Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Loving the Light

One of the things I adore about my new career as a landscaper designer is sharing ideas with other landscape professionals.  My friend and fellow designer Eric Sternfels recently wrote an article on backlit plants which helped me view my garden and think about client gardens in a whole new way.

Eric encourages us take notice of the special effects that happen when plants are located between our eyes and the sun. I agree with Eric that these moments caused by Mother Nature and helped by the thoughtful placement of plants can create magic and drama.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
The seed heads of Actaea racemosa
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
A hosta transformed by light
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Phlox paniculata backlit by the sunset
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Lonicera leaves sparkling in the path of the sun

Seed heads, leaves and blooms all benefit from the sun’s illumination. And keep in mind we are not just talking about plants transformed by sunsets but also by sunrises. On my own property I have noticed how beautiful the seed heads of Molinia ‘Skyracer’ are during the morning sunrise as viewed from my kitchen window. My Acer Griseum (Paperbark Maple) and Hydrangea paniculata are also totally transformed by the morning light.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Molinia ‘Skyracer’ backlit by the sunrise
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Acer griseum sparkles in the morning sun
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Hydrangea paniculata petals become almost translucent


Eric suggests studying the path of sun to determine the places best suited for backlit ‘botanical theatre.’ He believes the east and west horizons offer the best sun angles and that open areas unobstructed by walls or dense plantings help to ensure the most spectacular show. During late summer I’ve been witnessing backlit beauty daily as I watch the sun illuminate the plants in my landscaped beds.

Thinking about Eric’s perspective made me pause and observe my garden at different times of day and think about plant placement with intention. The next time you plant something, consider its location carefully. Color, texture and form are important, but so is the placement of the plant in relation to the sun. Plan for extraordinary moments and I’m confident you will be rewarded by them.


Getting in the Holiday Spirit

Feeling stressed?  Overwhelmed?  Like you want to fast forward to the New Year?  Rest assured you are not alone. When I feel my holiday to-do list is much longer than the available hours in a day, I press the reset button. For me that means getting outside and immersing myself in a beautiful setting, ideally one that will put me in the holiday spirit. I have found no better place than Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, one of over thirty beautiful, public gardens in America’s Garden Capital.

Taking it all in at Longwood Gardens

Each year Longwood staff members put on a magical display with a unique theme. The planning for the Christmas display begins in January, before the previous year’s display has been retired. For 2018 the theme is Trees Reimagined. And re-imagine they did. Branches were wrapped in lights of every color – apparently over 500,000 of them! Moving lights created an extraordinary effect in some areas of the garden, continually adjusting the color scheme of the landscape as Mother Nature would with the changing of the seasons. Forests were illuminated to highlight the extraordinary wooden skeletons that stood against the winter sky.

Moving lights illuminated the trees in a magical show

Trees alive and aglow

The colorful skeletons of the woodland

Lights were transformed into trees

Trees were created from poles and strings of lights and many other materials like bird houses and stacks of books. I particularly liked knowing that Longwood planned to donate many of these materials to natural lands organizations and schools after the displays were disassembled. What’s better than a gift that keeps on giving?

The bird house tree

A tree constructed of books

In the conservatory trees were suspended in the air like Stalactites hanging from the ceiling of a cavern. Decorated trees adorned all of the other conservatory rooms also, each one dressed in plant material appropriate to the climate in which it was located.

Gravity defying trees in the conservatory
Trees made of air plants

A tree decorated in begonias

In the music room, local artist Dannielle Vincent used software and meticulous folding and cutting techniques to create works of art from books. At first glance I thought the books were cut by laser, but later learned each piece was crafted by hand over several days. The result was breathtaking. 

Paper poinsettias adorned the mantel

Some of Dannielle’s artistry

If like me you are feeling behind the eight ball with your list of things to do, take a break and visit Longwood Gardens this season. You won’t be disappointed, and I’m confident you’ll leave inspired and renewed. Happy Holidays everyone. I’ll see you in 2019 for another year of blog posts.


The Power of Light

From within or from behind,
a light shines through us upon things,
and makes us aware that we are nothing,
but the light is all.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Light changes everything. This time of year we are incredibly sensitive to the lack of it, or at least I am. I find it hard to get out of bed to go to the gym when it’s pitch black outside. And at the end of the day when it’s dark at 5 PM, I simply want to curl up in a blanket with a roaring fire nearby.

Light affects plants significantly too. In the way humans receive energy from food, plants get energy from light through photosynthesis. Without light a plant can’t produce energy or grow. I remember doing a science fair project when I was younger. I used my Dad’s grow light in the basement and placed four identical plants underneath it, each covered with different colors of cellophane. The plant with clear cellophane did best, since it got the most light. The one with the dark green cellophane did the worst, since light the plant needed was limited. 

As a gardener, I notice light. Not just because I want to identify whether I’m dealing with shade, part-shade or sun, but also because light changes how the garden looks and acts. Over the last couple of years I have changed my garden significantly. I took out a boatload (okay, a dumpster full) of pachysandra and created new beds. I moved hydrangeas and hostas into a shady space and looked forward to having these plants adorn my woodland trail.

But the next year when the plants leafed out and flowered, they faced away from the woodland trail instead of toward it. Why? Because they were reaching towards the afternoon light. I’m now in the process of moving some shrubs to rectify the situation (hopefully) by drowning the area in more morning light. The lesson learned? When you are planning a garden, seriously study the light so you can anticipate which way the blooms will face. 

Plants facing away from the woodland trail instead of towards it.

Another way light changes the garden is by highlighting plants in different ways. Direct sunlight is usually the least attractive light as it tends to wash out colors. That’s why professional photographers often recommend taking pictures early in the morning or late in the afternoon when plants are backlit and the shadows are long. By taking advantage of the setting or rising sun, you can orchestrate your own light show of sorts and create a relaxing or even a romantic mood. Natural lighting can even be used to highlight a plant’s best features.

Long shadows change the mood of a space.
This Lindera looks aglow due to natural light.

The backlit leaves look like ornaments hanging from the tree.

While the light provided by Mother Nature is magical, as humans we have the power to transform our gardens beyond sunset through outdoor lighting. There are lights for just about everything. Up lights, spot lights, underwater lights, and more. You can install a fire pit or purchase a portable one to add warmth to your outdoor spaces. What could be better than snuggling under a blanket while enjoying a crackling outdoor fire under the stars? 

A firepit adds amazing ambiance to an outdoor space

Outdoor spotlights can highlight features like this boulder

Take advantage of the opportunity to use lighting in all possible ways. Let light call you into the garden so you can observe every detail and enjoy your landscape even more.