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

 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.



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.