Archive for June 2011

Garden Benches for All Seasons

June 25, 2011

Sitting down in your garden is a feat to be worked at with unflagging
determination and
 single-mindedness —
for what gardener worth his salt sits down. I am deeply committed

 to sitting in the garden.
– Mirabel Osler

I’ve been working on a couple of garden designs recently that seem to call out for a space for a bench. It’s made me think of some of the gardens I have created, or visited, that include a space for sitting.

As Osler’s quotation shows, benches aren’t always for sitting. Sometimes a bench is really just a “focal point,” giving a garden room or area a place to draw the visitor’s eye. Other times, the garden owner, or someone visiting them, will actually use it. Take my own front yard bench, for example. My older son often liked to sit in this this bench under the crabapple tree in our front yard during high school, studying or reading.

garden bench, Malus floribunda

A small 4' bench nestles under the crabapple tree in my front yard in summer.

But I really included it in the design as a visual focal point – and I hardly ever use it. It’s most visible – and striking – in the winter, I think.

winter, garden bench

The bench in winter.

A bench can be painted to provide some zip in a garden”room,” like this small yellow two-seater in Gay Barclay’s garden in Potomac. This bench looks inviting and as though it’s used often.

Garden Conservancy, garden bench, Gay Barclay

A small seating area in a private garden welcomes visitors on an Open Days tour in Potomac, MD.

In a more formal garden, a bench against a wall with climbing plants provides structure. But take a look at the bench below, which although lovely, has no path leading to it other than grass in front of it. How often do you think garden visitors sit here? But without it, the effect would be completely different.

British Embassy garden, climbing rose, garden bench

A climbing rose above a teak bench adorns the wall of the British Ambassador's residence in Washington DC.

Doesn’t this small seating area with a teak bench look more inviting? It’s in the front yard of a garden in Cleveland Park, designed by Lynne Church. I could definitely cozy up with a book here.

garden bench, Lynne Church Landscape Design, shade gardens

A small seating area with teak bench under an old cherry tree, in a garden designed by Lynne Church.

All these benches are wooden, but you don’t have to limit yourself to that material alone. Here’s a stone bench from the same garden, under a large tree in the back yard. It seems to blend in more naturally with its surroundings than teak, at least to my eye.

Lynne Church Landscape Design, garden bench, stone bench

A curved stone bench lets the plantings behind it shine through.

Finally, here’s Corinna Posner’s garden, from the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour here last year. Note the stone bench area built into the retaining wall – as well as bistro seating in the foreground.

Garden benches, stone benches, landscape design

Two seating areas, separated by a gravel area, in Corinna Posner's garden. The "built" bench is just barely visible across the gravel space, in the retaining wall under the coppiced Catalpa tree.


The possibilities are endless, and you don’t need a large space. So if you’re planning changes to your garden, think about the value a bench – or other seating area – can add, for the eye, the visitor, and the gardener.

Clematis Combinations

June 18, 2011

I swear, this is my last clematis post for a while. But I wanted to share with you a couple of appealing combinations I’ve come across (or in some instances, designed) of clematis with other plants. Some are predictable, others not so much.

The first time I saw a clematis planted with a tree, it was in England in 2003 when my tour group was visiting Heale House, an eight acre garden in Wiltshire. The garden has a lovely red Japanese bridge over a river near a weeping willow, a little nursery on site, and other beautiful sights. But what caught my eye as a newly hatched designer was this view (admittedly not a terrific photo) of a burgundy-colored clematis climbing up a Forest Pansy redbud tree. I thought it was an inspired combination.

Clematis combinations, red clematis, Forest Pansy redbud tree

An unknown red clematis growing through the branches of a Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' at Heal House gardens in England.

The trick would be getting the clematis established and attached to the trunk of the tree, giving it time to reach the light and do its thing. I’ve tried it once in a client’s garden but some unknown critters kept nicking the stems and we finally had to admit defeat.

The second combination is more traditional – clematis with roses. I had a client with a custom-built lattice on the side of her garage, and we planted climbing rose ‘Zepherine Drouhin’ and Clematis ‘Perle D’Azur,’ which proved a very successful match.

Rosa Zepherine Drouhin, Clematis Perle D'Azur

Zepherine Drouhin climbing rose and Clematis Perle D'Azur blooming at the same time on a lattice support

(A similar combination, which I saw at Old Whyly in England, would be climbing Rose ‘New Dawn’ with Clematis ‘Prince Charles.’)

Last but not least, a couple of years ago a client asked for some climbing plants to soften the side of his brick pool house, visible at the end of the driveway. I opted for a climbing honeysuckle, pyracantha, and Clematis ‘Niobe.’ About five years later, all three are doing well, and the pyracantha/clematis combination looks stunning in May.

Clematis Niobe, pyracantha, plant combinations

Left to right: Lonicera (honeysuckle, unknown cultivar), pyracantha, and Clematis 'Niobe' on a brick wall.

A ‘Scintillating’ Rhododendron

June 11, 2011

This week we step away from clematis – briefly – for those of you who are wondering if I grow anything else in my garden. The answer, of course, is yes – but some plants more successfully than others. One of my successes is Rhododendron ‘Scintillation.’ A hybrid developed by Charles Dexter, it has wonderful deep green, large leaves and beautiful ball-shaped flowers that open as deep pink streaked with white and turn a slightly lighter pink. Comme ca:

Rhododendron Scintillation, Dexter hybrid rhododendrons

‘Scintillation’ trusses in various stages of bloom.

Here in the DC area, mine usually bloom mid-May. I planted two against my deck, one each in 1998 and 1999. Don’t they look kind of sad in this first photo, photographed from a garden journal I kept back then (because my scanner seems to be on the blink):

Rhododendron Scintillation

My two ‘Scintillations’, way back when.

They are planted next to my deck, where they get morning sun only. Seven years later, they had matured quite a bit:

Rhododendron Scintillation

After seven years in the garden, the two Scintillations had grown nicely.

This year, they were over the top of the deck.

Rhododendron 'Scintillation'

Blooming in 2011

The only complaint – and it’s minor – is that in alternate years, for some reason I haven’t been able to fathom, they bloom relatively sparsely. The trade-off is fewer blooms to deadhead (sticky fingers are always the byproduct of this pastime).

I have to confess that this plant hasn’t always performed well in client gardens (true of most of the rhododendrons I’ve tried) – it often succumbs to phythopthora, especially in gardens with irrigation; and our temperatures here are not really conducive to rhodos (see my esteemed colleague Jane Berger’s recent post called “You Can’t Always Have What You Want” on her blog “Garden Design Online.”) But if you live in a climate where rhododendrons do well, give this ‘scintillating’ cultivar a try – you won’t be sorry.

Clematis for Sun

June 4, 2011

I wouldn’t dream of presenting myself as a clematis expert. I know enough about their culture to know that some of them are “wilt magnets,” as a Completely Clematis employee once put it, and to have discovered that my neighborhood deer seem to love my ‘General Sigorski’ cultivar which annually threads its way up my shaky cedar arbor unless the lawnmowing crew damages its stems with their weedeater. It’s just happened again this year, unfortunately. But here’s a more vigorous and better protected specimen of this beautiful clematis blooming at Brookside Gardens.

Clematis 'General Sigorski', Brookside Gardens, clematis

'General Sigorski' in bloom at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland

Another favorite blue clematis of mine is ‘D.H. Young.’

Clematis D.H. Young, blue clematis, allium

'D.H. Young' clematis blooming with Allium 'Purple Sensation' in a client's garden.

Moving onto the pinks, I think the first clematis that ever inspired me as a photographer was one I saw at Old Whyly on my English gardens tour so many years ago. I think it was ‘Hagley Hybrid.’

Clematis 'Hagley Hybrid,' Old Whyly, pink clematis

A gorgeous pink clematis seen in bloom at the Old Whyly bed and breakfast in England. I think it's 'Hagley Hybrid.'

The only pink clematis I grow in my own garden is a small variety that would work well in a container, called ‘Piiluu.’

Clematis 'Piiluu', pink clematis, container-sized clematis

'Piiluu' in bloom.

Note how it resembles Clematis ‘Nelly Moser,’ a larger cultivar shown here in a client’s garden in Bethesda.

Clematis 'Nelly Moser,' Allium

Clematis 'Nelly Moser' in a cutting garden with Allium 'Purple Sensation'

Yes, all of these are pink or blue. Next week I will finish off with some darker colors (primarily reds) and photographs of clematis with companion plants with which they seem to work well. In the meantime, hope these inspire you to think about adding some to your own garden!

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