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, February 26, 2015

Renew Your Garden Tools!

Caked on dirt on these shovels....

 Winter is the time to get your garden tools in shape... hand tools such as shovels, picks, trowels, loppers, etc. should be cleaned, sharpened and well oiled.

Steel wool can clean off any rust or caked-on dirt.

But the most important thing I have found is to make sure to oil the tools. It is a rust preventative and a wood saver. 

Moss in the City

A while back, in our shop (I own a landscape design/build firm and we have trucks, crews and lots of tools) we would have a large container filled with sand and motor oil and put our tools in it. 

...the sand acts an abrasive to remove dirt and the oil prevents rust. But this is not so smart.

Why? Because the petroleum oil goes from the tool into the soil! 

Today's Homeowner 

Blake Schreck of the Garden Tool Company knows a thing or two about garden tools.  And his timely advice is to use boiled linseed oil.

Linseed oil is derived from the dried seeds of the flax plant and is a great alternative to any petroleum based product. 

The Garden Tool Co. oils every tool that does not have a finish on it already before it ships.
Blake notes: "A cautionary note: The boiled linseed oil that is available today has a small amount of solvent added to it to keep it from hardening in the can, so after you apply it to your metal and wood, let it dry completely before using your tool, (about 24 hours) that way the solvent will have evaporated."

Garden Tool Company - Border-Spade-with-T-Handle-by-Sneeboer

Remember to use BOILED linseed oil which dries quickly. 

Actual linseed oil can take ages to dry!  

Just dip a rag (cotton wool or a cloth) in the boiled oil and coat a thin layer of oil on the metallic parts. Make sure to cover evenly and do not be tempted to add multiple coats or a thick layer of oil.  Let it sit for about 15 minutes and then wipe off excess. 

Its a good idea to oil the wood handles as well to prevent cracking. 
Thicker layers take longer to dry and often do not dry to form a hard surface and multiple layers of thin coats are also not a good idea, because they become prone to being removed when scratched.
I have also heard about Ballistol. lt is 85% mineral oil and maintains, protects, preserves metal and unpainted wooden surfaces. 

Ballistol is biodegradable, and neither its use nor its disposal will pollute air or water. It comes in an aerosol and pourable version. It has a sweet and mildly pungent smell similar to black licorice

Want to learn more about garden tool maintenance? Please see Blake Schreck's "Garden Tool Care and Maintenance" article by Blake Schreck.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fothergilla - a Favorite Shrub

Fothergilla Leaf from quercus design blog

I adore Fothergilla gardenii Mt Airy. (wonderful photo of fothergilla leaf from Quercus Design blog)

Fothergilla is native to the Appalachians, is deer resistant  and sports fragrant, honey scented, early spring flowers before the leaves come out.

The flowers are white, short bottlebrush spikes that light up a sunny to partial sun woodland corner. The flowers are followed by blue green, heavily textured foliage.

Photo from Robs Plants Website -

photo by Laura McKillop

'Mt Airy' is a dwarf form and got its name from the Mt. Airy Arboretum in Cincinnati, Ohio. When compared to the native species, Mt. Airy Fothergilla has more vibrant multicolored foliage in shades of yellow, orange and red in October through mid-November.

This fall color is the best! It is spell binding in the garden....

 Photo for Monrovia by Doris Wyjna

Photo by Plant Introductions, Inc

 I like to use 'Mt Airy' in combination with fargesia, 'Manhattan' euonymus, hakonechloa, ferns and viburnums.

I mass them in groups of 3 or more. They grow to 3 - 4 feet in height and tolerate moist soil...Zones 5-8.

 And now there is the fairly new cultivar ‘Blue Shadow’!  This exciting new introduction originated as a sport from Fothergilla major 'Mt. Airy' and is blessed with the same vigorous constitution and habit.

It has steely blue summer leaves with the same outstanding autumn display of rich yellow, red and orange.   Blue Shadow is a medium-size deciduous shrub 5 to 6' high and wide and easily adapts to sun or partial shade. It is tolerant to a wide range of soil and environmental conditions, needs little pruning and has no major disease or insect problems.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Ken Druse - Real Dirt - 'Heaven is a Garden' Interview 2-20-2015

This week I was thrilled to be interviewed by the one and only Ken of 19 books (with another one out soon!)   Ken's website is Real Dirt .

His last, beautiful book was done in association with my friend, Ellen Hoverkamp. It is called 'Natural Companions' 

The interview is on a podcast and you can listen to it anytime. It is based on my book, Heaven is a Garden, and Ken, of course, is an excellent interviewer and the questions were wonderful.

 I am honored that he asked me for an interview.

Click here to go to REAL DIRT website and the podcast.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Cha Cha Cherry Penstemon - ooohhhh.....

Cha Cha Cherry Penstemon

I love Penstemon, an annual flower in my part of the world. A perennial in USDA 7 - 9.

I was introduced to it back in the 1970s.

 I worked for a French gardener on the grounds of a well known resort hotel, Mohonk Mt. House, in NY and they had won the award for the best hotel grounds in America the year before.

He loved Penstemon and always said it was his favorite flower. We grew it from seed and planted it out on May 20...always May 20, no matter what.  Now they come in plugs, so much better!

Now, of course, the varieties and sturdiness of Penstemon have improved remarkably.

The one I am very interested in is the new variety from Terra Nova Nurseries, Cha Cha Cherry Penstemon.  It grows about 24" tall,  has dark cherry-red flowers and an upright bushy habit. It blooms from spring to late fall! And the dark seed heads are great for arrangements.

Plant lust strikes again.....

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Garden Photo of the Day - Echinacea 'Salsa Red'

Echinacea x purpurea Sombrero 'Salsa Red' 

 A new series of Coneflower bred for sturdy and compact plants featuring very large, single flowers with bright red overlapping petals surrounding a large brown cone. 

Ideal for sunny borders. Attractive to butterflies. Excellent for cutting. Coneflowers begin blooming midsummer and continue for months if faded flowers are regularly removed. Keeping some dried flower heads on the plants in fall will provide food for wintering song birds. 

Dried seed heads also add interest to the winter garden.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Beauty as well as Bread - Garden Photo of the Day

Steinhardt Garden - photo by Jan Johnsen

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,
places to play in and pray in,
where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."
- John Muir  

Friday, February 13, 2015

Hospital Makeovers - Healthcare in the Garden

Photo: Blender Nation - Espoo Hospital, Finland

There is a lot out there on healing spaces....

When architects and sociologists and others look at what it takes to create healing environments (what I term 'Hospital Makeovers') they end up describing a garden.

 Not really in those words, of course....

Actually they call it 'Healthcare without the Institution'

It is an exciting development to see architects list the physical criteria required for healing spaces because it sure sounds like a garden to me.

Jack Lenor Larsen's Long House Reserve

In a pdf of a slide show given to public health architects, (Public Health Group of the International Union of Architects, November 2009) Zdravko Trivic & Dr Ruzica Bozovic‐Stamenovic & Dr Limin Hee say hospitals should look to shopping centers for inspiration...(click below to see slide show)

but after looking at the slide show (click above) I say they should skip the shopping mall model and go directly to the Serene Garden model. It certainly fits their stated maxim which is:

 'Space is inseparable from people, and vice versa.'

Here is the physical attribute list necessary for healing spaces that they list in the show - I added my photos...

Yellow Coreopsis

Textures and Touch

Chicago City Hall green roof

Nature and Vistas

Quality of Lighting 

Sounds and Music 

Making Headway Foundation Party for Kids afflicted with brain and spinal cord tumors


Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

So when you put these all together they say you get a wonderful Healing Environment...

and I say you also get a great garden designed to enhance our health and well being.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Tomorrow February 13 at 2 pm - 'Heaven is a Garden' PowerPoint Webinar.

I have ways been fascinated by the relationship between outdoor space and its effect upon our peace of mind.  This was the impetus for my book, Heaven is a Garden Designing Serene Outdoor Spaces for Inspiration and Reflection(2014, St. Lynn’s Press).

I will be presenting a great PowerPoint based on the book, tomorrow -  Feb. 13, 2015

You can register for the webinar by going here (click on the word 'here').

The good thing is you don't have to be at your computer for this - 

if you cannot attend the live event they will send you a link and then you can download it and watch it anytime you want! FREE.

If you want to see their line up go here:

Heaven is a Garden - Designing Serene Outdoor Spaces for Inspiration and Reflection

 taps ancient traditions and modern ideas to show you a new way to create a  place of peace and contentment outdoors.  

In this webinar I will be speaking about the three characteristics of a serene outdoor space. I will share beautiful garden photos and ideas and also discuss:
  • how to find the 'power spot' in a landscape, 
  • how to use 'the most auspicious direction' in your garden 
  • why certain colors are better for a restful atmosphere
tsukubai garden by Jan Johnsen

And I will probably talk a bit about garden-making and why it is so important for all of us to somehow creating a little serene outdoors.

Questions Invited! Answers freely Given! I hope you can join us tomorrow. 

Jan Johnsen, author of 'Heaven is a Garden'

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Design for Wellbeing - Start with Trees

Dr. Richard Jackson, Chair of the School of Health at UCLA, and former head of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says that how we shape our environment impacts our health.

Naked Coral tree - photo  by Jan Johnsen

He notes that our built environment in part, contributes to our current epidemics of asthma, obesity, diabetes, and depression. But unfortunately, he says, we are not working to prevent these problems but instead are “looking at the end of the pipeline,” the medical effects.

from a great website for parenting kids

“We are now medicalizing the problems people are experiencing with their environment. We are no longer creating wellbeing.”

For example, when ground-level heat goes up, ozone levels (from cars) also rise. Ozone is a leading contributor to asthma, a chronic disease that disproportionally impacts inner-city areas. “Any place where we can cool the air, we can improve health.”

smog in Paris 2014

So less ground-level heat and less cars will lower asthma rates! In Atlanta during the Olympic Games, people drove less, taking public transit to get into the city center. As a result asthma hospitalizations dropped by some 30 percent.

We can lower ground-level heat by planting more trees in urban areas. More trees and parks in cities will alleviate asthma rates...makes sense to me.

Also trees will bring more oxygen back into the environment ...this is a major key, in my opinion, to increasing health and wellbeing. Oxygen is released by trees. They take in CO2 and release oxygen - perfect.

Trees Release Life-Enhancing Oxygen

New evidence from ice core samples, published by NASA show CO2 levels are higher than anything our planet has experienced in over 650,000 years. And CO2 binds to hemoglobin in our red blood cells which interferes with the way our red blood cells carry oxygen to our cells. This interference dramatically reduces how much oxygen we can utilize - hence asthma ( and more). 

Jackson notes that how we design our communities affects our health - “We are engineering exercise out of people’s lives” by putting places of work and living far from each other. Over the past twenty years, the obesity rate for teenagers has tripled.

from Charleston, West Va. 
Walking/biking  is to be encouraged at all costs. He notes, “Now there’s only one state where less than 20 percent of the population is obese.” [what state? don't know]
So part of the solution to our health problems is to design for wellbeing.

Jackson says, “Cars are not more important than people or trees.”

We need to plant the right trees in the right places and create long-term plans to keep trees healthy.

click here for source

There is so much more than this - but planting trees is a great place to start.


 Dr. Richard Jackson: “We Are No Longer Creating Wellbeing” 09/12/2010 by asladirt

“Built Environment: Designing Communities to Promote Physical Activity in Children,”

Also, Dr. Jackson’s book, “Urban Sprawl and Public Health: Designing, Planning, and Building for Healthy Communities”

Paul Morris on CDC’s Healthy Communities program, and how design can improve health.

and the birds will follow the trees....

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Small is Beautiful - Garden Photo of the Day

"I have no doubt that it is possible to give a new direction to technological development, 
a direction that shall lead it back to the real needs of man, 
and that also means:
to the actual size of man. Man is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful.” 
E. F. Schumacher

Monday, February 2, 2015

Pineapple Lily - Garden Photo of the Day

Pineapple lily (Eucomis comosa) - photo by Jan Johnsen

The pineapple lily grabs the eye with its wide, long leathery leaves and profusion of detailed, waxy flowers on a upright 12" spikes that, together, resemble a pineapple.  

This exotic plant, grown from a bulb, adds a tropical flair to a garden. It is native to southern Africa, USDA Zone 7 - 10.  It tolerates sun to some shade. 

Cultivars of pineapple lilies include the “Sparkling Burgundy,” which has leaves that stay purple for about two months. The “Tugela Ruby” also has dark foliage but is larger than the “Sparkling Burgundy.” 
 The plant is great in large containers, in beds and as a focal point. Bulbs go dormant during the colder months and stay healthy as long as there is no frost. Blooms appear in late spring through summer.

Check them out at Brent and Becky's Bulbs. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Goodbye Radiant Orchid (color of year 2014)

As you may know, the 2015 Pantone Color of the Year is Marsala, a toned down, wine-red color that is good in the background, useful for setting off other brighter hues.

Last year's color, Radiant Orchid, was another story. Described by Pantone as "a captivating harmony of fuchsia, purple and pink undertones," it demands attention and is, in my opinion,  slightly jarring.

But I was getting used to it and was even accepting it in the garden. And now, we go back to the more staid colors....but here it is, one last time, in all its 'wowie-powie' glory:

I give you 'Radiant Orchid in the Garden.'

Radiant orchid bench amidst hydrangeas- I don't know who took this photo

Zinnia 'Queen Red Lime' 

Sunset Colors

Garden by Amber Freda, NYC

Raindrops on flower

Radiant Orchid Chairs

Jersey Shore Zinnia

Goodbye Radiant we may calm down a bit.