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

Friday, May 25, 2012


Sunset website - photo by Andrea Gómez Romero.

'Serenity in the Garden Blog' is the name of my Facebook Page.

Each day I post a photo of something that is garden is an eclectic assortment indeed: Flowers, chairs,people,  gardens, artwork, planters....

I post whatever  I think might appeal to other kindred spirits out there. You can click here to go to the site: Serenity in the Garden on Facebook.

I have decided to make a post of whatever I post on FB on a weekly basis here in my blog...that way it will be available to all the non-Facebook users out there.

I will number the posts ( this is number 1) and will go back in the archive on some posts because I have alot to catch up on.

I hope you enjoy these photos and ideas. If you do, please let me know - Thanks!

This flagstone walkway at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in Ojai, California (a very special valley!) features a Bermuda grass double helix. To create the decorative effect, the designer framed the rectangular space with wood, then laid 4-inch...-wide blue-board foam as a placeholder for the pattern. After installing the paving, she removed the foam, filled the resulting 4-inch-wide channels with soil, then planted the sod. A weed eater is used to mow this strip. photo by Andrea Gómez Romero.
Madoo is the name that artist, Robert Dash, gave to his ever-changing, fun loving garden in Sagaponack, in New York's Long Island. It evolved over his lifetime and is now a conservancy open to the public. Here, boxwood orbs seem to roll ac...ross a path, making "the trunks of the gingko trees look like giant mallets in an ongoing game of croquet." (quote and photo by Steve Silk in his wonderful Clatter Valley Gardens blog.
The beautiful hybrid Baptisia X 'Carolina Moonlight' was selected at the North Carolina Botanical Garden by Curator of Native Plants Rob Gardner in 2002. It is a cross between two native Baptisia species: white wild indigo (Baptisia alba) a...nd the yellow wild indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa). This gorgeous plant is insect and deer resistant and has yellow lupine-like flowers on erect flower spikes in May. When in bloom, flower spikes can number 40 to 50 spikes.
On a steep elevation, looking down on birch, aspen, pine and sculptural stones, the Juvet Landscape Hotel near Valldal, Norway has seven rooms built separately into the landscape. The panoramic widows makes you feel as 'if nature flows to' (hotel website says this).

I once spent several week in Valldal (picking strawberries for room and board) and can say that western Norway area is incredible. bucket list item.
Claremont Landscape Garden is one of the surviving English Landscape Gardens still featuring its 18th century layout.
Begun in 1715, by 1727 they were described as ‘the noblest of any in Europe’. The grounds represent the work of some of... the best-known British landscape gardeners including Charles Bridgeman, Capability Brown, William Kent and Sir John Vanbrugh. This amphitheatre was designed by Charles Bridgeman.

In 1949 the gardens were donated to The National Trust for stewardship and protection. By the 1970s, the gardens were overgrown and in a poor state. The Slater Foundation gave money for their restoration in 1975. Thank You Slater!

Monday, May 21, 2012


(terrace by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools)

Glorious gardens of color, light, shape and fragrance help our hearts to sing. They can be like a little piece of heaven in our backyard. Toward that end, I have devoted my professional life to transforming nondescript settings into enchanting, romantic landscapes. 
My aim for the past 40 years has been to create beautiful outdoor spaces that induce sweet reverie through inspired design. Now I am anxious to share my knowledge with others and show how to create gardens of serenity and delight just as I have done for my clients throughout the years.

On Wednesday June 20 I will give a 5 hour class on 'Secrets of Creating Gardens of Serenity' (click here) at the NY Botanical Garden in the Bronx. 
I will share ideas on the power of shape, how the four cardinal directions affect us, how to use certain colors to elevate mood in a garden, how to locate a 'power spot' on a property, how to design an outdoor sitting space so that it enhances communication and well being.
Did you know that the octagon is a powerful shape? Perhaps this is why Thomas Jefferson designed his home at Poplar Forest as an 8 sided octagon...

Did you realize that  Maples affect us differently than oaks? How? We will discuss this also.... 

So please join us!
It will be eye opening and a lot of on this NYBG website and enroll with Continuing Education.

Friday, May 18, 2012

'Smoke Bush' Steals the Show

The Smoke Bush rules in June and July!
 I planted a red-purple leaved variety of Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria) in my small front yard years ago and it has been a stalwart eye catcher from the beginning. It makes the front of my house extra-ordinary in early summer.

'Royal Purple' Cotinus

As a result, I use the oval purple foliage of cotinus in many of my landscapes - it makes a great backdrop and can also be a sturdy specimen shrub...and it is DEER RESISTANT.

The Cotinus species is a rounded, bushy shrub that is happy and hardy wherever you plant it.  Known as Smoke Bush due to the 'smoke-like' appearance of its delicate flower clusters in summer,  it can even be adapted to a planter.

  Both the varieties of smoke bush - green with flowers and the red leaved variety  - are in this planter

The burgundy leaves of the 'Royal Purple' Smokebush deepen through the summer, turning a vibrant purple-red in fall, especially dramatic in full sun. Its colored leaves are its signature since 'Royal Purple' does not flower as reliably as the green leaved Smoke bush varieities.

Red leaved Smoke Bush with Japanese painted fern - a lovely combo.  Photo by Jan Johnsen

One reason you may not see Smoke Bush often is that it grows slowly and does not look like much when you first plant it. But after a few years, Smoke Bush comes into its own. Just give it a little time and do not be afraid to keep it in check by pruning down tall branches in late winter /early spring.  Aggresive pruning also ensures slightly larger leaves on a Smoke Bush!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Labyrinths - Idea for Your Circular Garden

Circles intrigue us and the most compelling form of circular garden is a labyrinth. The term "labyrinth" conjures up something convoluted or maze-like but these circular walkways are relatively easy to navigate and are thought to hold great spiritual potential.

These outdoor features have been in existence for over 3,500 years and were used as solar and lunar calendars, meditative walkways and symbolic religious elements.   The labyrinth tradition has been revived in recent years and labyrinths can be seen nearly everywhere. Their presence offers us the chance to rediscover this meditative walking tradition. You can find them in open fields, parks, college campuses, and botanical gardens.

When you come upon a labyrinth, you cannot help but walk along the looping stone or gravel path. A labyrinth contains a single pathway leading round and round to a center point. Once you reach it, you simply reverse direction to go back to the beginning. This spiraling walk requires many changes of direction and creates a heightened sense of awareness to all who walk it.

 In the book, “A Celebration of Mazes,” the authors, Randall Coate, Adrian Fisher and Graham Burgess, advocate making a maze or labyrinth, writing,
...You will have given our world of harsh reality and mindless speed a timeless oasis, a leisurely paradise, the substance of a dream.” (1986)  

It is indeed a lovely inclusion to any serenity garden no matter how big or small.
Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, founder of Veriditas, the World-Wide Labyrinth Project, attributes the popularity of labyrinths, in part, to the circle shape which she calls an “an inclusive image…. an archetype for wholeness…”

Cheyenne Botanic Garden labyrinth by Archinia

It is relatively easy to build a labyrinth in your garden by using the technique that ‘Camino de Paz Labyrinths’ uses. Their ‘Labyrinth for Contemplation’ located near the World Trade Center site in New York City is situated within a grove of 11 cedar trees and serves as a memorial to the victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks. 

It consists of granite ‘Belgian Blocks’ inlaid in the lawn which winds around in seven circular rings ending in a point in the center. This contemplative memorial epitomizes how an ancient circular feature can transform a busy urban site into a place of pilgrimage.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Learning from Gardens - outdoor science

"Quantum theory thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe...
As we penetrate into matter, nature
...appears as a complicated web of relations
between the various parts of the whole.”

~ Fritjof Capra,  The Tao of Physics

Such musings on the nature of the universe sound like what an ecological minded gardener might say.

All you have to do is look at a backyard garden and see the microcosm of the interdependent web of animals, plants and microbes that has evolved over eons. Just as Capra was describing.

So it makes sense then, as we gear up for commercial space travel and life,
that NASA scientists call our world "a self contained....microcosm..."

(photo by Jan Johnsen, Johnsen Landscapes & Pools)

Sounds like a garden to me…..

But there is so much of our interwoven tapestry that the NASA  ‘Bioregenerative Life Support Project’ misses.  They use machines to replicate our world.

Perhaps if a science minded person spent an hour in a garden, away from a lab, they could exchange, if only for an hour, a bioreactor tank for a pile of leaves, some purified water for a babbling stream.

 This advice to experience nature directly is as old as human culture itself. 

 Alan Watts lauds this approach and credits its impact on ancient Chinese science by noting that,

“The Taoists contributed far more to Chinese science than the Confucians, for whereas the latter had their noses in books and were concerned with the following of rules, the former were observers of nature.

Taoist literature abounds with comments on the behavior of animals, insects, reptiles, plants, wind, water and the heavenly bodies…”

(Alan Watts, Tao: The Watercourse Way, p.119). 

(photo by Jan Johnsen)

So maybe scientists should take a meditative stroll and watch how Nature answers their questions before they even ask them.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Great Tao in a Garden

The idea that we are living within a world swirling with unseen energies is not a new one... 

The Chinese idea of Tao comes closest to what mystics, tribal peoples and modern day physicists explain as the basis of all life.

(white plumeria, Kauai )

 The Tao, as Alan Watts writes, is not God “in the sense of ruler, monarch, commander, architect and maker of the universe,” but an “intelligent rhythm” (Watts, “Tao: the Watercourse Way” P 40):

(from The Living Centre)

“The great Tao flows [also “floats” and “drifts”] everywhere

to the left and to the right,

All things depend upon it to exist,

And it does not abandon them.

To its accomplishments it lays no claim.

It loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them.

(Jim's Golden Laceleaf Elderberry)

         A flourishing garden spotlights this intelligent rhythm.

It is our everyday “repository of life …….with no claim to its accomplishments”. 

(NY Botanical Garden Cascade)

Alan Watts uses a stream as his principal metaphor for the Tao.   A stream, he says, cannot be held in a bucket and such is the nature of the Tao, or energy that lies within and around all natural life.  How lovely it is that  flowing water of any kind in your garden can symbolize the invisible field of the Tao that flows all around us!

So how do we access the unknowable energy that pulsates around and through us? As Watts describes, "we know intuitively that there is a dimension of ourselves and of nature which eludes us because it is too close, too general and too all embracing to be singled out as a particular object.” (p.55)

He counsels us to “watch the processes and patterns of nature...... so as to have vivid awareness of ‘what is’ without verbal comment”.

A garden is a perfect setting

for developing our ‘vivid awareness”.

(garden by Jan Johnsen)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Sublime Color of Hazelnut

Yesterday I was on a job and the tree pollen, which normally does not affect me, was intense...coughing, sneezing, etc. I began to think about tree pollen and what good things we could create from something so bothersome...

I believe that everything in Nature has some use if only we can determine what it is. You know, like penicillin being developed from bread mold or something like that...(I am not sure about that example..)

So in the interest of learning to love tree pollen I found this unusual and interesting item in 'In Living Color' . It was written by Kate Smith and details the artistic use of tree pollen by Wolfgang Laib. 

Laib uses natural materials to create his works of art.  As Smith notes,

he is an artist who is "awed by nature and inspired by ritual...".

His gallery Sean Kelly Gallery writes that, " During the spring and summer months he collects pollen, including dandelion, hazelnut, pine, buttercup, and moss varieties, from the fields surrounding his home.

 He displays this laboriously gathered material in simple glass jars or sifts it through sheets of muslin directly onto the floor to create large, square fields of spectacular color."

Indeed, the color is sublime..but as Kate Smith writes, our response may be more on the sniffling and wheezing side of appreciation...nonetheless, it is a look at what a physician-turned-artist can do while living in the Black Forest of Germany.

Of course, another use of hazelnut pollen is to create hazelnuts:

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Willow Palaces, Cathedrals and Domes - Sanfte Strukturen

(from sanfte strukturen website)

Sanfte Strukturen builds willow palaces, cathedrals and domes. Marcel Kalberer, the head of the group, says he does this because he believes in developing socially-sustainable building processes and encouraging human co-existence with the natural world..... and what a magnificent co-existence it is!
The building techniques he uses are based on the ancient Sumerian reed houses of Mesopotamia and the traditional European small outbuildings constructed of woven plants and trees. Yet while both these were built of tightly bound reeds and green branches, Kalberer's structures uses the whole tree which is woven in place to form a living structure.
Arena Salix, Schlepzig 2004

Sanfte Strukturen built its first public willow structure in 1998, The Auerworld Palace in Auerstedt, Germany.

It was built by a diverse group of 300 people - children, seniors, men and women and students from many different nations and started with a party on the first full moon before Easter 1998 and ended in party on a full moon a month later.

All woodcutting, binding, planting and construction was done by hand accompanied by lots of music and frivolity. Kalberer described the unconventional building process as somewhere between a chain gang and a party!

Today the Palace is a major tourist attraction in the countryside between Weimar and Naumburg. It is home to full moon dance parties known as the Auerworld Festivals, which is said to draw more than 80,000 visitors.

It is the 'mother of all willow palaces' - the first large scale example of botanic architecture in the world.

Marcel Kalberer prefers the term "living architecture" because of the botanical and ecological implications and because all his structures are created by a community of volunteers.  

This is not the rarified world of conventional architecture dominated by professionals and experts - it is more like a community barn raising as we see in the Amish tradition.

Kalberer has since built more than 70 structures around Europe. He has shared and explained his technique to others, and according to him, there are now more than 10,000 small willow constructions at schools and in private gardens around Germany.

You can use this idea in your garden! Stone Art Blog discusses the technique of using long un-rooted willow cuttings or whips to make functional and attractive structures/barriers in the garden that will grow and develop throughout the years. Check it out!