Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Green Lantern

"Falling to the ground
I watch a leaf settle down
In a bed of brown"

Fall is here and I have started to get the garden ready for the transformation. I was hoping to get the signs that my daughter brought back from Taiwan mounted (they contain the name of the garden in Chinese characters), but will probably have to wait until spring - that is when I will hold an official naming ceremony. Until then, you will have to wait for the name. 

However, I was able to get the cover for the electric meter completed. It has taken many weeks of planning, cutting, painting, and assembly. I wanted to cover what was an ugly eyesore in the patio/garden area. The meter was a typical electric meter - gray box with cables and a pipe running into the ground (its an underground cable out to the street). 

I hadn't touched it for years, but always wanted to do something about it. 

This summer I began looking at Japanese lantern designs and decided to build a box that was inspired by some of these traditional styles. Here are some examples I found on the web:

I then devised a plan that would work up against the house - a sort of one sided lantern.

My biggest concern was creating a foundation so the structure would not be directly on the ground. I used some rocks from my unused rock pile. I then had to think about how to keep insects and other living things from making a home out of the space within. I used some outdoor waterproof foam to seal up the base and then a clear caulk for the edges up against the house. The house was not plumb, and I didn't bother to put too much effort into making the structure plumb either. Maybe next time. Nevertheless, the finished product came out pretty nice:

We shall see how it holds up this winter. I am also hoping that the local power company appreciates how much nicer it looks. It would be a shame to have to take it down. With this task complete, I can now plan for the redesign of the back step, a job that I will undertake next summer.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tenshin'en (Garden of the Heart of Heaven)

I visited Boston over the weekend and had a chance to go to the Museum of Fine Arts where there is a Japanese garden along the northern edge of the MFA's West Wing. I had visited this garden back in the early 1990s shortly after it was built, so it was a chance to revisit and compare change over time. It consists of a dry element garden, but also contains over 1,000 shrubs, half of which are azaleas.

The garden was built between 1987-1988 and is now showing its age. Honestly, I was surprised at the state of disrepair of the garden. The wooden gate showed serious signs of rotting and the plantings looked as if they had not been maintained.

A garden of this size and quality needs constant attention, none of which was evident. Nevertheless, the major design elements were a nice site to behold. I was interested in several elements as potential additions to my own garden:

stone walkway

viewing platform
gate doors
side gate
wooden sign
stone sign

Hopefully an institution as well known as Boston's MFA will take the necessary steps to tend to their garden. Doing so will ensure that future visitors will have the opportunity to see the garden as originally intended.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Season's end...

"A garden is never so good as it will be next year"

I made what I believe will be the final modifications to the garden for this summer. I started by adding some additional Zinnia plants to some of the open spaces that I know will fill in next year as shrubs and plants continue to grow and spread.


I also decided to move the Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans, 'Burgundy Glow') from the northern edge across from Buddha. Instead, I planted it in the space just in front of Buddha. I removed some of the Mexican Black Stone and prepped the soil for the transplant. 


The Bugleweed srpead more aggressively than I had anticipated, threatening a nearby Hosta. I know that by moving it near the statue I will have the same problem, but I am going to try and manage it with periodic maintenance and trimming I like the look of the leaves and I think the purple/blue flowers that emerge next spring will lok nice in this low space in front of the Buddha. If it remains too aggressive, I can always yank it out.

In the former location of the Bugleweed I planted three new perenials.

Tickseed Coreopsis Coloropsis 'Limbo' 

These plants like sun to part shade, so I placed them on the more sunny side of the garden. They should grow to about 12-18" with all three filling in this area. Not sure if they will make it, but will find out next spring. In the meantime, they look nice and I like the addition of white flowers to the garden.

I also decided to fill one last void near the Buddha with my one remaining Heucherella 'Sweet Tea'. 

I wasn't sure if this plant would make it in this area, but its getting late in the summer and it can't stay in a bucket forever. I couldn't think of any other location to place this plant in the yard, so I decided to give it a try here. Next spring will tell me if it was a good choice.

I'm hoping that is it for this year, with the exception of Mums I purchase for fall. I still have some non-plant related tasks to complete for this summer, but will add them to the blog as I complete them.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Blooming Gate

"The morning glories
bloom, securing the gate
in the old fence."
     Matsuo Basso

As part of my endeavor to improve the walkway between the garage and house, I've been adding some new plantings and eliminating the Hosta that have long dominated the space. Today I moved two Hosta to other locations. One along the Dragon's Spine near the bench:

The other was moved  to just left of the back stairs (these stairs are another project needing attention - when its within my budget). I also added some of the Daylily ( (Hemerocallis “Black Eyed Stella’) that I bucketed the other day to this spot:

This area may prove temporary until I decide what to do with the overall back steps area (replace or resurface).

Once the Hosta were removed from the walkway, I planted two shrubs on each side of the inner area of the gate.

Purple Gem Rhododendron (Rhododendron x 'Purple Gem')


These zone 4 evergreen shrubs will bloom in May with purple flowers. They are slow growing and will only reach 2 ' tall and 4' wide. They are also easily trimmed and shaped. I thought they would look good in these spots and will get sufficient light from mid day. 

These spots were tough to plan, especially with the supports creating such a compact space.

I still need to make changes to the remaining Hosta. the one by the basement window will be removed to make a space for the hose reel to live. It can be unsightly, but needs to be close to the water spigot. 

Im still not sure what will replace the remaining three Hosta. I'm thinking more Spirea - I want to hide the foundations as much as possible and be able to add some round edged shapes to the area - shrubs or evergreens preferably.

Ruby Ribbons

"A thicket of summer grass
Is all that remains
Of the dreams of ancient warriors.
Matsuo Basho

In an attempt to start reworking the walkway between the house and garage, I planted a new grass plant next to the garage door entrance. I attempted an earlier grass plant in this location that I had transplanted from the back yard last year - I made the mistake of splitting the plant and as a result, one half died and the other never fully recovered. I moved it temporarily to the opposite side of the garage along my "dumping ground" (an area where extra plants and rocks sit waiting to be used elsewhere). 

I'm not sure what I will do with it. Perhaps I will use it as part of my future plans to rework the "dumping ground" into part of a larger garden.

Panicum Virgatum 'Ruby Ribbons'


This zone 4 to 9 ornamental Switch Grass will grow to 3 - 4 feet and likes sun and partial shade. It should get plenty of sun in this spot. I really like the red color - it goes well with all the red brick on the house. In addition, it does a great job of hiding all the electrical work on the outside of the garage.

This grass will also help me in my rethinking of this walkway area. To be honest, I'm sick of Hosta and want to add more shrub-like plants in this area.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Lanterns and Landscape

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I decided to add a Tachidōrō (or Kasuga-dōrō), or pedestal lantern, to the garden this week. 

My lantern is made of six pieces carved in granite. It is more rustic than the traditional - fancy lantern style. With the exception of the top piece, it was very heavy and difficult to move into place. 

I placed the lantern near the back corner of the garage, where the elevation takes a sudden dip. I was afraid to place it elsewhere because of the variety of hardscape items already present. I didn't want to over crowd the garden with too many lanterns, and this would be the third. Nevertheless, I really liked this lantern.

In order to centrally place the lantern, I had to remove the Clumping Bamboo (Fargesia rufa) plant that was present. I was nervous about doing so, since this plant had only recently recovered from a winter burn that almost killed it off. I placed the bamboo behind the Buddha statue, a location that I have repeatedly had no luck filling with a permanent plant fixture.

I will try once more and hope that the bamboo takes well to the location. This plant only likes limited direct sunlight, so the shady location of the garden corner may work out - provided I can keep the critters away from it.

In the new lantern area, I left most of the remaining plants that had been there. In place I left the Hosta Blue Cadet. I did however move the Japanese Painted Fern to behind the lantern, and shifted the White-Variegrated Japanese Forest Grass away from the edge, closer to the center. I also added a new Arthyrium Fern ('Cruciato-christatum' Dre's Dagger) to the right of the lantern and placed a Heucherella 'Sweet Tea' plant along the gate edge - this plant had been sitting in a bucket all summer waiting for a home. we will see how it does now that it is in the ground. I also added a small annual with dark green leaves and blue flowers just in front of the lantern - Blue Wonder Heliotrope.

After extending the rock edge just beneath the gate support and adding mulch, the alteration was complete. I think the final outcome looks nice.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Water Under the Bridge, No More

Was busy this week making alterations to some of the plantings. First, I started by removing most of the rocks from the corner of the garage. Originally, I was planning on a rain chain here dropping into a recessed pool of rocks which would then feed into the main rock basin, either under a bridge or through a pipe. After calculating the amount of roofing and water discharge, I decided diverting that much water into the pit was too similar to the problem faced when I used the pit with the sump pumps. So, no rain chain, bridge or pipe. I'm o.k with that, it would have been a lot of work. Instead, I kept the large boulders for edging and planted a variety of Spiraea instead.

Spiraea japonica 'Alpina' (Japanese Spirea - aka 'Nana')

This zone 4 shrub will do well in this corner. It should grow to a height of 2' x 5' and easily filling this corner space in one or two seasons. It can be easily trimmed and shaped as well. This corner gets lots of sun, so the blooms should look nice.

I also removed the Daylily ( (Hemerocallis “Black Eyed Stella’) that had been temporarily placed in this area (they had once been behind Buddha). They were doing much better this year than last when they didn't bloom. I haven't decided what to do with them yet and they sit in buckets waiting a new home. 

In their place, I moved a Spiraea thunbergil 'Mt Fuji' plant that had been in front of the house. 

I originally liked the look of this plant - it resembled bamboo. However, it looked odd in the front of the house mixed in with other more traditional Spirea plants (Spiraea Magic Carpet). I had seen some of these 'Mt. Fuji' verity that had grown quite large over the weekend at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in West Boylston, MA. I thought I would see how it does along the back of the garage.

I also transplanted a sickly Hosta from elsewhere into the gap between the two Spireas - it will have to be moved in time, but for now fills in the void.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sitting by the Bench

I've been rethinking the corner by the back gate for sometime. The only plant there was a Japanese Painted Fern. It was placed there without much thought after clearing out a previous Hosta. I decided to move the fern to the opposite side of the bench to fill in a small shady corner. In its place, on the left side of the bench, I planted a small shrub.

Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica 'Cavatine')

This Zone 5 plant like partial shade (and sun) - I am hoping it will do well being along the edge of the fence. It might not get enough sunlight. I like that the shrub will only grow to about 24" in height and width. It should fill in nicely in this small area. 

I think the bench area looks nicer, but I still have to fill in the corner near the fence. I may fill it in with Tiger Lilies or some other tall shade tolerant plant. I'm still not sure at this time.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pruning Maples

"Under it's branches
Filled with leaves, I feel the wind
Brush against my back"

After spending yesterday trimming back shrubs elsewhere in the yard, I decided it was time to pay some attention to the the two dwarf maples, one in the Zen garden, and the other along the "Dragon's Spine." 

After medical related events last year, I was unable to tend to these two trees (or any of the shrubs). In the meantime, the two maples had grown somewhat out of control. Being weeping style, they filled in with foliage and created a sort of shaggy look. As a result, no sunlight was getting beneath the trees. Everything I've read said this could be problematic - disease and bugs like it in there and its healthier for the tree to keep it open - all parts of the tree like sunlight. On the other hand, I had to be careful not to trim out too much foliage so the tree can heal and to prevent too much sunlight hitting the tree itself. Needless to say, I was nervous that I might screw this up - I am no professional pruner. 

I started with the reddish tree along the "Dragon's Spine." Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of it before I started. You will have to take my word for it - it was seriously overgrown.  I started underneath with dead wood, then crossovers, and then with what I thought might prove more esthetically pleasing. 


I also added some bamboo supports on the west side (right) to help train one branch to be more straight and less droopy. The final product looks good - more "Japanese like." Hopefully, I didn't remove to much of the canopy and it will thrive.

Later, I attacked the green maple in the Zen garden. I was very nervous about touching this one. It is supposed to be a focal point in the garden and I don't want to kill it. This one does have some pre-pruning photos:


You can see how overgrown it had become. It was more difficult to work underneath because of the rocks and sloping nature of the south garden wall. I was careful not to take off to much of the canopy. However, there was a lot of gnarled and tangled limbs that had to go. 


I don't think it came out as well as the red maple, but I can continue to work with it in the next couple of years as it grows. With luck it will survive my assault. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, it looks more appropriate than the moster it was becoming.