Salwitz’s Fine Foliage and visit their Facebook page. Their photos are luscious and sure to wow. The availability of plant material in the Pacific Northwest make me green with envy. Also check out Detroit Garden Works for creating containers that will be the envy of all your friends.

Fine Foliage

Always fun is the announcement of Pantone’s color of the year, Marsala. Always appearing first with the fashion industry we will see this color everywhere in interiors, magazine covers and of course applications for the garden. I received this post recently from Landscaping network.com with the link to their Pinterest board displaying some whimsical photos of the use of Marsala in all it’s color variations. Be on the look out for the marketing of flowers and new introductions highlighting these colors.


Vegetable gardens can be beautiful as well and this book will show you how: The Beautiful Edible Garden by Leslie Bennett and Stefani Bittner. It’s exciting to see the interest in raising your own food and this trend is taking the country by storm. Our collective consciousness has been awakened as people become more informed and proactive on sustainability issues, buying locally grown produce and taking stands on companies like Monsanto and the GMO controversies. A good thing for sure. Even if time and space does not allow you to cultivate an extensive vegetable garden, we can find a sunny niche and plant in containers and or little raised beds.
I do hope you spend some time in the new few weeks to peruse the suggestions mentioned here and enjoy the journey as you solidify your ideas for 2015. Happy New Year and a fruitful gardening year. Please visit my Houzz idea books and like my Facebook page, Elaine’s Design Studio, to stay in the loop of new and exciting gardening news.



What’s Hot for 2015_Garden Trend Report.

Each year The Garden Media Group publishes its report on what they perceive to be the hot trends for the coming gardening year.  Underlying all of the points made is the continued passion Americans of all ages have for the outdoors and specifically their own properties.

“In 2015, gardening goes hand-in-hand with a healthy lifestyle. People see both outdoor and indoor spaces as extensions of themselves and are making conscious decisions to use plants and garden products as “tools” to increase their overall well-being, lead a sustainable lifestyle and make a positive impact on their communities and the planet.” Click here to read the entire report_Trends.


Among the trends noted, I am particularly excited about the continued love of container gardening.  It appears Americans are looking to add larger ones to their terraces and entryways. The versatility and portability of containers contribute to their continuing popularity. Take a look at some of my container creations here :(http://www.elainemjohnson.com/blog/landscape-design/embellir_to-grow-lovelier/



No one will dispute the importance of color in the choices we make for our garden palette. The icon of color, Pantone, made its prediction for the Color of the Year called ‘Marsala. I can just imagine some of the wine red and ruby Heucheras in a turquoise blue pot. Pictured below heuchera ‘Sugar Berry’










According to the National Association of Home Builders, homes are predicted to shrink in size by 10% in 2015. With smaller homes, people are taking to the outdoors for dining, cooking, and entertaining.

In fact, the 2014 Casual Living and Apartment Therapy Outdoor Decorating Survey notes that 62% of Millennials, 46% of Gen Xers and 24% of Baby Boomers are spending more time outdoors.

According to the survey, 85% of Millennials rated outdoor rooms as “Very Important” or “Important” compared to 83% of Gen Xers and 74% of Baby Boomers.


Check out my post “Backyard Escapes” for more on creating outdoor rooms. It’s obvious from reading this report that regardless of age, gender or location Americans have a love affair with creating beautiful and healthy environments.  “These beneficial conditions will affect nearly every aspect of our lives, making us better able to concentrate, connect more deeply with others, and sleep soundly. Taking time to surround yourself with beauty and serenity today could enhance your mood and improve your quality of life.”_ Madison Taylor



Backyard Escapes

                                                          The Art of Exterior Design
_                                     Refining your style and decorating your Outdoor Room

Outdoor Room

Americans love spending time outdoors and more people are treating the outdoor spaces on their properties as true extensions of their homes, turning porches, pools, patios, decks, and gardens into outdoor living spaces that serve the same functions as indoor rooms. Homeowners want to create a place in their backyard that extends their living space and capitalizes on all the outdoors has to offer, whether it’s relaxing by the pool, playing a game of volleyball with the kids, or hosting an al fresco dinner party on the patio.
The best of these living spaces breaks down the barriers between indoor and outdoor, formal and casual. Outdoor spaces have become even more full, complex, and inviting. Walls seem to disappear and interiors flow effortlessly to the outside to spaces that enhance, reward and rejuvenate. These rooms can be embellished with an ever-growing selection of products that define our tastes and serve the needs of our personal life styles.

Terrace Idea_Henry

“_ most of us have the confidence to improve the inside of our homes with a fresh coat of paint, new rugs, furniture, and fixtures. But when it comes to the outside of our most prized possession, we don’t know where to start.” states Julie Meservey in her book Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love. Begin the design process by defining the specifics of the space you wish to transform. Like our interiors, outdoor rooms are defined by entryways, walls, floors and ceilings. Whether a secluded bower or an expansive terrace or deck, attention to structural elements will give the room definition and and a sense of intimacy.

The round terrace pictured below is accessed either through sliding doors at grade level or a walkway and stairs created under one on the overhanging decks. The geometry of the design was important as it is seen “bird’s eye” view from two decks above. It is meant to be a destination site for reading and the fountain in the corner provides a soothing ambience.


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Among some of most popular additions today include all-weather furniture for dining and relaxing. Your choices will reflect your decorating taste, color preference and use. Outdoor kitchens can be designed for ease of meal preparation and create the “hub” for entertaining. Fire pits have become very popular and extend the use of your outdoor room for enjoyment on cooler nights. Exterior ambient lighting adds that special aura well after dark and beautiful lanterns illuminate key areas. High tech has allowed sound systems that are remotely controlled and integrated with the system inside. Containers, sculpture and other forms of garden art further embellish much like the objets d’ art do inside your home.



Take the time to lay out your room to scale by measuring and diagraming key features. Make notes on exposure, sun location, existing features that will remain and those that can be eliminated. Creating a “mood board” is a fun way to collect ideas and conceptualize your outdoor room. Visit sites such as houzz.com, Pinterest, et. al. for inspiration. If you decide to seek out professional help in planning your dream room, seek out designers with experience in all aspects of exterior design and construction. This may save you from making costly mistakes and impetuous purchases.

Here are some of the ‘Moodboards’ I created for clients to suggest a theme with various components and plants. There is a neat little iPad application that is very easy and fun to use.

Beale Cottage

Create a MoodboardCampia Moodboard Berish Moodboard


The garden below in the final construction phases prior to laying the piston gravel walk was ‘informed’ by the moldboard above shared with my client. The whole was envisioned and then the parts fit into place to create the ‘mood’ they desired in this very confined and irregular space. Open your eyes to the possibilities present in your own backyard.




Berish Garden copy


The final destination was a circular little terrace on which my clients later added a low table with a built in fire pit and surrounded by comfortable chairs. The garden became a secret little hide-away for relaxation at the end of a day with views of the bay beyond and the lovely Cape Cod sunsets.

Surround yourself with the things you love. Sit back, kick off your shoes and ENJOY.