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

Take a Fresh Look at Your Landscape

Winter is the perfect time to think about creating a fresh and vibrant garden design that can be implemented this spring. Taking the time now allows you to explore what may be missing in your home landscape. Perhaps, you might consider a new walkway that leads out to the backyard for a more intimate connection between house and garden. Privacy screening in the form of large evergreens will block some unsightly views that have been bothersome in the past. The dream of a stone patio with a fire pit surrounded by billowy flowering perennials might fit perfectly into a large swath of unused lawn.

This is true for new homeowners who may have a totally blank slate as well as those who have an existing garden that may look congested and overgrown. A fresh perspective now may be the incentive to really dig in this spring to create a fresh and exciting new look to your landscape.

The view out of a main doorway or larger window of your home is the perfect starting point for creating a new garden this Winter. This is the perfect opportunity to frame a view that links the inside to the outside.

From the warmth of your interior — inspiration for a grander garden scheme becomes more apparent.

The simplicity of a lovely view offers a wonderful relaxing moment — a true break from a busy day

An arbor is helpful to frame the view and increase the drama to entering a garden.

A long axial walkway leads the visitor into a pergola covered dining area – trees flanking the walk represent the “walls” of the garden room.

A nicely proportioned home entrance is enhanced by an overhanging tree and well positioned planting beds.

A garden bench allows for a quiet meditative moment in a May blooming garden.

Planting Spring Bulbs


Early bulbs are much smaller and will do well planted about 3-4” deep. Top dressing with an autumn mulch keeps the ground warmer allowing for root development before the deep cold of winter sets in. This insulating mulch also protects the bulbs from quick freezes and thaws that often occur in late winter.

A generous mix of bulbs are being incorporated into any existing garden.

As the days become longer and the daytime temperatures gradually rise, the bulbs will naturally begin to emerge and start the wonderful process of sequential blooming. Since the early spring bulbs are low growing and devoid of a lot of foliage, the first flush of flowers magically appears making the early spring garden abundant in a sea of blooms–creating a breathtaking picture that can last for several days of even weeks. When one group of bulbs start to fade, another grouping takes center stage quickly filling in any vacancies in the garden.


After flowering, it is important to give them a feeding of organic fertilizer and allow the foliage to die back gradually. Later bloomers like tulips and alliums along with emerging perennials will eventually camouflage the waning bulbs. By creating a design that promotes a progression of bulbs, the garden will never be without something in bloom.

In late April and early May, tulips the grand-dames of the garden lend flirt and fancy in an abundant array of colors and shapes. Species tulips are tiny in size often blooming along with daffodils which makes them less likely to be eaten by deer. To deter rodents from eating the bulbs, use a rodent repellant or add cayenne pepper or garlic flakes to the planting hole.

Spring bulbs in a sculpture garden.

Another trick is to spray bulbs (especially tulips) with a diluted solution of old fashioned liquid lysol and let the bulbs dry completely in the sun prior to planting, The offending critters are hindered by the smell and taste of this strong smelling cleaner. Another tip from a bulb importer is to plant them in the same hole as the allium. The strong onion odor of the allium helps to keep critters away as well.

The dynamic and vertical lines of flowering onions or Alliums continue the show into June- globe-like flower of the allium may be allowed to dry in the garden, which adds texture and interest to your perennial borders. There is a multitude of allium varieties in the market–from very low growing to impressive 4‘ varieties. Alliums add an elegance and dramatic verticality to the late May and early June garden Fragrant and dramatic lilies, “the wings of the garden” take flight in late June and July. You can find a multitude of different hybrids in dazzling colors and shapes in all of these species of bulbs.

An enchanting collection of peony-flowering tulips and late daffodils in a seaside garden.

To encourage your bulb garden to flourish, select a site that has well-drained soil. If the soil needs work, start by enriching the proposed area with good top soil or compost to a depth of about 6”. Bulbs do not like to be planted in area that is usually wet–so good drainage is essential when preparing your site for a bulb garden. Plant bulbs with the pointed side up adding a tablespoon or so of an organic fertilizer that contains rock phosphate, which will ensure proper root development.

It is especially important to plant the bulb to the proper depth which is about 3-4 times the bulb’s length. For example, a tulip which is about 2” long needs to be planted about 6-8” deep. The earlier bulbs are much smaller and will do well planted about 3-4” deep. Top dressing with an autumn mulch keeps the ground warmer allowing for root development before the deep cold of winter sets in. This insulating mulch also protects the bulbs from lifting when quick freezes and thaws occur in late winter. As the days become longer and the daytime temperatures get warmer, the bulbs will naturally begin to emerge and start the wonderful process of sequential blooming. When one group of bulbs start to fade, another grouping starts to take center stage and fills in any vacancies in the garden. Since the early spring bulbs are low growing and devoid of a lot of foliage, the flowers in full bloom appear as luscious masses of color–creating a breathtaking picture that can last for several days of even weeks.

After flowering, it is important to give your bulbs a feeding of organic fertilizer because this is the time they are storing food for next year’s blooms.

Always allow the foliage to gradually die back naturally. By late June most of the foliage has completely withered and can then be safely cut down. Later bloomers like tulips and alliums along with emerging perennials will eventually camouflage the waning bulbs.

By creating a design that promotes a progression of bulbs, the garden will never be without something in bloom. At present, bulb supplies are still plentiful and you can safely plant your bulb garden right up to Thanksgiving. A warm sunny afternoon in late October or early November is the perfect time to plant your spring garden–so don’t hesitate to get out there soon!


You’re never too young to learn how to plant bulbs for the family garden!

The Serendipity of Spring Bulbs


I never feel a perennial garden is complete without the addition of spring bulbs. The wonderful serendipitous quality of bulbs make the early spring garden truly come alive — a vivid reminder that we can bid adieu to the long cold and grey of winter.

Whether you are just a beginner or a more seasoned gardener nothing will feed your soul more than a fabulous display of spring bulbs. Planted en masse, the luscious colors, subtle fragrances and long blooming flowers creates a wonderful prelude for the unfolding spring season. A carefully selected collection of spring bulbs will provide a symphony of successive blooms that will enliven your garden with many months of amazing color and fragrance.

By incorporating a mix of early, middle and late blooming bulbs, you are ensured of a display that will span several months. The early bloomers of March and April are snowdrops, crocus, Iris reticulata, Scilla, Chionodoxa followed by daffodils and hyacinths. With careful planning now, the entire month of April can be a spectacular display of flowering bulbs in a multitude of forms and a rainbow of colors.

Autumn Considerations

Walk This Way


“No single element in the design of a garden is as important as where you put your paths.” — Hugh Johnson

Spring is a great time to take a fresh look at one very important passageway leading to your front door. Yes, it’s your walkway. While the journey from driveway to front door may not be long, it can certainly be inviting, even welcoming. It is one of those key elements that connects your home to the overall landscape.

Before the season gets into full swing—and it will, despite appearances—take advantage of the bare natural architecture of your home to get a clear vision of the style, shape, material, and plantings perfect for your home and garden!

Here are some things you should consider when designing a walkway:


Style of Your Home
Understanding and appreciating the style of your home is vital to creating a walkway that truly works. An orderly Cape Cod home works well with a curving brick walk edged with lush perennial beds, whereas irregular bluestones laid in sweeping patterns can echo the lines of a contemporary home. A wide curving path with planting beds on both sides softens the long, horizontal lines of a ranch—incorporating a tall, thin tree to breakup the line will add vertical interest.

Patterns, motifs and prominent features of the house—rooflines, arched windows or an ornate entrance—can be clues to how to connect the walkway to the house and surrounding landscape.

If existing significant trees and shrubs are present, use their solidity as a starting point or framework for the pathway. Those existing elements, like a light post or mature planting bed, can be very helpful in determining where the path might begin.

If you are in a new house, you may not have any of these preexisting features. That’s a great opportunity to consider adding a few small trees to provide scale and balance. Of course, you should select trees carefully—consider the eventual size of the tree, and find a location that will allow it to fully mature without overpowering the front of the house.


Walkway Shape
Start by creating a simple scaled drawing on paper including measurements of the house and significant landscape features. This will allow for a bird’s eye view of the walkway in relation to the overall lay of the land. Visualizing your plan on paper may provide design ideas you may not have considered.

One of the best ways to preview the shape and flow of the front walk is to lay out the path with a garden hose or use a spray can of brightly-colored marking chalk. This makes the design process a bit more fluid as it can be altered and reshaped several times before the actual construction on the walk begins.

Generally, a walkway should be about 4-6 feet wide to accommodate two people walking side by side. Pathways that are generous in size and well-organized are more inviting for visitors. To define the transition from driveway to walk, allow for a larger entrance pad or a generous flair that may be detailed in a different stone pattern from the main walk.

You may want this new layout to be a long linear path with a 90-degree turn at the front of the house, or possibly some grand sweeping curves that encompass more of your front lawn. Be creative in using the space around your home- move beyond the conventional narrow walkway, tightly-clipped evergreen plantings and expansive front lawn. Allow the walkway and plantings to flow into more of your front yard to soften and frame your home. Your property will start to come together once you expand and incorporate all these elements together into a more cohesive whole.

Once you have roughed out the design, live with it for a while. Give yourself time to get an overall sense of how it frames and enhances your home. View it from different vantage points—from the street, driveway, and interior of your home. Walk up and down this path to get a sense for how it feels underfoot.

This temporary layout will help you envision the shape, extent, and overall size of the walkway. It will also provide the context for plantings that will provide a finished and more decorous look to the front entrance.


Walkway Materials
There are a number of materials to choose from when designing a front walkway. Some popular options include cut bluestone, brick, or pavers that should be laid tightly to prevent weeds and for a clean and well-delineated look. Selecting the right stone for your project will lend a sense of safety, permanence, and long-term durability.

Keep in mind that inexpensive alternatives like crushed stone or randomly placed stone can be difficult to maintain. This type of path often requires a lot weeding and ongoing upkeep, and does not provides much stability and long lasting endurance.

It is best to speak with a professional about the materials you want to use. They will know the pros and cons of each option, and can best guide your selection.


Walkway Plantings
As you layout your walk, allow for wide, gracious planting beds in front of the house. If space allows, create garden beds that are 7-10 feet wide to accommodate groupings of shrubs that are massed together and layered in graduated heights and textures. Mass planting a particular shrub has high impact in a foundation planting. Imagine the effect of large clusters of hydrangeas 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 year, a balanced combination of dwarf evergreen and compact flowering shrubs underplanted with appropriate perennials and ground covers will anchor the walkway as well as lend a sense of permanence to the house. The addition of spring bulbs and long blooming shrubs and perennials will provide color throughout the seasons. In the end, you want the final configuration of the walkway and plantings to be in harmony with the home and its surroundings. Above all, it should invite your family and friends to savor and linger along the new walkway to your home.

Click on an image below to see a slide show of walkway ideas!

Make It Tulips!

French Tulips

French Tulips

Tulips are truly a breath of fresh air — like taking in the fragrance of sheets off the clothesline. For early spring color and sheer garden abundance, nothing beats a bed of willowy tulips in full bloom. A undulating sea of tulips will certainly lift your spirits after any lingering grey of winter.

Generally, tulip varieties are divided into 15 different groups, which categorizes them by bloom time and overall shape and form. Very early blooming and low growing, the greigii and kaufmanniana varieties are a great addition to your garden. Species or “wild” tulips are smaller and more delicate in form—often the colors are quite vivid in hues of red or yellows. They tend to be easier to establish in the garden, multiplying and reblooming each spring. Some other reliable establishing varieties are: sylvestris, clusiana, humilis, saxatilis and dasystemon. These are perfect for planting near doorways or rock gardens as they are the first to bloom every year.

There are other varieties, too:

  • Triumph tulips bloom in late April and come in a multitude of colors. They are also good for forcing in pots.
  • The Darwin category contains some of the largest and sturdy growing varieties. They are truly impressive when grown en masse.
  • Peony-flowering tulips are highly scented looking like luscious peonies or bowls of ice cream in the garden. Their strong, thick stems lend support to the massive flowers.
  • Parrot tulips contain some of the most dramatic colors with flamboyant and frilled shapes— a magical addition to any garden.
  • Viridiflora or green tulips have subdued green markings, which contrast with the muted tones of pinks and purples of the petals making the whole flower appear feathered and elegant.
  • Lily Flowering have tall, elongated and flared stems that create a beautiful vertical line. They bloom later in the season, which makes them the perfect addition to the back of the border fully extending the long season of blooming tulips.

(Click on an  image below to see a slideshow.)

Mass planting tulips in drifts creates an alluring and voluptuous feeling to the spring garden. Bold plantings are sure to inspire and lift spirits, and provide an abundance of color before spring perennials even start to bloom.

Tulips can be incorporated into shrub and evergreen borders to fill in gaps and provide wonderful color in the early spring. The later blooming shrubs will camouflage the waning foliage of the bulbs.

By staging different varieties of tulips in graduated layers the garden will unfurl in a succession of blooms providing wonderful color and fragrance for many weeks. Enjoy!

Readying Roses for Spring

April is a great time to prune roses. Start by removing the dead and diseased canes. Since this was a severe winter, there may be a lot of winter damage on roses. All the more reason to prune out the dead stems to stimulate strong growth.

Cut rose bushes down about 50% — this will invigorate and instill new growth this season.

Cut down to where the green part of the stem is showing. Cuts should be made just above the bud eye or where branching will occur. On dormant rose canes, this bud eye is located on the outward facing bud. If you are unsure of where to prune, wait till the rose starts to grow and this bud swells to indicate the area to be pruned.

Cut off the dead stems on roses to reveal green growth beneath.

To regenerate roses in spring, make a slanted cut above the outward facing bud–new growth will emerge as soon as the weather warms up.

Good fertilization is key to healthy blooming roses — start by raking away some of the soil at the base of each rose. Apply a slow release fertilizer such as Rose Tone (follow the amount suggested on the bag) along with a handful of green sand gently working into the base of each rose. Green sand provides trace minerals that are beneficial to the health of the rose. Top dress with 3-4 generous handfuls of garden compost.

Avoid mulching for a few weeks to allow the rose to take up the beneficial amendments.

Amend around the base with Rose Tone and greensand. Top dress with about 2” of good compost.

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.