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

Monday, February 22, 2010

Small is Beautiful

The future is almost here.

In a matter of a few years we will be able to have solar cells on our existing and new roofs...why am I so sure about that?  Because thin, film solar cells that are roll printed like newspaper are now being manufactured ...see the one above by Flisom.

The technology is called CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-(di)selenide) thin film cells and new solar panels made from it are much lighter than other photovoltaic panels before them. It now is possible to have roofs with solar panels built in and atop them.

The Nanosolar company has a Nanosolar Utility Panel™ that can be installed easily on any kind of large flat roof using a “plug & play” method called the SunLink solution. It is an innovative mounting system that uses recycled-rubber mounting blocks and quick-connect Nanosolar Edge Connector™.

Not to be left behind, Dow Chemical will be manufacturing its 'Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingle' using CIGS thin film cells in Michigan in late 2010. Dow was awarded a $20 million dollar Solar America Initiative Pathways Program grant by the U.S. DOE for its Solar Shingles. They are projected to be widely available in 2011.

Andrew Liveris, Dow CEO, said it is well positioned to bring affordable, renewable energy solutions to the market, putting the power of solar electricity generation directly and conveniently in the hands of homeowners.

Jane Palmieri, general manager of Dow Solar Solutions said  "the commercialization of groundbreaking technologies like Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingle will allow consumers to have quicker access to energy saving technologies, which is a win for everyone."

I am thrilled at this development!  In my mind, this is the beginning of the end of the centralized utilities which began in the early 1900s. They have served their purpose but now they are dinosaurs of another age...

solar cells on every roof, market gardens in every city, laptop and internet access for everyone ...

My pipe dream is that of a 'small is beautiful' devotee.

I once attemded a talk by the great E.F. Schumacher (1911-1977). He explained that we must get back to a more manageable way of doing things...thin film solar cells will help us to do that:

"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

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

People Have the Power!

who knew the revolution would start with a garden?

People Have the Power

We better get to work! Go to the Kitchen Gardeners International website...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Cary Award Winner 2010 - Panicle Hydrangea

Its official!
This year's Cary Award (Outstanding Plants for New England Gardens)  goes to.....Panicle Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)  and its cultivars.

The cultivar that we often associate with panicle Hydrangea is''Grandiflora' or P.G. Hydrangea. It deserves the award for sturdy, reliable and magnificent performance in many situations...

This is a small tree or large shrub, depending on its pruning, that features densely packed, rounded flowerheads.

The Peegee hydrangea is hardy to zone 3 has green leaves that turn bronzy in the fall, and clusters of white flowers that slowly fade to a pinky bronze then to brown. It tolerates a little shade but needs at least 5-6 hours of sun for flowering. It is a wonderful plant that looks great behind a low fence, as a specimen plant in a corner of a bed or behind a low hedge of boxwood, holly or yew.

It blooms from July - September and the large white flowers slowly turn pink...

They look great as a cut flower filling a large bowl!

Soon - some other cultivars of Panicle Hydrangea....

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Essence of Garden Making

The Olympic Games are on! Watching the Olympics always makes me think of Aaron Copland, the great American composer, who lived in the town next to where I live now ( You can visit The Aaron Copland House and attend some great concerts there. )

I think of Copland because a snippet of his 'Fanfare for the Common Man' is played often during the  television coverage of the games.

Copland sings and plays with his friend, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein in 1945

CREDIT: “Bernstein with composer, mentor and friend, Aaron Copland at Bernardsville, NJ. 1945,” Music Division, Library of Congress.Digital ID45a029.
Copland came from modest circumstances in Brooklyn and rose to become one of the preemient U.S. composers of the 20th century. When someone asked why he composed music he answered,  
"You compose because you want to somehow summarize, in some permanent form, your most basic feelings about being alive, to set down... some sort of permanent statement about the way it feels to live now, today."
In my mind, garden making is like composing music - we do it to create a 'permanent statement about the way it feels to live now, today'.....
Landscapes are a sort of  homage to our partnership with Nature. Together, we create 'beautiful music' - uplifitng, glorious and inspiring.  You could say a garden is our own personal 'Fanfare for the Common Man'!
So keep on making those gardens and hum a little tune while you're at it.
(bottom two landscapes by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Funny - Unhappy Hipsters in the Garden

These photos and captions are from Unhappy Hipsters....a very funny website, please check it out....

Sure she was watering a street tree during a statewide drought. But the gate was made of recycled street signs. Carbon footprint: neutral.
(Photo: Randi Berez; Dwell Magazinre, Dec/Jan 2006)
My comments - you gotta love that street sign fence!

The porthole windows seemed like a good idea. But now the house appeared to be leering at them, distinctly ominous.
(Photo: Philip Newton; Dwell Magazine, March 2004)

My comments - such emphasis on the house design..such little emphasis on the landscape...


It became their routine. And so the evenings stretched out before him: still, gray, and gravel-strewn.
(Photo: Dean Kaufman; Dwell, November 2006)

my comments - OMG..must be hot as blazes in the summer

Not on the grass, Sweetie. Never. On. The. Grass. See how much fun Daddy is having?

(Photo: Jack Thompson, Dwell, October 2009)

My comments - Those pavers set in the grass are too far apart, a common mistake.  To get to the door you have to take giant steps or forget about staying on the paving altogether....


Flipping the pages hurriedly, he sensed that the potted plants were advancing.
(Photo: Dean Kaufman; Dwell, Dec/Jan 2007)

My comments - HaHa..I have this urge to plant some climbing ivy there, anywhere.

We’re not ready to go out there yet, honey. And besides, didn’t I do a pretty good job bringing the outside in?

(Photo: Christopher Sturman, Dwell, November 2009)

My comments - Oh No... I use that line all the time!....

(I would love your comments as well...) 

Friday, February 12, 2010

Flower Time

It's Valentine's Day...Flowers abound...

Flowers, the researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey tell us, help people feel less depressed, anxious or agitated.

Wow - how does that work? is it their smell? their color? My own thinking tells me it is something else:  flowers affect us positively because they are nature's siren song.

Flowers are the seductive cloak of Mother Nature, her wildly sensuous creations that beguile us with their colors, petals, patterns and more.  How can you be depressed among a spray of roses? or a bowl of mums? or a vase of baby's breath and  lilies?....

They are the apex of nature's cycle - there is no higher point on the biological spiral.
Flowers stop time - at its most fertile and tantalizing instant.

It is this ephemeral period of time that flowers represent. They bring silent joy and love to anyone in their presence.

Writing about time reminds me of Deborah Solomon's conversation with the noted and amazing sculptor, Andy Goldsworthy. He, too, alluded to this notion of time:

"I asked Goldsworthy to define the word ''landscape,'' and he replied, a bit cryptically: ''A landscape does not have to involve land. Time is a landscape....Time gives,'' Goldsworthy insisted cheerfully, sitting down for a break. ''Time gives growth, it gives continuity and it gives change.."
(Stone Diarist, By Deborah Solomon, NYT,  May 16, 2004) 

In the case of flowers, it also gives heart, the possibility of life renewed and the reminder of the inherent beauty within the most unlikely sources.

Happy Valentine's Day!  And may the flowers be with you.

Immerse Yourself

I lived for over a year in Japan while I was in college.  I didn't have much money ( I was on scholarship) so I could not afford to pay for Japanese language lessons. Now if you have ever been to Japan you know that the people there are 'English challenged' - everyone studies it for years and years and still has a hard time conversing...

So I had to learn Japanese quickly and therefore involved myself in the old fashioned way of language mastery - immersion.

I stayed away from our small college center and lived and worked where Japanese was the only idiom spoken. The funny thing was that since I worked in an architecture office dominated by men I ended up, unknowingly, speaking in the men's dialect!  I must have sounded like a longshoreman when I answered anyone's questions. No wonder they always looked at me a little funny when I spoke...

Why on earth do I bring this up in a blog dedicated to garden design and landscapes? Because mastery of Japanese - no easy task -  is very similar to learning landscape design....

Immersion is the key to learning all the facets of garden making, place making, landscape design or whatever term you want to call manipulating and enhancing outdoor space... as I tell my students, 'Immerse Yourself' in the arena of life that you want to enter.

Too many times I have had people tell me they want to be a landscape designer but approach it in a rather haphazard manner...the direction in their life seems to be skewed or at least indistinct.

Once you decide upon a course in life, the only way to master it is to immerse yourself, yes?  So subscribe to those trade  magazines and then read them! Get every plant catalog that you fancy and then learn the plants described within ....attend classes, talks, as an intern...take a job that you see as beneath you (it isn't!) and learn eveything you can... and then teach what you know to others because there is no better way to master something than to teach it .....

Does this make you a one dimensional person? Not at all! It makes you a deeper more superficial skimming of the subject at hand - you are attempting 'mastery'...

I never forgot what my husband told me about his beloved Karate practice  - he explained that, upon getting his black belt, he was now at 'zero' and would start to learn karate....

Ah so.

Bottom two landscapes by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Beguiling Cottage Garden and then some

I once worked with a lovely client who wanted a cottage style flower garden.

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

When I see photos of gardens in Great Britain, it seems everyone there has the most magnificent flower garden, each more spectacular than the next...their lushness sets a standard of perfection for cottage gardens and makes me want to say to someone here in the Northeast U.S., 'would you like to consider an ornamental grass garden instead?"

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.

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....

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 siberian iris and veronica courtesy of Bluestone Perennials, check them out! 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Serenity Gardens 101 : 'The Lure of a Sheltered Corner'

When you walk into a restaurant where do you want to sit?

This is what I ask my college classes in my intro to 'Working with Outdoor Space'.  The answer is always something like, "in a corner, away from the kitchen, not in the middle of the room, with a nice view of the surroundings or outside'....

The preferred seat in a restaurant is similar to a desirable sitting spot outdoors - it should be a partially sheltered location with a view of the surroundings, not in the middle of an open lawn or terrace but in a defined corner. This corner can be created by the rear of a building or by a low wall or hedge in the lawn and that is where the design of the space becomes important.

Such a layout is discussed at length in the 'bible' of environmental design called, 'A Pattern Language', by Christopher Alexander, et al. This enlightening guide gives illuminating answers to design issues of all kinds, from the proper windowsill height to the optimal arrangement of towns. It is a 'must have' book for anyone seriously interested in building and outdoor design.
 In the section called, 'Hierarchy of Open Space,' the authors describe the best layout for an outdoor terrace:

"Outdoors, people always try to find a spot where they can have their backs protected, looking out toward some larger opening, beyond the space immediately in front of them…. In the very smallest of outdoor spaces, in private gardens, this pattern tells you to make a corner of the space as a "back" with a seat, looking out onto the garden. If it is rightly made, this corner will be snug, but not at all claustrophobic."

I call this arrangement 'the Lure of the Sheltered Corner'. It appeals to our inherent desire for an open 'sanctuary' where we can relax.
Serenity gardens 101 is now finished . You get an 'A'.
all projects - Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

Monday, February 8, 2010

if a Meadow could sing...

how can you not like a singing duo named Mamuse whose slogan is -

"MaMuse is what a meadow would sound like if it could sing."

At that point, you just have to say, 'O.K. I'll listen to one song...."
and since it is gray and snowy in my part of the globe and we all need cheering, I am going to take off the gardener's hat and put on a musicians cap and share with you a wonderful song by MaMuse...
and if you don't feel 'lifted' by this song, then you don't know what meadows sound like...(read the lyrics too, they're great) 


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Some Great - and Little Known - Seed Catalogs

“In Hindi, seed is bija or ‘containment of life." Vandana Shiva

Ah, so true....So where should we buy our little 'containments of life' these days? Here is a list of seed companies that are worthy of a look:

Renee’s Garden
Check out their Basil collection of seeds and their new "Rainbow Kitchen Garden",  5 packets of colorful vegetable varieties that are easy to grow and great for anyone starting a garden from seed. Includes:
  • Farmer's Market Lettuce Mix: rainbow of colors and textures
  • Garden Candy Cherry Tomatoes: red, orange, yellow and sweet as sugar
  • Tasty Duo Scallions: red and green skinned, savory and crisp
  • Tricolor Bush Beans: purple, yellow and green pods
  • Tricolor Zucchini: gold, light and dark green, with buttery flavor

This group offers heirloom and open pollinated seeds. This will be so important in the years to come. Start now growing the plants as nature intended them...Become a 'heritage gardener and a seed saver' now...

Try their Al-Kuffa Tomato - This little tomato is early, and produces 3-4 ounce fruit on compact, dwarf vines that yielded till frost.

Fedco Seeds - based in Waterville, Maine, Fedco is a cooperative -  one of the few seed companies so organized in the United States. Fedco provides cold-hardy varieties and gardening supplies. Go to their pdf cartalog and read anything CR Lawn writes...(Reminds me a little of the Dr. Bronner soap know, 'faith in one-god-state-to-date')...CR Lawn writes about weird weather conditions saying, "In my youth when I sought advice from the I-Ching, how often was I told that“perseverance furthers.”

Seeds of Change A great catalog!  with lots of information about all and sundry horticultural related things...Their Farm is the Rio Grande Valley in Northern New Mexico, midway between Santa Fe and Taos. In the past few years, Seeds of Change Farm made a commitment to becoming more sustainable in its farming practices by incorporating permaculture design principles in all aspects of its work. Check it out on their website.

Tomato Growers – everything tomato from Fort Myers Florida....check out their exclusive Black Cherry tomato - the first truly black cherry tomato. It is a perfectly round cherry with classic black tomato flavor, sweet yet rich and produced in abundance on vigorous, tall plants. Indeterminate 65 days...
 Johnny's Selected Seeds  A wonderful history and a wonderful organic seed company in Maine...A great source of unique and hardy vegetables. This year they offer a nearly seedless Red Pearl tomato, a grape size tomato, with intermediate resistance (IR) to the dreaded late blight.

Friday, February 5, 2010

3 Secrets for a Great Kids' Vegie Garden

I just had a conversation with a dear friend who works in the local elementary school and the subject of kids' gardens came up.  She asked me for input. Here it is:

Kids Gardening is high up in the pantheon of domestic arts....master this, and you will certainly qualify to be in Martha Stewart's top tier...

The 3 secrets for success are: it should not be too demanding, it should offer fairly quick results and require a minimum of maintenance....

So how to achieve this in a garden in the short few months before school is out? Go to and then, as they say for Carnegie Hall, practice, practice, practice, or rather, plan, plan, plan.

1. First, the site has to have full sun for over 6 hours a day, be relatively level and have soil deep enough to sustain plant roots and facilitate adequate drainage (about 16  inches deep at least). No 6" to bedrock or placed atop asphalt...

2. Second, the soil has to be thoroughly prepared beforehand - not by the kids, but by adults. Why? Because it is the quality of the soil that decides the success of your garden. Little kids cannot be expected to amend and prepare the soil in the correct manner...

The soil prep. stage has to be where most kids' gardens go astray.

The grown-ups must work the soil to get the ground ready for the enthusiasm of children with trowels and a bunch of seeds.  This is no easy task! The soil has to be friable ( I love that word) and fertile. Woodland soil is not suitable nor is sandy amendments will be needed (worm composting, anybody?)

3. Third, the arrangements for watering and weeding have to be addressed beforehand. Kids will lose interest after a while (summer sports are calling) and someone has to do it consistently...

If those three considerations are fulfilled then the kids' garden will be a great success! If not, it may become a disappointing exercise....

Vegies for a kids garden should be hardy, fun to look at and mature quickly before school is out in!  what can we plant?
One idea is to choose varieties in unusual colors, shapes and sizes:

"Easter egg" radish Ovals in shades of purple, lavender, pink, rose, scarlet, white. 25 days. Fast and easy to grow, radishes are best in cool weather.

Carrot Thumbelina
Round, golfball  gourmet carrots can be harvested after 60 days!

Ideal for containers or gardens with poor soils. Sweet taste and small cores make thumbelina great for salads, stews, snacks or hors d'oeuvres.

Red Saladbowl - Oakleaf Lettuce 

Radiant burgundy, deeply lobed, delicate oak-like leaves form a rosette. Red Saladbowl matures early, holds its mild, nonbitter salad quality for a long time, and is slow to bolt.  seed with organic pelleting for fast and easy germination.

Potato - All Blue
Skin is purple and the flesh is blue.  A wonderfully flavorful potato with meaty flesh.  It is not a quick grower but the fun is in harvesting it in late great way to grow potatoes - fill a tire with soil and plant the seed potato within this tire...add another one atop it as potato seedlngs emerge and grow about 8  inches and cover them with soil it again with a third tire as they grow toward the light...

Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights' Mix

This chard seed mix has stems in yellow, gold, pink and crimson.  They're best harvested young for salads. Ready to harvest in 60 days.

And what about flowers?
Plant spring pansies for color and plant or better yet plant

Nasturtium Alaska Mix

These colorful and edible flowers tolerate poor soils and heat or cold. They grow on compact plants with attractive variegated foliage. Flowers and tender young leaves add color and a peppery zip to salads.  Big seeds are ideal for kids' gardens.

I hope this gets everyone starting to think about planting out those vegies...I got these photos from Burpee's Seeds. This well known company is a great on-line seed source - but the time is nigh...the best seeds go quickly.....