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.



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 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 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 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 :(



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



The Longest Night

winter-solstice-signThe Winter Solstice is an astronomical phenomenon which marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. It occurs for the Northern Hemisphere in December and for the Southern Hemisphere in June. This year the Winter Solstice will occur In the USA and some other areas in the northern hemisphere marking the first day of Winter. However, the official date for the first day of Winter varies depending on the country’s climate.( Event Time in Boston, MA, Monday, December 21, 2015 at 11:49 PM EST You can accurately determine the time for your region by visiting Time and Date web site ).

solstice-desemberFar more interesting to me than the technical, astrological details is the rich history of lore that surround this event. You can just imagine how the ancients felt as the days got progressively shorter! Was this the great apocalypse and the beginning of armageddon? These ancient pagan rituals permeate many of our holiday traditions to this day and I have found many fascinating posts while researching this topic . One can Google the topic to become immersed in all that has been written by others.

7793090_origThe rich history of this lore always mentions certain favorite plants associated with all the rituals celebrated this time of year. From the Yule of the Druids to our Christian and Jewish traditions these plants are symbolic reminders of man’s close association with the natural world. Indeed, today our homes are festooned with ivy and holly and brightened by the lighted Christmas tree. In an effort to add more light during our darkest days, candles glow from windows and lights drape outdoor trees.




I have included some links to interesting FAQs about the Solstice. I like the Time and Date web site for information related to weather, time, etc. You can download their  app for your iPhone or iPad as well .  Wikipedia is also another reliable spot for information.

Winter Solstice Quick-facts

Solstice Names Used:
Winter Solstice (Most common name and also known as the ‘shortest’ day of the year)
Southern Solstice (Is in December, when the Sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere)
December Solstice
First Point of Capricorn
First Day of Winter
The Longest Night
Hibernal Solstice (Latin Name)
Dōngzhì (Chinese Name)
Tōji (Japanese Name)
Dongji (Korean Name)
Đông Chí (Vietname

Solstice at Stonehenge


Sacred Plants of Winter Solstice



symbolizing:Continuity of Life, Protection, Prosperity
types:Pine, Fir, Cedar, Juniper, other evergreens
forms:boughs, wreaths, garlands, trees
divinities: Green Goddesses & Gods; Hertha; Cybele, Attis, Dionysius (Pine); Woodland Spirits traditions: Roman, Celtic, Teutonic, Christian


symbolizing:Old Solar Year; Waning Sun; Protection; Good Luck
forms:boughs over portals, wreaths
divinities:Holly King; Old Nick; Saturn; Bacchus; Wood Spirits; Holly Boys
traditions: Roman, Celtic, English, Christian


symbolizing:New Solar Year; Waxing Sun; Endurance, Strength, Triumph, Protection, Good Luck
forms:Yule log, acorns, wood for sacred fires
divinities:Oak King; Oak Spirit; Sky Gods including Thor, Jupiter, Zeus
traditions: Teutonic, Celtic, Christian


symbolizing:Peace, Prosperity, Healing, Wellness, Fertility, Rest, Protection
forms:boughs, amulet sprigs above doorways, kissing balls
divinities:Oak Spirit; Frigga and Balder
traditions: Celtic, Teutonic


symbolizing:Fidelity, Protection, Healing, Marriage, Victory, Honor, Good Luck
forms:crowns, wreaths, garlands
divinities:Dionysius; Bacchus; Great Goddess; Ivy Girls
traditions: Greek, Roman, English, Christian


symbolizing:Sustenance, Abundance, Fertility, Good Luck
forms:grain, straw figures and symbols, cookies, cakes, breads
divinities:Earth Goddesses; Saturn & Ops; Goat Spirit; Fairy Folk
traditions: Roman, Celtic, Scots, Teutonic, Sweedish, Christian

In my research I found some fascinating information about a special red mushroom called amanita muscaria or fly agaric. They are “poisonous plants found in temperate and boreal regions of the Northern Hemisphere. These cosmopolitan mushrooms are often found in woodlands of birch, pine, spruce, fir, and cedar. In the Northern Hemisphere, red and white mushrooms pop-up during the wet seasons of autumn and winter, but may differ based upon location and climate.” Source. Fly agaric has a rich history in the annals of pagan lore which suggest that most symbols and icons associated with Christmas are derived from shaman traditions of pre-Christian, northern Europe. These traditions include Santa Claus, Christmas trees, flying reindeer, and gift-giving.



Oak Misteltoe Berries of Oak Mistletoe OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA wintertreeEven with all our current scientific knowledge, there is something mysterious and inexplicable about  the forces that so profoundly effect our lives. Many of us “suffer” to some degree or other from the lack of  this available sunlight. I will save my comments about The “Winter Blues”, a subclinical form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for a later post.

For now let us be comfortable in embracing the changes of the seasons and affirm that in the universe where we find ourselves now, all is perfect, whole and complete.


Xmas Card

The Winter Garden



“What fascinates me about the garden in winter is that it is the true test of garden design…like a church in Lent, stripped of its furnishings, so that one falls back on the purity of the architecture, devoid of the distraction of ornament” ~ Sir Roy Strong

Are you a “fair weather gardener”? Do you close the door on your landscape in October only to be reopened in March? Well, join the club of all the armchair gardeners who prefer the comfort of toasty slippers and cashmere throws while browsing the latest White Flower Farm catalog. A pleasure to be sure, and many informed choices for next season’s garden “germinate” during these periods of reverie. Our plants are hibernating and so are we in preparation for the tasks to be accomplished in the Spring.


Contemplating on the quote from the eminent English plantsman Sir Roy Strong, perhaps we can use this pause in our schedules to assess the elements of our own garden design; and make plans for integrating structure, texture and pattern into our existing landscapes. Winter’s palette is a sophisticated range of subtle tones: the sombre contrasts of white, grey and black highlighted by striking surprises of gold, red and purple. This mellow array is enhanced by the low angle of the sun as the days shorten approaching the solstice in late December. The sun will continue to climb higher in the sky as we move through January to March and with it the ever-changing play of light and shadow on the various elements in our gardens.

That being said, let us turn our focus to the season at hand. Now that the lush growth and color of Summer and Fall has faded we can turn our attention to those elements that give the landscape its inherent structure. Coining a term that is often used in garden design this is referred to as simply “good bones”. The analogy is apt as it does describe the supportive framework or ‘skeleton” of our landscapes. With camera in hand begin your assessment by walking around and taking note of what may be missing. Photograph all aspects of your existing plan and then augment this with notes and observations gleaned from books, visits to local nurseries and neighbor’s gardens you admire. Carefully evaluate foundation plantings, curves of driveway and entry walks, views from windows and the presence or lack of supporting evergreens and sculptural trees.


Man-made architectural structures and ornamentation give year round interest. A well-placed arbor, lattice panel, birdbath or large urn used artistically as focal points give definition, define distance and are welcome additions to. the character of a winter garden. An important aspect of structural integrity of our landscape that is so pronounced this time of year is the lineal demarcation of the ground plane. The voluptuous curves of planting beds, walks, driveways and islands of lawn wrap our homes and soften the horizontals of architecture. They also can serve to define our “garden rooms” and create flow leading us on journeys and destinations to spaces within the greater whole. Nothing can define a space more obviously than hedges and walls. A native stone wall, whether used to retain a slope or as a freestanding feature, is a beautiful addition to the landscape and is an investment that will last a lifetime and beyond.

Stone Wall_gate

Brown_Arbor View


Plants, particularly evergreens, will now dominate the background, command the middle distance and provide focal points in our landscapes. The interesting silhouettes of deciduous trees are sculptures in of themselves. Notice the shadows they cast on new fallen snow or how their branches glisten with frost in the early morning. This is the display of Mother Nature’s architecture and your choices will be guided by the size of your overall property. The plants listed below are selected for their suitability in most of our suburban landscapes. If you are fortunate enough to have a very large property the list could include European beech (Fagus sylvatica), umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticilatta), dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), English oak (Quercus robur), or little leaf linden (Tilia cordita) et. al. Careful research on cultural requirements and growth habit is paramount in making the correct choices for your particular growing zone. Books, magazines and the internet provide all the information one would need.


As you consider what additions to make to your existing design look for trees and shrubs that have sculptural branching habit, interesting bark, berrying and contrasting foliage, texture and color. Evergreens, whether coniferous or broad-leafed, come in all shades of green, gold, silver and blue as well as beautiful variegation. Even very small gardens can benefit from the addition of dwarf boxwood, Skimmia, compact rhododendron, dwarf conifers, gold or white variegated Euonymous or a specimen topiary Alberta spruce.

Even in the depths of winter we can be surprised by the dazzle of berry laden deciduous shrubs, the persistent foliage of ornamental grasses and remaining seed heads of many perennials. A visit to the florist will still remain our source for a colorful bouquet in January and February but what a delight to discover the miracle of hellebores, early primrose, and heaths during these lengthening days. Many of us can’t wait to get outside with our pruners and gather stems of witch hazel, pussy willow, quince and forsythia to force indoors as a prelude to the arrival of Spring. Those of us who reside in colder climes have learned to find many treasures waiting for us even in the grips of a harsh winter. Your pleasure will be dramatically enhanced by incorporating some of the ideas presented here. If you rarely venture outdoors the view from a favorite window can brighten your day with the color rescued from a Summer long past.


The beauty of this scene on a bright, crisp day after a heavy snow fall is testimony to the importance of structure and framework in the landscape. Here we see supporting architectural pieces, containers with seasonal interest, and the weeping form of an evergreen shrub. Notice the intricate pattern of silhouette and shadow on the entire scene.


“Nature has undoubtedly mastered the art of winter gardening and even the most experienced gardener can learn from the unrestrained beauty around them.” ~Vincent Simone.


Gardens Have Meanings and Memories

Karen and Katie

       “Show me your garden and I will tell you who you are”

_Alfred Austin


A few years ago I had the pleasure of traveling to Saxton’s River, Vermont to attend a week long seminar given by Julie Moir Meservey. For those of you who are familiar with her work you can imagine my delight in being able to spend an entire week listening to her present her unique interpretation of how various spaces resonate with us and how, as designers, we translate these preference in designing gardens. Her book, The Inward Garden, is a must read for all who are interested in discovering the “garden within” and its expression in the places we love to live, visit and the gardens we create. The Inward Garden gives the reader a process for designing a dream garden. Based on garden archetypes the sea, the cave, the harbor, the promontory, the island, the mountain, and the sky.

The Inward Garden

I have long been fascinated by the meaning of gardens and the emotional responses they evoke. Both natural and man-made landscapes resonate with us on an sensory level that perhaps is founded upon the archetypes that Ms. Meservey discusses or is imbedded in our ancestral and childhood memories. I suggest you spend some time thinking about the kinds of landscapes that illicit pleasant emotional responses and investigate why that is the case. Are you a mountain or seaside person? Do you feel more comfortable in spaces of refuge or prospect over open space? Is the idea of living on an island too threatening? Practically speaking we may not be able to actually live in the places we visit or dream of but we can create gardens right at home that echo our individual preferences. A cozy, quiet “secret” garden perhaps or an old-fashion rope swing suspended from a wonderful oak tree. Maybe we can think beyond the boundaries of our own property and “borrow a view” of expanse across a pleasing view to the neighbor’s yard. Certainly water can play a prominent role and if we happen to have a water view we are indeed fortunate. But, certainly, we can install a water garden or a fountain.

Recently, Jan Johnsen, a talented landscape designer. published her first book which deals with a similar topic. Heaven is a Garden is a treasure and should be added to all gardener’s bookshelves. With beautiful pictures of Jan’s work and well-crafted prose we are informed on the subtleties of ancient principles apparent in sound design. Through archetypical examples and practical examples Jan informs and motivates us to use these time worn principles in crafting our outdoor spaces.

Heaven Cover Final 8-1

Our personal gardens should reflect our uniqueness and not be a contrived “cookie cutter” design copied from a book and forced into complicity on our own property. Get to know the so-called “genius of place” and with affection and forethought carve out an interpretation of your own making. You may need help in implementing your ideas but you are the driving force in its making. I design many gardens and have my own preferences but I do not live and garden on my client’s properties. I try to listen to their needs and goals, interpret those and encourage intimate involvement in the entire process.

This year has been a journey of discovery for me and the insights that have been revealed are a direct result of the loving care my parents invested in their gardens. I am sometimes awed by the sequence of events that have led me to now be the steward of this legacy. Memories surround me everywhere I walk and as the seasons unfold I am delighted by surprises here that my Mother had planted. Commemorative trees and shrubs greet me as reminders of significant milestones of shared experiences; the memorial Cornus kousa planted for my puppy, the Stewartia pseudocamelia given to my Dad upon my Mother’s death, the newly added Weeping Purple Beech for my Father’s passing this year and the list goes on and on of gifts given and plants shared through the years. I have revised quite a lot and added my own favorites to give this landscape my personal signature knowing full well that Bob and Grace are smiling down on me.

The photos included below are views of some of the areas of my personal landscape that evoke memories and have special meaning. What are the special areas in your personal gardens that tell the story of who you are?

photo 4 View from Window Little Birdbath View from Window 20140511_2908 Kousa from window     “The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground.”

_Gilbert K. Chesterton

“Embellir”_to make lovelier

The Art of Exterior Design _Refining your style and decorating your Outdoor Room

Bernstein Sphere

 Favorite Container Pic

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.



Pool Pic for Ritt

 Above Design by_Brandon JonesLovely pergola


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 Cape Cod selection of products that define our tastes and serve the needs of our personal life styles. ” “_ 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.

Outside the NSB House

Land. Ideas that Work

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. ” 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, 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.

Moodboard for Ritt

Often one can add subtle architectural details to enhance a garden, entry, or a view from a window. A beautiful lamppost or milepost may be all that is needed to add interest especially if they are paired with a colorful planting. Surround yourself with the things you love. Sit back, kick off your shoes and ENJOY.
Bernstein_Entry_Sphere My Fountain Gay,s Fencing, IMG_3300 Best Moran Side View Arbor MailboxEmbellir_to grow lovelier Elaine M. Johnson_Landscape Design

Extending the Season


                 “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished”.
~ Lao Tzu
Now that the temperatures have fallen gardeners start turning their thoughts to indoor activities. Yes, there still remains a few outdoor must dos like leaf raking, storing hoses, patio furniture, etc. and getting those Spring bulbs into the ground but the hours of working outside are limited. With the holiday season approaching many gardeners like to give presents to friends and family that reflect their shared passion for plants.

A simple and fun project is to ‘gently coax’ ( forcing them seems so brutal! ) Spring bulbs to extend the season. I have been experimenting in preparation for the gifts I plan on giving this year. I like to gather decorative containers and I particularly like glass filled with sea glass, pebbles and an assortment of colored glass available at craft stores. While perusing the internet on this subject I came across several resources and I have included them here: and,default,pg.html. What really delighted me was to discover that one can still purchase hyacinths forcing vases from Pairpoint, a Cape Cod tradition for generations located in Sandwich, MA.

For my project I chose amaryllis, Paperwhite daffodils and hyacinths, all easy candidates for forcing. The links above provide information if this is a new activity for you. So, gather your supplies and extend the gardening season for you and your friends. The photo above shows some paper whites ‘planted’ about three weeks ago. With less than six weeks or so until Christmas it is not too early to begin your preparations. Amaryllis can take up to 12 weeks depending on the variety. Some bulbs may require a chilling period and the links above list those that may require this preparation.

Screen-Shot-2013-11-11-at-12.03.26-PM Screen-Shot-2013-11-11-at-12.02.06-PM muse3