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
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Nature’s Time in a Garden and Einstein's Dreams



Anyone who has lost themselves to a daydream on a sparkling afternoon in a garden knows intuitively that time ebbs and flows.

We ‘lose track of time’ while raking dry crunchy leaves or snipping old hydrangea blooms. And we see it stretch as we sip tea and marvel at the colors of our roses or the dance of the clouds.

Gardens tell us the time – daily time, seasonal time and yearly time – by unfurling leaves and bursting buds, by nascent seed pods and light frost on glistening leaves.

garden by Jan Johnsen

This is ‘Nature’s time’, a quiet spiraling of experience that envelops us wholly. What a contrast to its counterpart, our human mechanical time.

Human time hangs heavily around our neck, like an unbreakable locket.  It is “as rigid and metallic as a massive pendulum of iron that swings back and forth, back and forth…unyielding, predetermined...” (Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams, p.23).



Mechanical time puts constant pressure on our lives, superseding all else, and forcing us to forget what really matters.  It is run by the clock and calendar.  It divides our days into hours, minutes, seconds, milliseconds.


It is as, Meister Eckhart, the 14th century Christian mystic, said, an obstacle in our lives,

“Time is what keeps the light from reaching us. There is no greater obstacle to God than time: and not only time but temporalities, not only temporal things but temporal affections, not only temporal affections but the very taint and smell of time.”

Nature’s time, on the other hand, ‘makes up its mind as it goes along.’ (Lightman, p 23). It is the smooth and rhythmic unfolding of a flower; the torrent rush of rain in a summer squall; the slow exhale of a deep breath.



Nature’s time is as eternal as a granite boulder and as fleeting as a snowflake on a sunny winter day. It needs no device to measure it… the sun’s rays and the moon’s waxing and waning are its dutiful keepers.

I believe a garden helps us celebrate Nature's time more fully.

As Einstein explained, our "place" in the cosmos is not so much a physical site as it is a time frame. Our reality therefore is a blend of space and time. So I guess the best way to understand Nature’s time is as Ram Dass said, ‘Be Here Now’.

And gardens help us do that, in a quiet but glorious way.





Saturday, October 8, 2011

Black and White in the Garden


Black and White, the oh-so-chic color combination that we see adorning all the hippest living rooms in all the coolest urban settings is just as alluring in a garden...and perhaps even more so because the colors are not from Benjie Moore but from Mama Nature....

(black walls anyone? This is from apartmenttherapy.com, a great website!)

Black and white tulip combinations create a luscious contrast especially if they are surrounded with green, green and more green...White Flower Farm combined the 'Queen of Night' tulip, as close to black as a flower can get, with the white delicate Lily-flowered Tulip, 'White Triumphator' - that is the photo at the top of this post.

I too planted Queen of the Night black tulips with a white tulip to create a late tulip show that is also a wonderful cut flower combo.


Another black tulip you must consider is the heavily frilled and feathery-edged Black Parrot tulip which is especially beautiful -  it is dark purple outside and almost black on the inside. (Protect these from wind)


Van Bourgondien Bulbs mixed this tulip with others to create their Mystery Passion Blend:


But Black and White in the Garden is more than tulips....Here are some outstanding black (or at least very dark purple) plants that I have used in various settings:

(Ipomoea 'Blackie' - photo from White Flower Farm)

I started using the trailing Sweet Potato vine (an annual in my part of the world) as an eye catching, foliage plant cascading from containers but it soon outgrew its confines and was just too large for a pot. In my opinion, it makes a great dark groundcover or as a plant to soften the edge of a raised planter or atop a wall, as shown here.

Ipomoea 'Blackie' is the perfect contrast for white lantana, white potentilla or white ageratum flowers. You can pinch it back to keep it within bounds..... 
(this photo from casaconiglio.blogspot. - check it out on my links)

Euphorbia 'Blackbird'  has dusky, dark-purple, evergreen foliage which gets even darker in full sun. For drama, plant them next to white deutzia gracilis or white Candytuft - Iberis.

 In spring, this Blackbird creates its own contrast with long-lasting yellow-green blossoms on red stems. Deer Resistant!

(Thanks for this photo to white flower farm)

Of course, Coleus is a great accent plant in a garden and the darkest varieties are the best foil to any other plant...The  puckered foliage of 'Black Magic' coleus is a dark velvety purple with a green, scalloped edge. What a striking contrast it makes in a partially shaded spot with regular White Impatiens or white New Guinea Impatiens!

(White Flower Farm photo - go to their website!)

And lastly, 'Hillside Black Beauty' Snakeroot (Cimicifuga) is a dark-leaved form of Bugbane selected by Fred and Mary Ann McGourty. It has black purple foliage, grows 5 ft tall and looks best in light shade.....A statuesque plant that would be spectacular next to white leaved Hostas or white caladiums or white astilbes.
I am sure there are many more ideas for black and white garden combos - if you have some suggestions, would you comment and add your ideas here?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lynden Miller and her Central Park Conservatory Garden



A while back I took my landscape design studio class from Columbia University (I teach there)  to a powerpoint presentation given by the 'grande dame' of New York City gardens, Lynden Miller.

 It was a fabulous talk about the various gardens she has installed all over New York and the impact they have had on city life..

(BTW, we saw Lynden at the N.Y. Horticultural Society, which has a fantastic horticultural library - open to all - on 37th Street at 7 Avenue.)

Wow! What a legacy Mrs. Miller will leave.  She specializes in glorious mixed flower and plant borders which you can find in all parts of the city.

Lynden calls her gardens 'sanctuaries for the soul in the city' and that they are.


Lynden Miller has been, in my estimation, the modern driving force behind the beautifying of New York.   Her first commission was to restore the aged and forgotten six acre garden called Central Park Conservatory Garden....

As Director, Mrs. Miller raised an endowment for this grand garden's  renovation and long term care. She raised private funds, redesigned the plantings, hired qualified staff and organized  a dedicated volunteer group of gardeners. Today hordes of people enjoy this special place at Fifth Avenue and 105th Street.

Of course, it is especially crowded in Spring.  There are weddings galore and don't even try to go there on Mother's Day - its full. 
To enter you must pass through the Vanderbilt Gate, one of the best examples of wrought iron work in New York City and a popular photo spot.

The Conservatory Garden is filled with heirloom roses, English yew, barberry, holly and, of course, "Manhattan" Euonymus.  It is divided into three distinct sections, each representing its own specific style. These are the north (or French Garden), the Central (or Italian Garden) and the south (or English Garden).

(this photo from a wonderful photostream by Trish Mayo at Flikr - a very talented photographer! )

What Lynden Miller has done in restoring the Conservatory Garden, and all the other gardens she has installed in NY,  is remarkable.  You must know that when I was growing up in the city there were no gardens other than our botanical gardens.  Sure, we had the magnificent Central Park but there were no formal flower gardens to speak of.  Flowers were few and far between then. Nothing like today.

This designer deserves recognition!  Buy her book, Parks, Plants, and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape and see the amazing things this pioneering and wise gardener soul  has done!

Without Lynden Miller, New York City would be a much more solemn, gray place.