Garden Designers Roundtable: Inspiration!

Garden Designers Roundtable: Inspiration!

As I write this, it’s snowing and we’ve got at least eight more weeks of winter before getting back outside and doing what we love best. Yet inspiration is not far off, for these are the months that imagination captivates the mind with thoughts of new plants and new schemes for the garden. They come at us from all angles, born of longing, and the promise of spring’s warmth. But where does one find the seed from which inspiration grows? I find inspiration in landscapes big and small, in nature’s perfect randomness, and in simple vignettes. There is a story and beauty in every scene.

Here are some photos of what has inspired me recently.

Readers of this blog will remember that I love grasses. I am captivated by the look of a meadow, and this view of the grass farm at Sunny Border Nursery always stops me in my tracks. As I look upon this field I dream of the meadow I might be designing soon for that discerning client.

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Stone is another element that gets the blood pumping. This pile of field stone slabs caught my eye at the local supplier and  stayed with me until we used them to create the stairs in the picture below. I can’t imagine a garden without stone.

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Another great use of old stone is this gristmill stone, used in a patio at Hollandia Nurseries in Bethel, CT. The pattern is mesmerizing!

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This vignette is from Hollister House in Washington, CT. It could be a doorway anywhere in the world, which is why I caught myself coming back to it several times. I’m not sure what the stone item is, but its story (which I do not know) still intrigues me. I wonder if I will ever create something so simple and engaging?

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A sense of invitation is nearly irresistible, as set up by these next shots. This Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar at Elizabeth Park in Hartford, CT. feels like a cave entrance as you move from the sunlight into the cool of the shade garden.

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Weeping Cherries partially obscure the view to the tomb at the top of the hill in a cemetery in Simsbury, CT. The juxtaposition of new life blossoming against the backdrop of life eternal creates an interesting vitality, and opens the imagination to transitions in the garden.

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The endless patterns found in nature are truly inspirational. The stump of this very old yew, also in Elizabeth Park in Hartford, CT., was awaiting the backhoe when I came upon it. The spiraling nature of its growth and the energy it projects had me thinking sculpture, fountain, or a contemporary trellis to grow vines on. Intriguing, no?

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One of the great joys in life is to meet local artisans whose talents extend into the garden. These next two inspiring pieces are by local craftsman, and friend Bill Salazar. I pass by this lamp post and arbor many times a week, and never fail to slow down and peek at how they look as the garden changes around them. Beautiful!

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These are just a few of the things that inspire me to create more interest in the garden. What inspires you? Leave me a comment, I would love to hear about it!

Please visit my colleagues also, and see what inspires them. There links are below.

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Jenny Peterson : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin, TX

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Garden Designers Bloglink: Celebrating regional diversity in New England!

Garden Designers Bloglink: Celebrating regional diversity in New England!

If you’ve ever walked through a landscape and not been able to tell what part of the country you were in, or have traveled somewhere only to find the same plants, paving materials, and stores as the mall back home, then you have experienced the homogenization of today’s society. Uniqueness is giving way to mass production in our world. If everywhere we go, looks the same as where we’ve been, is there really any reason to have gone there in the first place? This post, and the posts of 12 of my friends and fellow Landscape Designers today, is dedicated to celebrating regional diversity in the garden. Lauding the uniqueness of each corner of this small planet. Please take some time to visit the other participants blogs, and experience the visions of each of these talented designers, as they delve into regional diversity in Garden Design. You’ll find their names and links to their blogs at the end of this post.

A simple herringbone path, brings out the charm of this cottage.

I live and design landscapes in southern New England. New England is a wonderfully diverse region of the country. The Connecticut River Valley, rich and fertile, has been home to thriving agriculture for some 400 years. Dairy farms once dominated the rolling hills of Vermont. There are granite quarries in New Hampshire, brownstone quarries in Connecticut, rocky lobster beds in Maine, and the world’s premier oyster fisheries in Long Island Sound. Mill towns throughout the region stand as reminders of a strong manufacturing base, long since weakened by present day global economies. Ecosystems vary from huge sand dunes on Cape Cod, alpine meadows in New Hampshire, deep spruce forests in Maine, and over 6000 miles of rocky and sandy coastline. In a days drive, one can experience all that New England has to offer, passing through cattle pastures, tobacco fields, mountain passes, large cities and industrial hubs.

Instead of cut and fill, the terrain in this garden was celebrated with a stream and pond.

The architecture in New England is predominantly colonial in nature. It echoes the feel of northern Europe, for it is those Europeans that originally settled here. They brought with them their colonial style houses, cottage gardens, and an innate ability to construct miles and miles of field stone walls, perhaps the defining image of New England. Stone walls line both farmland and Main Street in most New England towns, and that same stone can be found in the construction of many of the older factories, churches and municipal buildings.

Sadly though, New England’s natural beauty is slowly disappearing, succumbing to strip malls and boring landscapes of mass produced plant cultivars. The brick paths, field stone walls and cottage gardens, that provided this region with its traditional character and charm, are also giving way to more modern concrete pavers, block walls and uninteresting plantings. To turn around this trend, one need only to look again to New England’s history and natural beauty when designing a garden. Its early European influences, natural geography and native ecosystems, still present today, can easily be drawn upon to marry each design to the regions character. And when that design is true to its surroundings, and successfully implemented, the effort put forth to enhance that natural beauty, disappears beneath a conjoined sense of place. To put it simply, a well designed landscape seems not to have been designed at all, yet gives the visitor a sense of location, and of the character within. Herein lays the value of celebrating a location’s natural diversity, and turning away from homogeneous design. By focusing on regionally specific plant groups, hardscape materials, and design concepts, we promote uniqueness rather than assimilation into the global fold.

Natural Cedar and Native Fieldstone conceal an ugly foundation wall.

Examples that might celebrate regional diversity could be as follows: A shade garden of locally native plants beneath a beautiful hardwood canopy, so common in New England, instead of cutting down as many trees as possible to grow a lawn. A meadow or rain garden in a low lying damp area, filtering toxins from runoff before it reenters the ecosystem. A habitat garden comprised of native plant species providing a place of food and sanctuary for the native fauna. Moving in closer to the house, examples might include; Native stone and brick to construct walkways and patios, calling back to the days when such materials were quarried in a nearby location. Regionally available wood species, felled and milled locally to build garden structures. And, when possible, situating the home itself so as to accentuate the property, shunning cut and fill grading practices and taking advantage of the land’s unique characteristics.

Boston City Hall Pavers, shown here before planting, complement the colonial architecture of the house.

Drawing upon the history, native plants and hardscape materials of a region when designing a project, provides the designer a culturally specific path to creating that garden.  A garden that celebrates its location and informs its visitors. As our world continues to shrink, it is imperative to preserve local character and regional identity. Doing so, will give your garden its unique sense of place.

I hope you find yourself a new sense of place in your own garden. And please, if you any thoughts on this topic? I’d love to hear them, leave a comment below!


I would invite you now to visit my friends and fellow Landscape designers as they blog from their unique and diverse regions, and who knows, maybe you’ll find an interesting place to visit the next time you venture across this wonderfully diverse country of ours. Click on each of the Designers names to visit their blogs. (And while your there, explore some of their older posts also. You’ll find a wealth of information!)

Jocelyn Chilvers (The Art Garden) – Wheat Ridge, CO

Susan Cohan (Miss Rumphius’ Rules) –  Chatham, NJ

Michelle Derviss (Garden Porn) – Novato, CA

Tara Dilliard (Landscape Design Decorating Styling) – Stone Mountain, GA

Dan Eskelson (Clearwater Landscapes Garden Journal) – Priest River, ID

Laura Livengood Schaub (Interleafings) – San Jose CA

Susan Morrison (Blue Planet Garden Blog) – East Bay, CA

Pam Penick (Digging) – Austin, TX

Susan Schlenger (Landscape Design Viewpoint)  – Charlottesville, VA

Genevieve Schmidt (North Coast Gardening) – Arcata, CA

Ivette Soler (The Germinatrix) – Los Angeles, CA

Rebecca Sweet (Gossip in the Garden) – Los Altos, CA

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Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day For November

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day For November

As Autumn slowly fades into winter here in Southern New England, we find fewer and fewer blossoms for Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day. That doesn’t leave us devoid of color and interest though, for despite being far past peak foliage color, there are still many wonders to behold in the garden. With that thought in mind, I ventured out with camera in hand to capture the beauty that is the turn of the season.
I hope you find as much enjoyment as I do in the following photos. Remember, you can click on each to see a larger version.
Though the Bee covered yellow frosting from late summer has passed, the spent flower heads of Goldenrod (Solidago) still provide us interest. They almost resemble cotton waiting to be picked.
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The common name Fleabane, does not do the lovely flowers of Erigeron justice. Here still putting on a display mid-November.

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We have been using several different Coral Bells (Heuchera) in containers the last few years, and one of our favorites is ‘Caramel’. It’s foliage is a wonderful contrast to the annuals and Hostas it’s been pared with. This container, on its last legs of the season, is still looking vibrant thanks to the many wonderful shades of color provided by ‘Caramel’

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Heuchera 'Caramel'

Not to be outlasted, our Scabiosa ochroleuca, will just not turn in for the season!

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Scabiosa ochroleuca

Looking weary and a bit haggard, but still festive, Swamp Sunflower is holding on, adding color to the ever increasingly dull hues of late fall.

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Helianthus angustifolius 'Gold Lace'

Not all plants shun fall and winter, the Common Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) does not bloom until this time of year. Its crinkly spider like blooms here are glistenig from last night’s rain.

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Hamamelis virginiana

A star of late Autumn, Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) explodes this time of year. Found on the edge of wet meadows and woodlands, the bright red berries will continue to draw our attention until every last one is gobbled up by our avian friends.

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Ilex verticillata

On the edge of our meadow, I found the following plant. I’m not quite sure what it is, but  am completely mesmerized by the whispy structure and the wonderful tan and brown hues of the foliage. What a wonderfully welcome volunteer to have made its home here.

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One of our meadow volunteers

So there you have it, the last of the 2009 blooms from our garden. I hope you have enjoyed these posts as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you. If you have, then fear not, for there will all sorts of frozen wonders to explore as we venture out into the winter garden, stay tuned.

See you in the Garden,


Bloom Day for August!

Bloom Day for August!

Today is Garden Bloggers Bloom day for August, A time we share what’s blooming in our gardens with the world. Enjoy!
Buddleia 'Black Knight'
Buddleia 'Black Knight'
Hemerocallis 'Chicago Apache'
Hemerocallis ‘Chicago Apache’
Lobelia cardinalis
Lobelia cardinalis
Echinacea - assorted
Echinacea – assorted
Hydrangea 'Endless Summer'
Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer’
Liatris 'Floristan White'
Liatris ‘Floristan White’
See you amongst the flowers!
When the cat’s away…..

When the cat’s away…..

Recent events have kept me from attending to all the details that keep each project moving along smoothly, and that has caused there to be a little downtime for the crew. When faced with idle time in the past, I could usually trust that my crew would keep themselves busy in some sort of constructive fashion. My current crew, consisting of 2 college aged males on the otherhand, upon finding themselves with some empty time, decided they would rather exercise their ceative muscles. When instructed to move an existing pile of brick, they instead decided to build a monument any mason was sure to be proud of. So, move it they did. All that was left was to sit back and soak up the accolades.

So my friends, I give you – “Pile of Brick”, by Justin and Mike.


Now in the past, I may have over reacted to this kind of “tom-foolery”, but I have matured over the years, and have learned to accept things for what they are. After all, they could have used their idle time in all manner of degenerate ways (that’s a story for another time!).  No, this time I took into account that the customer was fairly amused, and that their actions didn’t leave me with any repairs or the need to replace anything (which is also a story for another time!), instead I focused on the positive, and….. promoted them.

I am pleased to introduce the new Vice President and Executive Assisant, of material storage and brick stacking for Blue Heron! (I’ll let them decide which is which).


Now if I could only find their time cards……..

See you in thegarden!


Encore! Well…. maybe just a do-over.

Encore! Well…. maybe just a do-over.

To those of you that tuned it to watch “The Ultimate Backyard Makeover” on FOX 61 this past Saturday, I must first say thank you. Not only did you perservere through a long blog series, you went the extra yard. Now, if you found yourself saying “what the heck was that?”, you are not alone. Apparently there were some technical difficulties in the Fox 61 control room, and half of the show did not make it on air, so if you didn’t get it, it wasn’t you. Fox 61 will be re-airing the the show in all its glory again this Saturday (Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel) and this time you’ll get to see the whole thing.

So if you have it in you to give it one more try for cause, please tune in. Oh and just in case, better have a copy of your favorite movie to watch if things go awry again. I think I’ll rent moonstruck……

See you in the garden,


A deserving Family and 15 Minutes for Blue Heron

A deserving Family and 15 Minutes for Blue Heron


Promoting a small business can be a daunting task. Finding the right venue to get your message out, getting ad copy just right and staying within a budget, all can test the reserve of even the most creative soul. That’s why, when the Backyard Makeover project presented itself, I gladly jumped onboard. A role in a televised production, on a local station, professionally filmed and produced, would surely provide needed exposure and credibility for Blue Heron Landscape Design. Most of the other participants, already advertisers with Fox 61, undoubtedly also knew of the value of this exposure, and also were quick to sign on. With stars in our eyes, we arrived, prepared for our companies expected fortunes.

Fate, I have always maintained, has a sense of humor, it seems, that it also has a sense of purpose. Here was a group of companies determined to take advantage of a brilliant opportunity, unexpectedly finding a greater purpose; Present a very deserving family with a private place of respite that they would not otherwise be able to afford. Now, I don’t mean to make our homeowners out as destitute, for they are not. Simply good people, that life threw one too many curve balls. And by no means are we, the participants meant to appear as saints, most assuredly we are not. This rather simply, became a feel good story that would benefit both sides in ways that neither could have imagined, and that is good story to tell.

Thank you to WTIC FOX 61, for providing this opportunity, and thank you to each of the other participants for making my job easier. Special thanks to Ron and the crew at R-N-L Enterprises, for without them we never would have pulled this off. And, thank you to you, readers, for the opportunity to tell this story, I know time is precious, and this has been a long blog. I hope you have enjoyed it.

Now, I must go, it just started to rain again, and I think I left my tools outside……

Follow this link to more pictures of the project from start to finish.

See you in the Garden,


The FOX 61 Ultimate Backyard Makeover is scheduled to run Saturday June 27th at 12:30 pm. Please tune in! And feel free to email me any comments, even those less flattering.

A deserving Family and 15 Minutes for Blue Heron PT. II

A deserving Family and 15 Minutes for Blue Heron PT. II

Day two of our project began with a job meeting. This is a common occurrence, especially when so many contractors and vendors are participating. Four of those participants met on the homeowners back porch, and the discussion quickly centered on our first obstacle, and what would prove to be an ongoing theme for this project….Rain. Each contractor, stood with his umbrella, the whole group looking more like the crowd at the US Open, than a group of artisans set to reconstruct this backyard. Quickly, we dispensed with ‘interesting topics’, such as; “I wasn’t given enough notice for this project!” and “There’s no way this will get done by Friday!”, and refocused around the homeowner’s story and the opportunity we each had to help them out.

Each participant would bring his certain product or talent to the group; Ron from R-N-L Enterprises, would provide site work, bed prep, brush removal and lawn establishment. Darren from Birch Mountain Earthworks would supply us with mulch, topsoil and playscape mulch. Bryan from Winterberry Gardens would bring in the plant material and plant it. My job was to design the overall layout of the site, including, location of their new shed and new playscape, size and shape of the new patio and sitting wall, and the layout of all the planting beds. I also would be scheduling each of the participants time on the site, keeping each abreast of the schedule, and coordinating with the film crew as to their arrival, so each could be filmed in action and interviewed for the final production. After getting a little understanding and relief from the executives at FOX 61, we set our schedule and were off.

R-N-L got to work immediately, clearing brush scraping sod from the beds, and excavating areas for the shed, the new playscape and the patio. They are an efficient crew, and were able to make quick work of theirs tasks, with the help of their Takeuchi Compact Track Loader (See picture at right). Carefree Small Buildings delivered the new shed, and with the precision of a surgeon the driver placed it exactly in the spot R-N-L had created for it. When commenting on how good the driver was, he replied to me, “oughta be, I been drivin’ this truck for 46 years”.

Next in were John from Nicolock Pavers, and his installer Gregorio. Jamie selected her paver style and color, Gregorio and I discussed the patio layout, and we set Monday as the day for installation.  Unfortunately, rain and schedule conflicts, would put the rest of the project off until the next week, but come that Monday morning, the place would come alive with activity.

In part III, tomorrow, we’ll do our best to stay out of everyone’s way, as the jobsite becomes a flurry of activity, including some emergency tree work, the patio installation, plantings and some very cool extras.

See you in the Garden,


The FOX 61 Ultimate Backyard Makeover is scheduled to run on June 27th at 12:30 pm. Please tune in!

A deserving Family and 15 Minutes for Blue Heron

A deserving Family and 15 Minutes for Blue Heron

Each one of us, or so we were told by Andy Warhol, will be famous for fifteen minutes. And so, comes the time for Blue Heron Landscape Design. While pumping gas one day, I returned a call to a Ron, a Landscape Contractor friend of mine, who had left a message for me regarding a “Backyard Makeover” show the local Fox affiliate was preparing. They were looking for a Landscape Designer to head up the project, and would I be interested in being that person. He explained they need someone to look at the winner’s yard and come up with a plan for all the goodies that had been donated by the other participants, and oversee the construction and delivery of the “Ultimate Backyard”. This was right up my alley, so with eye towards exposure for the company, and the chance to help out a deserving candidate, I jumped in and set my alarm for fifteen minutes.

Several weeks later, I had heard that a winner had been chosen, and that the project was ready to commence. So I waited for a call….. and I waited for a call….. and, on Monday June 8th, while pumping gas at that same station (que the eerie music) my phone rang. “Hi Scott its Bruce from Fox 61, are you ready for your fifteen minutes?” The plan was for me to meet the homeowner and then be interviewed on camera by the producer, and….could I be there in three hours? and they would like the project finished by Friday (yes that same week!) so production could air the final product the following Saturday? The fast paced reality of TV had shed its light on Blue Heron, and I was not amused.

WTIC Fox 61 was looking for a deserving family within its broadcasting area, that had a problem backyard, and story to go with it. Almost one hundred submitted applications, which were narrowed down to the three most worthy. These three were presented on Fox 61’s website and a winner was chosen. Here is the winning entry:

I would love to win this contest for my husband and my daughter.    We bought our home several years ago seeing much potential in the run down, unkempt back yard.  Little did we know then that I would be diagnosed with MS a year later and become unable to work or help much with the physical activity it would take to transform the gardens and lawn.    In December, we had a baby who was born with a congenital heart defect and required surgery just last month.  Now that she’s home and recovering faster than anyone could imagine, my husband has been very intent on creating a play space for her in our backyard.    I think he envisions many things for our daughter, but a safe deck (our stairs are being propped up with kitty litter buckets!) and grass would be the simplest luxuries!  We see so many possibilities when we look out our windows – we simply lack the time, energy, and funds to realize our dream backyard.

Later that day, after having rearranged a considerably busy schedule, I met with the winners and the film crew, and we were off and running. The homeowners Matt and Jamie, along with their daughter Adeline, couldn’t have been nicer, and were very appreciative of what was about to happen to their yard.

Tomorrow, we’ll look in on the contractor meeting, See what each is donating, and encounter several obstacles in the project. Until then……

See you in the Garden,


The FOX 61 Ultimate Backyard Makeover is scheduled to run on June 27th at 12:30 pm. Please tune in!

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my….

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my….

Rain for forty days and forty nights, the animals lined up two by two. You know the story. And so it goes here in southern New England. I woke up to read in the Hartford Courant this morning that it had rained on 26 of the last 46 days. At first I was amazed, and then, after considering the possibilities, relieved, for just add fourteen days to that rain total, and maybe a double procession of procession of camels, bears and chimpanzees may have interrupted the enjoyment of my English muffin and coffee.

Growing up here in New England, does prepare one for sudden and sometimes drastic weather swings. As a boy, I can remember my parents and grandparents reciting Mark Twain: “if you don’t like the weather in New England, Wait a minute”. Well I have waited a minute. In fact for 26 of 46 days I have waited 66,240 minutes. But it’s still raining.

Rain, didn’t matter much to me as a young boy, there was always some fun to be had rain or shine. Fishing is better in the rain, mud wars are definitely better in the rain, and you never have to cut the lawn in the rain. So I never cared if it rained. Now, some (mumbling low under his breath) years later, I am becoming an old”ish” New Englander, and the rain has become a more important part of my life. Rain is a blessing! New plantings are getting plenty of water, and my customers won’t have to drag hundreds of feet of hose around the yard. Lawns are greener, and will stay that way well into the summer before going into dormancy. Reservoirs are filling and aquifers are being replenished.

But, the work schedule is suffering. So, we get out while we can and catch up on office work when we must. After all, a mud war now, only serves to create more work. So we’ll wait a minute and hope for the best, because before long we will be enduring the dog days, thinking, “if only it would rain”.

Now, I have to get going, I just saw two giraffes walk through the back yard. I wonder…..?

See you in the Garden,