Finding my “Happy Place”

Since the inauguration of “Trump the Terrible,” like most of the world, my emotions have ranged from rage, deep depression and, after his 1st week in office, sheer terror and horror.

I realize that much of the blather coming out of the White House is just that, and much of it, I hope, will never get past Congress or the courts, but that really does little to assuage the horror I feel when reading the news.


As a result, I have decided to preserve my sanity, bury my head in the sand, stop following the news, and find my happy place.  In the depths of winter (especially heading into my least favorite month), my happy place can only be found by a deep immersion into gardening books and gardening videos.  So here’s a look at what I’ve been reading and watching for the past week:

  1. The Elements of Organic Gardening, by HRH The Prince of Wales with Stephanie Donaldson (2007) – The book focuses on the development of the gardens at Highgrove, Clarence Hall and Birkhall with a particular emphasis on Highgrove, given that’s where Prince Charles really began to implement organic gardening techniques at a time when it was not at all fashionable.  In fact I think many English gardeners thought he was quite crazy at the time.  Now, of course, it’s a given that this is the superior way to garden.  At any rate, I would highly recommend this book.  Obviously the scale of gardening at each of these “homes” is on a much grander scale than most of us have to worry about (we have neither the amount of land, nor the resources/staff), but many of the principles can be applied in a garden of any size.  Even if it weren’t tremendously informative (which it is, covering everything from soil health to purifying grey water), it’s just a delightful read and the photos are superb.
  2. The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage, by David L. Culp with Adam Levine, photographs by Rob Cardillo (2012) – David, along with his partner, created a beautiful 2-acre cottage garden in Pennsylvania.  The concept of layering – planting a mix of perennials and annuals that prolong the flowering of the garden through the seasons – is not a new one, as he admits.  But again, the photographs are beautiful and I’m a sucker for a good “how I created my garden” story.  And I love books that introduce me to some new plant or shrub that I then must add to my own garden (although he’s growing in a zone 6 area, so some plants, although tempting, will not survive our winters).
  3.  Tasha Tudor’s Garden, by Tovah Martin with photographs by Richard W. Brown (1994) – this is a book I have re-read every year since purchasing it 3 or 4 years ago.  Again, it contains marvelous photographs of Tasha’s garden when it was at its peak (she was almost 80 years old at the time this book was released).  Tovah does a wonderful job of capturing both the wonder of the garden, and the eccentricities and talents of its creator.  I feel re-inspired and ready to tackle a new gardening season every time I re-read this book and linger over the photos of what can only be described as an enchanting, wild garden.  If I could transport myself back in time, I would return to the late 1980s or early 1990s, to Tasha’s home on the hilltop in Vermont, and sit down to a cup of tea with Tasha on her flower-covered front porch and talk plants for hours.
  4. Lastly, if you haven’t watched this video, it’s worth the time.  Secret Gardens of England: 16 Secluded Gardens Revealed (2007).  Narrated by Alan Titchmarsh, he explores 16 small, private gardens scattered throughout England.  While not all of the gardens selected appeal to me from an aesthetic standpoint, I always enjoy listening to enthusiastic gardeners who simply delight in the plant world.  And it’s always a pleasure to be transported to the world of color and hear the birds signing in the background when all I see, when I look out my window right now, are the white and greys of winter.


“Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and shake our heads. How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons?”
Jane Goodall, Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating


I worry about the fate of our environment under the Trump regime.  His choice to head the EPA is appalling, as his is disavowal of climate change.   Will the small steps we have achieved over the past 8 years be systematically dismantled?  We will continue to poison ourselves and future generations?


While the political decisions may be out of our hands, my hope is that the organic and small farm movement continues to swell; that individuals continue to delve into the reality of agribusiness and the atrocities of factory farming; that we continue to push for less toxins in our diets and more humane treatment for our animals; and that the interest in permaculture and small backyard gardening continues to grow.



I still consider myself a fledgling gardener and as such, I’m open to ideas and inspiration from other, more experienced gardeners.  I admit I have an aesthetic preference for gardens on the wilder end of the spectrum — country and cottage gardens, woodland walks, open meadows.  I’m not a fan of the contemporary or modern look with its straight edges, manicured shrubs and often minimalist plantings.  Instead, I love mixes of color and texture and lots of it.  I love the tried-and-true cottage plants: shrub roses, climbers, hollyhock, foxglove, sweet rocket, daisies of all types, pinks, and peonies, all interspersed with herbs and other edibles.

My goal is to create a garden that melds into its natural surroundings, not one that is in a constant battle with them.

To that end, I have a couple of go-to favorite gardeners.  I’ve written about both earlier in this blog.  The first, Tasha Tudor, an eccentric, American illustrator who spent 20+ years creating a wondrously wild garden on a mountain top in Vermont.  The second is a more recent discovery – a fortuitous one – that added the concept of permaculture to my vocabulary and introduced me to a new way of gardening for nature, not against it.  Colette O’Neil, owner and creator of Bealtaine Cottage, in Ireland, has also created her own little slice of heaven from 3 acres of once barren, over-worked land.  Follow the links to learn more about both.

Thoughtful Tuesday

“Garbage did not exist until there were humans.  Everything in nature easily goes back into the earth.  Humanity needs to learn to re-consume.”   – Michael Reynolds (creator of the Earthship)

Late summer – Echinacea and rudbeckia hirta  growing wild at the edge of our wooded path out of a pile of cut “weeds” and deadheaded plants.  Nature will always carry on when left to its own devices.



Starting Anew


I really thought I was going to allow this blog to die quietly; life became too busy in October and I really lost the necessary steam to keep up with the writing and photo taking.  But I find that I really miss the interaction with gardeners and photographers from other locales.  So here I am , deep in the cold heart of winter, starting my yearly garden journal once again.

Although I say deep into winter, as with last year, we’re having a fairly mild one by North Country standards.  December was snowy and cold, but so far January has been rather tame.  We have a layer of ice on the ground right now, but no snow.  Temperatures this week are heading into the high 30s and low 40s with overnights in the 30s.  The hens, ducks and sheep think it’s the beginning of spring.  Wow, will they be in for a rude awakening when February hits!

So, as you may imagine, there is not much in the way of gardening happening at this time of year.  We’ve been tucked in for winter since mid-November.  But my seeds have been ordered and have arrived.  Despite my determined intentions to scale back the veggie garden this season to allow more time in the flower garden, I couldn’t say no to certain favorite vegetables, herbs and annuals.  So, once again, it appears I will have twenty 25′ rows to tend.  As an aside, I can’t believe I’m heading into my 7th year of tending a vegetable garden up here and my 6th year of flower gardening!  Do you all find that time seems to move at a considerably more rapid pace as we get older?

Back to the veggie garden — just planting the usual array of squashes, lettuces, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, onions and shallots, garlic, kale, chard, green beans (pole and bush varieties), carrots, beets, rutabaga and edamame.  I will also plant my usual row of zinnia, half of which are transplanted early in the summer to borders throughout the garden, and two rows of sunflowers (the Giants stand sentry at the top of the vegetable garden).  I’ve decided not to plant potatoes this season and will use the freed up rows as my “nursery.”  I grew some annuals and perennials from seed last year (salvia, nasturtium, pinks, campanula, sweet rocket (Hesperis Matronalis for the non-U.S. folks reading this), but want to add to the list this year and will leave 3 rows of perennials to winter-over before transplanting them elsewhere in the mixed borders.  And of course, I have the separate, ever expanding pumpkin patch.  Growing pumpkins “is my one weakness,” as Dorcas would say from the series Larkrise to Candleford (for anyone who has not watched that marvelous series, you should).

In addition to the vegetable garden, I have many plans for the rest of the garden.  Of course I’ll be lucky if I find time for half of them, but “go big” – at least in theory – I always say.  There are two priority jobs that will take place.  First, we want to enclose the immediate backyard “living space” with fencing, so that the dogs can join us for evenings in front of the fire and they can be outside with me while I garden.  This is particularly important for Tilly, our corgi, as she is really not happy unless she’s glued to either my side or Nora’s at all time.  I think I’ve come up with a layout and fencing style that will blend into the country garden, and I’m hoping as I train the climbing roses, ramblers and clematis over the fence, it will become even less jarring.  The fenced in area will encompass the circle garden, patio/gazebo area, rose garden, peony border, spring border and hollyhock border (another border I plan on expanding this year).   I suspect the installation of the fence will require some relocation of the roses in the peony border and perhaps a little widening; I will definitely have to relocate the hardy geraniums that line the driveway side of the border – likely to the new rose garden area.

In addition to that little project, it’s time for a major overhaul of the front yard.  I’ve really worked within the framework established by my mother since we’ve moved here; flower beds immediately in front of the two porches and a small island border between two very large, old maples.  The maples, unfortunately, had to be brought down the year we moved up here.  A huge branch fell off one of them and did some significant damage to my brother’s car and scraped Nora’s.  The trees towered over the house and N was petrified that a limb would come crashing through the roof at some point.  The two trees were likely as old as our 1850s farm house, so it was with great sadness that I agreed.  Turns out they both were being hollowed out by rot, and it was a good call on N’s part.  Still a sad day however.

Anyway, other than changing the perennials in the existing borders, adding a few trellises and planting some lilacs, I really haven’t done much in front.  Despite what the back of our property looks like (lovely gardens and woods), we sit on a busy and loud (by North Country standards) highway.  It’s not relaxing working in the front yard, so for the most part, I haven’t.  As a result, the front garden is, well, boring.  So time for a major re-design.

Front yard 2017 design.png

Above is my very rough sketch of some of the changes I have in mind.  First, the fencing is coming down from all sides but the 18′ stretch on the driveway side (to the right of the drawing above).  The stumps from the two maples will be ground out, the island border removed and that stretch of yard leveled to some extent with some additional top soil.  My goal is to create a relatively low maintenance mixed shrub hedge along the southern edge (where two youngish maples already exist) and underplant with naturalizing bulbs.  I’m thinking a couple of Japanese willows, perhaps a cedar and/or yew and some short, sprawling evergreens in front along with a patch of perennial grasses for movement and all season interest.

I’ve ordered two pagoda dogwoods – a small, ornamental tree that maxes out at 25′ or so.  At least one will go into the front yard, possibly both.  I’ll probably add a juniper on either side of the front steps.  With the clematis covered trellises on the porch, I think they would add some nice vertical interest to the front of the house.  One of the borders that abuts the house (center above) will be widened.  It’s barely 2′ deep in some locations, which is a big old “why bother.”   And the bed that currently sits next to the driveway (from archway down to the road) will be substantially enlarged from its meager 2′ x 12′ space to a curving 8′-10′ deep x 18′ long border.  Lastly, I want to extend the flagstone walkway front the front steps, over to the steps leading into the screened porch and then over to the gate of the trellised bridge.

I’m not wedded to the ilex hedge across the road side of the front yard.  I may leave that space unplanted for this year and mull it over for a bit.

I’m not sure I’ll get all the borders in the front planted out as I want this season, but I hope to at least get a good jump on the transformation.