Sparkling Texture & Dramatic Structure: Creating A Beautiful Winter Garden …

December 18th, 2011 § 2

The Entry Garden at First Light in Early December, After a Dusting of Snow

I often wonder why I bother to mourn the end of autumn when there’s so much magic and beauty to be found in the garden during this quiet time of the year. As we near the winter solstice, I find myself every bit as enchanted by the garden as I am during the spring and summer months. My morning walks are cold —no doubt— and my finger tips burn a bit as I run them over the frosty stone walls. But the rich, visual rewards of those nippy strolls at first light make every shiver worthwhile.

Frosted Viburnum setigerum (Tea Viburnum) Fruits

Some gardeners prefer to cut back the perennials in their beds and borders in late autumn and early winter. And there is an argument to made for this approach. Certainly, there are places within the garden where I fuss over tender plants; protecting them from cold with mounds of compost or blankets of evergreen boughs. But by and large, I prefer to leave perennials standing throughout winter; that I might enjoy both the bold and delicate textures and how they sparkle with snow and ice after storms. Vertical lines, relief and pattern, both in the garden’s hardscape as well as in the more ephemeral plantings, are key to creating structure and beauty in a winter garden.

Seed Pods Provide Food for Birds and Beauty for Human Eyes: Rudbeckia hirta and Solidago with Sparkling Frost and Snow

Textural Grass Catches Light, Snow and Ice in the Quiet Season. Switch Grass (Panicum virginicum ‘Heavy Metal’) with A Light Morning Glaze…

Climbing Hydrangea (H. petiolaris) Adds Texture and Color to A Grouping of Boulders, and Provides Nooks and Crannies for a Dusting of Fresh Snow…

I often talk about the “bones” of a garden when I discuss design with my clients. This framework, or skeleton, is what gives the landscape shape throughout the year. Walls, fences and arbors, trellises and obelisks, benches and chairs, sculpture and boulders are all examples of objects that add to a garden’s hardscape and structure. Living plants, particularly dramatically shaped trees and shrubs are also helpful in creating a season-spanning garden design. In terms of defining outdoor space, hedges —both formal and informal— alles, espalier fences, and other features are useful in building permanent trans-seasonal walls.

Sculpture and Lichen-Covered Stone Catch Snow: Here, the Guardian Stands Sentry at the Edge of the Forest

The Rusty Color and Grid-Patterned Seat Make this Bench a Valuable Winter-Garden Object

Perennials May Fade at Autumn’s End, but Dan Snow’s Stone Seat and Evergreen Conifers Remain (Young hemlock: Tsuga canadensis)

Here in New England, field stone has long been a popular material for dividing garden spaces, and it will always be my personal favorite. From retaining walls and steps, to formal and free-form sculpture, I am most fond of this natural and versatile material. Throughout the seasons —but especially during the quiet season of winter— Dan Snow’s stonework is the central architectural feature and design element in my garden. Because Dan’s walls are comprised of subtly colored and textured rock —often softened by blueish lichen and emerald moss— they seem quite alive, even though they are technically inorganic. Whats more, the arrangement of the stonework itself —whether stacked horizontally, vertically, or arranged in dramatic and shifting pattern— adds artistry to the garden’s bare architecture in winter.

Steps and stairs —though they can be constructed from a wide variety of materials— must safely function and enhance a garden throughout the seasons. What we call “hallways” in our homes are the “pathways” in our gardens. These frequently-traveled spaces are as important outdoors as they are inside the house. Stepping stones, pea stones and gravel all add texture to the garden throughout the year. And in winter, walls, pathways, steps and other architectural features become highly exposed design elements. As crazy as I am about plants (and we all know that’s pretty crazy) my primary focus when designing a garden is always on the underlying structure. Build your garden before you decorate it with plants –and build it well, for it will hold, protect and exhibit your botanical treasures as your house contains, shelters and displays all of your worldly possessions! In winter, outdoor rooms are as stark as an empty house. And usually, the more attractive the garden’s architecture, the more beautiful the winter garden…

Stone Wall and Juniper Line the Winter Garden Walkway. Dan Snow Added both Candle Niches and Seats within the Wall, Creating Opportunities for Rest and Display Throughout the Seasons…

Stone Steps by Dan Snow Look Beautiful with a Dusting of Snow, and the Varied Height of the Sloped Setting Makes a Lovely Display for Frost-Proof Pots and Evergreen Plants…

Winter is a Fine Time to Enjoy Works of Art —Both Large and Small— in the Garden. Dan Snow’s Fire Sculpture Looks Particularly Beautiful in the Snow…

Structural elements and textural interest provide nature with a three-dimensional canvas for wintery works of art. And although it’s possible to spend a fortune on architectural details and plants, keep in mind that even the humblest cast-aways —flea market benches, unwanted boulders, simple fences and wire cables, twig teepees and homemade works of art— are just as effective when it comes to creating spaces and adding tactile elements in the garden. The rusty surfaces and cracked edges of second hand and found objects often enhance a snowy landscape. Set things out in the garden and move them around until you find a spot that feels right. Begin by using what you have on hand and playfully experiment with the beauty of the winter garden…

The honey-colored remnants of Golden Hops Vine (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’) add beautiful texture to a simple cable rail along a deck in winter. Be on the look-out for perennials and vines with persistent papery, dried flowers and seed heads -these textural elements are key to winter garden detail…

A Mass Planting of  Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’ ) Forms a Season-Spanning ‘Screen’; Adding Texture and Color to the Garden Throughout the Seasons, in Addition to Providing Enclosure and  Natural Transition to the Meadow and Mountain Tops Beyond

Old wire chairs, even if they are no longer functional, provide endless interest in the garden throughout the seasons. In winter, this ivy-patterend chair casts a gorgeous shadow in the snow…

At the Garden Entryway, the Texture of Juniperus horizontalis and the Natural Stone Ledge Both Stand Out with a Dusting of Snow and Create a Backdrop for Other Plantings Throughout the Seasons…

Boulders —Remnants from Site Excavation— Make a Pretty Vine-Covered Grouping at Garden’s Edge (Hydrangea petiolaris)

Dan Snow’s Stone Steps Dusted in Snow

This design article was adapted from a previously published post which appeared on The Gardener’s Eden 12/2010

All Stonework Featured Here is by Vermont Artist Dan Snow

Garden Design by Michaela Medina

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Renovate! How the Garden Next Door Went from Just Grass to Just Gorgeous …

August 23rd, 2011 § 3

A Prim & Proper Arbor Goes Drop-Dead Gorgeous in a Sexy New Shade of Sangria

It’s been awhile since I last featured one of my residential garden design projects on The Gardener’s Eden. And to be completely honest, I’ve been too busy planning and installing gardens to do much writing these days. But over the next couple of weeks, I hope to showcase more real, residential gardens which I designed or redesigned and helped to revamp this summer; all located in everyday, suburban neighborhoods. I love planning and planting all kinds of gardens, but my most rewarding projects usually involve collaborations with do-it-yourself homeowners —regular people with average gardening skills— ready and eager to roll up their sleeves and get to work. I get a great deal of pleasure from helping others by designing beautiful, low-maintenance gardens which make outdoor living more enjoyable …

Durable and Beautiful Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’) Catches the Late Afternoon Light at the Edge of the Driveway

A Garden of Mostly-Native, Lower Maintenance Plants, This Section Features a Screen of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summerwine’, Liatris ‘Floristan Violet’, Asclepias tuberosa, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’ and Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’

Ornamental Grasses are Great Problem-Solvers for Hot, Dry, Sunny Locations. Fountain Grass Softens Hard Edges and Works with the Riverside Setting of the Property

The front entry garden featured in this post —home of Geri and Stan Johnson in Western Massachusetts— was a particularly fun project this summer.  The couple recently renovated the interior of their sweet, riverside ranch home, and this year they decided it was time to take action on the outside. When I first met with them to discuss revamping their front landscape, I asked them about project scope, goals, style and budget. Geri is a successful real estate professional and she clearly understands the value of a well designed landscape, but a home is more than just an investment; it’s a place for family, friends and relaxation. Geri and Stan took the time to think about what they wanted from this landscape renovation before calling me for a consultation, making my job much easier! But even more important, working with open-minded clients like the Johnsons —who were willing trust my design recommendations and guidance, and take imaginative leaps at every turn— makes designing gardens fun and rewarding …

Front Entry Before, and After …

After coming up with  a master plan, I broke this front yard landscape renovation into three distinct areas for ease of installation: the entry garden, main walkway/foundation border (I’ll talk about this section in a future post) and retaining wall/arbor garden. Geri and Stan wanted several things from their new landscape. Because both homeowners are busy people, low-maintenance design was right at the top of their list. Creating a buffer from the road, and adding a bit of privacy was also important to them, but they wanted the first impression to be welcoming and attractive as well. Thoughtful neighbors, they requested that the new plantings not block the view of the river from the rest of the community. An existing, mature hedge of hemlock directly in front of Geri and Stan’s house provides protection from radiant road heat and the sound of passing cars, as well as a safe-haven and nesting space for local birds. I’m quite fond of our native hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) —a great choice for creating a soft, feathery garden backdrop and living privacy fence (click here for more info about my favorite conifer)— and used it as a jump-off point for a new garden design featuring mostly native plants. The backbone of the new entry garden is formed by a relaxed grouping of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’, which extends the line of the existing hedge with a soft curve. To this anchor, a low-maintenance grouping of pollinator-friendly, long-flowering perennials and ornamental grass was added …

Welcoming but Protected: The New Garden Provides a Pretty and Durable Screen from the Road without Blocking the View to the River Beyond (Natives like Rudbeckia, Veronica and Sedum combine with Perovskia atriplicifolia and ornamental grasses to support local bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators and seed-seekers throughout the seasons)

With a Meadow of Wild Bluestem Grass and Oaks Across the Street, It Seemed Right to Use Mostly Native Plants When Designing this Welcoming Garden

Viewed from Inside, this Garden of Mostly-Native Plants is Soft, Cool and Colorful (Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’, Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ and Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ provide food for pollinators at different times of the year)

Once the Plantings Fill-In (most designs take about three years before they begin to hit their stride) This Garden Will Provide a Soothing Drift of Low-Maintenance, Season-Long Color

Stan (who, among other things, owns and operates Songline Emu Farm with his wife Geri and her sister, Dee Dee Mares) was such an enthusiastic and hard worker (with the muscle and speed of three twenty year olds and far more attention to detail), I wish I could take him along on every landscaping project! Work began about one week after I marked out new beds with spray paint, cut English-style edges, and applied two doses of Nature’s Avenger (a non-toxic, organic herbicide used to kill crab and turf grass). Once the soon-to-be replace lawn turned orangey-brown, Stanley, his brother and nephew spread 6″ of loam/compost mix on top of the dead turf to build up raised planting beds; feathering the borders to meet the edges I’d pre-cut. I find this method of creating new garden beds to be both easier and less disruptive than manually removing sod and tilling soil.

While I went about the work of selecting and shopping for new, low-maintenance, native plants and installing the first garden, Stanley and his nephew removed an undesirable grouping of scraggly Spirea from the retaining wall garden and prepared the other beds for planting by moving existing plants, weeding and spreading fresh loam/compost. Once planted, the guys came back through and spread a 2″ thick layer of natural (un-dyed) hemlock bark mulch. The end result was a complete transformation of the front yard. But perhaps the most dramatic change in the garden happened near the very end, when Stanley brought up the refinished garden arbor from his garage. Although the original white color of the arch was perfect for niece Meagan’s wedding, this romantic landscape feature went bold and sophisticated in a fresh, vibrant shade of deep maroon; a much better match for this colorful, contemporary new garden. Amazing what a difference a few cans of spray paint can make!

Left-Over from Their Niece’s Wedding, This Garden Arbor Makes a Great Argument for Spray Paint Makeovers in This Dramatic Before (above) and After (below) …

Without Hesitating at My Suggestion, Stan Painted the Garden Arch a Deep Maroon (Which Seems to Change Hue with the Light) to Better Blend with the House and Enhance the Colors of Their New Garden. It’s a Real Knock-Out …

Plantings Surrounding the Maroon Arbor Flatter in Similar Hues and bold Pops of Color (Including this Liatris ‘Floristan Violet’and  Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’)

Fine textured maiden grass shimmers in the afternoon sunlight, accenting either side of the arbor and leading the eye down the garden path (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’). Nice work on that paint job, Stanley!

A Bold, Mass Planting of Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’) Glows on the Opposite Side of the Richly-Colored Arch

Between the two mirroring sides of this long, road-side screen is a sunny to semi-shady walkway garden running the length of the house. I filled this last section of the garden —which I will cover in an upcoming post— with bold new perennials and a few colorful, season-spanning shrubs. I’ve many more projects to share, but in meantime, if you have any questions about the how-to end of this project, please feel free to post them in comments!

By working with a garden designer —who can help you create a site plan and shop for and perhaps place or even install plants— but doing the bulk of the physical labor/hardscaping yourself, you can save a tremendous amount of money on landscaping projects. Before you call in a professional, take the time to think about a few things; including your goals (how you hope to use your outdoor space, and your project time frame/deadline), your personal as well as your home’s style (formal, informal or somewhere between), your budget (remember that professional landscaping can add 10-20% to your home’s value, and immeasurable curb-appeal), and how much of the work you are willing and able to do yourself (experience and muscle matter here, so be brutally honest with yourself). Many landscape designers and garden coaches enjoy working with do-yourselfers. Need help finding a garden designer? Word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to find a landscaping professional (if see a garden you love, send or leave a note for the owner asking the designer’s name), but local garden centers/greenhouses, building contractors, stoneworkers, realtors and garden clubs are great sources of information as well.

A Big Thank You to Geri and Stan Johnson for All of Your Enthusiasm, Support and Hard Work! I Hope You are Enjoying Your New Garden!

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Al Fresco Dining in the Garden: Fireworks Restaurant’s Lush New Courtyard & Bold Container Design …

June 25th, 2011 § 4

My Tiered Container Garden Design and Installation at Fireworks Restaurant in Brattleboro, Vermont

Wrapped up a busy work week in the pouring rain yesterday with finishing touches on my garden design and installation for Fireworks Restaurant in Brattleboro, Vermont. This lush, outdoor dining space will soon feature a stone water bowl created by a local artisan. But all good things take time. So, while waiting for completion of the handmade water feature, I placed a shallow bowl of brightly-colored annuals from local Walker Farm (bold orange Cherry Lantana & curly New Zealand Hair Sedge) atop the pedestal to hold its place.

Fireworks Restaurant is my favorite, local place to enjoy a delicious cocktail and relaxed dinner with friends, leisurely weekend brunch or romantic evening with my beau. So when über-talented chef/owner Matthew Blau asked me to design a courtyard garden for his wonderful eatery, I immediately began sketching as we spoke. Much to my dismay, my initial design idea for a corner fire bowl was nixed by local safety codes. However, I quickly decided that a water feature would be equally romantic and inviting in this lovely outdoor space. The project involved a second re-design when it was determined that the pre-existing flag stone patio had to be replaced with cedar decking. Last autumn, I drew up plans for a deep, tiered corner planter (constructed of cedar with an interior base liner) and narrow, matching boxes to screen the alley way and accent an existing mural. This spring, Matthew commissioned a local artisan to create a handmade, stone water bowl (currently being carved in his studio). Over the past couple of weeks —between numerous thundershowers— I set to work filling the planters with potting soil and a combination of boldly colored shrubs, sensual grasses and bright annuals. It’s been so much fun working on this project. If you find yourself in the tri-state region (VT/NH/VT), please stop in for fabulous dining in the new garden! As for me, well, I can hardly wait for a clear evening, to enjoy my first dinner at Fireworks Restaurant beneath the stars …

Just installed this week, the plantings will fill out and form a lush backdrop for the planned water bowl (Permanent plantings include Hydrangea vine {Hydrangea petiolaris}, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Coppertinia’, Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’. Annual plantings include Cherry Lantana {Lantana camara}, New Zealand Hair Sedge {Carex camans ‘Frosted Curls’} and Orange/Red Butterfly Weed {Aesclepia curassavica ‘Silky Deep Red’} All annual and tender perennial plants are from Walker Farm.

Although the centerpiece of annuals will eventually be replaced by an artisan-made stone water bowl, the design would also work with a variety of focal points. At one point, we hoped for a fire bowl, but local fire codes ruled that out early on in my planning.

The double alley-side planter boxes were designed to screen the view and provide enclosure on the backside, and to both soften the fence and add style to the inside of the courtyard garden. Plantings in front planter include Dwarf Zebra Grass, Butterfly Weed.

I designed an extra planter for the backside of the fence, and filled it with three Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’. Eventually these shrubs will reach the top of the fence and screen the courtyard dining space from the back alley/parking space. With a bit of pruning, they will form a dense, dark, living wall; highlighting the boldly striped grasses and annuals on the interior side.

Original Design Sketch for Alleyway (Modified to Slightly Longer Planter Box)

Soon, the central, tiered-corner planter will feature a handmade stone water bowl, created by a local artisan

The original design sketch for an interior planter (now raised and modified to suit cedar decking)

Details & Notes…

All annual and tender perennial plants are from Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont

Fireworks Garden Design & Installation: Michaela Medina. For design inquiries, see my professional services page at left.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Designing an Enchanting Edible Garden And a Workshop for Vegetable Lovers…

May 10th, 2011 § 4

My Backyard Potager – An Edible Oasis in Mid-July

Like a butterfly flitting about the garden before deciding where to settle, I found myself drifting in and out of greenhouses and garden centers last weekend, ogling possible additions to my backyard potager. I couldn’t help but notice that the aisles of my favorite farm stand and local nurseries are filling up with annuals, perennial herbs, vegetable starts, berry bushes and fruit trees. Ah yes, it’s that time of year again. Time to plant the vegetable garden!

There are so many things I love about growing my own produce, but my favorite summertime pleasure has to be settling into a comfy garden chair at the end of the day —glass of chilled white wine in hand and dinner fixings in a basket at my feet— as I watch the golden rays of late afternoon sun illuminate the beautiful flowers, fruit and vegetables in my potager. Of course the best part of edible gardening is doing just that —eating it! And by mid-June, I needn’t make a special trip to the grocery store to create a gourmet meal. Everything I need for a great breakfast, lunch or dinner is growing in my own backyard. On sunny days, I often enjoy alfresco meals in the garden itself, overlooking the beautiful vine-covered fence and swaying sunflowers…

Heavenly Blue Morning Glories are Attractive to People and Pollinators Alike!

An Alfresco Lunch – Last Summer in my Sun-Drenched Garden

Calendula Blossoms Not Only Add Beauty to a Garden, But Also Attract Beneficial Insects and Deter Undesirable Pests…

Heirloom Tomatoes Begin to Produce in July and Continue through October

Working in a Beautifully Designed Vegetable Garden is a Treat for All Senses

I Plant Sunflowers Partly for Decorative Reasons, But Also Because They Provide Food for Birds, Bees and Other Beneficial Garden Guests

Pathways Edged with Herbs are Beautiful and Fragrant Additions to the Potager. Why Not Make the Walk to the Vegetable Garden as Lovely as the Destination?

I’ll be presenting a free seminar on the art and science of vegetable gardening this Saturday, May 14th at Walker Farm, together with owner and organic farmer Jack Manix. We’ll both be discussing a wide range of edible gardening topics. The seminar will begin at 10am with Jack covering the basics of organic vegetable gardening. Jack will review the practical side of growing your own produce; with topics ranging from soil chemistry and compost, to pest management, specialty crops and succession planting. There will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions and have a look around the farm. Then after a brief tour of the fields, I will pick up where Jack leaves off; discussing ways in which you can make your vegetable garden a beautiful, welcoming multi-use space for your family, friends and other garden guests; like birds and beneficial insects. We’ll talk about edible, living walls and other fences, raised beds and borders, vertical structures and vines, bird, bat and toad houses, companion flowers and herbs, plus all the little details that will make your time in the garden less work and more pleasure.

To find out more about Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping or purchase a copy, click here

I hope you’ll join us this Saturday, May 14th at beautiful Walker Farm (click here for details and to save your seat) but until then —or if you live too far away to make it— I have a few beautiful and inspirational books on edible gardening to recommend. Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping (pictured above) is a great book, just chock full of gorgeous garden design photos and practical, inspirational ideas. I mentioned it in this post (here) earlier this year and I still highly recommend it. And landscape designer Jennifer Bartley —who will be speaking on Contemporary Kitchen Garden Design in Wilmington, Vermont on June 24th at the Sixteenth Annual North Hill Symposium —- author of one of my favorite potager design books Designing the New Kitchen Garden, has just released another beautiful and informative title, The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook, from Timber Press.

Jennifer Bartley’s The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook

I’ll be writing much more about creating enchanting edible gardens in the coming weeks. And, if beautiful and productive vegetable gardens appeal to your senses, you may want to revisit my potager page at the left (click here) and past-posts; including The Art of French Vegetable Gardening (click here) and Dreaming of Springtime’s Sweet Veggies: Planning a Lush, Welcoming Potager.

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Gardening Seminars at Walker Farm are Free and Open to the Public. The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation, of any kind, for editorial mention of businesses or products in this post.

Article and all photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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The Early Bird Catches the Arugula… And the Chard, Spinach & Lettuce too!

February 19th, 2011 § 10

Arugula in the Hoophouse, January

Let’s start out with a bit of honesty, shall we? The four season harvest isn’t for wimps. Winter gardening  —growing plants in temperatures below freezing to sub-zero, beneath plastic sheeting— isn’t a natural act. And although I enjoy a good game of woman vs. wild, sometimes winter gets to be a bit much around here. Shoveling decks, terraces, walkways and woodpiles is a lot of work. And now that I’ve added potager path-clearing and hoophouse roof-raking to the list, I’ve created quite a snow-removal burden. So why do it? Because the taste of fresh arugula and the smell of damp earth on a cold February day is —as the people at Mastercard say— priceless. And I think a jump-start to the short, northern growing season is worth a little extra work (OK, so it’s a lot of extra work).

Look at that delicious earth! Would you believe this photo was taken just yesterday…

Inside this unheated hoophouse the smell of sweet, springtime soil fills the moist air!

Raking out hoophouse soil to prepare for late winter crop sowing

Over the past three years —cooking more at home and experimenting in my kitchen— I’ve become more and more interested in four-season vegetable gardening. And although I haven’t made the leap to a heated greenhouse yet, I’ve found that with proper timing, I can keep some crops going in my hoophouses year round. Greens sown in late fall will germinate and then continue to grow (albeit much more slowly) throughout the short, cold days of winter. Tender crops are out of the question of course, but tasty root vegetables sown in early autumn can be harvested from cold houses straight into the new year. Seedlings require light to grow —10-12 hours of daylight is a good rule of thumb— so the sowing of seed is suspended during the weeks leading up to —and about a month and a half after– the winter solstice. But come late January, February and March —when the days are getting longer, and sunlight is getting stronger — I can begin sowing cold-hardy, late winter crops in my unheated hoophouses, for early spring harvest. Yesterday I planted a variety of greens in house #3 (arugula, chard, spinach, lettuce and mesclun mix), and I pulled spent crops and turned soil in house #1 to prepare for more planting (carrots, radishes and other crops) on my next free afternoon. If you are interested in learning more about the four-season harvest and winter vegetable gardening, I highly recommend Eliot Coleman’s books. And if you’d like to build a hoophouse of your own this spring (I now have four, with three currently in use) click here for basic plans. I’m hoping to upgrade to a larger, walk-in cold house this year.

Hoophouses protecting early fall-sown crops in late December, just before the snow (automatic back vents help moderate temperatures)

Sowing crops in hoophouse #3: Mid-February

Gardening in winter is all about science, but it sure feels like magic when you can reach your hand into sweet, sun-warmed earth on a cold and windy day. And it’s even more spectacular when you’re enjoying your own salad greens and root vegetables —harvested from an icy, snow-covered garden— at dinner in January and February. Winter pasta with fresh arugula, root-cellared onions and olive-oil preserved, sun-dried tomatoes —all from the garden— now that is priceless…

Arugula harvested from the hoophouse

Pasta with freshly harvested arugula — plus caramelized onions, braided & stored in the root cellar and sun-dried tomatoes, preserved in olive oil— all from the garden…

Here’s the potager, with house #1 and #2 buried by nearly 3′ of snow and ice. I still can’t believe they didn’t collapse. And yes, I shoveled them out all by myself. Sadly, Alfred hasn’t left Batman for me yet. I can’t figure out why…

Mountains of shoveling…

Followed by more shoveling…

And bringing in wood…

But who wouldn’t appreciate the beauty that makes it all worthwhile…

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Article and photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Art Inspired by Nature: The Work of Vermont Artist Dan Snow…

January 3rd, 2011 § 3

Archer’s Pavilion

As an enthusiastic fan of stone sculpture, environmental art and three-dimensional landscape features, I have been long planning an article about Vermont artist Dan Snow and his work. But finding the time to actually visit and photograph the artist’s creations, and coordinate two seasonal workers during the busy summer months, seemed all but impossible. Dan Snow keeps a busy schedule. In addition to creating master works of art for both private clients and public collections, Dan has authored two of his own books —In the Company of Stone and Listening to Stone with photographs by Peter Mauss— and has contributed to several others. He also regularly writes beautiful essays for his blog, In the Company of Stone. In addition to these artistic pursuits, as a DSWA*of Great Britain- certified Mastercraftsman and DSWA*-certified instructor, Dan Snow leads workshops, talks and presentations —both here in North America and abroad— passing along his drystone walling and artistic knowledge to eager students the world over.

Fortunately, Dan is as generous with his time and talents as he is a gifted and sought-after artist and teacher. I caught up with the artist recently —on a blisteringly-cold December afternoon a couple of weeks back— and asked about visiting a few of his works for a blog-feature. Much to my surprise, Dan offered me the very enviable opportunity to take a local, personally guided tour of his work. Visiting these amazing works of art —and having the opportunity to skip, hop, crawl, walk in, on and around them with their creator— was more fun than I can possibly describe. In addition to his many talents, Dan Snow is also just-plain-good company, and his playful, unassuming nature —so evident in all of his work— made the afternoon both a delightful and educational experience.

The Beautifully Framed View from Within ‘Archer’s Pavilion’

My tour began and ended with stone work created by Dan Snow over a twenty-five-year time span, for three different collectors. Although Dan has built numerous freestanding stone walls, retaining walls, and other practical landscape features (many documented here on this blog) our tour focused on his stone sculpture and land art. Many of the artist’s stone constructions invite physical participation, and ‘Archer’s Pavilion’ (pictured at the top of the page and just above) is a perfect example of this. Although located on private property, this piece sits near the edge of the road, and is well-known and much-loved by locals; particularly children. In his book Listening to Stone, Dan notes that some of his young fans refer to this sculpture as “The Tooth Fairy’s House” when they pass it on their way to and from school. I’m certain that these daily views of ‘Archer’s Pavilion’ inspire a great deal of day dreaming throughout the school day. This fantastical creation is one of my favorites as well. While seated inside the tiny stone tent, reflecting upon the beautifully framed landscape beyond, it occurred to me how —much like other master works of art— the piece seems both impossibly complex and maddeningly effortless. Despite the weight of the stone and the hours of intense physical labor involved in their construction, Dan’s creations always appear as if magically dreamed into existence. It’s a wonderful, and completely mind-boggling paradox.

Stone Sphere. A hollow-centered orb sitting at the far edge of a wind-swept field.

Star Shrine. Inspired by Japanese ‘Hoshi Jinja’, created to house and worship fallen meteors, this is also one of my favorite pieces.

Pyramid. The bright red-orange color of bittersweet berries adds a bit of natural poetry to this study in contrasts. Here, Dan has used round field stone to create a remarkable work of geometry; all straight planes and angles.

Because he works in stone, and his pieces are anchored to the land, the connection to nature is inseparable from Dan Snow’s work. But many other elements and influences are also at play, as evidenced by the diverse works pictured here. Stories about the inspiration and creation of the individual pieces, collected in Dan’s books, are as fascinating as the stonework itself.  ”Star Shrine” (above) and “The Keep” (below) were both created in response to works of land art in other cultures. As Dan and I walked to the far end of a stark and barren field —the perfect gallery for his work— a large grouping of boulders called out. I remembered hearing about this piece long ago, and I had the vague recollection that there was some connection to historic tombs.

As it turns out, Dan’s collectors had been traveling in Ireland when they encountered what he describes as a ‘megalithic tomb’. Upon their return, they asked Dan if he would construct a similar structure for them on their property. Portal tombs, or stone burial chambers, exist throughout the world and are known by a variety of common names; including dolmens, stazzone, hunebed, cromlech, dysse and others. These structures share some common characteristics, such as upright stone ‘orthostats’ and large, cap-stone roofs. There are no human remains located in ‘The Keep’, though it is a fantastic and haunting work of art, as well as a fabulous playground for the living.

Entrance – The Keep

The Keep

Inside ‘The Keep’, Looking Out at Woodland’s Edge

Although Dan is often commissioned to create functional objects —benches, fire pits and bridges among them— the utilitarian purpose of these projects is merely a launch point for this artist’s imaginative interpretation of the structure. A bench is simply a place to sit, but a work of art designed for seating is an entirely different thing. The gravity-defying beauty of Dan’s arched, stone foot-bridge, and the fascinating, flame-mimicking points of his fire sculpture, make it clear that in the hands of a master, art need never play second fiddle to craft.

Stone Seating Area

Fire Sculpture

Arched Footbridge

Not only do Dan’s stone creations blur the culturally designated line between art and craft, but many of his environmental art pieces also challenge conventional, Western ideas about what it means to have a garden. Located on the same Brookside property as the ‘Arched Footbridge’ and ‘Star Shrine’, a beautiful and meticulously maintained dry garden sits at woodland’s edge. Most European and American gardeners and landscape designers have fixed ideas about what defines a garden. For many such traditionalists, horticulture must be the primary focus in an outdoor space in order to meet the definition of ‘garden’. And although xeriscaping and rock gardens have become more commonplace over the past twenty years —mostly in response to ecological factors like water conservation and the rise of minimalist aesthetics— dry gardens are still relatively scarce in North America.

Of course in the larger world, ideas about gardening are as varied as the cultures in which this activity takes place. Japanese gardeners mastered the art the dry garden long ago, and in the traditional Zen garden —where the stone itself becomes a distilled, symbolic landscape— these three-dimensional, highly disciplined works of art become the focus, not the backdrop, of the garden. In Listening to Stone, Dan describes how he came to accept a commission for an Asian-inspired dry garden in Vermont, and an inspirational encounter with his Japanese friend and former student, Taheshi Hammana. This is one of my favorite essays in the collection; perfectly describing the yin-yang relationship between student and teacher, and how in the best of circumstances, the learning flows both ways. Like many of Snow’s stories, this one reveals an essential part of the multilayered process art making, and how individual experiences develop and shape that process, and the artist himself.

Dry Garden Detail – In a traditional Zen garden, each object within the composition represents a corresponding object in nature.

Dan Snow’s Modern American Dry Garden, Inspired by Japanese Tradition

Dry Garden Detail. Vertically set stones represent the edge of the raked stone ‘water’.

As daylight began to fade, Dan and I made our way to the last stop on our short tour. Located on this private property are two large, physically engaging works. Dan’s ‘Walking Wall’, which spans the length of the field and is comprised of both restoration and new stone work, and ‘Rock Shelter’ were created to draw the landowner out for a stroll. The story of how these two related pieces came to be, and their connection to the history of the place, adds to the poetic beauty of both works. Does the collector stroll upon the ‘Walking Wall’, and pause for a rest beneath the roof of ‘Rock Shelter’? Based upon my experience there, scrambling atop the stone lean-to roof with Dan and skipping along the trio of bridges at the start of the long wall, I imagine the owner must regularly visit and delight in his private playground…

Walking Wall

Walking Wall

Rock Shelter at Twilight

Rock Shelter – Front Side View

Rock Shelter – Backside View

Dan Snow atop his ‘Rock Shelter’ piece in Vermont – December, 2010

This amazing collection of stone work offers only the tiniest of peeks into the world and work of Dan Snow. But if this short, virtual tour has sparked your interest and imagination, you may be interested in viewing ‘Stone Rising’, a beautifully filmed documentary of Dan’s work and process, available for purchase through Fuzzy Slippers Productions (online here). Dan’s schedule of workshops and lectures can be found on his blog (here), and his books, “In the Company of Stone” and “Listening to Stone” are both available online from Amazon.com as well as at Barnes & Noble, Borders and most independent book stores.

Although much of Dan’s work is held in private collections —with some properties occasionally opened for tours of the artist’s work— several pieces exist in public locations; including collaborative works at Kansas State University, and the English Harbor Arts Centre, Newfoundland, Canada. Recently, Dan created a stone seating sculpture, “Rock Rest” (pictured below) for the new Brattleboro Museum and Art Center Sculpture Garden. This new public garden —which I designed as part of a volunteer project honoring Linda Rubinstein and Dan Freed for their life-long contributions to the arts in this community— will break ground in spring of this year. Dan is currently seeking a sponsor for this work of art, in hopes that it will be installed for the enjoyment of the public (the Brattleboro Museum is located at the far, southeast corner of the state; where the Vermont line meets the southwestern tip of New Hampshire and the northwest boundary of Massachusetts). If you are interested in sponsoring this work of art (pictured below) —or know of a potential sponsor— please contact Dan Snow via his website, In the Company of Stone.

Rock Rest – Photograph ⓒ Dan Snow

Notes and Links of Interest:

* DSWA is an acronym for the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain, linked here.

The Drystone Conservancy – Lexington, Kentucky

The Drystone Guild of Canada

“Stone Rising” Clip on YouTube

Dan Snow’s Blog – In the Company of Stone

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A Very Special, Heart-Felt Thank You to Dan Snow and Elin Waagen, for Your Time, Generosity and Friendship.

Article and Photographs (exception noted) are copyright 2010, Michaela Medina at The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used for any purpose without my consent.

All content on this site, with noted exceptions, is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and my not be used or reproduced without express written permission.

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Winter Dreams and Frosty Fantasies: Magical, Snow-Covered Tree Houses…

December 16th, 2010 § 1

Treehouse by Amazon Tree Houses – UK – This UK-based company designs and builds some of the most beautiful treehouses I have ever seen. They are truly fuel for fantasies and fairytales…

Imagine being awakened by a gentle rocking sensation as wind sways your nest; watching snow flurries dance, high up in the treetops. Could there be anything more magical than a holiday spent in a treehouse, nestled in the snow-covered boughs of a deep-green conifer? Childhood fantasies were re-ignited this morning when, after a bit of inspiration from Lace and Tea, I toured the fantastic websites and blogs featured here {click on attached image links or text directly below). If you’ve ever entertained the notion of building a treehouse in your garden, these web-resources and books {linked below} will help get you started.

Building a treehouse is a long-standing dream; one I share with many, no doubt. And wouldn’t a homebuilt nest —cloaked in icicles in the limbs of an ancient tree— make a great guest-house? {sigh}. For your winter-garden dreams and frosty-forest-fantasies…

Treehouse by Takashi Kobayashi – Treehouse People –  Japan – Organic and extraordinarily beautiful, the treehouses designed and built by this Japanese artist seem at one with both nature and the imaginary world…

Treehouse by the Treehouse Guy – Peter Lewis – USA – I could spend days on Peter’s wonderful blog. Both the author’s story and his beautiful treehouse studio are utterly captivating…

Treehouse by Baumraum – A German-Based Design Firm. This is the website that initially launched my research. Baumraum has built a solid, international reputation for gorgeous, innovative design and beautiful treehouses…

More Tree House Resources & Gift Books…

New Treehouses of the World by Peter Nelson

Treedom: The Road to Freedom by Takashi Kobayashi

Treehouse Chronicles by S. Peter Lewis

How-To Build a Tree House: Home Tree Home by Peter Nelson

A new book is also now available from Baumraum, but not yet available through Amazon.com. Please see their website for details.

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All photo-links in this source list and review are copyright as noted. Please visit respective websites for more information.

Article ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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