Sunday, March 23, 2014


I know the folks in my old hometown Chicago will think it laughable what passes for winter here.  Snow is not the problem, ice is. It rains then the temperatures drop and a thick coat of ice covers everything and everything comes to a grinding halt because of the dangers of walking and driving.  Schools and businesses are closed.  So far this winter we've had 3 or 4 snowdays, which is a lot for North Carolina.

In between the cold and miserable days we are teased with sunny warm temperatures in the 60's and even 70's.  I've managed to plant ferns, violas, quince, forsythia, spirea, bleeding heart, heather, emerald green yew, cotoneaster, hellebore, creeping phlox and lily of the valley.  I received my mail order of 70 assorted varieties of willow cuttings which I planted to form a fedge  ( hedge + fence ).

Despite the wintry March I am enjoying watching the delightful heads of yellow daffodils in the woods.  These are one flower the deer don't seem to touch.

From my window its also a delight to watch the many colorful cardinals, bluejays, bluebirds and woodpeckers share the food I put out for them.

Woody woodpecker can be seen clinging to his suet in the lower right hand side of the above photo.   He and his redneck band haven't been drumming on my cedar wood siding since I provided his favorite treat.

We've had a lot of moisture in the form of rain and snow this winter and the clay soil is frequently waterlogged.  I have a garden cultivator on order and will have a bulk delivery of compost and manure to start tilling into the ground as soon as Spring decides to come and stay. Of the many kinds and colors of clay I am fortunate to have a yellow gritty one that was formed from rock deposits.  It drains better than the gray clay of Chapel Hill, one of the worse soils anywhere.

Looking forward to my first full garden season in my new home.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


                   This post I did for the Garden Designers Roundtable in 2010 is reprinted here for your inspiration, especially those being inundated with the polar vortex this dreadful winter.  Winter has also been way too long and cold for North Carolina.

 May Flowers by Moi

One of the most beautiful and beloved gardens in the world was designed by Monet,  an artist with no landscaping experience . He declared "more than anything I must always have flowers, always, always. "  He planted his gardens as subjects for his paintings.  " "The richness I achieve,"  he said, " comes from nature, the source of my inspiration."

 I also combine my passions for gardens and art and like Monet, nature is a great source of my inspiration as well.    The verdant rolling hills of my youth are forever in my heart and mind and the fragrance of cedar and pine in my nostrils.   I cannot pass a garden , no matter how humble or ostentatious, without appreciating the good elements of design it may have, but more than that, the beauty it brings to my eyes and soul.

Winter does not bring landscaping or gardening to an end, rather it is the season we spend planning for the coming Spring.   I find inspiration in the glossy garden magazines, the many treasured volumes I have on gardening, attending garden shows and visiting numerous gardeners who blog on the subject.  I know many who welcome Fall and Winter as a break from the gardening season but if I had my druthers I would choose a place to garden year round for I never tire of it .

Spring renews my winter-weary soul.  Like the earth I am awakening to a new season, a new beginning.  Every emerging plant is a source of inspiration and I am eager to start creating a beautiful garden for someone to  enjoy and attending to mine as well.

Having grown up without the inspiration and nurturing a mother gives a daughter, I have found a source of it in friends , family and others I come into contact with.  From the person who bought my first painting to the client who trusted me enough to say " do your thing " with my garden and loved the results,  all have inspired me to greater heights.

One of my greatest inspirations comes from visiting both public and private gardens, especially those that have left a living legacy of their work behind.

Monet's Masterpiece -Giverny

Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst

Thomas Jefferson's vegetable garden at Monticello

To create a garden or a work of art doesn't require a degree in horticulture , landscape design, or painting.  As famous fellow Alabamian Helen Keller said " Don't look to college for ideas. " That is not to say that education isn't important, it is, but inspiration is the well-spring from which creativity flows.

The gardens of novices Monet, Vita Sackville-West,  and Thomas Jefferson  provide a continuous source of delight and inspiration to all who are fortunate to see them.  As a primitive painter and garden designer I think I'm in good company.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

January Post Delayed Due to Snow

Snow is as rare as hen's teeth here in North Carolina but getting a 

dusting of 2 inches causes immediate chaos.   Schools and businesses close and the supermarket is busy with shoppers stocking up.  I know that people up North think we're all crazy and laugh about our frantic antics , but hey, they don't live here or they'd understand.  Its the fear of black ice more than the snow. After living in Chicago for 4 decades I know something about snow but for the life of me could never understand the locals need to reserve their parking spaces with chairs, buckets, etc.  Instead of helping their neighbors dig out the entire block so everyone could find a spot they go to great lenghts to stake their claim, even flattening tires or breaking car windows.  

January has been unusually cold here and saw the lowest temperatures and most snow in 14 years.    But the nice thing about it is no matter how bad the weather it will change in a short time.  So from 7 degrees one day it went to 65, bringing everyone out to enjoy the sunshine.  

Soon we will be able to enjoy the beautiful dogwoods and azaleas such as the ones above at Duke Gardens.  I have two dogwoods in my garden that I can't wait to see bloom.  No azaleas yet as deer dine on them but looking for Rhododendrons they may leave alone.

Farewell, January, or good riddance is more like it.   You made us more appreciative of the coming Spring.

Saturday, December 28, 2013


November was filled with renovations -2 bathrooms were totally gutted and redone.  New ductwork under the crawlspace, water heater replaced  and major re-grading of backyard to improve drainage .  The dismantling of  a huge mound of dirt and boulders created the future site of a rock garden.

December came with some very cold and then warm days which lured me out to the garden center where I managed to blow all my money on holly, dogwood and crape myrtle.   I managed to plant them on a warm day and now I have something to look at .  I have to totally change my way of thinking about planting.  Here a shallow bowl-shaped hole is recommended as is planting high .

Near the driveway entrance I started my wildlife garden with a bird feeder, bird house and bath .  I love to watch the bluebirds, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Mourning Doves, Woodpeckers and Wrens .

This month's renovation project was a tear off of the old porch and a new one built of cedar. We also had a cedar shed installed for extra storage and a workshop since we don't have a garage.

I have continued spreading the huge mound of mulch from over 30 trees taken down .  The rain doesn't soak into the ground here and forms puddles and run off everywhere, so the mulch will help slow it down and eventually improve the soil's drainage.  I need to bring in loads of top soil and compost and plant the bare spaces so that rain water will be absorbed better.   I'm also planning to buy a garden tiller/cultivator since the soil is difficult to dig and I need to work in some compost and manure to improve drainage and absorption.

Christmas has arrived and with it Lea's grandparents from Ireland.  She is 5 now and loves to entertain them with made up stories and Christmas songs.    This Christmas the weather hasn't been as warm as Christmases past when they arrived for their visit.   I do believe they brought the rain from Ireland with them.

Soon December will come to an end and the New Year will begin.  I hope that 2014 will bring much joy to our Sweet Home and Garden Carolina.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


This November 1st my husband Simon and I celebrated our golden anniversary and moved into our forever home here in Chapel Hill.  It is a small little cedar house of about 1400 square feet and set on a wooded lot.  There's at least 30 ' or more on each side between neighbors, so unlike Chicago where you could just holler out the window if you wanted to talk to them.  The house is set back almost 50 feet or so from the busy roadway and the many trees buffer the sounds of passing cars.

The house was built in 1980 and not much has been done to it since so our  " to do " list is very long.   One thing I do like is its tall ceilings and exposed beamed ceiling downstairs.    There's also a sunroom with floor to ceiling windows to look out into the backyard.

The first thing we did was demo the upstairs outdated bath and  nstall a new one.  I kept it simple -white walls, dark wood and nickel hardware. I dislike curtains so I chose to cover the bathroom window with decorative film that has  a leaf design as you can see in the last row below. It allows in light but provides privacy and I like its clean , crisp look.

There was no sign that a gardener had ever lived here as it was hard to see any kind of plant other than those of  Mother Nature.   Many dead longleaf  pines were throughout the 1/2 acre so we had them removed, along with some other weed trees, which added up to around 30 trees or more.

The  first thing I did outside was to have an 'Appalachian Spring ' dogwood planted that my girls bought me for the new house and our anniversary.

That's Mike from Trees to Go and the dogwood is behind my head.    He planted the tree that was sent as a gift, first time I've allowed anyone to plant anything in my garden but me .

There are many boulders and  stones on the property which I plan to utilize to build a retaining wall along the back property line to prevent water runoff from my neighbor up the hill.

I used to long for a larger garden when I lived in Chicago and now that I have one I find it can be overwhelming as to where to begin .  I just got out the shovel the other day and started removing grass from near the curb to plant some Spring bulbs and I stacked some of the stones around to form a little garden goddess  and rock wall.

I want to make my new garden a woodland sanctuary and fill it with plants that are either native or look like they're at home here. I have a very long list but I plan to tackle each project one at a time.

We are fortunate to live a few blocks away from our daughter and granddaughter.    Next year she will be going to first grade at the school across the street from us .

This is a total lifestyle change for us but I feel right at home in this community -a mixture of local Southerners and people from all over America.  It makes for a nice diversity .

I just met my neighbors up the hill and they tell me that there's a great garden club for the community and of course I was delighted to hear that.   I'm looking forward to setting down roots in this land that my first Scots-Irish ancestors chose when they came to America in the 1700's .

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


It's always delightful to visit other people's gardens but on a recent Saturday I set out to see THE garden in these here parts -Helen Yoest's Raleigh garden that she calls ' Helen's Haven. '    Her book in my hands I asked her to autograph it and she did.  Then she laughed and told me she couldn't believe she put two 'F's ' in confidence.  I said don't you dare touch it because like the U.S. mint those sorta things can someday be worth money.  So the extra F in the post title above was deliberate.

I went along with garden coach Meghan DeCooke May from nearby Pinehurst .  As we entered the garden we couldn't help but "ooh  and ahhh " at the lovely vistas before us.  As the post title says - it wasn't perfect - she didn't fluff the mulch or fuss too much,  there were perennials needing to be deadheaded, etc. but as gardeners we know that this is a natural part of the garden and Helen's Haven is a wildlife sanctuary.

                                                Yours truly, Helen Yoest and Meghan DeMay Cooke

In the midst of the busy city we stepped into a lush paradise filled with a vast assortment of perennials, trees and shrubs, both native and exotic .   Vistas were beautifully framed by vines and trees that beckoned you to enter.

               On the right side of the house the entrance to the garden has a wonderful crape myrtle ,  surrounded by holly and boxwood.  Love the colorful orbs.

                                                             Love this vine covered pathway .

Art was placed so naturally in Helen's garden it was if the artist had created it for that very spot.

And as we always like to steal  borrow ideas from other gardens lookee here :

      You may not be able to see them but there's chickens in there .

And of course no visit to Helen's Haven would be complete without getting to sit in the ' Loveshack . "  This is the awesome view from it and below is moi enjoying this wonderful  retreat .

I want to thank Helen for the cordial invitation to experience her delightful garden .   She promised me some passalong plants when I start my own garden in Chapel Hill and I hope to take her up on that offer soon.

Thursday, September 5, 2013



Upper row : Pyrus 'pyrifolia'
Second row left to right : Magnolia liliflora 'betty',
Clematis maximowicziana 'sweet autumn' ( on fence ) Hydrangea
Paniculata 'limelight' ( behind statue;) Acer japonicum 'autumn moon '
last row : Rhododendron 'poukhanense '

( click to enlarge )

At the request of Steve Bender of Time, Inc.'s Southern Living I am participating in the April 20 Blogathon. All participants are to write about the six plants they can't live without. As avid gardeners we all realize that this is not an easy task.Only six ? This is a heart- wrenching decision because it means I'm leaving out a lot of my beloved evergreen favorites such as the Chamaecyparis family.

Following are my selections :

Rhododendron Poukhanense. I love the graceful arching branches and the soft lavender blooms of this cultivar from the Poukhan Mountains of Korea where it grows without any assistance.Korean cultivars are hardy for the Chicago area as their climate is very much like ours. For all of those who've said they have no success with azaleas this is one that you will.

Magnolia Liliflora 'betty. ' It's a nice small magnolia hardy to Chicago . Of course it can't compare to the Southern Magnolia; no tree can in my opinion. Betty is one of the "little girls" hybrids that the hybridizer named after his granddaughters.

Acer Japonicum 'autumn moon .' The autumn moon japanese maple because its breathtaking and pretty hardy. In autumn its chartruese leaves turn a bright pink.

Prunus ' pyrifolia ' or Asian pear tree. It's a dwarf, reaching only 12 feet and its also a graft of two varieties of pears -one side bears smaller fruit early and the other size large fruit late in the season. Unlike the regular pear the Asian pear keeps well and is crisp and sweet . It's used in Asian cuisine to add some tartness and it's good sliced in salads.

Hydrangea Paniculata 'limelight. ' Not only is it gorgeous it blooms early and stays in bloom for the entire season. The dried flower heads make wonderful floral arrangements.

Clematis 'maximowicziana 'sweet autumn ' , a perennial vine that produces thousands of tiny star-like fragrant blossoms for a wonderful show from early August for several months. Its fragrance fills the late summer air. I'm sure there will be a lot of protests about this choice being invasive and I sympathize with those that have had that experience but my particular cultivar hasn't self sown at all.

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