Creating harmony, simplicity and peace in the landscape......

"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.

Gardening is an instrument of grace. "

May Sarton

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I will be speaking to the Lenox Garden Club on Oct.7, 2015

I will be speaking to the wonderful Lenox Garden Club on October 7, 2015

Lenox Garden Club
Kimball Farms, 235 Walker Street, Lenox Ma.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015
10:00 am - 11:00 am

afterward, go visit The Mount:

The Mount - photo by David Dashiell

go here:

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Allium 'Millenium' - Garden Photo of the Day by Laura McKillop

Photo by Laura McKillop - Allium 'Millenium'  

Unlike many of the ornamental alliums, this hybrid, developed by allium breeder Mark McDonough,  is a clump-former which produces sterile seed and will not spread in the landscape. It is deer resistant. Bulbs are best planted in fall.

'Millenium' has scapes that rise above the foliage to 18-20” tall by mid-summer, each is topped by a showy 2-inch spherical umbel of rose purple florets. Flowers typically bloom mid to late summer (July-August).

Great for butterfly gardens. Containers. Fresh and dried floral arrangements.

 Mark McDonough registered it under the name of ‘Millenium’ - not Millennium.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Landscape Design - a High Calling

cascade - Jan Johnsen design

"The world is moving into a phase when landscape design may well be recognized as the most comprehensive of the arts." 

 Geoffrey Jellicoe
'The Landscape of Man: Shaping the Environment from Prehistory to the Present Day' 

Creative ideas don't just come out of thin air - they are an amalgam of what we have learned and used in the past. By looking at other cultures' traditions and their approach to the natural elements you can enhance your garden immeasurably.

by Bill Bensley, Thailand

A garden maker should look to landscape designers of the past and present and learn their design philosophies. Never stop learning.

 The English garden designers such as Russell Page, Arabella Lennox Boyd, and Gertrude Jekyll stand side by side with their counterparts in the United States, Canada,  Japan, South America, Thailand, Indonesia, Hawaii, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Italy,  Holland, Germany,  France and India in my world.

blue moon bridge at les quatre veints, Canada 

I borrow from new and old unabashedly and thank them all for their inspiration, guidance and insight.

To co-create with Nature and walk 'the beauty way' is a high calling, indeed.

dorset settle by Arabella Lennox Boyd

Monday, September 14, 2015

Plant now for October Glory

Pennisetum Hameln, Montauk Daisies, Canna Lilies and Lamb's Ears ' Helene on Stein' - Jan Johnsen 

 In my part of the world - New York State - October is when Mother Nature shines.The days are shorter, the sun is low in the sky, but the weather stays warm enough for the flowering plants to hang on.

 I design and install gardens with October in mind because it is now when people have time to appreciate their grounds - it is too cold for the beach and graduations and summer parties are a memory. This is when people can stop and savor a garden. 

The design of Fall gardens is something I urge my students to master because these gardens prolong our enjoyment of Nature's gracious gifts.  

And, more importantly, they quietly trumpet the siren call of the garden muse who is about to take her leave...but not just yet.....she sticks around to give it one last show....

So in that vein, I am describing a little of what goes into making a autumn flower border... I know most readers simply enjoy the photos but maybe a few are interested in the 'gory details'. 

the holly backdrop here hides a deer fence

The flower border shown above is at the bottom of a long, gradual hill - thus, water collected here in great pools after a rain. It was wet and soggy a good deal of the time. Many plants would not have lived in this wetness so I had large amounts of soil brought in to create a high mounded bed to lift them above the damp conditions. 

Additionally, we had a 'field' of subsurface pipes (set in gravel) installed in front of the border to catch and carry away the runoff. We then graded and laid sod to create a lawn atop the pipes.

Please know it is always about the grading and the drainage..the plants come later....

Farther uphill I planted shrub roses - 'Sunny' Knock Out Roses and beyond is another flower border featuring Nepeta, Japanese wind anemones, garden phlox, goldenrod..

'Sunny' Knock Out Roses are three shades of light yellow / white...luscious.

One of my 'fave rave' perennial flowers for October (in my part of the world) is Japanese Wind Anemone...gently waving in the cool breeze. Its dainty flowers are the jewels of the flower world.

And of course some flowers of summer persist into fall and are actually more glorious now than ever...Lantana is a strong October performer.

White Lantana in October next to Blue Spruce globosum

and now that October is coming to a close...on to November!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Upcoming Talk in Cape Cod - Serenity by Design

Next Wednesday I will be speaking to the Wellfleet Garden Club  (on magical Cape Cod, Mass)  about the secrets of serene garden design. It is not just about plants! Although plant energy affects us all.

It is also about line and color and rocks and direction and the power of place..all packaged in a garden that uplifts and soothes.

Heaven is a Garden. Jan Johnsen 

That is what I will be sharing. It is a popular, engaging talk full of new/old ideas that you can use in your outdoor space, no matter the size.

The talk is based on what is in my book, 'Heaven is a Garden - Designing Serene Outdoor Spaces for Inspiration and Reflection' .  It is chock full of tips and suggestions based on what I have learned over 45 years as a landscape designer.

I hope you can come if you live near by. You will enjoy it!

Garden Gate - J johnsen

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Smaller is more Beautiful - Gardens

If small is beautiful then....smaller must be more beautiful.

At least that is what I tell myself as I survey my postage stamp of a backyard. I remind myself that some of the sweetest of serene spaces are small gardens, tucked away, out of sight.

I add touches in summer like this flowering lantana among rocks

My small verdant retreat is where I can place a chair or two, sip a cup of tea, tend to the garden, admire my planters of foliage or even write my blog, ‘pleine aire’, so to speak …

Small gardens call for small plants – although normal size plants look great when first planted, in the years that ensue they may grow to overwhelm the space… To prevent that I have a few suggestions for some hardy, compact and delightful perennial plants.

The following diminutive plants are perfect for small gardens, in containers, along walkways, in rock gardens or as low growing ‘filler’ plants in plant beds.

Sedum is a sun loving, easy to grow succulent. Sedum rupestre 'Angelina' is one of my favorites. It rows about 6 inches high and spreads out among rocks, pavers, in flower beds. It is a chartreuse yellow- green that spreads and spills out. Easy to grow and quite the eye catcher!

Sedum Angelina by Jan Johnsen
Hostas, known for broad foliage and tolerance to shady conditions, have miniature varieties such as the Mouse Ear collection. These pocket sized hostas have wonderfully textured, heart shaped leaves. Two of the blue mouse ear hostas are H. ‘Country Mouse’ which has blue leaves, edged in white, growing to 4” tall and 9” wide and Hosta ‘Blue Mouse Ears’, the 2008 Hosta of the Year, which grows to 6” – 8” tall and 18” wide and has lavender flowers.

(Blue Mouse Ears - Shady Oaks Nursery)

‘Pandora’s Box’ Hosta is the top choice of the American Hosta Society for miniature hostas. It has tiny leaves (2" x 1½") with a creamy-white center and a contrasting, blue-green margin. Lavender flowers appear in early summer. Mature size is 4" ht x 10" spread.

(Pandora's Box Hosta - Contrary Mary Nursery)

Hosta 'Stiletto' is named for its striking, narrow, lance-shaped, leaves. The foliage has a cream or gold tinged margin and it sports lavender striped flowers in late summer. Mature height is 8” tall and spreads about a foot. Its eye catching narrow leaves look great in pots.

(Hosta Stiletto - Park Seed)

Miniature Roses are also perfect for a small space serenity garden but they need at least 6 hours of full sun in summer. The hardy Lavender Jewel (Moore, 1978) grows no higher that 24” tall and has shapely, lavender blooms all summer long. Dark glossy green foliage is disease resistant. Height 18 to 24 inches. (Zone 4)

(Rose 'Lavender Jewel' - High Country Roses)

The miniature Starla rose (Chaffin, 1990) is a pure ivory-white rose with pointed buds, a fruity fragrance and large, shapely blooms on cutting-length stems. It grows no higher than 20 inches (Zone 5).

(Starla Rose - High Country Roses)

My own particular favorites are the compact varieties of  Carex or sedge. These grasslike plants offer an amazing choice of colors, stripes and textures - there are over 1000 species.  Natives of bogs,  they like wet to moist soil.  In my small garden I grow several cultivars by a dry stream and they look great, even now in March.

I like Goldband (or Evergold) Japanese Sedge, (Carex morrowii 'Variegata') which  has droopy, graceful white and green striped grassy foliage. It looks fantastic when used as ground cover or planted in groups.
My backyard - Jan Johnsen

This is my small garden. I planted Gomphrena 'Buddy Purple' next to the Carex morrowi and across the stream is 'Ice Dance' Sedge.  It is a my 'tucked away' joyful space. Smaller is definitely more beautiful.

I write about this garden in my book, Heaven is a Garden .

Monday, August 31, 2015

Repurposing and Recycling in Garden Design

Recycled Concrete wall from Bourget Bros

This is a perennially popular post and so I am sharing it again!

Recycling can be many things to many people...

or, in other words,  "One man's trash is another's man treasure"

This piano was placed in a garden. Here is what Sunny Wieler of Stone Art Blog wrote about this:

"Besides being a passionate gardener, my dad is also a passionate piano player, so a few years back we got him a new piano for his birthday. So the old piano spent a while in the shed before he had the great idea to put it out in the garden..."

Little did Sunny's dad know that he was at the forefront of the conceptual art movement:...they would say something like this is a testament to the natural decomposing processes, a statement of the fragility of life, the impermanence of existence...

his dad would say, 'Hey, why not put it in the garden?"

photos of broken concrete from Bourget Bros website

Recycling nowadays has a much classier name in the design lexicon -

 Repurposing.... I guess Sunny's dad was repurposing his piano.

So with the aim of being 'green' and relevant, here are some creative ways people have dressed up their gardens with recycled items...

Recycled Broken Concrete

Using old concrete from sidewalks is a great way to recycle a common building material in the landscape. The aged look of broken concrete can add character and it doesn't even look like concrete when used in a mortared wall or upside down...

According to a designer interviewed in Sunset Magazine, "If concrete is used well, it looks rich. People respond to it, often without knowing what it is..."

Wall of Broken up Concrete Pieces

from everythinggardens website

So next time they are removing old sidewalks tell them they can deliver the dumpster of broken up concrete to your place. Here is what I found in the-artistic-garden website:

from The artistic garden website

Using large chunks of concrete upside down - with the rough side showing - this paved driveway is one of a kind! and they got the concrete for free.....this could also be a great walk. What a wonderful example of 'green' landscaping.

Recycled Glass

Recycled glass has come a long way from bringing in the old coke bottles for a nickel...Glass chunks or slag can be used in a real knock out way and don't forget tumbled 'glass mulch'.

Hocker Design in Dallas, Texas used stainless steel mesh to contain recycled glass and made an amazing privacy wall / pool fence for a client. Illuminated from within, the glass wall glows at night! how cool.

photos from contemporist.con

glowing wall at bight (from garden beet)

Tumbled glass mulch can be bought in bags of varying can make colored glass squares, 'rivers', channels and more...

from enviroglass

and imagine what you can do with bottles:

fiber-optics-lit wine bottles light up a concrete countertop -

And look at this! Wine bottle edging - hey why not? impervious...and you could put fiber optics in each one....what an effect.

Recycled Fencing

So imagine if you have a broken up concrete walk with glass bottle edging, an old piano off to the side and now maybe get some wire fencing to act as a table base like Jason Horvath did here...
 Fenced Modern Coffee Table by Jason Horvath

This fenced-in modern coffee table was made from repurposed cast-iron fence pieces. Designed by Jason Horvath, he stumbled upon a pile of discarded fencing in Red Hook, Brooklyn. A 1/2″ glass top sits on the blackened or powder coated base.

You may do the same thing but use a broken concrete slab on top!

There are so many ideas for recycling materials in a garden....I hope this got your creative juices flowing....

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Cottage Garden Primer

Cottage Garden - Jan Johnsen  

  I once worked with a lovely client ( now a dear friend!) who wanted a cottage-style flower garden.

Now there are cottage gardens and then there are cottage gardens...know what I mean?

In Great Britain, it seems everyone has the most magnificent flower garden, each more spectacular than the next...

their lushness sets a standard of perfection for cottage gardens that makes me want to say to someone here in the Northeast U.S., 'Would you like to consider an ornamental grass garden instead?"

Designed and installed by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

But of course, the call of a cottage garden, filled with a profusion of  flowers and smelling of roses, peonies and lilacs, makes one dizzy with anticipation.

All you need in my part of the world is a deer fence, deep fertile soil, constant watering and someone to tend it lovingly... a tall order indeed.  

But it can be done.  And that is what we did - installed a deer fence, brought in great topsoil and carefully amended it and added irrigation. My client followed through and tended it with a loving hand and added wonderful flowers whenever she saw the need.

The result?  A sumptuous garden filled with a riot of colors, lurid with intoxicating scents.

I planned the garden to be a 10 foot wide curved plant bed bordering a level lawn. The only problem - there was no level lawn.

The rear property sloped steeply downhill and in order to make it level I needed to bring in soil and retain it with a wall. This is a big proposition in any situation but here it was especially dicey because I didn't want to disturb the roots of the native hemlock trees growing near where the wall was to be located.

To accomplish this, I used the stacking, concrete units that are part of a wall system called Alpenstein. This is a great solution because no footings are required and Alpenstein allows you to plant within each unit!

 It is a versatile, plantable wall system. Once planted with vines and spreading groundcovers, an Alpenstein wall blends with the natural setting.

Designed and installed by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

After the site was perfect, I set about planting perennial and annual flowers. Perennials come back every year and form the backbone of the cottage garden. For that I set out large drifts or groups of medium tall, durable flowers in the mid-zone of the bed  to add height and variety. 

These included 'Sunny Border Blue' Speedwell (Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue'), the PPA Plant of the Year 1993, and 'Caesar's Brother' Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica 'Caesar's Brother'), a reliable and graceful flower with pansy blue coloring....

Veronica photo from Bluestone Perennials 

Additionally, I planted the graceful Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis gracillimus) and other 'foolproof'' perennials like dwarf Gayfeather, (Liatris spicata 'Kobold'), the tall 'Magnus' Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus') and dwarf Chinese astilbe (astilbe chinensis pumila).

Below is the list of the dependable flower varieities I used for this garden. No unusual cultivars here - just a cottage garden full of faithful staples that work together in cozy harmony..

My Flower List for This Cottage Garden
Jan Johnsen


Botanical Name                                       Common Name

Artemesia 'Silver King'                             'Silver King' Wormwood

Astilbe chinensis pumila                            Dwarf Chinese Astilbe

Coreopsis vert. 'Moonbeam'                    'Moonbeam' Coreopsis

Dianthus 'Bath's Pink'                               'Bath's Pink' Dianthus

Echinacea purp. 'Magnus'                         Magnus Coneflower

Heuchera  'Palace Purple'                         'Palace Purple' Coralbells

Iris sibirica 'Caesar's Brother'                    'Caesar's Brother' Siberian Iris

Liatris spicata 'Kobold'                              Dwarf Gayfeather

Lilium orientale 'Stargazer'                         'Stargazer' Oriental Lily

Peonies                                                      Peonies

Persicaria 'Donald Lowndes'                   Don. Lowndes Fleeceflower

Phlox pan. 'Bright Eyes'                           'Bright Eyes' Garden Phlox

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'                                   'Autumn Joy' Sedum

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm'                     Dwarf Black eyed Susan

Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue'                     'Sunny Border Blue' Speedwell


Botanical Name                                          Common Name

Senecio cineraria                                          Dusty Miller

Cosmos sulphureus                                      Cosmos 'Klondyke mix'

Ageratum 'Blue Hawaii'                                Blue Hawaii Ageratum

Catharanthus roseus                                     Annual Vinca

Heliotropium arb..Marine'                           'Marine' Heliotrope

Salvia farinacea 'Victoria Blue'                      Salvia 'Victoria Blue'

Salvia 'Sparkler Purple'                                'Sparkler Purple' annual Salvia

cottage garden and flower beds by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools
photos of
veronica courtesy of Bluestone Perennials, check them out!