This week I want to take a break from writing about all of the cool plants that I am surrounded by each week to reflect on what it means to be a gardener. When I use the term gardener, I am using it loosely to describe anyone who passionately associates themselves with a garden as their career. This weekend, I turned 42. Do not ask me why this birthday felt so monumental and has caused such a reflection on my life. By reflection, I don’t mean “mid-life crisis” kind of reflection. I will never have “a mid-life crisis” because I generally have one every 3-4 years. During our 16 years of marriage, Carrie and I have had 4 kids, moved 9 times, I’ve had 5 different positions, and found a couple of years in there to squeeze in a graduate degree. My point is: why should I have a mid-life crisis? Our life has been nothing but constant change, some expected and some unexpected – i.e. the twins, but the two constants have been our marriage and my profession.


A couple of weeks ago, the national conference for the American Public Gardens Association was in Denver, Colorado. This is the one time per year when colleagues at gardens across the country are able to come together and share stories and ideas about working at a public garden. This is also a time when we are able to see how much we enjoy gardens and plants along with how much we enjoy other people who work at gardens. There is something about those of us who choose gardening as our profession and passion. We love being outside, working with plants, and sharing that passion with others who visit our gardens. I love the example of Fergus Garrett, head gardener and director at one of England’s most famous gardens, Great Dixter. Fergus will sometimes go for weeks without responding to a single email. He once said that he makes sure that he checks email at least once every two weeks, whether he has to or not. He would rather be out in the gardens, working on the plantings, training his staff, and interacting with the public face to face who will travel across the world to see their garden rather than responding to someone electronically. Read the full post

sarah raven in her cutting garden

Last week, in reaction to a recent article on LandArchs Network , a discussion broke out on a friend’s facebook page (article here, discussion here).  The story was about 10 planting designers to know, and as remarkable as all the people on the list are, the reality of there only being one woman (Beth Chatto) on the list struck a nerve (not just with me but with many other women in this industry).   The resulting discussion revealed so many names of women that could also have been on the list. Since I knew so few them, I simply had to write them down for future reference.

Read the full post

Along the coast of Maine as we are readying for Christmas, our outdoor cultivation has come to a screeching halt as the ground is covered by a foot and a half of snow. To add emphasis to this being the time of the shortest days of the year, a half inch of ice fell the past couple of days, making a nice, preserving crust on the snow.

Ulf Nordfjells utstÑllning frÜn 2007 GîteborgFor a gardener, this is a time of planning, organizing, and preparation. For me, I am in search of a theme for next year’s garden designs at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. We are redesigning our entry walk, areas around our entry lawn, plus seasonal displays throughout the gardens. In looking for inspiration, I start running through the usual candidates: Victorian carpet bedding schemes, Beatrix Farrand with her free-flowing perennials, Roberto Burle Marx and his massive flows of bright colors, and Piet Oudolf’s visions of grass inflorescences dancing with salvias and alliums.

Ulf nordfjellThe problem is that all of this has been done before. Most gardens are looking to replicate one of these designers or some variant of their designs. Part of the reason I came to Maine was to be at a young garden where we could do things differently. Part of doing this is to learn which plants will survive and which plants will struggle. I learned last summer that tropicals that thrive in the south and mid-Atlantic, will sit around like a dozing dog all summer, only to peak in mid-September as the summer crowds have moved back to their occupations which afford them the ability to summer in Maine.

Long-story made short, I started thinking about what kind of home interiors I like the best and was drawn to the furniture of Hans Wegner. If money were no object and we did not have 4 kids, our home would be an assemblage of Scandinavian modern design. Aha, that is when I began searching for Scandinavian garden design. We share somewhat similar climates and short summers, I thought, so the plants and designs might be worth investigating.

2007 Chelsea

Right now, I am poring through the gardens of Ulf Nordfjell. Nordfjell has a simple aesthetic with clean lines and blocks of plants. The colors are subtle and used with restraint, when used at all. Like a Wegner wishbone chair, the look is easily understood yet relaxed and comfortable. Nordfjell entered gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show in London in 2007 and 2009. I saw his garden from 2007 in person and thought it was brilliant. All of the other gardens seemed to be competing with one another to have the largest structures and plants just appeared to be filling in the gaps. Nordfjell’s garden was structured around the plants. From what I recall it used green, white, and a bit of purple for color. Not the garish combinations of his competitors. He won a gold medal for this garden only to come back in 2009 to take a Best in Show award.

Ulf Daily Telegraph

The challenge in the coming weeks is to figure out how to take this inspiration and make it fit our existing context. The lines of our gardens are more organic and curving. Our guests are drawn more to color than shades of green, grey, and white. I will continue looking through his designs, reading about his inspirations, and then coming up with plant combinations that are our own.

How about you? How do you design? Who are your inspirational designers? What cool things are you thinking of trying to pull off for 2014?


Images:, Shoot Gardeningtradgardsformgrysigurdsdotter

Robert Tatin Museum Normandy Francy by Julie Gibbons via
Robert Tatin Museum Normandy Francy by Julie Gibbons via I’m off this afternoon on a SouthernCalifornia adventure, but before I head out I have a something I have been meaning to share with you for a few weeks.

Robert Tatin Museum Normandy Francy by Julie Gibbons via

It is the garden and outdoor museum created by artist Robert Tatin.   Located near Laval in Normandy, France, the place is open to visitors who want to explore the world of this noted sculptor.

Robert Tatin Museum Normandy Francy by Julie Gibbons via

After a long career as a ceramics artist and decorator, Tatin started the project in 1962, at age sixty. For 21 years, he worked on the property, assisted by his wife Lise, to create an environment that reflected his life experiences and view of the world.

Robert Tatin Museum Normandy Francy by Julie Gibbons via

Everything was created to share Tatin’s personal philosophies.  There are the Pipes of Reason, the Army of Souls and my favorite, the Fairie Queen of Creativity (I love that title and want to make it my own!).  The collection is quite extensive.  These images are all by Julie Gibbons on Flicker — she has many more in her stream that you can enjoy.  Additionally you can find out more at the museums website.

Robert Tatin Museum Normandy Francy by Julie Gibbons via

images: trip advisor and julie gibbons via flickr creative commons license.

Please accept my apologies if this might be a bit too much to look at on a monday morning.  The idea of this art is just too cool though. I’ve mentioned a few times that I think that Grafitti is a bit of a trend for gardens – certainly is to the natural backdrop for many urban growers. (This post and this one are about the trend of grafitti).  Artist INSA has taken grafitti to a whole new level.  It is called Gif-itti.

Gif-itti involves the artist painting the mural upwards of four different times, photographing it, and creating a .gif with the images — before he leaves the site with a final painting. (see above and the final below).   

This got me in the mood for spring as much as the melting snow.  You may recall that I have been wanting to hire an artist to paint the garden side of my barn (something like this).  Well last night as I was pulling this post together…all this coolness prompted me to also contact an artist who might be able to help me….the ball is officially in motion.  I am so pleased!

INSA grafitti art

This piece (above and below – which covers the entire exterior of XL Recordings) is a collaboration with artist Stanley Donwood called Hollywood Dooom to celebrate the release of a new album for Atoms for Peace.   From INSA:

My challenge was to take two very static items, a beautiful lino-cut and a less beautiful box of a building, and bring them to life. After a week of sweating in the Los Angeles late summer sun re-painting the whole building several times I got there. Animated as a continuous GIF it may only live online but some would argue that is where most now live there lives…





You can see more of INSA’s gif work and other pieces on his blog.

images from INSA


I find the idea behind Jerry Sohn’s desert garden rooms unbelievably inspiring.   Wanting a place in the vast landscape of the Mojave Desert  (where he owns a small house),  he commissioned Architect Arata Isozaki to create rooms in this place — one for each season.



Jerry likes to sleep outdoors with his family and enjoy the night sky and coolness of the evenings in the desert.   So the project started with the idea of creating a place where they could enjoy the landscape but be up and away from snakes and other wildlife.  What evolved was three ‘rooms’, one each, for Summer and Winter, and then a Third to enjoy the Spring and Autumn seasons.



Each of the ‘rooms’ is designed to highlight the Sun and Moon at that time of the year, as well provide the best accomodation for the season.  The winter room is enclosed in glass to protect from the elements and the summer room is a beautiful and sculptural open concrete platform.


In addition to the rooms, the garden has other artistic installations (Jerry is an art Collector) — this one, Circle of Japanese Fishing Floats by Richard Long is my favorite.

japanese fishing float circle landscape art by Richard Long
big_346476_2433_DO110508006_UPD big_346476_6086_DO110508007_UPD

Read more about the design here: Domus.

images from Domus and Iwan.








I am beyond pleased to welcome and introduce you to my guest today.  The garden writing industry produces relatively few (IMO) venerable writers compared with other other non-fiction sub-genres but Margaret Roach certainly falls within that category – venerable.  As I write my first book, it is people like her that I look to for lessons in navigating this writing journey.  She has a new book out this week (The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening, and Lifeand I am looking forward to the opportunity to delve into my copy.  It promises to be entertaining, inspiring, and thoughtful — just what I want in my garden books on a snowy January day.  – Rochelle

Margaret Roach

How would you define your style (garden, fashion, interiors, other or all of the above)?

My garden, home and personal styles couldn’t be more divergent, now that your question makes me think of them all at once. I basically only wear black, and maybe that’s subconsciously because I don’t like to clash with the garden and house, in which I have a very high color tolerance—anything goes, especially lots of “reds” and greens together, Christmas or not. Example: My house is painted the darkest olive, trimmed in a sort of Chinese orange-red; inside, doors are a true red, and floors are painted ochre.

I’m the neutral element in it all, tee hee.

I would describe all my styles, however, as informal, un-fancy—and also chockablock.  I like stuff: plants, pots, books, old things including ceramics, things from Asia, rusty things, dried things, primitive American things with seen-better-days paint clinging to them. Stuff.

The garden, too, is a mix of American and Asian (as is the nursery industry’s primary palette of hardy garden plants). I like to think of it as a 365-day garden—meaning beautiful every day of the year, at each moment in a distinct way.

Important, though not visual: I don’t use chemicals of any kind.

Margaret Roach Garden from uphill, spring
What is your garden like?

The garden, now more than 25 years old, is on a steep hillside in a cold zone, 5B. I only own two acres, but they’re surrounded by a large tract of state park and forest in a tiny rural former farming community where the Hudson Valley of New York meets the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts.

No hard lines are possible on such tilted land that has sensual curves, a feminine shape; the garden beds are all amoebic, not linear or geometric (except for some raised vegetable beds, of course).

It’s a collector’s garden, a bird lover’s garden, and a frog lover’s garden—although on the first score, my “collectible” plants were cutting edge when I got them 10 or 20 years ago, and now (thanks to advancement in micropropagation and other industry factors) are maybe less rare than they once were.  I’m at the do-over stage in many areas, with things outliving their ornamentality (or just croaking and leaving holes!).

rodgersia by margaret roach via

Do you have any favorite or sentimental plants or flowers?

I have had many phases and obsessions in my 30 years of gardening. Stalwart remnants of various moments among them—my Euphorbia stage, my Sedum phase, my prolonged Viburnum and winterberry-holly manic episodes—still live here with me.

I suppose most of all I appreciate foliage much more than flowers. Big leaves (Astilboides, Rodgersia, even Petasites) make me swoon, and seem to like growing here, lending a tropical air to a decidedly cool temperate zone. Among non-hardy things I store indoors, big leaves are also a common thread: Canna ‘Musafolia,’ for instance (the so-called “banana canna”), and Ligularia japonicum ’Giganteum’ (now called Farfugium, but my old naming habits die hard).

sedum angelina by margaret roach via

What is your earliest or favorite gardening related memory?

Probably because there is a photo of it somewhere, I can recall my baby sister and myself (maybe 2 and 4, respectively) sitting on a chaise on my garden-club grandmother’s patio, under the wisteria trellis. We were wearing sherbet-colored summer dresses; her hair was orangey-red, mine yellow then. There were crazy big brown pods dangling everywhere around us.

window view by margaret roach via

What are three cardinal design rules that you apply to outdoor projects? 

Look out the window if you want to make a garden.  (That’s where you will view it from mostly—not when you are outside mowing or weeding or raking.  Plant it on axis from your best views from inside out.)

Don’t just shop in May (or whenever the garden center opens in your area and is full of flowery, sexy things).  Shop and/or visit other gardens for inspiration from earliest spring to latest fall, and always look behind the greenhouses, where the “not-showy” stuff is stashed out of the way. Ferret out the extra-late and extra-early things that way.

Ask the birds and other garden companions what they want. Chances are they will pick things that provide sustenance of some form (nectar, pollen, fruit, seed, hiding places, shelter) that will also match the extra-early to extra-late times that are a little sparse visually in your garden, which is when birds also face the most challenges. Things like Lindera, Hamamelis, Aralia that won’t ever be shown off by the garden-center parking lot entrance.

red chairs by margaret roach via

Margaret Roach Recommends….

  •—with a name like Roach, you’d have to guess I’d be interested in such a place. Participate by uploading your bug photos or ID’ing others.
  • WaterRight Inc.’s lightweight, drinking-water-safe garden hoses. I have finally stopped dragging stupid-heavy, kinked-up hoses. I love the colors, too—especially the dark olive one.
  • The Hillsdale General Store (in the next town to me); old and new things for indoors and out, including fantastic tableware and serving pieces, and in the same historic building, locally handsewn Boxwood Linens.
  • Utility Canvas aprons (I wear them when I teach workshops and host garden tours, besides when cooking).  Great colors.

the backyard parables by margaret roach