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Stone Benches – Grounding does it.

February 21, 2017

In honor of my new book, The Spirit of Stone – 101 Practical and Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden (St. Lynn’s Press, 2017) that was released last week I am sharing this post about stone benches.

Stone Bench – Dallas Arboretum – photo by Jan Johnsen

In the heat of the summer when we should be pruning what we really want to do is sit in the cool shade and drink a tall glass of iced tea.


Antique sandstone Bench from English Garden Antiques

Ah, a place to sit in the cool leafy shade!
What better contrast to the soft green lushness that surrounds you than a stone seat or bench, immutable, grounded and cool to the touch…
sitting on stone outdoors grounds you and aligns you to the earth’s electromagnetic pulse…

It is like a calming sedative that you feel almost immediately.

See some great stone benches at the Stonepost website

Stone seats in the garden have a storied history. The Druids of Northern Europe fashioned stone chairs out of boulders. It is surmised that they were used for rituals and perhaps coronations of a sort. Today, in the British Isles and in France, you can find ancient stone seats in fields, woods and near sacred springs.

Sunny Wieler, an Irish stonemason / artist, follows in his ancestors’ tradition and wrote about making stone seats in his marvelous blog, Stone Art Blog (check it out!). Stone Art is his company which serves County Cork and Dublin. Here are some of his marvelous creations.

Sunny Wieler – Stone Art Blog

You might expect all stone seats to be massive and heavy but this is not the case.

In the Chinese tradition, they fashion rounded stone seats (some are carved to look like drums) which encircle a stone table. You can see a great example in the Chinese garden at Naumkeag in Stockbridge.

Traditional Chinese stone table and stone seats

Following this idea, the wonderful designer Jinny Blom created Spore seats. Although not technically pure stone (they are made of a eco friendly moldable stone) they hark back to Chinese stone seats with a more modern flavor. I love them.

They were a commissioned design for a permanent installation at London’s Design Centre Chelsea Harbour, which won a prestigious BALI Landscape Award.

Jinny Blom’s Spore Seats

Another modern take on ancient stone benches is made by Escofet. Their Bilbao benches are also not pure stone but look how great they are.

I show more stone bench ideas in my new book, The Spirit of Stone- 101 Practical and Creative Stonescaping ideas for Your Garden

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Buttercup Winterhazel – An Early Spring Fragrant tree

February 17, 2017

Winterhazel from American NurserymanMagazine


What blooms earlier than forsythia, has a delicate fragrance and is an easy-to-care for compact delight ? It is also hardy to USDA Zones 6-9 and native to Japan and Taiwan.

Buttercup winterhazel (Corylopsis pauciflora)
Toward mid April (depending where you live), the bare branches of buttercup winterhazel hang with inch-long clusters of soft yellow flowers that appear as little lanterns.

The fragrance is noticeable, making it perfect near a sitting spot. It was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 1993.

This is a different species of winterhazel – Corylopsis glabrescens ‘Longwood Chimes’ has exceptional fragrance.

Winterhazel (pauciflora)is good in a small city garden or as a woodland underplanting in open shade.
It glows in front of evergreens and is a perfect pairing with purple Rhododendron mucronulatum since they flower at the exact same time.

And winterhazels look wonderful with snowdrops and hellebores!

Portland Nursery photo

As the flowers fade, the leaves unfurl to 3 inches long, bright green with red edges before darkening to rich green. In fall they turn a gold-bronze.

This species is compact and is the ideal choice for a small garden. Plant in spring, in well-drained, acid soil, in a spot with light or dappled shade. It will tolerate full sun with regular watering in the summer. It needs little pruning.

Branches of Corylopsis pauciflora are best collected in February for flowers in early March, up to two weeks before their normal bloom season.

C. pauciflora can be hard to find, but well stocked nurseries will carry it. Look for it in Spring!

Blog

‘Om’ in the Garden

January 25, 2017

Om symbol in garden – Jan Johnsen

We need to balance the pace and intensity of modern life
with periods of what poet May Sarton
has called “open time,
with no obligations except toward the inner world
and what is going on there.”

~ Thomas Moore

So how to touch the inner world in a garden?..

Abstract painting

I suggest chanting ‘OM.’ (really it is ‘AUM’), long and sustained, several times…“Om” is the oldest and most widely known one-syllable mantra or chant. It is said very, very slowly.

Mantras are believed to contain a vibrational power that can lift us to higher states.

Scientists recently discovered that rhythmic recitations of a mantra can slow breathing and regulate heart rhythms, this in turn oxygenates the blood, lowers blood pressure and induces a feeling of calmness and well-being.

The Sanskrit symbol above represents “OM”. It does not say ’30’ as some might assume.

The Om symbol (in photo above) consists of three letters, “a,” “u,” and “m,” and includes an after-sound of silence:

• The “a” (pronounced “ah,” the upper curve) represents our waking state.

• The “u” (pronounced “ooh,” the long, lower curve) is the dreaming state.

• The “m” (the curve issuing from the center) is the dreamless state of deep sleep.

The after-sound is represented by the dot at the top…

Garden Oms (smile)


Silently repeating a mantra does not produce the same effects as reciting them out loud.

You must chant OM. out loud…slowly. and remember the ‘dot’ or after-sound silence.

Lawai International Center, Kauai – shrines

If repeating ‘om’ is not your thing then try this during your ‘open time’:

Listen – to the sounds around you.

Feel – the plants or the ground under your feet or the sun on your face.

See – what is around you. enjoy the colors.

Smell – what does your environment smell like?

At first, you’ll find your mind wandering away frequently but this exercise is calming and pleasant, a relaxing break.

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I Go to the Woods Alone…

January 8, 2017

Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend….

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned.

woodland walk – photo by Laura McKillop

I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.

Mary Oliver

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Why Gardening by the Moon Works

January 6, 2017

“With the waxing of the moon, the earth exhales.”
– Ute York

Lunar gardening is fun and makes so much sense!

Photo above is from the SpaceFellowship, Rob Goldsmith.

The gravitational pull of the moon on the earth affects water on our planet. The moon’s pull is stronger than the sun because, even though the sun is larger, the moon is closer to the earth.

As the moon gets full or waxes, its gravitational pull on the earth gets stronger. And it is felt the most when the moon is full (the moon and sun pull from the opposite sides of the earth at this time).

This is when the tides are at their height and people go a little wild.

But not only does the moon’s gravity affect tides and us, it also affects underground water tables.

So if you plant when the moon is waxing or growing toward being full, remember the water table is rising as well.

This means water is more easily available to a plant. The increased moisture content of the soil encourages seeds to sprout and grow.

Dr. Frank Brown of Northwestern University researched this over a ten-year period of time and found that plants absorbed more water at the time of the full moon.

Tests by Frau Dr. Kolisko in Germany and by Maria Thun also found maximum seed germination on the days right before the Full moon.

So as the new moon (no moon) grows, seeds swell with water and burst into life more quickly. This 2 week period in a month is considered the best time to plant leaf crops.

And this period is great for harvesting leaf crops because as the moon moves towards full the plant is putting everything it has into growing and is full of nutrients.


photos from Gardening by the Moon website

Similarly, when the moon goes from full back to being a sliver the opposite is true.

Ute York, in her book “Living by the Moon” says
” With the waning of the moon, the earth inhales. Then, the sap primarily goes down toward the roots. Thus, the waning moon is a good time for pruning, multiplying, fertilizing, watering, harvesting, and controlling parasites and weeds”

Now is the time when the water table drops, and it is a good time to plant root crops, such as turnips, carrots, onions, and bulbs etc.

How to know? Get a MOON PHASE widget and put on your homepage. And go to this Farmer’s Almanac article (click on it) for more info.

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‘Sparkler’ Carex – a great plant

January 5, 2017

Sparkler Carex


What is deer resistant, grows in part to full shade, has varigated leaves, likes wet soil, has no serious pests and will naturalize and spread?

Carex phyllocephala ‘Sparkler’ – photo by Laura McKillop

Carex phyllocephala ‘Sparkler’


‘Sparkler’ Carex or sedge thrives in moist, organically rich soils so it is perfect for rain gardens or heavy soil. It is considered to be winter hardy to USDA Zone 7 (hardy to 10 degrees). It can be grown as an annual is colder regions.
‘Sparkler’ is clump-forming and has whorl-like clusters of grass-like, variegated leaves at the end of each 12″ – 24″ tall stem. This makes it look like a mini palm of narrow leaves with broad white margins. Tony Avent describes Carex Sparkler as “a grove of miniature variegated palm trees.”


photo taken by Laura McKillop in the conservatory at Longwood Gardens

In southern locations where plants are reliably winter hardy, you can grown them in a mass in a shady spot..in colder areas you can grow them in planters to light up a shady corner. It is also great for cut flower arrangements.

This Japanese import looks lovely among ferns in the woodland garden or along a border. Tell your garden center to order it now for next spring!

Blog

Make a Yoga Garden This Year

January 2, 2017

yoga garden – Johnsen Landscapes


Picture yourself being outside in a garden on a warm sunny morning. Nearby, birds are singing and flowers are blooming. This is a perfect space to unroll a yoga mat and embark on some ‘sun salutations’. So why not create a yoga garden? You can do this using some design ideas I offer in the book, ‘Heaven is a Garden – Designing Serene Outdoor Spaces for Inspiration and Reflection’ (published by St. Lynn’s Press).

Innisfree garden in NY – please visit!


Just as yoga allows us to ‘tune into’ our bodies, serene gardens help us get in touch with nature’s calming energies. Any outdoor setting, no matter the size, can become a place of quiet beauty. It should be partially sheltered, out of the wind and be bathed in gentle sunlight from east or southeast or dappled shade. I suggest you aim for ‘simplicity, sanctuary and delight’.

Bedrock Gardens – please visit!


Simplicity means clean lines such as slow curving walks or plant beds. Sanctuary refers to a a sheltered corner formed by a hedge or tree where we feel protected. And delight is anything that gladdens your heart. This can be a patch of flowers, outdoor art or a trickling water fountain.
And of course, you can utilize nature’s nurturing qualities by carefully placing a large rock or stone sculpture within your backyard. The natural ability of stone to ‘ground’ us was well known to ancient cultures and we are now rediscovering this wonderful idea.

Bedrock Gardens – please visit!


Additionally, the colors blue and green induce calm and add a feeling of restfulness to any outdoor space. You can also paint a gate deep blue or add more green textured plants to your garden. And, as I describe in my book, certain trees can add a beneficial and supportive energy to their surroundings. Lastly, we all respond to the fullness of a rounded shape such as a round finial or rounded planter.

PJM Rhodys and tulips make a Spring garden sing.


A yoga garden is a quiet place of renewal and contemplation and can be any size and in any locale. I have a small backyard where I added a curving ‘dry stream’ along one side. This stream hints at a waterway but there is no water in it. It is lined with rocks and contains decorative pebbles atop gravel. The plants that border it are the show as is the stream’s simple curved layout. I used two-thirds evergreen plants and one-third deciduous plants, which follows the ideal proportion found in Japanese gardens.
I like to use many green textures in a garden..then I add a rounded artful accent

I like to use many green textures in a garden..then I add a rounded artful accent


I firmly believe that a backyard designed to be a ‘little piece of heaven’ can remake ordinary time and space into something memorable, just as yoga does. Together, they can create some magic in your life.
P.S. Check out my upcoming book, The Spirit of Stone – and use the grounding energy of stone in your new yoga garden!

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Garden tip – Obey the Request of the Stone

December 29, 2016

rocks and blue fescue – Johnsen Landscapes


My upcoming book, The Spirit of Stone (published by St Lynn’s Press) will be out in February, 2017 . It looks at many ways you can use natural stone in the garden from artful accents and stone walks to sustainable dry creeks and rock gardens.


One of the topics I address is the art of setting stones in a rock garden. I once lived in Japan (I worked in a landscape architecture office in Osaka) and so I feel a special connection to Japanese rock gardens. In my work with placing rocks (often with large machines) I always listen to what the stone says. Sometimes, after a tough time placing a rock, I say that the stone does not want to be there and remove it.

I used to think that this conversation with a rock was my unique approach. But I was wrong. I also said that the first rock to be set determined the rest of the rocks in the garden and so this was the most important. Again, this was an old rule that I thought I made up. The 11th-century guide to making Japanese gardens, the Sakuteiki, said it first.

Steinhardt rock garden in NY – photo by Jan Johnsen


The Sakuteiki was written in a time when placing stones was the most important part of gardening in Japan. Stone literally defined the art of garden making, ishi wo tateru koto (build up with stone) referred not only to stone placement but also to garden making itself.

Here is an excerpt from the wonderful book, ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ by Tan Twan Eng. It is an interchange about setting rocks in a Japanese-inspired garden:

“How will I know where to place the stones?”
“What is the first piece of advice given in Sakuteiki?
I thought for a second. “Obey the request of the stone.”
“The opening words of the book,” he said, nodding. “This spot where you sit, this is the starting point. This is where the guest views the garden. Everything planted and created in Yuguri has its distance, scale and space calculated in relation to what you see from here.

This is the place where the first pebble breaks the surface of the water. Place the first stone properly and the others will follow its request. The effect expands through the whole garden. If you follow the stones’ wishes, they will be happy.”

boulder outcrop with plants – Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

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The Enchantment of a Curved Garden Walk or Wall

December 27, 2016

Curved Walk – Jan Johnsen


The line of a garden walk can be an integral part of the overall composition rather just a simple linkage. And the layout of a garden wall can be something more than a physical barrier.

For example, ancient Chinese garden designers used curving perimeter walls to enclose their revered gardens. Osvald Siren described the winding grace of a Chinese garden wall in his book, ‘Gardens of China’:


“They seldom follow straight lines, and as a rule are not broken in sharp angles; they rather sweep in wide curves, ascending and descending according to the formation of the ground and thus often have the appearance of being elastic or modeled rather than built up.”

The elasticity of a curve lends a mysterious air to Chinese gardens.

Andy Goldsworthy, the great land art artist, did this with a stone wall at Storm King Mountain Sculpture center.

You can also attract people’s interest by laying out a walkway in a strong, playful line. Here I laid out an S-shaped steppingstone walk rather than a straightforward direct walk. Of course, this is not for carrying groceries to the house but rather, is a meandering garden path.

The curved walk adds a lyrical quality to the scene and makes a garden more enticing. Why not try something like this in your garden?