Property Profile: Patio Project


The renovations to the house were nearly complete, and the area consumed by piles of discarded lumber, uprooted bushes, and muddy tire tracks was to be the garden.

Yes. The garden.


But, as I stood there talking to the client, the patio, walkways and planting beds began to form in front of us. In our imaginations…which is always a good place to start.

Still, as it true with most new garden plans, question marks dotted the landscape: what would be the shape and size of the patio? how do we create a privacy screen but retain a visual connection to the larger landscape? would there be ample space for the children to play?


So began the first of many steps in the landscape design process — addressing the issues and concerns. And it moved from there to wish lists, obstacles, sketches, plant idea and more.

The drawings and photographs on this page illustrate how a landscape can be transformed from the blank canvas of a new yard into a welcoming refuge of visual interest that endures throughout the seasons.


The garden is built from the ground up: stone patio, walkways and grassy areas form the ground plan and define flow patterns. Trees and evergreens create the canopy and enclosure for privacy and definition–shrubs, flowering perennials speak to the tactile and fragrant sensations.

The result? A curved bluestone patio surrounded by a seating wall, and garden beds offering up color and fragrance from April to October, as well as intimate privacy on a busy corner lot.


Winter Care Tips for Plants & People



Now that the ground has truly frozen, your perennial garden will benefit from a cover of cut evergreen branches, shredded leaves or weedless hay layered to a depth of 2-3″. This winter mulch keeps the plants in a dormant state while helping to keep the soil at a consistent temperature. Alternate thawing and freezing of the plants in an unmulched soil may lead to winter root injury especially when shallow-rooted planted are heaved out of the ground in late winter.


Spray evergreens (new and established) with an anti-desiccant such as Wilt pruf or Transfilm. It will help the plants to maintain moisture in their leaves and needles– this is especially important during the dry, winter months with strong winds and sudden temperature changes. Broadleaf evergreens such as rhododendron, boxwood, cherry laurel, mountain laurel , skimmia and sarcococca are more susceptible to winter drying winds and overall moisture loss. This anti-desiccant acts as a protective coating-sealing in leaf moisture.


Given the major winter damage on hydrangeas and roses last year, protect their dormant buds and flowers with a consistent spraying of wiltpruf this winter–applied every 3 weeks till mid March. First applications should be done in early January with additional applications made every 3-4 weeks during the winter months. Spray plants when temperatures are above 35 degrees.


Why let the winter blues settle in when there are so many other colors to see at these upcoming regional garden shows!

The Hartford Flower Show
February 19-22

The Philadelphia Flower Show
February 28-March 8

The Rhode Island Spring Flower & Garden Show
February 19-22

The Boston Flower Show
March 11-15

The Seacoast Home & Garden Show
Durham, NH
March 28 & 29

The More the Merrier!


Now is the perfect time to plan and plant your spring bulb garden! Regardless of your gardening expertise, whether you are a beginner or a seasoned pro, nothing will feed your soul more than a spectacular display of multicolored, spring bulbs planted en masse. The colors and fragrances emerging in abundance next Spring are something to consider now, ahead of winter and snow, and all of those things we’d rather not be thinking about!

By incorporating a mix of early and late blooming bulbs into your garden now, you can count on a display that will begin in mid-February and continue right on into June.

Allium ‘Ambassador,’ Blooming in early June

Plant in drifts and masses around perennials, define and enclose the base of shrubs in ribbons of bulbs. Incorporating bulbs in the landscape this way will ensure a grand display, especially after the lingering gray of winter.

In spring, the foliage of the emerging perennials will provide a lovely contrast to the blooms. Then, as the foliage grows, it will eventually hide the waning blooms of the bulbs.

Early daffodils in a rock garden

For the front border, concentrate on using dwarf or minor bulbs, which will magically appear in very early spring providing subtle color to the garden. If left undisturbed, these tiny bulbs will multiply and rebloom consistently each spring.

Snowdrops and winter aconite are the harbingers of the spring, emerging through snow and ice, unfurling in pale tones of ivory and yellows. Crocus, Scilla, Chionodoxa and Puschkinia spill out onto the late March landscape, appearing near doorways, lining walkways, popping up in lawns. Their ephemeral colors echo the unfolding spring giving each day a renewed radiance.

Kaufmanniana Tulip ‘Ancilla’–for front of the border

From April to May, all forms of daffodils in varying heights from 4″ to 18″ provide weeks of color. And in May, tulips—the grand dames of the garden—lend flirt and fancy while providing many weeks of color in a multitude of forms.

Tall French blooming tulips in late April

The dynamic and vertical lines of alliums, or flowering onions, continue the show into June–the globe-like flowers will dry and add texture and drama for early summer.

Tulip ‘Marianne’

To complement the alliums, consider the yellow and orange tones of Eremurus or desert candles. They prefer sunny dry locations forming a large clump of sword like flowers for many weeks. Their tall and willowy plumes bloom in mid June and continue into July. Eramurus also has the benefit of being deer and rodent resistant.

Wild hyacinths or Camassia is an American native that thrives in wet areas–it forms tall, linear blue or white flowers in early summer after daffodils and tulips have passed. They are tolerant of all types of soil preferring sunny sites but will adapt to some shade as well. Camassia is a great plant to let naturalize at the edges of your property.

Lily-flowering ‘Green Star’ Tulip

Remember, the more the merrier when planting your bulb garden. To ensure a lovely spring, plant your bulbs before the snow flies which means to start now and finish by late November.

Whether your bulb garden is a carefully planned grouping of purple, pink and white lily-flowering tulips, a sunken meadow of differing daffodils, a lawn infused with snowdrops or crocus, or a large container of mixed, multicolored bulbs on your patio–they will all burst forth to enliven and renew your spirit next spring.

Medley of Peony-flowering tulips

Fall Garden Maintenance


Autumn is the perfect time to edit and renovate your garden.


First determine what plants need to be move either because they have gotten too big or if the present spot does not seem to be working.


From late September through late October plants can be moved safely and divided into smaller plants.


When pruning large trees like a Japanese maple, try and prune from underneath looking up into the plant structure.


Pruning among shrubs gives plans better definition and allows them to retain their individual shapes for the perfect autumn garden!

Text and images ©2014, MJ McCabe Garden Designs

The Flower of Transformations


Ah, Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla). The beloved plant which graces our summer garden actually originated from the coastal and smaller islands of Japan. There it is sometimes called the flower of “seven transformations” or Nanahenge because of its ability to change color based on the chemical nature of soil.

Did you know that the color of the petals will change depending on the pH of the soil? The lower the pH or acid level, the bluer the color. With an alkaline soil or higher pH, the flower color becomes more mauve or pinker. As the hydrangea ages, the flower color will adjust on its own—sometimes taking a few years to achieve a stable hue.


Remember, hydrangeas like a deep, rich soil that has been enhanced with well-rotted manure or compost. They thrive in soil that is well drained and consistently moist. Site plants in sunny or partly shady areas—avoid overly hot sunny sites that will cause plant wilting. Inconsistent watering along with excessive drying out will cause undue stress on the plants that may eventually kill the plant.

The moderate winter temperatures and seasonably cooler summers of a coastal region offer the optimum climate for hydrangeas. Not surprising, they thrive in the maritime regions of Long Island, Cape Cod and here along the Connecticut shoreline.


When growing hydrangeas inland, be sure to provide winter protection to protect the flower buds from extreme winter cold. Covering with burlap or creating plant teepees filled with pine needles or dry leaves will help the plant survive the winter.

We witnessed this ourselves with last winter’s deep intense cold that played havoc with hydrangeas. Many of the flower buds were killed by the harsh winter and early spring frosts. Blooms may not be very abundant this year, but rest assured the plants will recover and set buds for next year. If you want to be extra sure, re-blooming varieties such as ‘Endless Summer’ and ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ are more reliable because they form flowers on the current summer growth.

If blooming seems somewhat delayed right now, expect flowering to start and continue quite strongly into the autumn. The beauty of the remontant or reblooming varieties is that they will continue to produce flowers regardless of the difficult winter. When purchasing new plants, consider buying these reblooming types which come in abundant colors, heights and sizes for beautiful transformations in any garden.


A Concert of Summer Perennials


Stand-alone perennials can be pleasing to look at, but to make a garden sing, it’s the interplay of colors, textures and forms that create grand crescendos!

Perennial combinations create visual symphonies, and the pure serendipity can seem wonderful, especially when plants entwine and the colors vibrate and echo each other. But, it takes real planning and a willingness to think about staging, spacing and bloom sequence to get the tempo and flow of the garden to really come alive.

When summer is in full swing, our gardens can be abundant. To keep a nice rhythm of flowers and color throughout the season, remember these tips:

  • Think about selecting plants to bloom at different times in the summer, so as one group passes the next takes center stage.
  • As you plan your summer garden, the initial layout of plants is important. You want them spaced so that one flows into another one. Interweaving foliage and flowers lends a fluidity and cadence.
  • Flowers may be fleeting, blooming only 2-3 weeks, but their lush, green foliage remains consistent. Choose plants that have nice strong leaves, or vertical interest along with good color and texture to hold interest in the garden until the very last notes of the season.

Help for Your Gardens During This Heat Wave


This really hot week has really taken a toll on everyone and everything, especially our gardens. Cooler conditions are coming along with much needed rain, but in the meantime, it is important to follow a few good tips for watering your gardens to get them through this very stressful time.

  • Prioritize your watering. It is most important to water newly planted trees and shrubs.
  • Aim for at least an inch of water per week.
  • Water early in the morning, before 7am if possible
  • Avoid overhead watering such as sprinklers. Instead, place a hose running at a low volume at the base of each plant and let the water dip down into the root system slowly.
  • Consider using soaker hoses or drip irrigation which will allow the water to percolate down into the soil.
  • Established trees and shrubs should be watered deeply every week or so. Be especially attentive to shallow rooted shrubs such as rhododendrons, azaleas and hydrangeas.
  • Avoid watering your lawn. The brown patches will green up right after the next rainstorm.
  • Your containers and window boxes will need watering twice a day during this time, as they dry out very quickly.
  • I find an application of liquid seaweed and fish emulsion, diluted per bottle instructions, indispensable during drought conditions. Apply every 5-7 days.