All design work must be refined with repetition.  Less is most always more.  Better materials can be found and used, those more compatible with their function.  These are good choices for the planet, and help keep that money in your vacation fund.

I must say that it is amazing how little boundary one must construct to keep a deer from eating your bushes.  They seem not to need a whole lot of suggestion.  Tree-pees have solved the deer problem for me for years, even with bushes fairly enveloping the support.


This tree-pee is three or four years old.  The snowball bush and the tree-pee have a sympathetic relationship.  They are one!  There is nandina, lilies: ginger and not, and a couple of other things planted in the space of the circle that the bush does not use.  Interestingly, every fall a couple of the snowballs bloom.  But in the fall, they are flat like little discs, rather than exhibiting their Seuss-like splendor in the spring.  You can see two blooms above.

At the farm down my running route, they simply put a small plastic ribbon on a wire about four feet off the ground and maybe every six to eight feet down the line.  That does it for a whole field planted with something deer love.  Amazing.

I use cedar from our woods as much as possible as that wood will last longer than any other around here.  The jagged protrusions I cannot help but think serve my purpose as well.


This tree-pee rests on the side of the woods and protects an oak leaf hydrangea.  This was propagated by me, one of about 12 starts.  Only this one survived, and with the way the deer love this plant, I am interested in defending only one.


This pyracantha is well protected by this heavy tree-pee.  The bush is doing all it can to attract bad visitors, but all that showiness is unsuccessful.  A Japanese climbing fern asserts itself on the rightmost piece of cedar.  There are also day lilies in this bed, and all to the left are tiny iris, purple; I call them Japanese, but that name is wrong.  They are however the iris one sees on Japanese byobu.


So here is the new reduced-in-design tree-pee.  Again it houses a pyracantha, one propagated by me.  It was tiny when it was planted;  I fairly crocheted a little string net around it.  And as it grew,  bigger uprights were piled around it, and when my cat knocked the whole thing down last week, it had needed to go for months.

So what is different here?  Had my best idea in a year when looking  for three uprights.  Seeing one of the awful woods vines we have here that grow to a hundred feet and compete with almost any kind of tree, I realized that the cut vine would be flexible and would simply wind around the uprights, and wherever it crossed, it could be tied.  Simple.  And that is just what I did.  The tension created by the winding of that almost-live thing is quite extraordinary.  And the spiral extends beyond the uprights according to its own will.

Then the vine ended.  It was too short for the whole job.  Could not find another because a rampage was conducted (by me) last spring cutting all those vines in the front woods, and a fire ensued which provided much satisfaction.  So a very young tree, growing too close to another was clipped and it worked in the very same way!


Nandina (Photo credit: outdoorPDK)

So many people lately have been using the nandina pictures from this blog.  Hooray!  So as opposed to posting more simple pictures of the nandina in my gardens, here is how I think about the bushes in composition.

“Four Seasons” is the name of a work of art the late artist Marc Chagall gave to the citizens of Chicago in 1970.  It is permanently installed in the Art Institute of Chicago.  For fans of pattern, it is a masterwork.  Also for fans of Mr. Chagall.

What does “Four Seasons” have to do with Nandina?

Pattern sets up expectations in a work of art.  We see an organization of spots, for example, in one area of a painting.  When used in another area, the viewer says, “Yeah, I get it.  This is part of the same visual world, where the pattern is part of the language.”  The two spotted areas work together, or are unified.

marc chagall detail 4

Identifying the pattern on the side of this three dimensional work is easy. The yellow areas of tile organizes the work.  The yellow is repeated all over this side of the mosaic. The repeat of the yellow is part of the fantastic world that Chagall presents.  Within this patterned structure, he can include all sorts of figures, and the strong yellow pattern will hold them all in place, no matter how different they are.  And above, the blue shapes of the figures are very different in size and strength.

Pattern serves this purpose in an area as big as the one above, but also in the details.

marc chagall detail 1

The association of light blue areas next to figures suggest shadows, and serve to make the figures more dominant.  And also creates a subtle blue sub-pattern.

This is where the nandina comes in.  Having many gardens here, I use the repeat pattern of dwarf nandina to create a unity in the gardens, being careful not to push it too far.   Overuse would create a boring composition.  Nandina comes in regular size too, taller, and the use of the big ones can repeat the color and texture but not the size.  A mis-matched repeat.  All the better.

1-nandina at pool, tall

This tall variety of nandina within our walled pool area always retains more leaves in the winter.  Have no idea why.  It gets brilliant red and is topped off with even brighter red berries.

Visually, it carries on a conversation with the reddest part of my tile composition, which is about 12 feet from the bushes.

1-pool image, going towards red

Some of the plants at the pool are physically documented in the tile, not simply their colors.

1-pool image, acuba and tile

The same nandina as within the pool area is missing more leaves in another area of the acreage, looking more like a Dr. Seuss creation than anything else in winter.

1-tall nandina in circle garden

The dwarf nandina below is in the same garden with the tall.


To keep the dwarf nandina in little mounds, you have to move out the new sprouts.  Then make more pattern in different places in the yard.


The tiny red leaves above are new plants.  Use them to create more red pattern in other gardens, repeating a theme.  On the other side of the house,  a new garden was planted next to the bedroom that was added on.


The dwarf nandina has not gotten very red at all this fall, nor has the taller nandina bush to the right.  This place is protected on two sides.  In the tree-pee to the left is a pyracantha, which gets red berries in the winter.  This one is very young, and has not yet.


Deer eat this.  It will probably always have some sort of barrier around it.  Along the back of this garden is cotoneaster.  It has been there maybe 18 months.


When mature, it will look like this.


More red!


Oh man, as if there is not enough to do already.  A friend who has an amazing city garden of about an acre, at a party last weekend where we did not have enough time to talk, said one thing to me:  MOSS.

We will talk later, he said.  It never happened.   At no party can we unpack his knowledge.

I know what he means.  And which moss he means.  We have two types.

1-moss one

The moss above sits on the floor of the woods in little spheres, almost.  You could string them like popcorn and wrap them around your Christmas tree (not a bad idea!).  It does not strike me that this is the moss my gardener friend is talking about.

1-moss two

This example is what he wants me to use.  And would that be where it is now situated?  That area is really in the woods and not on my canvas.  It is growing where it wants to grow.  Where it cannot grow, it does not grow.  This makes me so tired to think about.  Would a good gardener then try to integrate “planned” gardens and the woods around them?  To be sure, the woods offers a lot of stuff.


These sweet little textural ferns are climbing up an oak near moss, and a dried up creek bed which has run only once sine 1997 when we bought the place.

This leads me to think about what gardens are for, and what they do.  It leads me to wonder about where the boundaries of these compositions exist, and what about trying to “correct” or outcompose nature?  Can that be done?  Is not the composition of a garden to imitate nature at its best?  Or is that the “old” gardening directive?  What about topiary?

topiary 1

topiary 2

topiary 3

Gardens around houses soothe the former’s harsh lines.  They also can pull your eye out from the mass of the house and transition into the relief of the lawn.  You can plan gardens so that you can experience fabulous smells when you enter and exit the house.  Herbs can be by the kitchen to be efficient.

None of the topiary examples above will do these things in a normal garden composition.  But what strong statements these are as they remake a natural thing!  They are real and surreal at the same time.  You have the choice as a gardener:  you can be a realist or a surrealist, or do dada.  It is all art.

Dammit.  Nothing is easy.  One cannot just BE a gardener.  One has to decide the style.  One has to edit.  Include/exclude.  And this discussion is just about flora.  What about fauna?

1-yoshino cherry

This little Yoshina cherry is a decade old.  This spring, after reinforcing the tee-pee around it with movable elements and spears rising from the ground, I finally have leaves.  So the existence of deer fosters compositional needs as well.   *sigh*


Especially in gardens.  Did you know that gardening was/is considered a “fine art” in Great Britain?  It was true in Victorian England, and does anyone but me remember the amazing gardening shows on A&E back in the glory days?  When the “A” naming that cable channel meant “arts”?  The most creative innovative gardening shows were from England where youthful goth types with rainbows of hair color and black everything else were the driving forces.

Gardening compositions involve much more consideration than other kinds of white bread two dimensional or three dimensional static compositions.  To make the composition of a garden work, one must not only consider the mass, the height, the color of a shape, but the light necessary, the soil, the watering needs, the off season where the perennial or annual is not to be seen, underground propagation (which might send up sprouts ANYWHERE):  whew.  Simple shapes on a canvas seems so controllable.

skinny garden

skinny garden two

The pictures above show a garden that is very long, shaped like a parenthesis, and runs down part of a circle drive.  In it are five cedars and seven wire spools with  Five Leaf  ikebia that has just been planted.  The cedars were free, and the wire spools cost two bucks each.  Both were distributed evenly down the shape.  The tiny cedars in the foreground never grew well, were replaced once, and did not survive.  They may have been too close to a sprawling oak tree that cannot be seen in the picture above.  The three that did survive in the back of the picture are a testament to uneven light with their different sizes.

long garden with sculpture

1-mature garden

Above is the garden today.  Between the taking of the last two pictures, a sprinkler system has been installed, but not soon enough to save the last two cedars.  They have been replaced by a dogwood bush called “Midwinter Blaze”.  They feature amazing red lines all winter.  But the cedars are overtaking the wire spools.  The spools are too close in places and the ikebia vine is creeping into the cedars.  Not good.

Sometimes solutions are so simple.  I pulled each wire spool away from the tree in conflict and in a repeat pattern.  With some, parts of the vine snapped, but no worry.  Ikebia grows very fast.  I also took another element from elsewhere in the garden, and repeated it.  Slipped blue wine bottles under each spool that needed them to retain an interesting angle.  One or two did not need any support.  There will be interesting cascades from the tops of the spools in a month!




Our book group read a book about a nineteenth century blind travel writer.  Interesting vocation for this guy, and he had quite a life.  It is called “A Sense of the World“, and was written by Jason Roberts.  One detail in that book has really stuck with me, and is one of the handful of things called to my mind when it is otherwise blank.

a sense of the world


Or was that detail from the book “Dark Star Safari” by Paul Theroux?  The narratives of both books intersect in Egypt.  My mind worm centers on Egypt and its pyramids.  The pyramids in Egypt are a symbol often used to express permanence because of their age and size.  But there is another quality to those pyramids that expresses permanence, and that is their mass.  A pyramid has a huge base, and a point at the top.  Try to imagine any kind of element that could flip that mass over.  Impossible.  It has huge stability.  So the pyramid as a choice for use in Egyptian burial, at the same time as performing that function, also symbolically states that the line of sovereigns will still march on, and life as the Egyptians knew it (except for Akhenaten, of course).  The pyramid could be seen as an elegant political statement.

In ONE of the aforementioned books, when the story gets to Egypt, the pyramids are not in the position that we create them in our mind’s eye.  They are almost covered with sand.  Think about their age.  The three in Giza are from around 2500 BCE.  Think about a life span, and the age of these “mountains”.  They could easily become shadows of their former selves in the space of 500 years or so, and no one yet alive would notice any difference.  That is what happened.  It may have happened many times between 2500 BCE and now.  Perhaps that is a good thing.  Being buried in sand would be preferable in terms of preservation to being whipped by the wind and sand grains all day!

OK, so that fact just blows my mind.  File this away.  In my 21st century existence, there have been pyramidal piles here and there behind my studio.  Tile from dumpster diving.  Not challenging the size of the pyramids, but piles.  When we built the big barn for Glenn’s studio, along with all his other stuff came all the wooden shelving units from a shoe store long ago closed.  Glenn is like me.  “Are you throwing those away?”

He probably had them for thirty years before they came here.  Many are erected in our barn, and that is where the “tile piles” went, we gave some to my daughter, and there are still plenty to be erected.

It took forever to stash away all that foraged tile.  It was a mess.  It was thrilling to have the piles gone, gone, gone.  But not for long.  New (old) tile keeps appearing where the piles were, even after every last piece was removed.  OK, I am an artist and not a scientist, but where the hell is that tile coming from?  My theory is that the spinning of the earth is bringing tile to the surface that got buried down below the pile from pressure.  Sounds good to me, and could this affect our pyramid problem?

So Glenn says why don’t corpses spin out of their graves then?  No answer.

Another contemporary phenomenon noticed on our acreage:  two uneven pots containing “Little Gem Magnolias”.


The pot in the foreground has three inches on the pot in the background.  Where do I put this in my theory?


Sometimes you cannot see the forest for the trees.  Having two mid-century two person sized lawn gliders made by the same manufacturer, I was comparing them yesterday.  One is my very first glider.  It was free.  It was at the “solid waste disposal site” we use, and the worker helped me load it into my station wagon (at another time, there was a fine one already up in the metal container and the workers said they were not allowed to pluck anything out that was already in; what a disappointment!).

1-aqua glider

After its rescue, I took the glider straight to a welding place down the road from here as it was wonky and would not glide.  See the dark elements under the closer armrest?  Those were fabricated for me at the welding shop (no welding was actually done, they probably simply did the job with pity for my ignorance).


These elements are rusty now and this glider has always been on a covered porch.  The elements are still strong however, and are attached to the frame with screws and nuts.

1-good side

What occurred to me last night was the fact that there were two original gliding elements on this glider.  Above is what the original elements look like.  They are not a solid piece of steel as the replacements are, they are like a constructed tube, which has been flattened.


1-newest love seat

Compared to my first glider acquisition, this lawn glider was more expensive, but still a great deal.  The elements facilitating the gliding have all been replaced, and all are aluminum.  A more expensive fix.

1-aluminum elements

1-wing nut


It is difficult to calculate where there is enough light to introduce ornamental trees when you live on acreage surrounded by woods.  There are also micro climates within our space which are so topical now that we are having our coldest series of days of the winter.  Remembering in the past that  it would get so cold here I would sleep in the studio and keep the greenhouse door open so the studio heat would migrate there, we have not had those temps for years now.  The cold wave we are now having is a low of 27 degrees, and just enough to damage things that are now budding in mid-February.

1-outside wall

The image above shows three redbud trees living outside the stucco wall surrounding the pool.  They were all planted at the same time.  It has to be light that dictates their size differences.  Or not?

1-fourth redbud tree

It may be hard to see, but there is a fourth redbud tree inside the pool wall to the right.  It is the only tree inside the pool area.  It is about as big as the tree to the far left, and that may be the reason for the slight size of the tree in the outside line.  Also, the redbud inside has its purply pink buds and those outside do not.  It must be warmer in there, but the wall is only four feet high.

1-two trees

Above is the redbud that is already budding.  I have to highlight my early gardening stupidity here.  Two tiny (like three inch) redbuds were planted here in 1997.  Why on earth did I think that two trees would merge into one?  And the form of the redbud is completely destroyed when mistakes like this are made.  All these trees came from seedlings around another tree.

blooming redbud

Redbuds can have a fine shape when one does not try to create a bizarro pair of conjoined twins.  Hate when I do that.


We have masses of dead cedar in our woods, in various stages from just dead to very dead.  And we also have lots of deer.  Turns out cedars and deer are one of nature’s juxtapositions:  if you have deer, you are going to need lots of cedar to keep them out of your gardens.

1-cedar tree

It is amazing how light and how strong cedar is.  With the right engineering, a protective pyramid can be built around bushes and young trees that deer can’t leave alone.


I have taken to placing cedar not only as a screen, but am trying to interfere with the deers’  footing down below.  On the back of this circle branches with mean short limbs are pointing up.  The red bush is nandina which deer do not eat, but behind it is a snowball bush, which they love.  The snowball looks very shabby and lifeless this time of year, but it will be magnificent in the spring.

1-better cedar

1-cedat group

So all manner of cedar branches are helpful, and cost nothing.    I know that is a pine to the right.  It was just so straight, and it will be helpful as a base.  True, it will disintegrate before the cedar, but all these gardens have to be refreshed every year or so.  The deer knock the branches out of place.


Gardens like this are spotted along the sandy driveway with woods on either side.  They have either azaleas (very small now) or loropetalum in them.  Some of these gardens do not get enough sun.   The size of the bushes vary dramatically.  These gardens do not need pyramids as the deer don’t eat loropetalum, and only rarely bother azaleas ( there is some crunching now and again).


The loropetalum are full of buds here.

1-big branch

1-another garden

I painstakingly worked to propagate 12 slips of pyracantha last summer.   It wasn’t going well.  Ended up buying a small one, which is now protected by a pyramid of cedar.  Only one of my slips survived and it was doing sooooo well once it was placed in the ground.   The deer had not discovered it yet, and I was hoping that the new little garden where it lives would remain undiscovered to them.  NOT!


I had to resort to a milk crate for its protection.  A tiny pyramid simply would not do.  That bad deer ate three inches of its hard fought four inches!


The only life force around here to challenge my Mouse’s would be in the little yoshino tree on the drive.  It is about ten years old and is a pygmy.  The deer strip it down to nothing every winter.  Now the deer are eating tiny leaves on my new pyracantha, so on this quiet Christmas Eve I went collecting fallen cedar in the woods.  Love doing this.


This is my Mouse, almost sixteen years old.

1-tee pee

You can hardly see the little tree with all these armaments.  We have these amazing vines in our woods.  They get very large and feel dense like hardwoods.  They grip and strangle a tree.  When you find a dead one on the ground, they can be configured in useful shapes.


This vine swivels on its crossbar.  That should shock the deer when they get their noses too close!  Maybe next year I will have some leaves, and later can lay off the tee-pee when the tree gets bigger than deer height.  I should live so long.


Above is the pyracantha which needs saving.  Having planted it around August, it is still leafing out, in the winter.   Another,  one of 12 cuttings taken and the only to survive,  is making new leaves like crazy now too.  I have a lot to learn.


This tee-pee, built last spring did a great job of keeping the deer from eating this snowball bush.  It has been blooming all fall, misstep-ping like the pyracantha.  What goes?  You can see the remainder of the last flowers.  In this fall blooming however, big full snowballs were not produced.  The flowers were less than half of a sphere, and flat on the bottom.

The “teeth” laying on the ground and pointing up did a good job.  Will do this again with the raw materials below.



Nandina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just heard of Rosemary Verey the other day.  What she said about gardening had occurred to me already.  Gardens do not take the winter months off.  They do not go to Florida.  They are out there in the world, saying something visually and should not look like “scorched earth” in the winter.  This complicates even more their compositions.  One has to think about shapes, heights, colors, amount of water needed, amount of sun needed, deer, types of soils, yadda yadda yadda, not even to mention disease, when something blooms, when something doesn’t.  So now we have to think about how something looks when it is not there.  Baaah!


One has to be thankful for the evergreens.  They stay in winter and provide structure.   In the case of hollies, as above, the deer don’t eat them.  You can count on them.  Around here, in December, when we want them to, they express the seasonal spirit with their red berries.

1-more hollies

In these parts,  easy to grow and propagate, dependable in its winter showiness is Nandina, both normal in size and dwarf.  It cooperates and gets red and ruddy in December as well.  The Nandina above is looking a little worse for wear.  You are supposed to cut down one third of it each year as it gets leggy and new growth should be started near the ground level at all times.  Although it is nice to see the sculpture behind it, I wish it didn’t have that great gap in the middle.

Still on the topic of the uneven, you can see in these pictures that there are four hollies that make up this “tunnel” at the gate to the pool.  The two inside the wall are quite a bit shorter than the two outside.  I used to square off the inside bushes, and then got the idea for the tunnel.  It was then that I let them grow as the outside-the-gate hollies.

My tunnel is uneven and the two sides bulge with entasis like a Greek column.  I will meditate on whether to get up on a ladder and solve these problems.

1-dwarf nandina

In another garden, see how leggy the regular Nandina has gotten?  I must go out there and implement the one third policy.  The dwarf Nandina in the foreground however is low and bushy and the only problem it has is that it is propagating all the time, and I have to remove the new plants interfering with the pattern that was set up.  Because of this phenomenon I have this pattern growing in two more gardens, but not nearly this mature.  It is like repeating a pattern in various parts of a painting.  The palm in the center here is good in the winter, and even the remainders of some tall lilies are still showy.  What is missing here to the back left is a massive group of ginger lilies that had to be cut down.  My garden is like a mouth with several teeth missing.

1-nandina detail

See how the Nandina gets red in the winter?  New growth which is red covers the older leaves from earlier in the year.