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design tips

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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

Blog

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?

Blog

Cottage Garden Primer

July 30, 2016

I once worked with a lovely client ( now a dear friend!) who wanted a cottage-style flower garden.

Now there are cottage gardens and then there are cottage gardens…know what I mean?

In Great Britain, it seems everyone has the most magnificent flower garden, each more spectacular than the next…

their lushness sets a standard of perfection for cottage gardens that makes me want to say to someone here in the Northeast U.S., ‘Would you like to consider an ornamental grass garden instead?”

Designed and installed by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

Designed and installed by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

But of course, the call of a cottage garden, filled with a profusion of flowers and smelling of roses, peonies and lilacs, makes one dizzy with anticipation.

All you need in my part of the world is a deer fence, deep fertile soil, constant watering and someone to tend it lovingly… a tall order indeed.

But it can be done. And that is what we did – installed a deer fence, brought in great topsoil and carefully amended it and added irrigation. My client followed through and tended it with a loving hand and added wonderful flowers whenever she saw the need.

The result? A sumptuous garden filled with a riot of colors, lurid with intoxicating scents.

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I planned the garden to be a 10 foot wide curved plant bed bordering a level lawn. The only problem – there was no level lawn.

The rear property sloped steeply downhill and in order to make it level I needed to bring in soil and retain it with a wall. This is a big proposition in any situation but here it was especially dicey because I didn’t want to disturb the roots of the native hemlock trees growing near where the wall was to be located.

To accomplish this, I used the stacking, concrete units that are part of a wall system called Alpenstein. This is a great solution because no footings are required and Alpenstein allows you to plant within each unit!

It is a versatile, plantable wall system. Once planted with vines and spreading groundcovers, an Alpenstein wall blends with the natural setting.

Designed and installed by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

Designed and installed by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

After the site was perfect, I set about planting perennial and annual flowers. Perennials come back every year and form the backbone of the cottage garden. For that I set out large drifts or groups of medium tall, durable flowers in the mid-zone of the bed to add height and variety.

These included ‘Sunny Border Blue’ Speedwell (Veronica ‘Sunny Border Blue’), the PPA Plant of the Year 1993, and ‘Caesar’s Brother’ Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica ‘Caesar’s Brother’), a reliable and graceful flower with pansy blue coloring….

Veronica photo from Bluestone Perennials

Veronica photo from Bluestone Perennials

Additionally, I planted the graceful Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis gracillimus) and other ‘foolproof” perennials like dwarf Gayfeather, (Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’), the tall ‘Magnus’ Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’).

Below is the list of the dependable flower varieities I used for this garden. No unusual cultivars here – just a cottage garden full of faithful staples that work together in cozy harmony..

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My Flower List for This Cottage Garden

Jan Johnsen

Perennials

Botanical Name Common Name
Artemesia ‘Silver King’ ‘Silver King’ Wormwood
Astilbe chinensis pumila Dwarf Chinese Astilbe
Coreopsis vert. ‘Moonbeam’ ‘Moonbeam’ Coreopsis
Dianthus ‘Bath’s Pink’ ‘Bath’s Pink’ Dianthus
Echinacea purp. ‘Magnus’ Magnus Coneflower
Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ ‘Palace Purple’ Coralbells
Iris sibirica ‘Caesar’s Brother’ ‘Caesar’s Brother’ Siberian Iris
Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’ Dwarf Gayfeather
Lilium orientale ‘Stargazer’ ‘Stargazer’ Oriental Lily
Peonies Peonies
Persicaria ‘Donald Lowndes’ Don. Lowndes Fleeceflower
Phlox pan. ‘Bright Eyes’ ‘Bright Eyes’ Garden Phlox
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ ‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ Dwarf Black eyed Susan
Veronica ‘Sunny Border Blue’ ‘Sunny Border Blue’ Speedwell

Annuals

Botanical Name Common Name
Senecio cineraria Dusty Miller
Cosmos sulphureus Cosmos ‘Klondyke mix’
Ageratum ‘Blue Hawaii’ Blue Hawaii Ageratum
Catharanthus roseus Annual Vinca
Heliotropium arb..Marine ‘Marine’ Heliotrope
Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria Blue’ Salvia ‘Victoria Blue’
Salvia ‘Sparkler Purple’ ‘Sparkler Purple’ annual Salvia
Blog, Books

Win a free issue of Garden Design Magazine right here!

July 18, 2016

As you may know, I love Garden Design magazine. It is gorgeous, each issue is 148 pages thick and packed with fascinating gardening info and landscaping ideas and, best of all, it has no ads! It is published quarterly, one issue per season.

How can they make it work? Well, it is a subscriber-supported magazine. Jim Peterson is the publisher and Thad Orr is the editor. I think they have made it the best garden magazine out there….

Would you like an issue? I am giving out the current issue to 3 lucky winners…see below for my random drawing.

And I am thrilled to say that Garden Design chose to feature my ideas on Creating a Relaxing Retreat in their current issue which features Serene Spaces. I am honored and so happy that it is being shared by such a prestigious and elevated magazine!

jan johnsen - despau illustration

The 6 page article, ‘Serenity and the Sweet Spot’, offers my tips for creating relaxing outdoor spaces that I have refined over the years. I look to ancient sources and have used them in my landscapes. They took my photos and had a brilliant illustrator from Spain, David Despau, interpret them in colored pen an dink drawings. Wow.

SERENITY AND THE SWEET SPOT 2

Also they have a 16-page spread on David Austin roses.

roses

And an article on hydrangeas that made me swoon. I am planting so many of the new varieties these days for clients. And then there is the article on the Thomas Jefferson garden at Monticello with Peter Hatch. It is called ‘Jefferson’s Legacy, at last’ That is the best! TJ is my hero and I went to see Monticello on my honeymoon. (I have been back since).

(Photo credit: GardenDesign/Ngoc Minh Ngo — used by permission.).

(Photo credit: GardenDesign/Ngoc Minh Ngo — used by permission.).

And lastly, they have a great piece on Disneyland’s horticultural magic. What a fascinating article! Am I gushing? Well that is because it really is a great magazine.

For a chance to win an issue of Serene Spaces issue of Garden Design (U.S. and Canada residents only) post a comment below.
I use the number generator at Random.org to select 3 winners.

Winners will be announced both here and on my Facebook page on Saturday, July 23, 2016, so check back!
If you want to buy your own subscription to Garden Design, and receive your first issue for free? Click here: Garden Design.