Janie McCabe Selected for Colorblends Spotlight

Janie McCabe, owner of M.J. McCabe Garden Design and popular shoreline landscape and garden designer, has recently been selected for a Colorblends spotlight on the website Bulb Design Notes.

“We reached out to three designers whose work we admire and asked if they’d be willing to share the thinking behind some of their successful spring bulb and perennial combinations. All three generously agreed,” says Tim Schipper of Colorblends, a national flower bulb wholesaler.

As part of Bulb Design Notes, each designer chose five or more photos of spring bulb and perennial combinations they’d designed and provided design notes on each. Their photos and observations are assembled into personal galleries. Combined, the galleries present images of 20 garden scenarios. All scenes are annotated with plant IDs, location, hardiness zone and design notes.

CLICK HERE to visit the website.

Bold and Bright Drought Tolerant Plants for Late Summer

August weather can be a challenge—it’s too hot, humid—and rain is not dependable. Needless to say, who wants to drag a hose around everyday sometimes morning and evenings too. So don’t despair, I am including some perennials that can stand up to some pretty difficult conditions and still make your garden seem alive and thriving. Late Summer perennials have bold and intense colorings that will provide a nice infusion of energy into your garden. (Click on the photos below for more details.)

Finding Beauty in Imperfection

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that reflects the very core of Zen philosophy. Age, imperfection and impermanence are the underlying qualities inherent in Wabi-Sabi. This cultivated and refined approach in all art forms suggests the sublime transient beauty in all living things.

It is a significant concept in Japanese culture, and one that can be appreciated in many art forms such as pottery, painting, as well as gardening.

In applying this concept to gardens, it is important to honor and respect what is inherent in the natural, unaltered landscape. Nature is abundant with random imperfections. An ancient tree, enduring years of turbulent weather appears sadly leaning while the roots remain surprisingly anchored to the earth. Random patterns of wild plants echo the innate flow and of nature; this is certainly apparent in the abundance of the often disdained “invasive plants.” Applying the simple principles of a Asian inspired garden provides a place for contemplation, calmness and simplicity.

What remains is the very essence of the pure, natural world—its imperfections and inherent flaws remain constant; it is the acceptance of such flaws that opens us up to the raw, unaltered beauty of nature.


“Wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all.” — Robyn Griggs Lawrence, author, The Wabi Sabi House Finding Beauty in Imperfection


Our Constant Sentinels of the Garden

Multi-layered use of many varied evergreens — creates an intimate and private garden in an otherwise open suburban landscape

A tightly pruned yew hedge creates the walls in this autumn garden defining a nice sense of enclosure

Elegant Chamaecyparis trees delineate the property line and look their best in the Winter covered with snow and ice

Contrasting, colorful evergreens add year round interest, volume and depth to the home landscape

A massive Alaskan weeping cedar is well placed against the end of this house — it also provides nice screening from the other houses in the busy neighborhood

Replacement Cherry Laurels are fuller and taller which provides good screening and privacy for this home

Delineating a property line is important to both the homeowner as well as your neighbor; this hemlock hedge is a more appealing way of defining a border than a fence

A low growing hedge of Ilex crenata defines the driveway, but does not provide sufficient screening from a busy road

Abies pinsapo ‘Glauca’-a unique form of spruce that adds a lot of interest to an evergreen collection

Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ — a slow growing golden colored spruce

Pinus flexilis ‘Extra Blue’ — -Vivid blue needled pine — beautiful contrast with golden evergreens

Magically dusted with frost — spiny bluish-green leaves — yellow flowers in early spring

Early spring growth depicts different varieties of boxwood that gives this garden an interesting tapestry look

A narrow passageway is enhanced with an upright thin boxwood that is anchored by a contrasting yellow-toned coralbells — making this entrance more interesting and appealing

A multicolored evergreen hedge delineates a property line creating a lovely backdrop for a grassy play area

A New Garden for the Summer Cottage

Madison drawing with walkway–the first step in creating a cohesive design and to make the overall design come alive and visually inspiring.
The beginning stages of a garden design–the first step is to define and layout the hardscape–we decided on a 4′ wide bluestone walkway that makes the house more inviting–the existing concrete front walk to be removed.
The old concrete walkway is removed and replaced with a 4′ wide bluestone walk that leads from the mailbox to the front steps as well as incorporating a new entrance on the left side from the driveway.
New bluestone walk to be installed –area regraded allowing generous space for planting beds –An update on a 1920s shoreline cottage.
Fresh top soil and compost is added to the new garden beds –plants are placed prior to final planting–a lovely combination of hydrangeas, shrubs rose, phlox, and lavender make up the core of the plantings-later bloomers such as crepe myrtle and caryopteris will carry the color into late September and October.
The planting scheme shares a nice affinity with the bluestone walkway–enhancing and defining the entrance to this shoreline house.

Walk This Way

When designing walkways for your home think of them as being generous in size, well-defined and most importantly very inviting — aim for them to be at least 4-6’ wide to give maximum appeal. Walkways that are lavish in size and possess a natural kinship to the site feel well organized and inviting to visitors. One of the best ways to preview the shape and flow of the walkway is to lay out a temporary path with draping a garden hose or use a brightly colored can of spray chalk. This makes the potential design more visual and fluid and it can be reshaped and altered several times before the actual construction of the walkway begins. It also always you to visualize the potential walkway from different vantage points both from the outside as well as from the interior of your home. Try framing your walkway from an upstairs bedroom as this will provide a whole different perspective.

Consider how the walkway curves and frames not only the planting bed but the architectural lines of the house and surrounding natural terrain. To define the transition from driveway to the actual walkway, allow for a larger entrance pad or generous flair that might be detailed in a different stone pattern from the main walk.

There are a number of different materials to choose from when selecting stone for your home walkway. Some popular options include cut bluestone, brick, or pavers—all should be laid in a well-prepared base that has been heavily compacted and extremely well leveled.

Selecting the right material for your project will lend a sense of safety, permanence and long-term durability. Avoid inexpensive alternatives such as crushed stone or randomly placed stone as they will be difficult to maintain and cause uncertainty when underfoot. These types of materials require a lot of weeding and ongoing upkeep and will not provide much stability and long-lasting endurance.

As you layout your walk, allow for a wide, gracious planting bed that will frame the enhance the front of your home as well as enhance the overall landscape. If space allows, create garden beds that are 7-10 feet wide to accommodate groupings of shrubs and perennials that are massed together and layered in graduated heights and differing textures. Mass planting a particular shrub has high impact in a foundation planting. Imagine the effect of large clusters of hydrangeas, shrub rose and lavender in full bloom as opposed to a single hydrangea in a narrow bed of low juniper.

Consider how the beds will look throughout the garden year, a balanced combination of dwarf evergreens and compact flowering shrubs underplanted with appropriate perennials and ground covers will anchor the walkway as well as lend a sense of permanence and elegance to your home. The addition of spring bulbs will infuse early color and fragrance after the doldrums of winter — long blooming shrubs and perennials will provide color and texture as the changing seasons unfold. Well-designed borders always have something in bloom and provide interesting texture and color throughout the yearl

Finally, the final configuration of the walkway and plantings should always be in unity and in accordance with the style of your home and its natural surroundings. Above all, it should invite family and friends to savor and linger along the walkway and provide a sense of welcome and harmony to your home.

A very narrow brick walk with tightly clustered boxwood hedges makes this entrance look claustrophobic and uninviting.
The walkway is widened with a mixture of bluestone and the brick is reused to edge and define the walkway–plantings are lower and work to enhance and make the walkway more inviting.
The new walkway flows seamlessly into a generous patio.

Welcome Vibrant Hydrangeas!

All this summer, rain has brought forth a bumper crop of hydrangeas this summer — this planting of hydrangeas hosts a range of differing blues, mauves and pinks which makes a foundation planting so vibrant and alive!

Dreaming Roses

When we think of Roses it immediately conjures up lots of romantic thoughts— our grandmothers may have had fabulous beds of roses, weddings are festooned with roses — they are luscious, fragrant and abundant in our contemplated garden.

When thinking about designing a new garden everyone wants to weave in some of these fanciful beauties as they epitomize the idealized garden.

But they can also be known to be persnickety and overly fussy —they get black spot, a vast array of bugs descends seemingly out of nowhere to devour the leaves and precious flowers. Japanese beetles seem to be visiting our gardens earlier and earlier each summer to do their dreaded damage.

But take heart, there is a lot you can do to prevent these diseases and critters from destroying your dream rose garden. Initial good preparation of the soil is vital, along with selecting the right varieties that are disease-resistant and long-blooming.

Select a site that gets about 6-9 hours of sun a day, and good drainage is imperative as roses do not like having “wet feet.” When planting a rose, dig a very generous hole about twice the size of the rose. Be sure to give the rose a generous area to grow in as good air circulation is essential to healthy roses.

Plan on planting new roses either early in the morning or on an overcast day — avoid planting on sunny hot days or late in the day.

Remove heavy or clay like soil and discard replace with either home grown compost or lobster compost which is abundant in beneficial trace minerals. Fill the new hole with approximately 1/3 compost, add a slow release organic fertilizer which will gradually feed the rose throughout the growing season. Carefully, remove rose from the nursery pot and place gently in the new hole. Continue adding compost allowing the roots to settle in and fill the hole. At this point, it is time to water the rose before filling the hole completely.

Fill a large watering can with about 3 gallons of water, add about 4-5 tablespoons of liquid sea weed and fish emulsion fertilizer. Water the hole well, allowing the water to seep in very gradually. Wait several minutes and water the rose again — repeat this process a third time before backfilling the hole with more compost–tamping gently with your foot to fill in any air pockets. Aim to position the rose at the same depth it was growing in the nursery pot.

Allow the rose to settle in for a few days and repeat with a very diluted solution of sea weed and fish emulsion. Aim to allow the rose to receive about 1” of water per week to get it well established.

To prevent black spot and other diseases, spray regularly with diluted Neem oil, 2 tablespoons of baking soda and a small dash of liquid dish detergent. Consistent use of this combination will prevent and eliminate the typical dreaded rose diseases. I aim to spray my roses every 7-10 days. Spray early in the morning or on cool overcast days. Do not spray rose on hot sunny days. Excessive periods of rain may increase mildew and black spot. To revive them, you can cut them back about 50% — remove and discard any diseased leaves and flowers especially from the ground surrounding your beds.

Tips for getting your garden in great shape this year

I find early April to be the busiest month for getting your garden in shape for the coming season. As gardeners, we are so eager to get out and work in the garden on the first warm days. In truth, it is better to be patient, let the sun warm the soil and let it dry out somewhat before doing any major cleanup. Stepping on sodden soil can really cause compaction and overall damage to soil structure. Be patient-allow for a sunny stretch of weather to dry out your garden beds before attempting any major garden work.

Take the time to organize your garden tools early this year — being able to quickly locate the right tool makes garden work so much easier.

Top dress around the crowns of your perennials and shrubs with about 2″ of garden compost. Your plants will explode with vigor & vitality this year.

Once your perennials have been cut back and fertilized, mulch with a top dressing of Sweet Peet mulch. Your gardens will thrive under a blanket of this manure-based mulch. Some studies have found that it hinders weed growth while retaining moisture all season.

Starting from Scratch ~ Create the Landscape of Your Dreams

Feeling overwhelmed in a new house surrounded by a barren landscape can seem dismal and daunting? To get the ball rolling and move toward the landscape of your dreams start the process quickly on paper.

Start by creating a simple plan for your landscape on graph paper. You do not have to be artistic to make a basic layout – the first step is to establish your property lines, put in any significant trees and utility boxes, Include the footprint of the house within this framework. A plot plan is usually available through your local town hall. This can save a lot of time with hand measuring and can be enlarged to make a good base drawing. Try to be as accurate as possible, using one square foot of space for each square on your graph paper. Add any significant existing elements such as walkways, decks, patios, trees or shrubs. A copy shop can enlarge your plan so it will be easier to work with. Once the basic design is on paper, the whole site can be viewed from a fresh perspective. Differing shapes and proportions will start to emerge as you start to see both the positive and negative aspects of your site. Your goal will be to enhance and embellish those positive elements and lessen or camouflage the negative elements.

When applying a simple geometry to our home landscapes, boundaries are delineated, potential screening borders are defined and areas for shade providing trees becomes more apparent. Avoid turning large areas into water demanding lawns-this only reinforces the redundant use of wall-to-wall green carpets of grass. An American cliché that needs to change if we are to support self-sustaining, healthy landscapes devoid of chemical dependency. Select shrubs such as abelia, deutzia, itea, Lespedeza and viburnums because they bloom at different times in the season- interplant with ornamental grasses and native perennials to break up large areas. To offset these beds, consider using grass as more of a visual “scatter rug” that links one area to another. Working in this way, creates more fluidity and spontaneity in the landscape-while creating separate and perhaps more intimate areas in your garden.

For example, strategically placed flowering trees may define where a pathway starts as well as eventually add a nice canopy of shade. The verticality of trees brings the scale of the house down while adding a cohesiveness to the overall landscape. Aim to select a palette of plants that complement each other-it is better to choose a limited amount of varieties that blend and reinforce each other in terms of bloom sequence, form and texture. Filling a border as well as the overall landscape with too many differing varieties creates a chaotic look – giving an unsettling and even conflicting relationship with the architecture of the house. The plant selection should enhance, echo and lend a sense of continuity to the lines of the house. Good plant selection along with well-designed hardscaping will anchor the house to the site providing a sense of coherence and stability. This is especially important when working with a new home.

Understanding and appreciation of the style of your home is vital to creating a landscape plan that marries the hardscaping to the plantings. An orderly Cape Cod home works well with a curving brick walk that is edged with lush perennial beds. A more contemporary home may lend itself to large irregular stones laid in sweeping patterns that echo the lines of the home. A wide curving path with planting beds on both sides will soften the long, horizontal lines of a ranch house. Straight somewhat geometric stone patterns can work well with the clean linear lines of an early 1900s home. Patterns, motifs and prominent feature of the house in the form of roof lines arched windows or ornate entrances can be clues to connecting the walkway to the house as well as creating a pathway that flows and encompasses the rest of the landscape. For instance, a repeating path from one doorway should lead seamlessly into a back patio or deck.

Aim to address the hardscape first. Specifically the main walkway from the driveway to the front door keeping in mind the potential for patios, decks and other walkways that may be added later. If the contractor has left you with an uninspired straight and narrow walk that goes from the drive to the front door, consider rethinking the walkway and making it at least 4′ wide. Adding curves will add some drama and make the walk to your front door more visually interesting. A gracious wide walkway with some gentle curves will also suggest areas for interesting planting beds that will add interest and a strong visual appeal to the house. Unifying the plantings and the walkways together provide a strong underpinning that will give the house a more finished look.

When creating a planting border against the foundation of the house, aim to create borders that are 8-12′ deep which will provide for a multilayered planting bed. Also, avoid planting too close to the foundation-a good rule is to plant shrubs about 2-3′ away from the house. Deep beds allow you to be able to select many more interesting plants that will allow for a beautiful succession of blooms. If a cement foundation is unsightly, a solid line of low growing evergreens such as Ilex crenata ‘compacta’ is a good selection that will not only camouflage the foundation but also act as a nice backdrop for flowering shrubs planted in front. Select compact and hardy shrubs that will provide a consistent progression of flowering from Spring to Autumn. Aim to create a border that will have a graduated look in terms of height, balance and form. Embellish the front of your border with long blooming perennials and sweeping ground covers. Low growing Spring bulbs can be added between the ground covers to create additional color in early Spring before anything else is in bloom.