Showing posts with label Arbors/Fences/Gates. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arbors/Fences/Gates. Show all posts

Saturday, November 20, 2010

10 Best Holiday Gifts for Gardeners

How do you know what your gardener wants most? Listen for clues by paying close attention to the gardener's running commentary throughout the year. Among the mumbling and grumbling, you'll hear things such as, "If I just had one more (fill in the blank), it would look perfect," or "One of these days, I'm going to have to get a (fill in the blank)" or the far more subtle, "I really liked how that (fill in the blank) looked in the neighbor's garden.

Rather than giving the same old garden gloves or trowel set, this year offer something more imaginative. Here are my top 10 recommendations for the best holiday gifts for gardeners.

1. Ratchet tools. Among the new tools I've pounced upon are ratcheted loppers with telescoping handles that extend at the push of a button, and ratchet pruners. Both forestall that wrist and thumb pain that becomes so common as we age. Gardeners who suffer from arthritis will find they can last longer, with less pain, by selecting tools that are specifically designed to substitute leverage for strength.

2. Nursery gift certificates. It’s hard to go wrong by purchasing gift certificates for a gardener's favorite local plant nursery. Such gifts are really more than the plants themselves, since the gardener gets to spend a pleasant spring morning outdoors, choosing exactly what tickles his or her fancy.

3. Cash toward a large purchase. Cash toward longed-for garden ornaments, structures, antiques, gates, fences, etc., mean a lot to gardeners, since such items are usually chosen as focal points after much soul-searching, and may represent more to the gardener than meets the eye. They are also costly, so the recipient will be grateful for the contribution you make. Gifts like this will be seen every day and the giver(s) remembered for their thoughtfulness.

4. Services and labor. How about paying for a month of Cultivating The Inner Gardener coaching or a 10-week online Cultivating The Inner Gardener class . A prepaid consultation with a landscape designer? A weekend's worth of labor? A backhoe rental? Or installing a deer exclosure  

5. Books. Garden books make welcome presents, though well-meaning friends and relatives of long-term gardeners are taking a chance by making a selection themselves. A better choice might be a gift certificate to a bookstore, or to Amazon, Search for garden books where an armload of used books can be purchased for a pittance. Since the information in gardening books rarely goes out of date (except, perhaps, for pesticides, preservatives, and pests), think about buying a collection of early books by garden writers, landscape designers, or photographers whose works your gardener admires.

6. Videos. Another option is art-quality picture books or videos of famous gardens from around the world. Even dyed-in-the-wool hands-on dirt gardeners enjoy being transported on an imaginary tour in the dead of winter. I particularly enjoy movies that feature beautiful gardens, such as Howard's End, or My House in Umbria, even though the story may not be about the garden itself.

7. Tours. Garden tours abound locally in warm weather months, hosted by garden clubs, art and historical societies, and museums. Internationally, commercial tour operators who specialize in garden tours to far-off places, such as London, Paris, Thailand, China, and South America offer trips year-round. Tickets to tours, near or far, will be warmly received. One resource is .

8. Naturecams. If your idea of adventure lies more in your own backyard, get a birdcam or plantcam. After the photo (or video) files are loaded into the computer, there will be hours of enjoyment for the whole family.


9. Bird watching accessories. One year, we decided the theme for presents would be birds. There were six birdhouses, four bird feeders, birdseed, scoops for getting the birdseed into the feeders, a suet feeder, suet and a bat house (I know, I know, not a bird) in front of the fireplace. We had lots of fun feeding the birds in winter and choosing the best spots for the birdhouses the following spring. Binoculars are another good choice.

10. Memberships. Simple gifts, such as membership in an arboretum, botanical garden, or conservancy are very affordable and offer a win-win. The organization gets much-needed funding and the gardener gets discounts on programs, trips, and gift-shop purchases. Members may also gain entrée to tour preview parties and plant sales. Many public gardens honor one-anothers' memberships by offering entry-fee discounts.

Remember that gardening is primarily about dreaming something from the mind’s eye into existence. Any gift that helps a gardener birth that dream into the real world is the perfect gift.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Stirring Up the Gardener’s Imagination

The other day I was asked what my favorite gardening websites are and why. The first one that popped into my mind was Gardening Gone Wild because of its pieces on photography and design, the ability to interact and cross-blog, and the hosts’ ability to generally stir up the imagination of gardeners everywhere.

So this post is an entry in GGW’s Picture This Contest for November, aptly named End of the Line. My interpretation is a literal one (top photo) – a winter scene of our cedar arbor at the end of the line formed by a decorative fence that marks the boundary (or end of the line) between where we actively garden and the next, semi-wild zone.

But there’s more. There are the horizontal lines of the arbor itself. And the upright lines of the tree trunks and the tips of the fence pickets. The sentry-like vertical forms of the snow-covered rhododendrons. And finally, the curving line of the wild grapevine.

Once I started looking for an appropriate image, I saw lines everywhere in the garden. The second photo, taken the same day, shows the angular lines of the Adirondack chairs, swing, and deck chair; the horizontal lines of my potting table, and more rhododendron sentries and tree trunks.

Everywhere I looked in the garden, I started to see lines, lines, and more lines – the puffball of white at the end of the curved line of a spent anemone; the electric and phone lines cutting through the woods from the road to my house; the flowing lines of my Kwan-Yin statue’s robe; the spiky lines of lavender plants, etc. These are all things I look at every day, but had not seen – at least not with the eye of a photographer.

A good blog should stir up gardeners’ imagination. I hope this one does that for you.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rustic Benches

Here’s a great example of rustic log benches in Red Butte Gardens in Utah. Half-sawn logs are surprisingly comfortable but, of course, you need to get the logs. In less urbanized areas, you can generally find a commercial sawmill, or a woodworker with a portable sawmill, to cut the logs for you.

The beefy uprights of these benches are sunk into the ground, but in a more humid climate, you’d want to take additional precautions to prevent premature rotting. Some feel that placing gravel in the post-hole promotes better drainage than filling the hole with concrete, but both work. I prefer the gravel because it’s less labor-intensive and doesn’t leave concrete “stumps” in the ground, should the bench be removed. You may also want to treat the post-end that will go into the ground with a non-toxic preservative.

The easiest way to fasten the seat and back to the uprights is probably with log bolts. Dan has used plastic-covered cable threaded through copper pipe to suspend our half-sawn log arbor seat. The seats of the Utah benches are cantilevered, but one could also construct a frame that included front legs. The advantage of the cantilever is fewer holes to dig and less potential rotting, however this design requires more careful engineering.


These types of benches are perfect for woodland and farmhouse-style gardens, where structures made of indigenous materials blend easily into the scenery.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Custom Gates

The two gates shown here were hand- crafted: One, a traditional bronze, oriental-style marsh scene with a crane; the other, a contemporary abstract rendered in a variety of metals. Of course, custom gates can be made of wood or other materials, as well. Most custom gates are works of art in their own right, but they are functional art and must be able to withstand the rigors not only of the weather, but also of constantly opening and closing.

Perhaps the pre-eminent metal artist of the 20th century was Philadelphia’s Samuel Yellin, whose work graces Bok Tower, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and other universities, St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York, and many government, public, and private buildings. You can see some of his gates here . Today the forge operates under the direction of his granddaughter, Clare.

For those with more modest purses, make a sketch of your idea and look for an iron-welding or other metalworks firm. Unless a metal artist is very well-known, his day job may be as a fabricator of spiral staircases, fire escapes, or other utilitarian objects.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Antique Gates

This antique gate stands at the end of a wisteria-covered pergola and is attached to concrete pillars although, since the pergola itself is constructed of cedar logs, the gates could have been hung from cedar posts, as well. It is a formal exclamation point at the end of a traditional garden structure. It serves the practical purpose of separating this part of the garden from the county road, although it is unlikely that anyone would ever enter the garden this way.

But it also serves a specific design purpose. Long, shaded pergolas such as this one provide a sense of enclosure that is similar to a tunnel. The gate is the “light” at the end of it. It serves as a focal point, or resting place, for the eye and implies that the narrow vista is about to open up. The gate could just as easily serve as the entry to an area of open lawn, or a seating area enclosed by hedges.

If your heart’s desire is an antique gate, be prepared to pay a hefty price. Most architectural salvage firms host websites where you can view the gates (and prices) before you drive all the way out to their location. Among them are Olde Good Things with locations on both the East and West Coasts and a warehouse in Scranton, PA; Artefact Architectural Antiques in Furlong, PA; and Hobensack and Keller in New Hope, PA. The latter two are some of my favorite haunts and carry a substantial inventory of metal gates and fences.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rustic Gate

Here’s a simple rustic gate that acts more as a visual boundary than an actual barrier. Its purpose is to stop the eye and separate the pleasure garden from the driveway and the working part of the farm beyond. In this case, it provides access for the lawn tractor, wagons, and other impedimentia of garden maintenance, but works equally well for any transition area in a naturalistic setting.

The thick hedge surrounding the gate, the overhanging wisteria vine, and the pointy tops that rise above the frame provide a deterrent for deer, but fawns could certainly ease their way through the diamond-shaped openings. A simple fix would be to tack some deer fencing onto the logs.

In a farm-like setting such as this, chicken wire or livestock fencing would also look appropriate, the latter adding some additional reinforcement to the log structure.

Stout support posts (hidden by the hedges) should be sunk well into the ground and backfilled with gravel to encourage good drainage. Another school of thought is to sink them in concrete. The logs that make up the frame should be half-lapped for strength and rigidity and hung on gate hinges attached to the posts.

Ready-made latches, plain or fancy, can be purchased at hardware or specialty stores, but most such fences I’ve seen use the old-fashioned, simple loop of rope or wire to keep them closed.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gardening as Process: Planning and Mapping -1

The next step in creating a garden is to map out what goes where. This can be as simple or complex as you like. You can purchase a computer-based design program, buy a plastic landscape template, or just make a bubble diagram. I prefer to start with a bubble diagram on 11” x 17” quadrille paper, which allows you to work on the larger scale needed to envision an entire yard. Use pencil and get a big eraser.

Next, you need to step outside. Look around. What are your lines of sight? Where is your eye naturally drawn? For better or for worse, these are your existing focal points. It’s important to deal with reality here, because you’re gathering vital information that will make or break your garden design. Don’t shrink from drawing an arrow from your back door to your neighbor’s plastic play set, if that is the dominant element in your garden view. Until you address such 800-pound gorillas, the garden will never look right.

Compare where your eye is drawn now to where you would like it to be drawn. If there is an eyesore there that can’t be removed, you’ll need a screening mechanism --- a wall, a fence, a trellis, maybe even a door. Be careful in your choice, because the screen is likely to draw attention to itself, unless you use a lot of camouflage or distraction.

If the garden simply lacks structure, direct the eye by creating a focal point such as a bench, a trellis, an urn, a sundial, a birdbath, a fountain, a statue or other garden ornament, along a visual axis. The axis can be hardscape, such as a brick path, or planted, such as an alee of hedges or trees.

In small gardens, a single major focal point along a major axis is sufficient. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can add a minor cross-axis with secondary focal points at each end. Larger gardens can handle more complex layouts, but too many focal points in any size garden will result in a hodge-podge.

Now, think about how you want to use your space. Will dogs or children need room to run? Do you host large parties or charity fundraisers? Will a swimming pool be worth the expense? Where’s the best spot for your birdfeeders? The veggie plot or fruit orchard? When you lounge outdoors, which direction do you want to face? If you like to dine outside, do you prefer to set up on the lawn or on a terrace? Where’s the work area for the family gardener (potting table, greenhouse, garden shed, compost pile, brush heap)? What about lawn sports? Draw each of these activity areas, in pencil, as a free-form circle or ellipse on the bubble diagram --- no talent required.

Once you’re satisfied that the concept works, fill in the bubbles with color-coded pencils or markers to distinguish one activity area from another. More next time.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mid-Season Gardening Resolutions Check-up #1

Did you make some New Year’s gardening resolutions in January, or fantasize about a series of projects to complete before summer’s end? I did (see Well, it’s mid-July and we’re halfway through the gardening season. Time to check our progress against our plans. With one caveat. In the garden, it seems our imagination is always larger, or more abundant, than our capacity, whether of time, money, or ability.

The Golden Dragon Clivia sits on a shaded porch for the summer, per advice from experienced Clivia growers on the garden writers listserv. Once the air conditioner comes out of the window, it will go back to its in-house space. So far, so good. It’s still alive.

Climbing roses for the arbor. I got only one that was on my list, Bantry Bay. This was tiny compared to the others I finally purchased, but it is on its own root (not grafted) and I have great hopes for it. I’m disappointed to say I got ripped off for $85 from a California nursery with a web site. I thought I was protected by PayPal, but live and learn.

By the time I realized the roses I ordered weren’t coming, the local nursery stock had been picked over. But not the climbers. I got some very robust plants of Northern Crown's Coral Dawn, Weeks Joseph’s Coat (which looks better in person than in catalog photos), and Weeks Golden Showers. As a bonus, Golden Showers has almost no thorns. We were inundated with gypsy moth caterpillars which severely weakened some of my mature roses, but they are still putting out new leaves.

If you’re wondering how so many climbers can fit on a rose arbor, see --- it’s not your usual rose arbor.

I decided against the Late Dutch Honeysuckle, but only because I had so many other plants for the arbor.

I chose Autumn Clematis for the fragrance and late bloom. More colorful selections can come at another time.

The Lavender garden (shown above) is coming along nicely. I had to replace only one plant of 23, a Provence which is iffy here at best. It also got caught by deer browse and a cold snap after new growth had already started. In another year, I think this garden will really take off.

This mid-season check-up has helped me see that I actually stayed much closer to my plan than I thought I had. There’s still time for a reality check and some mid-course corrections.

I’d love to hear how others are doing. More next time.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Arbors: Style and Placement

This is Dan’s first arbor, an earlier version of the one pictured in the previous post. While I’m not crazy about the use of twinkle lights in the garden, here they lent an ethereal air to the forest and served a practical purpose, as well: A night light for the doggy relief area during those late nocturnal and early morning runs.

Choosing an arbor that is in harmony with the architectural style of the house and the landscape style of the garden, and siting it appropriately, are crucial to having it integrate well into its surroundings. While budget is an issue for many gardeners, as is not having a live-in arbor-artist, there are still many choices available ready made, or with only “some assembly required.”

Smooth, unfussy surfaces and sleek styling go well with contemporary, modern, or mid-century homes; ornate curlicues and botanical themes with cottages, farmhouses, and Victorians. Unpeeled logs or rough-sawn boards are good choices for a rustic look. If you are fortunate enough to own a period-style house, spend some time leafing through books or magazines on historic homes and gardens, or seek out Garden Conservancy Open Days tours to gather ideas.

One of the biggest mistakes I see in other people’s gardens is an arbor that serves no function and looks as if it were simply dropped into in the yard. The problem is most pronounced in new developments, where the homeowner may have been left with the minimum “builder’s landscaping” and the only alternatives are to either plant what one can afford and wait for everything to grow, or to spend a fortune to purchase and install mature specimens.

You can’t go too far wrong if you remember that arbors are meant to be doorways, either actual or implied. If you think of them as solid doors, you’ll realize that you would never just stick a door in the middle of the lawn. Arbors need to be attached to something; the house, the fence, a garage, an outbuilding; or have a suggestion of attachment; such as to trees on either side of a pathway, or the plants that cover them.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Arbors as Garden Doors

Guest Blog by Dan Freed

People are always curious about Dan’s garden structures (left), so I’ve asked him to write about them. You can see more photos of the construction of the great Arts and Crafts rose arbor at (The inspirational twig arbor shown there is from the garden of Inta Krombolz.)
What is it about a door that takes you from one place to another? As you pass through, it promises the excitement of a new experience, a mystical quest of stepping into the unknown, making a new friend, or gaining a new perspective. Every garden deserves a proper door, creating a distinct transition from the crush of a relentless world. It’s a boundary, a magical opening that only I know exists. Here there is a freedom, a peace, a point of view, a unity with something quite extraordinary. It leads to a place where the sun shines, the rain falls, and there is an energy that I cannot begin to understand, but only feel. It is a protected place that few will ever find. I sometimes share the secret of my doors and point in their direction. If you are drawn to that place, you will be welcome.
Such is the passion behind the Arbors that I have built. In some strange way, these structures always seem to build themselves. I start with my love of working with the natural materials of aging cedar logs and fieldstones that are in ample supply on our wooded lot. I then take inspiration from the space itself. I will spend some quiet time there sitting alone on a chair, observing, listening and sketching.
Simple construction is always a driving objective. Working alone always brings a special challenge to the project, an opportunity to draw on the “engineering” gene that runs a bit rampant in my soul. Making the simple look complex always gives me a little extra thrill.
One of the fun aspects of building a garden structure is the ample opportunity to work with negative space, creating form with only a slight inference of its existence. Let the visitor fill the void. Accents of stained glass, copper sculpture, and the traditions of Arts & Crafts are also never far from my thoughts.
In the end this all seems to take me where I was going.....

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Easy Roses

When I was a kid Grandpa still tended Grandma’s rose garden behind the apartment house where we lived. My dim recollection is that they must have all been some kind of tea roses, because they smelled great. No longer able to do it herself, she would lean out the window and bark her orders. This was a typical city yard, about the size of a postage stamp, with a central walkway and flower beds on either side.
Grandma’s side had the roses; our side had what I then considered the ugly plants: Hydrangea, Lily-of-the-Valley, and my arch-enemy, Rose of Sharon. Today my own garden has all of these very same plants. I guess they are classics for a reason.
In the past, I have struggled and struggled to grow roses, all to no avail. But within the last few years, I was fortunate to discover shrub roses, which seem to need no assistance from me. One of my favorites, and most prolific, is a pinky coral that had no tag when I got it. The two brands that have done best in our garden are Knock-Out and Weeks. Knock-Outs generally have a very faint scent, but an abundance of flowers, plain or fancy, and come in many colors, from yellow, to double and single pinks, to rich single and double reds. Some have red stems and thorns, which I find attractive. Another is the newer single, Rainbow. When I first put this plant into the ground, it was immediately attacked by gray mold, to which I had understood it was highly resistant. But come spring, it recovered and started growing like gangbusters. I gave it a precautionary squirt of fungicide and never had another problem. In fact, three of my Knock-Outs are still blooming (our Fall has been exceptionally warm) even though the nighttime temperatures have dropped below 40°F.
My Weeks roses include the shrub rose Home Run, which I received in a field trial. It was initially hard for me to love because its dark red color seems a little off, but this plant quickly redeemed itself in my eyes. Nothing can hurt it; not dogs, not handymen, not clay soil, not drought, and not disease (it doesn’t seem to get any).
My other Weeks rose, also a field trial specimen, had no name, only a number. When I saw the hideous rusty orange buds emerging in the middle of my pink and red flower bed, my first impulse was to yank it out (I am not a fan of orange-colored anything, except pumpkins and Baltimore Orioles). It was a field trial, however, so I thought I should give it a chance. Worst case, I could give it to one of my Master Gardener friends. To my surprise and delight, within two days large ruffled flowers opened to reveal yellow and pink coloring reminiscent of a Peace rose, but stronger. Mine was a slow starter, so be patient. I decided to keep it myself – two days of orange is not such a high price to pay for these abundant flowers. This rose will probably be introduced in 2008 (I’m guessing this is their floribunda Mardi Gras).
Finally, my two favorite “regular” roses are the grandiflora Melody Parfumée (Jackson & Perkins) and Oklahoma (Weeks), a hybrid tea. Both grow like weeds for me, reblooming all season, although I’ve had to fight off black spot on Melody, occasionally.
Oklahoma has its own story. This is my fourth one; the other three each died after very successful growing seasons. With the fourth plant Dan, who grew up in Minnesota asked, “Aren’t you supposed to cover them up with three feet of leaves?” Evidently, yes.
Oklahoma has huge deep black-red flowers with a very strong scent; Melody is a purpley lavender that lightens as the blooms age, with a lighter scent.
One of Dan’s major hardscape projects this year was our new arbor (shown above), so I’ll be spending the winter dreaming about what climbing and rambling roses I can grow over it.