The Scented Garden from Spring to Fall

Front Garden in AutumnI haven’t written much about the garden for awhile. My obsession with gardening has mellowed with time and age. However, after 17 years of maturing, this garden could be seen as a reflection of myself: a bit wild, a bit of fantasy, full of variety, inviting, comforting and stable within a pattern of constant change and interest.

When I first started gardening, I read all the books on garden design. My goal was not so much the pattern of design as it was variety and constant interest, meaning a balance of evergreen and deciduous, color (including leaves and flowers) all season, and scented flowers all season.

The Nose KnowsWith my large nose I am able to smell quite well. I enjoy noticing the shapes, colors and essences of a scent.

The sense of smell overrides memory and thought. It is a primal experience. Most of us are probably more discerning than we think, but we tend to ignore our nose’s input because it doesn’t serve our daily lives much. Unless you are a perfumer, smell doesn’t help make money, get chores done, feed the kids or pay the bills.

Yet through the day your nose can “see” the air around you via the scents wafting near your face. Not all are beautiful, but each gives texture and depth to your experience.

The garden offers constant interest for the nose. In my garden I have three early blooming Witch Hazels (Hamamelis) which flower in late winter, usually February to March in in Ohio. Two of them were chosen for the flower color and size, but their smell is weak.

Hamamelis VernalisOne, Hamamelis Vernalis, has insignificant looking flowers, but a very strong, sweet smell of cloves and honey. On a slightly warm, breezy late winter day when the sun is shining, that sweet smell floats across the garden to delight your nose with the promise of Spring to come. It’s a rare treat. The flowers are built to endure hard frost, so even after a week of severe weather during its time of bloom, the scent will remain in waiting for the next nice day.

Rosa Mundi “Peppermint”Summer offers a plethora of heavily sweet smelling flowers. I have a few hardy roses in my shady garden. My favorite rose smells are those of “old rose”, richer and more heady than “tea” roses. Some contain hints of gardenia, sassafras and cherry.

Casablanca Asiatic LilyOf all summer scents, my favorite is that of Asiatic Lilies, particularly the giant white Casablanca. Its scent packs a wallop with thick, creamy layers of baked vanilla custard filled with cardamom carried on a background of citrus.

Scented tobacco (Nicotiana alata) flowers are a bit spicier, offering a cinnamon allspice smell only at night. Their glowing white flowers engage the interest of moths at night to complete their pollination.

Other scented flowers in my garden include: Honeysuckle, some Hostas, some daffodils, Sweet Autumn Clematis, Seven Sons Tree (Heptacodium miconioides) and Bee Balm.

Cimicifuga Black BeautyAfter most other flowers have faded and dropped, one plant just begins to bloom. Cimicifuga “Black Beauty” has dark brown to black leaves during Spring and Summer. Then long stalks arise a foot or more above the plant. As the weather cools in September to October, small white flowers open along the top of each stalk. Their lack of ornamental beauty is well balanced by their strong, sweet smell. Vanilla, clove and honey prevail.

At almost anytime of year in my garden, you could go out blindfolded and still enjoy an array of beautiful and alluring scents.

Whetstone Prairie Flowers

I promised a few photos of flowers from the Whetstone Prairie in Columbus, OH, and here they are, at least some for now.

Blue SpeedwellThistle flowerEvery time I walk through it, I notice yet another wildflower to add to the list. This time I found a Thistle bush, some kind of Speedwell, Aster, Blue Indian Grass and Joe Pie Weed. Some of these are not very prolific yet, but I’m sure they will spread their seed over time. I also know that volunteers are continuing to plant seedlings of unusual varieties to maintain a colorful balance. (click on the thumbnail for a larger photo on another page)

Purple Wild AlliumButterfly WeedThe educational demo garden has been in bloom since June. Back then the flowers in bloom included this Purple Allium, Butterfly Weed and Sullivant’s Milkweed.

Sullivant’s Milkweed with BeeSullivant’s Milkweed, flower detailThe Sullivant’s Milkweed was covered with bees. The plant is about 3 feet tall with large oval leaves. The individual flowers, about a quarter inch across and held in clusters of dozens, look like Jetsons spaceships.

Hummingbird Moth by Sullivant’s Milkweed FlowerAs I took photos of them, another insect swooped in and floated by each flower like a humming bird while it sucked the nectar from them. Apparently it’s named as it should be, a Hummingbird Moth. I had seen these in my garden but never this close. What a cool insect!!

Sullivant’s Milkweed Seedpods formingNow the Sullivant’s Milkweed has gone to seed. The fertilized flowers extend and twist down, then up. Large pods form at the ends of these snake like heads. These will bloat and stretch to 6 inches long by 2 inches wide, before bursting open to release thousands of flying seeds.

Cup Plant FlowerCup Plant Leaf filled with waterBack in June, the Cup Plants had already reached 3 or 4 feet tall. For the most part they had not started flowering. Now they are 6-8 feet tall and in full flower. However the flowers are the the most interesting part of these prairie giants. Their usefulness as a water holder for birds and insects makes these plants one of the most important of the prairie. During dry spells, their cupped leaves hold water for weeks until the next rain. And each morning, any dew collected by the leaves drips into this cup.

Dry, Cracked EarthRudbeckia fieldThis Summer has been one of the driest in recent memory. The ground is cracked and parched. Yet the flowers in the prairie are glorious. One barely notices any stress for these plants. They have evolved to grow very deep roots, often 8-10 feet deep, to withstand harsh, dry and hot Summers.

Bee Balm and ConeflowersBee Balm with a Happy beeOne of my favorite parts of the prairie is a large stand of Bee Balm, or wild Monarda, mixed with Coneflowers (Echinacia). The flower has a subtle, pale lavender color and emits a wonderful cinnamon, cedar smell.

The smells in the air change each time I walk through the field, depending on the time of day, direction of breeze and flower season. Near sunset, the air changes. If the sky is clear, cooler air falls into the center of the field, lowering the temperature there an hour before the areas around the edge, which are buffered by large trees. During this change, all the smells become denser and richer. Evening swallows emerge and swirl above the scene as the sun sets in the cradle formed by two large trees at the west end of the field.

Sunset at the Whetstone Prairie

The Whetstone Prairie

wildflower I have developed a nice habit of taking daily walks through the park near my house. It started last Summer, when I realized how valuable walking is as a relaxing meditation. I used to jog fairly often through this park, but my attention was on “getting somewhere” rather than enjoying the scenery and my thoughts.

Whetstone Park in Columbus, OH is a large, city park established in the 1930’s. A well maintained bike path runs through the park. This path connects with other river parks and runs almost continuously through about 20 or more miles through the city. I’ve biked the 7 miles from my house to downtown hardly using any streets.

The North side of the park holds the glorious and nationally famous Whetstone Park of Roses, which features thousands of roses in bloom all Summer, and which boasts the newest, cutting edge hybrids the year before they are publicly released!

bike path along Olentangy River Just a few blocks from my house an entrance to the park leads to the path along the Olentangy River. (Locals like to jokingly call it the Old and Grungy River, because it’s not very clean or pretty.) The photo shows the are I pass through soon after leaving my house.

Vernal Pool, dry in Summer About 5 years ago, a large field which had been used for soccer and dog running was converted into a prairie. The middle of the field was often soggy after a rain. The park is large and has numerous other, better fields for soccer and field games, so this seemed like a good spot for a prairie. The wet spots are now “vernal pools”, which hold water during the rainy seasons and are necessary breeding ground for frogs and other amphibians. Dragonflies and Damselflies also hunt there. At sunset, the dragonflies can be seen flying high the pool, intermingling with the evening Swallows and perhaps getting eaten.

Dame’s Rocket by Woods The Whetstone Prairie is a joint effort between the Columbus Parks and Recreation Dept. and Columbus Wild Ones: Native Plants, Natural Landscapes, a local non-profit branch of a national organization, Wild-Ones. Hundreds of volunteers help prepare and maintain the field.

At first the field was let to grow somewhat wild. The grasses went to seed and grew several feet tall. I’m guessing this was to shade out some of the smaller weeds. Designated paths were kept mowed to be passable on foot.

A few months later, I noticed that a few acres of the 6 in the field had been sprayed with herbicide. I wasn’t sure if this was particularly kosher for developing a natural habitat, but I could also understand, considering how weed infested the ground is.

main entrance to the Whetstone Prairie After the cleared area settled a bit, perhaps a month later, I noticed a few dozen small plants had been placed near what was to be the main entrance for the prairie. These were demonstration plants for visitors to learn names and shapes. It’s nice to be able to get close to each of several varieties, especially for photos. The wild field is difficult to walk though. Nor would I want to disturb nesting creatures.

The rest of the cleared field was seeded with dozens of varieties of prairie flowers: Cup Plants, Bee Balm, Black Eyed Susans, Queen Ann’s Lace, Cone Flowers, Cardinal Flowers, Butterfly Weeds, Gay Feathers, Asters and various other sun flowers. Over the next year these plants matured into a dense, thicketed and healthy prairie.

Struggling parts of Whetstone Prairie The remaining 4-5 acres were never sprayed, but were seeded with millions of wildflower seeds. However, those areas have struggled with nasty weed infestations such as dandelion, plantain and crabgrass.

I have watched the purveyors of the prairie try several methods to favor the natural prairie flowers. This year they mowed those parts down and raked up the dried stems, perhaps allowing light and air to reach the somewhat established prairie flowers. So far it still looks pretty weedy. I’m not sure what they plan for this area. Perhaps it will take times for the prairie flowers to dominate, which are ultimately quite durable once established. I plan to learn more of these methods and will report back to you.

Gold Finch in tall grass This Spring the original few acres were “scorched” to weaken some invasive tree seedlings and other weeds. Prairie plants have amazingly deep roots, often 8-10 feet, which allow survival after scorching. In natural prairie settings, dry years often bring flash fires which scorch the earth, accomplishing the same goal. Apparently, firefighters used propane flame throwers to do the job, under the supervision of prairie experts. I remember the brown and black earth smelling of smoke in early Spring. Now it’s filled with 9 foot giant cup plants and hundreds of other flowers.

Whetstone Prairie looking West I know I’ve barely touched on the details of this beautiful project, but I will be writing regularly about this prairie, which is now central to my meditative walks.

It’s difficult to capture the mood of the place; exuberant bird song fills the field, echoing off the high canopy of trees surrounding it. There are two large trees in the middle of the field, which often “hold” the sun as it sets. Hundreds of goldfinches flutter around the sunflowers now in bloom.

Black Eyed Susan Glancing around the blogosphere, I’m sure there are numerous such projects. One post I found was about a Dallas area park featuring wild areas for mixed use.

Another lesson from this local wild prairie is which plants might be useful in our own private gardens. Native plants and wild flowers tend to be more durable over the long run and will also help rejuvenate the local habitat of your area. Many of the flowers listed above are easy to grow and beautiful in any garden.

In my next post I’ll feature photos of many of the flowers now in bloom.

Evolution of a Garden

Evolution of a Garden- 93 West Dunedin Road

Front, PanoramaMy garden was recently featured on a voluntary public tour of gardens in Columbus. One day per month from April to September anyone can submit their garden to be advertised for the tour. I was pleasantly busy with visitors for four hours. Of those who came by, several had seen my garden when it was on the tour 10 years ago. Gardeners are a dedicated bunch.

Front, Cherub gardenTo give visitors some perspective on what I’ve done with the garden, I printed out the following brief history. For this post, I’ve added a few photos of the main features. To view many more, larger photos of the garden from the tour, please go to this link (Garden Photos) and click on “start slideshow” in the top right corner.

Gardening is a duet with nature. I relish each new theme and variations.

I’ve always enjoyed plants: their habits, architectures, flowers, fragrances, leaf shapes and colors. My garden has a strong evergreen structure filled out by a great variety of plants for all seasons, with blooms from February to October. Given the amount of shade provided by two ancient “Chinquapin” Oaks on either side of my house, I rely less on flowers and instead explore whimsical combinations of plants with variegated leaves, whose colors brighten the shadows all summer long.

Front YardFront from Street

When I bought this house in 1990, the front of the property was nicely landscaped, having been done professionally in 1983. Since then, however, I’ve added to or renovated most of it.

Remnants of that original design line the porch, including the glorious 23 year old Miniature Blue Spruce, now 6 feet high and wide. You can see it in the above photo, smack in the center of the house.

Some of the specimen plants I added those first few years have matured nicely. These include the “Purple Fountain” Weeping Beech (pictured in the next photo)Purple Fountain Weeping Beech and a Japanese White Pine by the street, a slow growing “Fernspray” Cypress near the driveway, and the Weeping Japanese Maple next to the Blue Spruce. All of these have been established for 15-17 years.

I recently had a very large Bradford Pear removed from the front yard. (this post Beginnings and Endings contains before and after photos). This tree was shading the yard to death and was susceptible to splitting. Not only have I gained some sun, but now I can see my house from the street!

The newly open and sunny front yard inspired major re-landscaping. However, I tried to reuse plants from the previous shady garden, including hostas, ferns, azaleas and woodland plants. So far they seem fine in half sun.

"blushing" Japanese MapleIn the old Pear’s spot as the centerpiece of the front yard, is an “unlabeled” Japanese Maple, which I found at strader’s Nursery. As I browsed the store for interesting trees, an orange glow called to me from a row of plain, green maples! It has a unique orange “Fall” color at the tips of its branches, I look forward to watching this “blushing tree” mature.

Front bed, with Tiger Eyes SumacsOther newer plants of note in front are a “Silver Cloud” variegated Redbud, a contorted Filbert on a standard, and two “Tiger’s Eye” cutleaf Sumacs, and a “Golden Moon Glow” Japanese Maple. Each offers some ornamental leaf color and/or shape feature to add interest.

Back Yard

In 1990, the backyard had little landscaping. A huge, wooden “Jungle Gym” playhouse took up most of the back. It was surrounded by a sea of pea gravel. The soil was terrible, mostly limestone rubble and clay.

As you can see, much has taken place since then.Back Garden, whole, from roof

I resued some of the materials from the original backyard. For example, the floor of the vine covered gazebo way in back is the recycled platform of that old playhouse, used as it was. The pea gravel has been spread out among the flagstones of the patio and the driveway.

I recently removed a large, overgrown Blue Spruce from the back right corner. Replacing it is a Columnar Red Beech and a Bottlebrush Buckeye. The columnar Beech will eventually tower up to 60 feet, but will never grow wider than 10 feet. Therefore it will never interfere with the powerlines running along the back of the property. The Bottlebruch Buckeye will form a 10 foot mound in the back corner, covering the ugly chainlink fence. It’s summer flowers really look like bottle brushes.

Back, featuring the 3 structure plantsA mature Holly Tree near the garage is an orphan plant which had been discarded by a friend, and which had been chopped off to flatten it. It has come a long way in 16 years.

The tall, slim Hinoki Cypress (in the middle), the Holly Tree (on the left) and the Columnar Beech (in the back right), form the structural triangle of the back yard. The rest of the design is built around these plant bones, along with the “hardscape” elements of patio, gazebo and path.

Enjoy your stay, and please let me know if you have any questions.

The Sound of my Soul.

It’s perfect. The garden view outside the window of my computer desk is beautiful, stunning in its passing perfection. It will never be the same again. Does it ever need to be? I have seen it. Or have I?

The power of doubt can be misleading. It can loosen sanity, unhinge it. An overdose, of sorts, blinding the simple sight of the soul’s awareness of the world. We doubt in order to discern, question to learn. But as with any tool, improper use can be dangerous.
Back Garden from House
A garden is a symphony of textures, colors, scenes, structures, singing four movements continuously, an ever rich and complex variation on multiple themes, an interaction of style and chance. My intervention is a duet, rather than a composition.

The sound of my soul whirs as its engine pumps through me. Blood carries the air of breath to my flesh and bones. Sparks of electricity flash, giving light to gray lobes. The body is the turbine of the spirit, its instrument. It’s how the soul learns of its own existence, temporarily cleaved from the raw stuff of stars. It will never be the same. Yet it continues beyond, and also precedes, the corporeal self. It is never born and never dies. Loopy African Daisys

The spirit that doubts itself is troubled. Be gentle and know your rightful peace. No fairy tale book need be consulted to affirm its presence. The garden hums its tune, singing a healing hymn, if one is listening.
White Flower Scene
Know your rightful Peace.

Hear your conscience.

Listen to your soul’s music.

It will never be the same.