Lasting Landscapes by Carol

October Skies

Despite the overwhelming number of tasks facing gardeners like me in the fall, I adore the autumn season and the blooms that come with it. You heard me right – amazing blooms in the fall provided by Asters, one of my favorite perennials.

‘October Skies’ Aster (Symphyotricum oblongifolium) is a wonderful variety that grows about two feet tall and wide. I planted some on my sunny bank last fall and cut them back by half in June to help ensure a dense habit. Today they are putting on quite a show.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Aster ‘October Skies’ planted en masse.

‘Raydon’s Favorite’ is very similar to October Skies but in my experience is a bit taller and darker in color, topping out around three feet. Raydon’s Favorite also blooms later than October Skies, which helps to ensure a long-lasting flower show. Both October Skies and Raydon’s Favorite are colorful, deer resistant groundcovers.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Aster Raydon’s Favorite pairs beautifully with Tricyrtis.

Recently I was introduced to another Aster – Aster ericoides ‘Snow Flurry,’ a diminutive form reaching several inches high with petite, white blooms. Snow Flurry will spread to a two-foot mass and is lovely in the front of the border or in a rock garden.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Aster Snow Flurry has a compact habit with pristine miniature blooms.

Got shade?  No worries. There is an Aster for you too.  Aster divaricatus thrives in my dry shade garden and spreads around readily. If you have limited space, why not choose Ampelaster carolinianus, a climbing aster that happily rambles on a trellis or a fence. Mine bloomed in the winter last year.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Aster divaricatus
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Ampelaster carolinianus climbs on structures and blooms late

Maybe you are lucky enough to have a large, sunny spot and room for a meadow. Aster laevis is a great option for that situation. Pops of purple and blue on three-foot stems really stand out among the seed heads of grasses.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

All of these Asters are native to North America so what’s not to like? If you haven’t already introduced Asters to your landscape, I encourage you to do so. If you are already in love with Asters – please comment and let me know which ones you adore and why!

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Pretty pairings

Spring is a busy time of year in the garden.  Not just for gardeners, but for the plants themselves. Blooms burst and colors explode.  Each day something new emerges.  A fiddlehead, a bud, a new leaf.  I take notice of the details and the overall scene. In particular, I observe combinations that work.

Dark colors contrasted with lighter make for an impressive display. The burgundy foliage of the Japanese Maple is stunning paired with the Phlox subulata that will eventually cascade over the stone wall.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

The brilliant dark blue of Aguilegia (Columbine) stands out against the lime green foliage of an Ilex verticillata.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Iris ‘Immortality’ appears illuminated against the backdrop of Penstemon ‘Husker Red.’

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Soft colors and textures look great together as well. A peach Iris balances the pubescent leaves of Lamb’s Ear (Stachys).

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Garden ornaments perfectly complement plants too.  An elegant stone maiden is right at home amid some Pieris japonica.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

A cast sunflower leans into a nearby tree peony (Peonia suffrictosa) as if to say hello.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Different textures combine beautifully in the garden like Allium Globemaster with Comfrey Axminster’s Gold (Symphytum).

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Other winning combinations include the use of a common color.  The purple flowers of Epimedium ‘Making Waves’ echo the purple veining in Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’).

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

The Lavendar flowers of Erigeron pulchellus ‘Lynnhaven’s Carpet’ blend seamlessly with the purple blooms of Mazus reptans.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

What are you noticing in the garden? I’d love to hear the winning combinations you’ve created or witnessed during this spring of quarantine.

Amsonia hubricthii

Cutting a new garden instead of the lawn

In the April 2019 issue of Fine Gardening Magazine, Editor Steve Aitken shared his thoughts on the significant moments in time that shape our evolution as gardeners. I had to chuckle at his comment that a true gardener would explain to a non-gardener that “The lawn is just the place you stand when looking at your plants.”

As a passionate plant person, I am often tempted by plants at the nursery. I’ll see a new perennial, tree or shrub and think to myself, “I have to have one of those.” This addiction of sorts explains why I continue to remove more lawn and add more gardens. Some of my friends think I’m crazed to add more beds to maintain in my 1.3 acre garden, but I find joy in the new plantings and feel the reward of the continually changing landscape is worth the effort.

To that end, this year I added a bed over 100 feet long which parallels a wall at the front of my property. On a slope, this new area has sections in shade, part shade and full sun and is well drained. The best part about developing this space into a garden is that I no longer have to mow on a hill, which was becoming harder and more dangerous the older I got. Sounds like a good reason to remove tons of sod, don’t you think?

Newly installed garden bed on a slope
My newly installed garden bed with many of the new plants in place.

I planted some favorites like Helleborus HONEYMOON® ‘New York Night’, Deutzia ‘Nikko’, Amsonia hubrichtii and Lonicera pileata ‘Moss Green’. I also added some new plants including Penstemon ‘Black Beard’, Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’ and Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’. I incorporated Pycnanthemum muticum, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ and  Aster ‘October Skies’ to attract pollinators and Molinia ‘Skyracer’ as a ‘see through’ plant. Some wonderful nursery friends gave me unique specimens including Indigofera kirilowii and Hypericum x Blue Velvet™ and I’m saving space for a Cercis ‘Flame Thrower®’ which I am hoping will be available in 2020. Is that enough Latin for you? Are your eyes glazing over yet?  How about if I stop my plant talk and share some photos of these beauties so you can see why I am so enthralled!

Agastache Blue Fortune
Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ blooms from mid-summer into fall and attracts many pollinators
amsonia hubrichtii
Amsonia hubrichtii was the 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year and is a favorite in my garden. The fall color can’t be beat.
Chinese Indigo
Indigofera kirilowii (Chinese Indigo) has Wisteria-like pink flowers in the summer and showy yellow leaves in the fall.
Diervilla Cool Splash
Diervilla Cool Splash adds nice contrast to the border.
Molinia Skyracer
Eventually the tall plumes of Molinia ‘Skyracer’ will steal the show when backlit by the sun.
Mountain Mint
I’m very excited about Pycnanthemum muticum and its ability to attract pollinators.

While the new bed is immature, I look forward to seeing the plants grow in the years to come. I promise to share my triumphs and my trials. After all, that’s what gardening is all about. We collaborate with Mother Nature and make adjustments as needed to achieve the desired aesthetic. Now like a true gardener, I will prepare the garden for winter and patiently wait for spring!


Dare to Be Wild

I love the spring for so many reasons.  For the magic of the garden exploding in color and form, for the birds nesting and tending to their young, and especially for the warmth of the sun after a long, cold winter.

But there are a few things about spring that bother me besides spring cleaning and tax season. I trust you won’t be offended when I share my opinions on the wildness of things. If you are one who trims shrubs into balls or lollipops or perfect Versailles-like hedges – I applaud you for your attempts to control the landscape. For me, perhaps because I have limited time to work in my own garden in the spring or because I’m moved by the naturalistic plantings of Piet Oudolf and others, I feel the need to let the wildness happen.

I love seeing the wrangled branches of my forsythia reach out to greet me as I drive up my driveway.  I much prefer it this way as opposed to some unnatural shape that looks out of place.

Wild Forsythia

I adore the Columbine which have happily seeded themselves around and are showing up in new forms and colors each year.


I congratulate one of the foxgloves, a treasured gift from my parents’ garden, for planting itself alongside my water feature.

A single foxglove self-planted
Foxgloves galore

Please don’t think I have relinquished all control of my garden. I still attempt to keep the weeds at bay, without as much success as I would like. I move plants that are being crowded out by others and water new plants as they settle in to a new spot in the garden. I assist Mother Nature as best I can. We collaborate.

I think my fellow Hardy Plant Society member, Syd Carpenter, said it best when quoted in a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society magazine from the winter of 2017. “As a gardener you are a collaborator, an enabler with nature, the sun, the earth. The notion of control is laughable. Gardening is a question of cooperation, acceptance, and submission – you bow to the process. Sometimes you are disappointed; sometimes you are rewarded. And you hope that over time the rewards outnumber the disappointments.”

So the next time you are putting your spring to-do list together, think about leaving off some tasks like hedge trimming or the weeding out of seedlings. Let them be and instead focus on cleaning those windows so you can enjoy the view that the natural and wild landscape offers! And when you have finished cleaning your windows, please come to my house to help me out with mine!


Divide and Conquer

Most of the garden centers in my area are touting fall as the season for planting. I agree that autumn is a great time for assessing gaps in your garden design and filling in those blanks spaces not only with new plants, but also with divisions from existing ones. 

Recently, a client wrote a testimonial expressing her gratitude that I used the plants that were already on site, rather than only purchasing new.  My response was, ‘Why wouldn’t I?’  Dividing plants is not only healthy for your wallet, it’s also healthy for your plants and it keeps them looking their best. 

Divided daylilies – three became seven!

Divided Echinacea helps fill in blank spaces

Hostas, for example, are notorious for growing into a large clump with a bare spot in the middle – a plant donut if you will.  By dividing them, you can eliminate this problem, while giving yourself more plant material to relocate in your own garden. Divisions also make great gifts. Who wouldn’t want a free plant in good condition?  I have cherished peonies in my garden that originated from my grandparents’ farm in Michigan. I can’t think of a better way of sharing plants than to provide divisions to others. You are giving a gift that keeps on giving!

Divided Hostas grace my new water feature

Peony divisions from my grandparents’ garden

As a designer I feel strongly that repetition in landscape is key to maintain a natural and cohesive look. If you only plant one of every plant, your garden can appear chaotic instead of harmonious. I often repeat plant types and colors to carry the eye from one part of the garden to another and to provide balance in the overall design. One of my clients said she loved the feature of repetition in my garden, commenting that it was like continually running into old friends.

Astilbe chinensis has been moved around my garden to create repetition of color

The more I get to know my garden, the more I learn from the plants.  I’ve been able to observe which plants like which conditions and which ones don’t. If my design isn’t being fulfilled by plants that I want to grow in a space, I look at nearby plants.  If they are doing well, I’ll divide them and use them to fill in the voids. I recently moved some Heuchera from the front of my house to the woodland area where I had some empty spaces.  I’m confident these plants will prefer the part shade conditions under some deciduous trees; they are already looking happier and less crispy! In contrast, I have areas where certain plants are taking over.  I’ll divide them to keep them in bounds and relocate the clump I removed.

Plants that respond well to division include Peonies, Hostas, Daylilies, Echinacea, Rudbeckia and more. Simply dig out the plant and pull it apart or cut it with a spade, ensuring there are leaves and roots intact in each division. Then replant the divisions where you want them.  It’s as easy as that.  So pick up your shovel, go out into your landscape and prepare to divide and conquer!


A Garden Defined

During a recent vacation to Banff, Canada to do some hiking, I found myself awe-inspired by the views of lakes, mountains, waterfalls, glaciers and open meadows. The experience made me stop and think about gardens in a new way. I wondered whether Mother Nature’s masterpieces would be considered ‘gardens’ by modern definition.

According to, a garden is defined as

1.  a plot of ground, usually near a house, where flowers, shrubs, vegetables or herbs are cultivated.

2.  a piece of ground or other space, commonly with ornamental plants, trees, etc., used as a park or other public recreation area:  a public garden. 

3.  a fertile and delightful spot or region.

 I would put the Banff landscape in the category of ‘delightful spots’ for sure. In fact, I think Mother Nature did a great job with the native landscape in Canada. She evoked a positive response in me and enabled me to connect to each space I visited in a unique way. As I captured scene after scene with my camera, I realized that certain patterns were emerging. Natural patterns that were further explored in W. Gary Smith’s book ‘From Art to Landscape’. Gary believes we find patterns all around us in the native landscape that provide repetition of color, texture or form and help to unify a space. These different patterns include mosaics, naturalistic drifts and serpentines, among others. As I reviewed the images I captured on my camera, I realized my photos represented nearly all of these concepts and natural designs.

A drift near Lake Louise
A mosaic of wildflowers in Sunshine Meadows
A serpentine river at Bow Glacier

Piet Oudolf, an influential Dutch garden designer, nurseryman and author has become popular world-wide due to his naturalistic approach to gardening. In his book ‘Designing with Plants’, Piet said, “My biggest inspiration is nature. I do not want to copy it but to recreate the emotion. What I try to do is build an image of nature.” 

Piet observed that beauty can be seen in nature on every single day of the year. If Mother Nature can accomplish this, we can too. I believe we simply have to focus on naturally occurring patterns and the cycles of life. Piet points out that birth equals spring, life equals summer, and death equals fall/winter. By using these guidelines, we can effectively combine color, texture and form in a way that looks natural, inviting and interesting throughout the year.

Hydrangea in spring (birth)
Hydrangea in summer (life)
Hydrangea in winter (death)

The next time you visit a nursery, think about how the plant will look during each season and plan your gardens around these seasons of interest. The next time you travel, look at the naturally occurring patterns in Mother Nature’s ‘gardens’ and consider replicating their impression. By incorporating form and pattern, you can bring nature into your own landscape and build a closer relationship with wild spaces. And who doesn’t want that?