I incorporate no less than twenty containers in our garden every season. They decorate the back deck, which is visible through french doors in our living room. I place pots on the stone retaining wall that borders our pool in the backyard. A couple of large, colored concrete pots are nestled at the edge of our evergreen shrub bed in front of our kitchen windows. There are a few pots of different sizes in the annual and perennial beds at the entrance to our front porch. One particular container that I enjoy planting each year is on the brick walkway leading up to that same front entrance.
This planter is almost like a separate garden to itself because it is actually a collection of three containers. The base is a large, artificially-aged concrete bowl that we purchased in Cherry Log, a little hamlet in the hills of north Georgia, when we were still living on a lake near the center of the state. Its shell is thick enough that the pot can be overwintered outside, even when temperatures dip down close to zero degrees Fahrenheit. We decorate it for several holidays during the off-season. It is quite heavy, even when empty. I fill this container with potting soil up to about two inches from the rim. On top of the soil in the center, I place a shallow blue glazed pot with a cream-colored interior and matching rim. It is almost completely filled with soil, and on top of it I place a matching blue pot that is taller and narrower than the one below it.
The plants I use in this terraced garden vary from one season to the next. Typically I use annuals that flower profusely and don’t require deadheading (self-cleaning), such as vinca or begonia. In the top pot I almost always plant something with vertical interest, like ornamental grass. Along the edge of the base bowl that faces the house and the entrance from the driveway, I always plant two green potato vines that will trail over the side and down to the brick walkway. Between these two vines I insert one of my favorite “inorganic” elements of our landscape: the little sign that greets us and all our guests to our garden. Have you tried a stacked container garden? They add so much interest and are fun to experiment with year after year.
During our vacation in 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona, my wife requested I find some interesting sites in the area that intrigued me for us to explore one afternoon, along with our close friend who graciously hosted us in her home for the week. My love for waterfalls led me to pick out a few attractions that advertised that particular element, and we were pleasantly surprised at what we found in this sprawling desert city. My favorite was the Ro Ho En Japanese Friendship Garden located directly behind the Irish Cultural Center just north of Portland Avenue. The garden covers 3.5 acres and includes a tea garden and tea house. According to the garden’s website, “This tranquil and beautiful setting features more than 1,500 tons of hand-picked rock, stone footbridges, lanterns and more than 50 varieties of plants.”
I have written about the value of public gardens before, and this one is definitely on my list of favorites. The idea for the garden began in 1987 by a delegation from Himeji, Japan. Phoenix and Himeji have been sister cities since 1976 and participate in business, governmental, cultural, and educational exchanges that promote international goodwill and understanding. The garden is the shared cultural vision of both cities. The construction of the garden was completed in 2000, and it was opened to the public in 2002. Neither my wife nor our friend, both long-time residents of Phoenix, knew anything about this little treasure. The visit was a treat for all three of us.
In addition to maintaining a beautiful, serene Japanese garden in the heart of the city, the nonprofit organization that operates the facility provides educational and artistic programs and events that continue to deepen East-West relationships and celebrate the rich history and culture of Japan. Authentic tea ceremonies for the public are held on the third Saturday of each month from October through June. The ceremonies are presented by Tanko Kai tea group, wearing beautiful kimonos in the Musoan tea house. Guests are met at the entry gate and conducted to the tea house by a docent who explains features in the tea garden and other interesting facts about the tea house itself.
As we strolled around the pond, by the waterfall, and along the garden paths, I was reminded once again how the desert southwest is so often misrepresented as a barren region with little life and no real beauty. True, the Japanese Friendship Garden is an artificial oasis, but there are plenty of natural places just this lush and soothing located throughout Arizona and its neighboring states. The fortunate people who live in the apartment building next to the garden have one of the best views in the city: a luxuriant landscape below combined with desert mountain vistas in the distance. For all visitors to Phoenix, and even for those who call the city their home, I highly recommend a therapeutic retreat to the Japanese Friendship Garden.
One of the great benefits of a home garden is the diversity of life that it supports, which includes fauna as well as flora. Depending upon the plants growing in the space and its overall size, the garden may have both temporary and permanent residents. With the right mix of food, clean water, and cover, the gardener may play host to a wide variety of species. Of course, gardeners may not roll out the welcome mat to all wildlife, especially the kind that feast on our plants. Some we can deter; others we may choose to eliminate altogether. Slugs and Japanese beetles come to mind in our own garden.
I am fascinated by the members of the animal kingdom that have frequented our yard over many seasons. Our current home is bordered by a national forest, which means there are plenty of nesting spaces and protection from predators. Our garden serves as a small oasis and a source of food for many of the animals that venture out into the open. Each spring, our ornamental cherry tree is covered in butterflies that appear to dance around the branches as they feed on the nectar from the blossoms. As the season progresses, they are joined by moths and bees, making their way through the bloom cycles of the chaste tree, lantana, and the butterfly bushes. Everywhere we have lived we included bright-colored annuals in the summer landscape, which attract hummingbirds. I am continually mesmerized by their aerial acrobatics. For other avian species, both permanent residents and migrants, we offer a gurgling bird bath, a waterfall, and a seed feeder. At our previous residence on a lake, a pair of male and female ducks would occasionally come ashore, cross our lawn, and splash in our garden pond.
Watching animals in the garden has provided me with countless hours of entertainment for most of my life. Photographing them has almost become an avocation. I plan and develop sections of the garden specifically with animals in mind, considering what they need, what will draw them, and how I can best observe them. I set up trail cameras to catch a glimpse of them in action.
Our garden is home to insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. The frogs are in a class all to themselves, at least when it comes to their most noticeable contribution to the garden — sound. During the warm months of the year, they gather in and around our pool and fill the air with responsive croaking that is at times almost deafening. By contrast, the reptiles are so quiet and subtle. I came very close to stepping on a turtle before seeing it and walked past a snake resting on top of a shrub three times before noticing it all.
Admittedly, I don’t give all animals free access to the entire garden. Unfortunately, the deer and rabbits will take far more than their fair share. They will eat the plants they like all the way to the ground. I use Liquid Fence to deter them from my annuals, perennials, and flowering shrubs, but they have plenty of grass and border foliage to sustain them. It wouldn’t be polite to completely bar them from the yard. After all, the name of our street is Running Deer Road. This is their home too.
Many years ago, my two sons gave me a special gift for Father’s Day that I am still using now, all the time, 365 days out of the year. The gift was a fabricated flat, natural-looking stone that is engraved with the sentence: GARDENING COMES SECOND ONLY TO READING. It was the perfect present because, for me at least, that declaration is quite true. I would argue that my family actually comes first (I hope they would agree!), and I could certainly make the case for several more seconds and thirds, with music taking a prominent place near the top of the list. Both of my boys knew then, as they still recognize now, that gardening is a passion for me — something on which I am willing to spend plenty of hard-earned dollars. I have lived in three different locations since they presented me with that engraved stone, and it is still part of the hardscape of my gardens today.
I became interested in landscaping and ornamental gardening in 1987, shortly after my sons’ mother and I bought our first house. I had started working in a public library two years earlier, and I was fascinated by gardening magazines and books that I was cataloging. I wanted to have a yard with more than just an expanse of grass and a few foundation shrubs around the house. I wanted to create a little oasis! I started building my own personal library of gardening books, learning as much as possible about soil condition, hardiness zones, watering, fertilizing, and plant identification. I didn’t have much disposable income in those years, so I started out small and concentrated on a few specific areas, such as the side entrance to our house that we used most often. A few years later we started a family and moved into a larger house on a steeply sloping lot. It was a challenging yard, but over the years I began to mold it into something that I could work with and make attractive. One of the most successful projects was the creation of a lush entry-way garden leading from the parking area to the front door, which is pictured in the photograph above. Before moving away from that house, I also created two azalea islands under oak and sweet gum trees in the front yard, a pathway leading through ornamental trees and shrubs in the backyard, and my first small pond with a waterfall. (See my post from May 17, 2016 to learn more about the waterfalls and ponds I have designed through the years.)
When I met my second wife, she was living on a lake in central Georgia. When we married, I moved in with her. The previous owners of this lake house had invested considerably in the landscape, but my wife had made several improvements before we were married including upgrading the irrigation system, replacing an old patio, removing pine trees, and installing ornamental shrubs and trees. We decided to have our wedding ceremony on the patio overlooking the lake and a small pond and waterfall that I finished just a few days before the big day. Over the next two years I added plants and landscape lights around the pond to make the area into a separate garden spot, complete with a bird feeder and a bench.
The new and expanded patio was a perfect place to add a container garden, so we began looking for interesting pots, such as the sculpted face pot and stand that we affectionately named Annabel — the face on the pot looks melancholy and reminds us of the subject of the poem by Edgar Allan Poe, “Annabel Lee.” The patio container garden was framed by a beautiful stand of Loropetalum shrubs that my wife had planted shortly after she moved into the house. This garden was completed by a chiminea and a hot tub, which is just out of view at the lower left corner of the photo above. The gently sloping grass of the yard and the view of the large cove beyond were a perfect backdrop to this little slice of paradise just outside the sliding glass doors leading from our master bedroom.
In 2013 we moved to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in northeast Georgia. This part of the state is in a different plant zone than our previous location. As such there are some semi-tropical species that we can no longer have in our yard, but other ornamentals that need cooler temperatures are perfectly at home here. Our growing season is a week or two shorter also, but climate change is bringing earlier springs and extended autumns as the years go by. The previous owners of this house did a fine job of building the “bones” of this property, with a large planting island in the front yard and a fairly deep shrub bed in front of the house. We have made a few changes, such as adding some annual planting beds and thinning some of the dwarf Nandina on the side of the house. We have also added to the plants in the front island (pictured above) and covered it all with a healthy layer of wood chips. The greatest addition we have made to the property is the installation of an in-ground swimming pool with a waterfall, providing us with yet another opportunity to create a new garden oasis. Although I did not build this “pond,” my wife and I did help with the design. We have worked very hard over the last two years on the landscaping around the pool by installing a river rock border, bringing in new plants, and arranging container plantings around the decking. The sound of running water is such a pleasant feature of this space, which of course, is also a perfect area for enjoying my first passion . . . reading.
Visitors to Paris will often want to include in their itinerary a side trip to the Palace of Versailles, which is about a thirty-minute train ride from the city. The round trip isn’t so time-consuming, but actually seeing the palace and grounds takes a minimum of half a day, even more if one truly explores the garden, which is 800 hectares (over 1,900 acres) in size. Unfortunately, some travelers are on a tight schedule and hardly have enough time to see the major attractions in Paris, much less places outside the city. There is no substitute for seeing the Palace of Versailles, which is quite magnificent and offers a visual representation of the wealth and power of the monarchy in the 17th and 18th centuries. The garden is certainly spectacular and difficult to match; however, if there is a substitute in Paris that can serve as a rival, albeit on a smaller scale, the garden at the Musée Rodin must be near the top of the list.
The Musée Rodin is housed in a mansion, formerly called the Hôtel Peyrenc de Moras, now known as the Hôtel Biron. Auguste Rodin was a 19th-century French sculptor who is known for creating several iconic works, including “The Age of Bronze,” “The Thinker,” “The Kiss,” and “The Burghers of Calais.” The collection in the restored mansion is interesting for the novice and probably a treasure for artists and art historians, but almost everyone can appreciate the beauty of the garden. Its size is minuscule compared to Versailles, but it is still impressive. The grounds are divided into a rose garden, north of the mansion, and a large ornamental garden, to the south, while a terrace and hornbeam hedge backing onto a trellis conceal a relaxation area, at the bottom of the garden. Two thematic walks are also part of the garden: the “Garden of Orpheus,” on the east side, and the “Garden of Springs”on the west side.
In addition to the abundance of plants, the garden is also decorated with some of Rodin’s sculpture. Rodin started to place selected works in the garden in 1908, together with some of the antiques from his personal collection. Male and female torsos, copies made in the Roman or modern period, after Greek works, were presented in these natural surroundings. Other pieces were added after his death. The first bronzes were erected in the gardens before World War I. Since 1993, they have been regularly cleaned and treated so as to preserve their original patinas.
Anyone who has visited Paris knows the frustration of wanting to see more, to do more, than limited time will allow. Tourists have to be selective, discriminating, and reasonable about what they will be able to cover during the time they are in the city. Any attraction that offers more than one type of experience is probably worth including. The Musée Rodin fits that description with historic architecture and provocative sculpture but also a landscape that is in itself a work of art, offering the visitor an opportunity to rest and reflect.
Thomas Jefferson purportedly wrote these words: “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” Thinking of the word “garden” brings to mind so many different images and activities, probably because there are so many definitions and far too many types to list. A few examples will suffice: flower gardens, vegetable gardens, herb gardens, rock gardens, fairy gardens, cottage gardens, formal gardens, private gardens, and public gardens. It is this final variation that I turn my attention to so many times when I am traveling. Large cities almost always have botanical gardens that are usually enclosed and often charge admission to explore; however, cities also frequently have open access gardens that are situated among the towering buildings or incorporated into larger parks. London, Paris, and other European cities have magnificent public gardens that are as famous as any other attractions, drawing millions of tourists each year. The United States also boasts some splendid examples as well.
Perhaps the oldest public garden in the country is appropriately called the Public Garden located in the heart of Boston on the southwest side of the famous Boston Commons. Designed by George F. Meacham in the mid-19th century, the Public Garden now has paved trails that wind around the pond, under the trees, and through the floral displays that change with the seasons. We were there in September when the summer blooms were still dazzling. This park is enjoyed by so many people, both Bostonians and visitors to the city. It is a wonderful oasis between the famous historic district and the bustling urban center.
Monuments and landmarks present a fine opportunity for the placement of public gardens. The Golden Gate Bridge Park is another example of a space that brings together locals and tourists. The abundance of moisture from the San Francisco Bay and the humid, foggy air sweeping in from the Pacific provides a near-perfect environment for a green-space. We spent several minutes wandering around this garden before taking a trek out on the most recognizable bridge in America.
Sometimes gardens that are owned and maintained by private entities are still made available to the public at no charge. Hotels, office complexes, and shopping centers usually have, at bare minimum, some level of landscaping. Occasionally these establishments go far beyond the obligatory curb dressing to create extensive gardens and observatories, such as the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. In tourist towns, several retailers may collaborate to install and maintain plantings, beds, boxes, and pots to attract shoppers to their doors. These private gardens are not only accessible to the public but are specifically designed to attract people passing through the area. I have seen some beautiful examples of this type of garden in destinations such as Gatlinburg (Tennessee), Sedona (Arizona), St. Simons Island (Georgia), and Santa Fe (New Mexico).
Places of worship are also a good source for gardens that can be enjoyed by everyone. Usually maintained by a small band of devoted gardeners in the organization, these spaces welcome visitors and encourage them to take a few moments to be still, contemplate, meditate, or pray. Some of these gardens are small and simple, but still lovely. Others are huge and elaborate, attracting thousands of visitors each year. Some are not free and open to the general public, such as the Gardens of Vatican City, although guided tours are available. The Gardens at Temple Square of the LDS Church represent an over-the-top horticultural exhibit that is enjoyed by anyone who wants to pass through the church’s massive complex in Salt Lake City, Utah.
As an amateur gardener, I have a deep appreciation for the integration of beautiful plants into the built environment. Public gardens address a basic need that so many people have of staying connected to nature. They are also a haven for birds and other small wildlife that share real estate with humans. They filter the air, enrich it with oxygen, and lace it with their perfumes. They tantalize our eyes with various shades of green and a wide array of vibrant colors. Public gardens tempt us to pause, relax, and reflect. The familiar phrase of “stop and smell the roses” is a cliché for a reason. It’s based on a fundamental human need to slow down and appreciate very simple pleasures. Take the opportunity to do so the next time you pass a public garden.
Since starting this blog over a year ago, I have written several posts about waterfalls my family has visited in recent years. I am attracted to water. Some of my best memories from childhood through the present involve vacations at the beach, tubing down rivers, kayaking on ponds and lakes, and swimming in pools. There are very few sounds that are more calming to me than waves crashing against the shore. I love the music that water makes as it moves in nature — creeks, rivers, cascades, and falls. I like how water divides land, how it reflects the sky and sparkles like diamonds with bright sunlight. It is cliche to say that water is the source of life, and yet it is an indisputable fact that life on this planet would be impossible without water.
My appreciation for the gifts of water led me to begin contemplating about ten years ago how I could incorporate water into my garden. I had seen ponds at homes and in public places, but I had never thought about creating one for myself. Then I got divorced. When such an emotional life-changing event occurs, some people turn to abusing alcohol, taking drugs, or other reckless behavior. But, I have two sons who were both teenagers when my marriage ended. They needed me to be sober, responsible, and engaged in their lives as much as possible within the limits imposed by the breakup. Besides, addiction is not a problem for me, nor is it how I combat stress, anger, sadness, or any of the other strong feelings that accompany the dissolution of a marriage. I needed a distraction, something that could occupy my mind and muscles while getting me out of the house. So I started digging a hole in the backyard.
It took me several days just to dig the hole, and almost that long to get the sides level. I read books. I watched videos. I drew pictures and diagrams. I had a fairly steep embankment running down the side of my house (I ended up keeping our house) that extended into the fenced back yard and somewhat leveled out beside the posts of the back deck. I envisioned a cascading waterfall built into the bank, where I had planted an assortment of shrubs several years earlier. I consulted with a local landscape supply store about liners, flex hose, pumps, skimmers, and rocks. The rocks I purchased were generally no larger than a honey dew melon, and I didn’t have a lot of money left after buying the mechanical supplies. My property was bordered in the back by woods and a small creek. Fortunately, my younger son was quite enthusiastic about the project as it developed, and was more than willing to help me drag rocks from the creek bed and up the hill to the pond site. We moved a LOT of rocks, some of which were quite large. My back will never be the same. It took several weeks to finish, but the end product was really beautiful. I even bought a few fish to complete the package. Furthermore, the process of building the pond gave me the distraction I desperately needed and an opportunity to spend some quality time with my young teenager when he really needed my attention.
When my second wife and I got married, I moved in with her to a house located on a Georgia Power Company lake. Even before we got married and I moved away from my house, I was already missing my pond. Of course, there were several million gallons of water within a stone’s throw of our back door, and we had huge, clear windows looking out on the large cove where we lived. I could fish in our back yard, climb onto a jet ski right off our dock, and go swimming without leaving home. We were planning to get married on the patio looking out over the lake, and I was determined the sound of running water was going to be the music for our ceremony. I went to work a couple of months before the wedding. This time, I didn’t have a steep slope to work with, so I created a small “hill” for a waterfall using the dirt I removed for the pond. The setting didn’t look as natural as the first pond, but I was able to landscape and plant sufficiently around the perimeter to make this second pond attractive.
Now we have left the lake house behind, along with our former jobs, and have moved to live and work in the north Georgia mountains. I’m not sure my body could have taken the punishment of building a third pond. It is quite grueling, especially digging the hole and then hauling and positioning the rocks. But my wife and I both love water. We seek it when we go on hikes. We soak it up when we make our annual trips to the coast. We spend many hours during the warmer months on nearby lakes cruising around in our kayaks. We needed water at our new home, but there were no streams in sight of our property. So we splurged. We hired someone to build a pond and a waterfall for us at our new home. It took the better part of a summer, but our contractor is an artist. He took great care preparing the location behind our house, even though we were certain there wasn’t enough room for the size project we had in mind. He made it fit, and he made it magnificent. Once again, we are mesmerized by the sound of a cascading waterfall for at least seven months out of the year. True, this third pond doesn’t look quite as authentic or natural as the smaller ones I created, but it has most certainly exceeded all our expectations.